Dr. Mike Davis: State of the School

I am excited to share with you my eleventh “State of the School” report and offer a “dashboard” of facts about Colorado Academy that are indicative of the strong health and ambitious direction of our school. As I’m sure you recall, this year’s original State of the School event, which was scheduled in March, had to be moved to today (April 1) because of Denver’s “Bomb Cyclone” storm that forced three consecutive and unprecedented days of missed school due to a power outage.

I begin with an enumeration of achievements by students, from Upper School Mock Trial and the Ethics and Knowledge Bowls to the Middle School Global Water Challenge, and from playwright and writing awards to music honors in multiple divisions. This is just a glimpse of CA students who are engaged, involved, seeking, finding, and achieving in fields and topics about which they are passionate. This is the sign of a school that is thriving and providing opportunities to students.

Finances and enrollment

Among the many metrics I look at when preparing this report are strong financial and enrollment indicators that include these numbers:

  • CA is committed to awarding $3,750,000 in financial aid for the 2019-2020 school year, as much or more than any independent school (other than higher education) in the state of Colorado.
  • The school’s endowment has shown healthy and steady growth and stands at $27.5 million, due in large part to the Endowment Advisory Committee of the Board of Trustees. Gains notwithstanding, CA continues to target endowment growth as a way to mitigate tuition increases and to reach an endowment commensurate with the size and age of a school like CA.
  • CA has raised $1.4 million toward a $1.6 million goal for the annual CA Fund, which supports day-to-day operations at the school (and which we hope each and every parent will support), and CA has raised $3.8 million toward a $10 million goal for the fourth and final capital project, as part of the See it Through campaign, the new Leach Center for the Performing Arts.

Overall, these indicators, combined with CA’s financial position of carrying no debt, place the school in a healthy, if not enviable, financial position. Financial sustainability is a mantra in independent schools, and it has been a key focus for CA. The school currently has a 98% reenrollment rate, with record numbers of applicants that have increased 15% over last year. Capturing those areas with the highest growth rate, CA will expand its Pre-K program by one-third next year and widen the admission funnel earlier to engage and retain interested families, without having to grow the size of the school.

What’s going on?

There is so much that happens in any given day, month, or school year at CA. I want to highlight just a few initiatives and areas of improvement in each of our divisions and major departments.

In the Lower School, we:

  • Enhanced the division’s buddy program that provides mentoring opportunities and friendship between intermediate and primary grades.
  • Realized literacy gains with the Lucy Calkins Reading and Writing Workshop program.
  • Utilized “MAP” Assessments to provide data that help teachers support student learning.
  • Conducted a successful and inclusive search for CA’s next Lower School Principal. We are excited to welcome this coming fall Lower School Principal, Angie Crabtree.

In the Middle School, we:

  • Reduced the average instructional class size by increasing the number of sections per grade.
  • Increased faculty expertise around working with students with learning differences.
  • Began a revision of CA’s Advisory Program by working with the Institute for Social Emotional Learning. The new program will be introduced next fall.
  • Offered a new technology-based Art class that incorporates innovative practices and design principles.

In the Upper School, we:

  • Created eight different team-taught courses that underscore teacher collaboration and the opportunity for students to take part in inter-disciplinary study.
  • Created more curricular connections with CA’s Global Travel program.
  • Increased student feedback through surveys and course evaluations.

In our Libraries Program, we:

  • Continued student instruction in project-based research across all three divisions.
  • Implemented MS and US student book clubs.
  • Created MS reading challenges, leading to record participation among students.
  • Created interactive lessons for LS students.

In our Technology Department, we:

  • Experienced a 130% increase in students taking Advanced Computer Science courses in the past five years (30% increase for males, 460% increase for females).
  • Scored second in the nation in the Lockheed Martin CYBERQUEST™ Competition, which involves solving offensive and defensive cyber challenges.
  • Introduced a new STEAM elective for Middle School students.
  • Incorporated EV3 Robots and Computer Science into Eighth Grade science classes, and created a Robot Petting Zoo in Seventh Grade in which students built a robotic animal.
  • Utilized 3D Printing for projects and classes in all divisions.

In our Global Travel & Exchange Program, we:

  • Facilitated participation of 85 students in global travel.
  • Introduced a new cultural exchange program to Colombia.
  • Offered Immersion or Service trips to Quebec (MS), Peru (MS), and Cuba (US).
  • Will offer in 2019-2020 trips to Costa Rica (MS Interim), Belize (US Interim, in conjunction with a Science Writing course), an Exchange Program in Spain, Language Immersion trips to both France and China (US) and a Service trip to Ecuador (US).

In our Outdoor Education Program, we:

  • Provided 17 MS Interim trips and 31 US Interim trips.
  • Provided 18 Outdoor Program weekend trips, including ice climbing, rock climbing, fly-fishing, backcountry skiing, bird banding, nature photography, camping, as well as a Service trip to the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana with VISIONS Service Adventures.

In our Counseling Program, we:

  • Conducted age-appropriate student trainings on assault prevention, eating disorders and body image, suicide prevention, substance abuse, mental, emotional and physical health and wellness, and more.
  • Provided support to students and families.

In our Arts Program, we:

  • Entered our third year of our Dance Conservatory Program, and will offer a new class next year, year, Dance for the Camera, to complement our Acting for the Camera.
  • Revised our Visual Arts portfolio program.
  • Produced a line-up of incredible productions.
  • Hired an excellent choir teacher.
  • Revised the recital program.

In our Athletics Program, we:

  • Opened a new Athletic Center, and put the facility to full use immediately.
  • Doubled the number of students (20) who committed to play DI and DIII sports in college in 10 different sports.
  • Offered numerous options in athletics, from our first season as a full Varsity Hockey program, to Rock Climbing, with students awarded both individual and team accolades.

In our College Counseling Program, we:

  • Continued to run a student-centered and authentic program, helping students in the Class of 2019 apply to 750 colleges and universities total.
  • Hosted another record number (more than 150) of college admission representatives on campus to meet with our students.
  • Coordinated 336 Advanced Placement exams for 140 students. On average 93% scored a 3 or higher on each of those exams.

Our Parent Association and dedicated volunteers:

  • Gave hundreds of admissions tours to prospective families.
  • Held at least 100 class meetings and grade-level social gatherings.
  • Provided thousands of cookies and sweets to show gratitude to our faculty and staff.
  • Collected and sold thousands of books for our used book sale.
  • Volunteered thousands of hours for the school’s community-building efforts.
  • Expanded existing fundraisers and raised $25,000 to gift back to CA.

Through our continued work on School Culture, we:

  • Continued our intentional work to provide a warm welcome to all people to new our community.
  • Hosted events designed to enhance inclusivity, from our SPEAK program to the Taste of CA, and from an MLK school-wide assembly to a “Designing for Inclusion” workshop with parents, teachers, and students.
  • Engaged our entire community, from alumni to trustees, in a project to re-word our Mission Statement.
  • Conducted parent surveys and faculty/staff surveys to invite feedback and participation.
  • Worked on tasks related to the first in our three-year process for Reaccreditation by the Association of Colorado Independent Schools.

For me, the State of the School is summed up in this letter, one of many, which we received at the close of this year’s admission season from a parent who diligently researched school options before deciding on CA.

“While we were initially drawn to Colorado Academy’s reputation for providing students with an exceptional academic foundation, we have come to learn about the many ways CA cultivates the whole child by placing a focus on important skills that build character and produce thoughtful leaders. Particularly, the focus on the teaching of 21st century skills highlights CA’s commitment to a human-centered program, which resonates with us, as it is equally important to be a good human as it is to receive a good education.”

I continue to be enormously grateful for this school and for the community that each and every one of you helps to create, all around our shared work of educating children. Thank you.

Editor’s note: Dr. Mike Davis is the eleventh Head of School in Colorado Academy’s more than 100-year history. Since 2008, he has led the CA community in a collaborative, multi-year strategic plan, undertaken a broad-reaching school culture project, led the effort to build CA’s new Upper School, implemented a series of 21st century curriculum initiatives, expanded CA’s experiential and global education offerings and service learning efforts, broadened the school’s work in diversity and inclusivity, and maintained CA’s mission-based balance of academics, arts, and athletics. The address was carried on the school’s Facebook page through Facebook LIVE.