Kingswood Oxford held its first State of the School address on Friday, February 21 for the KO community. Board Chair Brad Hoffman ’78 shared his experience as a trustee on a Shadow Day earlier that day and spoke about his impressions of the KO students as smart and thoughtful young adults. Head of School Tom Dillow said he was charting unknown territory for his first State of the School Address remarking that he paid close attention to the recent State of the Union Address for pointers. He joked that he would not award any radio talk show hosts a medal nor did he plan for the Assistant Head of School to rip his script.
Dillow reiterated the mission statement and core values of the school that guides the decisions and daily workings of the institution. He remarked how the personalized attention to each child is the ethos at Kingswood Oxford. “It is why I regularly see alums coming back to check in with their favorite teachers and why I’ve heard, more than a few times, how a teacher at KO actually changed their life... There is a coordinated and deliberate approach to teach, mentor, support and help each student to self-advocate and own their learning. The small class sizes allow teachers to get to know our students, and importantly, provide feedback to them on their learning. The research on student learning is an affirmation of this KO Way. That research tells us that students learn best when they experience a sense of belonging; when their teachers are not just distributors of knowledge, but are mentors, advisors, and make a connection to their students,” he said.
Dillow showcased the highlights in the school’s curriculum and programs including multiple opportunities for public speaking, the Baird English Symposium which brings a renowned author to campus, successful athletics teams and an award-winning theater department. Remy McCoy ’20, who plays the lead in the upcoming production of Thoroughly Modern Millie, provided an interval of entertainment with an outstanding performance of “Gimme Gimme.” She explained that this song coincides with her character deciding that she would marry for love.
Last summer the school launched a strategic planning process that culminated in a board vote in January to adopt a new strategic vision for our school. The process involved working with the faculty and staff, as well as hearing from our students, families, and alumni. Greenwich Leadership Partners, a strategic design consultant, guided the school’s nimble Strategic Design Team who developed a vision statement using the input of the various constituents.
Dillow shared the vision statement with the group:
“Kingswood Oxford is a transformative day school that engages students through real-world and interdisciplinary learning opportunities by expanding the classroom beyond our campus and partnering with people and institutions in the greater Hartford area. Our signature educational approach develops compassionate collaborators, ethical problem solvers, and active citizens who lead and serve in the wider community.”
Dillow explained that the vision statement is the school’s Northstar that guides us as we grow as a school in the coming years. He said, “It states unequivocally that we identify as a day school and that we are in the business of transforming lives. It is an aspiration to be a leading school in engaging students and helping them to learn more deeply, and to do so by engaging with West Hartford, Hartford, and our surrounding communities. It spells out outcomes that we want for our students and that we believe are important for them in the future - to collaborate, solve complex problems, and to be involved in their communities.”
The school’s belief in six tenets underpins of the vision statement which includes the school’s unwavering responsibility to prepare our students for success in college and for the jobs of the future with a deeper set of knowledge, skills, and dispositions while still maintaining its core as a college preparatory school; to provide an engaging curriculum where students learn by doing and take intellectual risks; to connect our learning beyond the campus; to cultivate in students a commitment to 'care beyond self'; to commit to diversity; and to partner with our families so together we raise kind and intelligent young adults.
In order to realize this vision, Dillow said, the school will make five overarching strategic priorities and create a system to measure our progress and success. This is not a fixed plan but one that allows for a reassessment of where the school is in its goals each year. The first priority is to double down on “Transformational Teaching and Engaged Learning.” Already the school has a dynamic curriculum in place such as the Witness Stones Project in the Upper School. Next year, the Middle School will launch an interdisciplinary curriculum among English, science and history classes where seventh-graders answer the guiding question: What is the power of water? The ninth grade will study technology, world religions, etc. through the lens of global cities. Plans are in development for a VQV life skills program that aligns with students’ status in life (changing in a tire when they get their driver’s license or learning budgeting in their senior year before college.) The second priority “An Exceptional Faculty and Staff” recognizes that great schools are great because of great teachers. As a “Day School that Builds Community,” priority three, the school will serve as a community hub, enhancing the overall student life experience as well as the parent experience. KO will look to enhance certain facilities in “A Master Campus Plan Aligned with our Vision” and lastly, “Financial Sustainability and Operational Excellence” seeks to grow the school’s endowment and examine means to provide more financial affordability to families.
Dillow stressed that KO actively prepares and will continue to prepare our students with the dispositions to navigate this ever-changing future landscape by stressing critical thinking skills, problem-solving, and collaboration.