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The Strength of Our Core Mission in 2012

March 19, 2012

I.         St. Andrew’s Education as an Opportunity for Spiritual and Individual Transformation:

Because St. Andrew’s emerged in 1929 with a radical conception of educational access for students regardless of means, the School has always had a focus, mission and identity that runs counter to the notion of prep schools as places of exclusivity, elitism and entitlement.  Rather than centering our focus only on white patrician males, St. Andrew’s began as a school that enacted a notion and a principle vital to our democracy:  for America to grow as a nation and member of the world community, all students must be given access to quality educational opportunities.

We know that the diversity of a global school is one of the chief elements of an exemplary 21st century boarding experience.  It makes no sense for boarding schools to replicate the homogeneity of the American private day school.  We must continue to make the case that a 21st century education must prepare students to live generously, compassionately and effectively in a world of national and global diversity.

As an Episcopal school, we see our mission clearly:  we educate students to take responsibility and stewardship for the peace, reconciliation and sustainability of our planet.  We see education as an inspiring and transformational experience that awakens young men and women to the calling of their lives.

We, therefore, must continue to explain how a mission of educational opportunity in 1929 now speaks to the modern world of education.  We must explain why a global, diverse school is the most powerful and authentic form of education available today in private schools.  We must explain the perils of elitism, exclusivity, privilege and materialism and make a case for a school focused on service, creativity, humanity, peace stewardship and social justice.  We must make it clear to those who visit, matriculate and give that St. Andrew’s sails on a distinct countercultural vision.

II.            Community:  Faculty, Staff, Senior Leadership

Even before the economic crisis, colleges and universities knew that the creation of 21st century communities of engaged learning, diversity and service were difficult to achieve in this culture.  Ultimately, St. Andrew’s must be a community, united in an earnest and passionate desire to enact and create a place of transformation, engagement and creativity for all.  We know from research and experience that small communities have great potential for coherence, energy and vision.  In the smaller community, each individual voice, each individual contribution resonates powerfully.  Our admissions process seeks to find students who will be willing to work for community excellence:  by leading and elevating academic and residential discourse; by participating in the arts, athletics and community service programs; by honoring our most sacred community values of human rights, empathy and compassion, honor and integrity and resistance to the alcohol/drug culture.

Our faculty must be gifted—gifted in the art of teaching, but gifted in their capacity both to embody human, community and global engagement and to inspire it.

We are a school that refuses to make education a passive or strategic or empty opportunity or experience.  As an institution informed and inspired by the work of Ted Sizer, we embrace the following crucial academic principles:

  • Student as worker and performer – Our students learn to do the work of professional scholars in their fields.  They exhibit the skills and habits of mind they have acquired through exhibition—public demonstrations of mastery.
  • Teacher as coach – Our faculty work to make our students independent, creative and curious, not through lecture but through the careful cultivation of the most important 21st century skills:  ones of critical thinking, argumentation, problem solving, the scientific method and creative uses of technology.

We see St. Andrew’s as an academy for teachers as well as students—we cultivate teaching excellence through each department and each individual section.  We collaborate, share, evaluate our approaches to student learning and understanding.  We design assessments that inspire our students’ most rigorous and exemplary thinking.

The school of privilege and entitlement is ultimately about strategy—students come to campus, find comfort, mediocrity and ease, and expect teachers, staff members and college counselors to help them game the system and prosper.  The 21st century boarding school in contrast creates a community of adults and students who together agree on the shared responsibility of a community of excellence.  We make time to get to know one another; we share in the work of community; we commit the work of the school to a public good.  We embrace an ethic of scholarship, resilience and rigor.

This expression of school culture derives from seniors who see their last year at the school as one of responsibility and stewardship rather than privilege.  Our seniors must be committed to the values and virtues of our community—they must be role models who help younger students see the power of the school experience.

Private schools can become insular, little communities of self-satisfaction, provincialism and mediocrity.  To combat this trend, St. Andrew’s affirms its commitment to being a school of academic excellence; it affirms its commitment to bringing essential local, national and global issues to the attention of the school through Chapel, school meetings and special programs; it affirms the teaching of hard work, resilience and determination through the community’s pursuit of sports and the arts; it affirms the power of service through a robust community service program.

Enlightened education in the 21st century must be one designed as a coherent response to a world in need of new solutions, as a culture in need of intelligence, engagement and empathy.  We need to continue to develop responses to the following movements in our 21st century world:

  • The emergence of a global interconnected world and the certainty that our graduates will either live or work abroad or need global understanding and sensitivity in their professional lives.
  • The revolutionary power of technology as a medium for communication, collaboration and creativity.
  • The radical changes delineated by Thomas Friedman in the nature of work and the professional life in the 21st century:

a)     Companies will shrink personnel and use technology wherever possible to control costs.

b)    Those to be hired must not only possess critical thinking skills but also skills of flexibility, creativity, reinvention and resilience.

  • The effect of technology on adolescent skills of communication, collaboration, empathy and civility.
  • The increased competition for admission to the most highly selective colleges.
  • The effect of a recession that may make private school tuition outside the reach of virtually all American families.
  • The environmental crisis that threatens the sustainability of our world.
  • Continued concerns about religious conflict and intolerance in the United States and the world.
  • Continued concern about immigration and diversity in the United States and the world.
  • Concern about American and parental misunderstanding about the nature of education—our culture seems to increasingly expect and celebrate immediate gratification, parental intervention, gaming the system.  Countercultural schools need to respond carefully.
  • Concern about the American belief in the notion of giftedness—we need to challenge that assumption and celebrate hard work, determination and dedicated effort.
  • Concern about the strength and resilience of honor and integrity in our culture.
  • Concern about student use of alcohol and drugs as a response to stress, anxiety and emptiness.
  • Concern about the financial sustainability of private schools and colleges.
  • Concern about Wellness, the physical and psychological health of adolescents and college students.

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