Welcome to our annual State of the School Address where, as a community, we gather together to hear about the current state of our school, speak about our future and highlight certain elements of our program that may be earmarked for improvement or spark inspiration. Tonight, mark my words, take notes, record it on your iPhone. You heard it here first! There is no better time to be a member of the Harbor Country Day community. I will say it again – there is no better time to be a member of the Harbor Country Day community. This year, I think we are poised well for inspiration; we have so many people and programs that motivate and inspire us. Towards the end of this evening, we will hear from our Chair of the Board of Trustees, David Essex, and our Head of School Search Committee with some exciting news about the future of our school, specifically its leadership.
The last four years have been terrific – yes, they have been terrific. Some years were better than others; I am sure you will agree. But all in all they were terrific, and I will eventually leave Harbor in June with a heavy heart but confident that we did good work here along the way. In many ways I feel as though I am leaving prematurely, but a wise leader once told me that when you start to feel it is time to move on, it usually is. And I think it is the right time for the Pryor family and the school community. I so clearly remember the enthusiasm you all brought to my first year: welcoming parties, Induction Ceremonies, songs, poems, a key to the school. I hope you will offer my successor a similar welcome, as I am sure you will. That is the kind of community we are – a welcoming one. One that embraces a challenge, welcomes innovation, charts a responsible course, and diligently sets sail towards success. Early on in my tenure we raised an unprecedented amount of money to make the types of improvements to Harbor that were necessary to become known as a school of excellence. And it is happening. Pat Bassett, President of the National Association of Independent Schools will say, “For independent schools, “excellence” is a given, not an option, “excellence in the sense of schools that serve kids and families well, where kids and teachers are engaged, where teachers have universally high expectations of all students, where college-preparation and an achievement orientation are universal, where values are central to the climate and the partnership with parents. Nonetheless, “excellence” is a rather amorphous term, as it is often invoked in the larger academic and school debates, meaning different things to different people.”
Excellence at Harbor is a standard; we strive for it with each day. In fact, I vividly remember when the board and I were developing our mission statement, we discussed the use of the term academic excellence, and whether or not we should highlight it in our mission. We opted against it. We agreed that academic excellence has become such an important component to our school that it was obvious and therefore did not need mentioning in our mission statement. I believe this as much as I believe in my own children.
Academic Excellence means many things and can often be vague and nebulous. I think our nation depends upon state standards and test scores to help define the meaning of excellence too often. However, I also think that test scores are valid, quantitative and have their place in education – but they do not tell the whole story of a student’s success. That is why Harbor does not teach to any specific test, we teach to life. I will not go into detail right now about our fabulous reading and writing program, which have shown marked progress in student learning since we initiated it. I won’t go into detail about how our Upper School students are devouring literature written by Homer, Shakespeare, Steinbeck, Poe. I won’t harp on the fact that our students are engaged in science labs every week. And I will certainly not mention that students in grades one through eight have access to some of the nations most advanced educational technology on a daily basis. I also would never talk about our fine and performing arts program that help instill creativity and appreciation as we develop and train the right side of our student’s brains. And Mrs. Decker would kill me if I mentioned how well she and Mrs. Hotzak help our children develop a life-long passion for exercise and a healthy life-style. So, I won’t mention those outstanding levels of education that your children receive on a daily basis.
We believe that excellence is also about other things. We believe that 21st century skills are the very skills students will need to excel in the next 50 years. We call them the Five C’s – for a very important reason – each of the five terms begins with the letter C. Our five C’s are character, critical thinking, collaboration, creativity and connection. These are the skills that have been recognized as the essential 21st century skills our students will need to reach success in their lives and each day we help to nurture those skills in our classes. That is another marker of excellence.
Harbor is a school like no other. We work hard to provide the best possible experience for your children and we love what we do. We come to work each day because we value the time we spend with your children and we believe in our school. With each new year, we grow. We critique, we analyze, we develop. Great schools will always look forward and enrich their program. This year we saw the Marine Science Outreach Program be taken to the next level. Students of all ages have been engaged in Marine Science work. We began the year as an entire school with a trip to Stony Brook University Science Lab to celebrate Earthstock. Classes of all levels head out to Flax Pond testing water samples, learning about run-off and erosion. I remember the day the first graders went. At least one first grader I know pretty well thought it was the best day ever! We have visited and explored the Long Island Science Museum. In conjunction with our Marine Science efforts, our Upper School Science program this year is more experiential in nature while still delving deeply into scientific concepts that affect our lives. Science labs occur each week, so our students are fully immersed in the scientific process and learning about the critical elements that merge together to make up and affect our daily lives. The Science Colloquium is coming up soon and that will again engage students in project management skills, collaboration, science exploration, creativity, writing, technology, public speaking, scientific analysis and critical thinking.
I am committed to selecting and developing a new math program for next year. While the final decisions are yet to be agreed upon and the new head of school’s opinion will be wanted and added, the vision of the program is that it will be conceptual in nature with a strong complement of a more linear approach, focusing on the basic facts that student need to become excellent mathematicians. Announcements on this program will be made later this spring. In the meantime, you should know that because we are small enough to pay attention to details and individual needs, several students are engaged in math classes that far outreach their standard math levels. Students in 2nd grade participate in 3rd grade math. Students in 4th grade participate in 5th and 6th grade math classes. Our Upper School math program offers levels for all students, but we set the bar higher, so students are studying 1,2 and 3 years ahead of the public school traditional model. While not always recognized, this practice has been used at Harbor for several years.
Our focus on Teachers College Reading and Writing Project is ongoing and strengthening. Students are learning to read and reading to learn on their specific levels. We know what level each child is on at all times, as they are formally evaluated several times each year and we continue to stretch each one. We are seeing great progress in reading ability across the board in the lower school. Equally important, our students love reading because the program highlights rich, inspiring literature.
Since we began collecting and analyzing ERB scores we have seen significant increases. The last three years of data show increases at all levels and in all areas. In fact, last year’s student body that took the test last May can boast that almost 50% of students in grades 3-6 placed in the top 5% of the country scoring 95% and above in national norms on at least one test, which qualified them for the Johns Hopkins Award. We are proud of this accomplishment and know that our new programs instituted over the last several years are beginning to take hold and having an effect. Further, 100% of our graduating class from last year was accepted into their school of choice and equally important are thriving in school.
Our Fine and Performing Arts programs continue to offer a creative outlet for our students and stretch them beyond the standard programs. Classes in art and music appreciation, history of certain artists and composers, music composition on laptops, history of the poster are all tapping into student’s right side of the brain – thus training them for the 21st Century with skills in creativity, critical thinking, collaboration as well as a rich traditional background of knowledge on composers and styles of art and music. Our students consistently achieve high honors and recognition in art and music contests across the Island and the State.
You have seen a small growth in our after-school program this year. We anticipate a new and improved program for next year. Under the leadership of one director, our new program will be substantially broader and deeper. Outside programs will come in and offer enriched activities in art, music, math, writing, sports and, of course, cheerleading.
I am proud that while we grow in program, we remain true to our mission. Harbor cherishes childhood, cultivates wonder and inspires confident learners and leaders. We live our mission each day, and we think carefully about individuals. We differentiate, we are flexible and we care. Often times, when schools focus on specifics, they forget to remain true to the greater good – the mission of the school. Harbor remains true.
This fall, Mark Lauria, the Executive Director of our state association, NYSAIS, visited us. He spent a few hours touring the school and meeting faculty and staff. He is new to the association as this is only his second year. Also, he wanted to come see the school I consistently brag about. In October the NYSAIS accrediting team spent three days with us learning about Harbor and how we support and further our mission. They wrote a lengthy response to our 90-page self-study, which highlighted many of our successes. The NYSAIS accrediting committee will meet later in January to discuss the status of our accreditation, so I cannot offer you a completed, final version of their report. However, all signals point to a stellar visit and a positive report. When the time is appropriate the report will be made public, if you wish to read it. What I can share with you at this time is in general the visiting team fell in love with Harbor. They thought our teaching was spot on. They highlighted the balanced approach we strike between a rigorous curriculum and a nurturing spirit. They applauded our efforts over the last several years in making giant strides in the world of curriculum development and teaching. They thought our students were engaging, inquisitive, worldly and cute. They noted our board of trustees consisted of committed individuals who care deeply about our school and are leading us in the right direction. All in all, they loved us and while they have suggestions for us on how to improve, the suggestions are thoughtful and coincide with our own short and long-term plans for the future of Harbor.
The economy has had its effects on all of us, the Pryor family and Harbor Country Day included. While Harbor is truly a gift, we understand that it comes at a cost. The many superb programs I outlined tonight and the others I did not unfortunately come at a cost.
In 2008 when we were heading into the recession, we anticipated a shortfall but established the necessary safeguards so that we would eventually be ok. We actually proposed a deficit budget that year and as we know, the shortfall happened. This 2010-2011 Academic Year, with a lower enrollment than was anticipated and cost of living always increasing, we worked hard to propose a balanced budget to the board and it was accepted. This was the first balanced budget in two years. We were successful because we made some sacrifices without affecting program, and we were fortunate to fundraise enough to subsidize the difference. Once again, in order to propose a balanced budget for 2011-2012 Academic Year and keep the academic and co-curricular program moving forward, I proposed and the board accepted an increase in tuition … ( I left this number out for the time being )With this increase and an anticipated increase in enrollment, Harbor will once again be standing on stronger financial footing and will continue to prosper.
We understand that any increase can be difficult. With this in mind we developed and committed to several new programs to help all parents afford a Harbor education.
- We have always been committed to financial aid. We have renamed this program to make more sense and have it better resonate with families. Tuition Assistance is exactly what it is. So, that is what we are calling it. We will assist all families who apply for and qualify. Updated literature will be sent out immediately. To show how committed we are and how much we believe in our school and our families, we have tripled the amount of tuition assistance we can offer for this coming year. This is not to say that families already receiving assistance will receive three times the amount, rather it means we are committing more money to families who are in need and we can help you continue to offer your child and independent school education. Please consider tuition assistance if you think it will help you next year.
- We are introducing our new Recruitment Incentive Program. This plan was developed to help all of us, considering that we would all benefit from a larger student body and a discount on tuition. For each new student enrolled the recommending Harbor family will receive a $1000 discount on their tuition. I am hopeful that you all will partake in this program. A quick few details: the recommended student must meet all admissions standards and remain at the school for at least five months. There is no limit to this program. If you recommend 10 students, you will receive a 10K discount on next year’s tuition. The beauty of this is that you receive the discount and our community gains thoughtful, bright students of character. Please consider this program. Our next Open House is on January 23rd.
- We are also introducing our new merit scholarship for new students. We are committed to admitting students of quality to next year’s 7th grade, as well as other US grades. We have developed a merit scholarship program to help brilliant students of character afford to attend Harbor’s upper school program. This is a merit scholarship based on scores earned on the Secondary School Admissions Test or the SSAT. You will receive more information on this program immediately. If you know brilliant students of character, who are the ages of our upper school grades, please invite them to our Open House. They may receive a scholarship and you may receive a discount. And Harbor benefits from the larger student body.
With our continued efforts to consistently push our programs to evolve, it is only appropriate to help educate the outside community of all that we are doing. We launched a new marketing plan this year with the goal of improving the general reputation and respect of the school. At the very basic level, we need to show communities that we exist. At the higher, more advanced level, we need to exhibit that we should be considered a leader among the Islands independent schools. An effort of this proportion and importance takes patience, time, collaboration, money and innovation. Our goal has always been to offer a rigorous, robust educational program that is better than any other option. I believe we have the programs, but in order to truly achieve greatness, we need more students. Enrollment must increase and that means – plain and simple – get the word out. Beginning on Monday, a new 30 sec. commercial for Harbor will be shown on several popular cable channels between the times of 6 pm and 12 pm. If you watch the cooking channel or lifetime or Bravo, you will see our commercial! Playing at the Stony Brook Theatre before every single movie shown in every theatre, a 15 sec spot will be shown. So get to the theatre early, load up on the popcorn and jujubes in time and watch the commercial.
We are carefully tracking all admission inquiries and keep close contact with them through email. We send them weekly Hawk Eye News clips and Animoto shows. With the rate social media is taking over the news world, we increased our web presence on facebook, twitter, and across the Internet. We are reaching out far and wide to make a presence across the island. We hope you have recognized the efforts we place on internal and external marketing and communications. It is very important at this time in the School’s life to spread the good word.
On January 20th we will be hosting a major event of the year here at school. I am sure you have heard about it, read about it, seen the signs around town, or have been annoyed by the pop-ups on our website. The nationally acclaimed film, Race To Nowhere will be shown here at Harbor on the 20th at 7 PM. This is a fabulous film about the pressures some schools place on students by focusing on test scores and the college application process. It also unveils the lack of critical thinking skills being taught in the public schools. The very skills I have been speaking of tonight are not taught in public schools at the level they are in schools like Harbor. Unfortunately, a paradox exists: students of all ages are being herded in the wrong direction – they are being viewed as a product and not a child involved in the learning process of life. Thus, thousands of children across the country are suffering from depression, lack of sleep, eating disorders, and in some cases suicide. Race To Nowhere is leading the charge in starting a movement towards striking a better balance. We are showing the movie here on the 20th and we assembled a panel of professionals to hold a discussion afterwards. The panel consists of Mark Lauria, executive director of NYSAIS, Steve Hahn, Head of School at Portledge School, Gregg Glover, Associate Director of Admissions and Adjunct Prof at Harvard, a local child psychologist and me. We have invited our Head of School elect and will hope he can attend depending on his schedule. We have enough seating for 200 and it is opened to the public. I am hopeful we will fill this gym with curious individuals who may, in fact, see Harbor as a potential solution to the Race To Nowhere.
We are committed to increasing enrollment over the course of the next several years, so marketing is at an all time high. However, we must be careful about this endeavor. While we want and need more students in school, we want the right students in school. We are looking for bright, inquisitive and curious students who will help raise the academic bar. We want thoughtful students of character. We want families who believe in and support our mission. Harbor is a fabulous opportunity for this type of family and student and as I said before there has never been a better time to be a Harbor family.
Harbor is poised for excellence – there is no better time to be a Harbor family then right now. We are committed to helping our school grow, become more financially stable, admitting students of character, helping our families afford an excellent education and as always, remaining true to our mission as we push the envelope in innovation, motivation and inspiration. I am so excited about what is happening at Harbor these days and I am honored to be a part of it.
Will you now please give your attention to Dave Essex, our Chair of the Board of Trustees. Thank you.