Sandy Spring Friends School Annual Reports
The text of recently received Annual Reports are below, with the most recently received at the top and older reports below. To jump to a particular report, simply click the year listed below.
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Sandy Spring Friends School strives to occupy a niche among independent schools in DC/MD/VA by being a welcoming, inclusive, respectful school community for its students and their families. We will be a school that values every student regardless of the language they speak at home, the religion that they practice, their color, gender or background. We also seek to be a challenging, encouraging, and exciting school where every student finds a way to reach beyond what they find to be comfortable to achieve academic, creative, artistic, and athletic experiences that will give them new understandings, deeper connections and a love of ideas.
We compete to be kind, to find ways to perform service in our community and for our neighbors, to learn about and appreciate the traditions that families not our own love and perpetuate. We also compete to be our best selves; we do this by trying our best, showing grit, having an attitude, taking our studies seriously and being proud of our school.
There is a balance to be found where we are welcoming, inclusive, humble and, at the same time, proud of what we can accomplish, how we support each other, how well we write, debate, solve problems, and work together. There is room for improvement in all that we do because, happily, this is the time before our golden age where we are optimistic not because we have arrived but because of the trajectory that we are on.
We wish to be the school where would want to go, where we would want to send our children and grandchildren and where we would want other people’s children to find us and have a transformational experience. We recognize that there is no magic formula, no substitute for hard work born from serious questioning, serious reflection, serious action. We are building the school we want to be a brick a day, some days two, some days none. But we are building; we are undeterred and we are delighted that clearly illuminated in front of us, as well as behind us, are the guide rails that were forged by the early Quakers who first arrived on this continent on a ship called “The Welcome” with simple instructions passed from George Fox to William Penn: “Tend the Garden in your Heart and by Walking in the Light your Vines and Lilies will thrive”.
We have some specific goals that are important for our sustainability.
We want to be affordable to as many families as possible; therefore, we want to limit tuition increases to CPI.
We have stated in writing our goal to compensate teachers at the 75th percentile of NAIS mid-Atlantic schools. In the past few years we have gone from 50th to about 66th. We have more wood to chop but we will get there.
We must maintain our campus so that it is safe day and night, reflects our value of simplicity and truly is a laboratory for learning. We do not defer maintenance.
We have a mission statement and brand pillars that describe us at our best. We are determined to deliver on these promises as individuals and as a collective.
We are committed to develop professionally; particularly through an improved understanding of how the mind/brain works and how children learn.
We want to raise an endowment through future campaigns and will do so if we deserve to be the destination for gifts from alumni and others such that, in ten years, our endowment is at least $20 million.
We should operate at the size that is optimal for us balancing financial needs with a capacity to develop the strongest learning community possible. We are exploring what that number is but it seems that we are getting close; certainly within 90-95%.
Following the completion of the new Upper School, our next priority is to expand the Meeting House. Decisions regarding repurposing other spaces on campus will be made in a timely way.
So I described a vision of an extraordinarily welcoming Quaker school that meets students where they are (the late bloomers and the precocious ones alike) such that we all feel that we belong and find no contradiction in also wanting students to strive and to experience more than they thought possible. I then sketched out some of the things that we have been working on and that I think are important for us to do in order to deliver on the Sandy Spring promise.
Now, let’s dive a little deeper into what we have learned over the past few months.
One of the lovely buildings on our campus is also the oldest building on our campus. The old folks in Sandy Spring call it the Ashton Meeting House because that it is where it was built about one hundred years before it was moved here and became our Meeting House. And, as everyone here knows, it is where we go for Meeting for Worship; to sit quietly, expectedly, patiently, hopefully to experience a stillness that can lead us to a deeper understanding.
The early Quakers called these places Meeting Houses; the Quakers had churches too, but the church was not a building, it was the people.
When the coronavirus came here and we stopped gathering together at 16923 Norwood Road, we did that so that we could all be safe since the virus is contagious. When things are disrupted, turned upside down, often, it becomes a time when we can learn a lot about ourselves and what is important. What have we learned? We now understand that “school” is not the noun we thought it was. It is not a building or even a place. When we stopped coming to school, we had to reinvent what school means.
It was a little stressful. And the grownups didn’t always agree; which, did you know, is a good thing because it made us think and caused us to consider ideas that we thought we understood in new ways and we also had to consider other ideas which we had never really thought we needed to consider before.
So we put school back together again and it stopped being a place, there were no buses, no car pool line, no bells, no café, no homeroom, no Moore Hall. And since there were none of these things, the teachers had to learn to teach in new ways and the students had to learn to learn in new ways and the whole idea of going to a Friends school was put to the test.
So it turns out that just like the early Quakers figured out that the church is the people not the building; we have figured out that school is not a place or, perhaps, not just a place. School happens when we care for each other, listen to each other, see the light within each other, teach each other, learn from each other. When we find our great natural talent and share it with joy and humility and recognize the great natural talent in others and share in it with joy and humility. School is our rec room, our driveway, our kitchen, our bedroom and where we plug in our device. School is where we go to laugh and cry and, sometimes, throw a pity party before getting up, dusting ourselves off and getting done what needs to get done.
School is our community where we go because it is where we belong, where you belong.
I am grateful for the opportunity to provide this year’s report to the Baltimore Yearly Meeting.
I want to begin by acknowledging that there are many fields that offer exciting work such as non-violent conflict resolution, understanding our climate and healing the natural world, growing nutritious food, harnessing artificial intelligence for good, promoting human rights; the list goes on and on. Nonetheless, for me, topping the list of interesting things to be thinking about is, what should we be teaching our children, what do we want them to be learning, how do we teach them, how do we make it sticky, how do we know it’s contributing to our children growing up to be happy, productive and able to make the world better than the one we have brought them into?
At Sandy Spring Friends School, we now have a pre-school program for 3 year old’s; which means that some of the kids in the car pool line will graduate in 2033. A couple generations ago, say, my Mom’s generation when she was a girl, folks still used buggy whips and women didn’t vote. When I was a boy, we had a really heavy telephone attached to the wall. It was analog and, for all intents and purposes, you were assigned one by the phone company and they really didn’t want you to ever need another. Every new generation has to be prepared for a future that is hard to predict. But who is good at predicting the future of education? This is not a trick question. It’s the Quakers. Consider what we have been doing since 1689 when the first Friends schools were started and, by the way, those first two are still going strong. William Penn’s Charter School, one of the first schools in Philadelphia, had three themes that are still at the core of what we do. First; the conviction that there is that of God within all people. Everything we do is built on this foundation. The genius of Quakerism is that our experience of the Light is not done in isolation. We practice silence, waiting, patience, expectation, together. And, through the silence and through the messages that are inspired within the silence, we connect with the Light within ourselves and the Light within those who sit among us and, even more mystically, those who are not present. Second; because the Light reveals truth, our understanding of ourselves, nature, the world we live in is continually being revealed to us. Occasionally this may occur in dramatic fashion (St Paul was knocked off his horse); but we Quakers believe that our understanding grows through civic engagement, by applying the scientific method, observation, debate, by being open to being wrong, having a touch of humility and by having a respect for the power of words, of language rooted in integrity, in plain speaking, and, of course, for deeds.
So we built our schools around these notions and 325 years later we do a lot that is different but, mostly, we try to do a lot that is the same.
What our experience tells us is supported by the data generated by social scientists. Children learn best when they feel connected. To their teachers, their classmates, their teammates, their grandparents, in first day school and at camp. At Sandy Spring Friends School, we do this through Meeting for Worship, through the arts, through science and by reading epic poems. We weave, throw, belt out show tunes, go on trips, take risks and try like the dickens to keep perspective. We challenge students and, in turn, are challenged back.
This past year, our enrollment was at an all time high. Our boarding program includes students from 15 countries. We have about 60 Quaker kids at school; we would like more, but we have enough to have a critical mass of light and love. Our financial condition is strong. We continue to keep tuition increases at or around CPI; approximately 40% of our students receive financial aid and the diversity of our student body is the envy of our peers. Our kids are going to great colleges and universities. We are going to build a new Upper School which we expect to occupy Spring 2020.
Thank you for all of your support. We wouldn’t be here without you.
Tom Gibian, Head of School
No report received.
Sandy Spring Friends School completed its fifty-fifth year by graduating its largest senior class in memory. While experiencing the same “market pressures” as all independent schools, colleges, and universities, SSFS continues to thrive as a result of a committed faculty and staff, a supportive community, diverse and talented students, and the guidance of a skilled Board of Trustees.
The School is guided by the Friends testimonies and the 300+ year tradition of Quaker education. SSFS identifies these five “pillars” that distinguish its unique form of education:
- Inquiry-based approach to teaching and learning
- Experiential learning via projects and programs
- Teachers as life mentors
- The campus as a classroom and outdoor laboratory
- An intentional commitment to community as a catalyst for growth
These elements, worded as they are, seek to translate a spirit-based learning inspiration into language for a culturally, socio-economically, religiously, and intellectually diverse community of students and families.
Some highlights from the past school year are noted:
- The conclusion of successful facilities sharing with Sandy Spring Monthly Meeting as they wrapped up a long-term construction project.
- A 2016-2017 enrollment that topped 600 students, with some grade levels now at capacity. This is the largest enrollment in the School’s history and close to our target maximum enrollment.
- The successful addition of a 3-year-old pre-kindergarten program.
- Solidifying design and engineering work for a much-needed and environmentally sound upper school academic building
- Initial design work for an expansion of our campus Meeting House to allow Meeting for Worship in this historic building to remain at the heart of the (now larger) Upper School
- A burgeoning and diverse summer program that will serve over 1500 campers this
- An enlarged and successful school farm operation that provides local produce for the community as was recently featured in Net Assets magazine.
- Expansion of our annual “Earth Stewardship Day” into a day-long, school-wide learning event that melded cultural competence with environmental activism, known as “Our People, Our Planet.”
Meeting for Worship, Continuing Revelation, and seeking that of God in each person remain at the core of student and staff experience, as is the sense that SSFS serves as a change agent in the world. We continue to seek ways to shape a better collective future in a time when that challenge appears more daunting than ever. SSFS continues to seek ways to model civil discourse and converting tensions into sources of creativity and connection. This work, undertaken in partnership with young people maturing in an economically and politically tumultuous world, remains the most important work of all educators.
Visitors to campus are encouraged to stop by the new stone and ceramic mosaic near our front entrance which includes a quote (slightly paraphrased) from George Fox, to the travelers on the ship “Welcome” as it embarked on William Penn’s holy experiment in the New World: “Tend the garden in you heart, and by walking in the Light, your vines and lillies will thrive.”
Sandy Spring Friends School recently completed its fifty fourth year, still deeply committed to helping each student discover the “still small voice” within, committed to being an agent for social justice, seeking ways to fulfill our mission as a Quaker school and community, and guided by the Testimonies.
We continue to live within creative tensions among the realities of being a tuition driven institution, a Friends community, and a student/parent community that celebrates the diverse cultural and faith traditions of our students, staff, and parents. SSFS continues to strive to accomplish goals that at times may seem to be in conflict; to offer the highest quality environment for educating young people, to keep the school financially accessible for families across the socioeconomic spectrum, to continue to grow the school’s enrollment, to maintain the intimacy of close learning relationships between students and teachers, and to safeguard the School’s long-term stability.
The School’s 2012 Strategic Plan identified these four broad goals:
- Advance our educational program to meet 21st century needs and skills
- Maintain and strengthen our Quaker identity and values
- Promote and support excellent teaching
- Adopt a sustainable business model supported by a culture of philanthropy.
These goals continue to guide the work of the School. Toward these ends, this report highlights the following ongoing efforts:
- Continued nurturing of the relationship between Sandy Spring Monthly Meeting and the School
- An increased effort to, as much as possible, be a data driven institution that has expanded it use of analysis tools to inform financial, academic, and staffing decisions
- An increased emphasis on professional development in order to support the highest quality teaching
- Design and fundraising efforts in anticipation of the construction of an Upper School academic facility that is equal to the quality of the academic program.
- Ongoing efforts to strengthen our individual and institutional cultural competence, making SSFS a school that is welcoming and nurturing for all, independent of anyone’s culture, faith, gender identity or preference, relationship status, age, sex, or other elements of personal identity
- Continued efforts to control cost increases, develop philanthropic support, and seek alternative sources of revenue in order to minimize pressure on tuition increases.
As this report is being written, in July 2016, we are confronted by ongoing tensions, violence, and political divisiveness that seek to rend the fabric of our society. SSFS continues to believe that educating children and young adults in an environment that values diversity and individual expression, that advocates for constructive engagement, and that provides positive academic, creative, and physical challenges for its students will help bend the arc of history towards justice and peace.
Tom Gibian (Sandy Spring), Head of School
Report of Lou Harrington (Sandy Spring), BYM Board Representative
I am now entering my fifth year as one of your representatives to the Sandy Spring Friends School Board.
I have tried to be faithful in my attendance and attentive to the schools business.
When I first arrived on the Board the school had some enrollment concerns which have now been abated. The Upper School is fully enrolled. The school has added a 3 year old program and is on track in the planning for a new Upper School. Preuss Field is being upgraded. The school is leasing about 10 acres of farmland from the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission and will attempt to grow much of the food for the school through the farm operation. The students will be significantly involved in this endeavor. The summer camp program is going very well.
As with most private schools the issue of affordability is always an issue. How can we offer a quality Quaker-based education to the community and Quakers at a fee that they can afford? The School is providing significant financial aid to many of its students, so my advice to interested parents is to apply for financial aid on a timely basis and give the school the opportunity to serve your child or grandchild. It could be one of the most significant decisions that you can make for him/her.
We are blessed to have Tom Gibian as our Head of School. He is smart, articulate, enthusiastic and I believe, a gifted administrator. He is well versed in Quaker practices which serve to set the tone for the school.
I am pleased to report that the school appears to be in a very good place at this time and the future looks bright.
On June 14, 2014 Sandy Spring Friends School held its 52nd graduation. Seniors and their families, friends, teachers and supporters gathered outdoors under blue skies in front of the old Ashton Meeting House, which now resides at the center of our campus, for Meeting for Worship and graduation ceremonies.
Sandy Spring Friends School operates under the care of both the Baltimore Yearly Meeting and Sandy Spring Monthly Meeting. It is a Pre-K through 12th grade college preparatory independent school with a 5- and 7-day boarding option in the Upper School.
This year, Sandy Spring Friends School enrolled 535 students, approximately 10% of whom are Quakers. We value diversity: over 40% of us are students of color. We seek economic diversity through a generous financial aid program, which has been supported for decades by the Sandy Spring Monthly Meeting. We consider it a priority to enroll Quaker kids and enroll Quaker faculty.
While we place great value in our traditions, we also feel the responsibility to discern how Way Opens for educating our children in the 21st Century. A Sandy Spring Friends School education is global, technology-enabled and experiential. Students can take Mandarin, participate in model UN, star in musicals, make robots, compete on the pitch, travel abroad, volunteer, become interns. The list goes on and on.
One thing Sandy Spring students do is learn to sit quietly in Meeting for Worship, which is part of the weekly schedule for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. Our community recognizes the importance of listening to each other, respecting differences, resolving conflicts peacefully, placing truth over winning arguments.
As Sandy Spring Friends School begins our fifty-second year, we continue to seek ways to fulfill our mission as a Quaker school and community, guided by the Testimonies and seeking to recognize that of God in each student. As an independent, religiously-affiliated school, SSFS lives in a creative tension among the realities of being a tuition-driven (i.e. market-driven) institution, a spiritual community grounded in the Friends testimonies, and a student/parent population that comes to SSFS from many faith traditions. SSFS is an outstanding school with a vibrant, dynamic community, challenged by national economic pressures on the cost of education, a lackluster economy, a competitive independent school landscape, and an ongoing desire to keep a Friends education affordable for students from all socio-economic segments of our greater community.
The School and its Board of Trustees finalized a new strategic plan in the spring of 2012. This plan focuses on four broad goals. These strategic areas illuminate our work at all levels of the School:
Advance our educational program to meet 21st century needs and skills
Maintain and strengthen our Quaker identity and values
Promote and support excellent teaching
Adopt a sustainable business model supported by a culture of philanthropy.
Much work at the School has gone into understanding and articulating our strengths and appeal to prospective families. Parents in the Washington, DC area have many quality choices for educating their children, and yet we continue to believe that SSFS provides a unique and special environment for children. We offer an academic and supportive environment in which students can explore, create, grow, and discover the ways that they will make a difference in the world. Our boarding program, and its ability to draw students from around the globe, provides all students a unique preparation for a world that is increasingly multicultural and requires a global understanding. We believe that a Friends education is needed to meet the world’s challenges, today more than ever. The challenge for us is to concisely communicate the richness and nuance of a SSFS education, amid an information stream that threatens to overwhelm parents seeking the right educational environment for their child.
Our graduates enter work and higher education environments that are increasingly facilitated by communications technology of all kinds. Wireless devices, smart phones, internet-based resources, and tablet computers are rapidly becoming the tools of colleges, universities, professional practices, and work environments. SSFS seeks to provide students not only practical skills with these technologies, but also a moral compass to use these technologies creatively, ethically, as change agents, and in harmony with their world. To this end, SSFS has become a “wireless” campus and developed a pilot program for classroom use of iPads for the 2012-2013 school year, and is expanding that effort for 2013-2014.
The School has reached a point where its original classroom building, Moore Hall, no longer meets the educational needs of the Upper School (high school). Conversations are underway to design an upper school facility that will support the academic needs of the School for the foreseeable future. The School and its Board are committed to developing facilities that meet a very high standard for energy use and other environmental impacts while remaining within the School’s financial means. More broadly, the School seeks to create a facility that affirms and reflects the full spectrum of the School’s values and culture.
The School seeks renewable and sustainable practices in a number of ways. Fall of 2012 brought completion of a solar photovoltaic facility that meets a substantial percentage of the School’s electricity needs in a sustainable, zero-emissions way. The School has expanded its farm program, with approximately two acres now under organic cultivation by a professional farmer. We are nearing the end of the second season of local food production for our dining hall and delivering surplus produce to local markets. The School has received formal recognition from Montgomery County for its waste reduction and composting programs, and we have systematically increased the efficiency of HVAC and lighting systems across campus.
Meeting for Worship continues to be an anchor for students and staff at all grade levels. Students participate in meeting at least once per week and often twice per week. Moments of silence continue to be a common SSFS practice for starting meetings and classes. Quaker history and the Friends testimonies are part of our curriculum, both formally and informally, within the context of a multi-faith community. Most any student on campus would be able to describe the Quaker SPICES (Service, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, Stewardship). The School’s Motto, “Let your lives speak,” expresses a persistent and pervasive theme of a Sandy Spring education - helping students find their voice as agents for social justice and global peace. Students express their understanding of what it means to them to be a part of a Quaker school in a video produced during the 2012-2013 academic year and available online at www.ssfs.org/about/quaker-education/quaker_video/.
The School and Sandy Spring Monthly Meeting have renewed their commitment to a mutually supportive relationship grounded in shared goals and spirit-led inquiry. The School benefits greatly from its connection to SSMM and from the efforts of Board members appointed by SSMM and BYM. These efforts are aided by interconnections among faculty members and families that are members of the Meeting, and Head of School Tom Gibian who grew up in Sandy Spring and remains an active Friend. Relationships are a journey, not an end, and so the common journey of our cluster of Friends organizations continues to mature.
As your representatives from the Yearly Meeting to the Sandy Spring Friends School Board we are well aware of our responsibilities to the Yearly Meeting and the wider Quaker community. We will continue in our efforts to assist the school and its leadership as it strives to accomplish our highest Quaker ideals.
Louis Harrington (Sandy Spring),
Jeanne-Marie Duval Pierrelouis (Sandy Spring),
and Cynthia Terrell (Bethesda), BYM Board Representatives
No report received.