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Message from the Head of School

Sage Hill School Mission Statement (2005)

"We inspire in our students a love of knowledge and the ability to use that knowledge creatively, compassionately and courageously throughout their lives."

December 10, 2008


Dear Sage Hill Families,

I want to thank our students, parents, faculty, and staff who gave me such a warm reception when the announcement of my permanency as Head of School was made by the Chair of our Board, Doug Neff. Sage Hill School is near and dear to my heart, and I am thrilled to be leading what I consider to be one of the top schools in the nation. 

When the Board of Trustees of Sage Hill School entrusted me as the Interim Head of School several months back, they challenged me to assess our success in relation to the mission statement issued to our community in 2005.  In particular, they sought an evaluation of whether we are truly delivering on our promises of outstanding academics, a rich campus community, balance, diversity and innovation. After a careful review in concert with the faculty, staff, and Board of Trustees, I have affirmed that we are in large part doing a tremendous job in fulfilling the mission and honoring the values of the school.  We consistently provide a vibrant and stimulating classroom experience characterized by small classes and an open dialogue between teacher and student.  Our students have numerous opportunities to participate as engaged citizens.  We welcome diversity of thought and expression, and embrace the notion of questioning conventional wisdom.

In addition, the school has made great strides in recent years, adding programs that bring the mission of the school to life. In 2007, we implemented the Ninth Grade Experience in order to help students from a variety of schools adjust to the culture and expectations of Sage Hill. Our service learning program has expanded with intentional partnerships in our local community. The Studio at Sage will be the next logical step in our promotion of the arts as a means of encouraging creativity, innovation and collaboration. Most importantly, we have hired the most talented and dedicated faculty in the country whose extraordinary teaching benefits our students in so many ways.

Just as our school community takes pride in its many successes, we must also acknowledge continuing challenges in one or two areas.  In terms of the symbiotic values of academic rigor and balance, specifically grading standards and the overall balance afforded the students in our community, we constantly strive to improve.  For Sage Hill School, academic excellence includes a comprehensive understanding of subject matter, defined not by arbitrary rubrics but by love of knowledge, balance, life skills, and personal growth. In other words, our faculty is responsible for assessing the whole student. As a school, we have resisted imposing grading mandates on our faculty, choosing instead to embrace the unique styles that each faculty member brings to the classroom. We have concluded that an inequity in grading was inadvertently created in some cases as a result of this philosophy. Our goal is to eliminate such inequities. All of our educators are devoted to our students’ success; however, as with any successful enterprise, we must establish expectations and processes that ensure fairness and consistency throughout the organization.  

A separate but related issue is the concept of balance.  We are deeply committed to supporting our students in moving out of their comfort levels and taking advantage of the many opportunities the school provides.  This philosophy, however, comes with a cost:  the need to prioritize numerous commitments, keep students healthy, and not sacrifice our educational goals. It is clear that we need to put better systems in place to promote balance for our hardworking, multi-talented students so they can thrive.

With these challenges in mind, I have been working with the faculty, staff, and Board of Trustees who concur with my plan to implement the following actions in order to enhance equity in grading and balance in each student's life:

·        Equity in grading is being closely monitored and addressed on a quarterly basis. What this means for the student is that grading will be consistent among a common set of teachers by subject, by department, and across our curriculum.

·        Curriculum is being evaluated on a continuing and collaborative basis in order to ensure that it reflects the mission and values of the school. In particular, the values of love of knowledge, balance, life skills, and personal growth will be the focal point for each class.

·        Balance, as a key component of our mission, will be dutifully monitored with new parameters that will ensure our students have an opportunity to engage in the extraordinary learning that takes place both inside and outside of the classroom.

·        Grading will be determined by a clear set of parameters which will be clearly outlined at the beginning of each semester.  Students will not be measured against one another, but rather in how they master these parameters.

·        The expectation for each teacher will be to work with the individual to attain personal growth and success within the classroom environment.  Teachers will be encouraged to bring different approaches to the classroom to maximize each student's potential.

Faculty members are being evaluated in a variety of ways to ensure the above standards are reflected in the classroom.  These methods include cross grading, quarterly reviews of grades, department chair evaluations, posting of course syllabi, course load reviews, and policies regarding the amount of homework that can be assigned by subject. In addition, we are adding guidelines at the forefront to encourage conversations regarding student workload in the interest of increased balance; parental support of faculty recommendations along these lines will go a long way to support these parameters.  That said, Sage Hill School operates under the premise that our faculty members are responsible to engage those students we accept into our curriculum to the utmost of their potential to ensure success in the classroom.

We will continue to measure our performance against our mission to ensure that we are faithful to its values.  The actions discussed above in no way sacrifice the academic excellence that Sage Hill provides its students.  Rather, they will allow us to appropriately recognize our students' academic achievements with attention to fairness and balance. Sage Hill is a young school and I believe it is incumbent upon the faculty, staff, and Board of Trustees, and school administration to continue to examine our progress and, when necessary, implement change to remain true to our vision.  As always, we are grateful that our community offers its support and its voice in the process as we continue to evolve in our ability to execute on these worthwhile goals.

I welcome your comments and feedback. Have a wonderful winter holiday.

Sincerely,

Gordon McNeill
Head of School