Durham Academy's Strategic Vision came into focus over a three-year span from 2019 to 2021 — informed by conversations with students, faculty, staff, parents, trustees and alumni and refined by a 2020 community-wide survey with more than 1,200 respondents.
The pandemic both delayed and accelerated our strategic planning — stress-testing our ideas and throwing into high relief the urgency of bold, innovative action, and the will to make happen what may once have seemed impossible.
We envision DA learning environments that more actively foster intrinsic motivation. Already, we are rethinking time, space and assessment to facilitate this shift. We are also redefining rigor — shifting from a focus on content volume and time-on-task to deeper and more vigorous learning that sticks over time and students can apply more actively to novel situations.
Aiming to help students pursue their passions and build their sense of purpose, we are incorporating more student choice across the grade-levels. Our faculty are redesigning learning experiences around hands-on applications, real-world problem solving and partnerships with local organizations.
We know that these shifts in our learning program can facilitate similar shifts in our students’ ability to balance work, play and holistic wellness on and beyond our campuses. In every area of the school, we hope to apply the lessons learned from exceptional examples to build a more pervasive and coherent approach to deep, meaningful learning.
Students’ experiences during the pandemic have underscored the critical importance of meeting them where they are, providing a relevant learning environment that allows them to bring their whole selves to school and challenging them to push beyond their personal and academic comfort zones.
Since March 2020, DA has seen an increasing need for student learning support services. The increased independence and executive function required by online and hybrid learning modes required new structures to ensure success for students with diagnosed learning and/or attention differences. The school will evaluate best practices in peer independent schools and develop a cohesive, Pre-K through 12 infrastructure for learning support.
Many of our students have been liberated and empowered by digital tools, remote collaboration opportunities and revised daily/weekly schedules. More choice and more student-authored projects make them more eager to learn and more able to push further than they had in the past. DA wants to continue to empower and support these learners — recognizing that every one of our learners is nurtured by challenge.
We aim to preserve the agility developed in response to the pandemic and convert it to a pervasive innovator’s mindset that remains long after the pandemic stimulus has disappeared. The school hopes to mirror this shift in all aspects of our community. From the Board of Trustees to the Office of Business Affairs, from second grade to the speech and debate program, DA hopes to become a school where innovation is a fundamental part of the culture.
Becoming more agile thinkers may also help the school realize a longstanding commitment to increasing access to a DA education, broadening DA’s reach beyond local and regional communities. Looking at models beyond the traditional school day and rethinking space and credit hours may allow DA to include students of all ages and backgrounds.
INNOVATION JOURNEY FUND
We are embarking on a mountain-climbing journey — finding new solutions to our challenges in the foothills and peaks of innovative practice. The Durham Academy Innovation Journey Fund (IJF) supports discovery, design and implementation of innovative ways of teaching, learning and operating as a school. The fund was created as part of Goal 3, but projects have contributed to the success of each pillar of the Strategic Vision. Proposals, which can be pitched by any member of the faculty and staff or student body (with a faculty sponsor), are considered three times a year.
In the face of horrific violence against people of color and in the context of our racial reckoning, DA has reaffirmed its commitment to racial justice and anti-bias practices. We know that independent school communities have not yet become fully welcoming, safe, just communities. Knowing that students grow fastest toward their best selves when they feel seen, known, safe and challenged, we are expanding our DEE work to ensure that all of our students feel a deep sense of belonging and a heightened sense of curiosity.
This will require developing a more intersectional and nuanced lens for examining identity, belonging and inclusion. While we have devoted professional development resources to become more culturally competent educators, we are moving forward with more integrated and sustained programming for students, faculty, staff and families.
For two decades, diversity has been a competitive advantage for our school, an essential element of DA’s identity and a key component of our aspirations for the future. DEE at DA is not ancillary but rather core to our mission and relevant to all our work. We will spend this year mapping and enriching our curriculum with an equity lens, increasing training for faculty and staff, launching parent affinity groups and expanding our recruitment and support of underrepresented students. Our DEE action plan will steer this work, which is foundational for the initiatives we will pursue toward each of the three strategic vision goals. Learn more about Diversity, Equity & Engagement at DA.
Strategic Vision Working Teams, 2022–2023
Goal 1 (Prepare Our Students for Life)
Christopher Briggs *
Marichal Gentry *
Elizabeth Parry *
Goal 2 (Meet the Needs of Our Learners)
Lori Hanks *
Libby Lang *
Danielle Wysenski *
Goal 3 (innovate more boldly)
Andrew Prudhom *
Karl Schaefer *
The Foundation (Broaden and deepen our work with diversity, equity and engagement)
Jazmin Garcia Smith
* Served on Design Team in 2021–2022
As part of this more iterative and nimble approach than DA's strategic plans of the past, we want to give students, families, alumni, faculty, staff and community members the chance to provide input about their DA experiences and the opportunities ahead in grades pre-k through 12.
Please take a moment to complete our feedback form. We are so grateful for your feedback as we partner with you to build the future of our school!