Head of School Dr. Mike Davis delivered his annual State of the School address on March 17, 2022. This is a transcript of his remarks.
I want to reflect just for a few minutes on this year. What an extraordinary year it has been! We went into summer hoping we could put the pandemic behind us. Not only did that not happen, the pandemic intensified after Winter Break. Through it all, CA students, faculty, and staff proved resilient, and each and every day they showed up, putting their best forward.
Our year started off with an incredible All-School Picnic where 1,600 of us came together to kick off the start of the school year. We played on new Lower School playgrounds, we cut the ribbon on an incredible building, the Leach Center for the Performing Arts. We welcomed new faculty and staff and held family potluck dinners and new family get-togethers. We adjusted to new schedules and new dining protocols. Students ate outdoors more days than indoors.
In the past seven months, our students have excelled on the field and courts, have given us memorable performances here on the Leach Center stage, and have created amazing works of art. They’ve put CA on the map with competitions like Future City, Speech and Debate, and Mock Trial. They lined up to get tested for COVID-19 so they could camp and hike and go to museums and the aquarium. They celebrated the return of time-honored traditions like Homecoming and HOPE, and in May, we will again have the Taste of CA. Interim for Middle and Upper School students is just weeks away.
We have worked on important projects like curriculum audits, reaccreditation, and strategic planning. I could not be more proud to be the Head of School of Colorado Academy. Now in my 14th year, I realize that the students who were in Pre-K when I arrived are now graduating. Thank you to everyone in our community.
Our mission and our community
I am supported and challenged every day at CA. Our families give generously of their time and expertise. You celebrate our faculty and staff with appreciation treats. Your philanthropic spirit brings success to events like CA Gives Day and our upcoming concert to support financial aid.
It takes a community to accomplish all we do at CA, and we have much to celebrate and be grateful for. I can’t say enough about our Seniors—the Class of 2022. They have gone through a lot during two years of COVID-19 protocols, but in true Mustang spirit, they persevered and showed our community what matters.
Of course, much of the community building we have been able to have this year is thanks to our Parent Association and hundreds of volunteers. I cannot thank our parents enough.
Our mission statement captures very intentionally what we strive to do each and every day at CA: Create curious, kind, courageous, and adventurous learners and leaders. I’ve watched unbelievable kindness, courage, and curiosity as our students lean in to learn something new and lead when faced with challenges.
CA is 1,015 students strong. This year more than $4.3 million supports students receiving financial aid.
Our endowment has grown, and thanks to new gifts, it stands at $35 million. The CA Fund hit its goal of $1.8 million. We could not be more appreciative of the support and engagement from our families. A little bit later when we look ahead to next year, you’ll see how some of our goal- setting impacts these areas.
One of our greatest accomplishments this past year was receiving a 10-year reaccreditation from the Association of Colorado Independent Schools (ACIS).
The ACIS visiting team looks at and offers commendations and recommendations on every aspect of the school’s operations. CA received a lot of positive feedback on our work and the quality of our community. In the coming year, each department and division will respond to those recommendations in a formal report back to ACIS. This process helps drive institutional improvement.
Often, these recommendations are based on what we identified in our self-study as areas that we wanted to work on. There also are several schoolwide major recommendations and commendations that are worth sharing with the full community.
Observations from the ACIS Report
Excellent employees and morale: I’m quoting from the report: “Even in the third year of the global pandemic, the morale among faculty and staff at CA is extraordinarily high. Employees love working at CA, are happy, and feel supported by school leadership. They have a palpable pride in CA and invest much of themselves into their work as a result. Dr. Davis, administrative leaders, and division principals deserve immense credit for maintaining such a vibrant culture during a very challenging time. They support morale by prioritizing the professional growth of its faculty and staff. Additionally, CA has developed an extensive system of faculty evaluation that allows faculty to assume additional responsibilities as their tenures at CA increase.
“In turn, across CA’s divisions and hierarchy, CA’s employees are exemplary. From trustees and the Head of School to faculty and staff leaders, they have high expectations for themselves and they execute their responsibilities. The people responsible for different aspects of CA’s operations know nationwide best practices and employ them. CA has obvious momentum thanks in large part to the high quality of people who make their professional homes at the school.”
Strong physical plant: “CA’s facilities are new, striking, and aligned with the school’s mission. In the past decade, the school has raised millions to renovate several campus buildings and to construct a new Upper School, Performing Arts Center, and Athletic Center. The campus is well maintained, and CA devotes ample funds to upkeep; there is minimal deferred maintenance. Through determined effort and the support of a generous community, CA has reached a place where its facilities match the ambitions of the school’s innovative program.”
Governance: “CA’s Board of Trustees models principles of good governance. The board chair works closely with Dr. Davis to ensure trustees think strategically and avoid interference with the operational aspect of CA’s program. Board members have taken the lead in seeing the recent capital campaign to a close, ensured the diversity of their membership, and are modeling continued professional development in the areas of equity and inclusion.
“Collectively, trustees support the head of school enthusiastically, execute their responsibilities well, and give CA’s leaders the space to prosper.”
DEI progress: “CA has prioritized diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in recent years and made significant tangible progress. Employees rave about the leadership of these initiatives; new affinity groups, physical spaces for students from historically marginalized communities, and a full-time position charged with diversity recruiting are tangible changes CA has made in recent years. Moreover, faculty and staff feel supported and inspired by the priority CA has placed on DEI.”
Recommendations from the ACIS report
Balance and Schedule: Quoting from the report again: “The pressures and competing demands facing students and faculty are straining the traditional CA model of academics, arts, and athletics. Time, space, and pace are challenges making it harder for CA to achieve the promise of its mission. CA students and employees, while loving their CA experience, are increasingly feeling anxious and overwhelmed. A theme in the community is the need for more time to do their work well. To address this, CA can explore simplifying the daily schedule, investigating the breadth of course offerings (such as eliminating AP courses in the Upper School), and conducting divisional curriculum reviews to highlight the most important skills CA students need upon graduation and reduce time allocated to teaching important but perhaps less vital skills and content.”
Further advancing DEI: “Like all schools dedicated to all of their students reaching their full potential, CA’s efforts to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives will never be completed. Specifically, CA can ensure all school employees receive robust DEI training (common language, expectations for difficult conversations, etc.) during on-boarding and then through annual updates. All employees—in addition to faculty members—who interact with students and families should receive continual training in areas including, among others, microaggressions and anti-bias. CA should also seek to collect quantifiable data to shed light on the experience of students and employees on campus who have historically marginalized identities and add accountability for continual DEI improvement to faculty and staff evaluation instruments.”
Sustainable leadership: “CA has undoubtedly thrived under Dr. Mike Davis’s leadership. It is clear to everyone that Mike’s leadership has been instrumental to CA’s recent successes and that he continues to bring unparalleled energy to his work. At the same time, CA’s administrative structure is very flat. The Head of School has an unusually large number of direct reports for such a complex, successful school, and the admin team as a result is quite big. This perhaps limits the ability of the group to nimbly support the Head of School in sharing the responsibility of leading CA. The visiting team encourages CA to investigate staffing models at institutions with a similar profile to CA and ask whether additional or redefined administrative support will allow the head of school to focus on the tasks unique to that role, as well as to make the CA Head of School role sustainable for the current and future leadership of the school.”
We have already begun work on these recommendations. All in all, it was a very successful reaccreditation, and it’s been a very successful school year to date. There are many reasons for that success—above all, our faculty and staff. With their growth mindset, they put students first.
The measure of our success is evident in our high student retention rate, the impressive academic, artistic, and athletic achievements of our students, and our strong school culture.
I want to give you a closer look at each area of CA and the focus this year.
In the Lower School, under the direction of Principal Angie Crabtree, our youngest students are engaged in Formative Five and Social Emotional Learning.
- The Lower School has committed to the Formative Five this year, including empathy, integrity, grit, embracing diversity, and self-control. Within each area, classrooms have used these as a guide for their social emotional work. A focus has been to re-engage in collaborative work so that students may develop and enhance interpersonal skills.
- The Fifth Grade has created a new capstone experience for all Fifth Graders this year. Each student is addressing a topic that requires research, planning, decision-making, problem-solving, time management, and personal reflection. Topics range from climate change to litter to food waste. Students will present their research and ideas in May.
- Throughout this year, teachers have assessed the overall impact of the pandemic on academic practice and readiness for our students. We are examining how students are performing and adjusting curriculum and instruction to reach and teach each student.
In the Middle School under Principal Bill Wolf-Tinsman’s leadership, students are making great academic and social progress.
The Middle School Future City Team is the Colorado State Champion, and four students finished in the top ten in the region; and the Middle School sent two Lego League Robotics Teams to State.
It has been a more normal year, with an Eighth Grade backpacking trip, movie night, and Middle School social events. And Middle Schoolers are looking forward to Interim.
Middle School faculty and staff support and challenge all learners, helping students be the best they can be while promoting academic and social skills.
In the F. Chuck Froelicher Upper School, which we named after our former headmaster during Homecoming this year, and with our new principal Max Delgado, we’ve spent portions of the year revisiting the different norms that typify in-class learning, given the amount of virtual learning that students did last year.
Our English and History Departments are beginning the process of planning new courses for the 2023-2024 school year, which will expand our commitment to deep research.
We just held Spring Fling, Prom is next month, and we look forward to Interim. Our Speech and Debate and Mock trial teams have had terrific competitions this year, as have our student-athletes.
Visual and Performing Arts
We’ve had some exciting firsts in our Visual and Performing Arts Program this year.
- We had students participate in All-State Dance Competition. Ninth Grader Gabriela Gonzales was selected for All-State, and Junior Sasha Yuffa and Gabriela Gonzales received Merit Scholarships.
- Students in all three divisions learned to paint in wax this fall, with guest artist Patricia Aaron.
- Our Academy Jazz Band will be attending the Greeley Jazz Fest this April. Our Upper School Choir was invited to perform at the 59th Annual CU Chamber Choir Festival at the University of Colorado.
- By the end of the year, our Theater Department will have hosted four main stage productions and three black box productions in the new Leach Center for Performing Arts, including the Upper School Musical Mary Poppins in April.
In Lower School, over the last three years, the P.E. team has been committed to teaching the grade-level outcomes set by SHAPE America to develop better cognition, competence, and character among our Lower School students, while at the same time enhancing their gross motor skill development.
In addition, students are also benefiting from diving deeper into movement-based activities in their Kinesiology classes.
Middle School students enthusiastically welcomed the return of interscholastic competition, with 302 games on the schedule this school year. Students continue to embrace a multi-sport approach, exploring 21 unique offerings across Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Grades.
In Upper School, all of our teams are having success on the court or the field. Most recently, Ice Hockey played at Ball Arena in the State Championship, with more than 1,000 CA supporters in attendance. We are seeing continued great work in the Bansbach Strength and Conditioning room with Coach Wes Kirk. And we continue to improve the Newton property with lights now fully operational on Slater Field, allowing for more CA student-athletes to have a greater experience practicing and competing.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Our Office of Inclusivity welcomed Miriah Royal, Strategic Recruitment and Community Engagement Officer. Among the Office of Inclusivity highlights:
We are in our second stage of our curriculum audit, implementing changes and reviewing lessons with Jenna Chandler-Ward and Director of Inclusivity and now our DEI consultant Sarah Wright.
We added Faculty affinity groups for LGBTQ+ and folks of color as well as a school Student of Color Affinity Group
We are working to create sense of belonging.
We are extremely grateful for the connections our counselors have with students and their ongoing work in each division.
In Lower School, we have “Kid Power” programming for all Kindergarten and Third Graders. Kindergarten and Third Grade parents are able to be included virtually for this event, as well as attend an evening talk to further explain strategies for parents to help support children.
We have also implemented Lower School-wide conflict resolution steps for kids to be able to express their feelings, listen to others, and brainstorm ways to resolve conflict.
In Middle School, Morgan Beidleman did extensive training of staff on how to differentiate learning in the classroom and how to support students’ executive functioning skills. She also held two workshops with students about learning styles, helping students identify their own learning style and study and self-advocate based on this information.
Counselors also held a Middle School Internet Safety and Predator Awareness presentation for students and parents.
In Upper School, the Tenth Grade retreat was held earlier this year to help the Sophomore class make better connections after not being able to be fully in-person last year as new Ninth Graders because of COVID restrictions
We also administered the “FCD Student Attitudes and Behavior Survey” to the Upper School students. The anonymous survey is designed to measure students’ actual attitudes and behavior with regard to alcohol and other drugs, as well as their perceptions of the behavior and attitudes of their peers.
One area seeing a lot of new trends is college counseling. Our College Counselors’ work truly is a difference-maker for students.
Seniors submitted just over 900 applications this cycle, an average of 9 applications per student. We have seen 300 acceptances so far, and more will arrive in the coming weeks as decisions start coming out.
The College Office is working with Juniors in a six-session class series to get them thinking about their values and goals and to break the college application project up into manageable chunks.
It is worth noting that College Admissions may be more competitive than ever, but CA students continue to be supported and empowered as they approach the next phase of their journeys.
Our Library programs are a special ingredient in CA’s special sauce. They have been very intentional this year about creating Library as community space.
Librarians have emphasized media literacy and showcased robust collections of print and online resources. Visit either library and you will be met with engaging book displays and highlights of their strong student programming.
We’ve had a lot of fun with the return of our outdoor programs. Forbes Cone has done an amazing job working with the faculty and staff to organize these events, including the Eighth Grade Backpacking Trip, the Eldorado Hut trip, the Lake City Ice Climbing Trip, and On-Campus Camping.
We are looking forward to 16 Middle School Interim options this year, including new trips like “Amazing Race,” “I Dig Denver,” “Mountain Bike the Front Range,” “’Sprawling Through South Dakota,” and “Take a Breath.”
Upper School will have 32 Interim options, including new trips like “Book Binding,” “Immersive Landscape Photography,” “Curling,” “Ceramics in the Wild,” “Orienteering,” “Adaptive Climbing,” and “Swallow Hill Music.”
Safety and Security
We are ever mindful of the safety and security of everyone on campus. Julia Shoun and her team’s motto is “Plan, Prepare, Protect.”
This year, we have taken some new security measures, including phase one of camera installation, addressing software and access control, and securing doors. We also are currently hiring a third team member.
Campus Dining Hall
Probably the most joyous place on campus is the dining hall these days, with the return to pre-pandemic service and seating. Outdoor dining remains an option.
Supply issues persist, so the menu doesn’t always get served as planned, but we are not sure anyone notices except Chefs Paul and Chris.
The drink station is being tested by Coke so we are still waiting to be able to use it.
I so appreciate the dining team as they develop key connections with your children.
Horizons at Colorado Academy
Many of our families support Horizons at Colorado Academy. The Horizons students have been hit hard by the pandemic, but Horizons has provided an essential safety net.
In 2021-2022, Horizons at CA successfully launched an in-person tutoring program two times a week at Knapp Elementary, in which CA Upper School students and parents volunteered to tutor. We have 16 Horizons students that receive in-person tutoring and more than 20 that receive online tutoring.
We formalized our high school mentorship program and have increased the scholarship amount available to Horizons students to $2500 per student.
In summer 2021, Horizons had 180 students enrolled. For summer 2022, we will have more than 210 students. Horizons will have two First Grade cohorts and two Second Grade cohorts for summer 2022.
Ongoing COVID-19 protocols
It’s important that I talk about the pandemic and our efforts to move to a new normal.
We still have students contracting the illness and classrooms having to adjust. If your child is vaccinated and you have not already done so, please update their vaccination status in Magnus Health. It helps as we contact trace and assess the impact of a positive case in a classroom.
Headlines from around the world show increased cases of COVID-19. Please keep masks handy and be ready to return to pandemic protocols.
Our students are doing a remarkable job supporting classmates who choose to continue to wear a mask. Everyone supports individual choice here, and signs supporting mask optional are posted throughout campus.
We will continue updating the COVID-19 Dashboard that you can see each week in CA Today.
We are wrapping up Admission season, and I want to congratulate Catherine Laskey and her team: Heidi Chesley-Vogels, Karen Chavez, Aidah Clinton, Miriah Royal, Lisa Dean, and Paige Siemers. The 2022-2023 school year is shaping up nicely, thanks to their extraordinary work.
- 97 percent re-enrollment rate
- 812 applications
- 152 new students are enrolled for 2022-2023
- Our student body will be more diverse overall, with 32 percent of students identifying as racially or ethnically diverse.
- More than $4.4 million in financial aid has been awarded to 18 percent of the student body.
Admission Preview this year included Middle School and Upper School students as tour guides in addition to parents. Junior and Senior Student Ambassadors conducted Upper School visits, replacing Ninth Grade shadow days.
Lower School and Middle School admission visits occurred in person and virtually, depending on family preference.
More than 95 Parent Ambassadors assisted with Q & A sessions, tours, and panels. We thank you! And we recently saw the return of Accept Parties.
The Advancement Office wants to invite all families to our spring event, The CA Concert. CA is fortunate to be able to create a truly unique experience among independent schools, welcoming top recording artists every other year. You may have noticed the posters that lined the entry as you walked in. There’s a rich history of our concerts, which drive support for financial aid. The six concerts to date have brought in nearly one million dollars.
We’ve had Lyle Lovett, Nathaniel Rateliff, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Bruce Hornsby, Big Head Todd and the Monsters, and this year Isaac Slade and an amazing guitar duo—Rodrigo y Gabriela.
These evenings bring our community together like nothing else, and we are truly interested in this year’s being no different. If cost is a concern, let us know. It’s a fun event, and we want as many CA families there as possible.
Farewell to Alanna Brown
I do want to share one update from our Business Office. Many of you have worked with Alanna Brown over the years. Alanna is retiring this year after 28 years with CA. She is not able to be with us today, but I did want to acknowledge her. Alanna has been a steady hand for me the last 14 years and has provided amazing leadership to CA for double that. She has served this institution with integrity and a selfless manner. It is common to see her in her office long past when others have departed for the day.
The school is in solid financial shape with new buildings and facilities and zero debt. Alanna has guided the day-to-day operations of the school, providing me with insightful counsel. During the pandemic, she has been a rock, keeping the institution open and fulfilling its mission. We will miss her greatly and are so thankful for her service.
We will have many new faces at CA next year.
Beyond the 152 new students, there will be new faculty and staff. We don’t have any new buildings to open, and with the 7-year $32 million See it Through Campaign completed, we are turning our attention to strategic planning.
So we have been doing a lot of listening.
We have been meeting with students to hear what they want out of a CA education. Loud and clear, they are asking for more experiences. So what does that look like? A January term?
We’ve organized a strategic planning committee composed of faculty, staff, and trustees. We’re talking through what our new work should be, and what our goals should be. We are putting key measures in place to monitor our success.
It’s always good to learn from our peers, so we have met with INDEX schools to hear about their secrets to success.
Guided by input from a strategic planning committee of trustees as well as the Strategic Planning Committee of faculty and staff, we’ve gone back to the drawing board on some key areas for innovative teaching and learning. This remains the strength of CA, and we need to continue to push excellence.
We have several areas under consideration, including changes to the schedule and the Advanced Placement (AP) courses.
The question of how to maintain and grow a strong academic program is one that drives all great schools, and CA is no exception. For years CA has answered this question by focusing our energies on robust professional development, empowering our teachers to develop new innovative courses, and promoting a limited AP curriculum in the Upper School. We offer only 16 of the 38 total AP classes available through the College Board.
As we discussed at the Tenth Grade Parent Association meeting in January, there are changes coming to our academic program that will create new opportunities for students and faculty, specifically in the English and History Departments. These departments are eager to replace their total of four AP classes with advanced options that will allow students to have more agency, go deeper, engage in knowledge production, and pursue multidisciplinary questions. CA students are curious, and classes that are geared towards preparing students for cumulative AP exams rarely leave breathing room for going deeper and exploring questions.
These kinds of program developments are intended to align with CA’s mission and to center student learning. Though CA has not made a formal decision to eliminate AP in all Upper School departments, we remain committed to the fundamental question of how we might maintain and grow a strong academic program, and we are becoming increasingly open to the possibility that the answer might lie beyond AP.
We know that more than 80 leading independent schools across the country have made the choice to develop their own advanced courses, replacing AP with other challenging courses. We have been examining this from the perspective of college admissions. When we talk to Deans of Admissions at select schools across the nation, we have been assured that this will not negatively impact our students.
CA is well-known and respected. Indeed, moving away from AP will actually make more students more competitive.
In addition to reexamining our AP program, we are also looking at additional issues.
- What is CA’s “Portrait of a Graduate?” What are the characteristics and competencies that every student leaves CA with?
- What financial stability initiatives should we be investigating? Should we find more ways to generate non-tuition-based revenue? Should our endowment be double what it is now?
- When is the right time to build a new Lower School, given the capital campaign we just completed last year? We are determined to advance CA in ways that build upon our strengths and help us remain the best independent school in Colorado.
We have lots to look forward to before the end of this year—the Upper School Musical, the CA Concert, Taste of CA, and Giant Relay Day. Please come to campus and enjoy being part of this extraordinary community.