As the 2016–2017 academic year wraps up, Rowland Hall's Fine Print magazine asked Ingrid Gustavson to reflect on her first year as Upper School principal. Her candor, ease, and excitement about the community she's been embraced by is as infectious as her enthusiasm for the future.
There is always something interesting happening at Rowland Hall. Every week that goes by, I experience a new aspect of the community that blows me away and gets me excited as a learner myself.
One example is the eleventh-grade advertising unit, a collaboration between the English and history departments. In the final part of the unit, students receive guidance from the school marketing department and work in groups to create an ad promoting Rowland Hall. Then, they pitch their ads to Rowland Hall administrators and a panel of advertising professionals from the community. The students practice real-world skills in the research, design, iteration, collaboration, and presentation of their ads. The best part is how the students articulate what they think is great about a Rowland Hall education through words and images—and I couldn't agree more. Here are some of the slogans they came up with:
- "Focus on the individual."
- "Find your rhythm. Find your muse. Find yourself."
- "Learning is a relationship, not a lecture."
- "Go beyond ordinary learning."
- "Our well-rounded education fosters boundless opportunities."
I love how the ads reflect some of the key aspects of a Rowland Hall education like student choice; connections with supportive teachers; a strong academic curriculum; a diverse, immersive arts program; and a healthy, productive, collaborative culture.
The advertising unit led me to reflect on Rowland Hall's many strengths, such as the high level of student and parent satisfaction with teachers and the program. The faculty, administration, and staff are highly responsive, empathetic, and experienced. From the beginning, I have felt inspired by a Strategic Plan that puts learning first—both student and faculty growth are valued. Rowland Hall's leadership models these values and expectations, and the mission feels real and relevant.
Other visible strengths include the impressive signature programs ranging from yearlong immersive experiences—Rowmark, debate, internships, Project 11, athletics—to short-term adventures, often with an emphasis on ethical and experiential learning: Camp Roger, Project 10, Interim, Half Day/Whole Heart, chapel, and more. The high-touch admissions and college counseling programs stand out among high schools throughout the state.
This year for me has of course been about getting to know the community and the culture. I've done a lot of listening, and tried to be visible, present, and observant. I've spent time building relationships with faculty in large and small groups and with individuals in and out of the classroom. I've used the mission and the Strategic Plan as guides for areas to focus on in this first year.
I believe Goal 1 of the Strategic Plan—enhance the student learning experience—is already well established, and it is one of the strengths that drew me to Rowland Hall in the first place. I have looked to encourage and support collaboration and professional growth with the goal of empowering teachers to follow their own passions while serving students well.
Goal 2 of the Strategic Plan—provide the Intermountain West's most outstanding math and science program—is also taking shape in the Upper School. Under the leadership of Department Chair and chemistry and AP Biology teacher Alisa Poppen, significant work is underway to grow our science lab program and align departmental practices across courses. The math department, guided by Department Chair and personal finance and AP Statistics teacher Brian Birchler, is developing a strong placement process and course progression in conjunction with the other divisions. A new course, Advanced Topics in Mathematics, has been designed for next year for students wishing to extend beyond Calculus BC.
Prioritizing community wellness in the Upper School is also a goal of mine. We already have outstanding academic and social-emotional support counselors, coaches, and health and fitness teachers, as well as a growing First-Year Experience program to support and coach ninth graders in their transition to high school. Next year, we are partnering with Challenge Success at Stanford's Graduate School of Education, a program for secondary schools looking to create mission- and culture-focused opportunities to improve community wellness.
I am thrilled to be part of a four-division, PreK–12 school. It is a bonus to have my kids as students in school with me. It also means I have several talented peers in shoes similar to mine providing a high level of support, collegiality, and learning. I thrive on the challenge of how to best align, collaborate, and work across the needs of four schools in one.
For the first time in my career, I feel truly surrounded by a group of leaders who are both colleagues and mentors. There is a great balance of veteran and new leadership at Rowland Hall, and I am learning each day from Head of School Alan Sparrow and Associate Head of School Jennifer Blake, from division principals and assistant principals, and other members of the administrative team.
I am also thoroughly impressed by my colleagues on the faculty, not to mention our students. I will never claim that having a leadership role means I know it all. I relish every classroom visit, serendipitous conversation in the hallways and faculty room, and inspiring example of student work.