A Letter to Parents (End of Term 1 2018-19)

Mark Turner

Dear Parents and Guardians,

Back in September, I wrote an article titled “The longest journey begins with a small step.” Since then, I have thoroughly enjoyed travelling on a voyage of discovery through the traditions, routines and expectations of life at SMUS.

Casting my mind’s eye back over the last four months, a number of events are strongly etched into my memory. I recall the opening of the Sun Centre, on a glorious August evening, as a very special event. Since then, the new facility has quickly been absorbed into the ‘status quo’. The opportunity to welcome our 1000th student was also worthy of celebration and a reflection of the strong positive trends in admissions. I would like to use this opportunity to pay tribute to our Admissions team who, day in day out, at various places around the world, are communicating the excellence of the SMUS education to the broadest possible audience.

I have enjoyed countless conversations at the Junior, Middle and Senior Schools, often around key events such as sports matches, concerts and other public occasions. Remembrance Day was poignant and dignified, the Parents’ Auxiliary Christmas Gala a splendid example of ‘community joie de vivre’ and a reminder of the great resource that SMUS enjoys in the form of its volunteer supporters, which I’m told number more than 150! As we approach the end of this calendar year, I should like to thank all those through the various committees of the Parents’ Auxiliary who have donated both time and money to ensure that the opportunities enjoyed by our students are of the very highest quality. More recently, the Carol Service at Christ Church Cathedral and a whole slew of concerts have been a joyful and musical way to start the Advent season in preparation for Christmas. Then there was the All-School Christmas Assembly … wow!

The term has been hectically busy partly because of the unusual number of Senior appointments that have been made. I can now confirm:

Director of Senior School – Eliot Anderson, after a year and a half of excellent performance, has been confirmed as the permanent Director of Senior School. I look forward to working with Eliot as we begin to put together the main pillars of our new strategic plan.

Director of Middle School – As previously announced, Richard Brambley will take over from Kate Knight with effect from August 1, 2019.

Chief Financial Officer – At the end of term, we say goodbye to Michael Murgatroyd after 15 outstanding years of carefully stewarding the school’s financial and physical resources. The completion of the Sun Centre project is a fitting tribute and legacy to Michael’s commitment to ensuring that he leaves SMUS in a much better place than he found it. On a personal level, I’m most grateful to Michael for handing over a school in robust health. I’m now delighted to confirm the appointment of Rita Lord as our new Chief Financial Officer, with effect from January 1, 2019. I’m sure Rita will set about making her own impression on the SMUS landscape as next year develops.

Director of Marketing and Communications – As previously announced, Stuart Hill has moved from being Interim Director of Marketing and Communications to being confirmed in the role.

Director of Advancement – Although we will have to wait until term resumes in the new year to make a formal announcement, I can say at this stage that interviews have taken place for the Director of Advancement position.

As well as continuing my commitment to ‘Looking, Listening and Learning’ over the course of the term, the Board of Governors has launched the process of preparing for our new Strategic Plan. It is our intention to broadcast this in January 2020. For now, during 2019, we will be committed to a process of gathering opinions from all the key constituent parts of the SMUS community. I have already reached out to all faculty members at Junior, Middle and Senior School, through the process of a SWOT analysis, partly to help identify significant themes. The Board has appointed RSAcademics, a firm of international educational consultants, to run a confidential survey to be started soon after our return to school in early January. The survey will contain questions that enable all our parents and guardians to give views and opinions on almost every aspect of school life. Please make a point of taking part in the survey. The data we receive will be much more useful if it represents a significant majority of our parent community. This questionnaire, carefully constructed, represents the best opportunity for you to have your say for over a decade. Be sure to seize the moment. At the same time, questionnaires will be launched to all members of our alumni community, as well as to staff and students. We hope to be able to complete the broadest-ever consultation conducted across a school of our size and type.

One of the elements of our school ‘ethos’ or spirit I have enjoyed learning about is a gentleness in how students treat one another and in the informal, respectful relationships that are the norm between ‘teachers and taught’.

In this context, I was saddened to hear of alleged events at St. Michael’s College School in Toronto. It seems a reasonable question to ask: Could a similar occurrence ever happen at SMUS? Apart from the obvious differences – St. Michael’s College School in Toronto is a boys’ school with a very different philosophy – my answer is that any repetition must be seen as extremely unlikely. Early in my time at SMUS, I confirmed that any cases of bullying or intimidation are treated with the utmost seriousness. I have witnessed firsthand how diligent staff are at spotting examples of unpleasantness and in ensuring as far as possible that they can’t be repeated. I am fully committed to a “live and let live” culture in which we celebrate diversity and recognize all members of our community for their individual strengths and, in some cases, uniqueness. In the aftermath of the serious events in Toronto, we will be reviewing our policies and practices, and ensuring that all students know who to turn to if they have any concern at any stage. The matter has already been raised through Chapel services and will be referred to again in assemblies next term. Andy Rodford will be consolidating the role of primary Safe School coordinator as we move through 2019.

For now, on behalf of Elizabeth and myself, on a much happier note, I would like to thank you for the warm welcome extended by so many of you on so many different occasions. There is no doubt that the learning curve has been steep, but as we gain altitude, the view of potential opportunity at SMUS is both exciting and enticing.

We wish you and your families quality time together over the course of the holiday season, a blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year.

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Mark Turner
Mr. Mark Turner is Head of School at St. Michaels University School.

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