Head of School Dr. Jennifer Price shared her goals to improve the school and findings from the four-month entry process into her position with a crowd of over 150 community members, including alumni, Board of Trustees members, parents, and staff, on Thursday, November 8.
Over the one-hour event, whose last 20 minutes were reserved for audience questions, Dr. Price presented a series of slides detailing what the community said the school should keep and what it should change. The data represented analysis of over 1,000 responses to the communitywide survey she sent last June and to the feedback she heard from 38 meetings she conducted with parents, alumni, and faculty and staff on her listening tour throughout the summer and early fall.
The slides alternated between graphs and anonymous quotes from community members and were later posted to the school’s website, along with the video of her presentation that was also live-streamed.
“I’m hoping we can have a conversation about what I’m reporting back,” Dr. Price said at the beginning of her talk on Friday. “[The presentation] is what I’ve seen, what I’ve heard, and the goal here is to form a basis for where to go as a community.”
Dr. Price said the top responses she heard about the school’s strengths concerned its academics, the faculty/staff and student connections, and commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. The community responses about areas for the school to improve fell into four categories, which, Dr. Price noted, were heavily related to its strengths:
• Finding a balance between academic excellence and
the social-emotional health of students (see “We can work it out,” page 4)
• Attracting, retaining, and supporting diverse,
committed faculty and staff
• Continuing to work on diversity
• Strengthening the sense of community
Many alumni said the school’s level of academic rigor prepared them well for college and beyond, especially in learning how to write well, Dr. Price said. She added that while she wants this standard to continue, she also hopes to focus on student health.
“I think [academic rigor] is a very tricky thing to talk about as the head of school, especially because the thing [that people said] I should not mess with was academics,” Dr. Price said. “This is a place that is known for academic excellence, and I think it’s really important that we preserve that, but I do not think that is mutually exclusive to social-emotional health.”
When emphasizing the importance of faculty and staff to the student experience, Dr. Price shared another story from an alum, this time an older graduate in California, who recalled how Woodworking Teacher Paul Ruhlmann had saved a project he had accidentally left behind while a student at the school and returned it to him at his 30th high school reunion.
“That level of faculty-student connection and so many people talking about it—it was really wonderful to know that that’s such an important part of the school,” Dr. Price said.
Addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion, Dr. Price said she sees creating a diverse community as a journey and, although the school has been committed to the cause for years, she still understands it as one of the most important issues the school has to address. A common theme on the listening tour was many alums saying the school did not prepare them to talk about issues of class, added Dr. Price, who wrote her dissertation at the Harvard Graduate School of Education on the impact of socioeconomic status on student achievement.
“There’s an effect in many independent schools, and it’s actually really true here, that is a barbell effect,” Dr. Price said. “We have many full-pay families and many almost full-need families, yet we have very few middle-class families, many of whom say that they feel like BB&N is almost out of reach.”
Dr. Price added that at this year’s open house, she made a point to mention to prospective families that the school welcomes middle-class students and strives for economic diversity on all levels.
Another area of improvement that many people mentioned was fostering more of a sense of community, particularly across the school’s three campuses, Dr. Price said. She noted the survey results showed this concern was chief among the faculty and staff. In response, she organized the opening day for faculty and staff by mixing up people from different campuses. Dr. Price said she also plans to connect teachers of the same discipline across the grades and campuses during the next two faculty meetings. The goal, she said, is to ensure more coherence and fluidity in the curriculum from year to year for students who attend the school over longer stretches of time.
Trustee Dr. Bridget Long P’28’26 said she appreciated how the report was organized.
“I was impressed with the thoughtfulness of the discussion, both trying to understand what we don’t want changed and what are the opportunities for growth, and the realization that so much of it is interconnected,” Dr. Long said.
Dr. Price closed the presentation by outlining the future steps in her plan. Those include:
• Publishing a written
report of the content in her presentation by December
• Presenting four to
five strategic objectives to the trustees for approval in January 2019
committees of faculty, staff, administrators, and interested others to propose initiatives for each approved objective, which the Board will consider in May 2019
• Finalizing the
strategic plan by September 2019
Dr. Price also plans to embark on another mini-listening tour next summer to get feedback on the proposed initiatives before taking action the following September.
During the Q&A session that followed, an audience member asked Dr. Price how she plans to ensure the safety of the school and its students across the three campuses.
The school will undergo the Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate Training Institute’s active shooter response program used for the first time last year again this spring, Dr. Price responded. She added that she and Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer Tara Gohlmann have been discussing how to control access to the three campuses, and she plans to collaborate closely with local police and firemen in preparing for a possible crisis.
“Supporting our kids socially and emotionally is incredibly important because often a threat is from within,” Dr. Price said. “When you look at all of the different situations where kids have not been safe, often it would have been additional support that would have made the difference, not revolvers or barriers. We live in a complex time, and so it takes a complex solution, and one that isn’t easy.”
Don Richards P’28, who attended the talk, said Dr. Price’s willingness to be open throughout the process stood out to him.
“She made it clear we have to take a very holistic look at things, and I was impressed by the breath and depth of [the presentation],” Mr. Richards said. “There really is a commitment to take this forward into the planning process and open it up to a very broad audience of people who want to volunteer and be a part of it, and the opportunity to participate is something I’ve always enjoyed about the school.”
Director of Stewardship and Office of External Affairs Communications Janet Rosen, who has been at the school for over 21 years, said she looks forward to seeing Dr. Price’s initiatives take shape.
“A lot of the data really underscored what I’ve felt over the time I’ve worked here, such as the fact that we’ve done a lot of work in diversity, but there’s still a long way to go,” Ms. Rosen said. “I think Jen brings a lot of energy and thoughtfulness to the process. Many of the themes that were articulated are not necessarily new, but I think it’ll be really interesting how they translate into a strategic plan for the school.”
Dr. Price presented the same slides in a report to the faculty the preceding week, also explaining her findings and goals for the future.