On being back to school…
What an amazing time of year. Without a doubt, the number one question I’ve been asked over the past two weeks is if I’m ready to have the kids back at school. Often the question comes in a bit of jest from parents worn weary of a summertime full of kids and entertainment. More than perception, often I see the look of comfort in their eyes knowing that their kids are safe, learning, and under our care (and out of their hair). I get it. With two daughters over the age of twenty and an adolescent son, I understand the mixture of exhaustion and enthusiasm parents experience this time of year. But rest assured, there is nothing that makes me happier than to see your children here, back to school, under our care, carrying on the St. Paul’s mission and tradition. Maybe what is most amazing of all is how successful and smooth it all goes. I simply couldn’t be more proud of my faculty and staff and the amazing work that they do realizing this monumental feat. There are so many working parts to the successful launch of a school year, yet the faculty pull it off with grace and ease. We are all truly blessed to be a part of St. Paul’s School.
But outside of welcoming back all of our wonderful students and families, it has been a busy past few weeks here at the school. In an effort to maintain our highest commitment to student safety, we’ve retained the services of Hampel Security Consultants to provide a number of safety services throughout the year. Hampel Security Consultants have already provided a vulnerability assessment, a physical plant security assessment, a risk analysis assessment, campus security training, active shooter training, and a continuity book. They also plan to provide traumatic first aid training to the entire staff at the close of the first quarter. Brian Hampel will continue to work with members of our leadership team to help us create the safest environment possible for our children.
Following a great deal of thought, investigation, and consideration, the St. Paul’s School board and administrative team will be pursuing the development and growth of our advancement department. In a nutshell, St. Paul’s School works tirelessly to be viable and unique in an increasingly competitive educational market, and it is important that we develop and control our image and outreach in the community, as well as to seek and develop sustainable philanthropic giving that aligns with our mission, vision, and Christian values. Certainly this is a monumental task as most independent schools have a full time Director of Advancement or else entire departments devoted to such endeavors. But that’s not us, not just yet. Instead, Jennifer Peltzer and Corinne Ramsey alongside the guidance and support of our board of trustees will begin this venture slowly, but with a steadfast commitment to the long term sustainability of St. Paul’s School.
On the academic side, we have an exciting year planned for our middle school team. In a newer twist on the sixth grade, Kyle Womack and Ana Barba will handling a majority of the educative responsibilities. Our intention is to provide a rigorous academic experience for these kids while building in greater systems of support, accountability, and student responsibility. Both Mr. Womack and Ms. Barba will be working themselves to the proverbial nub this year, but have been commissioned to lay the foundation for a reinvigorated middle school program that simply does not exist anywhere else in our surrounding community. More than sports or exposure or a “social life,” what adolescent kids need most is to be to be known, supported, and loved by their community. St. Paul’s School has the unique ability to provide exactly this, while also providing a top tier academic experience for all of our children. This is who we are, this is what we offer, and this is where we need to hang our hat. I couldn’t be more proud of the work these two are doing, and am excited to see this program flourish.
As for our athletics and physical education program, we have a few exciting changes for the 2019/2020 academic year. Beginning in the middle of September, we will once again field a Cross Country team. Myself, alongside Ms. Barba, will be coaching this fine group of young athletes. We are eager to have both a boys team and a girls team, so any student eager to learn more about the lifelong benefits of long distance running, please come out and participate in Cross Country. Additionally, in an effort to get more of our middle school students involved in more elective offerings, St. Paul’s School is piloting a physical education waiver for students who participate in club sports who feel that their practice and competition schedules will meet the mandatory 350 minute of physical education for every 10 days of school. Interested students should discuss these requirements further with their homeroom teachers.
It should go without saying, but I couldn’t be more pleased that we are all back to school. The cyclical nature of education has once again brought us this new beginning, and my hope is that you and your children find this to be an exceedingly rewarding year.
Seth W. Yocum
Closing in on the end, and looking forward to where we begin…
With the closing of my first year as the Head of St. Paul’s School on the horizon, I am truly amazed with the support, generosity, and commitment of our St. Paul’s School community. For starters, it’s hard for me to express the level of gratitude I feel for our generous donors who have provided the financial spark to push us forward in our deep investigation of our educational vision. There were many who worried that fundraising for teacher professional development and the integration of inquiry centered and project based curriculum and pedagogy might not be tangible enough to inspire the level of fundraising that we’ve enjoyed over the past few years. But our community proved it otherwise. Without question, there is no greater asset in our school than our teachers, and no greater tool than their curriculum and the classroom practices in which they engage. Investing here is truly an investment in our school’s future, and our St. Paul’s School community responded to this message unmistakably. Truely, I am humbled.
And it is with this humility and respect for your investment that I take the planning of our future professional development opportunities and curricular and pedagogical growth with such gravity. I must admit, there is a temptation to excitedly steps forward and hastily make plans for our educational growth, but prudence suggests otherwise. At this point, instead of rushing forward, I think the next best move is to dig in deeply to where our practice is now. We need to better understand and articulate how our current practices promote our mission’s promise, and where our current commitments might fall short, so that we can invest our hard earned money in ways that will benefit our educational staff and students most efficiently and effectively. With that said, I want to assure you that these donation dollars will be invested wisely and transparently, and will be predicated on the true needs of our school, even if that is at a slow and steady pace.
There are other areas of community strength that deserved to be recognized in kind. I certainly have been impressed with the continued outpouring of parental support I see on a weekly basis. I would like to express a debt of gratitude to all of the parents who have dedicated the time, energy, money, and delicious treats so that our Snack Shack and lunch service remains a vibrant part of our school’s life. I would like to express a collective thank you to Brandon Ford Construction, who has donated time, energy, and money to see the fence project through to completion, and the replacement of the exterior doors on the 100 building. In truth, there are so many others that are worth mentioning, and any effort to do so will likely run the disastrous risk of excluding someone pivotal to our success. But that is all to say that of the myriad blessings in being a part of the St. Paul’s School community, the commitment and generosity of our parents are truly one of a kind. Thank you.
As we close this year, I hope you all know how committed I am to see our school and our community into the future. There is still a lot of work to do, but the outpouring of community support that I’ve received this year proves to me that we have the community and the backing to accomplish anything to which we put our hearts, minds, and hands. It would be disingenuous of me to say that I’m not looking forward to a well earned rest here in the coming months. Still, I am eager to get back to work this next fall, and to continue to build St. Paul’s School into the best school that we can be. Of course, this will only be accomplished through the support of the most generous and dedicated families in the central valley.
Until the fall.
West Coast Wonders
By, Isabella Ruiz-Rivera
I know that many of you have visited the coast at least once. The delicate, dramy sand underneath your feet, while you hear the sounds of the rolling waves crashing, and before you notice, a wave creeps up with a graceful touch of what seems like spring water. The water swims around your feet, then leaves behind an open panorama of elegant shells and rocks, that suddenly become noticed; like if they weren't there before. A while ago the 7th graders have had the privilege of visiting the west Coast of California with their classmates. With many Lavish scene, they experience many of the sensacional places the coast has to offer. They visited the exquisite elephant seals, Morro Bay's clear waters, Montana de Oro´s unique tidepools, and the aesthetic Hearst Castle. The students visited the coast for a educational experience out of the classroom. One of the students said “The trip was geological, biological, and most of all, fun!” (Ellie Gilbert). Another peer, stated “It was a learning experience jam packed with friends and fun!” (Tessa Carney). This Trip included some of the international locations that people from all around the world travel, to see (Hearst Castle). Others are just a pleasure that we are blessed with here in California, to be able to visit whenever we want. All in all the 7th graders trip was a journey not many know and even fewer take; still within school’s curriculum.
Now, and to the future...
It has been a busy winter here at St. Paul’s School, and we’re eager and excited to welcome the coming of spring. Our maintenance and grounds staff has been busily battling the blessings of rain, while at the same time getting our campus ready for our accreditation visit. Our lunch staff has updated their menu options with fresh, delicious, and healthy items; and new lunchtime procedures are in place that facilitate efficiency. We’re also working on clean up procedures that instill a sense of school ownership in our students in an effort to evoke an ethic of care. The Snack Shack continues to offer a wide array of healthy and delicious choices to students, with the hottest items being the homemade avocado toast and breakfast burritos. However, for those who like to snack on sweet bites, we have a few options for them as well. Overall, we are quite proud to offer our children a wide array of delicious and healthier snack options.
The teachers have been quite busy as well, digging deep into their curriculum and pedagogy to provide the best educative experiences that they can. One of the identifying commitments of St. Paul’s School is our focus on experiential learning through meaningful, academic oriented field trips; and we’ve had a bunch of them this late winter. Inside our classrooms, our primary and intermediate teachers have been working hard to blend the learning experiences of students, and are committed to increasing the educative value of their centers. Beginning this second semester, our coaches are facilitating peer to peer observations, a fundamentally important component of professional growth. At the middle school, we are taking a deep breath and evaluating our practices and procedures in an ongoing effort to provide a unique learning opportunity to our students. Along with an increased STEAM orientation of our middle school, our teaching staff is imagining what learning experiences might look like when we place student production and performance at the center of their schooling. We do not want our students to be passive recipients of information, rather meaningful producers of understanding and knowledge, and civically engaged in their communities. Needless to say, this is no small undertaking, but our staff is dedicated to meeting these goals while continuing to offer a top notch academic environment for our student. To that end, we are also focused on piloting the implementation of Pre-AP courses in the 8th grade. The College Board will make this curricular designation available to middle schools in the fall of 2020, and we will work diligently to be one of these pilot schools.
In the front office, we’ve been laser focused on creating a budget that is financially responsible, but also one that addresses the ‘need for’ and ‘commitment to’ academic excellence in a shifting educational landscape. In an overall sense, our projected budget is predicated on a few needs and values that we think articulate well with St. Paul’s School’s historic mission, but also establishes a firm foundation as we look forward to our future. What follows is a brief explanation of our greatest commitments for the 2019/2020 academic year. In a nutshell, our budget goals are all about our teachers. The projected budget is built in the hopes of maintaining current staffing levels, and a commitment to build a salary schedule that is more competitive with our surrounding districts. Our goals here are quite simple, we want to retain and recruit the best educators that we can. Although our evaluation of practices has led us to the conclusion that we can staff our school more effectively, our needs and growth mindset warrant staffing levels to remain consistent, and for their salaries to improve. Additionally, following our first round of teacher observations, we feel that an increased investment in teacher education and professional development opportunities (increase STEAM orientation) is one of the best ways for us to continue to pursue academic excellence for our students, and to address the pedagogical and curricular needs of our teachers. Although schools are complex ecosystems with myriad fundamental parts, it’s hard to argue against the fact that teachers are very much the heart and soul of our institution. Thus, it is my commitment to our St. Paul’s School families to continue the professional growth opportunities for our current teachers, and when the need arises, to recruit the best teacher candidate that we can.
We have a lot on our plate here at St. Paul’s School, but we’re eager for the coming year and the opportunity to provide a unique educational experience of “love and learning” for our students, and for the greater Visalia community. If you would like to discuss our plans and goals for the coming year, or wonder how you can become a bigger part of our school and our efforts, please get in touch.
Seth W. Yocum
Head of School
St. Paul’s School