Kingswood Oxford held its second State of the School event, this time virtually, on February 18. Board Chair Brad Hoffman ’78 commended the faculty and staff for a successful year despite the many headwinds. Head of School Tom Dillow expressed how one year had made a significant difference in the life of the school community since his last address due to the pandemic. Last year, he presented a strategic vision for the school that would engage our students in authentic real-world learning. Instead, the school had to pivot and address the immediate concerns while moving forward. He compared our school’s situation to the Stockdale Paradox, named after a former Vietnam prisoner of war. While Admiral Stockdale was imprisoned for eight years he never lost faith that he would be released, and yet he confronted the brutal facts in front of him. Unlike Stockdale, KO shared this pandemic experience as a community together and collectively rose to the challenge.
Dillow said that despite the conditions, the teachers, the true heroes of the school, quickly and effectively built the KO online school by contacting international schools and researching best practices. Despite social distancing and mask-wearing, the teachers were still able to teach in person this year and the students were able to participate in the Choreographer Showcase, Forensic Team, Mock Trial, plan lunch and leads, as well engage with our Baird Symposium author Min Jin Lee.
The murder of George Floyd caused the school to look at itself and reflect on “how can we become a more inclusive school where all students feel a sense of belonging. How do we help our students to understand the roots of racism overt or implicit so they go out into the world with a deep-seated sense of empathy and conviction to bring about positive change?” said Dillow.
Dillow said the school will share a midyear update on our equity goals shortly. Since this summer, the school has created an equity team of four faculty to coach, mentor, and train our teachers and has established a permanent board committee on equity led by trustee Doug Harris ’79, founder of an international diversity consultancy company. The school is actively looking to diversify the Board of Trustees and is engaging in ongoing professional growth for its members. The School is committed to hiring a more diverse faculty and is expanding the curriculum to include more authors of color, recognize the accomplishments of those overlooked, and help our students understand the roots of racism.
Dillow said that the school seeks to follow its North Star stated in its vision statement articulated last year - to become a transformational day school that develops partnerships with local organizations. “Late last spring we recognized that we couldn’t allow the exigencies of our situation to take us off course. We needed to look to the future, toward that vision, despite the challenges. Our teachers are engaging our students in deep meaningful that will prepare them for success,” Dillow said.
Head of the Middle School Ann Sciglimpaglia said that the vision statement is an opportunity for the faculty to stretch themselves to add more to our exciting curriculum and make more connections to the real world. This is the ethos of the middle school. Middle School History teacher Peter Burdge explained the Form 1 “Power of Water” project that reflects interdisciplinary learning by combining science, history, and English to answer three guiding questions: Why do people live here? Do rivers have rights? Who got rich from the Connecticut River?
Sciglimpaglia also addressed the equity work that is being done in the Middle School. She said the students developed a series of questions about the election, the inaugurations, the insurrection, and Black history. These questions and activities have helped the faculty engage in great conversations with our students. The students are also drawing many connections between the literature they are reading and the civil rights movement.
Head of the Upper School Dan Gleason shared the ways in which the strategic plan is being implemented in the Upper School Curriculum. In terms of an interdisciplinary approach, current classes include Global Cities (history and science, Global Issues (history and anthropology). This year the English and History departments teamed up for a Refugee Project where the students spoke to fellows at the UConn Law Asylum and Human Rights Project. Next year, the Upper School is rolling out more interdisciplinary classes. Equity work is embedded across the Upper School curriculum. The history department increased its focus on geographic and racial diversity, the arts and English department has an increased focus on work by BIPOC artists and authors.
Upper School history teacher Katie McCarthy presented the Witness Stones Project that partners with local people and focuses on equity by “shifting the narrative.” Two students wrote a letter to the town asking for a street in West Hartford to be named after a former enslaved person among other initiatives.
Dillow shared updates on campus planning which include an updated library/common area in the near future.
To view the entire State of the School address click on this link.