How wonderful it’s been to return to at least some sense of normalcy this school year with all students back on campus five days a week!
While there is certainly comfort in returning to a more familiar mode of operation, this does not mean that our learning community is aiming to go back entirely to the way things were before the pandemic. On the contrary, we are starting this school year looking resolutely and optimistically to the future, with a new strategic plan that doubles down on the powerful strategic vision we first articulated in 2015:
Cary Academy will create personalized learning opportunities that are flexible and relevant in an environment that supports student wellbeing.
We will cultivate self-directed and bold life-long learners who make meaningful contributions to the world.
It’s been a while since we’ve spoken broadly about our 2020 strategic plan, and some of you who are newer to our community may not even be aware of its genesis.
Every five years, the school engages in a strategic planning process that also serves as our self-study for purposes of accreditation renewal. Our 2020 strategic planning process got underway in early 2019, with a review of the progress we had made with our 2015 plan. In the course of that review, we found ourselves excited by what we had been able to achieve but also struck by what might be possible if we were to continue down the ambitious strategic path we had set for ourselves for another five years.
What, for example, might we be able to accomplish with respect to our goals for creating institutional flexibility and cultivating authentic engagement if we were to concentrate our energy on deeply reimagining the way we use time?
And what might we be able to achieve with respect to our goals for building strong connections and providing appropriate resources if we were to follow up on the significant improvements we were making to the physical side of our school environment with an equally substantial slate of improvements supporting the cultural side?
With questions like these in mind, the Head of School convened a Strategic Planning Committee (SPC) with members representing the Board, faculty and staff, students, parents, and alumni. The SPC worked with the school’s Leadership Team to develop the 2020 plan as a “second phase” to the 2015 plan, identifying a set of key strategies for each of our existing goal areas that would help us more fully realize the original strategic vision. The work of the SPC was then shared with employees for further feedback and finetuning, with the Board reviewing and approving the final plan in November 2019, ahead of an anticipated accreditation team visit in Spring 2020.
Then came COVID.
Suddenly, our accreditation visit was postponed from April 2020 to March 2021. This, in turn, caused the rollout and first year of implementation of our new strategic plan to be postponed to the current school year. All the while, the global pandemic and the call to action on racial justice were giving added urgency to much of the strategic work envisioned in our plan, particularly in the areas of institutional flexibility and wellbeing. So, in something of a paradox, we significantly accelerated implementation of certain components of our strategic plan starting in Summer 2020, even as we were forced to delay the official kickoff of the 2020 plan to Fall 2021.
We are now in the unusual (but fortunate) position of having already made significant headway in the execution of our new strategic plan, even though we are technically just a few weeks into the formal “year one.” Some highlights of our progress to date include:
- Piloting new daily schedules in Middle and Upper School featuring a later start to the school day, fewer class meetings/transitions per day, a longer Middle School lunch break, and a flexible Wednesday.
- Shifting to a semester system in the Upper School to reduce grade focus and anxiety through fewer reporting periods.
- Launching X-Day programming to support experiential learning, with an emphasis on student co-creation and student choice.
- Partnering with the PTAA to administer the Authentic Connections/High Achieving Schools Survey to assess the wellbeing of our student community and identify areas for improvement.
- Reaffirming and strengthening our commitment to equity and anti-racism as a cornerstone to wellbeing in our community.
To answer that question, I would like to invite you to take a closer look at the full 2020 Strategic Plan now posted to our website. The goals and strategies outlined in the plan will drive much of the work we undertake as a learning community over the next five years, with ample opportunities for participation and feedback along the way. By taking a deeper dive into work begun in 2015 and looking for the opportunities in our response to both the racial equity and the public health crisis, we are positioned to move our learning community forward in ways that are not only positive but truly transformative.
I look forward to the strategic journey ahead and hope you share my excitement about the possibilities.