A Letter to Parents – November 2019

Mark Turner

Dear Parents and Guardians,

It’s that time of the year again! As I look out from my office window, the Christmas lights are going up, there is a resplendent Christmas tree glittering in reception, and there is a collective sigh of relief after report cards. For some of us on the Finance Committee, our attention turns to next academic year, beginning September 2020, and the budget that will be the mechanism that determines how the school will allocate its resources.

During their discussions, the Finance Committee weighed up a complicated range of factors which included affordability and the responsibility to ensure that the school is on a secure financial footing as it faces the future. We are also anticipating an ambitious strategic plan to be launched in the new year.

As is customary, there will be a Budget Information Evening on December 2 at 6 pm in the Chapel to explain the construction of the budget in a little more detail.

Last year at the Budget Information Evening, I was asked to articulate the SMUS ‘value proposition’. I believe that week in, week out, the SMUS Weekly and the SMUSpaper, together with regular updates on our website and occasional press releases, keep our broader community informed about the numerous and wide-ranging successes achieved by our students as individuals, and the school as a whole. We also publish Our Report Card designed to be a summary of selected highlights.

As I plan for the meeting on December 2, I thought I would collect together a few headlines in the very week that the finances of the school are being debated.

Academics

This year, I very much enjoy co-teaching a Grade 9 Modern Studies class. Last week the debate, brilliantly led by two students, was on the subject of education. We found ourselves discussing the advantages of independent versus public schools. It was clear in the minds of our students that this was focused on caring teachers, relatively small class sizes, and the benefits of a ‘family’ community – which included the intolerance of bullying.

In the same week I attended an Academic Council meeting, during which many of our intellectually inclined students asked a range of perceptive questions, showing both insight and commitment to making the school as good as it can be. A day later we received our Foundation Skills Assessment results, demonstrating that our school is out-performing local independent and public rivals by a considerable margin.

Recently, 35 students returned from a mission organized by the University Counseling Department, during which they had the opportunity to visit 11 universities in four days. This was recognized by all as a wonderful opportunity to gain more information, before making important decisions about where to study, in what can appear a complex series of options in the world beyond SMUS.

I also enjoyed interviewing some Grade 10 students as part of a comprehensive exercise to encourage them to think ahead, write a resumé, and confidently promote themselves when applying for a job.

This week our Middle School ‘Kids Lit Quiz’ team came in first in Provincials and will be competing at the Nationals in Toronto in February.

Our faculty are also making the news. Jennifer Mao, our Senior School Mandarin teacher, has been awarded the 2019-2020 Teacher Exchange and Mobility Award. Our Junior School Counselor, Tessa Lloyd, unveiled her new book Forty Fathers, to national acclamation and a fascinated audience of more than 100 in our Chapel.

Culture

Culture of the school is difficult to define. It is sometimes referred to as the ‘hidden curriculum’. It includes events such as our Remembrance Day Service, a dignified and poignant reminder of those who had paid the ultimate sacrifice, attended by an audience of almost 1,000.

‘Culture’ includes students that attend Model United Nations and public speaking and debating competitions. It includes the Grade 4 Strings Concert, at which I witnessed students playing a remarkable series of tunes – including Beethoven, under the baton of Jennifer Fisher, having taken up their instruments just eight weeks ago. It also includes events such as the series of chapel services at which Roy Henry Vickers, renowned First Nations artist and storyteller, talked about the importance of the oral tradition and reconciliation to audiences from the Middle and Senior Schools. On the very same day we welcomed record-breaking round-the-world yachtswoman Jeanne Socrates, with tales that would inspire resilience in even the most faint-hearted. The boarding community also came together on Sunday afternoon and evening to enjoy the competition of boarders’ House Games, the conviviality of sharing a meal and a reflective Chapel service together.

Just last night I was fortunate to have the opportunity to view the opening night of a run of four performances of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, directed by Senior School students. A talented and committed cast built atmosphere with impressively nuanced character representation. It is a magnificent production of which any school would be justifiably proud.

Athletics

Over the last few weeks we have enjoyed particularly rich sporting success at all levels. I personally enjoyed presenting a winner’s medal to Tion McLeish who won the Junior Boys competition at the Provincial Cross Country Championships. Some other highlights include:

  • Our Senior Girls Field Hockey team finished the season with a strong showing at the Provincial Championships.
  • Our squash program is flourishing under the new leadership of Head Coach, Vicky Lust. Junior School students have been traveling to the Richmond Road campus to take part in the sport.
  • A number of the Middle School basketball teams qualified for the regional playoffs which begin next week.
  • The Senior Boys Volleyball team is currently competing at the Provincial Championships in Langley.

Every One of Us

I am most grateful to our Advancement Team, under the leadership of our new Director of Advancement & Campaigns, Adrienne Davidson, who are doing great work to encourage a deepening of our culture of philanthropy. Those of us who live and work in our school today, are fortunate to benefit from the generosity of previous generations who have given their time and money to give us one of the best learning environments of any school in Canada.

I am delighted to say this year we have 100% support from our Board of Governors and the Senior Leadership Team, together with significantly enhanced participation rates from our staff and faculty, to ensure the progress is maintained. Our aim this year, before a major campaign in support of the strategic plan, is to boost participation rates in all segments of our shared community.

We are delighted to announce an amazing opportunity in support of Giving Tuesday on December 3. This globally recognized Day of Giving has inspired five extraordinary donors from our current parent and alumni communities to offer us a matching gift challenge totaling $55,000! We are now able to match your gift dollar-for-dollar for every donation received between now and the night of December 3. Parents are challenged to match to $30,000 and alumni to $25,000, for a total contribution to the school of $110,000!

However small the gift, there is great encouragement to the whole school community from simply taking part. Please help us ‘Maximize the Match’ by December 3! You can donate online at: www.smus.ca/giving

Our school is in good heart, and after a series of meetings in which our strategic plan 2020-2030 has been unanimously approved, I believe that we can look forward to 2020 as a time when we will aim to reinforce and enhance our reputation for academic excellence. We can look forward confidently but will challenge complacency. We will aim to build on the best of the past, with an innovative and dynamic approach to the future.

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

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