Report from the Strategic Renewal CommitteeOne year ago, the Board and the Conference put together a committee with a broad mandate – to shepherd a process to move The Hartsbrook School forward. The school has been in a stable place financially and while enrollment fluctuates from year to year it, too, is stable overall. Change has come over time, but a more rapid transition is clearly imminent. Teachers who have been with the school for many years, some since its earliest days, are beginning to think about retirement.  Not only are new teachers, but of necessity, a new culture is coming as well. The spirit that has carried the school for so many years needs to be consciously grasped and carried forward.

The school has grown significantly over its thirty-five years to become a full pre-K through 12 school, with added teachers and administrative staff, and has fostered a strong Board and an able and experienced Faculty Conference. However, many of the habits and structures of the school have not been reexamined for over a decade. This committee has therefore been asked to address overarching questions of how to manage change, how to work strategically and set priorities, and how to shift school culture while staying true to the essential founding impulse of Hartsbrook.

The Strategic Renewal Committee, as it has come to be called, secured participation from two experienced consultants, Annabel Membrillo and Christoph Hinske, who work with the Institute for Strategic Clarity. With their generous donation of time and an anonymous donation to cover their travel expenses, they were able to bring expertise and an outside perspective to our internal process. In the middle of the last school year they hosted conversations with individuals and groups from the various sectors of the school: parents, teachers, founders, staff, board members, donors, and older students.

These conversations revealed a deep sense of purpose at the Hartsbrook School. The articulation of this shared purpose is an on-going process and consists of several parts, but at the highest level it is summarized as a commitment to the development of humanity.  The shared purpose is present in and inspires enormous dedication and commitment on the part of faculty, staff, board, parents and students. This striving has its roots in the depth and breadth of vision expressed by the founders of the school, some of whom, still living in the area, were able to participate in this current process.

Also from these conversations a systemic map of Hartsbrook was created, showing how different activities, states, or “variables” within the school impact other variables. It is an extraordinary experience to see how much is captured in this large map that includes over a hundred variables – such things as time for teacher development, parent engagement, clear organizational policies and procedures, student retention, and a full Waldorf program. The systemic map, the accompanying analysis and the many conversations to come out of it indicate four strategic, high-leverage action pathways within our system essential to bringing increased health and life to the school.

Attention must first and foremost be given to what we call The Governance Pathway — one in which clearer governance structures will lead to better strategic prioritizing, planning, heightened engagement, and institutionalized, collaborative decision making where appropriate. For instance, the systemic map also shows areas of leadership that are missing, such as clarity of who is responsible for uniting the perspectives and initiatives of the Board and Conference and for the inclusion of input from faculty, staff, parents, and others when needed.

To do this work, the Strategic Renewal Committee has created a Governance Task Force. The Task Force is researching models of governance at other schools and organizations, as well as articulating how Hartsbrook currently functions, exploring what is unique to Hartsbrook’s identity, so that it can recommend informed and appropriate changes to the Conference and Board. The work has begun this summer, and while initial recommendations are expected by early fall, the Task Force work will continue through next year.

The second prioritized pathway involves the teachers because supporting and nourishing the teachers, so they can continue to give their best to their individual and collaborative work, is vital to the experience of every one of us. One thinks first and foremost of the teachers’ direct work with the students, but the analysis reveals how much additional responsibility the teachers carry for such important matters as working with parents, oversight and review of the teaching in the school, mentorship, communication, and program development, to list just a few. This next school year, the Strategic Renewal Committee will be focusing on and working further along this pathway as well, with the goal of developing recommendations for healthy structures and processes that will support and strengthen the faculty in all of its many responsibilities.

Two other additional pathways will be taken up in time. One pathway will address the changing needs of children of today and another will address support for Hartsbrook families and their experience of engagement and belonging. These pathways have the potential to inspire parents and children to attend Hartsbrook to benefit from the full experience Waldorf education provides; early childhood through high school. Some of this work has begun already in the faculty and staff and can be better understood in the framework of these four strategic pathways. There is, however, a logic to the order in which these pathways should be addressed. Improvement in governance and teacher nourishment will be primary foci for this year as they are foundational for fully taking up the second two pathways.

In the course of the coming year, we intend to reach farther into the community — to share with, listen to and involve parents and friends of the school. Our first community meeting is scheduled for October 17 at 7:00. We look forward to gathering and working together as an entire community as part of Hartsbrook’s growth into the future.

The Strategic Renewal Committee

Natalie Adams, Leslie Ritchie-Dunham, Viriginia McWilliam, Rachel Kennedy, Lane Hall-Witt