We marked a milestone in February, with Jefferson County Public Health allowing schools to move to mask optional. The photo above captures a moment from that first day, but the smiles have continued two weeks later, and I’m proud to report that our students, faculty, and staff did as expected—met the moment with compassion and understanding for individual choice regarding mask wearing.
This year has brought many highlights that I will be sharing later this month in my annual State of the School presentation. I plan to use our time together to give a preview of Colorado Academy’s next strategic plan and our goal to elevate experiential and self-directed learning at CA. We have some exciting ideas for the short and long-term future of our school, as we focus on deepening student engagement and curiosity.
Some of our ideas were validated by last fall’s re-accreditation process by the Association of Colorado Independent Schools (ACIS). A team of educators from other ACIS schools visited campus for four days. They spoke with nearly every employee, and they met with representative groups of alumni, parents, and students. The goal was to evaluate our program, to examine how well we live up to our mission, and to ensure we are meeting the best standards in education.
I am pleased to report that we secured our re-accreditation and received a lot of positive feedback on our work and the quality of our community. The team looks at and offers commendations and recommendations on every aspect of the school’s operations. 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 out to the full community.
In terms of major commendations, the visiting team singled out excellent employees and outstanding morale. At one point, the leaders of the visiting team told me, “I can’t believe how happy people are at CA.” They noted that, despite the pandemic, the faculty and staff are so positive about the school and love their work. They noted the strong commitment the school has made in supporting teaching and professional development, adding, “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.” As our nation witnesses a large exodus of teachers in the midst of the pandemic, it is important that we support our CA teachers and staff. We cannot be an excellent school without excellent employees.
The team also commended the school for our efforts in advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion. They called out some recent initiatives and leadership of our program and noted tangible improvements in recent years. They noted support provided to students of color and those from marginalized communities, and praised our efforts to be a place of belonging for all. At the same time, the team made some major recommendations in terms of our DEI work. Every institution and organization has to be intentional about this work and recognize that it is ongoing. They recommended that the school do more training with faculty and staff, and do more specific engagement with students and families of color about their lived experience at the school.
A recommendation identified as a forthcoming strategic priority was finding better balance in our schedule and calendar to deepen student learning. CA is a place of high expectations and has an array of programs. There are competing demands on student and faculty/staff time. The pandemic slowed us all down in the spring of 2020, and this year has felt like a whirlwind, even as our community has had many opportunities to be together. For our students and faculty, this can be a bit overwhelming. And, it can get in the way of deeper learning.
In our strategic planning process, we have been interviewing students about what they want out of their CA experience. From Fifth Graders to Seniors, they say they want more hands-on, authentic learning experiences. Many faculty want to engage in more project- and research-based work with students. Accomplishing this will take time that our current schedule doesn’t allow.
This is just a quick peek at what I want to share at this year’s State of the School, and I hope most of you join me on March 17, 2022, at 8:30 a.m. in the Leach Center for the Performing Arts. You can register here. You play an important role in our efforts to make CA an even better place of learning and belonging, and I can’t wait to celebrate this year together.