Our Vancouver Alumni event last week was a great example of what engagement means at our school – so those of you who were thinking I was announcing an upcoming wedding will be revising your expectations. We had one of our best turnouts ever. Alums who hadn’t seen each other for years greeted each other enthusiastically, and even some parents and past parents came along to share the SMUS atmosphere. It was one of our best receptions ever.
We have tried to schedule our Alumni receptions this year so that I can attend; increasingly, the vast majority of attendees, wherever the reception is, consists of those who graduated since I started at the School in 1995. This year, too, in contrast to past years, in my short talk at these events I have not delivered the standard litany of how our sports teams are doing, how excellent our university acceptances are, and how the food is improving. I still do some of this – especially when, as this year, I can remind alums that last year our Senior Boys won provincial championships in soccer, basketball and rugby. But I now add a healthy portion of what is new, of how we are continuing to be leaders in independent school education. This year, for instance, my main “new” messages have been about experiential education and the increasing prevalence of personalization in education. I’ve never had more questions from my listeners.
This engages our alums in a School that is recognizably the one they attended, but which also is a living, growing entity – which they expect and want, in their heart of hearts. They know that the School must be very alive if it is going to live on – vivat, as we say.
Engagement is one of our strategic priorities. This past summer our management and leadership teams devoted our retreat to this topic. By engagement we mean we want everyone attached to SMUS to have a deep sense of belonging to the excellent educational experience that takes place at our School. Right from the first moment a new family comes through our door, we want them to be welcome and become part of us. Once a student and family are admitted, we want their experience to be committed and involved, year after year. Once the student graduates, we want the student – and hopefully his or her family – to include SMUS in their lives.
With this in mind, we are working on a more intentional and comprehensive plan to do as good a job as we can in this area. The basic measures we use for engagement are things like admissions, re-enrolment, annual fund, alumni relations and university acceptances. We have therefore consolidated under one umbrella three of our areas of activity: Advancement, Admissions and Communications & Marketing. While these three domains will continue to operate each with its own Director, we have changed the responsibility of Paul Leslie, who has been our Director of Admissions for the past five years. Paul will now assume responsibility for the integration and co-ordination of these portfolios, under the title of Director of Admissions and Engagement. A good choice.