Head's Report to the AGM

Thank you for joining us for our AGM. It is a privilege to provide you with an update regarding our work over the past year.

I will focus primarily on our success achieving the Leadership Team's goals. I hasten to add that this success is due to the work of so many. The focus on making a good school even better at GNS is a team effort. Looking ahead, our progress bodes well when it comes to realizing ongoing improvement in all areas as we strive to do our very best for students, both today and in the years to come. Ultimately, we will better enable each to realize their potential and make many positive differences in the world, now and throughout their lives.

Our first goal was to understand and address retention, and attract more students and families who will add to the school. The entire GNS team worked diligently to enhance customer service, to support and celebrate student learning in all areas, and to build more excitement about the many strong aspects of the GNS educational experience.

As we began the 2017/2018 school year, it was clear the efforts of faculty, staff, volunteers and alumni to enhance the experiences of students and families, and earn stronger word of mouth that further enhanced the school's reputation, was having an impact. As proof, our enrolment increased to 708 students from 699 in 2016/2017. With regard to admissions, we saw additional growth in three important areas:

  • Applications increased from 307 to 332;
  • Offers of admission to desirable candidates grew from 158 to 178; and
  • The number of new students enrolled increased from 119 to 141.

Additionally, the fine efforts put forth by faculty and staff allowed us to maintain student retention, a goal we set in my first year as Head.

A second challenge was to engage faculty and staff members in work across the Junior, Middle and Senior Schools to deliver a seamless program that best develops each student's knowledge, skills and attitudes. This will allow students to avoid any 'big jumps' from one grade to the next, and to be inspired as they do their best in our program. Many significant achievements were realized in this area, as faculty and staff collaborated in meetings, Pro-D Days and in initiatives with students across grade levels. I am proud of the team's efforts to ensure each grade 'ladders up' to the next. Students are able to make the most of the opportunities they encounter as they move through the school. Considerable efforts were put forth to have older and younger students work together, sharing and creating excitement around many wonderful learning initiatives. It was rewarding to see older students develop their leadership skills, and to see younger students so engaged.

Our third task was to continue to unpack and develop GNS' unique, refined version of the IB (PYP, MYP and DP). We worked internally to develop a consistent, shared understanding of what it means to be an IB Continuum school. Faculty members are to be commended for their work within and across the three schools to further develop how we design and deliver the IB programmes so that they are 'doable', enjoyable and beneficial preparation for university, career and life. Our three principals and the faculty members in each school were excellent throughout the entire process.

Another key challenge was to use the Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS) accreditation process to celebrate our strengths and ensure we continue to improve in all areas of school life. This effort began in the 2015/2016 school year, as we began to develop an internal report where faculty, staff and Board members self-evaluated themselves and the school in relation to CAIS' standards in 11 areas. This was a protracted effort, in which we looked at current practices and identified ways to enhance them where possible. We also employed feedback in the forms of comments, surveys and focus groups from students, parents and graduates. This process was exceptionally well coordinated by the dynamic team of Jean Bigelow and Jake Burnett.

Following the completion of our internal evaluation, a CAIS Visiting Committee, composed of 7 experts from independent, not-for-profit schools across Canada, used the information to guide them as they spent three and a half days at GNS in November 2016 watching classes and interviewing students, staff, parents and alumni. The Visiting Committee then provided the school with a detailed report to assist us in celebrating our strengths, and focusing on areas where we can continue to improve.

The CAIS process also supported us during the development of our new, school-wide Strategic Plan. The Board, Leadership team and many volunteers engaged in a series of meetings with highly-regarded professional facilitator, Deborah Pankhurst, to examine all of the generated information and develop a thoughtful, robust plan. We are looking forward to releasing this plan in early November. It will guide our efforts to become an even better school over the next 5 to 7 years, and further our ability to serve our community in a positive, effective manner.

It is a pleasure to briefly highlight two key groups of findings from the Visiting Committee's report. Firstly, I will recognize areas to celebrate; second, I will acknowledge recommendations for where we are already focusing efforts as we continue to improve.

With regard to areas identified for commendation, three key points the Committee recognized included:

  1. Students are Safe, Happy and Cared for at GNS
    "Among the school's many strengths we found it to be a very safe and caring learning community with great attention given by teachers to individual learning needs and a strong desire to help each student achieve his or her full potential. The school offers a very impressive co-curricular program in which virtually every student participates and this serves to develop critical aspects of their character and elevates their engagement with the school. Many of the programs are also a source of pride for the faculty, students and parents. A wide variety of students can find their place at GNS and we found students to be happy, feeling cared for and experiencing a strong sense of belonging."
  2. GNS Focuses on the Students Being Balanced, Positive and Whole People
    "The entire GNS community promotes a positive and supportive learning environment with strong core values. There is not one area that is put above the others, but it is the balance between academic, social, and physical growth and learning that is celebrated in both assemblies and on the school's website. As a result of this, students are engaged in a diverse but balanced life that is known and recognized across the community."
    "The learning environment is not a product of simply one thing. The combination of a strong athletic program, leadership opportunities, the IB Programme, and co-curricular offerings creates a very special place for students to develop skills and character. Teachers in all classes and activities are committed to fully utilizing 'teachable' moments when they arise in class, practice, or rehearsal."
  3. Student Success Results from Our Committed, Caring and Expert People Who Are Great Teachers
    "Teachers at GNS are inspired, passionate, and committed educators who take great pride in helping all students achieve the abovementioned educational goals. In the Junior School, the faculty have gone to great lengths to ensure that the curriculum is mindfully and meaningfully integrated across subject areas. As well, time and training has gone into promoting a consistent and strong math program that ensures all teachers are confident and feel supported in delivering a challenging but inclusive program. In the Middle and Senior schools, teachers use consistent and individualized feedback that truly enables ongoing learning and the continued development of key skills and allows for students to deepen their knowledge."

With regard to CAIS recommendations for improvement, areas we have specifically identified for improvement include:

CAIS Standard 1: Vision, Mission and Values
We will continue our work to elevate the profile of our mission and vision, making them more visible internally and in the community. At the same time, we have reviewed and will promote and inculcate GNS's unique values.

CAIS Standard 3: Academic Program
We will continue our work to deliver a seamless pathway from JK to 12 that enables each student to experience high degrees of progress and success year over year. As an IB Continuum School, we will continue doing our best to engage, challenge and inspire each student in an enriched, whole child program of academics, arts, athletics and citizenship.

CAIS Standard 10: Physical Plant, Health and Safety
We will continue our work to transform facilities at both campuses. At the same time, we will stay focused on maintaining existing facilities to a high standard, and will regularly review our efforts to ensure all students are safe. And we will continue to support the tireless work done by the Advancement Office, led by Chad Holtum, to develop a culture of giving that will support GNS as we continue to move ahead in the development of our facilities.

A final management goal was to advance our Technology Plan, further developing technology as a powerful, integrated tool for teaching and learning. We also focused on better utilizing technology in the business of the school, with a focus on ease of use for students, faculty, staff, parents and alumni. Our new IT Director, Julian Daniel, worked with Director of Finance, Chrissy Raniseth, to support the full-scale implementation of Blackbaud, our new School Information System. Blackbaud replaces multiple previous databases and utilizes a more 'user-friendly' interface.

At the same time, we increased the security of our network and data, and managed the task of keeping hardware and software updated in a cost-effective manner. Our educational technologists, Hilary Cross at the Junior School and Graeme Campbell at Pemberton Woods, actively engaged with faculty to develop opportunities to utilize technology at all grade levels. The introduction of the Middle School Chromebook program is just one example of the collective efforts put forth.

At this point, I am pleased to highlight last year's Whole School Closing, where we recognized our graduating class. This exceptional group of young adults were a pleasure to celebrate as they wonderfully embodied the traits and character of all GNS students. Last year's grads were another strong reflection of the commitment, compassion and expertise of this outstanding community that works together in supporting each GNS student to do their best and realize their full potential.

We are extremely proud of the 70 students in the graduating class of 2017. They were a diverse group. In addition to our local students, the graduates came to GNS from China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, Nigeria, Thailand, Vietnam, Germany, Mexico and Switzerland. And, while it is not another country, we made special mention of one student who moved from Whitehorse in the Yukon just for GNS!

Our graduates earned 179 offers of acceptance, an average of 2.6 offers per graduate, primarily from universities in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. They also earned over $800,000 in post-secondary scholarship offers! Just as importantly, as part of a school committed to enabling each student to effect positive change, our graduates completed 2,144 hours of service in their Grade 12 year, and 5,811 hours during their time in the Senior School. This means that each completed an average of 30.6 hours of service last year, and 83 hours of service during their Senior School careers! We look forward to hearing about how they define and achieve their own version of success in the years to come.

In closing, there are three groups I wish to recognize and thank for the energy, effort and commitment they put forth to ensure our school does its best to enable each student to realize their full potential in academics, the arts, athletics and citizenship.

First, thank you to our parents. I am so impressed by the many parent volunteers who help with student activities, family and parent events and lunches, and through the promotion of the school and our community. I am also so impressed with our Parents' Auxiliary, whose leadership and tireless work makes the school better for students, faculty, staff and families every day. Finally, we all have benefitted from the dedication and commitment that volunteer committee and Board members bring to their work. They are actively working to ensure our school is great today, and that it continues to develop for the students of tomorrow. On behalf of everyone at GNS, now and in the years to come, thank you to all of our parent volunteers!

Another group I am privileged to recognize is the great people who are committed each and every day in the classroom, on the field, the stage or the hiking path to do their best for GNS students and their families. Thank you to our wonderful faculty and staff team. We all benefit greatly from their efforts to make the school even better. More importantly, every one of our students thrives because of their inspiring guidance and care. They are an extraordinary team!

Finally, as a person who comes to school every day with energy and enthusiasm because I am convinced that GNS students will make the world a better place, I am very pleased to recognize our students in three key areas:

  1. Their ability to be engaged, fun loving and hard working in their pursuit of learning in academics, athletics, the arts and citizenship. Having seen students in many different schools, I am very pleased to say GNS students are exceptionally impressive in how they embrace opportunity.
  2. Their commitment to looking after each other, supporting achievement in making it 'cool' to do well and celebrating the success of others. It is heart-warming to see how students take pleasure in the efforts and achievements of others regardless of who they are. Adolescence is a difficult time when students are trying hard to be unique, and may attempt to do this by putting others down. In opposition to this tendency, I have seen that at GNS, students are willing to pull together to raise everyone higher. This, of course, is an area we must continue to support and treasure.
  3. The way students, as individuals and as a group, commit to taking action and making a difference in the community, the province, the nation and indeed the world. I strongly believe each GNS student will continue making the world a better place.

In closing I have one personal comment and note of thanks.

First, as you may know, my wife, Claire, and I were hit head-on while travelling on the Malahat last November. The care and support of so many members of the GNS community throughout our recovery was invaluable. We are grateful to you and, in our third year here, so happy to be 'home' in this wonderful community.

Finally, GNS really has proven to be a family that pulls together to do the best for our students. On behalf of each student, thank you for demonstrating your interest and support for the school through your ongoing involvement. Together, we will make certain that each student is ready to make many positive differences in the world in the days and weeks to come. I want to repeat that, seeing the progress we are making as a good school to continue to improve on an ongoing basis, I am greatly energized and optimistic about a wonderful and positive shared future.

by Glenn Zederayko, Head of School