From the Head of School

By now, I hope you have received (and perhaps already even perused!) Engagement and Evolution: A Strategic Framework, 2018-2019, which will guide Northwest’s decision-making about all aspects of the school—our program, the student experience, campus expansion, faculty growth and professional development, enrollment, and much more—over the next several years. The result of hundreds of hours of work by a dedicated Task Force of 16 (eight faculty and eight trustees), and literally thousands of sources of input, including surveys, focus groups, interviews, and demographic research, that touched every one of the school’s constituencies, it is a thoughtful, elegant, and inspiring document that we believe captures both the essence of the school now and the directions we hope to travel together.

We chose as the Framework’s visual expression the camera lens, a powerful metaphor that implies a capacity for focusing broadly, at a distance, and close-up, and that symbolizes the complementary disciplines of art, science, and technology. Unlike more traditional strategic plans, our Framework is not simply a to-do list, but a holistic way of thinking about the school’s identity, its values, and its evolution. Comprised of four guiding Principles, a handful of Distinctions (the unique qualities and programs that distinguish Northwest from our peers), and a half-dozen Directions (the key areas on which we expect to focus), it will enable us to better achieve our vision, support our mission, and leverage our many strengths.

Much of the Framework’s success will hinge on our ability to live up to one of the four principles, “Agile Mindset: We evolve to meet the changing demands of a complex world.” In the body of the Framework, we elaborate on this idea:

Guided by the example of Northwest’s founders, we thoughtfully seek to balance respect for tradition with the curiosity, creativity, and courage necessary to innovate. By remaining true to our mission and values, we are able to respond in a timely way to contemporary challenges and meaningful opportunities, while avoiding the tendency to overreact to trends and short-term threats.

This requires that we keep an open mind, listen thoughtfully, take care to discern values (which ought to be immutable) from practices (which we should adapt to reflect the times, changing student needs, technological innovations, etc.), and be willing to experiment with new approaches to teaching and learning.

Examples of a thriving agile mindset abound on campus. In the Fall 2018 issue of The Magazine, you will read about one of them, “Summits,” the two-week immersive experience that debuted at the end of second trimester last spring. Interdisciplinary, experiential, mostly team-taught, and frequently with a social justice angle, they gave students and faculty an opportunity to explore interests outside of our regular program and, often, beyond the comfortable confines of The House. Elsewhere, we have shared news about The Virtual Orchestra Project, our burgeoning Farm and Garden, our novel approach to student health and wellness, and many other exciting initiatives.

We look forward to sharing more such examples in the coming months, as we prioritize and begin our efforts to realize the dozens of desired outcomes suggested by the Framework’s Directions. In the meantime, I welcome your feedback on Engagement and Evolution and invite you to support our efforts to nurture young adults who, in the words of our mission statement—which sits, symbolically, at the center of the Framework—will leave Northwest with a commitment “to think and act with integrity, believing they have a positive impact on the world.”

Best wishes,

Mike McGill
Head of School