From the Dean's Desk
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:
by Upper School Dean Jay Harvey
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.
by Upper School Dean Jay Harvey
As an independent school in Pennsylvania, Wyoming Seminary is not held to the 180-class-day requirement that dictates the calendar for our public school neighbors. Instead, we are held to a minimum number of teaching hours standard, set by the state. Each year we have to apply for the 180-day exemption and submit the number of hours we will be in session. We are always over the minimum number, but I do have to admit that two years ago, in the midst of several weather closings and delays, we came very close to falling below the standard. We were busily looking at ways to avert that; some strategies included the dreaded Saturday classes!
I started this article with that background because I have just completed work on the Upper School calendar for next year. I am often asked how we decide when school will open and close, and why we start before Labor Day and use some National Holidays for classes. While all of those questions cannot be answered in this space, I will address a couple of them.
Given the breaks that we take between trimesters, breaks that we consider restorative and necessary, and the need to build in time for our international students to travel home, particularly at Christmas, we need to keep our start and end dates the same. This insures the contact hours that the state mandates will be achieved. We do, from time to time, tinker with the dates we are in session between Upper School Convocation and Commencement, however. Some of those changes are driven by the calendar itself, and some are driven by internal preferences and the desire to keep the Lower School and Upper School calendars as synced as possible. As you review the 2017-18 calendar, I would like to highlight some of those changes.
- We have decided to keep the four-day vacation weekend in the fall for next year. This proved to be very beneficial to our seniors who were trying to fit in their final college visits. It also gave many of our faculty members the opportunity to fit in a professional development day without interrupting classroom time.
- We have chosen, in conjunction with the Lower School, to make the Easter holiday weekend a four-day weekend, adding the day after Easter to Good Friday as days off next year. We hope this helps to facilitate holiday travel and important family time.
- The biggest change comes at the Christmas Break. As is the case every four or five years, we have been forced to bump that break for next year. Please check those dates carefully as we now get out much closer to Christmas Day but return well after the first of January. I would suspect that the same type of bump will occur with our spring break dates in 2019.
- Following the success of our first Service Day in 2016, we have placed it on our calendar for fall, 2017.
- We have not yet finalized dates for Homecoming/Parents Weekend, but we have decided to keep those two events together for next year. Those dates will be sent out as soon as they are confirmed.
I know it seems early to be discussing the 2017-18 calendar when we have barely cleared the midpoint of the 2016-17 calendar, but I am sure that the parents of the class of 2018 have hurriedly marked down Sunday, May 27, 2018 on their personal calendars. We believe this calendar meets all of our objectives while also meeting the Pa. Department of Education’s expectations of us.
And now back to thinking about the remaining days of the 2016-17 school year. Meteorological winter is well past half over, and the days are (allegedly) getting longer. At least there is more daylight each day, when it is not obscured by the gray of northeastern Pennsylvania winters.
Happy New Year to all of Sem families! May 2017 bring you all peace and happiness.
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