A Community of Lifelong Learners

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Faculty & Staff Stories in Fine Print, the Magazine of Rowland Hall

The Strategic Plan: The Halfway Point

The Goal

In the spring of 2014, Rowland Hall announced its ambitious, student-centered five-year Strategic Plan with three goals: (1) enhance the student learning experience; (2) provide the best math and science programs in the Intermountain West; and (3) develop the business and enrollment model for the future. A year ago, a Fine Print article chronicled progress on goal 1. Now, the school has reached the plan’s halfway point and continues to share and assess its impact. After the plan’s 2014 unveiling, math and science teachers could have interpreted goal 2 as a threat, or as an opportunity. Fortunately, our dedicated teachers seized the chance to become even more effective in the classroom. Faculty continue to work with administrators to identify areas of growth, celebrate strengths, and create a roadmap for the future.

Breaking it Down

In the Beginning School, early childhood math and science specialists continue to work with our teachers to share best practices and ways to encourage young learners to ask questions and be curious. Doug Clements met with our PreK through first-grade teachers two summers ago, and in addition to sharing best practices for teaching early childhood mathematics, he reminded us that young students are capable of understanding more math than we give them credit for.

In the Lower School, classroom teachers and the science and math specialists have made tremendous progress aligning curriculum, standards, and resources to support the most cohesive and comprehensive math and science programs possible. The Lower School science specialist and each grade-level team have spent time clarifying roles, aligning content, and adopting the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)—the well-respected national benchmark for how to teach and think about K–12 science. The Lower School principal and director of curriculum and instruction (DCI) attended National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and National Research Council meetings, and both will accompany Upper School Science Department Chair Alisa Poppen and Lower School Science Specialist Kirsten Walker to a two-day NSTA training focusing on implementing the NGSS.

Our Middle School science teachers are reevaluating and reorganizing their curriculum and practices based on NGSS’ three-dimensional learning. Fifth- and sixth-grade teachers are working together to strengthen the bridge between the two grades, particularly in math and science. Two of our Middle School science teachers will join the team attending NSTA’s annual conference in March, and all expect to bring back plenty of ideas and inspiration to share with colleagues.

In the Upper School this year, science and math department chairs teach one fewer class so they can meet regularly with their department members, the Upper School principal, and the DCI to collaborate about best practices and common goals. These department chairs are also establishing cross-divisional connections with colleagues in other grades. 

Since the 2014–2015 school year, teachers have taken advantage of the professional development opportunities that abound inside and outside of Rowland Hall. During after-school sessions and in-service days, our teachers share illuminating and exciting best practices, and several Rowland Hall educators have led professional workshops for peers, locally and nationally. This summer, four of our Upper School math teachers will spend a week at the Anja S. Greer Conference on Mathematics and Technology, one of the premier professional development opportunities for people in their field.

Authentic Learning Experiences

As our teachers continue to focus on making our math and science courses the richest and most engaging they can be, we keep our eyes open for new ways to bring authentic experiences to our students. One such opportunity recently presented itself, and eight Upper School students are taking full advantage. The University of Utah’s Center for Medical Innovation has sponsored the Bench to Bedside Competition for the past six years. This year, two teams of medical entrepreneurs from Rowland Hall joined elite teams of graduate and undergraduate students from the University of Utah in pursuit of patents and cash prizes for new medical technologies. This marks the first time that high school students have been allowed to enter the competition, and Rowland Hall’s teams are the only young pioneers in the mix. The students’ work will be on display in the Capitol Rotunda on competition night April 3.

Our teachers welcome feedback and use it as a measure of teaching effectiveness. This year, math and science teachers in grades six through twelve have piloted the use of a research-based student survey tool (the Tripod survey) that provides targeted feedback to teachers on classroom practices that impact student learning and achievement. Already, several teachers have used data from initial surveys to identify areas for improvement and shape their professional goals for the year.

As a school, we are focused on the ideas of claim-evidence-reasoning, from first through twelfth grade, and across disciplines. These ideas are a central theme of the NGSS Science and Engineering Practices and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Standards for Mathematical Practice. Similar process standards can be found in the National Council for History Education’s Blueprint for Student Learning, and in key points within the standards of the National Council of Teachers of English. Claim-evidence-reasoning provides a structure for students to sharpen critical-thinking skills: they make a claim based on observations; gather, assess, and share evidence; and then make a reasoned argument for how the evidence explains their claim.

What’s Next?

While we are far from finished, the work of the math and science teachers, the division principals, the director of curriculum and instruction, and members of the math and science task force have made great strides in designing programs that will be the best in the Intermountain West.

The Finance Committee of the Board of Trustees, in conjunction with Chief Financial Officer Gwen Fonarow, is beginning to work on goal 3: Develop the Enrollment and Business Model for our Future. The bullet points of this goal ask the school to review the financial philosophy and budgeting model to fund the finest PreK–12 program in the Intermountain West. School staff and the Finance Committee will continue to evaluate data regarding revenue and expenses as it relates to enrollment and capacity, and provide a detailed recommendation to the Board of Trustees in the coming year.


The Strategic Plan: Where are We Now?

One great idea builds on another: this is the mindset of a faculty engrossed in a culture of learning. When Director of Curriculum and Instruction Wendell Thomas had the idea to create a video library for teachers to watch other teachers in their craft, a group of peers built on the idea by suggesting viewing parties. Viewing parties allow teachers to sit side-by-side to observe, discuss, and learn from a colleague’s practices.

Now in the second year of Rowland Hall’s five-year strategic plan, observable results abound in professional development, idea generation, growth mindset, and learning cultures. The 2014 Strategic Plan, “Our Extraordinary Future,” set out the following three ambitious goals for teaching, learning, and funding to best serve Rowland Hall students.

Goal 1: Enhance the student learning experience

We will build on Rowland Hall’s exceptional program by fostering a culture that enables educators to explore and incorporate the most salient research into their teaching practices and student learning. We will continue to evolve to offer the best possible education and opportunities for our students.

Goal 2: Provide the Intermountain West’s most outstanding math and science program

While remaining committed to educating the whole child and offering an incomparable learning experience in the humanities, arts, and athletics, we will develop new opportunities for students in mathematics and science.

Goal 3: Develop the enrollment and business model for our future

As Rowland Hall’s business model continues to focus on funding a top quality college preparatory education, it will also remain dedicated to the longer-term tasks of creating 21st century facilities, growing the school’s endowment, and generating strong enrollment.

Strategic Plan: The Process

Rowland Hall, like all independent schools, takes the opportunity every few years to engage in deep conversations about its mission, vision, and direction. Toward the end of each of these yearlong strategic planning processes, stakeholders from each school constituency—teachers, administrators, trustees, parents, students, and alumni—unite around goals for the future of the school. In the spring of 2014, Rowland Hall shared its vision for navigating the most pressing issues the school will face in the next few years.

Strategic Plan: The Progress

Rowland Hall is a community of learners. Goal 1 focuses on enhancing the school’s learning culture and encourages and supports educators and students to be the best they can be. During the first 18 months of strategic plan implementation, key concepts of our learning culture quickly became part of our vernacular. Walk through the halls of the school, and you will likely hear faculty talking about Pro Grow (professional growth), the growth mindset of their students, and how formative assessment is improving student learning.

Traditionally, the term “professional development” has garnered a chorus of sighs and complaints from teachers. In many schools, professional development means an outside expert comes in and lectures faculty and staff for a day, without the opportunity to practice the relevant knowledge. But when professional development is done right, it allows teachers to hone their craft by giving them time to learn something, collaborate with others, and discuss strategies to make the learning meaningful. Research has shown that teaching quality is the most important factor in raising student engagement and achievement.

“It is well established that teachers are the most potent force for enhancing student learning,” Mr. Thomas said. “Historically, professional development for teachers has been ineffective. We now know that encouraging collaboration and supporting teachers throughout the implantation phase of improvement efforts is essential. Rowland Hall is focused on providing the resources and ongoing support teachers need to turn great ideas into effective practices.”

Last spring, faculty and administration embraced the idea of growth mindset when they participated in a professional book group aimed at discussing Stanford researcher Carol Dweck’s book Mindset. Dweck categorizes two types of learning mindsets. A “fixed mindset” learner believes that talent, skill, and intelligence are fixed traits: “I’m no good at math” or “I can’t write.” Such learners tend to learn less and at a slower pace while shying away from challenges. Learners with a growth mindset believe that ability is dynamic and can be improved through dedication and hard work. Students with a growth mindset tend to possess a love of learning, resilience, and perseverance. They eagerly accept challenges and achieve greater progress toward learning goals than students with fixed mindsets.

One way to encourage students’ adoption of a growth mindset is through the use of formative assessment. This initiative shifts the emphasis from a results-oriented focus to an approach centered around the process of learning. By definition, formative assessment is the act of informally assessing student learning along the way and making adjustments to activities based on student understanding of the material. Effective use of formative assessment, Upper School Principal Lee Thomsen explained, “puts the responsibility on both the student and the teacher to reflect on the results of those assessments and adapt subsequent practice.” Teachers at Rowland Hall have embraced this idea and are using various types of formative assessment in their classes. This summer, teachers will have the opportunity to work with Jan Chappuis, a national expert on best uses of formative assessment. In leading up to her visit, Rowland Hall is offering monthly professional growth sessions, typically with at least one formative assessment option.

Rowland Hall commits to the faculty’s ongoing professional growth by continuing the conversations and encouraging teachers to be advocates for their growth and learning. In the past eighteen months, opportunities for faculty and staff have doubled with the addition of one ProGrow meeting per month and longer in-service sessions planned and run by our own in-house experts. These cross-divisional conversations have been rich and deep and the enthusiasm palpable. Providing support, resources, and time to help teachers accomplish these goals is critical to the success of the first goal of the strategic plan. 

Goal 1 and Goal 2 of the plan are very much connected. By enhancing the student learning experience and giving teachers time to understand the latest research, we make strides towards providing the most outstanding math and science programs. In the past eighteen months, teachers and administrators have worked together to:

In addition to the Upper School’s math and science departments’ adoption of formative assessment as a tool to enhance student learning, a task force of teachers and administrators is charged with addressing the implementation of Goal 2: Provide the Intermountain West’s most outstanding math and science program. The committee includes Beginning School Teacher Katie Williams; Lower School teachers Jodi Spiro and Sara Dacklin; Middle School teachers Molly Lewis and Garrett Stern; Upper School teachers Adella Croft and Alisa Poppen; Lower School Principal Jij de Jesus; Middle School Principal Tyler Fonarow; and Director of Curriculum and Instruction Wendell Thomas. This group plans to meet four to five times over the next six months, and it will begin by considering measurable goals.

The Board of Trustees, in conjunction with Chief Financial Officer Gwen Fonarow, has begun discussions about Goal 3: Develop the Enrollment and Business Model for our Future. They plan to provide the community with deliverables in the coming year.

Strategic Plan: The Future

The Strategic Planning and Implementation Committee continues to collaborate with faculty about the best way to implement the strategic plan. The committee meets once a month to discuss and evaluate the initiatives that bring us closer to our goals. While there is more work to be done, we are thrilled with the progress and look forward to continuing to implement the goals that strengthen our position as the first and finest independent school in the Intermountain West.

For more details about the measurable goals and action taken on the strategic plan, please visit the strategic planning website at rowlandhall.org/strategicplanprogress.


Welcome New CFO Gwen Fonarow

We are pleased to announce the hiring of Gwen Fonarow as CFO of Rowland Hall. Gwen joined the business office team on March 23 and has already immersed herself in the ins and outs of the position. Over the coming weeks, she will be working closely with Kevin Hanson, our current CFO, to ensure a smooth transition in business office operations. 

Gwen joins us with over 20 years of experience working in finance, most recently as the CFO of Creminelli Fine Meats. Prior, her career focused on the consumer-packaged goods and retail industries, working for companies such as Frito-Lay, Williams Sonoma, and Method Products, Inc. During Gwen’s tenure, Method grew from a $30 million VC-backed start-up to an internationally recognized lifestyle brand and was listed on Inc. 500’s fastest growing private companies in the US. Gwen is a graduate of the University of Texas at Arlington, where she graduated summa cum laude, and is an active CPA in her home state of Texas.

All of the members of the search committee feel that Gwen will bring a centered and balanced approach to her work while guiding us in the third goal in the school’s Strategic Plan: furthering a business model which continues to focus on funding a top quality college preparatory education while remaining dedicated to the longer-term tasks of creating 21st century facilities, growing the school’s endowment, and generating strong enrollment.

Gwen is married to Tyler Fonarow, the Middle School principal. They have two daughters at Rowland Hall; Josie is in kindergarten and Tessa is in second grade.


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