By Sam Uzwack, Head of School-elect

One of the most exciting aspects of my new role at Eastside Prep is guiding our school into the future, a future we cannot predict and on which we can only speculate. So how to set a direction into the unknown? That is precisely the role of our Board strategic planning process, an effort that began in the fall and will continue throughout the rest of the year. Before we launch into the details, however, it might be helpful to cover a little bit about Independent School Governance 101.

Our Board of Trustees is tasked with ensuring the school fulfills its mission and vision, and protecting the long-term financial health of the institution. As such, the Board Strategic Plan provides the Head of School, me, with the long-term direction the school should focus on. As I mentioned to the seniors I’ve interviewed as we’ve gathered information on the plan, you’re not going to find day-to-day operational issues in the strategic plan (i.e., what classes we run and what appears on the salad bar). You are going to see the big picture goals for the entire institution that the Board has prioritized, given where we are today. It is then up to the Head, school leadership, and the faculty and staff to work toward these goals on a daily basis. So how to determine these lofty, long-reaching, inspirational goals?

Chiefly, listening. The answers lie within our community. By hearing from our faculty and staff, students, parents/guardians, and Board members, a picture emerges of what is essential to EPS and what makes sense to focus on next. To this end, we have employed a number of methods to capture information and unearth our priorities.

These include:

Multiple listening groups with faculty/staff

Meetings with eighth-grade and twelfth-grade advisories

Professional development sessions with Dr. Heather Clark, a cultural anthropologist from the University of Washington

A dissertation conducted by founding Middle School Head Wendy Lawrence about the relationships that span our school

Board of Trustees brainstorming sessions and focus group discussions

Head of School search survey data

From this wealth of perspectives, patterns emerge and priorities rise to the top.

In addition to gathering information from the community, it is essential that key data sets are considered. To this end, we examined local population and employment projections, as well as independent school data including admissions trends, financial aid data, and salary comparisons. We studied our current facilities to understand our overall capacity and what needs should be addressed. All of this information provides a baseline for consideration. So how to organize all of this feedback?

In December, the Board Strategic Planning Group convened to review the information and articulate the process for the remainder of the year. First, a framework for analysis was developed, consisting of the following four domains:

What is essential to EPS?

What differentiates EPS in the marketplace?

What are the risks to mitigate?

What are our aspirations?

Drilling down into the community feedback, the following four themes emerged for consideration as well:

Supporting PEOPLE to be the best versions of themselves.

Innovating PROGRAM to enhance the student experience.

Forging PARTNERSHIPS to leverage our place in the greater world.

Developing PLANT to enhance collaboration.

Through the winter and into spring, the Board will take on each of these topics at general meetings and through focus groups. At the conclusion of these conversations, Board Chair Mehrane Mokdad and I will present a first draft in May, with the goal of having a nearly finished draft to present at the June Annual Board Meeting. This will allow for school leadership to build its annual work plan over the summer, which is how the strategic plan is operationalized…that is to say, put into action on a day-to-day basis. One last discussion will come in September, with the final plan published in October in this very publication.

While the final priorities are yet to be set, I think it appropriate to share what has initially emerged from the process. Without fail, attracting and retaining our outstanding faculty and staff emerged in every constituency as a top priority. This effort will need to take into consideration our region’s high cost of living, offering a robust Professional Development Program geared toward long-term continual improvement, and focusing on faculty/staff well-being.

From a programmatic perspective, deepening our efforts to ensure that every member of the community feels a genuine sense of belonging at EPS, examining and enhancing the school’s sustainability efforts, and reviewing our grading and assessment practices have emerged thus far.

Finally, as we look back on the past twenty years, we have moved at a pace unheard of in independent schools to establish ourselves as a mature institution. Rightfully so, the focus has been internal, on building and sustaining our place. As we look to the next twenty years and beyond, our gaze must also turn outward. We live in an incredibly dynamic and innovative region. By forging partnerships with local governments, educational institutions, businesses, nonprofits, start-ups, and so forth, we can build a network that allows our students to deepen their educational experience and our faculty and staff to enrich their professional practice. Efforts are already underway to create partnerships abroad to do just that.

There is much more work to be done, as the above represents just the beginning of the possibilities. It is an exciting time for EPS, as we are poised to launch into the future from a position of strength and clarity of purpose. It has taken all of us, under the strong and steady leadership of Dr. Macaluso, to reach this point, and I could not be more honored to continue the journey with all of you.