Headmaster's Annual Update
January 11, 2020
Dear Friends of Rectory School,
Every holiday, members of the Williams family gather in Pomfret to spend time together reveling in the season and the company of friends. These treasured visits include ample periods spent enjoying conversation and food around the dining room table. As we seat ourselves for these dinners, it is a habit to instinctively reach for the hand to your left and to your right as we strengthen the familial bond that nourishes us even more than the food on our plates. All eyes then turn towards the head of the table where my father pauses thoughtfully, looks at those present and remembers those not, then reminds us of all that we have to be thankful for.
As I reflect on the holidays just passed, and welcome the return of our Rectory students and faculty with the new year, I am also cognizant of how much we at Rectory have to be thankful for, and how much we have to look forward to on the eve of our centennial celebration to come next year. With that in mind, I am pleased to share with you an annual update on life at Rectory School. (View as a PDF file.)
RECTORY IS RELATIONSHIPS
As one enters Grosvenor House and winds past the admissions office, there is a photo collage on the right created by Mary Lou Seaward. Accompanying the pictures of Rectory students, faculty, and friends that span decades are the words, "Rectory is Relationships." This succinct phrase reminds us on a daily basis that people and the interactions among people are what define a child's educational experience at our school. This year, with our day and boarding populations hitting record numbers, we have more students than ever to benefit from these relationships.
Every day these young learners get to interact with a faculty that cares for and nurtures their academic, social, artistic, and athletic talents and interests in exemplary fashion. No institution is better than the people who work there, and Rectory is fortunate to have such a dedicated, motivated, accomplished group of teachers, administrators, and staff supporting our students. With the much-needed improvements to faculty salaries in place, making us more than competitive with peer schools, we now consider the best ways to improve our benefits offerings in the ongoing effort to recruit and retain exceptional educators.
NEURONS THAT FIRE TOGETHER, WIRE TOGETHER
As Kathleen Kryza, an expert in brain-based learning, reminds us regularly when she works with our faculty, the Rectory years represent the most important period for brain development. Our goal as educators is to provide a school experience that fosters the neural connections that will inspire a lifelong journey of inquiry, discovery, and purpose. Led by Lisa Hart, our Director of Academics, the conversations around teaching and learning are as vibrant as ever. Utilizing a comprehensive professional growth model that includes classroom walkthroughs, peer and administrator observations, and individual goal setting, teachers are reflecting on their profession like never before. Glimpses into our classrooms reveal teachers designing lessons that provide challenge, assure engagement, and offer variety as lessons activate different brain states in the students. The result is deeper learning and a better understanding of oneself as a student.
Just as we examine the most effective instructional strategies, so, too, do we engage in ongoing curriculum review and refinement. Improvements for this school year include an overhauled Health and Wellness Program that provides students in Grades 5-8 invaluable opportunities to explore healthy physical, social, and emotional development, topics particularly important across the sometimes turbulent middle school years. Additionally, students who participated in the formerly titled Language Skills Program are now benefitting from a completely redesigned course, Effective Speaking and Writing (ESW), that brings beneficial focus and consistency to this program. We have also further expanded the Computer Science offerings by adding Computer Science 3, which will provide advanced study into sophisticated aspects of computer programming. In the elementary school, teachers are refining their approach to Phonics through the addition of the new Words Their Way program to the Literacy curriculum. They are also challenging students with an updated mathematics curriculum, enVision 2020.
In addition to curricular changes, building on the success of a pilot project initiated last year for our ninth graders, we have moved to a middle school division-wide sectioning process that individually places students in classes versus in a cohort group that formerly moved together across three disciplines—English, history, and science. This methodical approach, which relies on student data that includes school performance, teacher recommendations, and standardized test scores, assures the greatest success in placing students in optimal learning environments across disciplines. These more customized class groupings ensure all students receive the appropriate level of support and challenge.
The location where people and program coalesce to create and define the school experience.
Since the board of trustees adopted the 2011 master plan, the campus has seen significant upgrades through new construction and renovations. These upgrades include the Seaward Family Pavilion; John and Millie Green Hall housing the Smith Learning Center and Hale Elementary School Wing; the Whipple-Brewster Tennis Pavilion; the Wolf Den Student Center; a fully renovated Memorial Dormitory; a new Grosvenor House main entrance and admissions spaces; and additional faculty housing. These facilities improvements now continue with much-needed upgrades to Rectory's academic hub—the Bigelow Academic Building.
This past summer, Rectory began a thorough renovation of this space, installing a new roof, new siding, and completely renovating classrooms on the first and third floors. (The second floor will be renovated this coming summer.) With new energy-efficient windows, improved window treatments, new flooring, ceilings, and lighting, along with updated technology, these classrooms are much more comfortable, efficient, and effective as our students interact with engaging curriculum and professional educators. New flooring in the hallways, new paint color schemes, and newly done stairwells brighten the space and help create the most conducive environment for learning. Even as this project awaits completion, we are already preparing for the next round of campus improvements that include a new dormitory and additions and renovations to Colhoun Gymnasium.
THERE IS NO "I" IN TEAM
Led by the board of trustees, whose guidance, oversight, and skills offer Rectory invaluable gains, Rectory continues on a clearly defined path forward that furthers four priorities:
- Increase our efforts to recruit a balanced and diverse student population to both our day and boarding programs.
- Develop and implement academic and co-curricular programs that deliver on our promise to engage and advance all students in the learning process, all the while continuously improving the caliber of our faculty.
- Engage our community, particularly alumni, in an effort to fully benefit from the talents, resources, and relationships within our constituencies.
- Ensure a healthy, long-term financial profile for the School in support of our mission.
Our success in this journey is documented in part by the progress noted in this letter. The good news related to enrollment, program development, and facilities improvements is due to a great team of administrators, teachers, and staff, who, regardless of their roles, believe in Rectory's mission. Our success is also due to the involvement and generosity of our alumni, parents—past and present, and friends.
While enrollment records have been set this year, fundraising goals were achieved last. For the first time ever, the annual fund topped $1,000,000, while capital and endowment giving exceeded $3,000,000. Rectory is so fortunate to benefit from the incredible generosity of our community. Our progress would not be possible without this support.
ON THE EVE OF OUR CENTENNIAL
Ten years ago, Rectory was involved in intensive and extensive self-reflection as the School was completing its self-study, an initial step in the CAIS (Connecticut Association of Independent Schools) School Re-Accreditation process. A decade later, the School is engaged in the same process, yet is in a much-improved place on so many fronts. Praised by CAIS a decade ago for "Taking an approach to the self-study process that enabled it to be a vehicle for school improvement and engagement," Rectory has been extremely active these past ten years. We will not slow moving forward.
Next year Rectory will celebrate our centennial with a grand celebration planned for weekend of April 23-25, 2021. At that event, I hope we are overrun by members of our community—past and present—who come to reconnect with the school, the faculty, and classmates. We will certainly have much to be thankful for as we gather around the table to celebrate.
Best to all of you in the new year.