Dear Flint Hill School Families,
During this past Reunion Weekend, we found ourselves constantly answering questions from alumni about everything that is happening at Flint Hill today. From members of the Class of 1967, who had questions about what has changed in education in the decades since they graduated, to members of the Class of 2007, who were amazed by all that has taken place at Flint Hill in the 10 years since they finished their time at the School. As we shared stories and gave tours, I began to compare the process to giving a “report card” on our progress as an institution. Soon, we will be sending out report cards to show your children’s accomplishments in each of their classes. As a school, we too set goals at the beginning of the year, and we have spent the year working on them. So how have we done?
Some of the priorities we set for ourselves are below. You can help “grade” us as we race to a successful conclusion.
- Strategic Plan. The Strategic Plan continues to serve as a guide as we go forward. Our faculty members are the central guiding force in our great school, so providing them with cutting edge professional development, focusing on academic coaching and advising, and working to keep them engaged in helping to design our entire program have been important. This focus is reflected in our current attrition level, which is the lowest we have had.
Work on courses and programmatic enhancement has also dominated a great deal of time. And we have continued to make progress working on the Campus Master Plan that we shared at the beginning of the year, during the State of the School. We are now waiting to go before Fairfax County to secure approval for our projects.
- Innovation. The creation of the Innovation Department several years ago has led to a wellspring of new courses and programs for our students. This year, the Middle School began an intensive program of working with students, through regular classes, on their creativity and sense of problem solving. Middle Schoolers are using 3-D printers and an engraving machine in their efforts, and terms like “computer programming” have become a common theme in their educational vocabulary. All of this gave our alumni some pause last weekend as they realized that what they considered to be college-level work is now the norm in our Middle School. For next year, the Lower School will convert its Science Room into an Innovation Lab, which will allow us to combine both of those tremendous programs. Add to that the introduction of engineering in the Upper School as a bonafide course, the expansion of the Robotics Room (doubling its size) to continue the growth of that program, and the continued growth of innovative ideas, and you can see our efforts taking root.
- Communication. Effective communication will always be a priority. To that end, we challenged ourselves to meet, in groups and individually, with all first- and second-year families. We have worked on our coffees, enhanced the “stories” in our magazines and in the weekly newsletter, and work is underway on a new Admission viewbook with “testimonials” as a method of sharing our story.
- VAIS. The Virginia Association of Independent Schools came for our Five Year Interim Visit this year. Our faculty and staff worked tirelessly to prepare an impressive overview of our curriculum and entire program. The Visiting Team spent three days on campus, and while they were here, they discussed our materials, visited classes, met with school leadership, faculty, staff, the Board of Trustees, the Parents’ Association, and student leaders. They were incredibly impressed with everything that they had seen. Their full report is in progress, but their verbal report reflected that our program is among the very best in the state of Virginia.
- Admission. Admission is one of the keys to our future. Our tremendous staff works hard to make certain that they individualize the process and make every applicant feel welcomed and involved. They also know that there are limited spaces this year, in particular, as the attrition rate hovers at around 4%. That means that 96% of the families who could return next year are returning. The National Association of Independent Schools indicates that a school should feel good if their attrition hovers in the 12-15% range, and ours is at 4%! It is incredible, particularly in a transient area like Northern Virginia. The bottom line is that our Admission Team works hard to do outreach to as many schools, families, and others as possible. And please know that we cherish your support as an extension of our Admission Team, because word of mouth is our most powerful marketing tool.
- Development. In addition to recruiting and retaining families, outreach for philanthropy is critical. Our talk this year about parent participation in The Flint Hill Annual Fund has taken hold as we are currently over 60% at present. I have great hope that between now and the end of the school year, we will shatter all previous records. If you have not participated yet, now is the time to jump in and join. It is your participation that makes all the difference in the world. Our expectation will be to soon share our parent participation numbers with major donors as we look ahead to future aspirations for the School.
I often talk about the importance of people as the driving force behind the success and sustainability of an institution such as ours, and that is just as true for our staff as it is for the faculty who teach and mentor your children. Earlier this year, we conducted a national search to hire a new director of institutional advancement. Meredith VanDuyne and her family will be joining us this summer. In addition, a renewed focus on alumni relations has taken on an intensity this year. Director of Alumni Relations Maria Taylor and Alumni Relations Coordinator Justin Fitzgerald worked hard to bring together last weekend’s Alumni Weekend. In addition, they have visited colleges, hosted special events for alumni, launched an alumni-specific app to help former students stay connected, and have been responsive and welcoming in their efforts to engage and, in some instances, re-engage our alumni. All of it makes a huge difference in how our alums value, appreciate, and begin to comprehend the opportunity they had here at Flint Hill.
These are just a few of the items up for evaluation on our “report card” for this year. While it is always a challenge with time to get everything done, I am deeply appreciative of the effort, support and commitment of our entire school family. Flint Hill’s reputation is growing stronger by the day, and its outcomes through the success of our graduates is truly something to behold.
But we are not at the finish line yet. There is still much to be done, but I hope this little glimpse into our “Open Grade Book” as a school is helpful and informative as this academic year draws to a close.
Best wishes to you!
John M. Thomas