What Independent Schools Can Learn From New Educational Models


Independent schools are trying to keep pace with rapid changes in the demographic, economic, and social composition of their student and parent populations. At the same time, new forms of competition have emerged, providing alternative school options for parents and their children. Despite this, most independent schools continue to provide the same type of education with little variation.

Many schools have made changes in the form of adding programs or services that are perceived as being valuable to parents as well as upgrading facilities, but these changes have contributed to the increasing cost of educating a child in independent schools. Tuition and cost of living increases have made most independent schools unaffordable for middle- and some high-income families. How can we continue providing a top-notch education while keeping our schools affordable?

To understand the forces at play and to help independent schools better compete, NAIS examined schools with different financial and educational models. Over the course of three months, we conducted a review of publicly available information, interviewed administrators at six U.S. schools, and created profiles that highlight some of the distinguishing attributes of each school. Three school profiles follow; all six profiles are available here.

Blyth-Templeton Academy

Blyth-Templeton Academy, a college-preparatory high school in Washington, DC, combines very small class sizes with city-wide learning opportunities. Blyth-Templeton opened on Capitol Hill in 2015 and is scheduled to open a campus in New York City for the 2017–2018 school year.

Blyth-Templeton’s curriculum focuses on immersive, student-centered experiential learning, where teachers teach what the students want to learn. The experiential learning is not just an occasional field trip, but a daily and weekly part of the school’s curriculum. Blyth-Templeton’s academic year is divided into four terms, each term lasting about two months. During a term, students study only two subjects, allowing them to explore various subjects in greater depth than in a normal school schedule. Students follow a daily schedule consisting of three two-hour periods. During these three periods, students study an array of traditional academic subjects, such as math, science, or history that are combined with travel time around DC to make it experiential. The final two hours of a student’s day consists of an open period, where the student is free to write papers, work on projects, or study for tests. Teachers are available during this period to assist students with their work. In addition to traditional coursework, the students complete several courses that are more adaptive to their personal interests. These courses explore the students’ interests in a more personalized way, while simultaneously helping them to develop their critical and creative-thinking capacity.

Blyth-Templeton is part of the Blyth Education family, a private Toronto-based company founded in 1977, that offers secondary education and educational credit programs. Belonging to the Blyth Education network means that students at Blyth-Templeton can take Advanced Placement (AP) courses through Blyth-Templeton Academy Online, study overseas with the Blyth-Templeton Academy Global High School, or even do an academic quarter at a Blyth-Templeton Academy High School in Canada.

Fully funded by tuition, Blyth-Templeton has no fundraising events. In 2016–2017, the tuition was $14,850, compared to $37,030, the median day school tuition in DC. The school also offers financial support via financial aid or merit scholarships; about 20 percent of students receive financial support. One of the main reasons Blyth-Templeton is able to provide this type of education at such a lower cost is that instead of spending money on new facilities, labs, or athletic fields, the school uses existing community resources. Operating out of the Hill Center, a community center close to the U.S. Capitol, Blyth-Templeton rents classroom space in the center, paying only for the space while it is used. Instead of buses or vans, students navigate the city via public transportation and walking. School libraries and textbooks have been replaced by laptops and trips to a local public library. There are no athletic teams, but students who want to participate do so in clubs or leagues outside of school.

Rather than lecturing, Blyth-Templeton teachers facilitate academic discussion in the classroom. The
average class size is eight students. The school currently operates with seven faculty members and five school leadership positions. The school’s compensation is comparable to other schools; however, Blyth-Templeton offers part-time faculty positions for those interested in other pursuits. This flexibility helps attract talent and allows faculty to pursue outside endeavors such as graduate school or other work.

BASIS Independent Schools

BASIS Independent Schools, a network of pre-K–12 private schools, combines a STEM-focused education with an emphasis on foreign language skills to provide students with a practical education for the 21st century. BASIS places heavy emphasis on science and mathematics in the classroom. Students begin studying chemistry, biology, and physics in sixth grade, and begin high school math during middle school. Upon graduation, all BASIS students will have taken all three sciences at the honors level, one AP science course, and one AP math course. Foreign languages are also a critical component of the curriculum. All students begin studying Mandarin as early as pre-kindergarten and are given the option to continue Mandarin or learn a new language in middle school. Many high school students elect to take AP courses in their respective languages, often studying Mandarin, Latin, French, or Spanish at the college level.

During senior year, all BASIS students take capstone courses, studying advanced subjects ranging from quantum mechanics to game theory and political philosophy. Students spend their last trimester completing a senior project, which allows them to apply their knowledge to an area of their choosing. Senior projects are guided by a staff mentor, and can take the form of internships, university-level research, field work domestically or abroad, and other options depending on a student’s individual interests.

The BASIS promise includes that not only will students graduate with a deep understanding of academic disciplines and a mastery of traditional skills, but also that they will learn to innovate and think across disciplinary silos and become 21st century knowledge workers. While most schools have similar goals, BASIS prides itself as having a proven track record of great student outcomes as measured by both national and international ranking—like the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Test for Schools—and college acceptance rates. The OECD Test for Schools is based on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and provides information on students’ performance in math, reading, and science compared to other students at schools in the United States and the world.

Class sizes at BASIS Independent Schools vary between 20 and 25 students. The elementary classes have a unique teaching approach: Each first- to fourth-grade class is staffed by two joint teachers. The first teacher is a subject expert, who has a degree in whatever subject they are teaching. The second teacher is a learning expert, whose job is to help facilitate the holistic development of students, focusing on their emotional and social development. The joint teacher model ensures that students will learn from teachers who are experts in their
field, while developing more general emotional/interpersonal habits simultaneously. Teachers also have two hours of “student time” set aside to support students individually and in small groups.

Funded by a tuition rate that varies from $22,900–$29,500 depending on the grade and location, there is no fundraising or state/federal money. This is possible in part because BASIS Independent Schools are managed by BASIS Education, a company that started with operating charter schools. When BASIS Education expanded into opening private schools, the company drew on 15 years of experience with fiscal control and responsibility. Teachers are paid competitively, but BASIS schools aim to restrict facilities spending to only what is necessary to deliver a competitive educational program.

BASIS Education currently operates 28 schools across the United States and the world, including charter schools and independent schools in Silicon Valley, California (5–12); Brooklyn, New York (pre–K10); McLean, Virginia (preschool-11); Fremont, California (K–8); and the BASIS International School in Shenzhen, China (preschool–12). BASIS plans to expand its current U.S. locations and open private schools in other cities around the country; another New York campus (K–8) is set to open in Manhattan in 2017. Internationally, BASIS plans to open a second school in China by September 2017 and is opening its first European location in Prague in 2020.

Acton Academy

Student agency—the level of control, autonomy, and power that a student experiences in an educational situation—is at the heart of the Acton Academy model. Acton is a learner-driven community that strongly believes children can plan their school day and manage their time. It’s modeled on a one-room schoolhouse, enrolling 36 students in the elementary studio, 36 in the middle school studio, and between 36 and 48 students in the high school studio. The school year consists of trimesters spread out over 11 months, during which students engage in real-world projects, apprenticeships, state-of-the-art educational gaming or “quests,” and Socratic discussions in a multiage classroom.

The educational approach is based on a concept Acton refers to as the “Hero’s Journey,” which seeks to help students discover how they can live a life of meaning and purpose and develop hands-on skills that will allow them to do something that will change the world. No homework is assigned at Acton; however, students are able to access multiple learning programs like ST Math, Khan Academy, and Dreambox at home. Instead, “young heroes” celebrate the mastery of tools, skills, and character by earning badges, assembling portfolios, and taking part in public exhibitions. Parents use these badges to track academic progress in core skills, like reading, writing, math, and spelling, and character development. Electronic and hard copy portfolios capture rough drafts, photos, video, and other creative work. Public exhibitions at the end of most quests allow young heroes to present work to experts, customers, or the public for a real-world test.

Acton Academy opened its first location in 2009 in Austin, Texas, and has since opened another 25 U.S. and international campuses. Schools (as well as parent groups and entrepreneurs) can apply to become part of the Acton network. Most of the schools in the Acton network are nonprofits, and tuitions depend on each school location and offerings. In 2016­–2017, tuition ranged between $500 and $1,000 per month. Acton Academy in Austin reports an annual cost-per-student at $4,300. This low cost may be a direct consequence of the teaching model: Students are supervised by adult “guides” who are more of a support resource than a traditional teacher. The school is run with fewer adults than what you typically find in other schools, which in turn, saves money in overhead.

Acton plans to continue opening additional campuses in 2017 across the United States and in various countries around the world, with the goal of opening 50 to 100 schools a year. There seems to be growing interest in the Acton model: The school has received 2,500 applications from parents who want to start their own school, representing about 100 applications a week. This doesn’t mean that Acton runs these schools; it provides them with kits and resources to use as guidelines for creating an Acton-inspired learning experience.

Modeling These Models

The approach that these schools are taking—combining a teaching model that is more student-centered with a business model that focuses on what is core to providing an excellent education—might not be a good match for the mission of some independent schools, but the inherent practices offer a lot to consider and explore.

  • Balancing low-cost and quality education. A brick-and-mortar type of school, while offering the latest and greatest in facilities, programs, and services, comes with a high price tag. Many for-profit schools prioritize their investments in teaching core academic programs, while outsourcing extracurricular activities. What are the programs and services that your school could outsource? Are there opportunities at your school to take a more minimal approach to facilities and lower operating costs?
  • Understanding your niche market. Many schools offer a wide selection of programs and services trying to please as many parents as possible. However, by being the school for everyone, you’re risking not being the right school for anyone. It’s important to clearly differentiate your school’s offerings from your competition and communicate these differences to prospective families. What type of parents are the best match for your school’s mission? (See sidebar below, “Parent Profiles”) What are the types of messages that resonate best with them?
  • Delivering on the promises of personalized learning. Many independent schools say they offer personalized learning, but to what extent are you offering students the opportunity to decide what to learn, how to learn it, and when to learn it? Consider what programs or services your school offers to guide students in pursuing a career. Are there additional opportunities to help students explore their interests or to connect them with professionals in relevant fields?

Sidebar: Parent Profiles

What type of parents does your school attract—or want to attract? NAIS’s Parent Motivations Study can help you learn more about the parents in your school community.

The 2011 study sought to understand high-income parents’ attitudes and motivations about independent schools and examined how parents learn about various school options, what they value in an education, and what persuades them to select independent schools. The study identified five parent personas: Challenge Seekers, Success-Driven Parents, Right Fit Parents, Character-Building Parents, and Public School Proponents.

Members can download the full study, which includes an in-depth look at each persona as well as messages that resonate with each segment and tips to help you reach out to parents more effectively, here.


Why I Use Skype to Teach World Geography and Cross-Cultural Competency

Why I Use Skype to Teach World Geography and Cross-Cultural Competency

My computer rings and I feel the excitement bubbling up in my suburban Maryland classroom. My first-graders know a Mystery Skype game is about to start. They grab their supplies: large, laminated world maps, dry erase markers, and magnifying glasses — and join their team on the rug.

Aloud they wonder how many hints they will need to determine where the other children are and what clues they will share. In teams of four, my students formulate several questions to help them solve the mystery:

  • Are you in the northern or southern hemisphere?
  • Are you near an ocean?
  • Is it morning or afternoon for you?
  • Are you in a big continent?
  • What is your main language?

I turn on the Smart Board to begin the adventure. One by one, my students come to the webcam, introduce themselves, and ask questions in the order they’ve agreed to. Soon, my room is alive with the children’s chatter. Huddled over their maps, they eliminate continents and countries. Magnifying glasses come out. When the whole class thinks that they’ve figured out the other children’s location, they shout out: “Are you in Chile?”
They’re not correct, so they return to study their maps and ask more questions. Finally, my class solves the mystery, and the students in the other class take their turn.

This session, my class is meeting with a group of second-graders in a bilingual school in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Their native tongue is Spanish, but their English is wonderful. My students learn that even though their partners have strong accents, they can understand them if they concentrate. The children in Argentina squeal with delight when they discover we’re in North America, especially because they’ve never met children in the United States before. The two groups then chat about their areas, cultures, and schools. My students are shocked to discover that children in Argentina also trade Pokemon cards and play similar recess games. The two groups also discern differences in time zone, season, and continent during the conversation.

As a teacher at McDonogh School in Owings Mills, MD, I continually find that Mystery Skype gives students valuable hands-on experience with world geography and helps them develop cross-cultural competency.

Mary-Catherine Irving’s first-graders participate in a Mystery Skype lesson. Credit: McDonogh School

A Window to the World

While many teachers view their Smart Board as a piece of technology to facilitate students’ computer and Internet use, I see it as a window to the world. As we meet children and adults on every continent this year, my students learn to collaborate, hone their communication skills, develop empathy, and enrich their problem-solving ability.

I started using Skype in my teaching in 2005, two years after the platform debuted. At the time my school was holding fundraisers to help a school in New Orleans affected by Hurricane Katrina. I reached out to a teacher, and our classes began to meet. We discussed local food, holidays, and our school communities. The video was often very pixilated, but the children’s idea exchanges revealed the power of these sessions. Our students became friends, and soon my class wanted to use Skype to share school events with their peers in New Orleans.

Skype’s potential as a teaching tool increased after Microsoft purchased the platform in 2011. Microsoft aims for teachers to learn and participate in a global community through activities such as Mystery Skype and virtual field trips. In addition, Microsoft educational consultants select guest speakers, ranging from engineers to authors to marine biologists, whom teachers vet to ensure productive learning for students. Today, more than 500,000 teachers and experts on all seven continents use Skype in the Classroom. More than 10 million students, speaking 64 languages, have seen other parts of the world in their classes through this technology.

Virtual Field Trips

I use Skype in the Classroom a great deal now. Typically, I’ll hold two or three sessions a month at various times in the day, during social studies, morning meeting, or lunch.

My first-graders have taken part in several virtual field trips, guided by guest speakers. Every two months, we take a gander through the platform and my students choose which experts to meet. As part of a unit on penguins, we met a penguin researcher outdoors in the middle of a rookery in Antarctica in December. Although my students know it’s cold in Antarctica, it was not until they met with Ms. Pennycook that they began to understand just how cold it is. They saw she had to wrap her laptop up in hand-warmers so it would not crash. She also showed them how desolate her home was while she conducted her research over several months.

Ms. Irving takes her students on a virtual field trip to Antarctica to learn about penguins. Credit: McDonogh School

In October, we met with a great white shark expert 30 feet underwater in a shark cage. Seeing sharks swimming around made my first-graders truly grasp their enormity.

First-graders learn about sharks in a virtual field trip in Ms. Irving’s class. Credit: McDonogh School

In November, we met with a paleontologist as he scaled a wall filled with dinosaur fossils in Utah. In each case, we never left the classroom.

Before each of these 45-minute sessions, I email with the experts to plan the lesson. I also show a video or read nonfiction to my students so they have sufficient background knowledge to ask meaningful questions. During Q&As, I am impressed with how seriously these experts treat my young students. When we were chatting with Ms. Pennycook in Antarctica, one student asked how the penguins know when to make the journey back to the rookery where they were born. She responded that scientists have not yet answered that question. She suggested my students read, learn math, and problem-solve with groups. Perhaps they would join her one day to answer that question.

My first-graders and I have virtually met some tougher circumstances this year as well. After Hurricane Matthew hit the Bahamas last fall, we connected with a teacher whose town in Nassau had been devastated. Initially we were only able to talk with the teacher by phone because the school was closed due to the conditions after the storm. My students raised money to help the class buy cleaning supplies by completing chores at home. When the school’s power was restored, her students met mine and described how they prepare for a storm of that magnitude and what it was like to live through it. We listened in awe.

Cross-Cultural Relationships

Skype in the Classroom helps my students cultivate virtual pen pal relationships.  For the past few years, my classes have had a relationship with students in Buenos Aires. We frequently hold morning meetings together, or meet to play games. Bilingual Simon Says and Rock, Paper, Scissors are favorites. During these sessions, the two groups teach one another poems, songs, and games from their countries. My students are now most avid Spanish students. Our Spanish teacher remarked that they are the only first-graders she has ever had who take notes, because they have a reason to learn the language.

My students are not the only ones building relationships abroad. I have tapped into a worldwide network of educators who are as passionate about bringing the world into their classrooms as I am. We frequently collaborate about teaching methods and content via Skype.

Over the years, I have developed some deep friendships. When my partner teacher in New Orleans had breast cancer, I supported her throughout her recovery. When my colleague in Argentina was contemplating changing schools, we Skyped at night to discuss her options. In fact, I have traveled to New Orleans, Mexico, and Argentina to visit teachers I had only met online, and hosted them when they came to visit. My colleague in Argentina stayed in my home for a month last winter, teaching with me and visiting other schools in Baltimore. I never could have imagined that I would make friends around the world with whom I would talk about my students, family, and life!

Far-Reaching Benefits

Many teachers wonder whether these virtual visits benefit them and their students. Looking back over my own experience, I realize that my students and I are more passionate about learning and our place in the world after connecting with others via Skype. During this school year, my students traveled more than 50,000 miles through Skype and my Smart Board.

My former student, Andrew, perfectly captured the significance of what he was learning this way: “Through Skype, I have talked with people all around the world. It makes me wonder if we all really do have a lot in common.”


Mary-Catherine Irving

Mary-Catherine Irving has taught first grade for 27 years. In 2016, she was selected as a Microsoft Innovative Educator as well as a Skype Master Teacher. NAIS selected her as an Innovative Educator in 2011. In addition, she is a certified National Geographic Educator. She can be reached at Mirving@McDonogh.org to provide guidance if you wish to try bringing the world into your room.

Supporting Transgender Students in Single Sex Schools


All-girls and all-boys independent schools face a unique moment of reflection as they consider policies to support openly transgender students. How might girls’ and boys’ schools stay true to their gender-specific missions while supporting students for whom that binary no longer applies? Join this online conversation with girls’ and boys’ school administrators and representatives from the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), National Coalition of Girls’ Schools (NCGS), and International Boys’ Schools Coalition (IBSC) as together we reflect on current challenges and future opportunities for educators to support transgender and nonbinary students in all-boys and all-girls schools.

Recording of Webinar

Synthesis of Breakout Discussion Groups:

Supporting Transgender Students in Girls’ and Boys’ Schools Tuesday, November 15, 1:00 p.m. ET

How might your school stay true to its gender-specific mission while supporting students for whom that binary no longer applies?

● Multiple breakout groups wrestled with the existential question: “What does it mean to be an all girls school or all boys school?” ○ Discussions raised the ideas of strong communities, and single-gender schools as safe spaces for students to explore their identities and grow intellectually and socially. ○ How do these ideas converge with gender fluidity or a non-binary concept of gender? Can schools still create a safe space for transgender students to explore their identity and find their voice? ○ Some schools emphasized our commitment to our kids and the value of each of them within our schools and beyond, and to consider how their transition will impact their continued growth and development into adulthood, college, returning for transcripts, and more. ○ Overall comments across all breakout groups emphasized the need to support the student and keep them at the center, as opposed to creating hard and fast policies.

● Another thorny question that was raised was “Can it be inconsistent with a school’s mission to have a transgender student in the school?” ○ Depending on where the student is in their school career, can the school better serve the student by keeping them in the community or by helping them find a school where the mission is better aligned with their transitioning identity? ○ Some girls schools reasoned that there was mission congruence in aligning women living in a patriarchal culture with transgender individuals in a dominant binary culture.

● Some groups focused on the wording or underlying meaning of the school’s mission ○ Specific words and phrases pulled from mission statements, such as “to be rather than to seem”, creating a caring and diverse community, affirming the worth and dignity of every individual, can be explicitly used to rally support for students ○ With a mission statement such as “build fine young men, one boy at a time”, finding space for a transitioning student is challenging, but language focuses on the individual needs of each student, which creates room for interpretation.

● Based on Tony’s narrative, some schools mused on the difference between supporting the transition of students who are existing members of your community versus encountering transgender students in the admissions process. Most attendees thought there should not be a specific question in admissions applications to screen for transgender students. What have been the primary challenges to confront in having initial conversations around supporting transgender students in your school? What have been the most rewarding moments?

● Challenges ○ Shifting from a binary view of gender. How we understand what a girl or what a boy is. ○ Parental perception and expectations. They send their student to a school and the paradigm shifts. Not ready to have conversations with their young students about gender and sex. ○ Education of and communication with the boards of trustees. Using outside resources from experts (Gender Spectrum) or religious organizations (Episcopal School) is beneficial. ○ Admissions process when a student has already transitioned and the school may not know at the outset. ○ Boarding schools. Housing. Which floor does the student live on? Based on a discussion with a lawyer, the students are living on the floor of the gender with which they identified.

● Points to Consider ○ Go through the student’s experience minute to minute and analyze every aspect of your school to ask what can affect them during a transition. If we backtrack and experience our school through students’ eyes, then maybe we can relate with them when they’re exploring their gender expression even before they make the decision to transition. We want to support our students fully, and maybe this starts sooner than when a student comes to us with a firm decision to transition. Maybe more students need our support as they are questioning. ○ Anecdotally, the largest groups of students who are talking about transitioning are ages 4 – 6 years old. When we started to talk about the process, we thought we’d work more with older, high school students. With this younger age group, it raises the question of whether we can continue to serve this student well years after they transition?

● Initial Steps of One School Shared ○ We are gathering groups of faculty, staff, trustees to start an ongoing conversation about vocabulary, transitioning and gender fluidity. We hope to proactively learn about the gender spectrum and think strategically about our approach now, so we will be ready to help a student when they need our support (rather than reacting to the situation when it does arise). We’re thinking about the series of concentric circles of faculty we’d involve and inform so that a specific student is supported but also so that their privacy is respected. The better we prepare ourselves as a school community, the better we can support all of our students.

Finding Resolve After the Results

It is 7:15 a.m. on Wednesday morning, November 9. I have just arrived at my office, a bit earlier than usual after a sleepless night. A few hours before, I was on the phone with another friend — a school leader in another city — who said she could not stop vomiting and asked if I would pray with her. Before that, there were countless texts and calls throughout the night as people processed their waves of emotions.

At 7:16 a.m., a white male colleague came into the office for coffee. He looked at me and fought back a mixture of tears and anger as he relayed his night. At 7:25 a.m., a white female colleague came in and burst into tears. I hugged her tightly, and as I released, I looked up and a black female colleague was standing there, tearfully ready to be received. I stood in my office foyer until 8 a.m., in that same spot, as it filled with colleagues who needed a safe space. I could feel this coming during my drive in, so I had the counter prepared with breakfast treats next to the Keurig machine.
We readied ourselves for the start of school. I went down to the morning meeting location to greet all of my sixth, seventh, and eighth-graders as I do every week. When I rang the chime that signals the start of our day, they fell silent more profoundly than I had ever seen. I looked at 117 sets of eyes staring up at me from their cross-legged places on the floor. I fought back my emotion, and lost the battle, as I said, “If you had a night like mine, then you’re feeling all sorts of ways this morning. Turn to someone next to you and share with them how you’re feeling.” They quickly turned and formed duos or trios, tightly knit together.
I walked among them, and saw students leaned up against each other, holding each other, or looking at each other intently. One white male seventh-grader sat there with his lip poked out. I asked him what was wrong, and he said, “This is how I feel. I’m sad.”
I passed a white female eighth-grader leaning back on her friend, looking up at me with eyes as big as saucers. “Why are your eyes so big this morning?” I asked her.
“I’m frightened,” she said.
Several students were in tears. I rang the chime, acknowledged the emotion in the room, and gave our call to action for the day:
“Today, of all days, let’s be the middle school that we say we are. Let’s be that school where you can feel however you feel and be however you are, and you are respected. Some of us are sad, or frightened or angry, and we get to be that. Some of us are excited, and happy, and hopeful, and we get to be that. Let’s try to understand each other better today. But let’s not make today the day that we are not careful with our words, or where we judge each other or ignore each other. Today, of all days, focus on what you can control — yourself, and carry yourself like one of the middle schoolers I love today.”
And that is how the morning after the election results began in my school.  I have experienced many elections, but I have never experienced an election result that scared the children more.

An Opaque Wall Becomes Clear

There are no two ways about it; this election season was a long and arduous one. For more than a year, we were steeped in this historic, and histrionic, run for president. We have watched our country grapple with some of its most pressing issues, and in the midst of the protracted campaign, the level of our national discourse dipped frighteningly below the bar. As we watched the campaign season in shock and shame, we had to come to grips with the fact that our country is more divided than we realized, along more lines than we knew could be drawn, and that voices on all sides have taken up the call of “silent no more.”
One only needs to watch the news, turn on CNN, log in to Twitter or Facebook, to see the rise in acts of hate and acts of protest on college campuses, on church grounds, in neighborhoods, and in secondary schools. This is not the tale of two candidates but the tale of (at least) two Americas, who suddenly find themselves meeting at the once invisible but opaque wall between them.

An Imperative to Broaden My Circle

There are 60 million Americans who were on the other side of that wall that I do not understand. I have stood next to them in line at the grocery store, and sat next to them in movie theaters and meetings. I have had polite conversations with them at dinner parties. Many of them I have never seen or heard; I have never walked in their neighborhoods or sat at their tables. I have no idea who they are or how they see the world. I thought I was in touch and connecting across differences.
But this election showed me that my circle is not broad enough. I know I have the freedom, and, now more than ever, the responsibility, to engage with those around me of all ages, faiths, races, genders, classes, and political orientations. After November 8, it is clear that we have work to do to realize the fundamental American dream — that out of the many, many stories that inhabit our country, we would find common ground that allows one to live one’s truth without invalidating someone else’s.

Dialogue: The Ultimate Civic Duty

After moving through the five stages of grief to arrive at that illusive sixth stage — empowerment — I find myself once again thankful that I am an American. Indeed, the luxury of a multitude of opinions and the right to express them are two of our most treasured American ideals. I know many of us have shied away from talking about the results for fear of negatively affecting our relationships with friends or coworkers. I have heard from people whose Thanksgiving tables looked and felt differently because of the way this election has divided families.
Now that the election is over, I implore us all to take up the challenge that it has brought to us — to dialogue honestly, deeply, and continually by sharing our stories, learning from each other, bridging our gaps of understanding, raising the level of discourse — that we might become a people more united, more compassionate, and truly, more careful with each other. This is not the work of the president, but the work of the people performing the ultimate civic duty. Now that we know who the next president is, let us show who we are, so there can be no mistake that making America whole again resonates with us all.

A Call to Educators: Model the Way Forward

In the days immediately following the results, children were raw, and so were the adults. One woman said to me that she talks about America’s emotional reaction during 9/11, and now she will talk about our emotional reaction on 11/9. Our campuses are abuzz with post-election noise.
As educators, we must model for our students the best way forward. We must engage them in fierce conversations, even when they don’t think they need to have them, so that they are present to the power of active listening. Students need to see our firm resolve and trust in the moral arc of our nation and our democracy, and they must see us engage intentionally and positively across difference. Let us make sure that our schools have diversity practitioners who are empowered and supported to do this important work. Let us ensure that our missions specifically mention our dedication to diversity, equity, inclusivity, and indeed, justice.
This is the time that our school leaders — from the head of school to the administrative team — must be out front and out loud in their commitment to a pluralistic culture and inclusive pedagogy. The thoughts and actions expressed in this nation, including in our own schools, in the wake of this election should be a wake-up call that the diversity work that we have sometimes questioned is without a doubt a necessary ingredient to our recipe for success — reaching our shared mission to educate responsible global citizens.
Remember that each of our presidential candidates was a student in someone’s elementary, middle, and high school at some point. What lessons did they learn there that could have informed some of what we saw as they campaigned? As educators, we have an obligation to take a strategic, systemic approach to creating equitable and inclusive campuses that nurture a spirit of civility, civic engagement, and multiple perspectives.
A president cannot divide us; only we can do that. Let us have the faith of a first-grader, who said, “I hope that Donald Trump helps a lot of people. That means everyone.” And on that, we can all agree.

15-0921-RodneyGlasgow-sm.jpgRodney Glasgow is the head of middle school and chief diversity officer at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Potomac, Maryland. He also chairs the NAIS Student Diversity Leadership Conference.

Understanding the New Student Population


When my children went back to school last month, I couldn’t help but notice the new faces in the audience during the morning assembly for parents and students. As a researcher, I always find it fascinating to see how national demographic trends are reflected in my children’s school, particularly in the younger grades.

That’s where demographic changes are occurring at a faster pace than experts previously expected, and these shifts are having a direct impact on the student population and enrollment numbers at independent schools.
Wondering what demographic trends your school should track? I suggest paying attention to the following four.

The Decline of the White Student Population

Consider a main finding of the 2010 Census: The number of white children had decreased by 4.3 million since 2000,according to the report “America’s Diverse Future: Initial Glimpses at the U.S. Child Population from the 2010 Census” by the Brookings Institution. This report cites three factors to explain the decline:
  • lower fertility rates of white women (1.9 births per woman, compared with 3.0 births per Hispanic woman),
  • low immigration numbers of whites (15 percent from 2000 to 2009, versus 78 percent for Hispanics, Asians, and other minorities), and
  • the aging of the white population (in 2013, the median age of whites was 42, compared to 28 for Hispanics, 33 for African Americans, and 36 for Asians, the Pew Research Center reported).
All of these factors indicate that the number of white children will continue to decline or register minimal gains for several decades. This trend is evident when looking at the changes in NAIS schools. The latest DASL numbers show the sharp decline in the white student population from 74 percent in 2005-2006 to 62 percent in 2015-2016.
These changes may be more dramatic depending on your school’s location. The NAIS Demographic Center projects that by 2021, the number of white students will decline in several metro areas:
  • San Francisco (-6.08 percent),
  • Los Angeles (-5.73 percent),
  • Greensboro, NC (-4.19 percent),
  • New York (-3.74 percent),
  • Chicago (-3.29 percent),
  • Seattle (-3.29 percent),
  • Atlanta (-3.03 percent),
  • Philadelphia (-3.03 percent),
  • Dallas (-2.97 percent), and
  • Washington, DC (-2.56 percent).
If your school is located in an area where the vast majority of students has been traditionally white, you may have some challenges achieving your enrollment numbers. To share an example, in 2013, when my daughter started   Pre-K, the graduating eighth-grade class in her school was 77 percent Caucasian, compared with only 46 percent in Pre-K. Indeed, I’ve seen an influx of new Hispanic and Asian families where I live, a change that takes me to the next two trends.

Hispanics: Born in the USA

While new immigration from Latin America continues to be significant, it has dropped since the middle of the last decade. As a result, the number of immigrants from Asia has surpassed that of Hispanic immigrants since at least 2009, as reported by the Pew Research Center. However, while the share of Hispanic immigrants has decreased, the rapid growth in the number of Latino births has guaranteed a steady increase in the Hispanic population.
In fact, U.S. births have been driving Hispanic growth since 2000, according to Pew. The number of Hispanic children increased by 4.8 million from 2000 and 2010, the Brookings Institution reported. This increase was also the reason that the nation’s child population didn’t decline in that period.
New Census projections estimate that by 2020, fewer than half of all children in the United States will be non-Hispanic White — remember that Hispanics represent an ethnic group and can be of any racial group, including Caucasian. By 2050, an estimated 31.9 percent of U.S. children will be Hispanic (up from 25 percent in 2015), and 39 percent will be non-Hispanic White (down from 52 percent in 2015).
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Private schools are a strong presence in many Latin American countries, so it may be easier to explain to Hispanic families the advantages of choosing an independent school over a public school. These parents can also be advocates for independent schools and help schools find more Hispanic families.
According to demographers, by around 2020, more than half of the children in the U.S. are expected to be part of a minority racial or ethnic group. At that point, Americans under 18 will be the front of a trend that the overall population will follow some 20 years later. By 2044, the Census Bureau predicts that no one racial or ethnic group will constitute the majority in the country.
But the new population also comprises Asian students, as we’ll see in the next trend.

The Newcomers: Asian Families

Historically, Asian American students have had an important presence in NAIS schools. In 2015-2016, they represented 10 percent of the total enrollment and 37 percent of students of color, the largest group among students of color, according to DASL.
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These growing numbers reflect the national trends. The U.S. Census reported that between 2000 and 2010, Asian Americans recorded the fastest growth of any racial group at 46 percent. Moreover, projections by the Pew Research Center indicate that the Asian American population will continue to grow more rapidly than the U.S. population overall, reaching 41 million in 2050.
Immigration is driving this growth. In 2012 alone, 74 percent of Asian adults were foreign born and international migration accounted for about 61 percent of the total change in the Asian American population from 2012 to 2013,according to the Pew Research Center.
What do these trends mean for our schools? Depending on the country of origin, the new Asian families may or may not be familiar with independent schools. You may need to explain what differentiates an independent school from other private and public school options and the advantages that your offerings have in developing children’s cognitive and non-cognitive skills. Also, you may need to clarify certain school practices, such as participating in school events and fund-raising activities.

A Generational Divide? Millennial vs. Baby Boomer Parents

In April 2016, the U.S. Census Bureau released new numbers estimating that Millennials had surpassed Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living generation. Millennials, born after 1980, now number 75.4 million, compared with 74.9 million Baby Boomers (born from 1946 to 1964).
This means that soon the vast majority of current and prospective parents will be Millennials. Although it’s still early, experts see behavioral trends that differentiate Millennials from previous generations and may shape the way they select a school for their children. Below are some characteristics of Millennials:
  • Are used to 24/7 interactions, where “better, faster, cheaper, and customized” are the norms.
  • Most racially diverse generation in American history: 43 percent of Millennial adults are non-white, the highest share of any generation
  • Most educated generation to date. However, many Millennials struggle with student debt.
  • Feel pressure to be great parents: 80 percent of Millennial mothers believe that it’s important to be “the perfect mom,” compared with about 70 percent of Gen X mothers. Also, 64 percent of mothers across age groups said that they believe parenting is more competitive today than it used to be, Time magazine reported.
  • Most likely among all generational groups to support school choice (75 percent), in particular charter schools which support is disproportionately high (85 percent), according to American Federation for Children and Beck Research.
  • Twice as likely as Boomers to say they most often look for instruction from Google and for advice from their social media networks (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and apps), according to Time.
  • More pragmatic as consumers. Before having children, 57 percent of their buying decisions are based on quality; after parenthood, this number is just above 50 percent, says MillennialMarketing.com.
These characteristics suggest that Millennial parents may be looking at a different type of school and education for their children — an option sufficiently innovative to prepare their children for an unknown future.

How Your School Can Respond to These Trends

Today, more than ever, it is vital to monitor the demographics of your school population and how they compare to those of your area. You can use the NAIS Demographic Center and DASL to create comparison reports. Use these questions as a guide:
  • What are the student population trends in the zip codes where you draw your students?
  • How is the racial/ethnic makeup of your pool of prospective families changing?
  • What are the projections of your student population in the next five years?
  • Is it time to seek out new markets to find students?
If your school is located in an area with an influx of newcomers, develop an understanding of the educational expectations of the new community members and a plan to reach out to them. Evaluate the channels you use for attracting, recruiting, and communicating with parents. Identify areas that may need fine-tuning. Do not assume that parents are familiar with the admission process and giving practices. Be transparent about the application process, and clearly explain the role of giving at your school.
When surveying parents, identify the key aspects, programs, and services that attract them to your school and ask how you are performing on each. Evaluate your strengths and areas for improvement. Understand how your school’s offerings fare against those of other types of schools in your market.
In the case of Millennial parents, your parent surveys can reveal how they differ from other generations of parents at your school. Your “coffee and chat” session may help you keep abreast of their needs and wants. You can also assess your communication channels to make sure they still fit their preferences or are the most effective ways to reach them. Consider ways to show them the value of the student experience at your school versus other options.
When it comes to planning for demographic shifts, some schools are out in front. On my children’s first day of school, for example, I caught a moment alone with the chair of the finance committee who told me that the school’s enrollment and finance committees had started discussing the school’s demographic trends and their impact on admission and finance. I was glad to hear they were already in back-to-school mode!

How to Deliver an Effective Presentation: Lessons from a Middle School Speech Contest

“Hi, my name is Beckett. You must be Mr. Selover.” He looked me in the eye and held out his hand for a firm handshake. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

As a frequent public speaker, I had been invited by a local charter school to judge a speech contest among their younger students. The school is outside of downtown Orlando, under some shady old-growth trees, with a well-worn parking lot and an unprepossessing entrance. Front door locked, with no attendant. I escaped the Florida sun through a side door and wandered the cool, dark, semi-deserted hallways, unsure of where to go… until I found a little knot of students, the boys in jackets and ties and the girls in dresses. Beckett, who looked to be about 12, saw me first, and stepped forward. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, too,” I said. The ice broken, the others introduced themselves. If you’re reading this, you’re likely an educator who has been surrounded by a crowd of preteens, so you know what that’s like. Their excitement carried me down the hall and into the contest room on a wave of enthusiasm. Speech contest: on.
I’ve been to hundreds of corporate meetings, seminars, and other events over the years. I’ve met and worked with dozens of big-name speakers and high-profile executives. And you’d be surprised at how few of them know to do what Beckett did — reach out, say hello, get things started. We’re all nervous with each other, a little bit shy, even people of great accomplishment. So a greeting, with some energy and a desire to connect behind it, means more than people realize. So does dressing up a little bit. What these students knew, and many adults don’t, is that a speech is an occasion. When you’re up in front of people, taking their time and asking for their attention, you owe it to them to step up and give your best.

The Genius in the Format

The administrator who had invited me to be a judge had found me by looking online. A few years ago, I was fortunate to be asked to speak at the local TED conference, where I talked about a worldwide public speaking series called PechaKucha Night (pronounced puh-CHAW kuh-SHAW). I organize the Orlando version of this event several times a year, not only hosting but coaching the speakers before their performances. PechaKucha is a bit like TED, but on steroids: Each speaker uses PowerPoint, but only 20 slides. The slides run automatically on the computer for 20 seconds each, and the presenter has no control. Unable to pause, go back, digress, or indulge in any of the other bad habits that make an audience squirm, they are onstage for precisely six minutes and 40 seconds, after which they cede to the next speaker.
PechaKucha (a Japanese word that roughly translates as “chatter” or “chitchat”) was invented by architects Mark Dytham and Astrid Klein about 12 years ago. From a small venue in Tokyo where they work and host events, it quickly spread around the world — PechaKucha Nights are now held in about 900 cities.
These nights are a chance to hear a variety of local speakers on any number of fascinating topics, but the real genius is in the format. With only 20 slides, and only about 50 words sayable in 20 seconds, the presenter is forced to not only be brief but also to be concise. It makes a huge difference. The compression of thought and ideas into this tight space causes the same explosion of meaning that’s found in haiku. As Dytham put it once, after all that cutting and pruning “all that’s left in people’s presentations is the poetry.” So a PechaKucha Night has one distinct advantage over any other speaking event, including TED: None of the presentations are boring. Or to put it more precisely, none of them give you that terrible feeling of trudging through a desert of bullet points with no horizon in sight.

The Elements of a Captivating Speech

Back at the speech contest, we were at a more traditional speaking event. There were 15 contestants, all speaking on the topic of the world’s dwindling supply of water and what to do about it. This was (pardon me for saying) a typical academic mistake. You’re putting a student at a terrible disadvantage with a topic like this, something requiring not just expertise that’s way beyond them but a highly developed ability to package that knowledge in a way that resonates with an audience.
I’ve actually had speakers at my events talk about the world’s supply of water, and there is no drier topic. A fair number of the students did what you’d expect — they went to Wikipedia and found a bunch of facts. This, too, is something many adults are guilty of doing. Many people view communication as a conveyor belt: Put a pile of facts on one end and send it off to the audience. But facts are not enough. You need to have a point of view that the facts are in support of, and more than that, you need to convey passion and purpose behind that point of view.
Yet several of the students gave excellent speeches despite the fairly deadly topic they’d been saddled with. During their presentations, they:
  • talked about water in their own lives;
  • gave details about their families and their neighborhoods;
  • shared their feelings and experiences;
  • used the subject as a starting place for a broader discussion;
  • structured their talks with a clear beginning, middle and ending; and
  • made sure that both the start and the finish were dramatic and interesting.
The beauty of a well-done speech is that it doesn’t have to be on a timer. In fact, you’re unaware of the time passing and it’s over too soon. That’s how it was for our three winners, Karmelyn, Cortez and — you guessed it — my friend Beckett, who came in a strong third. Each of them gave the audience a clear sense of themselves and their sensibilities. I share this advice with the speakers I coach: People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.
After the contest, the students and I talked about how all of the above elements make a good presentation. We also discussed the other lessons PechaKucha teaches: Focus on your topic, have a clear goal (what you want the audience to know, to feel, or to do), and organize the presentation clearly around that goal. All good lessons. But when I think back on it, the most memorable lesson of the day was the one I relearned from Beckett. Step forward, hold your hand out, look somebody in the eye. Don’t make a speech — make a connection.
Eddie Selover is a marketing communications professional, a life coach, and an award-winning public speaker.