End-of-Year Letter to Parents

Mark Turner

Dear Parents,

There is an old adage which says, “Time flies when you are enjoying yourself!” This may be one explanation as to why nearing the end of my first year as Head of School it seems as if it’s been only a few days since we arrived to such a warm reception last August. As is now well-documented, my strategy for this first year has been to ‘look, listen and learn.’ Looking back, this was a great tactic because I already feel I have a much better understanding of SMUS traditions, values, philosophy and the nuances that make this such a wonderfully complex community. Had I leapt to judgments back in the fall, I would undoubtedly have reached wrong and misguided conclusions.

In support of the ‘look, listen and learn’ journey, the Board of Governors hired RSAcademics, international independent school consultants. Their advisor Caroline Wood has seen us through arguably the broadest-ever consultation undertaken by a school in Canada. Numerous surveys have given our alumni, faculty, students and you, the parents, the opportunity to contribute views and opinions. The statistical evidence supports the fact that this is a special community, and that you, as parents, greatly appreciate the breadth of our education and the outstanding range of options available. We also now know that there is a hunger for enhanced academic rigor, and consensus around various opportunities for the future, including investment in and development of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). It will be my task during summer break to identify priorities and opportunities for the future, and present these in the form of a draft strategic plan, which will go forward to our Board of Governors for their consideration and approval in the fall. We are optimistic that this exciting opportunity to develop momentum in the progress of the school will be launched at the start of January 2020.

Over the course of the last few weeks, I have very much enjoyed attending a vast range of different events. The Junior School performance of Shrek the Musical JR., delivered over two nights at the McPherson Playhouse, was an absolute triumph. Standing ovations showed the huge appreciation the audience had for our talented Grade 5 students. Not only did they work exceptionally well as a team they also had outstanding stage presence. With such talent moving to the Middle and Senior School over the next few years, we can revel in the prospect of wonderful, future evenings of outstanding performance.

I also the had the opportunity to attend the Athletics Awards Banquet. This is the evening during the year when we pay tribute to our sportsmen and women, many of whom have contributed to teams who have gained recognition in city and provincial tournaments. It is perhaps invidious to select highlights, but I must make mention of the Tennis squad which, for the first time ever, earned the provincial banner – and to our Senior Girls Rugby team on winning the Canadian Association of Independent Schools’ rugby sevens competition. Once again, the story is of strength and depth. I know that many coaches will look forward to next year as an opportunity to develop the strategies that may lead to further trophies. The future looks bright.

While it is always excellent that a school has athletic triumphs to applaud, it is often in the more, subtle activities perhaps less in the spotlight, that the real quality of a deep education is identified. In this regard, I am delighted to recognize success in recent poetry competitions. Three Senior School students received high praise for their writing by winning or receiving honorable mentions in the League of Canadian Poets’ Jessamy Stursberg Poetry Prize. I can recommend picking up a copy of Ampersand, an anthology of collected prose and poetry, produced by our Creative Writing students.

In recent days we have completed a Farewell Chapel for our boarding community. We also enjoyed a poignant and emotional Grade 12 Leavers’ Chapel and had a final assembly at the Senior School. As I write this, I am now looking forward to our Closing Ceremonies, culminating in the Grade 12 Graduation Ceremony on Sunday

In my time as an educator, and for over 20 years as a Head of School, I have been involved in the development of numerous attempts by different schools to assess progress and performance. Several of them have real merit, however I have found myself increasingly relying on the mantra: “judge on outcome.” A school can be judged on the quality of graduates that it encourages and inspires. On this criterion, SMUS is a great school. We can be proud of the graduating Class of 2019, as contributors who have helped to build up our community and support one another, as well as achieving success in a broad range of different areas. Academically, many have won places at prestigious universities here in Canada, in the USA, the UK and across the world. I’m told that more than $2.3 million worth of scholarship money has been offered to the Class of 2019 – a testament to how much universities wish to attract SMUS graduates.

At the end of this academic year, we will say goodbye to some long-serving members of faculty who, in many cases, have devoted much of their working lives to supporting our students. I want to offer my own heartfelt gratitude and mention the following individuals by name:

Junior School
Gordon Chan – retiring after 22 years

Middle School
Nancy Mollenhauer – retiring after 30 years

Mary Smith – retiring after 33 years

Jim Williams – retiring after 26 years

Senior School
Sharon Buckingham – retiring after 16 years

Peter Gardiner – retiring after 51 years

Dorothy Hawes – retiring after 28 years

Jake Humphries – retiring after 19 years

Mike Jackson – retiring after 33 years

Jennifer White – retiring after 14 years

Moving on from our Senior Leadership Team is Paul Leslie, who has devoted 12 years to reforming and refining our Admissions department to one of the most respected in Canada. Over the period that Paul has been at the Admissions helm, the school enrolment has expanded by approximately 200 students. As he hands this over to our new Director of Admissions, Alexis Lang Lunn, he leaves us with the prospect of a school which will have 1000-plus students in September, and with strong wait lists at most major points of entry. Paul has proved to be a brilliant strategist, a great team leader, but most importantly he cares a great deal about the individual students that his team has recruited.

Leaving her role as Interim Director of Middle School is Kate Knight. Kate has undoubted leadership qualities, is unflappable in a crisis, and in a short time has identified areas in the Middle School for significant improvement. We are sorry to be losing her at this stage but know she has laid the very best platform for new Director of Middle School, Richard Brambley, as he moves from Armbrae Academy in Halifax to take over in August. I know that Richard will be keen to reach out to the Middle School community over the first few months of the new academic year.

I would like to thank all parents for your support in so many ways. Having now witnessed a Parents’ Auxiliary Gala and a Staff Appreciation Lunch, I know how lucky we are to have such a dynamic organization working and demonstrating the best ethics of volunteer teamwork, in support of our students. I’m also delighted to be able to thank you for your support in helping the Annual Appeal reach its ambitious target of $1.4 million. It is sometimes said that, “You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.” The fact that so many of you are prepared to support us so generously is inspiring, indeed. There is still time for a gift to the Annual Appeal in this financial year if you’re so inclined. Note to self: never miss an opportunity!

For now, I would like to sign off by thanking you for such a generous welcome and massive support. There are exciting times ahead. I am confident that together we can build momentum behind an ambitious strategic plan, to ensure that SMUS retains its place at the top table of Canadian schools, for the next decade and beyond.

Vivat!

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

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