In early May, a teacher trainer from the Bridges math program spent a full day at The Valley School, observing math lessons, giving feedback to teachers about their teaching, and sharing strategies for implementing our new math curriculum. At the end of the day, she remarked at how strong the sense of community and the ethic of care and kindness were among Valley children, something she sees only rarely in the many schools she visits each year. She knows – as we know – that a strong sense of connection and relationship among kids provides the foundation for successful learning.
In two recent surveys, the first done as part of the Strategic Planning process last year and the second, our own community survey this spring, we examined that sense of community and connection at all levels, within the current parent body, the faculty and Board of Trustees, and alumni families. Both sets of results point to the strong sense of community here. And still we know that there is important work to be done to create stronger connections internally and externally in the broader community. We captured our aspirations for an even-stronger community and more effective outreach in one of our five Strategic Plan areas, called Fortifying Community Relations and Communication.
This year, we have already achieved some of our goals in our efforts to “Improve Upon Internal Communication.” We published our first-ever curriculum guide, thereby giving us a valuable tool for communicating about the progression of learning that takes place each year at Valley. We completed the community survey to help gather feedback about the learning and community experiences at Valley. Going forward, the school will conduct community surveys every two years, thereby building our capacity to track trends, gauge levels of satisfaction, and monitor progress in key program areas.
The strategies we identified to “Enhance Messaging and Storytelling” include focusing more of our messages in our communication tools, such as our newsletters and website, on the benefits and features of a Valley education. This year, the school’s use of social media, particularly Facebook, has reached a new level, giving our community more real-time stories and images of the activities of our Valley children. When our fourth grade class invited Paul Cheyok'ten Wagner of the Saanich First Nations of Vancouver Island to an All-School Sing to share his heritage and culture, it was quickly shared on Valley’s Facebook page.
This kind of outreach and the effective use of communication tools also support our strategic goal of sharing our “good works” in the community. More community outreach in our marketing efforts and through engagement with local organizations aligns with our strategic goal to “Strengthen our Enrollment Management and Outreach.” As with all small independent schools, our financial strength and sustainability depend on steady enrollment at all grades. Our hope is to increase the number of people in Seattle who know about Valley and are inspired by what they learn so we can add families who are committed to our mission and educational program. Recent changes in how we do tour days, such as giving visiting parents a chance to talk with current parents, reflect the school’s commitment to meeting the needs of a more competitive admissions landscape.
As we look outward in marketing and communication, we are also looking inward to “Create a Culture of Generosity.” Engagement in The Valley School community can take many forms, from reading in classrooms during lunchtime, sharing an area of professional expertise during a science unit, serving as a class representative, or helping organize our Fall FUNdraiser. Just as kids learn better when they feel a connection to their school community, parents also support the educational experiences of their children when they feel the same connection. Last spring, the school administration was reorganized, and a new position, the Director of Admissions and Community Relations, was created to bring focus and expertise in the areas of development, communications, and relationship-building. This year, Lora Kolmer spearheaded the creation of a new Philanthropy Committee. This committee has been active this spring in setting the stage for a revival of our annual giving campaign. The Annual Fund will allow parents, grandparents, and members of our extended Valley community to support our strategic commitment to building a more diverse school community, particularly through support for financial aid and for a more culturally-rich learning experience for children. A “culture of generosity” also means giving back to our community. The Philanthropy Committee is also planning school-wide community service projects, such as this fall’s “gleaning,” when families will be able to harvest produce at a farm in Snohomish to give to local foodbanks.
The Valley School’s strategic planning process last year gave our community the occasion to pause and consider what matters to us most. Our decision to include community relations and communication as areas of strategic focus reflects our shared knowledge that good people are at the heart of good schools. But keeping our community strong and connected requires effort, resources, and planning. In the years ahead, I look forward to joining all members of the Valley community in telling the stories of our school and in building the relationships that will ensure a vibrant future.