Dear SMUS community members,
Happy new year to you all. The start of a new calendar year and term is always a powerful opportunity to reset, take stock, and to set expectations and ambitions for the future. Buoyed by the energy and enthusiasm of returning students who have launched themselves into the frenetic chaos of term, I am pleased to bring you up to date with some reflections on our journey towards 2030 and the work that has been done on our Floreat strategic plan goals.
We are now starting the fourth year of our 10-year strategic plan. Of course, for much of that time we have had to deviate to the necessities of COVID-19. That notwithstanding, I am pleased that we have been able to maintain our broad direction of travel.
In the thorough phase which supported the genesis of the plan, we learned that there is strong support for the foundation of the school as three distinct units: Junior School, Middle School, and Senior School. We have made efforts to deliberately celebrate these individual stages, which, in my view, allows the best possible age-appropriate specialist teaching and makes the school journey for our students both interesting and challenging. Having committed to this structure that makes us almost unique amongst Canadian independent schools, we have deliberately decided to invest in it.
We also decided that bigger is not always better. In this regard, the Board of Governors decided to change from the tactic adopted at the amalgamation of St. Michael’s School and University School in 1971, to continuously expand. We have now set our target at approximately 1,000 students, which in the spirit of quality not quantity, has meant that we have had to cap numbers of new students arriving in the school at key points of entry. We also decided that our 250 boarding students drawn from 25 or more countries around the world, added rich diversity and enormous talent. We are therefore committed to maintaining our boarding population as a unique feature of our school during a stage of education where students should be looking to broaden their range of views and expand their horizons.
As our strategic plan was being unveiled in early 2020, I was conscious of how we use the phrases “committed to excellence” and “outstanding opportunities.” Both have resonance in our Mission and Vision statements. They have informed our thinking and all our decision making. The pursuit of excellence is not easy. It takes time and effort, and it is never cheap.
Although there isn’t time to complete an exhaustive update on all aspects of the Floreat strategic plan, I would like to share with you some key areas where significant progress has been made. A more complete review, assessing progress of each individual aim, will be circulated later this school year.
During our consultation phase, it was abundantly clear that we share the view that any good school should be built on a bedrock of inspiring teaching and curious learning. To this end, we have devoted much time to clarifying our Portrait of a Teacher and Portrait of a Learner documents. These materials identify the standards that we expect to achieve in these important areas. We are also completing the Portrait of a Graduate, which will clearly identify the values, skills, and experiences we would expect of all our graduates. SMUS is a leader amongst CAIS (Canadian Accredited Independent Schools) in devoting resources to professional development. A recent emphasis has been on training around Indigenous education, and boundaries training to ensure that all our students are kept safe. We are committed to focusing on the development of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) over the next few years. This year, we welcomed Christopher Csaky as the Hinton Chair, to support this initiative. We have also recently appointed Chetan Sondagar as our new Chief Information Officer. Chets is already active in advising us on strategic aspects of our information technology, including security.
The University Counseling Department has been revitalized under the leadership of Ruth McGhee. The Crescat Plan is designed to support every student through to courses that will reflect their potential. We are committed to encouraging students to aspire to programs at leading international universities.
Work is underway to identify several significant key performance indicators by which we can monitor our academic development and progress over the next few years.
During the consultation phase, sustainability was identified as a key issue for the future. Students in particular, were committed to an issue that they felt would directly influence the quality of the lived environment during their lifetime and their children’s. In response, the Board established a Sustainability Committee to move this important work forward. An audit of our carbon footprint is being completed, we have benchmarked our efforts via the EcoSchools Canada program attaining a Gold standard, and we are committed to elevating that to the next and highest level: Platinum. We will also demonstrate that commitment through the highest standards of sustainable architecture in new building projects. The vertical farm generated a great deal of salad and much interest across all grades. We are also planning to raise funds to allow us to become a pioneering independent school in the purchase of an electric bus in the not-too-distant future.
The Admissions team was quick to develop an ambitious strategy in support of Floreat 2030. We often say that Admissions is the ‘fundamental’ department at SMUS. On its success depends our ability to achieve all our other aims. The Admissions team have stated that they wish to increase the volume of day applications by 40% over four years. They seem to be well on course to achieve this. We are also intending to reach a point where demand is sufficient to close our boarding lists earlier in the year, to allow more emphasis on onboarding.
Having such healthy demand allows us to identify the students who will flourish best and benefit most, whilst journeying through our school. We are delighted that demand for our school is now at record levels. Continuous enrolment and a new registration system are designed to improve efficiency and to be more convenient for parents.
All our ambitious strategic aims are hubris unless they are achievable. Our Advancement team has been tireless over the years in building community and encouraging a spirit of philanthropy. This year, our plan is entitled The Power of Participation. We are actively encouraging all members of the community to support the school in any way according to their means. Our Journey for Life campaign has been launched and we are currently halfway toward the fundraising target for our first project, the Junior School Annex. We are keen to finish this as swiftly and successfully as possible to move onto other exciting initiatives.
The Annual Fund has always been an important feature of SMUS’s culture of giving. This year we are on course to reach our target of $1.2 million in support of the numerous activities which are not directly covered by fees.
The Board of Governors and Director of Advancement Shara Campsall join me in thanking you all for your support of our Advancement initiatives.
Any institution with a 100-year history of gradual expansion and realistic ambitions to be recognized as a global leader in education cannot progress unless it is built on solid financial foundations. The pandemic reminded us how vulnerable we are to 'black swan events'. As a result, the Board of Governors has committed to increasing the school’s reserves according to benchmarks of best practice, as identified by other leading schools around the world. Our healthy finances will allow us to respond to legitimate requests for financial aid, to support the aims of Floreat, and be fully confident that the school has a strong future, whatever headwinds may arise.
The Vivat Foundation, the school’s endowment to generate funds in support of financial aid, currently sits at approximately $20 million. Our aim is to raise it to $25 million by 2025.
Any school must always be looking to use its facilities and resources as effectively as possible. In this, I applaud the excellent work of Craig Kelley, our Director of External Programs, who has come roaring back after COVID-19 with an expanding range of exciting holiday courses and camps in support of the school’s Mission.
If we genuinely aspire to excellence in the education we provide, it is important that we continue to invest in state-of-the-art facilities to allow inspiring teaching and curious learning which underpins all that we do. Early in 2020, after the launch of Floreat, the Board of Governors decided to move forward with the Junior School Annex Project. The fine silhouette of this $10-million improvement is already taking shape. I attach the latest time-lapse imagery. It is on course to open in September 2023. The extra floor space has allowed us to achieve another of our aims: to open a Junior Kindergarten. Already, demand has exceeded our expectations.
The Board was also quick to commission a Campus Master Plan to set out a vision for construction at the Richmond Road campus, through to 2030 and beyond. Three major projects – a Middle School expansion, a new STEAM Centre, and a heritage project – were identified as priorities.
Already a great deal of background work has been invested in commissioning the Middle School Project. At the same time, resources have been directed to improving the Wenman Pavilion, which is set to be recommissioned at our upcoming Alumni Weekend from April 28-30. In addition, we are aiming to start a five-year process of refurbishing our boarding facilities, designed to ensure that they stay amongst the most attractive in British Columbia.
We are often told that the most used word in the SMUS vocabulary is “community.” It stands to reason, therefore, that a great deal of work has been invested in reinforcing this important area.
One of our explicit aims is to honour our Indigenous connections. In line with national initiatives, our Indigenous learning journey has been gathering momentum. In 2021, we opened the school year with a traditional ceremony to dedicate four Coast Salish Spindle Whorls, beautifully carved by our Indigenous Scholar, Dylan Thomas, to represent our school’s values. As our Indigenous Scholar, Dylan has been able to bring a direct connection between students of all grades, with aspects of our local Indigenous culture. Staff and faculty have undergone Indigenous Awareness Training and the school made an intentional decision to ensure that the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, declared a national holiday in 2021, is an opportunity for intentional learning.
In line with the updated requirements of the BC Government, the First Peoples Principles of Learning are now embedded as an integral part of our curriculum. We are excited that currently a vacancy is being advertised for an Indigenous Liaison. We are keen that this should reach as broad an audience as possible.
EDI (Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion)
It is good to now have the opportunity to report back on two years of significant progress related to our commitment to EDI. Back in 2021, an EDI Working Group was convened to plan and coordinate the establishment of an EDI Advisory Committee, with 16 volunteers representing many sections of our diverse community. We appointed an EDI Guide, Dr. Moussa Magassa, a nationally acclaimed EDI consultant, to plot our course. A series of recommendations were drafted, redrafted, and presented to the Board of Governors for discussion at their retreat held in October 2022. I am delighted to report that these recommendations have now been approved and will be actioned over the coming years. A key recommendation was the appointment of an EDI Coordinator. This appointment is a priority for 2023. A summary of the EDI recommendations that have been approved for action can be downloaded here.
We will aim to report at regular intervals next year in the progress made in implementing the recommendations of the EDI Advisory Committee.
In addition to all the formally recognized areas of diversity, I am personally keen that as an educational institute we should actively encourage diversity of opinion. Across so much of the world, the spectrum of debate is being narrowed. We aim to keep it as broad as possible.
The Floreat strategic plan did not specifically mention the Parents’ Auxiliary. This was because all research showed that it was a shining beacon of best practice across Canada. That being the case, our aim has been to show appreciation and continue to acknowledge the wonderful work that the Parents’ Auxiliary do in support of the school. It is worth mentioning that funds from the Parents’ Auxiliary were immediately released to provide financial aid for those severely impacted through the pandemic, and have provided generous support of our journey of Indigenous reconciliation. We are most grateful.
A great deal of change has been instigated by current and previous Boards of SMUSAA (St. Michaels University School Alumni Association). This extended diaspora of almost 8,000 individuals spread around the world, has taken great strides in becoming even more supportive of the school. Examples of these changes are a reconfigured committee structure, a modernized version of the annual rugby dinner to recognize the achievements of female as well as male players, and a revitalized Alumni Weekend which was hugely appreciated last year. The SMUS Connect platform allows us to stay much more directly in contact, and the monthly alumni newsletter has been redesigned and relaunched. Other projects such as the celebration of ourJubilee year, the refurbishment and opening of the Floreat Lounge, and the publication of 50 Treasures From Our Archives, are all indicative of our commitment to stay connected with our alumni community.
Looking forward, the SMUSAA is pleased to announce the first in the series of annual alumni-sponsored lectures. The first takes place on campus on Friday, February 10, when we welcome Dr. Brian Bird.
We aim to harness the positivity of thousands of alumni who recognize the part that our school played in allowing them to develop leadership skills to contribute to their professions and communities.
One of the main aims of Floreat was that we wished to be a school with an international reach that compares itself with leading schools around the world, not just within British Columbia. To further this aim, we applied for membership of the HMC (The Heads’ Conference). After an inspection in June 2022, it was confirmed that our school was approved for membership of this prestigious international organization. Moving forward, we can share initiatives with other leading schools around the world in Asia, Australia, Europe and the Middle East. We will work on how we can further exploit the advantages of this over the next few years.
Initial research informed us that we had work to do in reviewing and streamlining our communications. As a result, our website was reviewed and relaunched in January 2022. A broad-reaching communications audit was completed last year, resulting in the establishment of a three-year Communications Plan. We are currently seeking a new Director of Communications to provide leadership in moving this important work forward.
I hope that this letter, by referencing examples of just a few of the many areas where a great deal of work has been achieved, gives you some insight of what has been going on behind the scenes. SMUS is ambitious to continue pursuing the aims of Floreat and we are confident that we have made a great start on our journey.
Writing this narrative of the progress of Floreat 2030 feels a little bit like marking our own homework! We can, however, be confident that the most recent external validation in the form of a Provincial Government inspection this fall confirmed the School as ‘outstending’ – a combination of outstanding and extending. We were delighted to receive such positive feedback from professional inspectors.
Our community response to COVID-19 shows that by pulling together and supporting the key values of the school, we can come through crises even stronger and conquer daunting challenges. We are most grateful for your support, pleased with progress so far, and determined to generate further momentum over the next few years.