Inside BB&N: Annual Department Review

By Lydia Wang

For the first time in 25 years, the Arts Department is being reviewed and critiqued both by members of the BB&N community and by a visiting committee as part of the school’s traditional rotational department review.
This process occurs within a different department each year. In the past three years, the Science, Math, and History Departments have undergone such evaluations.

“A departmental review is a self-study that a department does of what it teaches, how it teaches, and whether or not it is doing what it hopes to be doing,” Arts Department Chair John Norton said. “It was our turn.”

According to Mr. Norton, the first step of this review process is self-analysis.

“We set up some guiding questions for ourselves, and we [tried] to identify the things we do well and the things we may struggle with,” he said. “We established our mission statement and asked ourselves if we were actually fulfilling our mission.”

The department then sent out surveys to parents, recent alumni/ae, and current seniors. After this internal review, a visiting committee evaluated the school by meeting with students from each campus in April.

The Upper School’s visiting committee consisted of three members who specialized in visual arts, one who specialized in theater, and one who specialized in music. Among these evaluators were Gordon Chase, head of Milton Academy’s visual arts program, Ezra Flam, a public school director and theater teacher from Newton, and Holly Krafka, Artistic Director of Boston’s New World Chorale.

“The hope is that it’s a good dialogue between evaluators who have different experiences, different schools, and different programs,” Photography Teacher Parrish Dobson said. “They’re going to go back and say, ‘We wish we did that like they do at BB&N,’ or say, ‘BB&N needs to work on something.’ It’s usually a combination.”

The review involved looking outside of BB&N and observing art programs at other day schools, boarding schools, and public schools, according to Mr. Norton.

“We looked at some other schools to see some other models about how to teach art and structure art,” he said. “We found out that generally, each school is quite different, but that we’re definitely more than holding our own with others.”

The final step, according to Mr. Norton, is consolidating all of the new information into a 90-page report—a process that requires a lot of work but returns some benefits, as well.

“One of the things we learned this year is that we are an amazing department,” Mr. Norton said. “We find that three-quarters of our students go on to take more than two years [of art classes], which means that we’re doing something right.”

Parents’ Association All-School Arts Committee Liaison Kay Kane P’14, ’17 agreed.

“I think we’re going to find that BB&N is very strong in its Arts Departments across all three campuses,” said Dr. Kane. “It will be interesting to see how other, similar schools do things and whether there are ways in which we can make the arts
experience at BB&N an even better one.”

Mr. Norton said the next steps of the review won’t be contained to this year.

“The committee will file a report of their own, I believe, with their impressions and recommendations,” he said. “We’ll read what they have to say and then decide what we want to incorporate in the future. It’s a self-evaluation process, really, and takes a couple of years to play out.”

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