Shaping the Present, Shaping the Future: Grounding Our Work in St. Patrick's Values

Posted September 30, 2005

One of the exciting initiatives during the 2004-2005 school year was the wide-ranging survey entitled Shaping the Future . . . A Dialogue about St. Patrick’s. Conducted across the spring,  face-to-face and on-line, by a remarkable team of parent volunteers, the survey attracted the participation of 329 current and past parents, members of the faculty and administration, parishioners, and friends of the Day School. Analysis of the results continued in the summer, as the Board of Trustees stayed on course to discuss the findings early in the new school year and to report them to the broader St. Patrick’s community.

            I write to you in advance of a completed analysis of, and preparation of a report to you on, the results of the Shaping the Future survey. But those results do reveal strong and positive support for the current Day School program, as well as for the possible extension of our program through high school. For the moment, though, I’d like to focus on just one particular set of responses in that 30-question survey, sparked by a question that is meant to look forward—cast as it is in a query about the character of a high school—but that at the same time directs our attention to what the Day School has strived to achieve across the half century of its existence.

            Recognizing a high school cannot place equal weight on each of the following, the query begins, if St. Patrick’s builds a high school, please tell me how important you would rate each of the following qualities on a 0 to 10 scale.

            I’d like to direct your attention to the second highest-rated response to that question: Commitment to St. Patrick’s Values. Survey participants overall identified Commitment to St. Patrick’s Values as either Most Important (10) or Very Important (9) in 74 per cent of their responses. Only one other category—High Academic Standards—attracted a stronger response, with Most Important and Very Important totaling 80 per cent.

            Looked at another way in the follow-up question—Which of the above qualities . . . would be the top three qualities when considering a high school at St. Patrick’s?—High Academic Standards and Commitment to St. Patrick’s Values appear in that one-two order as the top two qualities to consider. As the third top quality, Commitment to St. Patrick’s Values moves into the first position, and another high-ranking category—Commitment to a Socially and Racially Diverse Student Population—moves into the second position. (High Academic Standards, already generally ranked as the most or second-most important quality, recedes somewhat in this third category.)

            Hopefully this narrow look at some of the survey results has whetted your appetite for the full set of results. But I have teased out the importance of what Shaping the Future calls “St. Patrick’s values” from this wealth of survey data because of the importance of those values in what I’d call, instead, Shaping the Present.

            One of the attractions of a category like Commitment to St. Patrick’s Values is that respondents are welcome to read into it what they will, something that Election Day exit polls have amply demonstrated with respect to values categories. Nonetheless, I think there is an identifiable set of qualities that comprise what we have come to regard as St. Patrick’s values. Actually, survey participants themselves suggested some of those qualities in responding to an earlier question, using words like character, excellence, respect, nurturance, and community. Of course, they also identify the abiding concern for students' moral and spiritual development and the expression  of that concern in chapel and elsewhere as important components of that set of values.

            Elsewhere (in Setting Compass), we offer what we call the fundamental values underpinning the Day School, which intersect nicely with those offered by survey participants. Certainly moral and spiritual growth leads that list, followed by actively seeking out and developing a range of gifts and talents in our students; promoting continual growth and change not only in our students but in our faculty and staff; welcoming children and families, faculty and staff who demonstrate the range of differences that enrich humanity; and encouraging grateful hearts and habits of service in our students. One other fundamental value in that list—what we call “Nurture in Rigor, Rigor  in  Nurture”—actually links those two top-scoring survey categories, High Academic Standards and Commitment to St. Patrick’s Values. In Setting Compass, we say, “We recognize that we need not choose between being a warm, nurturing, joyful place—where children see that they are known, respected, and loved—and one that sets challenging standards for [their] academic work, for their sense of responsibility, and for their behavior.” I hope that all of us recognize that we are able to fulfill our commitment to St. Patrick’s values only hand-in-hand with high academic standards—indeed, that high academic standards  and expectations for cognitive growth are, themselves, part of those values, even for those of more tender years.   “To choose [nurture over rigor or rigor over nurture] . . . suggests an impoverished understanding of how one nurtures children, of what truly brings them a sense of joy and self-worth,” we say in Setting Compass.

            Shaping the future remains an exciting prospect for St. Patrick’s Episcopal Day School, which seeks continual growth and development not only in the individuals that make up our community—students, teachers, and parents—but also in the institution itself.  As we engage that task, however, we remain mindful of the necessity of continuing to shape the present for the young people in our midst. We recognize that it is in the present, not in some distant future, that young people make sense of the world around them and their places within that world, even as we prepare them for futures both distant and near. The real strengths of the Day School community include an identifiable set of core values that we accept as St. Patrick’s values, general agreement regarding their importance, and a determination to promote those values here and now.

            In looking back on the 2004-2005 school year, the St. Patrick’s community can take satisfaction in both its efforts and accomplishments in continuing to shape and sustain the core values that define our shared enterprise. I suppose that “general agreement” about anything might suggest "taking for granted,” but the active and creative manner in which we work—together—to sustain St. Patrick’s values enables us to keep those core elements fresh and alive, to have them continuing to shape the growth of our young people—your sons and daughters, your nieces and nephews, your grandsons and granddaughters, your friends—here in the present. We are ever grateful for your joining us in that process, for the support, generosity, good sense, and good humor that characterize your close participation.

            One last note as we look back on the 2004-2005 school year: As the year drew to a close, the Day School Board of Trustees and the Church Vestry were wrapping up the approvals necessary for St. Patrick’s acceptance of a gift of land from the Friends of St. Patrick’s Episcopal Day School, LLC, a group of parents who had bought the 17-acre property at 1801 Foxhall Road, NW, in order to donate a portion to the Day School. In July, St. Patrick’s ownership of approximately eight acres of that beautiful piece of property became a reality.

            Ever intent on shaping the present for the young people who breathe life into this place each day, St. Patrick’s Episcopal Day School will continue to look toward shaping the future, as well, for those children and young adults, for their families, and for all those who value the kind of education we provide—characterized by high academic standards and what we recognize as St. Patrick’s values. This wonderfully generous gift of land from the Friends of St. Patrick’s—a gesture unparalleled in the history of the institution—will not only enable us to shape that future in incredibly exciting ways but should make clear to all how serious we are about assuming that awesome challenge.

            Thanks for taking up the challenge with us.

Peter A. Barrett

Head of School

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