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With New Strategic Vision in Hand, DA is Planning for an Unscripted Future

Story by Victoria Muradi, Director of Strategic Initiatives 

Photo Courtesy of the Durham Academy Archives

So much of what we love about Durham Academy was born through careful planning by our predecessors. George Watts Hill and his wife, Ann McCulloch Hill, founded the Calvert Method School in 1933, basing the curriculum on her education at Calvert School in Baltimore, Maryland. Enrollment was just seven students. Four years later, with growing enrollment, the school moved from the Forest Hills Clubhouse to the John Sprunt Hill home on Duke Street, which was its location for the next 30 years. In 1959, ties were severed with Calvert and the school became known as Durham Academy. 

Our founders were visionary in founding and growing the school, including racially integrating DA sooner than the local public schools. From breaking ground at Academy Road in 1965 to establishing the Upper School in 1972, our predecessors consistently acted on possibility. Much of this history is captured in previous issues of Durham Academy Magazine and archival photos that are hung in various places at the Upper School. 

Presented with an opportunity to continue to adapt and change the course of our history, DA has embarked on an exercise of imagining what we can become. Beginning in summer 2018, the school’s leaders began asking, “What are our long-term goals?” The Administrative Team collected feedback from faculty, staff, parents, students and alumni. Through a collaborative and inclusive process, we gathered the thoughts and opinions of more than 1,200 community members. This culminated in a day-long retreat with the Board of Trustees in February 2020 to incorporate that feedback and define and align strategic goals. 

DA’s strategic work was paused with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, when institutional energy was poured into online education in spring 2020 and hybrid learning during the 2020–2021 academic year. In spring 2021, the foundational work conducted pre-pandemic informed the school’s self-study and re-accreditation. Although COVID had slowed progress in some areas, we were also buoyed by the adaptive changes faculty and staff have made over the past two years. Enduring challenges persisted, and defining and vigorously pursuing DA’s goals became even more essential in the midst of a global pandemic and a national racial reckoning. In September 2021, DA officially launched a new Strategic Vision. 

DA’s 2021 Strategic Vision builds upon the richness of our 89-year history and will guide us for many years ahead. Our process reflects our commitment to lifelong learning for every member of our community and our core value of inclusivity. The process itself is innovative in that we are deliberately abandoning the traditional five-year strategic planning cycle that drives most schools and universities and instead we are using an iterative and nimble visioning process that helps us plan for an unscripted future. DA’s four strategic goals focus (below) entirely on improving the experience of learners of all ages. The overarching objective: to deepen a growth mindset in our school culture in ways that ensure DA students are ready for the real world. At DA, learning is not just for the kids. A flexible design-thinking process will help infuse the spirit and the practice of incremental, iterative improvement in our students, our faculty and our school. Rather than hire an outside consultant, the school created my new role, Director of Strategic Initiatives, to guide the strategic vision process for DA during this pivotal time in our history.

Our community has come together to establish a solid and exciting vision for the future of Durham Academy. Key areas of focus are to:

  • Prepare our students for life.
  • Meet the needs of our learners.
  • Adopt a more agile mindset, allowing DA to innovate more boldly.
  • Broaden and deepen our work with Diversity, Equity and Engagement as a foundation for each area of focus.

Four goal-specific working teams are charged with the iteration and execution of the strategic vision. Each working team is made up of about 10 DA faculty and staff, representing a cross-section of divisions, departments, roles and tenures. In weekly meetings, team members have worked through defining the challenges of each goal and engaged in an exercise to better understand the perspectives of students, parents, teachers and administrators. The teams will begin additional empathy work through shadowing, interviews and focus groups involving numerous constituents. In addition, our board’s Communications, Learning Environment and Diversity Committees are providing commentary, perspective and review. The Board of Trustees will be kept apprised of developments at regular intervals. We are grateful for the many contributions each of these community members has made and will make toward helping us dream big. 

The goals and tactics of DA’s Strategic Vision will serve as the roadmap by which our Board of Trustees and Administrative Team will determine policies and measure progress and effectiveness. Part of my role will be to develop metrics and optimize data to inform decision-making and keep us on track. By the end of the 2021–2022 academic year, DA’s Administrative Team will prioritize objectives and develop an implementation plan that will be fluid and responsive in order to reflect best practices in strategic planning.

Photo by Melody Guyton Butts

For 14 years, I served as DA’s Director of Enrollment Management and met hundreds of prospective parents every year. They entered our doors with tremendous hope. Whether they were accompanied by a 4-year-old or 14-year old, these mothers, fathers and caretakers shared a common dream — that their children would have abundant opportunities to become their best selves at DA. 

One of my great professional joys has been witnessing DA students and teachers stretch themselves and push each other, constantly striving. DA’s new Strategic Vision is an institutional embodiment of that striving. Preparing for a mission-driven life, learning agility, developing a growth mindset and deepening our understanding of equity and inclusion are essential for individual and organizational resilience. What an exciting time in the school’s history! Our hopes and dreams for Durham Academy are pregnant with possibility. 

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Read About DA's Strategic Vision Work to Prioritize Students' Happiness