Durham Academy's new Strategic Vision has come into focus over the last three years — 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.
Prepare our students for life.
Meet the needs of a full range of learners.
Adopt a more agile mindset, allowing DA to innovate more boldly.
Broaden and deepen our work with Diversity, Equity and Engagement.
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.
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.
Timeline and Process
At DA, learning is not just for the kids. We’ve identified three strategic goals focused entirely on improving the experience of learners of all ages. The overarching objective: to deepen a growth mindset in our culture. A flexible design process will help infuse the spirit and the practice of incremental, iterative improvement in our students, our faculty and our school.
Phase 1: Discovery (Fall 2021)
Working Teams will meet weekly to understand where we have been, identify where we are excelling and learn from excellent examples in other schools. Each team will collect data and perspectives from all areas of our community. Learning together, we will identify promising possibilities.
Phase 2: Design (Winter 2021–2022)
After defining opportunities and challenges in Phase 1, Working Teams will generate, prototype and evaluate new and better ways to help our students learn. In so doing, we will model for them the habits of lifelong learning: researching, creating, testing and refining toward progress.
Phase 3: Implementation (Spring 2022)
Working Teams and DA’s Administrative Team will choose the most promising and strategic areas to pilot, evaluate, refine and scale.
Katie Ryan Kantz
As we launch a 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. This work is particularly important now. We have successfully completed most initiatives from our 2015 Strategic Plan, we have innovated boldly during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are now building new academic programs and campus facilities.
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