Last week I sat for hours waiting for a float plane that could take me out of the fog in Victoria harbour. It was Thursday morning, and the annual CAIS Heads and Chairs Conference was due to begin (CAIS = Canadian Accredited Independent Schools). Our original flight was scheduled for 8 am; by 9:20, no flights had departed, and all flights for the next couple of hours were also cancelled. Fortunately we were able to get on an 11 am flight from Victoria Airport, north of the city and a mile inland, where there was no fog. Fortunately we only had to go as far as Vancouver. By 12:10 I was at the table of my Board meeting – I have been on the board of the national organization for the past four or five years, doing my bit as we all must do in serving these causes.
As it happens, no floatplane flights left Victoria that day, nor did they for the next week. Many flights from the airport were also cancelled. It became the theme of my week: how do you navigate in the fog? You can see how it easily becomes a metaphor for many situations, including educational ones.
For us at SMUS, one of the means we choose for finding our way in the fog is in fact to belong to this national organization, CAIS. Our Board Chair, David Angus, also attends this conference, where there are workshops on governance and strategic issues in our schools. For instance: six months ago, CAIS conducted a national parent survey that asked many questions of independent school parents about why they choose independent schools, and – even more interesting – they surveyed a large number of non-independent school parents with the same questions, to find out how much appetite there might be for an independent school education. One can understand how this information might be useful.
When the conference was over, on Sunday, those schools who are also boarding schools went to Shawnigan Lake for a “summit” on boarding enrolment. A lot of chaotic information, mythology, and misinformation exists about boarding schools. Throughout North America boarding schools are facing challenges with enrolment; as a consequence, two years ago the Canadian boarding schools banded together to create the Collaborative Boarding project, whose purpose was to research issues related to boarding enrolment and to promote the Canadian “brand” of boarding both in Canada and abroad. Interestingly, SMUS is one of a handful of the twenty-six Canadian boarding schools with full boarding enrolment (in fact over the past thirteen years we have added fifty boarders, and built corresponding additions to our residences. We have also added fifty day students). Our Director of Marketing, Laura Authier, is on the steering committee of the Collaborative Boarding project.
This morning I received an exhilarating and exhilarated email from our Director of Academics, Denise Lamarche, who had just returned from an accreditation visit to an Ontario school. In her email she extolled to our colleagues (the teachers at SMUS) the virtues of spending three intensive days examining how another CAIS school works to meet the Twelve Accreditation Standards of CAIS. SMUS and all other members of the organization undertake the accreditation process every seven years (not all Canadian independent schools participate in such an accreditation), and Denise was conveying to our colleagues how professionally edifying this work is. Every year, several of our staff participate in accreditation visits to another school; almost every year I chair such a visit to another school. We are imbued with the notion that, as the unexamined life is not worth living, so the unexamined school is not worth as much as it could be. We take seriously the importance of navigating in the fog.