The 2019-20 academic year was a busy and productive one for the St. Albans Governing Board. As with most other institutions, it was a year of two different phases—the “normal” pre-pandemic time, and then the pandemic time, with quite different areas of work and focus during each.
In the summer of 2019, we were pleased to welcome four new board members, as Amar Bakshi ’02, Perry Fergus, Alyse Graham, and Bill Sonneborn joined us as of July 1. In addition, Tara Palmore took over leadership of the Governance Committee, and Carter DeLorme ’88 assumed the chair role for the Diversity Committee. Based on Governing Board member feedback from the prior year, we made several changes to the board operating cadence, shifting two of our traditional Monday evening meetings to Friday mornings, where we would have an easier opportunity to hear from and interact with students and faculty, and hosting board gatherings the evenings before those. This new format made it easier for our out-of-town board members to spend time with other board members and, if desired, spend the weekend at the school and attend school events. One highlight of this new format was a board lunch with several students, two of whom had attended the annual NAIS Student Diversity Leadership Conference in Seattle and shared their experiences from the event, and the other five from the St. Albans Robotics Team, who talked about why they joined the team and what they learned from designing, building, programming, and competing with robots. And (in a decision that would prove to be ahead of its time given how the school year ended!), we moved our January meeting to a teleconference.
Our first order of business as we transitioned into the new academic year was final approval of the investigation of past adult-student sexual misconduct undertaken during the prior academic year, which resulted in the published report on July 27, 2019. In our first meeting, Headmaster Jason Robinson thanked the board for all of its hard work and support throughout the process, reflected that it was a critically important undertaking, and expressed his hope that the process would be remembered for its empathy, honesty, and integrity—and as an example of the school choosing the “hard right over the easy wrong.” We worked closely with the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral Foundation (the governing body on the Close), Jason, the senior leadership team, and the other institutions on the Close to ensure that the entire St. Albans community had any questions and concerns about the report answered and, importantly, that we were fulfilling the commitments outlined therein. Indeed, the school took the opportunity to go beyond the technical commitments in the report to strengthen and enhance our policies, so that St. Albans would become a leader in student safety and well-being, mandatory reporting, adult/student boundaries, and other important areas of institutional life. Faculty and staff were also thoroughly educated on these changes, with three of the school’s attorneys being invited to give presentations at opening faculty and staff meetings in August. Furthermore, a new standing board committee on Student Safety was formed at the PECF Board level, which includes individuals from each Close institution and is advised by an outside expert on student safety and child welfare.
As a Governing Board, we set several important goals for the year, most notably to engage the St. Albans community in discussions on the future strategy for the school, with the plan to finalize a new strategic plan in June 2020. The outstanding strategic planning leadership team of Gina Coburn, Andrew Marino, and Brendan Sullivan ’93, working closely with Assistant Head of School for Advancement and Strategy Tyler Casertano, had been working on the strategic planning process since early 2019 and pulled together discussion groups over the summer centered around four pillars of St. Albans: a school for boys, a Cathedral school, a strong community, and excellence in education. In our October board retreat, we spent the day focusing on the future of the school, and we emerged with several key areas of focus for the strategic plan that would then be further refined: the arts; athletics; outward looking service; technology and innovation; civic expansion; a teaching and learning center; student support initiatives; diversity, equity, and inclusion; environmental sustainability; and financial sustainability. The co-chairs drafted thesis statements for each of these topics and then led task forces, with members from all parts of the St. Albans community, to evaluate their assigned topics and contemplate opportunities for enhancement and growth, consider how St. Albans could learn from other institutions that excel in these areas, evaluate how investment in these areas would further the mission of the school and elevate the student experience, and, ultimately, bring recommendations back to the board as to how they should be pursued as part of the strategic plan.
In the board’s February retreat, each of the task force chairs—Amar Bakshi ’02, Robert Bellinger ’80, Anthony Bruce ’85, Gina Coburn, Casey Cooper, Perry Fergus, Andrew Marino, David Marriott ’92, Bill Sonneborn, David Sturtevant ’92, and Brendan Sullivan ’93—presented their recommendations. Then Gina, Andrew, Brendan, and Tyler, along with Jason, led the board in discussions to pull the various recommendations together into a comprehensive draft plan, with a focus on service, diversity and inclusion, academic support for each student, sustainability, creativity, excellence, and character building. While the June 2020 target for announcing the plan had seemed aggressive when we set it out, the fantastic work of the co-chairs and all the members of the community who participated in the various discussions and task forces had us in a position to finalize the plan by that date.
And then, of course, the world changed with the onset of the covid-19 pandemic and its impact on our community and on St. Albans. Rather than publish the strategic plan in June, we decided to pause so we could review the recommendations in light of the pandemic, distance learning, and what we have learned through it all as a community.
On the Buildings and Grounds front, committee Chair Robert Bellinger ’80, along with committee members Natalia Luis Monteiro and Kevin Morin and Director of Facilities David Hutchison, continued their excellent work, advancing several important projects and, of course, pivoting with the onset of the pandemic to address urgent needs. Decoupling St. Albans from the central plant was one of the committee’s main objectives, with the goal of fully disconnecting from the central plant before 2021, along with providing safety netting for the baseball fields, decentralizing the PECF Facilities Department and selecting engineers for the school’s plumbing and electrical repairs, and addressing several repair needs for Marriott Hall. The committee also held discussions to address the need for time and space at a long-term skating rink for the hockey team.
Every year, multiple key decisions are encompassed in Finance Committee discussions around the school budget for the following year, and this year was no different, as Chair Anthony Bruce ’85 along with committee members Melissa Babbage, Phil Bradley ’64, Ian Fujiyama, Rob Kinsey ’76, Greg Lubar, Martin MacIntyre ’05, Andrew Marino, David Marriott ’92, Rich Parrino, Bill Sonneborn, Willy Walker ’85, and me, and Assistant Head of School for Finance and Operations Greg Parker, did an excellent job leading the board through this process with outstanding results and a recognition, once again, that the school is in a strong financial position. The board approved the 2020-21 budget, which continues the commitment we made to financial sustainability in prior years: a lean operating budget (while still making key necessary faculty and staff additions); a strong endowment (now over $84 million); faculty salaries in the top decile among peer schools; a tuition increase of less than two percent above CPI of two percent (3.75%); an endowment draw of four percent of the three-year trailing average of the endowment’s value; an increase of financial aid at a rate higher than tuition (1.1 times the rate of tuition increase); funding of an adequate long-term facility replacement reserve; and budgeting in accordance with the goal for school size. In addition, we ensured the budget took account of furthering our long-term balance sheet goals: increasing non-tuition revenue by growing Annual Giving, auxiliary income, and alternative revenue sources; acting on a financial priority to “save” by building endowment, reducing debt, and increasing reserves; growing the endowment by prudently overseeing investments and continuing to fundraise; and eliminating long-term debt by FY36. All in all, it is always a challenge to balance the multiple priorities, and the Finance Committee did a wonderful job with this budget.
The Finance Committee also tackled a major challenge in implementing a number of accounting changes to comply with FASB Accounting Standards Update 2016-14. While these did not change the substantive financial position of the school, they did introduce complexity in recording operating and non-operating accounts, which made year-over-year comparison more difficult. Greg Parker and the committee managed through the transition artfully and without a hitch.
The Development Committee, under the outstanding leadership of Brendan Sullivan ’93 and with members Sara Asuncion, Tony Asuncion, Patrick Bracewell ’98, Rob Carter ’80, Gina Coburn, Carter DeLorme ’88, Perry Fergus, Teddy Kaplan ’92, Gabi Koeppel, Al-Hassan Koroma ’09, Martin MacIntyre ’05, Natalia Luis Monteiro, Jon Nobil ’02, Tushar Patel, Roland Reynolds, Jason Robinson, Nazlee Savin, Rich Schaberg, Sara Schaberg, Martha Searby, Doug Siegler ’79, Aaron Velli, and Suzanne Woods, had another incredible year of leadership and support for the school. Thanks to the outstanding work of this committee and the school’s team of Catherine Carman, Tyler Casertano, Bobby Cpin, Ted Pelonis, Sharon Gibson, Kavon Ahktar, Molly Meinhardt, Greg Parker, and Lanier Frank ’79, who all stepped up and exhibited tremendous dedication and leadership after Dan Jamieson’s retirement, Annual Giving topped $2.8 million (with kudos to Annual Giving Chair Jon Nobil ’02), with alumni Annual Giving totaling $1.1 million (thanks to Alumni Giving Chair Carter DeLorme ’88) and the Parents’ Association helping the school see a ninety-percent Annual Giving participation rate among current parents (thanks to PA President Perry Fergus and Parent Annual Giving Chairs Tony and Sara Asuncion and Rich and Sara Schaberg). Overall the team raised $1.9 million for the endowment, which continued to buttress the strong financial foundation of the school.
The board also had productive updates from and discussions with members of the senior administrative team across the year, including topics such as the year in the Upper and Lower Schools by division heads Ben Labaree and Fred Chandler, respectively, STA admissions and financial aid by Director of Admissions and Financial Aid Joe Viola, college admissions by Director of College Counseling Nikki Magaziner Mills, and others. We all continued to be impressed with the strong progress and performance of the school across all these areas, both before and after the pandemic hit.
Of course, much of the board’s focus from March forward was to support Jason and the school’s leadership team in addressing the impact of the pandemic for all constituencies in our community. Following the wonderful alumni dinner reception in March, St. Albans closed early for spring break and ended up moving to online learning for the remainder of the academic year, and the board had several substantive discussions with Jason about the school’s approach to online education and the numerous other issues presented by the pandemic, including the financial impact on the school and on families, financial aid, international students and the boarding department, grading, year-end ceremonies, school security, and summer and fall planning. It was truly amazing to watch the school’s leadership team in action as they pulled together in very short order, developed plans to keep the year moving forward as best we could, and then worked hard to carry out those plans—essentially building a “new school” in the process.
Before the summer, the board and Jason and the senior leadership team put together three task forces made up of board members, administrators, and faculty to think through plans for the fall: 1) a health and wellness task force to look at health data, track covid-19, and create benchmarks and metrics; 2) a facilities, buildings and grounds, and operations task force to look at issues like density in the building, status of the dorm and residential program, tech infrastructure, food service, etc.; and 3) an academic task force to look at issues of curriculum and schedule to ensure we keep learning going at St. Albans regardless of health conditions. These task forces continued to meet as we approached the fall.
As we move into the 2020-21 academic year, we thank departing Governing Board members Carter DeLorme ’88 (who did such a great job leading our Alumni Association), Wayne Frederick (who has brought such wisdom and experience from his role as president of Howard University), Jon Nobil ’02 (who led the team to records for Annual Giving performance and even a tremendous 2019-20 year despite the pandemic hitting during the key fundraising season), and Willy Walker ’85 (who provided keen strategic insight and the valuable alumni perspective in board meetings and never failed to speak candidly when it would help any discussion). It is always sad to bid farewell to such talented and dedicated colleagues, however, we are excited to be joined next year by Teddy Kaplan ’92, Al-Hassan Koroma ’09, Carter Mitchell ’93, Mary Ruppe Nash, Rita Roy, and Perry Fergus, who is rejoining as an at-large member. Thanks to Governance Committee Chair Tara Palmore and committee members Casey Cooper, Alyse Graham, David Marriott ’92, Rich Parrino, Brendan Sullivan ’93, and Jason Robinson for leading the selection process for these new trustees and their able work across the year.
And finally, after seven years on the board and with mixed emotions, the time has come for me to “retire”! On the one hand, I am sad to be leaving such a fantastic group of colleagues and to be stepping down from the board of an institution I love and respect so much; on the other hand, I am thrilled to welcome our new Governing Board leaders, as David Marriott ’92 will take over as chair, Tara Palmore will become vice-chair, and Andrew Marino will continue his service as secretary. I am excited and looking forward to watching these new leaders and the Governing Board continue to lead St. Albans forward into the future.
As a final thought, I want to share how grateful I am to so many for giving their time, energy, and hearts to St. Albans—my fellow Governing Board members, committee members, the senior administration of the school, the faculty and staff, parents, and alumni. It is one of St. Albans’ major strengths to have such an incredible community, one that is so caring and dedicated and supportive, particularly during this current challenging period. Most of all, I want to thank Jason for his strong and unflagging leadership as well as his friendship. He has had a couple of unusual crises to begin his tenure, and he managed the school through them tremendously well, while continuing to handle adroitly all the other responsibilities of headmaster. I am confident that we are all in good hands for years to come.