Special Section Gregory School

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The Gregory Prepares Private School has Provided a Robust

For more than 40 years, students at The Gregory School have actively experienced their own education − pursuing passions, building relationships with teachers, learning to self-advocate and participating in the community.

The peaceful campus sits on 35 sprawling acres on the banks of the Rillito River at Craycroft Road and has been providing excellent educational opportunities as an independent, private school in Tucson since 1980.

The school was founded by Ruth Elizabeth “Bazy” McCormick Tankersley, a former newspaper publisher and Arabian horse breeder.

Situated where the city meets the foothills, The Gregory School campus has breathtaking views of the Catalina Mountains. There’s a farmyard and vegetable garden, a student-created riparian area and countless areas to meet, study, relax and play.

Parents send their fifth- to 12th-graders to The Gregory School because of

its challenging curriculum, small class sizes, accomplished and dedicated faculty, strong sense of community, and state-of-the-art facilities. Together, school leaders say, these attributes create exceptional opportunities for student engagement, self-direction and leadership, and allow for flexibility as students initiate and pursue independent studies and build schedules based on ability and interests. Leadership is further engrained as faculty encourage students to accept challenges and explore new interests.

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.

“I love the autonomy you have with an independent school,” said Julie Sherrill, who has served as the head of school since 2013. “It enables us to customize and personalize learning for

students in a mission-driven setting.”

On any day you can find students delivering monologues in the theater, earning college credit in chemistry class, creating in the MIT Networkaffiliated Fab Lab, competing on its athletic teams, making music and art, tutoring peers in the writing center, working in the garden and farmyard, and serving the community.

The Gregory School is transforming learning and transforming students’ lives, leaders, alumni and parents say. Its alumni lead institutions, start movements, invent technology and run cities. Students graduate with a sense of agency; they believe they can change the world for the better, and it is the school’s aim to give them the knowledge, skills, experiences and confidence to do so.

The breadth of The Gregory School’s course offerings looks more like a liberal arts college than a middle or high school. Music, drama, dance,

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School Future Leaders

Curriculum, Talented Faculty Since 1980

fine arts, digital arts, along with science, technology, humanities, engineering and math – they’re all there for exploration, from introductory courses to advanced college levels.

“I think the great thing about a liberal arts education is it prepares us so well,” said Claudine Messing, an alumna and the current president of the TGS Board of Trustees. “I found the individualized attention, the sense of community, and the teacher-to-student ratio was most compelling.”

“The faculty really know the kids. They get your child on a profound level. I think that’s why The Gregory School is able to individualize the education for each student.”

Graduates can be found in high-level jobs regionally and nationally: a media president in New York; a renowned Tucson oncologist; attorneys and judges; local activists; entrepreneurs, artists, and more.

There are 368 students and 60 faculty at the school. When Sherrill started in 2013, the school was named St. Gregory College Preparatory School. A year later, the name was changed to The Gregory School. The school added a fifth grade to the student body in Sherrill’s second year.

“The school is a treasure – and getting national recognition for its excellence,” said Jennifer Lee Carrell, VP of The Gregory School’s board of trustees. “TGS is thriving as a dynamic and adventurous place and as a school with an emphasis on community and kindness.”

“I’m very proud to be a part of the school and to see the school really thriving under Dr. Sherrill,” Messing added. “I think Dr. Sherrill is really looking ahead to the next 10 years.”

Messing cited increased enrollment and a waiting list as proof of the school’s continuing success.

As a student at the school, she said the focus on critical thinking and intellectual curiosity prepared her well for the real world.

“We’re thinking of the holistic experience of the child,” she said. “We’re educating the whole child.”

The Gregory School curriculum has students taking six to eight courses over a four-day week. Friday Exploration classes end the school week.

Friday Exploration courses allow students to dig deep into a subject that matters to them, or even get into something completely different that interests them. Teachers can also get more creative by bringing in guest speakers, having extended labs and arranging offcampus excursions and field study.

Friday Explorations are like a regular class day but focused on the subject matter the student chooses.

Messing believes the school is poised for even more success.

“Now that we’ve taken off the CO-

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VID lens, we can look forward to the 50th (anniversary),” Messing said. “I think we are beautifully positioned to thrive and excel.”

Messing attended The Gregory School starting in ninth grade. She graduated in 1988, and her son, Drew, graduated in May 2021. Drew is now a Stanford University sophomore majoring in political science. She said they are the first parent and child graduates of The Gregory School. Her daughter, Lily, is a junior there.

Carrell and her husband John Helebolt’s15-year-old daughter, Jasmine, is currently in ninth grade at The Gregory School. “When we looked at middle schools, my husband and I wanted a school with smaller classes – and therefore more individual attention.”

At first, Jasmine wasn’t on board with the idea, Carrell said, mainly because her friends were headed to other schools.

“Then she visited TGS on one of the prospective-student tours,” Carrell said. “Afterward, we had not yet even

reached the car when she announced that The Gregory School was where she wanted to be. She loved the people she’d met. She loved what she’d heard about classes and activities. She loved the place. And that was that.

“She’s come home talking about Shakespeare, civil rights and modern art,” Carrell said. “Even better – she’s put some of that learning into effect and tried her hand at acting, at participating in a women’s rights-oriented

club, in making modern art. As a beginner, she was able to try volleyball by being part of the school’s team, and has learned how to play and to love both the sport and the competition.”

But Carrell, who holds degrees from Stanford, Oxford and Harvard universities, is most impressed with The Gregory School’s faculty.

“The teachers are first-rate,” Carrell said. “They’re some of the best, most dedicated and creative teachers that I’ve encountered anywhere. I’ve taught both high school and university classes and have some idea of what it takes to design and deliver interesting courses –and the faculty at The Gregory School is, frankly, superlative, as good or better than faculty I’ve encountered at elite universities.”

Sherrill summed up The Gregory School experience for most students.

“Students receive individualized attention from faculty, and they develop relationships with each other and with faculty that last a lifetime,” Sherrill said. “We’re confident that our graduates will contribute meaningfully to our community.”

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“I’m very proud to be a part of the school and to see the school really thriving under Dr. Sherrill.”
– Claudine Messing, President The Gregory School Board of Trustees

Ford Foundation Grant Opens Doors to Exploration

The Gregory School is Only Arizona School to Receive Funding

The Gregory School’s Friday Exploration program is one that sets its curriculum apart from most schools.

Friday Exploration classes provide a slate of various subjects and ideas for students to try under mentorship of their teachers and guest speakers. The classes are beyond the regular schedule of classes taken during the rest of the week.

In November, the school was awarded a $250,000 grant from the Edward E. Ford Foundation, which will be matched giving the school a half million dollars to enhance the Friday Exploration program and provide faculty and staff with professional development opportunities.

“I couldn’t be more grateful, excited and proud to be an EE Ford Leadership Grant recipient,” said Head of School Julie Sherrill. “Their approval affirms the great work that our faculty and staff have devoted to this exceptional learning delivery system.”

On the school’s website at www.gregoryschool.org, the Friday Exploration program is described as follows:

“Friday Explorations provide the opportunity for students to sign up for courses that allow them to explore

a subject more deeply or in a new direction, augment their learning, or try something entirely new. The program was created intentionally with a number of goals in mind, including ensuring that our 6 Cs (communication, creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, community and compassion) are integrated throughout a student’s time at TGS.”

Students at The Gregory School attend classes as part of their regular curriculum Monday through Thursday then take part in the Friday Exploration classes at the end of each week.

Flexibility in the schedule allows students to participate in projects across academic disciplines, engage with guest speakers, spend extended time in labs and field study, and take off-campus excursions.

The bulk of the grant will be used to create a “technological infrastructure” needed to build a library of the contents of the more than 2,500 Friday Exploration classes that have been developed in the program and create a searchable database. That will allow the program to be shared while also establishing a resource for the long-term future of the program.

“Such a resource will be invaluable in faculty planning, student advising, and onboarding new faculty and staff to the school,” the school said in its grant application to the EE Ford Foundation.

“The grant will not only help us improve our program,” Sherrill said, “but it will enable us to share our protocols with other independent schools throughout the country.”

The proposal described the program as one that began “organically” during the 2014-2015 school year and was seen as an important component of the school’s efforts to provide a unique learning opportunity that might also be attractive to prospective students and their families.

Since 2015, enrollment at the school has jumped from 253 to 368.

Board VP Jennifer Lee Carrell, whose daughter attends The Gregory School, said the program “makes it possible for students to try out lots of different subjects and ideas – to get a flavor for different subjects and try something new. It’s a great addition to the solid core offerings. I look at the offerings and wind up envious of my daughter, thinking, ‘I want to try that one and that one and that one.’

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“Kind of like standing in front of the ice-cream case at the Hub: The Explorations let you try a little taste of a lot of different flavors – many you would never have dreamed up on your own, but they turn out to be wonderful.”

Applying for one of these grants is a detailed, rigorous and highly competitive process. According to the foundation’s website, this highly selective grant is awarded to schools “for direct application to program initiatives in support of faculty, students or the development of the educational program.” The Gregory School is the only Arizona school to receive the grant.

“It was an honor to represent the school and our board of trustees at the meeting in New York City,” Sherrill said. “The EE Ford trustees with whom I met were very curious about our work and seemingly pleased to learn more about this very special school in the Southwest.”

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Jennifer Lee Carrell Board VP The Gregory School
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PHOTO: BRENT G. MATHIS From left Dennis Conner Sciences Faculty Member The Gregory School Dan Young Social Sciences Faculty Member The Gregory School

Turning Students into Entrepreneurs

Fabrication Lab and Startup Program Open New Worlds at The Gregory

The Gregory School has a place where students explore the “why” instead of just learning the “how” of being an entrepreneur.

The concept started in the Fab Lab, short for fabrication laboratory, at The Gregory School, which occupies a space in the science building where students are inspired to imagine, conceptualize, design and build, and where tinkering, experimenting and failing are encouraged and celebrated.

The school is uniquely the first and only school-based member of the MIT Fab Lab Network in Arizona.

On a recent school day, a handful of students were spread throughout the lab, talking with instructors or using the state-of-the-art equipment available to them.

According to the school’s website, the lab is not simply a facility for prototyping and 3D printing; it is a forum for students. It is part of a much larger community that collaborates beyond international borders, sharing knowledge, designs and experiences.

Out of the concept of the Fab Lab came the idea for an Entrepreneurial Institute. Dan Young, a social sciences teacher at the school, said the entrepreneurial program started taking shape in November 2020.

The Institute is described as an educational center for entrepreneurial MBA-level theory, application, funding and creation. It adds mentorship of alumni and community entrepreneurs to the MIT Network Fab Lab’s emphasis on imagining and conceptualizing and its resources for designing and building.

Young worked with Yee Su, an entrepreneurial mentor and 2012 TGS graduate, and TGS science teacher Dennis Conner to develop the program.

“We wanted to create a program that offered the startup experience students

typically experience in a collegiate program while utilizing the design and prototyping opportunities available through our own fabrication resources,” Young said. “They get a chance to learn how to start a business.”.

It’s not unlike the Maguire New Venture Development program at the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management.

The program includes inviting leading entrepreneurs who regularly speak to classes.

A program of this magnitude requires special funding. That’s when alumni parents Gurpreet and Reema Jaggi stepped in with a generous gift, seeding the program for the first two years.

The Entrepreneurial Institute is integrated into the school community and interacts with students and faculty, as well as family members. Juniors and seniors can apply to the institute in spring for the following academic year. The class meets three times per week.

Young said that students spend the first semester of the program learning the fundamentals of a “lean” startup, which includes customer discovery, the design-thinking process and the production facilities available in the school’s Fab Lab.

At the end of October, the students get to put their skills to use in the “Toy Challenge.” They work in groups, to imagine, design, manufacture and market a new toy. They get some help and advice from Autumn Ruhe (Class of 2001), who owns Tucson toy store Mildred & Dildred.

“This project gives them a chance to practice all the skills in a small-scale project before the second semester,” said Young, who also teaches economics at the school. “The teams are actually making and building their own thing. To my knowledge, there’s not another

school in Tucson that does this.”

During the second semester, Young said, the students take the skills they’ve learned and build their own startup.

“We give them a great deal of latitude in deciding what they’re going to launch, but we do require they have some physical product as part of their new venture,” he said. “While they do a great deal of the work independently, there are weekly check-ins to make sure they’re progressing and hitting their deadlines.”

Young said that the second semester culminates with a TechCrunch-style pitch competition in May. Each group is given 10 minutes to make their funding pitch and then respond to the judges’ questions. Last year’s judges were Mat Friedman (Class of 2011), a senior operations analyst at FullStory, Maggie Zheng, chief of staff at Doorvest, and Ron Stauffer, founder and chief marketer at Lieder Digital.

“Throughout the year, our students get to hear from individuals involved in all facets of entrepreneurship,” Young said. “We are lucky to have alumni and TGS community members willing to come and talk about their own experiences, lessons learned and recommendations. Meanwhile, our students get to hear that entrepreneurship isn’t just one thing.”

Young said that speakers have included artists, performers, cookie bakers, attorneys and venture capitalists, as well as experts in global branding. He also noted that Startup Tucson has been deeply supportive of the program. The entrepreneur organization helped coordinate additional guest speakers.

“We want our students to know that there are so many ways they can be involved in shaping their own path,” he said.

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