The First Trimester: Looking Back, Looking Ahead 

Remarkably, last week marked the end of the first trimester here at Carolina Day. Since returning to campus in August, our school has been reintroducing the abundance of activities that make CDS a special community—our Wildcats can now fully enjoy a robust offering of Carolina Day experiences, courses and electives, clubs and after school enrichment opportunities, the return of musicals and performing arts in all divisions, vibrant in-person student body meetings with everyone present and participating, student retreats, college and grade level trips, school parties and dances, and a wealth of athletic opportunities, to name just a few.  

Today, I am so pleased to be writing to update you, our CDS community, on a few specific areas of accomplishment this trimester, and to extend my gratitude for the strong community partnership that makes Carolina Day a place of excellence for our valued students, with whom we are privileged to be entrusted.  

Delivering on our Promise 

Our school’s primary purpose is to educate the current generation of students to the best of its ability. I take this responsibility very seriously and all of us in leadership have been assiduously planning for the school’s future. In addition, teaching and administrative staff are attentively working towards providing students the best education and experience possible.

The Board of Trustees are also focused on their role in ensuring the long-term success and strategic position of Carolina Day School. In September, all Trustees participated in a two-day retreat, the theme of which was “Thinking Again,” fashioned after Adam Grant’s best-seller, Think Again.  As we came out of Covid, we needed to take time to reflect on all that we’ve accomplished under extraordinary circumstances and set a cadence for the future. Some of the highlights of our September Board Retreat include:

  • A review of the school’s financial performance, where we celebrated the completion of a three-year goal to balance the school operating budget a full year ahead of schedule. Reversing a multi-year operating deficit in just two years was a huge success—one that allows CDS to have more confidence and flexibility once again. This success is supported by increased enrollment in every division and strict expense control measures throughout the school, while simultaneously bolstering new and crucial programs in our school. CDS has also hired a search firm to conduct a search for a full-time Chief Financial and Operations Officer, who we anticipate will be hired for the 2023-2024 school year.

  • An overview of last school year’s performance in community engagement and philanthropy, which highlighted our school’s strengths and areas for growth. Among the many strengths was the completion of the year as the most successful year on record for annual charitable giving (excluding prior capital campaign funds). Our community generously raised the bar for the 2021-22 Annual Fund, ending the year with the second highest Annual Fund giving in CDS’s history, and shattered all prior Auction Gala fundraising records by over $100k. In addition, the  numbers of volunteers to the school’s many efforts increased over pre-COVID years, and the return to in-person events saw attendees in record numbers.  

  • Though we exceeded total giving amount goals, parent participation in the Annual Fund continued to benchmark lower than independent day school averages last year, which highlighted an area for improvement. As we track the progress of this year’s Annual Fund, the importance of parent participation cannot be overstated. Thank you to the many who have pledged for this year. (If you have not yet done so, please consider making a gift or pledge today.) 

  • Academic benchmarking is always important, but never more so than in years that follow significant periods of challenge, like the pandemic. The Board was presented with an in-depth analysis of ERB scores in grades 3–8, which affirmed that CDS teaching methods and our consistent commitment to academic excellence are yielding measurable results. There were a few notable highlights: CDS test scores in grades 3–8 showed that last year, students outperformed national independent school averages in the area of reading comprehension. Students also outperformed national independent schools average in the area of math in two-thirds of these grades.

  • A presentation by CDS’ Curriculum Team Co-Chairs, who shared the School’s three-year One-School plan to evaluate and review the CDS curriculum, instruction and assessment processes in every division.

  • A presentation and analysis of enrollment trends and plans to create and implement a more comprehensive financial aid plan that more completely serves both current and future students and their families.

  • The transformation of the main playing field at Sgro Athletic Complex continues. CDS will have the premier playing field in Western North Carolina, but we’ve experienced a few delays due to weather, supply shortages, and permitting challenges. The field is ready for the laying of turf and installation of lighting, and the project is on track to remain within the Board-approved budget. We look forward to finalizing this project and will keep you informed as we achieve new milestones.

  • A deep philosophical discussion on social, emotional and physical safety and security at Carolina Day School was the final topic for discussion. (Read on for specific updates in these areas.)

Community Wellbeing

One of the great qualities of a small, independent school is that we know our community, and we can quickly—and with great intention and innovation—adapt to meet the most pressing needs of our scholars and their families. Following on last year’s strengthening of our counseling program and mental health presentations for families, we have continued our focus on student wellbeing, adding additional elements to address the social-emotional needs of young people and empower our school community with tools to successfully support children in a complicated and often stressful world. These efforts include, but are not limited to:

  • Stewards of Children faculty professional development in summer (Stewards of Children is a prevention training that teaches adults how to prevent, recognize, and react responsibly to child sexual abuse.)

  • A revamped and highly robust social-emotional learning curriculum to address student healthy relationships and stress management.

  • Digital Citizenship curriculum across all divisions and additional investments in platform monitoring technology to ensure responsible use of our digital spaces.

  • Continued expansion of our Responsive Classroom training and implementation across PK–8 and Key School.

  • Additional systems in grades 5–8, including a binder system, to support student executive functioning skills (modeled after successful systems used by our Key division).

  • Additional layers of fun and school spirit across all divisions—one example is in the Upper School with the introduction of a House system to foster community across grades and allow students and mentor teachers to get to know each other and bond as they compete in house games and competitions, and connect together in meetings and themed gatherings.

  • Our students in the LS, KLS, MS and KMS are mixing together by grades and divisions for social activities. (Recent examples include the LS/KLS Costume Parade and the musical production of Annie, as well as MS/KMS Wednesday electives in Stephens Hall.)

  • In direct response to parent and student feedback, we made enhancements to our school lunch service, partnering with Wholesome Food Services to shorten the “lead-time” to place an order, and to expand the variety of healthy menu items, with more partnering restaurants to come.

Campus Safety and Security

Leadership is continuing to develop a robust strategy and implementation plan as it relates to our safety here on campus. A highly-regarded security assessment firm, Security Risk Management Consultants, LLC, (SRMC) will be coming to do a formal and comprehensive audit of our entire campus on November 14 & 15, in daylight and at night, inclusive of playing fields, here and at the Sgro Athletic Complex. To help inform these efforts, the firm will be asking parents and employees to share their perspective on safety and security in a survey that will be coming to you in mid-November. We will also be offering time slots for parents and CDS employees to drop in to meet with SRMC personnel when they are on campus. We will be sending out finalized details soon. The findings from the audit and community surveys will guide our next steps to prioritize and implement recommendations.

Covid Updates 

With the reopening of campus, and as we welcome a new school nurse, we once again need to reflect upon and evolve our school policy and response as it pertains to COVID-19. Since students at Carolina Day no longer remain in isolated cohorts, and interact frequently with students in other grades and divisions for activities both in and out of the classroom, the school is discontinuing the practice of sending notifications about individual COVID-19 cases. Much like the flu, we will monitor illness in our community and, if the nurse identifies a significant spread of any illness within a group on campus, we will communicate as appropriate, and in a timely manner. Find the updated protocols here.

Spring Calendar Changes

We have two notable changes to our 2022-23 academic calendar:

  • Share the Promise has been moved to Saturday, April 29th. Share the Promise is a biennial community gathering to raise funds for financial aid—more information will be forthcoming as we approach the event.

  • The May teacher workday has been moved to May 8th (from May 1st). 

Please find a revised version of our at-a-glance school calendar at carolinaday.org/calendar. (Wildcats may sign in to My CDS to access the detailed school calendar.)

Expressing deep appreciation for our community

Finally, the most sincere sentiment that I can express at the culmination of the trimester is one of gratitude. Gratitude to the parents for their extraordinary support of the school and faculty. Gratitude to the Parent Association for their magnificent efforts in so many realms of school life. Gratitude to our students for the way they continue to inspire all of us to bring forth our best selves in service of their hopeful promise for the future. Gratitude to the trustees who have worked so hard planning and supporting a newish head of school through many iterations of “what learning looks like” these past few years and planning for “what learning will look like” in the coming years.

But perhaps most of all, I am truly admiring and grateful for the entire faculty, staff, and coaches. The nature of the last several years has taken its toll on those who work in schools, and yet our employees continue to innovate, inspire, and persevere. Please, if you get an opportunity, reach out to a teacher to thank them—it does make a difference.

With grateful appreciation,

Stephanie

Stephanie Whitney

Head of School