Surrounded by friends—and with negative COVID tests in hand, my wife and I watched on television as the Times Square ball dropped signaling the end of 2021 and the start of 2022. Like those gathered in New York and in cities and towns across the world, we embraced the moment with the optimism that ushers in a new year and with an appreciation for the good fortunes of the year past. Admittedly there was some good riddance as well as we put certain memories of a COVID-marred twelve months behind us.
After a year of seeing far too many of our Rectory students just on the screen in 2020-2021, a return this September to fully in-person learning with our normal schedule and the full slate of program offerings was a most welcomed joy. Equally satisfying, cheers returned to the playing fields as our students participated in a full schedule of fall interscholastic sports. This included an undefeated season by our girls’ volleyball team, which is becoming a perennial powerhouse squad. Adding to the energy on campus, parents were able to attend athletic games and, for the first time in two years, join us for an on-campus Fall Family Weekend complete with art shows, musical performances, parent-teacher conferences, and other special events. This was a good test run as we prepare for our Centennial Gala this spring, an event originally planned for the spring of 2021 but rescheduled due to COVID. In many ways, this fall marked a highly-anticipated return to normalcy—albeit with masks, surveillance testing, and a few cases of COVID to deal with—and normal at Rectory means executing strategic initiatives.
From a programmatic standpoint, these initiatives were evident across school divisions as teachers in the elementary school engaged in training that brought the science of reading into the literacy classroom, while in the middle school Rectory partnered with Independent School Management (ISM) to review and improve our advisory program. Comparing the results from our faculty and student surveys to industry benchmarks, ISM concluded that Rectory’s advisory program already stood out in a number of positive ways while also suggesting enhancements that will make this critical program even more effective as advisors assume the lead advocate role on campus for their advisees. Rectory also introduced a new approach to professional development this fall as teachers pursue micro certifications from a list of targeted school initiatives such as developing experiential learning opportunities, supporting students with executive functioning needs, creating a just and equitable classroom, and more.
Rectory’s goal is for every child to be challenged in all classes; success in this objective requires that teachers have a thorough sense of a child’s level of understanding and learning profile. Last year, Rectory introduced MAP Growth testing as a tool to aid this objective. Now, we enter phase two of our MAP Growth work as academic administrators guide teachers in utilizing data to identify student needs and to construct the most effective learning opportunities. Triannual student assessments combined with increased MAP Growth training for teachers is already revealing valuable results in Rectory’s efforts to best educate our students as they prepare for lives of purpose and promise.
In addition to understanding student learning profiles, an appropriately challenging course of study is also critical in promoting student progress. With this in mind, in recent years Rectory has added advanced math offerings and an honors level Grade 9 English course while enriching our in-person and online world language offerings. This year Rectory introduced two more options to our ninth-grade course of study: an honors Physics course and a pilot program that invited select students to add an additional class—usually a math, computer science, or world language offering—to their schedule. The initial reviews for this latter option are extremely positive as students ready for this extra challenge are now better able to pursue academic interests through our broadened range of study.
A decade ago, Rectory developed a master plan that continues to move forward with impressive pace. For example, the aforementioned Fall Family Weekend included the dedication of two new academic spaces: the Spirol Science Laboratories and the Innovation Lab. The completely refurbished science facilities provide much-needed additional space for our students to engage in powerful hands-on experiences, while improved ventilation, upgraded storage space, and new teacher demonstration units allow for maximum efficiency and effectiveness. Meanwhile, our Innovation Lab brings our technology tools and resources into one space. Equipped with green screen space, multimedia tools, 3-D printers, computer programming resources, and more, this lab allows students to explore the frontiers of technology-based learning, a key area of interest for today’s generation of young people and a necessary skill set.
With the completion of the Bigelow Academic Building renovations, Rectory now turns its attention to Centennial Hall, our 28 student state-of-the-art dormitory made possible through the generosity of Rectory alumnus Peter Kellogg ‘57 and others. This new building, built near the footprint of the former Cedars Dormitory, will help consolidate our boarding students to the main part of campus and will include four spacious faculty apartments. In addition to creating much-improved living spaces for our boarders, the construction of Centennial Hall allows several vacated smaller dorms to be converted into faculty housing, an invaluable commodity on a boarding school campus. We currently await final bids from our contractors with a groundbreaking planned for this spring. On a smaller but no less important scale, Rectory is finalizing plans to renovate and expand our girls’ locker room this summer, a space sorely in need of attention. This project will be just one more step in solidifying Rectory’s commitment to co-education as we bring our girls’ facilities up to the same level as those our boys enjoy. Due to the generosity of Hugh Whipple ‘68, Rectory also looks forward to the groundbreaking of a new music rehearsal space, the Brewster Odeum, in the spring of 2023, which leaves the Colhoun Gymnasium expansion, already partially funded, as the one remaining master plan item on the docket.
Similar to our ever-strengthening school program and ever-improving facilities, Rectory’s financial profile continues to reach new levels. With strong annual budgets, Rectory is able to not only provide an exceptional school year experience but also tend to deferred maintenance issues while building a liquidity fund in case of unexpected emergencies. Coupled with strong results annually, Rectory’s endowment, thanks in large part to the continued generosity of the Tang family (Oscar ‘53 and Kevin ‘82), has grown by 330% percent in the last decade and will soon crest $30,000,000. The bulk of the endowment draw is directed to faculty compensation and benefits as there is no more important component in a child’s education than the teacher.
As if all this activity wasn’t enough, Rectory spent the fall preparing for the Connecticut Association of Independent School’s re-accreditation team visit that occurred this past November. This visit, the final component of a process that centers on a rigorous self-study, was delayed for nearly 18 months due to the pandemic, but the wait was well worth it. In addition to affirming the incredibly thorough and productive findings conveyed in the school’s own report, the visiting team summed up their experience by sharing,
“Rectory is a strong community of educators, students and their families, and others who serve the School with ‘work, wisdom, and wealth’ in leadership roles. The Visiting Team was impressed with the “esprit de corps” of these various groups and departed…confident that the future of the School bodes well due to their dedication and commitment.”
Appropriate to this communication, the visiting team concluded its report by noting, “The [Rectory] School is clearly passionate and excited about continual improvement.”
2022 is upon us and I am eager to witness the results of the hard work shaping education at Rectory School. There is so much to be proud of and so much to look forward to as we usher in, with the help of Times Square, this new year and Rectory’s new century. May the future hold great things for our school, our students, our alumni, and all of you.
Frederick W. Williams
Head of School