Head's Report to the GNSS Board AGM October 2018

Thank you for joining us for our AGM. Preparing for this evening I thought fondly of a student who joined one of my former schools in Grade 1. He was very excited after his first day. This lasted until pick-up when his mom joined him and heard all the good news.  Then she said, “That’s great. Tomorrow will be wonderful then.” At this point his face fell.

“You mean I have to come back?”

“Yes, you need to learn more. In fact, you will have to come the whole week.” Being attuned to his dilemma, she didn’t mention that need to return in the following weeks too. He pondered this news for a minute looking more thoughtful than disappointed.

Then he spoke, “Mom, if I try harder and learn enough tomorrow, can I take the rest of the week off?” I have to admire this type of critical thinking and note it’s very much what we are focused on developing here at GNS.

With that in mind, it is a privilege to provide you with an update regarding developments at GNS in the past year.  My focus will be on our progress towards realizing the 5 of our 6 key success factors identified in our strategic plan. Ultimately, the strategic plan is targeted at two outcomes. First, ensuring ongoing improvement that will better enable each current GNS student to realize their potential and make many positive differences in the world now and throughout their lives. Second, ensuring that, in our 106th year, GNS is putting forth the effort to continue to be a vibrant, sought after and leading school for at least another 106 years.

GNS Strategic Plan

Our five-year strategic plan focuses on making progress by achieving a series of one-year operating plans for each of the Key Success Factors. Our first Key Success Factor is ensuring we all truly live our five core Values: Truth, Courage, Caring, Individuality and Community. In the past year our main efforts in this area included:

  • Regularly engaging each member of the Leadership Team, faculty and staff in different ways that highlighted and encouraged further promotion and celebration of these GNS values among us all.
  • The revision of our website and the addition of signs in classrooms to promote and celebrate our mission, vision and values with greater visibility and clarity.
  • The Leadership Team completing a series of five training sessions over the course of the school year to further develop our shared ability to coach colleagues to better realize our values and the development of shared leadership among faculty and staff.

As a measure of our progress against this goal, in the spring of 2018, 88% of the respondents to the GNS Family survey indicated that we were meeting or exceeding their overall expectations.

GNS Strategic Plan – Our Values

Our second Key Success Factor is supporting an exceptional and committed school family. At this time, we are very pleased to have a wonderful GNS Alumnae assuming the role of connecting with Alumni and past parents and we look forward to really moving ahead in this area. Over the previous 12 months some of the tactics to support the development of GNS family included:

  • The very good work of our two new University Guidance Team members to successfully engage 70 graduating students to earn an average of 3 offers of admission to the universities that met their individual plans and desires.
  • The Principals, faculty and staff members, with assistance from the Marketing and Communications Team, contributed greatly to the GNS News and other GNS social media channels to tell stories and celebrate teaching, learning and doing in academics, arts, athletic, and service at GNS.
  • Efforts to promote the opportunity to be a Host Family in the GNS Family Boarding program were undertaken and well received as additional GNS families offered to be a part of this dynamic program that is currently bringing students from 19 different countries to the school.

The third Key Success Factor in our strategic plan is to continue to Ensure GNS Faculty and Staff are Always Outstanding. We made considerable progress in this area over the previous 12 months. Two important examples are as follows:

  • Nearly 40 faculty and staff members engaged in two ad hoc task forces to develop and implement new professional growth models based in research-based teaching and staff competencies. We developed a supportive annual goal setting process. Now, each individual member of the GNS team routinely targets their professional growth in a very focused manner.
  • The Leadership Team and the HR Director further developed and implemented policies and activities that helped to ensure GNS is a rewarding place to work for high performing individuals. Our focus was on further building trust and providing opportunities to pilot initiatives and share responsibility for achieving desired outcomes.

As a result of our focus in this area, every faculty and staff member now participate in goal setting linked to ongoing improvement and furthering their own professional competencies.

GNS Strategic Plan – Our Community

Our fourth Key Success Factor is to continually improve our inspiring, effective and rewarding educational program. We pursued this in multiple ways over the previous 12 months. Teachers from the Junior School through the Middle School to the Senior School worked across campuses to ensure further development of shared knowledge about all aspects of the GNS whole child educational program. They furthered their ability to ensure students develop excellent knowledge, skills and attitudes in a gradual fashion while progressing seamlessly through the grades. As part of this Key Success Factor, teachers in the Senior School worked individually, in departments and across departments to refine their design and delivery of our GNS version of IB courses in Grades 11 and 12. They achieved their goal of ensuring each IB course at the Senior School level is designed and delivered in a way to make it more doable, more highly engaging and more effective in offering greater long-term benefit for each student. This is rooted in our commitment to ensuring each student is well prepared to get into university, do well there and be finely prepared to continue to do well in their career and life.

Another component of this Key Success Factor was to build on our success of using technology as a tool for learning in the Junior School. We completed a full roll out of the Chromebook program in the Middle School. Students now benefit from controlled access to school owned devices at school and at home in support of their learning. At the same time, we laid the ground work for bringing the same opportunity to use technology as an integrated tool for learning to Senior School students with the laptop program that is now running.

As GNS is an IB Continuum school—that is a school that delivers the PYP, MYP and DP—we measure our success in terms of how many students feel prepared to engage in the Diploma, while at the same time keeping the opportunity to choose not to do the Diploma. Due to the strong work of the faculty, this fall, over 55 students felt well prepared and signed up to start the Diploma Program in Grade 11. This is more than double our student number in previous years and cause for significant celebration.

GNS Strategic Plan – Our Key Success Factors

The penultimate Key Success Factor is moving ahead in transforming our campuses to better support the high level of teaching and learning that is occurring at the school. Our plans and progress in this important goal has been addressed by our Board Chair. We can all be very pleased.

Effort put forth in the previous 12 months to move towards the realization of our final Key Success factor, to continue to build robust operations, includes:

  • The creation of a well-considered marketing and communications plan.
  • The implementation of our Blackbaud database to enhance our ability to better serve students, parents, faculty and staff in multiple ways.
  • Ongoing work with an expert consultant to advance the GNS Society and GNS Foundation Boards’ commitment to using in best practises.

In closing, it is a pleasure to highlight a few key measures of our overall success in the 2017–2018 school year.

  • 53% of our senior students played on at least 1 of our 22 teams.
  • 100% of our senior students participated in our co-curricular program.
  • Our innovative, caring and expert teachers used our 7:1 pupil–teacher ratio to ensure our graduates do well. The results include:
    • 100% of our graduates were accepted to their post-secondary choices.
    • Graduates each earned an average of 3 offers of admission.
    • Graduates earned nearly $1M annually in scholarship offers.

There is one additional measure that I would like to highlight. Schools like ours attract over 90% of new families through word of mouth. With that in mind we are very pleased that greater than 140 new students joined the GNS family this fall. We also enjoyed strong retention in almost every grade. As an institution where word of mouth from happy and engaged students and parents encourages others to join us, our 140+ number is a very good measure of satisfaction.

There are three groups that I am very pleased to recognize and thank for the energy, effort and commitment they put forth to ensure GNS does its best to enable each student to realize their full potential as an individual in academics, arts, athletics and citizenship. First, thank you GNS Parents who help bring life to the school by supporting their children and their children’s teachers while participating in student, parent and family events. Special thanks to all our volunteers, including the Parents’ Auxiliary and our two Boards; Society and Foundation, all of whom who plan and execute so many activities enriching GNS for current and future generations. It is my pleasure to thank Chris Denford for his leadership over five years as Board Chair. We have all benefitted from his energy, vision and enthusiasm for GNS. I am very pleased that he has chosen to continue to be engaged in developing GNS going forward. Thank you, Chris, for what you have helped get done and what you will help us do.

Next, I am also very pleased to be able to say, “thank you” to the great people; faculty and staff members, who commit each day to doing their best in the classroom, on the field, on the stage, or in the outdoors as they strive to assist each GNS student to reach their potential. We also benefit from their regular effort to make the school even better on an ongoing basis. I cannot thank this wonderful team enough. Finally, thank you to the 700 GNS students who come to school each day with great eagerness to learn and live the school’s values. They share their wonderful energy and terrific enthusiasm in a manner that inspires faculty, staff and parents to do our best.

Looking briefly at the current school year we are focusing on a number of efforts to keep advancing towards the realization of our strategic plan. These include:

  • Developing Courage and Risk-Taking
  • Supporting Each Student’s Independence and Wellness
  • Living Our GNS Values (with a particular focus on Caring)
  • Addressing Concerns and Problems in a Timely and Effective Manner
  • Preparing Each Student Well for an Uncertain Future
  • Continuing to Improve Facilities

To close, please allow me one personal comment. I come to GNS eagerly each day most excited about the fact that, due to everyone’s great work, each GNS student will make many positive differences in the world throughout their lives. All indications point to this being very true. For example, last year, GNS Senior School students engaged in over 8500 hours of community service. I am very happy that the highly refined GNS community approach to teaching the whole child in academics, arts, athletics and citizenship through our three IB programs will equip each of our students to be prepared to question, collaborate and solve problems in creative and effective ways throughout their lives. This is truly exciting and rewarding. I wish all of the members of the GNS community a great year.