By Terry Dubow, Associate Head of School
1. People love Westtown. Over the last week, I accompanied John Baird, Jon Evans, Ellen Gilbert, and Megan Sayer on a west-of-the-Mississippi jaunt to visit alumni, parents and friends in the Los Angeles, San Francisco and Denver areas. Our goal was simple; we came out to share and to listen. And what did our alumni, parents and friends do? One braved a snowstorm and two mountain passes. One flew into Denver from Arizona. Another came to LA from Las Vegas, and still one more road tripped from Seattle so he could be at both the LA and San Francisco events. The outpouring of affection and passion for Westtown was inspiring.
2. People want to know that, as Westtown evolves to meet the challenges of our times, we will also stay steadfast to our principles and centers of gravity, the two most critical ones being our Quaker roots and the residential program. We share those convictions and used the ‘Town Talks to provide examples of how our Quaker values influence everything we do at Westtown and how our Community Life Committee is working to ensure that our residential program grows even more vibrant and compelling.
3. We have some misunderstandings and misinformation out in our community, which means that Westtown has to communicate better so that our alumni, parents and friends feel compelled to pay attention and invited to share insights.
4. Some people believe we’ve eliminated the boarding requirement. We haven’t. If a student enrolls in 8th grade or after, he or she will board for 11th and 12th grade. The option pertains only to students who enroll in 7th grade or earlier. It’s impossible to know exactly what the breakdown will be once the policy takes effect in 2015, but as a rough sketch, think of it this way: Our middle school grades hold roughly 40 students each, which means that by the time a class enters 11th grade, 40 of the 100 or so students will have the choice. While some may choose not to board, we believe in the strength of our residential program, and we’re working hard to make sure that a good portion of those 40 will opt into the residential community. To be conservative, let’s say we bat .500 and 20 choose to remain day students for a host of good reasons. We feel extremely confident that we will be able to create a cohesive, purposeful community with this kind of composition. The Community Life Committee and others are working hard to make sure this is the case, and we welcome your insights to help us.
5. For some of our friends, it’s hard to grasp fully how the competitive landscape has shifted. Some didn’t know that another independent school had moved to Newtown Square just 10 miles away or that our community boasts some very strong public and charter schools. That kind of information helped them understand why Westtown has made some adjustments including expanding our marketing efforts and modifying the residential life requirement.
6. Many people want to help and to connect. The audience was excited to hear about our Class Connectors Program. Some volunteered to serve in that role. Others asked if they could come to campus to speak to students about their field of expertise or contribute their talents in another way. The answer is an enthusiastic yes! Please contact Kris Batley to discuss your ideas.
7. We need to mend fences with some people who feel we didn’t communicate proactively, return offers of help or conduct a transparent process. As he has on other occasions, Jon Evans explained that we did our best to engage a broad range of the Westtown community prior to modifying the boarding policy, and he offered a sincere apology to anyone who did not feel heard. He also offered examples, including the ‘Town Talks themselves, of how we’re trying to do a better job.
8. We have a compelling vision for the future outlined in the emerging strategic plan, which we’re calling “The World Needs More Westonians.” I introduced a new way of describing and designing our academic approach and architecture. John Baird described the relationship between designing strong programming and engaging our parents and alumni. The audience shared their memories about what made Westtown so transformative for them. It was clear that the momentum is building and that, though we’re in a complicated moment in the school’s 215 year history, there are many, many reasons to feel enthusiastic about Westtown.
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