On February 12-14, Episcopal will welcome the visiting accreditation team from SAIS (Southern Association of Independent Schools) and SAES (Southwestern Association of Episcopal Schools). During their stay with us, they will take a deep look at our program and offer an outside perspective on what we're doing well and where we have room to improve. The following letter is included in our report and I wanted to share it with you. Thank you for making Episcopal what it is today.
There are many answers and initiatives in the pages that follow categorizing the work of the past five years, but more foundational than any of the information conveyed is the understanding that Episcopal is, first and foremost, “Episcopal.” In other words, our approach to education, governance, fundraising--you name it--is guided by our uniquely Episcopal identity. It’s in our DNA. You will see it on the football field, in the physics classroom, and, most assuredly, in our worship experience. It guides our decisions and frames our most difficult discussions. It allows us to be open to new ideas and the freshness of the Spirit’s guidance. It sustains us and reminds us of our common, shared humanity. We do not always meet the mark, but we continue to strive toward the goal of understanding and love. It’s a lofty ambition, but one we take seriously as a community.
Because of the deep roots in our Episcopal identity, I can, with confidence, state that:
Episcopal is Strong
Students at Episcopal are benefitting from an ever expanding menu of opportunities:
Our college admissions office has seen a 6% uptick in selective applications and admissions over the past three years. The college counseling staff continues to educate our students and parents, beginning in the eighth grade, raising awareness of the possibilities of study both inside and outside the state of Louisiana.
Episcopal continues to track the changes occurring on the college admission front, particularly in the area of the Coalition for Access & Affordability and has taken steps to insure that our students, regardless of application format, are prepared and competitive for the college admissions process.
Faculty and Staff Professionalism
We have been fortunate to attract teachers and staff members with impressive credentials and experiences in the past five years, but beyond their qualifications lies a new sense of emotional intelligence and “fit” within our community that has afforded an awakening of curiosity and joy throughout the campus.
Episcopal Is Growing
We’re popular! After the initial decline in enrollment after the economic downturn, it’s nice to say that with confidence. Positive word of mouth within the Baton Rouge community and an increase in current family referrals yielded a greater interest in tours and open houses from prospective families. As a result, the Admission Office has seen steady growth in both the applicant pool and in new student enrollment. Along with new student growth, our annual attrition rate has decreased slightly, resulting in increased overall enrollment. We are not resting on our laurels and continue to research new markets and methods to insure a continued pool of qualified applicants for the future.
As enrollment continued to grow it became evident that new academic space was necessary to accommodate growth. After our initial success with the Chapel renovation project, we are now pivoting to fundraising activities focused on a multi-use Academic Commons that will house science, math, engineering, and entrepreneurial classrooms. We then intend to repurpose Foster Hall (the current science and math building) to serve as an innovative learning center with flexible spaces for the Lower and Middle School.
Episcopal is Resilient
2016: a Summer of Unrest and Disaster
The events of the Alton Sterling shooting in Baton Rouge had a profound effect on our community. We returned from the summer break and immediately began a process of dialogue, equipping our teachers to deal with the first few days of class and the resolution of conflict that could arise. Then, on the first full-class day into the school year, a rain event of unprecedented proportions blanketed the Baton Rouge area, causing catastrophic flooding in the community and damaging multiple buildings and all of our athletic facilities.
Because of the resilience of our community, particularly our resourceful maintenance staff, and the steady, meaningful communication we were able to provide to our constituents, Episcopal was back up and running in less than a week. The Lower School was relocated to the VPAC and World Language, P.E., and Arts classes were scattered about campus. Within a month, we had returned to normal facilities and operation, with the exception of our athletic program.
Throughout our ordeal, parents, donors, students, faculty, and staff maintained and increased their support, allowing us to “bounce back” to normal operations faster than any educational institution in Baton Rouge affected by the flood. Further, the powerful example of Episcopal students mucking houses and stripping sheet rock in the homes of those displaced by flooding cemented the broader community’s understanding that Episcopal students give back.
Episcopal is Relevant
Preparing the Student for the Path
We continue to maintain a balanced approach to academics, arts, athletics, and spirituality while exploring and implementing new programs that draw us to the edge of current pedagogy. We carefully balance our approach to teaching, cognizant of the fact that we are preparing students for their college experience. Examples abound:
Recent collaborations in the Upper School between Department Chairs and Administrators has set in motion a path to distinction in each subject area for the 2017-18 school year. Students with passions that might not include a traditionally recognized strengths in the Humanities or Sciences will soon receive graduation distinctions for other areas of academic, co-curricular, and extra-curricular work.
The past five years have been marked by a deepened and reflective transformation in the Service Learning area of school life, with an emphasis on extended relationships with area organizations and student created service experience. As our students connect to and support service areas in which they see need, we believe they are intrinsically motivated to go beyond our requirements and form lasting relationships.
Episcopal is Planning for the Future
Episcopal’s Board of Trustees maintains its strategic focus, aligning its function closely with NAIS best practices. With the recently adopted five year strategic plan, a framework for growth through 2020 has been outlined. The recent, catastrophic flooding in Baton Rouge and on the Episcopal campus has necessitated a few course corrections, but the engagement and care the board has demonstrated “after the flood” has allowed Episcopal to recover quickly and turn its attention, once more, to strategic needs.
A New Approach to Fundraising
The flood altered our plans for a capital campaign to address both future academic and athletic needs. As philanthropic focus shifted, for many of our donors in the Baton Rouge area, to local flood recovery, it was evident that a major capital campaign would not fit with our new reality. We have shifted to a more project and interest-based approach, which has seen the successful completion of the chapel renovation and a good start to fundraising for the Academic Commons.
Athletic Transitions and Task Force
2017 marked a transition in leadership for the Athletic Program at Episcopal. Myra Mansur, who served as Episcopal’s Athletic Director for many years retired and Randy Richard, former Dean of Students, Coach, and long time employee took the reins in a seamless transition.
Then the flood came. Episcopal’s Athletic Program was, by far, the most deeply damaged area of school life. Randy and the Athletic Department rose to the occasion, rescheduling events and finding practice venues all over town. Our athletes lost very little field time, and, indeed, demonstrated the values of Episcopal by gutting houses in the community.
Knowing the program was in good hands freed me and the Board of Trustees to work on the replacement of athletic facilities while at the same time imagining their improvement. From these conversations, the Athletic Taskforce was born. I look forward to its findings and our new plan for athletic facilities at Episcopal later in the spring.
Episcopal is Ready
We are ready to listen and inwardly digest the suggestions and observations resulting from this accreditation process. Our campus culture is geared toward questioning what we do, tweaking things that could work better and seeking out new understanding that will serve our students. We welcome you to our campus and look forward to engaging in a productive dialogue about what Episcopal is.