This past fall, we started a planning process to identify Colorado Academy’s strategic direction for the next three to five years. Chaired by trustees Lisa Osman and Bryan Leach, we have pulled together a representative body of faculty and administrative leaders, as well as members of the Board of Trustees, to begin the process. It’s still early, but as we move forward, we will involve focus groups of students, parents, and alumni.

I have been at CA  for 14 years, and in this time we have completed two major strategic plans. These have revitalized campus facilities and focused on cultivating 21st century skills and competencies in our students. We moved from a more traditional curriculum to an innovative program that includes Design Thinking. We also committed to important DEI goals that have led to CA’s student body and faculty being more diverse than ever in the school’s history, and we have more projects in place that will move us forward as an inclusive community. We prioritized student mental health and wellness and focused on nurturing a strong student culture.

Once again, we find ourselves at a moment in time where current events shape our considerations: the global pandemic has asked us to think deeply about the future of our students and the world they will inherit. To that end, the Strategic Planning Committee will be thinking carefully about student learning and the long-term health and goals of our school.

Endowment growth and non-tuition revenue streams

One of the most prudent steps we can take is to grow CA’s endowment. This will provide critical financial stability to meet future economic uncertainty. An endowment is an investment fund that makes regular withdrawals from invested capital to fund ongoing operations. We are grateful to the many members of CA’s generous community who have contributed to our endowment, which currently stands at $33 million. Developing a larger endowment will help contain tuition increases and sustain socio-economic diversity. Also, finding other sources of revenue through expanding summer camps, facility rental, and developing programming that might benefit the broader Denver community can have a positive impact on our long-term financial sustainability.

Reimagining teaching and learning

This is an exciting part of our strategic planning process and one that I have been eager to pursue ever since the pandemic hit. How do we live our mission and better facilitate the growth of curious and courageous learners and leaders? With outside forces directly impacting all of our lives and futures, how can we reimagine school to make it more engaging and relevant to young people?

We’re listening to students to do just that. In two sessions with our planning committee and a Board of Trustees meeting, we brought in students from all divisions to help inform our conversations. In a brainstorming session moderated by REDI Lab Director Tom Thorpe, College Counseling Director Sonia Arora, and Educational Technology Specialist Laura Farmer, we challenged students, faculty, and board members to dream and design a learning experience we wish existed at CA that is consistent with our mission and prepares students for the future. We asked them to be ambitious and work without limitations. The results were fascinating, as some common themes quickly emerged.

Choices and experiences

There is a desire to have more individual choice in curriculum and for students to have more opportunity for research and self-directed learning. One Fifth Grader noted how she absorbs more when she “has choice and can go somewhere outside of school to learn.” Multiple teams put forward ideas that would take students out into the Denver community through service and internships. It was uncanny how so many came back to one similar theme—let students design their work, and let it include more experiential education. Many expressed interest in some kind of academic “interim,” academic intensive, or January Term that would allow students and teachers to dive deeply into an area of study.

As a leader among independent schools, Colorado Academy has an opportunity to rethink our schedule, calendar, and programs to engage our students even more effectively and in more rigorous ways than we do now. It should not be surprising that this generation of students—which has grown up in a Netflix world in which young people can have everything on demand—craves agency.

Nor is it surprising that after 20 months of disruption, our students and faculty want to get out and have more experiential learning. But what has also emerged is how crucial it is that we sustain the close community that we have now. CA is a community defined by shared values and healthy relationships among faculty, students, and families. Stay tuned for more updates, and, if you are interested in being involved in a focus group, please email me.