The 2018-19 academic year was a busy and productive year for the St. Albans Governing Board.
With Headmaster Jason Robinson taking over the position from Vance Wilson on July 1, 2018, our initial focus was supporting Jason in his new role and ensuring a smooth transition for the entire community. The Transition Committee, led by (then interim and now permanent) Associate Head of School Suzanne Woods, met with Jason throughout the summer and fall to provide guidance, perspective, and input from multiple segments across the school community, including board members, parents, faculty and staff, students, and alumni. It quickly became clear to all of us that Jason’s study and preparation in advance of his arrival had paid off, as he stepped right into the role without missing a beat, leading senior team and faculty workshops before classes began, relishing Rocklands BBQ at summer lunches with the incoming senior class, speaking at parent and alumni gatherings early in his tenure, and engaging the Governing Board around his ambitious goals for the year.
With the first transition of the headmaster’s residence in nineteen years, we also needed to commission some improvements and upgrades to the house, and we were pleased to welcome Jason and his wife Olinda into the home in November (along with the occasional visits from their daughters Francie and Abby, both in college!). In addition to being steps from the school, making for an easy commute for Jason, the house has served as a wonderful gathering place for events throughout the year for the senior administration, parents, the Governing Board, and the entire faculty and staff for the year-end celebration. This fall, Jason and Olinda will host a series of events for new parents at the house as well. We thank alumnus and current parent Robert Bellinger ’80 and the entire Buildings and Grounds Committee for their work to complete the renovations and for their other important work across the year.
With the August 2018 publication of reports of past adult-student sexual misconduct at the Key School and the revelation that one of the Key faculty members named had later taught at St. Albans, it became clear to us that one of our primary, though initially unexpected, priorities for the year would be understanding any such incidents in our past, ensuring that any victims and survivors had the help and support they needed, and confirming that our policies and practices today promote the safety and well-being of our students and all children on the Close. Thus began the process that led to an investigation of past adult-child sexual misconduct (subsequently joined by all the other Close institutions), the results of which we announced to the community in June 2019. The board formed a special committee to oversee the investigation—which was conducted by an outside, independent law firm—and we thank alumni parent Rich Parrino and the entire committee for their dedicated and diligent work across the year to ensure the investigation achieved its objectives. We also thank the many faculty, staff, alumni, and current and past parents who supported their efforts. Nothing about this work was easy, and we were deeply saddened to learn of the incidents in past decades that impacted multiple former students. However, we do believe the investigation was an important step forward for the school to reckon with these incidents from our past in an open and transparent fashion, make amends to victims, and ensure that the school does everything it can to prevent such incidents from happening again. Throughout the effort, we were heartened by Jason’s unflinching leadership and desire to do the right thing, and while it made for a more difficult year, there was no better example of choosing the hard right over the easy wrong.
Alongside the transition and the investigation, we made substantive progress against a number of strategic, financial, and operational priorities for the year. On the strategic side, we kicked off work on our next strategic plan for the school, with board retreats in October and February dedicated to strategy and the formation of the special Strategic Planning Committee, chaired by current parents Gina Coburn and Andrew Marino and alumnus Brendan Sullivan ’93. This team laid out a robust process that will gather input from all facets of the school community across the 2019-20 academic year and lead to the announcement of our next strategic plan in the summer of 2020. Already the discussions have been dynamic and insightful, and a number of the ideas brought forward will certainly translate into important strategic pillars for the school. And, it has been tremendously helpful to have Jason’s new perspective and his experience from Lawrenceville School and Princeton Day School represented in our discussions.
Financially, St. Albans remains in a very strong position. Current parent Anthony Bruce ’85 took over the chairmanship of the Finance Committee and, along with Assistant Head of School for Finance and Operations Greg Parker and the rest of the dedicated committee members, artfully navigated a year of several unexpected expenses to keep the school on budget and in great shape. Continuing to adhere to the commitments we made in our financial sustainability work in prior years, the committee maintained a lean operating budget, grew the endowment to over $80 million, maintained faculty salaries in the top decile among peer schools, increased financial aid by 3.6 percent, kept our draw from the endowment to 4 percent, and kept our tuition increase below 4 percent. Not an easy set of priorities to balance! Additionally, it was a strong year on the development front, with our community responding well to Jason’s arrival and his vision for the future of St. Albans. Thanks to the fantastic effort of Development Committee Chair Brendan Sullivan ’93, Associate Headmaster for Development Dan Jamieson, the rest of the Development Committee, and the school’s development team, Annual Giving topped $2.8 million for the first time ever (with kudos to Annual Giving Chair Jonathan Nobil ’02), with alumni Annual Giving totaling $1.2 million (thanks to Alumni Giving Chair and current parent Carter DeLorme ’88) and the Parents’ Association contributing $100,000 to the Headmaster’s New Initiative Fund (with appreciation to PA President Krissy Benner and the rest of the PA). Overall the school raised $1.58 million for the endowment in our first non-campaign year in a long time. And we are excited to work with two leaders stepping into new positions and their teams as we seek to continue the strong performance in 2019-20: new Assistant Head of School for Advancement and Strategy Tyler Casertano and new Executive Director of Development and Alumni Relations Bobby Cpin.
This year for the first time, the board convened a Diversity and Inclusion Committee, with the goal of defining St. Albans’ priorities for diversity and inclusion and working closely with the faculty diversity chairs to foster a more inclusive and accepting environment at the school. Going hand-in-hand with the board’s commitment, the school also created the positions of Dean of Community Life (Upper School Chaplain Rachelle Sam will serve in this role in her return to St. Albans after her one year sabbatical) and Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (Kristin Elliott will step into this role and continue to serve as a C Form teacher). And Rachelle and Kristin will join with English Department Chair Donna Denizé, religion teacher Jim Ehrenhaft ’83, Skip Grant Program Director OJ Johnson ’97, and Senior Chaplain Brooks Hundley on a newly created Community Life Leadership Team. We thank Maria Donoghue Velleca, parent of two alumni, for her work convening and chairing this important committee and the entire committee for the progress they made across this first year. As we look ahead to next year, we will continue the work of this committee as well as include its priorities into the strategic planning work.
Operationally, we collaborated with Jason on a number of priorities, including coordination across the Close on the investigation, the decoupling of the school’s heating supply from the central Close plant, institution of additional security measures on school buildings, and several others. And as usual, we had good discussions with members of the senior administrative team across the year on topics such as the Lower and Upper School by division heads Fred Chandler and Ben Labaree, respectively, admissions by Tyler Casertano, college admissions by Director of College Counseling Nikki Magaziner Mills, and others.
As we move into the 2019-20 academic year, we thank departing Governing Board members Krissy Benner (our amazing PA President), Mary Crawford (who skillfully led our Governance Committee for five years in her second stint on the Governing Board [she is a past PA president!]), Chris Denby (parent of two alumni and one current student, who helped lead the work on our prior strategic plan and was a valuable leading voice on international and educational issues), and Maria Donoghue Velleca (who served as vice-chair and chair of the Governing Board and has served the school in so many different and valuable ways). While it is always sad to bid farewell to such wise and dedicated colleagues, we are also excited to be joined next year by alumnus Amar Bakshi ’02 and current parents Alyse Graham and Bill Sonneborn as new at-large trustees, and Perry Fergus (Parents’ Association president) as a new ex officio member. Thanks to Gina Coburn and the Governance Committee for leading the selection process for these new trustees and their able work across the year.
We continue to be going through transition across the Close as well. With Jason completing his first year at St. Albans and Cindi Gibbs-Wilborn completing her first year as head of Beauvoir, National Cathedral School celebrated Kathy Jamieson’s retirement and has welcomed interim head Sue Bosland, who started as the head of school for NCS on July 1, 2019. Dean Randy Hollerith, now in his fourth year leading the National Cathedral, announced the commencement of the Cathedral’s new strategic plan, an exciting innovation for an institution that has continued to transform its programming, strengthen its financial position, and play a key welcoming role to the city and the nation. The spirit of collaboration across all four Close institutions is high, which is an important contributor to success for St. Albans, as our work is always in concert with and as a member of the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral Foundation.
As I look ahead to my second year as chair of the Governing Board, I am excited about our work in 2019-20 and eager to get going on our goals for the academic year. At the same time, I am extremely grateful to so many for giving their time, energy, and hearts to St. Albans—my fellow board members, committee members, the senior administration of the school, the faculty and staff, parents, and alumni. It is a true strength of St. Albans to have such a dedicated and supportive community, especially in a year like this past one. And most of all, I thank and commend Jason for an outstanding first year. None of us could have imagined how this year would unfold, and he not only stepped up to lead the school through a difficult and time-consuming investigation of our past, but also managed all the other elements of the school in fine fashion, all in his very first year at St. Albans. All of us at St. Albans are clearly in good hands for years to come.