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SPECIAL REPORT 2016

THE REGION’S BUSINESS MAGAZINE

Exploring a New World

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Exploring a Innovation and Creativity at the By Rhonda Bodfield The morning bell at The Gregory School finds students barreling into a unique laboratory space on campus that lets them stretch their definition of what’s possible. One student has just managed to get his quadricopter to fly. Another is building an electric guitar with the help of a 3D printer. And another is using the 3D printer to make – wait for it – another 3D printer in the school’s fabrication space, which is Arizona’s only member of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Fab Lab Network. It’s that sense of inquiry and mastery that permeates the campus and drew Jim Carlson to teach Latin at the school 24 years ago. It continues to feed his passion for what he does. “I saw kids reading Shakespeare on the lawn, and I thought ‘This is where I want to be,’ ” he said. “The best way I can describe it is that there was this sense of paideai, which is a Greek word that describes kids loving to learn.” Virtually 100 percent of students go on to college from this independent 126 BizTucson

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school for students in grades 5-12, which launched 35 years ago as St. Gregory College Preparatory School. And while the school is well-known for its academic rigor, with a robust offering of Advanced Placement courses, it doesn’t come in the strictly drill-and-test flavor of learning. Students will tell you they are empowered with a sense of exploration. “You can take risks here,” said junior Maya Encila. “You will probably make mistakes, but you’ll be encouraged as you go, and you will learn so much that you really can’t fail. You really don’t have anything to lose by trying.” That’s why Alice Bates ran for student council, even though public speaking makes her nervous. She won a seat. That’s why when there weren’t enough girls for a basketball team last year, 10th grader Taylor Thompson joined the boys’ varsity team. And that’s why Lily Cate Smith joined the volleyball team, which has sent its varsity squad to state competition for the past three years. Even though she says she isn’t much of an athlete, she

wanted to give it a try. It’s why students explore their passions in The Gregory School’s theater group, band, choir, mock trial or in other outlets. “Part of learning and improving what you do is celebrating when things don’t work out perfectly,” said Head of School Julie Sherrill. “School has to be about celebrating colossal failures and recognizing how much we learn in thinking about what happened and how to regroup.” Given that mindset, it perhaps isn’t surprising that the school so rooted in tradition is simultaneously in the midst of shaking things up. There was the name change, which retained “Gregory” as a nod to the established brand, but dropped the part that caused so much confusion for the nonprofit independent school that has no religious affiliation. Market research spearheaded by the Board of Trustees showed a significant number of those surveyed believed it was a religious school. Even the professional who printed the school’s materials for the past 15 www.BizTucson.com


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New World years believed it was a parochial school. “It has become – and rightly so – a very competitive educational market with many choices and options for families,” Sherrill said. “In media interviews, we would spend the first few minutes telling everyone what we weren’t. Now, we can move past that confusion and start telling the story of the creative and innovative work that happens here on a daily basis.” The school, set on 37 picturesque acres near River and Craycroft roads, added a fifth grade to help students better transition to middle school. And it has added new dimensions of interdisciplinary project-based learning, to let students think deeply about problems, apply the learning and then tinker. That might mean simple modeling with pipe cleaners and foam board to test a concept, or doing sophisticated work with 3D printers and laser cutters in the school’s fabrication lab, aligned with MIT’s Fab Lab and the Institute of Design at Stanford University. “What we’re looking for is critical thinking, communication, collaboration www.BizTucson.com

and cultural competency,” Sherrill said. “Any longer, the world is our classroom, as it is for business and industry. We’re taking this interdisciplinary approach because that is the workplace students will enter.

The world is

our classroom, as it is for business and industry. We’re taking this interdisciplinary approach because that is the workplace students will enter.

– Julie Sherrill Head of School The Gregory School

“The fun – and difficult – part is figuring out how to create projects across academic disciplines so students perform and provide evidence that they have the skills we’ve identified as so important.” At a recent reception to share with parents how they can support the school’s new Fab Lab, Sherrill heard a story from one parent that encapsulates the direction the school is going. Her son, the woman said, never really worked to his potential in school and wanted nothing to do with his father’s engineering career. But since he has been working on a quadricopter in the Fab Lab, she has seen a 180-degree shift, with after-school conversations abuzz with the excitement of his project. He even wants to hear more from dad about his engineering career. The school has long embraced project-based learning. It’s visible throughout campus. One of the micro-spaces on the grounds is a patio, compliments of research and work by a previous Roman History class and an art class. Student designers copied the style of a continued on page 128 >>> Winter 2016 > > > BizTucson 127

PHOTOS: COURTESY THE GREGORY SCHOOL

Heart of The Gregory School


continued from page 127 Roman courtyard, planting pomegranate and fig trees near a fresco they painted of the House of the Marine Venus. A riparian area, complete with water plants and fish, cuts through campus, designed and built by students. Solar panels sit atop another patio, designed and built by students to power laptops and cellphones. The interdisciplinary work is even more pronounced this year, with the addition of a capstone simply called “Inquiry.” As an example, “Inquiry” students could be challenged to design a future network that Tucson will need to thrive over the next century. Their technology classes are already about networks, but in English, they might study “On the Road,” by Jack Kerouac, reflecting on the networks of the Beat Generation. In social sciences, they might study immigration networks, both historical and contemporary. In math, they might consider scaling transportation networks. This winter, now fully immersed in 128 BizTucson

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You can take risks here. You will probably make mistakes, but you’ll be encouraged as you go, and you will learn so much that you really can’t fail. – Maya

Encila Student The Gregory School

the concept, they are gathering with classmates and getting to work, armed with sticky notes and ingenuity. “They’re entering a new world,” said Michelle Berry, who teaches History

and AP U.S. Government and who believes in classrooms as “radical spaces of possibility.” As Lori Patton, English teacher and middle school director of student services, explained, “We’re not moving away from a focus on skills. We’re helping students to develop those skills in authentic learning experiences. We ask, ‘What’s the problem? What’s the plan for solving the problem?’ Then, ‘What do we need to learn?’ ” School administration, with support of the Board of Trustees, has focused on realigning resources to fit the model. More time is being built into teachers’ schedules for preparation, and students are being given more latitude to customize their academic track, set their priorities and monitor their progress. Teacher-student relationships are the bedrock of that kind of accountability, and it is furthered, students say, by two things – small class sizes of about 14 students per classroom, and the fact that teachers often double as athletic coaches and advisors. continued on page 131 >>> www.BizTucson.com

PHOTOS: COURTESY THE GREGORY SCHOOL

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We’re not moving away from a focus on skills. We’re helping students to develop those skills in authentic learning experiences. – Lori

continued from page 128 Tenth-grader Victoria Ainza came to The Gregory School in sixth grade as a very shy student from a public school where there were 32 students in her fifth-grade classroom. It was all the teacher could do to manage all of them, she recalled. “My first day here, my teachers wanted to know things about me and wanted me to participate in class,” she said. “I was timid at first, but now I’m not. This school has changed me as a person. It made me realize who I want to be.” Students also have an opportunity to take their learning off campus, required to spend anywhere from 10 to 50 hours a year volunteering with a nonprofit, faith-based or political organization.

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Patton, English Teacher & Middle School Director of Student Services Eric Johnson, a confident 11th grader, learned how to recruit and manage volunteers while working for a nonprofit issue advocacy group that promoted gun violence prevention and health insurance enrollment. “We have a small community here, but it has shown us the value of building relationships with people and has taught us how to interact with adults,” said Johnson, who wants to study political science in college. Alice Bates, meanwhile, may be only in 10th grade, but she knows what a request-for-proposal is through her community service with a local nonprofit. She reviewed applications, performed site visits and had a hand in deciding grant awards.

Those are the types of stories that allow Latin teacher Carlson, a quarter of a century later, to still find magic in what he does. “There are great teachers all over this community, but it’s very hard to do some of these things when you have 35 kids in your classroom,” Carlson said. “We have the luxury of having this special combination of the right circumstances as well as the autonomy and encouragement to do the kind of interactive learning that engages the students and helps them find their passions.” Sometimes, all it takes is a quadricopter or an electric guitar to unlock them.

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We can truly get to know every child, figure out what their gifts and talents and fascinations are. We are committed to customizing the learning experiences that take advantage of those amazing gifts.

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PHOTO: BRENT G. MATHIS

– Julie Sherrill Head of School The Gregory School

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An Amazingly Good Fit Head of School Committed to Customizing Student Learning By Rhonda Bodfield After Julie Sherrill came on board to lead The Gregory School in July 2013, she picked up on two consistent threads. She learned about the alumni who went on to impact the world in beautiful, varied and positive ways. And she repeatedly heard the name of one particular teacher and the stamp he made on the school – John Menke, a biology teacher who was hired in 1984 and retired in 2006. Sherrill had to meet him, even though he has since moved to California. And what she heard served as reinforcement, at a time when Sherrill – with the support of the Board of Trustees – is taking the school in new directions, with a new name and a deeper focus on interdisciplinary projects and applied learning. “What John described to me is exactly consistent with the continued direction in which we’re going. He said always make sure that the learning is adventuresome and make sure the students have fun.” He ran the kind of class in which students got their hands dirty. He would take them into the field – sometimes out of state and sometimes even internationally – to collect and analyze data and test hypotheses. “It was delightful to hear him talk about this because we are committed to customizing student learning while building on the rich history of this school in which children’s lives have truly been transformed,” she said. Sherrill holds a doctorate in Professional Development of Teachers from The Ohio State University. She was 10 years in as the principal of Sunrise Drive Elementary School in the Catawww.BizTucson.com

lina Foothills School District when she learned that The Gregory School might be looking for a new leader. With a background as a teacher, principal of a middle school, assistant principal of a high school, and director of constituent services at Ohio State, she had an extensive background in education – but none with independent schools. Before taking the position, Sherrill spent 18 months learning about what independent schools are all about. She traveled to schools that had comparable missions. She attended professional conferences. She did research. And she concluded it was “an amazingly good fit.” “The philosophy, by and large, is one of trying to educate the whole child – of course with a rigorous academic foundation, but also realizing the importance of character and citizenship and leadership and service to others,” Sherrill said. “The idea that I could live my capstone experience as an educational leader, with the autonomy to do what is right for young people and prepare them in the best way we could imagine for the world they’re being launched into, was just too good to pass up.” She rose to the top among 70 applicants in a national search facilitated by the Board of Trustees. And when an opportunity came along to build on the school’s technology programs, she approached it with the same diligence. She traveled to see renowned laboratories and programs. She brought in experts to serve on a local advisory committee, including astronaut Mark

Kelly; Mara Aspinall, former president and CEO of Ventana Medical Systems, Inc., a member of the Roche Group; and Jeff Goldberg, dean of the University of Arizona College of Engineering. “Now we’re coming to a place where we really can make learning much more hands-on and authentic and applied, without taking away from any of the amazing work that has continued to position us as a well-respected school in the Tucson community,” Sherrill said. While her school’s foundation lies in preparing students for college, a pure focus on test scores does a disservice to schools and students, Sherrill said. “Whether you’re a public or independent school, it seems like the major focus in the media over the last five to 10 years is who is better than whom, and it seems they’re solely looking at just quantitative data to determine those measures,” she said. “It is giving short shrift to the complexity of what it means to be an educator.” For Sherrill, it means unlocking the code for all children, finding out what makes them tick and what their passions are. It’s the kind of responsibility that gives one pause. And it’s complicated, she said. “It’s like flying the plane while you’re building it. I feel so fortunate to have the support of a courageous Board of Trustees.” But a safe landing is about preparation, not luck. “The beauty of this place, because of our size and scale, is we can truly get to know every child, figure out what their gifts and talents and fascinations are. We are committed to customizing the learning experiences that take advantage of those amazing gifts.”

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PHOTO: CHRIS MOONEY

PHOTO: COURTESY THE GREGORY SCHOOL

PHOTO: COURTESY THE GREGORY SCHOOL

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The Gregory School

Fab Lab

Giving Shape to Imagination By Rhonda Bodfield Breathing life into innovation is no easy task. Imagine if artist Leonardo da Vinci had access to an advanced laboratory with high-tech equipment. Who knows? Maybe instead of living out eternity trapped on paper, his sketches would have rolled across the land as forerunners to tanks, and his flying machines would have taken to the sky as helicopters. Enter the concepts of Fab Labs – or fabrication laboratories – and makerspace, with roots grounded in the premise that providing spaces of creation, exploration and design will lead to deep learning and innovation. Fab Labs, the equivalent of shop class gone super high-tech, are the brainchild of the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The idea of makerspace in its pur134 BizTucson

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est form, however, is less about hightech gadgetry – more like a collection of go-to, do-it-yourself materials like putty, pipe cleaners, tinfoil, cardboard, glue guns, motherboards, tape and foam board. Think of it as the kind of experience you had in kindergarten, only with the added sophistication of business applications. Together, the two can fuel powerful student-driven learning. The Gregory School, which has long coupled exploratory, hands-on learning with academic rigor, was the first school in Arizona to open an MIT-sanctioned Fab Lab in the fall of 2015. On one side of the lab, a team might collaborate on a model, shaping it out of rudimentary materials. On the other side, thanks to higher-tech equipment, from power tools to laser cutters and 3D printers, they bring prototypes to life.

One recent morning found 14-yearold Allen El building a Stirling engine using the school’s 3D printer to produce engine parts. He finds energy fascinating. “This space gives us the freedom to build whatever we think about,” the freshman said. “The teachers here are really supportive. You can try a lot of things and if it doesn’t work, you learn from it and try again.” That’s exactly the sentiment that encourages physics teacher Dennis Conner, who has a master’s degree in physics from the University of Arizona and has taught at the school for nine years. “Kids come here to learn and we’ve always been focused on feeding them in ways that make it fascinating,” he said. “But this is exciting because this is the direction education is moving. We have the opportunity to do this with our kids www.BizTucson.com


PHOTO: COURTESY THE GREGORY SCHOOL

PHOTO: CHRIS MOONEY

PHOTO: COURTESY THE GREGORY SCHOOL

This space gives us the freedom to build whatever we think about … if it doesn’t work, you learn from it and try again. – Allen

now, in a real-world setting, solving realworld problems.” The laboratory came to fruition as a result of a philanthropic donation from a couple who was impressed with the physics work they witnessed in Conner’s classroom. “The stars then began to align,” said Head of School Julie Sherrill, who brought together an advisory committee of high-powered leaders and undertook plenty of research, peppered with tours of existing models. As part of the MIT network of Fab Labs, students at The Gregory School will have access to resources and experts in the field. They also can collaborate with students and faculty in other labs across the world, sharing tips and best practices, and conceivably developing projects together. The connections are already happenwww.BizTucson.com

El, Freshman, The Gregory School

ing. The Gregory School in April will be one of a handful of American schools to participate in the International Physics Tournament at the Weizmann Institute in Israel. Students essentially try to build safes that cannot be compromised, while working to “crack” the safes of other teams. The Gregory School students will have the perfect space to work the puzzle as the safe pieces begin to arrive. “While it began as a discrete project, it really now represents the future of the school – having a space where faculty and students can come and imagine and collaborate and develop prototypes,” Sherrill said. The concept of connecting students with “real-world” learning isn’t new – it’s a standard that has been embedded in teaching curriculum for generations. What gets educators jazzed about the Fab Lab, though, is that it not only de-

mands invention and engagement from students, it spurs collaboration and builds resilience in students as they perfect designs that may not initially perform to expectation. “There’s educational value in struggle,” Conner said. “The lab will allow us to build new skill sets. Because it will let us shrink time scales, we’ll have an opportunity to find out if something doesn’t work, then fix it in the model and try again. You really empower students with the ability to think a project through multiple times. “We hope students will go on to be better equipped and be proactive in solving challenges,” he said. “I think all of this is going to motivate students to tackle bigger problems and come up with solutions the community needs.”

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The Gregory School

Difference Students Learn In and Out of the Classroom By Rhonda Bodfield

Interim Week Each semester, the school suspends classes for one week to allow time for each class to participate in leadership retreats, experiential learning and team building. This year, the juniors went to Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park and the Utah Shakespeare Festival, with a trip designed to mesh with their science and English curriculum. Sophomores went to New Mexico. Freshmen went to the Grand Canyon. Even middle school participates. Fifth-graders stayed overnight at the Reid Park Zoo – parents invited – and the sixth grade went on an overnight to Catalina State Park. “It’s important to us that students have an opportunity to learn about the world together,” said Head of School Julie Sherrill. College counseling Few schools have a staff member dedicated entirely to working with students and families through the college admissions process. It starts in middle school,

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asking students to poke about and identify their own curiosities and strengths. Do they want to be veterinarians? That probably means math and science would be useful classes as they progress in school. Families also are encouraged to think through other ways of showing leadership and teamwork skills. “In this day and age, as the college admissions process has become more complex and competitive, a plethora of Advanced Placement classes and high SAT scores will not set you apart any longer,” Sherrill said. “Colleges are looking for wellrounded people who are interested in giving back to the world.” Senior internship All seniors are required to complete a 60-hour senior internship that, ideally, taps into their vision of their future. Those internships can be highly customized. One student, for example, who is interested in biomedical engineering, is working for a local company, designing protocols for medical devices. “We

have the autonomy, we have the scale and we have the talented faculty who are flexible and can deliver a customized education,” Sherrill said. “It’s not about whether you as a teacher love your specific academic subject area and everyone else should, too. It’s thinking through how you can give value to all students, no matter what their interests.” International students About 10 percent of The Gregory School student population comes from other parts of the world, including China, Costa Rica, Germany and Croatia. It’s part of the school’s commitment to a diverse student body. Adding to the international flavor of the school are optional travel opportunities to Italy, France, Costa Rica and more. The Gregory School is the only school in Southern Arizona accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Southwest. It is also a member of the National Association of Independent Schools. Biz

PHOTOS: COURTESY THE GREGORY SCHOOL

The Gregory School has a rich history of embracing the philosophy of educating the whole child. That often means encouraging exploration, which is at the root of the features that make The Gregory School different:


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