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
Ramblings about rain and things
Thank the Lord for rain. I realize that those who make their homes in wetter climates find it funny how we -arid land folks- respond to this life giving gift. Let them laugh. Those of us who live lives where it’s bone dry know. Rain changes things, it cleans them. Rain gives you breath; it renews our spirits. Thank the Lord for rain.
So funny how fast time flies. Here we are, already well into December and only a few short weeks away from a long awaited winter break; where does the time go? Though I love the ease of this time of year, I have to admit that the swiftness of time’s passage makes me a bit nervous. Have we accomplished enough? Have we taken on too much? In truth, I’ve spent so much of the first few months placing names with faces, shaking hands, learning rhythms and systems, and overseeing the completion of our self-study, that I sometimes wonder what all I’ve been missing. I’m not sure this situational angst will ever go away, but it leaves me with plenty of ‘what ifs’. Fortunately, we did have the foresight to set a path forward a while back.
The late curriculum theorist and educational philosopher, Elliot Eisner, says it best: “if the kind of mind that children can come to own is, in part, influenced by the kinds of opportunities they have to think, and if these opportunities are themselves defined by the kind of curriculum schools provide, then it could be argued that the curriculum itself is a kind of mind-altering device. In this view it’s easy to see how curriculum decisions about content inclusion and content exclusion are of fundamental importance.” It is thoughts like these of Dr. Eisner’s that continue to roll around in my head, that continue to push me to envision new ways to mold minds, and fold new experiences into our curriculum. What we know about learning and education is this: the more opportunities to which we expose our children, the more they experience myriad aspects of their world, the more sense they can make of it. And in the grand scheme of things, that matters. In large part, this is why we seek to enrich our electives with a hands on, project based approach to learning. We will ask kids to question and think like scientists, artists, engineers, and mathematicians; because the truth is, to ask the right question is often as important as it is to know the solution. When you hear us speak of STEAM, this is what we mean.
It is important that we make inquiry central to our educational ethos, and to the lives of our students. It is the root of our inventive American identity: to question the limits of what is, to wonder about the rules and why, to redefine what is accepted or expected, to cut new paths into the future. And though I am not quite certain when or where or why, we seemed to have strayed from this axiom, and lost ourselves amongst the weeds of matrices and measurements that can only tell us so much. It’s time to broaden our understanding of what is achievable at school, and what we expect from our kids. We owe that to them.
As I’ve stated before, I could not be more honored, and cannot be more proud of the opportunities I’ve been afforded at St. Paul’s School. As it is now the eve of the year, I look on to the next with excitement and anticipation. Although appropriate progress must always be measured, I am certain that the students and community of St. Paul’s School are poised and ready to grow. I hope for the happiest of holiday to all of our families, and look forward to our continued work together in the new year.
The coming of fall and such things…
It has been a busy past few weeks here at St. Paul’s School. Looks like summer is truly on its way out, and fall is here to stay. As much as I do like the sound of that, I’ll have to remember to bring an extra layer for my parking lot duty first thing in the morning. There was a time when I was relatively impervious to cold weather, but since hitting my 40s, I seem to have lost the antifreeze that was running through my veins. Such is life. Accompanying the changing weather is the coming of first quarter grades. Our quarter closed last Thursday, and these past two weeks have been filled with the serious efforts of students tying up all loose ends. It truly is a pleasure to be a part of such a caring academic community and a group of students who take the time and attention to achieve to their fullest potential.
This Monday past played host to our Fall Choir Concert, and it was quite a success to say the least. Mr. Alberstein, the consummate professional, had the kids prepped and ready for their inaugural event of the year. As much as I would have enjoyed hearing them sing a few more songs, they absolutely nailed the three they did perform. You could see the exuberance on each of their faces as they began to realize how good it was all sounding. In fact, I’d go so far as to say they seemed to be surprising themselves. By the third song, it was all they could do to contain their enthusiasm for a job done well. I think one of our fathers captured the sentiment of the night best when he leaned over to me and said, “I hope these kids know how lucky they are to have such fantastic opportunities.” Well, I couldn’t agree more. I’m definitely looking forward to our Christmas Concert, and would hope that everyone would find the time to attend.
There have undoubtedly been other high notes since my last blog post. Late summer played host to Grandparents’ Day, and it was heartwarming to see our lunch patio so full of life so early in the morning. If I were to venture a guess, I’d bet there were over 200 people in attendance. Frankly, it was ‘standing room only’, and our dedicated staff did all they could to makes sure our grandparents were fed and well attended. More to note, student run chapels have been poignant and powerful this fall. I’m always amazed at the effort and abilities of our students and teachers, and how amidst their varied and busy lives, are still able to put together meaningful performances that leave our school a better place to be. And, my recollection of events would not be complete without mentioning St. Francis Day. Boy, is it a sight to behold. To see Father James taking careful time to bless the dozens of myriad pets that grace our basketball courts is a testament to his care for the school and compassion for the lives of our students. We certainly are blessed by his presence, and have been blessed, in general, this fall.
Although the common sentiment around here has been good, fall is not without its challenges. Currently we find ourselves in what I affectionately call the ‘first semester grind’, a period of time from Labor Day to Veteran’s Day with little time to stop and breathe. The ‘back to school’ excitement has subsided and the very deliberate work of character and academic growth is underway. Add to that a school wide sharing of the common cold, periodic bouts with rotavirus, and a few other odd ailments that have graced the threshold of our office, and it’s easy to understand why we all are looking forward to the holidays. The good news is, our holiday celebrations begin this Friday with our Fall Carnival. I look forward to seeing so many of our families out this Friday afternoon to celebrate the coming of fall in fellowship with our faculty, staff, and Board of Trustees.
I guess that’s all for now. Best wishes to you and welcome the coming of fall!