Speeches from the GNS Society AGM

From Curtis Mundstock, Board Chair: 

The 2018-19 school year was our 106th in operation. And, it was an action-packed year. Our students continued to be active participants in student life – whether it was participating in such mainstay GNS traditions as Friday Morning Live assemblies at the Beach, preparing for and performing in front of a couple of hundred people for the Gallery of Fame in Middle School, or enthusiastically committing themselves to helping others through service hours in Senior School. Such valuable life experiences combined with our excellent academic programmes are what help prepare our students for life beyond GNS. I would like to think that over the course of the past year, GNS has fulfilled its’ end of the bargain in helping our students develop into well-rounded, conscientious and resilient individuals.

Our Head of School, Dr. Glenn Zederayko, will be touching on five of the six key success factors in our Strategic Plan shortly. That leaves one for me – campus transformation. 

As any of you who have passed by our Beach campus recently can attest, transformation is certainly becoming a reality. It may have taken a few months longer than was originally planned, but phase one of the Beach campus re-build was completed last May with the opening of our Junior Kindergarten, Kindergarten and Boathouse buildings. The opening ceremony and Builders’ BBQ that was held to celebrate the momentous occasion and thank all those who contributed, was a fantastic opportunity for people to take a look at what can be done through philanthropy. Considering the fact that this was just phase one, it gave everyone a little taste of what is yet to come. A teaser, if you will. And it is coming. Phase two at the Beach, which is the construction of the main Junior building, is well underway and is expected to be completed by Spring 2021. Once completed, the Beach campus will be an idyllic mix of both old and new, celebrating tradition and yet, in true IB style, embracing the future, helping to provide our kids with both roots and wings, to steal Hamish Simpson’s words.

Of course, while this has all been going on at the Beach, we have been further developing our PW Masterplan. Over the past year, we have had two engagement sessions with our neighbours to deduce how best to move forward with our plans while also being mindful of our surroundings. We will, of course, be sharing our plans with our many constituents to finalize their feedback. Then, we will be at the stage where we can take our plans to the City of Victoria to begin the approval process in hopes of beginning construction of a new facility that will feature a school-wide learning commons, as well as provide state-of-the-art classrooms and science labs. 

With the launch of the Wonder Campaign at the beginning of this month, it was announced that our fundraising goal for campus renewal was $27 million and that, at the time of the launch, we had already raised $15 million, or 56% of our goal. This is by far the most successful capital campaign in the history of GNS; and we have only just begun. I would like to thank all those people who have contributed to the Wonder Campaign up to this point and I am certain that our community will rise to the occasion to hit our target by the time the campaign officially ends in the Spring of 2022.

Of course, co-ordinating campus transformation while ensuring that the excellent educational experience at our school is uninterrupted can be a challenge. But Glenn Zederayko and his team have made it look easy. I would like to thank Glenn for his guidance and all of his great efforts in ensuring that this extensive campus renewal has not disrupted any of our students’ school lives. On top of that, I commend his efforts over these past four years to successfully transform GNS into a true IB Continuum school. As was announced last Spring, Glenn will be leaving us at the end of this school year. Among his many duties in his final year, one of Glenn’s main focuses will be guiding this school through its’ IB accreditation in April . Once that is complete and June arrives, Glenn will be able to look back at all he has done for GNS with a great sense of pride, knowing how much he helped us grow and improve as a school. 

On that note, I can assure our community that finding a suitable successor to Glenn is a main priority of the Society Board this year. The search is well underway and we hope to be able to announce who the new Head of School is by early January. Our goal will be to find a new Head of School who embodies all of what is good about GNS and who will be able to complement and build upon all of the great things that Glenn, and his predecessors, have done to make GNS such a great school.

Thank you.

 

From Glenn Zederayko, Head of School: 

Good evening Parents, Board Members, Past Parents, Alumni and Colleagues.

Thank you for joining us for our AGM. Tonight I wish to mention former Head Boy, Stuart Cameron, describing one of the best characteristics of GNS from a student's point of view. I will do my best to paraphrase his message.

"One of the best things about GNS is that there is no mould where every graduate is forced to be the same. Every teacher and every staff member works with each of us as individuals to allow us to figure out who we are and become the best individual we can be. We don't all have to be doctors, or lawyers or any one thing. What is also good about this is that all the students at GNS also understand this and support each other to become themselves. The best version of themselves they can be in classes, the arts, sports and service."

Stuart's message is a perfect preamble to explain the overall focus of the work that faculty and staff did last year. We focused on assisting each individual student to continue to move ahead to define and achieve their own version of success and be prepared to make many positive differences in the world. With Stuart's message in mind, it is a privilege to provide you with an update regarding ongoing development at GNS in the past year. As Curtis noted, my focus is our progress towards realizing 5 of our 6 key success factors identified in our strategic plan.

Overall, our strategic plan is targeted on two outcomes. First, ensuring ongoing improvement that will better enable each GNS student to realize their potential and be great citizens throughout their lives. Second, ensuring that, in our 107th year, GNS is planning and putting forth the effort necessary to ensure we are a vibrant, sought after and leading school in another 107 years.

Our first Key Success Factor is ensuring students, faculty, staff and parents all truly live our five core Values: Truth, Courage, Caring, Individuality and Community. Last year we highlighted caring as our main focus. We regularly engaged each member of the leadership team, faculty, staff, students and parents in multiple different ways to highlight and promote the value of caring in an effort to ensure that the school is warm and welcoming and supportive of all. As a measure of our progress against this goal, in the spring of 2019 the vast majority of respondents to the GNS Family survey indicated that we were meeting or exceeding their expectations in providing a safe, caring and inspiring educational experience.

Our second Key Success Factor is supporting an exceptional and committed school family. Over the past year we successfully staged a stunning array of events where the GNS community came together to celebrate students' effort and achievement in our IB Continuum School. As is the IB way, our focus included academics, arts, athletics and citizenship. To their credit, every GNS student participated in these events with energy, excitement and a high degree of confidence.

A number of related efforts this fall have reflected the efforts from last year as well. Two notable events are:

  • Successful preparation and innovation to ensure a fall launch of a web-based site known as "GNS Connect" to re-engage and assist over 1400 alumni and countless past parents.
  • Efforts by the Advancement Team and Volunteer Campaign Cabinet to further connect with our community. This resulted in the launch of the Wonder Campaign this fall with over $15M of our $27M goal raised. I know we also have great momentum to keep moving ahead towards our goal which will allow us to do our best to provide even better support outstanding teaching and learning for every student.

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. Three important examples are as follows:

  • Under the leadership of the three Principals and the three IB Coordinators the entire faculty and staff have engaged in a self-study process as preparation for our IB Re-authorization in the Spring of 2020. This effort has allowed us to identify and capitalize on opportunities to deliver our IB primary years, middle years and diploma programmes in ways that are even more inspiring, engaging and effective for each student. It has also allowed us to celebrate the many highly effective approaches and programs we have created to engage and inspire students.
  • Assistant Principals, Heads of Departments and other leaders across the school completed a series of hands-on training sessions over the course of the school year to further develop our shared ability to coach colleagues. The result is that every member of faculty and staff is better supported in a positive and highly effective fashion to do their very best for students, parents and each other
  • Our HR Director worked with non-teaching staff to develop their collective ability to provide and receive constructive feedback. This has become an effective means to promote further ongoing improvement as staff work together to do their best for students, parents and each other.

Our fourth Key Success Factor is to continually improve our inspiring, effective and rewarding educational International Baccalaureate program. We pursued this in multiple ways over the previous 12 months. One standout was the Junior School's effort to reduce waste, increase recycling and have a positive impact on the planet. The learning and outcomes involved in this initiative were truly impressive. Another standout was the Middle Schools effort to further develop the ability of each student to reflect on their progress and then set and acheive effective goals to guide their progress in doing their best in academics, arts, athletics and citizenship. A standout at the Senior School was the combined work of faculty and staff to roll out our Laptop program. Students now benefit from controlled access to laptops they own that are well supported at school and at home. At the Junior, Middle and Senior Schools our efforts continue to be guided by the fact that technology, when used well and in an integrated fashion, can be an outstanding support for the higher-level tasks, thinking and learning GNS students undertake in our three IB programmes.

Finally, with regard to improving our educational program I am very pleased to report about the impact of our ongoing work at GNS as an IB Continuum school, that is a school that delivers the PYP, MYP and DP. Our goal is to create an effective, seamless and rewarding pathway from JK through 12 that prepares every student to find their GNS IB experience doable, inspiring and beneficial as a whole person in academics, athletics, arts and citizenship. In part, we measure the success of our efforts to build this runway in terms of how many students feel well prepared to engage in the IB 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 and over 50 students continued with the Diploma Program in grade 12. These numbers are more than double, nearly triple, in some cases when compared to numbers in previous years. I want to emphasize that while many students are choosing to engage in the full Diploma Program in grade 11 and 12, we have maintained and refined flexible offerings that allow for student choice to participate in an appropriate individualized program for each student according to their needs.

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 Curtis. We can all be very pleased and look forward to enjoying even better support for great teaching and learning at GNS.

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

  • Providing better communication to ensure the members of our community understand how we work to do our best to use tuition in an efficient and effective manner.
  • Exploring and further developing supplemental revenue streams that will mature and help reduce the magnitude of tuition increases.
  • Using our experience and learning from the construction of Phase 1 to ensure ongoing improvements in how we work to complete Phase 2 of the Beach Drive transformation.

In closing, it is a pleasure to highlight a few key measures of our overall success in the 2018-2019 school year.

  • 100% of our graduates were accepted to their post-secondary choices.
  • Graduates from the class of '19 earned an average of 3.3 offers of admission each.
  • Members of last year's grad class earned nearly $739,000 in scholarship offers.

There is one additional measure of success 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 more than 100 new students and their families joined GNS this fall. We also enjoyed strong retention in every grade. As an institution where word of mouth from happy and engaged students and satisfied and involved parents encourages others to become members of our community, 100 new students 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 your children and your 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.

Next, I am very pleased to be able to say, "thank you so much" 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, in their offices 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 our GNS students who come to school each day with great eagerness to learn and enliven 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. One exciting effort will be supporting each student's ability to have greater voice starting in the Senior School. For the first time, we will be using the internationally normed High School Survey of Student Engagement which will allow us to hear what students are feeling and doing in regard to three primary components;

  • Academics
  • Social participation
  • Emotional well being

We will use this data to assist us to continue to improve each student's experience in all three areas.

To close, please allow me one personal comment.

While I will be leaving GNS at the end of this school year, I will continue to come to the school eagerly each day committed to doing my best and very energized by the fact that, due to everyone's great work, each GNS student will make many positive differences in the world this year and throughout their lives. I will continue to work to encourage and support the ongoing efforts to realize our strategic plan. Finally, I will ensure that I hand my successor everything they need to keep this wonderful school moving on a path to become even better.

I wish you, the members of the GNS community a great year. Thank you for listening.