“Independence” carries many positive connotations, particularly as it applies to Sage Hill School. Independent schools typically are founded with a mission that defines the guiding principles of the school. Indeed, everything we do at Sage Hill is shaped by our mission, to inspire in our students a love of knowledge and the ability to use that knowledge creatively, compassionately and courageously throughout their lives. Sure that sounds good, but in practice, what does it really mean?
An independent school isn’t a free-wheeling place where anything goes. We are governed by a Board of Trustees who ensure that our programs and practices uphold our mission. In addition, we are accredited by both the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) the California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS). These accreditations acknowledge and certify that our academic and co-curricular programs meet quality standards. But ultimately, as an independent school, we are accountable to our students and their parents. Families choose Sage Hill because we offer an exciting high school journey that prepares our students for future success.
Our independence is part of what enables us to make that journey so enriching. Independence gives us autonomy and allows us to exceed expectations. Consider our faculty, for example. Sage Hill attracts innovative thinkers and experts in their respective fields. They choose Sage Hill in part for the opportunity to teach in a place where they have the leeway to define the curriculum and devise creative approaches to teaching. This includes projects like our English portfolios, which challenge students to think both deeply and broadly about their body of work for the year. Independence allows us to use the new Common Core standards as just one lens through which to view our curriculum, implementing only what we feel works rather than being forced to adopt the standards in their entirety. The result is what we fondly call “Common Core and More.” In addition, our students are not required to take state mandated tests that we feel take valuable time away from learning. We focus on honing life-long skills rather than testing.
For families, an independent school becomes much more than a place where you drop off your student to get an education. I spoke with my colleague, Head of School Patricia Merz, about this recently, and I love what she said. “Independent schools are becoming a community gathering space, the epicenter for families,” she said. “So we are thinking broadly about not only how we are supporting our students but also the whole family, engaging parents, and giving them opportunities to feel they’re part of their student’s experience.” I agree with Patricia, and I think we are successfully achieving this through many of our programs, like our parent education evenings, Career Day, and the Sage Hill Internship Program, not to mention volunteer opportunities through the Parent Association and campus sports and arts events.
As an independent school, we are able, within the framework of our mission, to implement ideas quickly. We are responsive to community input and can continuously evolve to best meet the needs of our students. Recent examples include fine-tuning the nitty-gritty details of our daily schedule and adding an engineering class. We are free to implement measures to promote diversity within our community and to devote one entire day each month to build our students’ commitment to service learning. And through Spring at Sage, we give our students the opportunity to finish the year with an unforgettable, if unconventional, educational experience.
These are just some of the benefits our students realize by attending an independent school. For me, personally, it is gratifying to lead an institution that is so nimble and capable of tailoring the program to the students’ needs. It instills an “anything is possible” feeling in every day. I hope you feel it too.