Yesterday we went from the cold "snow" of our 3rd Grade Iditarod project to the warm of Wilmington's weather this week. It was so nice to open my office window and take in the sounds, smell, and breezes of spring. I heard the American flag flapping in the wind and felt grateful to be a citizen of this country. I heard the lively chatter of our students as they went to practice and there is a certain smell to spring that is hard to describe: sweet, earthy, and like pansies almost....
As we prepare to take a well deserved spring break, you should know that our admissions figures bode very well, including a waitlist in multiple grades and new student enrollment figures that are up 21% year to date. Similarly, our projected attrition numbers are down 50% year to date. We are excited to share further details with you in time, as we are amidst creating the first Tower Hill Global Scholars Certificate Program for Upper School. Thanks to Mr. Silva, our Director of Global Initiatives and our Department Chairs for their leadership in this exciting program; it will enable students who are passionate about a global curriculum to select a course of study that helps them to "dive deep" with a global focus during their Upper School years at Tower Hill. This week, we bid bon voyage to Tower Hill trips to France, Costa Rica, and Rome. We are truly becoming a school "of Wilmington and of the World."
Thank you to all who have invested in our teachers and program with your annual fund gift, which covers the gap between tuition and the true cost of a Tower Hill education. At my former school, the parents achieved 100% participation, as a way to express appreciation to the teachers. I hope we can achieve much the same at Tower Hill for our teachers. They are truly stellar, they care about our students as whole people, and they often go above and beyond the call of duty. One parent recently told me that she nearly got teary as she read the reply email from her child's teacher. The class is preparing for a trip to Arlington Cemetery, among other highlights in DC and she had mentioned to the teacher that her son's grandfather was buried there. The teacher was excited to let this mother know that he had arranged for the class to visit this grandfather's grave when they were there. Thank you for your commitment to teachers like this, who care so much about our students and families.
Tower Hill is a tremendous community and the strength of this community is steadfast. I see it firsthand everyday. The most important factor in all our decisions is the experience of our students. We will never compromise the experience of our students and will always be stretching ourselves to enhance it. As in all schools, the winter is a time when teachers and schools make decisions about the following year. It is a time when good schools engage in school wide conversations about performance, goals, interests, and expectations. I have been so impressed witnessing the care, respect, and seriousness of purpose with which every member of the Tower Hill community has engaged in these conversations. As all personnel conversations are, these conversations are confidential. Our commitment to our teachers and staff is first and foremost in this realm, so while it may feel a bit quiet to you right now and it is nearly impossible to understand the configuration of who is retiring, who is not returning, what are any changes for next year, etc, etc, I want you to know that we are committed to picking up communication as soon as we are able to. Of course by late spring, you can expect the detailed annual communication that gives you exciting news of new teachers, reassignments, and any who are leaving or retiring who we will want to celebrate and thank for their contributions.
At a recent faculty "Supper with the Speers", a series of informal, optional dinners at our house throughout the year, I was mightily impressed with the passion with which faculty discussed the topic of the "balance between rigor and warmth in education and at Tower Hill." Questions such as: can rigor include warmth? What does rigor at Tower Hill mean? Rigor certainly does not mean "more or quantity," does it? Doesn't a warm culture strengthen academic rigor? It is clear to me that we have a faculty who are committed to a healthy balance of rigor and warmth. It is my firm assertion that warmth, compassion, and humanity within a school culture do not dilute rigor — in fact rigor is enhanced when students feel safe, supported, and able to be their true selves. At Tower Hill we believe that both warmth and rigor are of equal importance in a healthy school culture.
Enough for now. You are busy preparing for spring break, and I need to go welcome our daughter home tonight and help her unpack and pack again for her Habitat Trip to Texas with her school. The Speers will enjoy a week away in the warmer climbs so I can play tennis every day and then we will return for baseball practice on one of the best high school fields in the country I am told!
Tower Hill has wind in its sails, we have a firm direction forward and I thank you sincerely for your care and commitment to this wonderful school.
Enjoy your family and children over spring break.
Elizabeth C. Speers