Calhoun 2025

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On behalf of the Board of Trustees and the administration of the school, we are excited to present the 2019 Strategic Plan: Calhoun 2025. This Plan is the result of an intensely collaborative effort that reflects the input of each of the school’s many constituencies—in other words, a very Calhoun-y effort. Embarking on this process, the Strategic Planning Committee registered an acute awareness of how quickly the world around us is changing. No school today can even accurately catalogue the specific skills its entering kindergartners will need in college, and many of those students will end up in careers that don’t exist today. Bearing this in mind, our Plan reaffirms a pedagogical approach that Calhoun has embraced since its inception— cultivating critical thinkers and empathetic citizens in a rigorous and nurturing environment, trusting that those exceptional young adults will do better at influencing the world they inherit than we will do at predicting it. Building on Calhoun’s strengths, this Plan aims to enhance our teaching and learning environment in ways that deepen our commitment to our guiding philosophy: embracing each student as an individual, supported by a culture of collaboration and shared values, embedded in broader local and global communities. It will shape our priorities and guide our development through 2025—a period during which we will celebrate both the 125th anniversary of the founding of the school, and the 50th anniversary of our decisive commitment to becoming a national model for PreK-12, coeducational progressive education. Honoring the courage and boldness of our founders and all the extraordinary educational innovators attracted to Calhoun through the years, we embrace this opportunity to recommit to our core mission, reexamine our core programs and philosophies, reaffirm our commitment to excellence in teaching and redefine the priorities that will ensure Calhoun’s relevance and leadership for future generations of students. Steven Solnick Head of School and Co-Chair, Strategic Planning Committee Jon Brayshaw Chairman, Board of Trustees Mike Conboy Vice-Chair, Board of Trustees and Chair, Strategic Planning Committee


ORIGINS The school that became The Calhoun School was founded in 1896 by educator Laura Jacobi. From its earliest days, the Jacobi School sought to provide girls and young women with an alternative to hierarchical educational models prevalent in New York City. The Jacobi, and later The Calhoun School sought to attract a diverse student body, empower and excite its students and engage with the vibrant surrounding Upper West Side neighborhood. In 1973, Calhoun appointed Eugene Ruth as Head of School and broke ground on its innovative, open floor plan new facility on West End Avenue. Ruth dedicated the newly coeducational school to “learner-centered instruction,” an educational philosophy with deep roots in the progressive tradition dating to John Dewey and others. Ruth described learner-centered instruction as “accepting children at their individual developmental levels, evaluating or criticizing only by explicit public criteria, and supporting them during failures as well as during successes…helping to elicit from an individual a problem-solving orientation, de­creased personal and interpersonal anxiety, ultimately lead[ing] to emotional adjustment and integrative affective and cognitive behavior—to a complete person, in other words.” Ruth’s focus on educating “a complete person” guided the school’s development as it grew to over 700 students, and continues to shape Calhoun’s approach to this day.



Strategic plans in 1999 and 2006 focused primarily on expanding Calhoun’s landmark 81st Street main building (adding the gym, theater, labs, art and music studios, and green roof in 2005) and on responding to the explosive growth of the student body (an increase of 43% from 1998–2006). The most recent plan in 2011 established as a high priority raising compensation levels for faculty and creating the philanthropic and financial planning systems to support this initiative and sustain it beyond the end of the plan. The period covered by that plan also saw the creation of the Commons on the ground floor of the 81st Street building. The 2011–2016 Strategic Plan also articulated a vision to “strengthen our place among the world’s preeminent progressive schools and to sustain the ongoing vitality of our mission by assuring that the school has the financial resources to fully support our aspirations.” Our aspiration to provide our current students and families with an outstanding educational experience and also to serve as a model for innovative, humanistic and vigorous education remains an important element of this Plan. While the last plan ended in 2016, the impending arrival of a new Head of School in the fall of 2017 led the Trustees to postpone the development of the current plan until new leadership was in place, both for the Board of Trustees and the administration.



At the outset of the process, the Board of Trustees reaffirmed Calhoun’s mission statement: Calhoun inspires a passion for learning through a progressive approach to education that values intellectual pursuit, creativity, diversity and community involvement. In reaffirming our mission statement, the Board recognized that at Calhoun, what we seek to achieve as educators and how we seek to achieve it are powerfully fused. Re-affirming our commitment to a “progressive approach,” we implicitly endorse a set of beliefs and philosophies that are at the core of this Plan:


• We believe that curiosity is the most powerful engine for learning. Our educational approach is built to harness that natural energy through inquiry-based learning; • We stress the strong relationships between our teachers and students as the central element of our learning model. Our teachers are mentors and guides, helping to foster students’ sense of inquiry. • We treat every student as an individual whose learning journey will be different. While those journeys will pass the same checkpoints of skill development or foundational content, we expect students will take different routes to pass them. • We ground our education in a strong set of values: diversity, social justice, inclusion and community engagement. We want our students to develop a sense of purpose and identity to accompany a strong academic foundation. • We understand that the most effective learning is multi-sensory, multi-disciplinary and experiential. Much of our curriculum looks beyond the walls of Calhoun and draws the outside world in.


Calhoun 2025: The Plan

Our strategic vision for 2025 is that Calhoun will continue to be a national leader and innovator in PreK-12 education that combines academic excellence and humanistic values. Our focus on the individuality and needs of each child will produce students who are curious and creative, intellectually accomplished and nimble, passionate about learning and engaged and thoughtful members of their communities. We will accomplish this by fusing venerable progressive methodologies with continuous utilization of innovative tools, data and research. Recognizing that achieving this encompassing vision will require a focused stewarding of our financial, human and intellectual resources, we have organized our priorities and initiatives for 2019–2025 around four broad themes. Echoing our learner-centered approach, we present these themes from the perspective of our student:


MY CALHOUN: Uniquely Supporting and Challenging Every Student OUR CALHOUN: Celebrating Our Community, Culture and Values CALHOUN EVERYWHERE: Engaging with New York City and the World Beyond I NVESTING IN CALHOUN: Supporting Innovation


My Calhoun: Uniquely Supporting and Challenging Every Student

We believe that for students’ curiosity to power their learning, each student’s passions and talents will dictate a different learning journey. For some students, a passion for science may motivate their desire to read; for others, a love of reading may trigger an interest in science. This is the essence of My Calhoun—accepting, celebrating and harnessing the individuality of each student. To ensure that all students acquire the competencies and critical thinking


skills appropriate to their developmental levels, we must be able to both define core academic competencies and measure students’ progress against key milestones. In doing so, we can ensure that students who are struggling in some areas receive the support they need, while students who are confident in those areas are continuously challenged and engaged. Employing a mix of individual and group work, our focus on project- and inquirybased learning encourages each student to be a full partner in their education.

GOAL: Develop for each student an individualized, dynamic academic plan, with competency-based and other milestones, that encourages a growth mindset, stimulates their intellectual curiosity, and supports partnership and constructive communication among students, faculty and families. INITIATIVES: Learner-Centered Rigor: A Transparent and Dynamic Mastery-Based Curriculum and Assessment Framework Across All Divisions Serving All Students Support students by defining disciplinary and cross-disciplinary competencies that will serve as the basis for guiding each student’s educational journey. Re-map our curriculum and student assessment 9 | THE CALHOUN SCHOOL

models utilizing this mastery framework. In the Middle and Upper Schools, this initiative will connect with our participation in the Mastery Transcript Consortium, a national collaborative effort to “reinvent how students prepare for college, career and life.” Educating the Whole Student: Incorporating Social-Emotional Learning into our Educational Framework Define specific cross-disciplinary competencies related to life skills like health and wellness that ensure our students can lead balanced lives while still being supported in taking risks and striving for excellence. Incorporate these learning objectives into our curricular, co-curricular, extra-curricular and assessment frameworks.

Our Calhoun: Celebrating Our Community, Culture and Values

Calhoun students are proud Cougars —members of a community that values collaboration and mutual support. We believe that learning is both joyful and purposeful—our students want to make a difference in the world around them from the very youngest ages through their college journeys and beyond. We believe that our youngest students should learn from our oldest students, that teaching each other is an important way we learn and that our families are integral parts of our community.


Our core commitment to values of diversity, inclusion and social justice serves as a lodestone for our curriculum and programs, and we also recognize our obligation to be responsible stewards of our environment. Invoking Our Calhoun reminds us that while each student’s learning experience may be different, Calhoun is more than just the sum of those individual experiences. It is also a joint effort, a shared ethos, an intentional community.

GOAL: Nurture a proud, diverse and supportive community of collaborative learners and engaged citizens that puts values of equity, inclusion, social justice and community engagement into practice. INITIATIVES: Learners with Purpose: Incorporating Social Justice Competencies into our Educational Framework Utilize our mastery-based remapping of our curriculum to define specific crossdisciplinary competencies related to values like equity, partnership and inclusion that flow directly from our mission.


Incorporate these learning objectives into our curricular, co-curricular, extra-curricular and assessment frameworks. Support faculty and staff to recognize and overcome bias. Ensuring A Diverse Community: Expanding Resources Available for Need-Based Tuition Assistance Recognizing that tuition assistance is a vital tool in ensuring that Calhoun’s student body contains diverse backgrounds, experiences and viewpoints, meaningfully increase in our allocation of need-based tuition assistance funding by the end of the Plan period and beyond.

Calhoun Everywhere: Engaging with the City and the World Beyond

We believe that schools can and must be integral parts of their surrounding communities. Through engagement with the world beyond the school, students learn the responsibilities of active citizenship. They also benefit from the rich and stimulating learning environment offered by our home in New York City and by carefully planned field trips integrated into the curriculum. These opportunities both in and beyond New York offer myriad opportunities to excite students and stimulate their intellectual curiosity, driving deeper learning. Moving beyond the school walls multiplies the opportunities for


experiential learning—hands on, project based, multi-sensory and immediate. Our existing partnerships with an array of cultural and community-based organizations in New York coupled with the diversity of our own broader community of families and alumni vastly extends the reach of our learning space. Imagining the Calhoun of 2025, we are not limited to any single building or set of buildings. We envision students and teachers going beyond those buildings to learn and to serve, and bringing those experiences back with them into the traditional classrooms—Calhoun Everywhere.

GOAL: Expand our use of excursions and partnerships—both physical and virtual—to deepen students’ exposure to socio-economic and culturally diverse communities, expand the gamut of cross-disciplinary, inquirybased learning and enhance our curricular engagement with local and national communities. INITIATIVES: The Classroom Around Us: Expanding the Use of New York for Experiential Learning and a Deeper Integration of Travel Beyond New York into our Curriculum. Recommit to utilizing New York City and other travel opportunities beyond the city as a focus for experiential learning 1 3 | THE CALHOUN SCHOOL

opportunities woven through the curriculum at all levels. At the same time, draw systematically on the rich array of potential partners in our parent and alumni communities and our neighborhood to provide classroom speakers, internships and field trip opportunities. Civic and Media Literacy for the 21st Century: Developing Competencies for Working with Information in the Internet Era Recognizing that from the youngest ages our students interact with the world around them in ways that are rapidly evolving, develop a curriculum that equips them to be engaged citizens in a world in which modes of communication and civic dialogue are changing at an unprecedented pace.

Investing in Calhoun: Supporting Innovation

Calhoun is not only an organization dedicated to teaching students, it is also committed to supporting teachers and administrators who continue to learn and grow. To fully support our mission, we must ensure that our faculty and administrators are able to benefit from the latest research and innovation


in teaching and learning. We must support our mission by maintaining and, as necessary, adapting and evolving our spaces, infrastructure, systems and technology. We must, in other words, build an administrative and philanthropic culture that understands the imperative of always Investing in Calhoun.

GOAL: Dedicate resources to ensuring that our faculty and staff have access to cutting edge research and innovations and that our facilities, systems and technology fully support our programming. INITIATIVES: Investing in our Faculty: Expanding and Strategically Guiding Faculty Professional Development to Support Mission-Driven Innovation Plan and support travel, research, training and other learning opportunities to


ensure our faculty remain innovators in their fields and carry that innovation into our classrooms. Investing in our Facilities: Revitalizing our Teaching Spaces to Support Experiential, Project-Based and Joyful Learning Secure adequate space for our current instructional needs and revitalize our teaching and learning spaces, especially in our 81st St. building. Incorporate the latest advances in design philosophies and technology to support our educational mission.


PROCESS This Plan emerged from an almost year-long process, initiated by the Board of Trustees in January 2018. The Board appointed a committee of six Trustees and ten faculty, staff and administrators chaired by Mike Conboy (Vice-Chair of the Board) and co-chaired by Steve Solnick (Head of School). Supported by outside consultants Carla Silver and Christian Talbot, this committee met monthly through the spring of 2018. It conducted interviews with a wide range of school constituents—students, parents, faculty, staff and alumni—and worked in small groups to develop the key themes around which this Plan is structured. It also examined data including enrollment trends and partial results of a parent satisfaction survey administered during April/May 2018. On April 21, 2018, over 90 members of the Calhoun community —trustees, administrators, students, faculty, staff and parents—came together for a full day of brainstorming and group work around the themes developed by the committee. The results of that work, including “design briefs” aimed at solving challenges and seizing opportunities, powerfully informed the goals and initiatives that follow. It was important to the Board that the Plan and the process that developed it was collaborative and reflected the many distinct and diverse voices that comprise the Calhoun community. The Plan itself was drafted by administrators and trustees over the summer of 2018, and then discussed and reviewed with the Strategic Planning Committee, Board of Trustees, faculty, staff, and parent groups leading up to the ratification of the final plan by the Board of Trustees on December 5, 2018.


APPENDIX Strategic Planning Committee, 2018 Trustees: Mike Conboy, Chair Terry Haas Scott Hirsch ‘86 Melissa Liberty Shaiza Rizavi Parents Association: Sheila Kirkwood (ex-officio Trustee) Head of School Steve Solnick, Co-Chair Staff/Administrators: Tanya Espy-Disparti Michelle Kiefer Jarrad Nunes Sabrina Zurkhulen ‘06 Faculty Meghan Chidsey Daniel Ercilla Amy Konen Isabel Mnookin Isabel Oyola Jason Tebbe The committee is grateful to Carla Silver and Christian Talbot of Leadership+Design for their outstanding support in facilitating this process.