From the Dean's Desk

What I did on my (future) summer vacation

It would be easy to spend my last newsletter article of the year reflecting upon the year that will soon conclude. It seems an appropriate time to highlight all of the remarkable accomplishments and memorable events that have made the year 2016-17 so successful. And it would be an easy topic to fill the three or four paragraphs that I usually contribute in this forum. After all, I have heard it said that the writing process is much easier if you start with good material – and the year 2016-17 at Wyoming Seminary is certainly good material.

However, I have chosen instead to title my May Newsletter entry “What I did on my summer vacation.” Although there are still more than two weeks to go in the current school year, and given the meetings that follow graduation, summer vacation really doesn’t start until the second week of June, I am going to write about my future summer 2017 vacation and all that I will accomplish. So here goes…

I finished reading the Bruce Springsteen autobiography and then read H.W. Brands new book “The General vs. The President,” a story of the relationship between President Harry Truman and General Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War. Then I finished the new Jeff Shaara Korean War novel “The Frozen Hours.” All of these books were great and the latter two helped prepare me to be a better teacher in my history elective.

My summer also included work on preparing for the arrival of the 2017-18 student body as well as new colleagues. The student service team spent time planning for full implementation of the new schedule, focusing on adapting to newfound student free time and coming up with the best nomenclature for schedules that really are not driven by the names Monday through Friday anymore. We also have recreated the evening schedule for boarders as a response to not only the new academic schedule but also to the way students study and learn. Other conversations were centered around a review of our 2016-17 programming initiatives and the formulation of plans for expanded offerings in the new year. And finally, staff conversations were centered on our school disciplinary process and the way we respond to primarily major disciplinary infractions.

My wife and I traveled to Baltimore for a few days, visiting the aquarium, taking a boat tour of the harbor and eating some delicious seafood. We visited our son Zac who had recently moved to Charlotte, N.C. for a new job, and we flew to Denton, Texas to find an apartment for our younger son who will start graduate school in the fall at the University of North Texas. And, we settled a bit more deeply into the reality that we are truly empty-nesters now!

As the opening of the 2017-18 school year grew near, my summer ended with the regathering of the superb Sem student service team and faculty and last minute plans for the opening of the 174th year of Wyoming Seminary. We welcomed and trained our new faculty and staff and all of us have worked hard to make our new lead administrator, Vice-President of Academic Affairs Lauren Streifer, comfortable in her new and challenging position.

So, there it is. My summer 2017 vacation essay. I can only hope that in three short months I can reread this and feel that I have successfully completed (if not exceeded) all of these accomplishments. To all of you, my best for a summer that fulfills all of your wishes and dreams. Enjoy time with your children, and help them get rested and rejuvenated for their next year at Sem. To the parents of the class of 2017, thank you for sharing your children with us. It has been a true pleasure to share this journey with them and with you.

Posted by Patty DeViva on Friday May 19
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A new year, a new schedule

By Upper School Dean Jay Harvey

In reviewing my April, 2016 newsletter entry, I recalled that it was one year ago that I shadowed then junior student Matt Bean for a day (watch the video at the bottom of this page). I remember the classrooms visited but am a bit vague on the lessons taught that day. What I vividly remember, however, was that Matt had a full schedule and was hard-pressed to get from one room to the next in the allotted five minutes, and then had a rushed 30-minute lunch during which to recover before being back at it in his afternoon classes. Last year, when Independent School Management (ISM) consultant Simon Jeynes presented his findings to the school administration after studying our schedule for a week, his first question was, “when do your students go to the bathroom?”

I am harkening back to that question and my shadowing experience as we near the completion of a second trial of the new academic schedule that was the product of Mr. Jeynes’ extensive study of our school. With plans to fully adopt our new schedule in the fall of 2017, we ran a sample seven-day cycle in January. The response was so overwhelmingly positive from both faculty and students we decided to run a second trial, this time opting for a 14-day cycle, thereby making it feel less like a trial and more authentic. Coming out of the first trial, several students and faculty members were asking if we could “just use it for the rest of the year!”

Change this dramatic does not come without some growing pains, however. Every school I have consulted with has shared their stories of issues that arose upon full adoption. Happily, all of those schools are still using their new schedule but took the time to make adjustments they felt improved it. By running trials this year, we have already made some adjustments but realize that there are more on the horizon.

Moving forward this spring we have hired an ISM consultant to help train our faculty on the most effective uses of the once-a-week, 90-minute meeting teaching bell. Several of our faculty have already visited schools to research this, and the math department has hired their own consultant to come to campus in May. We have had a group on campus discussing the 90-minute class as well, and I feel confident that by next fall, given the summer to prepare, our faculty will be prepared to best use this time for “deep dives” into material.

At a recent parent meeting to discuss the new schedule one parent raised the question “who will be watching over the curriculum?” I believe this question was prompted by the 90-minute class and its creation of the opportunity to study topics more vertically, thus perhaps sacrificing some of the horizontal curriculum progress. This is a legitimate question, and one which we will need to watch closely next year. One step to enhance oversight of curriculum will be the expectation that teachers who share the teaching of a class, let’s say Algebra II for example, will meet regularly to check in on where they are and how they are using the longer bell and adapting to “drop” days. In our new schedule, each class will meet five days out of every seven with the other two days designated as drops.

Thus far, the new schedule has more than answered Mr. Jeynes’ question about bathroom breaks. It also seems to be a great tool for reducing student stress on campus. There will be challenges ahead as we prepare for full implementation in the fall, but with feedback from faculty, students and parents we will strive to make the adjustments necessary. This is a big step for our school and we haven’t taken it lightly. We have made promises to you and your sons and daughters and we will continue to work diligently to make sure they are kept.

View the video of the day I shadowed Matt Bean '17:

Posted by Patty DeViva on Wednesday April 19 at 04:16PM
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The Measure of Success

by Upper School Dean Jay Harvey

Sem swim team cheers for teammates

Educational institutions across the country and the world strive to achieve success every day. Nobody wants to work at or attend a school that is not succeeding, and parents certainly do not want to drop their children off each day at a school that is failing. Public schools across the United States fight for funding dollars and must prove through testing that they are succeeding or risk the loss of funds. Independent schools like Sem must achieve success or our customers, families who make significant financial sacrifices for the reward of a successful school career, will look elsewhere. Understandably, the hard part is coming to grips with a definition of success that satisfies all of the varied constituencies that schools represent and to which they are always accountable.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines success as follows: “the fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame” or as “the correct or desired result of an attempt.” So, where does that leave Wyoming Seminary in its quest for success? We could, I suppose, point toward our athletic programs as a true barometer of school success. This month our wrestling won its 11th consecutive Pennsylvania Prep School championship and will go after yet another top finish at the National Tournament. Our boys and girls swim teams completed remarkable undefeated seasons with a history-rattling number of pool and school records smashed. And of course, our field hockey program boasts six PIAA state championships. By any measure, those programs are successful.

Scholastically, a group of our math students recently swept almost all of the top prizes in local and regional competitions; three seniors were named National Merit Finalists; and annually our students perform significantly above national norms on Advanced Placement testing. And once again this year, our Mock Trial Team has excelled on the national and state stage at tournaments, and has once again claimed a district championship locally. It would be hard to not state unequivocally that all of these achievements denote a high level of success that is measurable against the accepted standards and norms.

I believe, however, that for Wyoming Seminary to deem itself successful, we will require a much broader, less simply quantified set of standards. Just the other day I was notified that one of my former advisees had successfully defended her dissertation and had earned her Ph.D. For me this was the second time in the past three years that I had received such joyous news about a former advisee. Every day we hear or read about Sem alums who are excelling in their fields across the country and the world. Due to the breadth of the accomplishments, these successes are far more difficult to simply measure. The school’s ability to produce generations of graduates who go on to fulfilling lives stands as a true barometer of our success as an instituion.

While not all Sem graduates will earn a Ph.D., the vast majority will go on to do meaningful work and will give something back to their communities. They will find their passions and use all of their accumulated skills and experiences to make the world around them better, whether that world is as small as their own family or as large as a major corporation. They will use the experiences they gathered on our campus in Kingston, Pennsylvania, to authenticate the value of a Wyoming Seminary education.

Posted by Patty DeViva on Monday February 20
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