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The Annual Corporation Meeting Address

In the blur of May, it is a more significant challenge than one might expect to remember where we were in September for the start of this school year. Allow me to offer this rather concrete reminder. On August 31, the last Thursday night of summer, the Town of Belmont voted to allow BDS to move forward with construction of the Barn. It would be close to two months later when we would receive the permit to begin construction. In so many ways, to watch the scaffold of the Barn be built in the intervening months has felt like a fitting metaphor for all that we have achieved this year. Much more than steel has been put in place to guide our construction of the future at Belmont Day. Inside these walls, a similar scaffold has been built for our community: that of programmatic excellence, a lasting commitment to our core values, and the deepening covenant between teacher, student, and parent that helps to ensure that Belmont Day preserves all that has made it great for these ninety years.

Remember that a year ago, I quoted Zora Neale Hurston: “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” Last August, questions abounded—when will the Barn be built, will our campaign reach its goal, what will the new middle school design look like, and many others besides. As Hurston suggested, this year has been a year of answering, and there is so much our community can be proud of as we consider what those answers have been.

As we ready ourselves for the arrival of another summer it may be hard to remember last summer’s huge successes for our camp programs. Enrollment was up, and under the leadership of Bea Rooney and Carl Geneus, campers and counselors enjoyed a banner year.

Then, there is the Barn. How far we have come. Fifteen months ago, when our application to the Town of Belmont’s planning board was submitted, I didn’t know who Corrado Paramithiotti or Fred Colson were, nor did I know the positive impact they would have on our school’s future. Today, we took teachers to the second floor of this transformative new building and looked out on the future of BDS. From that vantage point, it is as bright as it has ever been. Doors open after Thanksgiving, and we simply cannot wait to watch the joy it will bring to our students.

The capital campaign. One of my earliest moments at Belmont Day was two years ago, before I was officially head of school. I joined the community for the announcement of the Raise Y[our] Voice Capital Campaign. It is the most ambitious campaign in the school’s history, and it is fundamentally advancing Belmont Day into the future. Two years later, with the help of a grandparent challenge that has been exceeded and a promising Raise the Roof matching challenge, we have arrived at the $7.6M mark. With the addition of the barn registry we have the $8M goal squarely in our sights. Under the leadership of campaign co-chairs Margaret Wade and Brad Lewis, and Director of Development Mary Merrill and her team, we have much to take pride in and we are so grateful to them.

The marketing launch. Whether it has been the new website design, the beautiful Spark pieces detailing the experience at each grade level, or the new print materials that are being sent home to parents, alums, and past parents alike, the new design work led by Director of Communications Koreen McQuilton and Good Design have helped to more clearly articulate who we are and where we are headed.

Programmatic redesign for grades six to eight. Middle School Head Liz Gray and the middle school faculty have designed a sixth through eighth grade middle school program. At a school deeply committed to process, this work has been going on for close to eighteen months and the result is a beautifully articulated middle school arc within the larger pre-kindergarten to eighth grade arc of Belmont Day.  

Middle school faculty have not been alone in their hard work. Every faculty member in our school has been dedicated—with the leadership of Assistant Head of School and Director of Curriculum and Instruction Deborah Brissenden—to curricular reviews that inform who we are from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade. Whether they have been exploring the arts curriculum, the athletics and physical education program, world languages and the introduction of Latin, or mathematics, the work has been deep, thoughtful, innovative, and always grounded in the benefits to our students and their growth.

Beyond our campus. Belmont Day faculty are leaders in their craft and have been presenting this ‘year of answers’ to national audiences of educators. Nurse Health and Wellness Coordinator Liz LaRocque and her team have presented to peer schools at the AISNE Health and Wellness Symposium, Second Grade Teacher Tina Fox has presented on transracial adoptees at the NAIS People of Color Conference, and Math Specialist and eighth grade math teacher Kathy Gruzynski presented on mathematics at the NAIS annual conference. I cannot imagine better ambassadors for the school.

And the word, it appears, is getting out. Just ask the dynamic admissions duo of Audra McFarland and Hema Ramachandran who experienced the busiest and most successful admissions season with the highest overall number of applicants in the school’s history, the highest number of sixth grade applicants since the inception of the middle school, and a pre-k and kindergarten application rate that continues to be on the rise from years’ past. And that is before they have the Barn as a part of their tour!

Innovation has been moving BDS forward all year long under the guidance and leadership of Director of Technology Dolly Ryan and a phenomenal tech team.  Classroom curricular initiatives included WeDo in first grade, novel engineering in conjunction with Tufts CEEO program in fourth grade, and a collaboration between technology and PE teachers that resulted in students designing, testing, and prototyping fitness trackers. Sylvia Martinez, writer, speaker, and advocate for authentic learning using technology was our 2017 Ko Speaker. She offered presentations and workshops for parents, students, and teachers alike, on making and problem-solving. And more than 70% of our faculty who have signed on for either a Lenesa Leana Endowment for Innovative and Collaborative Education grant or a summer innovation stipend to improve the learning experience for our students.

This year we took a fresh look at the different ‘strands’ of program and introduced an innovative design for our diversity work as a community. Leadership in efforts of equity and inclusion were widespread—teachers Tina Fox, Dean Spencer, and William Yepes and School Psychologist Leesa Mercedes led our new SEED initiative for parents and faculty; race-based affinity work guided by outside professionals continued; Liz LaRocque and Lower School Head Diane Foster continued to lead our GSA; Belmont Day marched as a school for the first time in the Boston Pride Parade; while parents Jackie Robinson and Jill Seeber and teachers Betty Pryor and Debbie Grossman, all co-chairs of Braiding Different Strands, helped to coordinate it all.

Teaching and learning is not limited to the students alone. Under the guidance of Director of the Associate Teacher Program Heather Woodcock, we watched six associate teachers grow and learn their craft under the watchful eye of mentor teachers and with the support of the entire community. Associate teachers are engaged in coursework that allows them to bring current practice and thinking into our classrooms. They are developing units and lessons that keep our thinking and teaching fresh and new. The future for the program is bright—with Heather’s outreach, the number of applications tripled this year and we will welcome eight associates next year to work in collaboration with BDS and Lesley University.

Student success. From our first victory under the lights at Harvard to the highest e-book circulation rate of any Massachusetts independent school on the library network to award-winning Model UN delegates to a tournament victory in basketball—our students are achieving greatness across many different domains of learning. For all the success that might be measured by the final product, Belmont Day has always and will forever be dedicated to the process that gets us there. In every classroom, on stage, in rehearsal, on every field and court, in after school, during Early Birds, and truly at every turn and every day, the magic of BDS is at work. Students are celebrated for who they are, are challenged at the level that best fits their need, and thriving because of the extraordinary faculty they have to guide them. To that mix, and as a result of the programmatic changes to middle school and the enrollment growth initiative, we are adding a collection of phenomenal educators including the school’s first director of equity and inclusion. The school is thriving and I will always believe that a school’s success is a direct result of the faculty that serve as its lifeblood. Putting on my parent hat for a brief moment, I cannot imagine a better place for my children to learn and grow, and I know parents join me in appreciation of all that the faculty has done this and every year.

Belmont Day is a special community, pulling together in the same direction on behalf of our students. We are fortunate to enjoy all that we have here at school, and what we have is a byproduct of the people in this room—an incredibly supportive parent body, a tireless board of trustees, and an extraordinary faculty and staff whose singular dedication to our students answers each and every question we may have.  

Giving Thanks

On Tuesday, we will gather for our annual Thanksgiving assembly—an opportunity to express gratitude as a community.

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