Long Range Plan 2014

The Walker School Long-Range Plan marries the most recent self-study completed in 2012 with the Board of Trustees' strategic plan that was approved in 2013.  Both of these efforts are intended to guide The Walker School from both an education perspective and governance/growth standpoint through 2017.  The goals identified through the self-study laid the foundation for the Long Range Plan and, most importantly, served as the guide from which the Board of Trustees crafted the four strategic initiatives.   You can find both the self-study goals and strategic-plan goals by clicking on the drop down options below.

Message from the Head of School

The Walker School has always been a school with a vision to provide Cobb County and the surrounding communities with the very best in college preparatory education. From its inception as St. James Episcopal Day School and through its evolution to The Walker School, visionary leaders have charted a strategic course that has given rise to one of the region’s finest independent schools.  

Walker’s mission, crafted by the Board of Trustees, inspires a school where transformative learning takes place every day.  Stewardship of Walker’s mission calls for significant reflection every five years as we establish strategic goals and develop action plans to meet those goals.  In 2011 - 2012, Walker embarked on a self-study process which resulted in the discovery of four key self-study goals. Simultaneously, our Board elected to launch a strategic plan process which would eventually identify four strategic initiatives designed to strengthen our school as we embark upon our second semi-centennial. Together, these documents form the Long Range Plan. 

Self-reflection in any form allows an institution to take both stock of its current effectiveness and define its evolving role in the community it serves. Our self-reflection helped us to clarify relative strengths and weaknesses, to articulate strategic intent consistent with Walker’s mission and beliefs, and to take into account the external factors that provide new opportunities and challenges now and in the future.  The Walker School Board of Trustees, alongside parents, faculty and staff members, administrators, alumni, and students participated in both the self-study and the strategic planning process.  In spring of 2013, The Walker Board of Trustees, chaired by Cheryl Barre, voted in favor of our new strategic plan which is presented alongside the self-study goals in the following pages. 

Walker is renowned for its exceptional student body, talented and dedicated teachers, committed parents, and top-notch academic and extracurricular programs. The initiatives that you will learn more about in this plan will provide our students and educators with the necessary guidance and tools for the future by allowing for the continued development of academic programs and facilities that will inspire students, faculty, and parents alike - for generations to come.  

This plan - which I am thrilled to share with you - is critical to the ongoing success of our school, yet it will take all of us pulling together to bring our Long Range plan to fruition.  Still, no brick or mortar can replace what is truly special about Walker: transformative learning, and the meaningful relationships that enhance such learning, will always be the focus of every decision we make.  Providing the space and facilities to allow those relationships to grow and strengthen is our challenge.  I look forward to working with you to make this plan a reality!                                                                                     

Sincerely, 

Jack R. Hall
Head of School  

Self-Study Goals & Priorities

As a faculty and school, Walker wants our instructional priorities to reflect the continued importance of critical thinking, creativity, character, communication, and collaboration for our students as they move beyond Walker to college and their careers. Building on the work of the self-study committees, Walker faculty, administration and staff prioritized the following four goals for our academic program.

Critical Thinking

Goal: Strengthen and extend the development of critical thinking skills across our curriculum through the integration of inquiry-based and design-based learning.

Walker is preparing its students for college and careers in a rapidly changing world. Our students will be better prepared to address the unpredictable problems of tomorrow by developing their critical thinking skills and breaking down barriers between disciplines. Our students must learn to solve problems in creative ways and apply those thinking skills to any field of study, including those that do not yet exist. To enhance Walker students’ critical thinking skills, we will engage in both whole-school efforts and encourage innovative initiatives from within our talented faculty.

The following Agenda for Action has been set forth to achieve this goal:

  • How you choose to assess students reveals your priorities for their learning. Therefore, a key part of the whole-school plan is supporting faculty as they enhance and update their assessment methodologies, engaging with the question: “How do you effectively evaluate and provide meaningful feedback on critical thinking?”.
  • Produce and publish a PK-12 curriculum that supports increased depth and focus on critical thinking skills.
  • Nurture individual sparks of innovation by encouraging faculty who want to pilot experience-rich courses, projects, or programs.
  • Build an effective school schedule, appropriate for each division, which promotes deep learning, interdisciplinary coursework, and collaboration across divisions.
  • Create internship and research opportunities by forming partnerships with local organizations, universities, and businesses.
  • Evaluate the use of space and materials, including technology, in classrooms, libraries, and common areas with a focus on developmentally appropriate spaces for cooperative learning and collaboration, differentiated instruction, and independently directed work.

Cross-Divisional, Interdisciplinary Approach

Goal: Encourage and promote a greater interdisciplinary, cross-divisional approach to the overall educational experience.

In order to better prepare Walker students to collaborate with diverse groups of people across disciplines, we must help them break down barriers within their learning environment. Walker students and faculty have a unique opportunity to learn from each other across divisions and disciplines given that all of our students from the Early Learners to 12th grade learn and grow on the same campus. Our younger students benefit from the mentorship and modeling of older students within the school; however, older students benefit just as much in the process of teaching others and seeing themselves as role models for younger students.  There is also untapped potential for our faculty to share their expertise more widely with students and faculty in other divisions. Walker plans to provide the time and resources to build those connections across the school.

The following Agenda for Action has been set forth to achieve this goal:

  • Continue cross-divisional department meetings that began in 2012 and establish clear leadership for cross-divisional curricular work.
  • Encourage faculty to teach and coach students in other divisions and engage professionally with faculty across the school by observing classes and sharing lessons and expertise.
  • Provide meaningful experiences where students interact across divisions, focusing on small-scale interactions where students are working together and sharing passion.

Character, Citizenship, and Integrity

Goal: Enhance and foster the development of character, citizenship, and integrity and the understanding that our choices affect our relationships with others.

Walker’s program and faculty develop character and citizenship within our students as a comprehensive approach that permeates all aspects of their education rather than a curriculum set apart from their academic and extracurricular activities. We aim to provide more meaningful experiences that engage students in hands-on service and collaboration with others as the way to show students how their actions impact others.

The following Agenda for Action has been set forth to achieve this goal:

  • Integrate character effectively throughout all aspects of our program by articulating consistent values and messages that are taught across all grade levels.
  • Replace service projects that are primarily fundraising related with meaningful, hands-on opportunities for service.
  • Expand opportunities for character development through student leadership that allow students to model values for their peers and mentor students in other divisions.

Serving the Diverse Needs, Abilities and Learning Styles of our Students

Goal: Support and facilitate ways for the faculty to address the diverse needs, abilities, and learning styles of all our students in an environment that incorporates a variety of effective technological platforms.

Helping all of our students reach their potential involves individualizing the learning process as much as possible given that each student has a unique profile as a learner. We want to equip our faculty and staff with the latest research and resources necessary to meet the diverse needs of our students through consistent support and professional development.

The following Agenda for Action has been set forth to achieve this goal:

  • Use a variety of delivery methods to increase faculty awareness of the diverse needs of our students and to improve differentiation strategies under the leadership of faculty-led professional development committees.
  • Enhance the use of technology to allow for a more student-centered, collaborative, and personalized approach to learning.
  • Incorporate increased expectations on critical thinking and differentiation into faculty evaluation, professional growth plans, and classroom observations.


 

Strategic Plan Goals & Priorities

The Walker Board of Trustees recognizes the importance of building a vision for the school for the next generation of students. Using the mission of our school as its primary lens, as well as the self-study feedback of Walker stakeholders, the board adopted the following strategic initiatives:

Endowment

Goal:  Increase the unrestricted endowment to generate additional long-term financial resources to support Walker’s people, programs and facilities.

A strong endowment enables a school to better serve its community, knowing that permanent resources are available to provide vital long-term support for programs and new initiatives.  The perpetual earnings generated by endowment funds provide financial security and flexibility, help leverage other sources of income, and allow the school to address needs as they arise. These funds play a critical role in shaping the future of the School by supporting the faculty, programs and facilities that define and enhance the Walker experience. In order to remain financially strong, Walker will increase its unrestricted endowment to serve both the current and future generations of students. 

In order to facilitate this goal, the following Agenda for Action has been set forth:

  • Review and monitor current investment strategies to enhance the investment performance so that excess funds will be available for future endowment establishment.
  • Build the endowment with a target goal to reach the current average recommended by the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) of $15,000 per student.  Based on this benchmark, the School would seek to build an initial endowment of $15,000,000. 
  • Define and prioritize the areas of need that will benefit from revenue generated by future endowment growth.  The priorities should focus on or include areas such as student scholarship and/or financial aid, establishment of new academic, arts and/or athletic programs, salary support for teachers, and funds for facilities upgrades and maintenance.
  • Establish an overall strategy and subsequent plan to coordinate and grow philanthropic revenue through endowment, annual and capital giving, and planned giving.

Facilities

Goal:   Enhance the quality of our facilities to positively impact the school’s educational, arts, and athletic programs.

The facilities in which learning takes place are an important part of the educational experience.  Walker must continue to invest in its facilities to keep pace with the evolving educational landscape and ensure our learning spaces are functional and appropriately equipped to support our student-centered, collaborative, and personalized learning environment.  The School will prioritize investments in facilities and infrastructure in a way that will maintain a position of financial strength.   It is important to note that philanthropy will lay the foundation for any campus expansion, including construction of new facilities and remodeling of present buildings.  The School cannot overlook the important role that our physical environment plays in our ability to provide a challenging and comprehensive academic, arts and athletic program. 

The following Agenda for Action has been set forth to achieve this goal:

  • Establish a committee composed of faculty and staff to oversee a comprehensive examination of our current facilities usage as well as projected future needs. 
  • Draft and adopt a Campus Master Plan that integrates the recommendations of the planning committee and prioritizes potential campus expansion and renovation needs.  The priorities of this plan should focus on building and/or updating the Middle and Upper School facilities with special attention to academics, science labs and technology, fine arts, as well as the development of our outdoor learning environment and green space. 
  • Develop a comprehensive financial model that focuses on securing philanthropic dollars to carry out the priorities detailed in the Campus Master Plan. 
     

Land Acquisition

Goal:  Analyze the usage of Walker’s current athletic field space and establish a priority to purchase contiguous or non-contiguous land.

Through athletics, students develop confidence and leadership skills, while learning to persevere and work as part of a team.  The Walker School has a competitive athletic program, managing schedules for 54 athletic teams in 15 sports. Approximately 80 percent of Walker students compete on one or more sports teams during their Middle and Upper School years with 100 percent of students benefiting from our physical fitness curriculum and instruction.

 
Though robust and competitive, Walker’s athletic program faces logistical challenges due to an ongoing lack of field space.  Many fall and spring teams practice five nights per week, making it very challenging to schedule appropriate time for field use on one main field.  Recognizing the limitations of the school’s existing fields, the Board of Trustees has identified the need to acquire additional acreage to alleviate these issues and expand the campus footprint to pave the way for development of much-needed academic facilities.

In order to facilitate this goal, the following Agenda for Action has been set forth:

  • Analyze the usage of Walker’s existing athletic fields and spaces. The results of this analysis will determine the future use(s) of land to support and enhance the current program.
  • Identify potential contiguous and non-contiguous sites, to the north and east of campus, for potential acquisition.  This plan should also include a financial and philanthropic strategy for purchasing land.
  • Establish a committee to work with a selected real estate advisor to explore available options that meet program needs. 

Communication

Goal:  Invest in a communication and marketing program that articulates the value of a Walker education among the school’s internal and external communities. 

Walker must continue to retain as well as attract and enroll mission-appropriate students who will thrive in and contribute positively to our school community.  To be successful in this endeavor the school must develop a professional, systematic and effective program which will promote the value of a Walker education to both our internal and external constituencies.  Walker will be proactive in communicating its mission, distinct identity and exceptional student outcomes within the increasingly competitive educational environment in Cobb County and the surrounding area. 

The following Agenda for Action has been set forth to realize this goal:  

  • Develop a three-year strategic external marketing and media plan, including associated costs, that is informed by research and designed to promote the distinct characteristics of and opportunities provided by a Walker education. 
  • Create an internal marketing plan that showcases the outcomes of Walker alumni through video and other multimedia channels including website and social media sites.  This series will allow the school to illustrate the fulfillment of the promise statement through the college and life work of our alumni.
  • Establish an ongoing financial investment of one-to-two percent of the operating budget to sustain a successful retention and recruitment program.
  • Establish a method and corresponding metrics by which to evaluate the effectiveness and success of the marketing program and plan.


 

Process

The Long Range Plan emerged from the efforts and input of many of Walker’s faculty members, staff, students, parents, alumni and administrators who worked together to identify the themes and priorities that should guide the School’s decision-making through 2017.  Their work began in fall 2011 with an institutional self-study and included various focus groups, parent and student surveys, faculty/staff input and other internal assessments so that as many voices as possible could be heard. Eight subcommittees, listed below, presented their recommendations to an executive committee that then informed the foundation of the Long Range Plan that has been shared in this document.  We are grateful to the entire Walker community for being involved in this endeavor:  

Strategic Planning Committees

Students
Chairs: Patty Mozley, Director of Admission
             Brad Brown ‘94, Assistant Director of Admission
Trustee - *Julie Poteet
Susan Kahn, PS
Kay Herrmann, LS
*Dennis McElhaney,  MS
*Newton McCurdy , US
Sue Rittenberg, Student Services Director
Kim Epstein - Parent
Lyric Resmondo - Parent  

Programs
Chairs:  Michael Arjona ‘97, US Academic Dean
              George Bevington, MS Academic Dean
Trustee - *Tim Goodly
*Julia Stoll, PS
*Melinda Wood, LS
*Kerry Morris, LS
*Kim Ragan, MS
Scott Smoot, MS
John Richardson, US
Cindy Schaffer, US
Alison Haslam - Parent
Steve Reich - Parent

Facilities
Chairs:  Jackie Porubiansky, Director of Facilities
              Gary Blohm, Athletic Director
Trustee - *David Strother ‘88
*Shanda Mitchell ‘85, PS
Katie Arjona, US
Kevin Tilley, MS
*Charlene Papadopoulos, LS
MJ DePiero – Parent  

Technology
Chairs:  *Kerry Bossak, Director of Technology
               Melissa Tulloch, MS Technology Integration Specialist
Trustee - John Thomas
Gail Doss, PS
Catherine Warren, LS
*Holly Martin, LS
*Kathy Berry, MS
Thomas Cooper, US
Christie Cook, Director of Business and Finance
Carlos Franceschi -  Parent
Scott Wright - Parent  

Faculty
Chairs: Liz Meadows, Interim Lower School Principal
             Blair Fisher, Middle School Principal
Trustee - Dixie Bowden
*Millie Reddick, PS
Carrie Aho, LS
*Ben Williamson, MS, Athletics
Jean Bayer, US
Amy Nolan - Parent
Kristie Cowan – Parent, WSA Past President  

Administration
Chairs: Peter Sullivan, College Counseling
            Gail Doss, Preschool Principal
Trustee - *Bill Leisy
Kitty Drew, MS
Emily Hood, LS
Laura Stewart, US
*Julia Stoll, PS
Michael Arjona, US
Adam Rodenberger - Parent
Robyn Johnson - Parent  

External Constituencies
Chairs: Cathy LaClaire, Director of Development
             *Kristy Helms, Director of Communications
Trustee - Debbie Pike
Kaleb McMichen ‘01, Alumni Relations Director
Meghan Stauts, Communications Assistant
Scott Smoot, MS
*Newton McCurdy, US
Kristen Shaw - Parent
Shannon Marshall – Parent
Lee Garrett – Parent  

Institutional Financing
Chairs:  Christie Cook, Director of Business and Finance
              Kaleb McMichen ‘01
Trustee – *Scott Gregory
Karen Henderson, Accounting Manager
*Lisa Van Krieken, PS
Sam Hussey, LS
Cristi LeBron, MS
Steve Killian, US
Jaydee Austin Smith ‘94 – Parent  

Key:
PS= Preschool Faculty/staff
LS=Lower School Faculty/staff
MS= Middle School Faculty/staff
US=Upper School Faculty/staff
*indicates that committee member was also a Walker parent at the time of the study.  

A note on input from the Walker Community:
In September 2011 an online survey was sent to students, faculty and parents to garner input that was used for the self-study goals which informed the strategic plan.  The response rates to this survey are listed below.  It is also important to note that a total of 15 focus groups were held over the course of three days in September.  More than 70 families were invited to attend so that they could contribute their thoughts, ideas and opinions during this process.  

Survey results:

  • Students: 626 of 636 Middle and Upper School students responded to the online survey, for a total response rate of 98 percent.  In addition, 30 Middle and Upper School students took part in on-campus focus groups.
  • Faculty/Staff: 142 of 187, or 80 percent, faculty and staff members responded to the online survey.  a total of 53 Faculty/staff members also served on one of eight subcommittees related to the study.
  •  Parents:  270 of 650 Walker families responded to the online survey, for a total response rate of 42 percent. An additional 34 parents served on a study subcommittee while 70 families were invited to take part in additional on-campus focus groups.  

 

Philanthropy

 

Independent schools rely heavily on philanthropic contributions, as the cost of an education at many schools exceeds the revenue derived from tuition. 

In order to bridge the gap between tuition revenue and educational costs, the substantial majority of independent schools rely on at least two sources of non-tuition income: (1) contributions from a growing Annual Fund; and (2) the interest and dividends received from a school endowment fund.  The amount of funding derived from both of these sources of income is dependent on regular and successful charitable fundraising campaigns.  Additionally, a third area of philanthropic activity involves the use of capital campaigns, which help a school raise charitable contributions to construct new buildings, acquire additional land, renovate existing buildings,  maintain the campus grounds and related infrastructure, as well as to grow the endowment. Finally, schools also benefit greatly from planned gifts such as bequests, trusts, and life insurance.

Over the past three years, The Walker School has made significant progress in garnering additional philanthropic revenues to support its mission.  The School’s Annual Fund has grown from $300,000 to just over $600,000 in 2014.  The School’s bond sinking fund stands ready to make a significant impact on the Endowment goal outlined in the 2014 Long Range Plan.   Despite this success, the School remains overly dependent on tuition income, with as much as 95% of its operating budget deriving from this source of revenue, a percentage that is about 10% higher than that of Walker’s peer institutions.  At the same time, tuition increases that are significantly higher than inflation are not sustainable over the long term. 

The most effective strategic approach to manage these issues is through a more successful philanthropic program.  As a result, the Board strongly supports the development of more robust fundraising programs at Walker, especially to grow the Annual Fund and the school Endowment.  The Board also supports several significant improvements to the educational program over the next five years, through “bricks and mortar” projects to enhance Walker facilities.

Continued success in increasing philanthropic contributions will provide more financial resources to the School and moderate the rate of growth of tuition levels.  As a general goal, the Board intends to increase philanthropic revenue in a manner that reduces the School’s budgetary reliance on tuition income from 95% to a benchmark level similar to peer institutions.  The School believes that continuing to grow its philanthropic programs is vital to ensuring necessary resources over the long term. 

To accomplish this the school will seek to 1) sustain the current levels of Annual giving over the next five years, 2) identify specific capital needs that can directly impact student learning and meet these needs through major gift fund raising, 3) grow the level of endowment by through conservative and prudent management of its investments related to the bond sinking fund.

 

 

 

Great schools look ahead in order to serve their students well.  Just as we encourage our students to continually learn and grow, The Walker School must always be prepared for what is next in the life of our school.  The school has spent the last two years engaging in an intensive period of planning for the future of Walker. Securing the resources to realize the goals set forth in this long-range plan will take enormous effort and commitment from our community and friends.  

However, no important or worthwhile goal was ever reached easily.  We believe in our faculty, our students and the families that we serve.  We are confident and excited about these opportunities and certain that collectively, all of us at Walker – trustees, faculty, staff, parents, alumni, grandparents, volunteers and friends – will play an active role in attaining these goals for the benefit of our current students and generations of Walker students to come.

 

We welcome questions from our Walker community regarding the information included in the 2014 Long Range Plan.  Thank you to all of those involved in this process and we look forward to what lies ahead at The Walker School. 

 

You can flip through the Long Range Plan hard copy below.