April 23, 2024
By Flint Hill School Admission

‘A Bright and Bold Future Ahead’: Flint Hill VAIS Accreditation Visit 2024

From Sunday, April 14, through Tuesday, April 16, Flint Hill School welcomed a group of educators from throughout the Commonwealth to campus for our 10-Year Accreditation Visit by the Virginia Association of Independent Schools (VAIS). This was the final step of a year-long deep-dive process for our team at Flint Hill, which included an in-depth self-study, evaluation of essential documents and policies, and the three-day visit from the accrediting team.

The VAIS visiting committee was comprised of:

  • Armistead Lemon, Chair, Head of School, North Cross School
  • Angie Thomson, Vice Chair, Director of Finance and Accounting, Nansemond-Suffolk Academy
  • Jeff Boyd, Middle School Director, Norfolk Academy
  • Hamill Jones, Director of Admissions and Financial Aid, Saint Christopher's School
  • Christie Lovelette, Latin Teacher, Dean of Students, Hill School
  • Meghan Nealis, History Teacher, Program Director, Virginia Episcopal School

The committee reported its immediate findings in a short presentation to Flint Hill faculty and staff at the end of the visit. The team commended Flint Hill in many ways, but highlighted five areas of distinct strength:

  • Our student-centered academic and co-curricular program
  • Our outstanding faculty and staff dedicated to our students’ engagement and growth
  • The abiding belief in the Flint Hill Core Values from our entire community
  • Best practices in Board governance and school leadership
  • A spirit of innovation that permeates the culture of our community

A complete report will follow.

Watch the video (above) or read the following transcript.

Patrick McHonett: This has been a really special opportunity for our entire Flint Hill team, to reflect, to learn. And the mantra for me, over the course of these last couple of days, and certainly the last year as we prepared for this, is just curiosity and excitement. And I think that they got that today. And I think we are going to receive really great feedback now, over the course of the coming weeks and months with that same mentality — curiosity and excitement. So, please enjoy and thank you to Armistead and the entire team for joining us here today.

Armistead Lemon: We have been delighted to be here. We're going to do a quick introduction again. I just want to make sure you know our names. I'm Armistead Lemon, chair of the visiting team, and I am head of school at North Cross School in Roanoke, Virginia.

Angie Thomson: My name is Angie Thomson. I'm vice chair of the visit today, and I am the director of finance and accounting at Nansemond-Suffolk Academy, which is located in Hampton Roads.

Christie Lovelette: My name is Christie Lovelette. I'm a Latin teacher and the dean of students at the Hill School in Middleburg, Virginia.

Jeff Boyd: Good morning. My name is Jeff Boyd. I'm the middle school director at Norfolk Academy. Thank you for hosting.

Hamill Jones: Hi, I'm Hamill Jones, director of admissions and financial aid at Saint Christopher's School in Richmond, Virginia. And thank you for an extraordinary few days.

Meghan Nealis: Hello, everyone. I am Meghan Nealis from the Virginia Episcopal School in Lynchburg, and I'm a history teacher and program director. Wonderful visit. Thank you so much.

Armistead Lemon: So we have such gratitude for Flint Hill’s independent school community. What we saw over the last couple days is that you are teaching and raising good human beings, and we thank you for this. We want you to celebrate and even shout it from the rooftops. All of us agree. You've just got a remarkable thing going on here. And you should be so proud. Each and every one of you. We have learned a lot from you and, we have tremendous gratitude for this time on your campus. So in that spirit of learning from you, we just wanted to have a quick, mindful moment to open up this session.

We'd love for you to just take a moment and think about something within this community for which you feel gratitude. And if you could just turn to the person next to you and give them a smile and maybe a hint of what you were thinking about.

We want to express gratitude for the warm welcome that you gave us. The entire community, from trustees to faculty, staff to students to parents. Thank you to Patrick and your leadership team. Just incredible orchestration behind the scenes to get us here today. Thank you to Meredith and Proctor and Bridget and Wendy for taking care of us in so many ways over the last couple days. We just moved in with you all, and we could stay. We like it here! So thank you so much.

I want to share a little bit about the process. And I think, you know, because you contributed to it, you submitted a comprehensive ten-year report. It was 85 pages, and we read every single word. So I want you to know that. We took everything seriously in your self-reflection and your self-reflection was excellent. It was affirming to read it and then to go into your spaces and see the good work that you're doing.

So we have spent the last couple of days observing and listening and in conversation with many different constituents. And what we've done is respond to the main parts of the report. So it's a significant number of sections. And then there's an instructional section with lots of different tabs underneath. And so we highlighted a few of those, but we responded in writing.

We were asked to identify the major strengths of Flint Hill School and also to develop essential questions. So, some wonderings for you over the next year. And Patrick has the good fortune of being able to respond to those in one year to VAIS. So this time next year he will be saying, OK, here are the essential questions, and here's how we're moving forward to address some of those.

So with that in mind, I thought I would share a little bit of the executive summary with you, which is the opening up of the report that really celebrates what you're about here at Flint Hill School. And then each of our colleagues will share a major strength that we identified.

Upon arriving on campus, the school's vision, which is to take meaningful risks for yourself and make a difference, along with Flint Hill’s core values, immediately resonated with the accreditation team. Student ambassadors — who were incredible, by the way. You should be so proud of them — spoke genuinely about the warm, inclusive community of Flint Hill and a school culture that encourages taking meaningful risks and blazing one's own trail. Relationships with faculty, staff, and peers emerge as the heart of Flint Hill’s school culture, with a powerful refrain of how faculty go above and beyond to meet students where they are, and to challenge them in new ways.

The depth and breadth of curriculum offered by the faculty is a testament to their mastery in and across disciplines. Flint Hill’s commitment to student voice and self-advocacy was apparent across all divisions, from the Lower School’s student-led conferences and morning meetings up to middle school students' selection of curricular choices. They talked at length about what that choice meant to them. And of course, the Upper School’s expansive curricular and co-curricular paths. They get to blaze their own trails.

The Learning Center was celebrated across divisions as a space and program that promotes student self-advocacy and models Flint Hill’s student-centered approach at its best. Unquestionably, Flint Hill is thriving, with remarkable students and outstanding faculty, all of whom receive exceptional leadership and support from the head of school, his leadership team and the Board of Trustees, Flint Hill is poised to begin its next strategic planning process with confidence and optimism. A bright and bold future lies ahead for this extraordinary community.

And now we will talk about specific strengths.

Christie Lovelette: Good morning. The first major strength that we want to recognize is Flint Hill's program itself. Parents and students repeatedly describe the student experience at Flint Hill as one that prepares students for self-advocacy. The school encourages students to take meaningful risks and offers numerous opportunities to blaze trails that help develop lifelong skills. Choice in the learning process in all divisions is a major strength of the school in the eyes of both students and parents. In the Upper School students described finding an unexpected passion for a fine art or a world language through the broad curricular offerings, and they valued the ability to extend that learning by joining or creating a club.

Trustees, parents, and students highlighted the Learning Center as one signature program that supports this culture of self-directed learning and self-advocacy across divisions. Student-centered experiences were a clear throughline and strength at the school, and the visiting team looks forward to seeing how Flint Hill continues to expand upon this strength.

Jeff Boyd: I'm excited about this one. Next up is the faculty. So parents and students alike spoke glowingly about the Flint Hill faculty and staff, citing their — your — passion, your kindness, and your knowledge of the needs of every student as primary reasons why they chose this place, as well as reasons why they continue to feel invested in the school community.
Faculty members demonstrate a mastery of curriculum broadly, along with an interest and passion for diving deeply into content at a developmentally appropriate level. Moreover, you are highly engaged with students and regularly go above and beyond to differentiate curriculum and meet students where they are. Additionally, and finally, we'd like to note that parents and board members spoke with conviction about their commitment to attracting and retaining excellent faculty and staff. This was something about which they were unwilling to compromise. So congratulations.

Hamill Jones: Core values, the Husky Promise in the Lower School and the schoolwide core values, ground Flint Hill in a warm and inclusive student culture. The school-wide emphasis on respect, compassion, and teamwork prepares students to know themselves as citizens and as learners and become the best versions of themselves. Students described the core values as being part of their lived experience in a school culture that feels down to earth and without hierarchies. Open Mic in the Upper School is a beloved tradition where all students are encouraged to perform. It is just one of many examples of students being encouraged to take meaningful risks. Parents also spoke meaningfully about the core values and the importance of close-knit relationships, which are the heart of this learning community.

One student shared that rounding out who you are as a person by respecting others is authentic to the Flint Hill experience. Flint Hill clearly provides students with the skills and the mindset to successfully navigate the complexities within and outside of this campus, and Flint Hill should be celebrated within the national independent school network and community for the good work that it does, each and every day. And anecdotally, one of my favorite moments was when a Lower School student shared the importance of making sure that parents live by the Husky Promise.

Angie Thomson: Next is governance and leadership. The shared model of the head-board leadership is a significant strength of the school. Thanks to principled governance, continuity of leadership, and a mindset characterized as both aspirational and mindful, Flint Hill is flourishing. Financial health is a byproduct of the school's strong head-board leadership.

In 2021 amid the pandemic, Flint Hill bravely opened a new academic space on campus. The visiting team was dazzled by the new Peterson Middle School for its intentional design, for the academic promise that it represents, and also for the way that it embodies the school spirit of leadership. With careful planning, strategic thinking, continuity of leadership, and an aspirational mindset, Flint Hill can and should continue to dream big. The upcoming strategic plan will provide just such an opportunity.

Meghan Nealis: And last but definitely not least is the school's enthusiastic spirit of innovation. Nearly every aspect of the Flint Hill experience is infused with the spirit of innovation, which energizes you, engages students, and excites parents and new families. The Innovation Department offers leading-edge courses that challenge students to create and problem-solve in real-world ways.

Technology is infused throughout the curriculum and the student experience, and faculty members — yourselves — are continually innovating to ensure meaningful, high-engagement learning experiences. Students are encouraged to find their passions and their interests and explore them in depth, to build autonomy in developmentally appropriate ways, and to blaze a trail. Faculty members demonstrate the spirit and their willingness to try new strategies to make their teaching student-centered and to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of their students. Your school leadership is supportive of these efforts and is eager to consider what's next for Flint Hill with the opportunity ahead to evaluate, innovate, and soar to new heights. The visiting team looks forward to see how the school more intentionally institutionalizes this spirit beyond the Innovation Department and throughout the curriculum, as part of cohesive academic policy. Congratulations.

Armistead Lemon: Yeah, you need to celebrate yourselves.

Just a final note about the culture of the school. It is such a strength and it is warm, it is inclusive, it is open-minded, and students are leading it. And I hope they will continue to do that, to champion them in every way. And they're doing great work in the space. So just hats off to all constituents. Thank you again to Patrick for welcoming us. And we all hope we get to come back again soon. Thank you so much.

Patrick McHonett: Thank you, Armistead and team, we're so happy to have you and wish you only the best as you head on back to your respective campuses.

For our team internally, we're getting a lot of feedback after the fact with this, including, I believe, a 25-page short novel that you all have written over the last 48 hours. Right now is the time to celebrate those strengths and take appreciation for the great work that is happening. And over the course of the coming days and weeks, we'll dig into that really healthy feedback, as well as those essential questions to discover what's next.

So thank you all for your great work here today and always. And thank you all for joining us. Now go teach!

Bonus: We shared this video with the VAIS committee when they first arrived to showcase all Flint Hill has to offer. Enjoy!


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