ANNIE WRIGHT SCHOOLS IN TACOMA, THE REGION AND THE WORLD
In Middle School, the Journeys program continues, through a deliberate progression, to challenge students in Grades 6-8 with studies of new climates, biomes, cultures and governments, culminating in a trip to Costa Rica in Grade 8. The Middle School also continues to develop and refine its service program. Community Engagement Days in the spring provide students a chance to engage in direct service experiences planned by faculty and students.
Upper School for Girls
The USG has developed strong programming to engage students in their community, broadly defined. These include two programs:
s(Electives) and (a)Electives
These are a vibrant after-school program in which students choose to invest time, build skills, and pursue experiences relating to the arts, civic engagement, and/or STEM related fields. Students enroll in a single (s)Elective or (a)Elective on a quarterly basis. The program asks advisors to work with students to identify subject-specific initiatives that encourage student interaction with Tacoma, the region and the world through two main lenses:
- Ventures: local or global partnerships which facilitate meaningful impact between members and the world around them. Recent examples include partnerships with Tacoma Community House and working with Tacoma City Council to rename Columbus Day Indigenous People’s Day.
- Adventures: Immersive, off campus experiences, designed to meet at least two of the following objectives: build context, develop a particular skill or practice area, engage international perspectives, extend impact beyond the local community. Recent examples include travel to Mexico, Vietnam & Cambodia, Boston, Washington DC and San Francisco.
Class level Programming
- Community Impact Projects help freshmen understand how to identify problems and design solutions through working with local community organizations. Students engage in these projects through advisories, with the dual goal of helping the local organization with an issue with which they may be struggling, and helping students practice design-thinking as a problem-solving tool. Sophomores repeat this process with a more individual focus: identifying problems and designing solutions for issues that are important to them whether in school, locally or more globally.
- Creativity, Activity and Service (CAS) is a component of the IB Diploma Programme for juniors and seniors. The service component encourages students to continue engaging the work they identify during their sophomore year and make authentic choices regarding community engagement.
Upper School for Boys
The USB’s signature Tiny House project, part of the Architecture & Design course, introduces students to the design-build process while helping them engage in the community and turn their learning into meaningful action. The boys began by studying the factors that lead to homelessness and elements of the homeless experience, including visiting Nickelsville Georgetown Tiny House Village in Seattle. Incorporating this research, as well as a study of built tiny homes, exercises in empathy, the relationship between emotions and architecture, and conversations with professional architects the boys designed and built tiny homes which were then delivered to Nickelsville for use by their residents.
Head of Schools Christian Sullivan hired Robert Hinman, an experienced international school administrator with start-up experience, as director of the Annie Wright’s program at Baishan School in Qingdao, China, last spring. The school opened in late August, with Chair of the Board Michele Cannon Bessler and Director of Business Development Rex Bates in attendance.
Opportunities to partner with local organizations, particularly with an emphasis on service, continue to expand. Partnering across divisions and with the different division-level initiatives will remain an important task for the new Assistant Head of Schools.
EXCELLENCE IN TEACHING
The school continues to recognize that faculty is its most important resource. Faculty compensation is an ongoing issue, and the school continues to focus on this topic as it works to recruit and retain excellent teachers.
A thoughtful and consistent process for onboarding faculty and staff was piloted in 2018-19 and rolled out more deliberately in the fall of 2019 with the introduction of Colleague Ambassadors and a more coherent orientation process for new faculty and staff. Further work is planned, including creating a standardized welcome process to send to faculty at the time of hire - especially when those hires are often done a full six or more months before arrival on campus. The goal of this process remains to ensure the culture and expectations of the school are clear and compelling to new faculty and staff from the start.
Teachers continue to benefit from enriching professional development opportunities that also deliver on institutional imperatives. These annual opportunities include IB trainings at all levels, gender-specific teaching workshops, a variety of subject-specific and topical trainings, workshops, seminars and conferences. In addition, divisions have begun to create intentional cohorts to more effectively access professional development opportunities beyond external trainings/conferences. These include reading groups, school visits, and peer and director class observations. Teachers in the observation cohorts will also receive specific and direct verbal and written feedback from their directors culminating in an official performance review.
NWAIS Fall Educators Conference
Annie Wright Schools will host the NWAIS Fall Educators Conference in October 2019. This opportunity not only brings the most important regional educational conference to campus, allowing the school to showcase its facilities, including the new academic building, but also it allows AWS faculty discounted access to the conference and significant professional development opportunities. Eight faculty and staff will lead or co-lead presentations during the conference, and several others will lead affinity sessions.
After piloting the two initial signature programs, tennis and Girls’ Business & Entrepreneurship, the school has found that the (s)Elective and (a)Elective offerings in the Upper Schools have organically evolved into a compelling signature program, offering a wider breadth of options but still with intensity, rigor and extraordinary opportunities. The tennis program throughout the school continues to be very strong, with a dedicated director, extensive use of the USTA Galbraith Tennis Center, and students who are nationally ranked players and go on to play college tennis at all levels. Girls interested in business may still focus on this area through IB business courses and/or the business (s)Elective. The communications department continues to work with the Upper Schools to market all of these programs.
During 2018-2019 several strands moved diversity initiatives forward at AWS:
- The Board adopted the 5-year Strategic Plan for Diversity, incorporating Board-specific goals around recruitment and training, including specific training on difficult conversations. At the behest of the Board, the school has contracted with diversity trainer Alison Park to provide a day-long training for the Board in early September and a separate training for all faculty and staff in mid-February.
- The school year began with training on facilitation and encouraging difficult conversations by Meg Bolger, a social justice and inclusion trainer and facilitator.
- The Diversity, Inclusion, Multiculturalism and Equity (a Curriculum and Practice group) began to work specifically on three strands within the strategic plan for diversity. Specifically: engaging all employees in professional development in diversity, inclusivity, and multiculturalism each year; identifying and/or developing a tool for teachers to use for curriculum analysis through the lens of diversity, inclusivity, and multicultural education; and prioritizing recruitment and hiring of faculty & staff that reflect the diversity of the student body.
- Through the work on these initiatives, the DIME committee identified obstacles and opportunities for progress. To move the community forward, the committee proposed a school-wide infusion for the 19-20 school year on the topic of inclusivity as a catalyst for the strong community we espouse in our mission statement. Together with a DEI resource board, the committee hopes to address the first two initiatives, above.
- The committee will continue working with the school to move the hiring initiative forward, and will continue to pursue further work on the rest of the strategic plan.
- In August this committee led a DEI workshop focusing on inclusivity and the year-long provocation “What does inclusivity look like at AWS?” in all-school faculty/staff meeting.
EDUCATING OUR BOYS
The Upper School for Boys enrolled its second cohort of students, continuing to use dedicated space on the main campus and rented space in the former Children’s Museum downtown.
Construction began in June 2018 for the new building, which opened on August 28, 2019, the first day of the 2019-20 school year. The 2019-20 school year began with 58 freshmen, sophomores and juniors in the Upper School for Boys, with the first class graduating in 2021.
Faculty and dorm parents continue to engage in professional development to address the intellectual, social, emotional and mental strengths, challenges and needs of boys.
While we are not focusing on “signature sports” at Annie Wright Schools, there are certain sports including volleyball, soccer, lacrosse, tennis and basketball that maximize the use of our growing facilities and interest level of our student body. The curriculum in physical education classes has been geared toward the health and well-being of our students while also developing the physical tools needed to excel in the sports mentioned above. We will continue to offer golf, track and fencing to our students but need to be creative with the ways in which use neighboring facilities.
The addition of a second gymnasium and a pool will further our current programming options for physical education, recess, school-wide assemblies, after school practices, workouts and community tournaments. The new pool will give all AWS students the opportunity to pursue swimming as life-long exercise and/or as a competitive sport option. During the two years the athletics department will build and grow a comprehensive swim program for all students in an effort to elevate this sport to the level of the previously mentioned sports. Additionally, the new tennis facility
has opened a multitude of offerings for students from Grades 1-12.
As new members to the Nisqually League, the Upper School for Boys already offers seven after-school competitive sports options. Each of the sports offered to the USB students is also offered to younger boys.
In the past three years, Annie Wright basketball, golf, volleyball, and cross country teams have gone to state championship tournaments, with golf finishing in 2nd place in 2018 and 3rd place in 2019. The goal is to create at least one sport per season that consistently competes at the state level.
AWS signed an agreement with the Baishan Educational Group in Qingdao, China, to provide an immersion English high school experience for a group of Chinese and other international students living in Qingdao. A new division director with international school start-up experience, Bob Hinman, was hired to recruit students and faculty and run the school, called Baishan-AWS. The program opened in August 2019, growing eventually, in a fully developed program, to an anticipated enrollment of 160 – 180 students. Opportunities for other international programs continue to be explored.
Residential Camps & School Store
Derek Zhao, the Executive Assistant to the Head of Schools, segued into a new role to promote alternative revenue streams. These include residential course and camps for Chinese students during the summer (started summer 2019) and a new approach to Gator Alley, the school store, with enhanced online merchandise.
Upper School for Boys
The development of the new Upper School for Boys division and the opening of the new building offer new and enhanced opportunities for recruitment and retention of great students and families.
The head of schools committed to active and ongoing efforts for institutional sustainability, no matter the apparent state of school finances.