Right Onward 2023 November 2020 update

In September of 2018, the Board of Trustees at Doane Academy unanimously endorsed Right Onward 2023: A Strategic Plan for Doane Academy. In October of 2019, I wrote to you to share the metrics we established to measure our success in addressing the Plan’s priorities and to update you on our progress with its implementation. Today I am happy to provide you with another update on how we have executed the Plan’s priorities.

The changes that have taken place in the world over the past year, and especially since March, have deeply impacted our work at Doane Academy. The pandemic created unprecedented challenges for our program, requiring us to pivot quickly to remote learning in the spring and to react thoughtfully to the impact of the pandemic not only on teaching and learning, but on our ability to maintain the strength of our community. In addition, events in the spring and summer throughout the country have reminded us of the importance of our diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and propelled us to devote more time, resources, and energy to those imperatives.

The purpose of this update is to reflect on these recent events in the context of our Strategic Plan, with consideration given to how the Plan provided our school with a road map for these past eight months and how recent events have impacted the Plan’s priorities. In addition, this update provides an assessment of what adjustments need to be made in the Plan, given recent events, and why these refinements are important.

Original Priorities: Reflections and Adaptations

Priority One: Supporting Transformative Learning


Throughout the strategic planning process, our constituents consistently expressed the importance of a demonstrably strong academic curriculum, one in which excellence and student- centered outcomes are clearly defined at all levels. As we noted in writing the Plan, It is clear that such excellence is facilitated not only by innovation and academic rigor, but also by learning outcomes that can only be reached in a diverse, healthy community. The following is a list of the action steps associated with this Priority, the status of those actions, and the impact of events of the last seven months on the Priority.

Action Items and Implementation Progress (specific impact of 2020 events noted in bold):

1. Review the scope and sequence of the curriculum of our 3-year-old through 12th grade program and set benchmarks and goals that clearly articulate what it means for each child to meet his or her full potential. This exploration of our curriculum will include:

  • A review of how we incorporate diversity, in all of its forms, into our program. COMPLETED AND ONGOING
  • A determination of how we identify students who will thrive at Doane. COMPLETED AND ONGOING
  • The identification and development of life skills, leadership, and character. COMPLETED AND ONGOING
  • An emphasis on the academic rigor necessary for success in college and beyond. COMPLETED AND ONGOING

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives:

While our DEI work is ongoing, much of the progress we made early in 2020 had a positive impact on our ability to respond to the tragic events of this past summer. In February, we invited a group of upper school students to speak with our faculty about their experience as students of color at Doane. While much of their feedback was positive, they also shared multiple examples of being the subject of microaggressions. In addition, they encouraged the faculty to continue to refine the curriculum to help it speak to the lives of students.

Many of our peer schools received feedback from students and graduates of color on their experiences through social accounts that were created this summer. While we were pleased to hear feedback from students in a more personalized, “live” environment, we recognize the importance of hearing from our students and graduates in any format. Moreover, it is essential not only to listen to our students discuss their experiences, but also to take steps to improve such experiences. The initiatives that we have taken, often with the leadership of the DEI Task Force, have been attempts to respond to the needs articulated by our students in their experiences.

In January and February, we partnered with the Sustained Dialogue organization to train our seniors to lead challenging and meaningful conversations on issues of race, equity, and social justice as part of their Lead Onward seminars. The first round of such conversations took place in late February and revolved around the role of monuments and memorials in our nation's history and national identity. To provide grounding for these discussions, we were pleased to welcome Paul Farber, one of the founders of the Monument Lab in Philadelphia, to speak with our middle and upper school students about how the monuments we have represent or fail to represent our collective memory. Through critical conversations, inclusive activism, and creative art projects, Monument Lab challenges people to reimagine public spaces through stories of social justice and equity.

The impact of this program was just beginning to be experienced when we were forced to move our program online in March. We thus were unable to complete last year the work we began in the winter but we continued the conversation this fall by including the topic in our Lead Onward curriculum for junior class. Paul Farber returned to speak with our students and we are beginning to explore how we can expand our relationship with the Monument Lab to collaborate on curriculum development.

We continued the conversation about race, equity, and social justice throughout the late spring and summer in our new Thursday@3 program, which was led by members of the DEI Task Force. These weekly meetings brought together members of the faculty and staff, students, and young alumni to discuss a variety of topics ranging from Covid-19 and inequality to indigenous peoples.

In addition to this seminar, we have continued our work this fall through weekly sessions on issues of diversity, the creation of affinity groups to support our Black and Brown students, the implementation of a teaching and learning program about Columbus, and ongoing professional development for our faculty. The DEI Task Force has been an important catalyst for these initiatives.

We have also spent a great deal of time assessing the impact of remote learning on our students ability to master content and skills. This self-examination is ongoing but, like many schools, we found that we were not able to cover as much material in the spring of 2020 as we would typically cover in that period of time. We have taken this conclusion into consideration this year in the design of our academic schedule and in the training we have undertaken to support our remote learners, who constitute about 15% of our student body.

2. Create and implement a Health and Wellness Program to provide all of our students with the tools needed to be their best selves in the ever-changing world. This program’s curriculum (modified so as to be appropriate for different student ages) will address core topics in the areas of mental, social, emotional, and physical health. COMPLETED AND ONGOING

Our Health and Wellness program was a key component of our DoaneRemote program in the spring of 2020 as we worked to support the emotional health of our students, faculty, and staff during the difficult months when our students were learning remotely. In support of this important priority, our school psychologist, Dr. Enid Flagg, provided a wide range of materials and services to both our faculty and students.

In May, 2020, we conducted an in-depth “resiliency survey” of both our faculty and students in partnership with Authentic Connections. The results of these surveys suggested that the emotional health of both our students and faculty had been impacted by the pandemic, but that our community was coping with the situation better than groups at peer schools. We are likely to conduct a follow-up survey with both groups later this academic year.

This year we have continued to support our students emotional needs, especially those that are connected to the pandemic. Dr. Flagg communicates weekly wellness messages to the entire community with tips for how to take care of yourself during these stressful times. The Lower School, Middle School and Upper School division heads work with Dr. Flagg and Dan Williamson, Dean of Student Life, to monitor students of concern and maintain regular communication with home. Where appropriate, Dr. Flagg and Lower School Director of Reading Literacy, Jennifer McDonough, create individualized learning plans that help students navigate challenges specific to them at this time.

3. Create a learning environment for faculty in which we support, expect, and recognize ongoing professional development. We will empower and invest in our faculty by providing them with the resources they need to help each child meet their unique potential. Through these efforts, we will prioritize attracting and retaining talented, passionate, innovative educators. COMPLETED AND ONGOING

During the summer of 2020, we invested more resources than ever in the professional development of our faculty. Together, our faculty completed over 1,500 hours of their time to their growth as teachers, focusing primarily on the challenges associated with hybrid learning. Nine of our teachers took part in a “boot camp” throughout July with Global Online Academy, a leader in providing remote learning to students around the world. These teachers, in turn, led sessions with our faculty in August. The purpose of this training was to provide teachers with more tools that they can use with remote learners -- either in a hybrid learning environment or in a situation where all students are learning remotely. Using these teaching and learning tools, while always keeping the school’s mission central to our classroom work, has been an essential component of the success of our program this year and an ongoing focus of faculty professional development through sharing ideas and practices that have been especially impactful for our students.

Priority Two: Integrating Technology


The second priority of our Strategic Plan called on Doane to recognize the imperative to implement a technology plan that meets the growing needs of the school in the areas of instruction, administration, and communication.

Action Items and Implementation Progress (specific impact of 2020 events noted in bold):

1. Enhance the Curriculum, including the integration of technology across all grades as well as the addition of technology-specific courses in computer science and coding. COMPLETED AND ONGOING

2. Maintain Infrastructure, including a repair and replacement schedule, and the addition of devices as needed. We will also regularly evaluate the relative merits and appropriateness to Doane of various strategies for providing devices to our students. In addition, we will assess and implement the technology needed to best support our administrative functions and communication with our community. COMPLETED AND ONGOING

3. Support faculty and staff in the development of their technology skills. This will require the devotion of resources, both in terms of time and money, to make sure that all faculty are prepared to make the best use of technology in their teaching, communication, and classroom management. COMPLETED AND ONGOING

We continue to make a great deal of progress in the area of Technology Integration, completing all of the priorities that were included in the Plan. That said, we also acknowledge that our work in technology integration is ongoing, especially as new resources become available.

Moreover, it is important to note that remote learning, beginning last spring, “fast-tracked” this priority. We have provided Chromebooks to all students this year, expanding to a 1:1 program about a year ahead of schedule. In addition, all teachers have integrated technology into their teaching much more quickly than expected because of the remote and hybrid learning environments that all of us have had to become accustomed to. It will be essential that we maintain our commitment to professional development in this area by providing teachers with the time and financial resources to continue to grow.

Priority Three: Enhancing Our Campus


As noted in the original Strategic Plan, we still have some programs that are under served by our facilities. Moreover, we want our campus to inspire the entire community to develop new and innovative programs for our students. In other words, as we described in the Plan, our current facilities and footprint should not limit the innovative work and enhancements that will come from elsewhere in the Strategic Plan.

Since our acquisition of the Boudinot property (described in last October’s implementation update), we have devoted significant time and resources to (a) planning for the use of the Boudinot property this year and for potentially longer and (b) planning for the property’s use long-term.

Action Items and Implementation Progress (specific impact of 2020 events noted in bold):

1. Plan for the necessary renovation and upgrade of our current spaces and physical plant. ONGOING

2. Determine what additional facilities will be required to meet our current and future enrollment and programmatic needs. COMPLETED

3. Secure funding associated with fulfilling such needs so we can take advantage of opportunities, should they arise, to acquire land or buildings adjacent to campus. COMMENCED

The availability of Boudinot this year has been remarkably fortuitous. During our reopening plan study, undertaken last May and June, we identified the need for additional classroom space to account for the requirement that we lower the density of our classrooms to mitigate the risk of the pandemic and allow us to conduct classes in-person. To meet this need, we have utilized classrooms in Boudinot, where we are housing our band and Studio Incamminati programs this year.

Making these classrooms usable required an investment of time and financial resources. In addition to cleaning the building and adding room HVAC units, we added carpeting in the band room, wifi access throughout the building, and other technological improvements.

It is not surprising that most of our campus work this year has been associated with creating a safe and healthy environment for our community in light of the pandemic. As outlined in our Reopening Plan, this summer we moved 30 classrooms and offices to lower classroom density. These moves also enabled us to create a space for the entire lower school that is physically isolated from the rest of the school, allowing the lower school to remain in session even when the middle and upper school is learning remotely. In addition, we invested significant resources in sanitizing equipment and supplies, plexiglass, PPE, HEPA air purification machines, and MERV-13 air filters. We also re-imagined many of our campus activities in light of our inability to hold any large group gatherings this year.

Priority Four: Telling Our Story


As noted in our Strategic Plan, Doane’s community, traditions, and student outcomes deserve to be shared with a broader community. Telling our Story effectively will support both our enrollment and teacher recruitment. This priority supports the financial sustainability of Doane and reinforces the continued growth of programs and innovative teaching we provide our students.

Action Items and Implementation Progress (specific impact of 2020 events noted in bold):

1. Invest in developing more technologically-advanced methods of telling our school’s story and using these tools to enhance our market presence. COMPLETED

2. Focus attention and resources on explaining the benefits of a high-quality early education program—with specific reference to what Doane offers in this area—as a way to increase enrollment in the lower school. ONGOING

3. Create opportunities and programs that increase Doane’s visibility and reputation. ONGOING

The pandemic has forced us to make major changes to how we tell the story of Doane Academy. One measurement of our success in telling our story is found in the growth of our enrollment, which is now at a 35-year high. That said, given the ongoing challenges of the health situation, we will need to continue to explore and implement new ways of telling our story throughout this year.

Our campus has been closed to visitors since March 13th, 2020. As a result, we have not been able to give admission tours, host Open Houses, have student visiting days, or draw our new families into the community with events such as the Back to School Picnic and Homecoming. In addition, traditional student recruitment events at feeder schools are not taking place this fall. To respond to these challenges, we have done the following:

  • Created a DoaneRemote website that described our remote learning program last spring. This microsite is available to visitors to our school website.
  • Made the Reopening Plan available to prospective families, to describe the measures we took to ensure a safe reopening of the campus this fall.
  • Hosted a virtual Open House in October.
  • Made plans for “Virtual Visits” throughout the year.
  • Made more deliberate use of division heads for conversations with prospective families.
  • Created a “virtual visit” film that has been sent to all prospective students and which will be used in marketing materials.
  • Begun to create videos by individual students and teachers, which will be used on the school website for virtual visitors.

As the above suggests, opportunities and programs that increase Doane’s visibility and reputation have needed to be completely reimagined as a result of the pandemic. The situation in which we find ourselves has required much more use of video than in the past, and it is accurate to say that the pandemic has sped up our conversation to video marketing materials.

While we are able to show our facilities and describe our programs on the website and in still photos, it is more difficult to convey the values and culture of our school when we do not see families in person. Not having visitors on campus means that prospective families don’t have the opportunity to experience the warmth and comfort of day to day life at Doane. Our new “virtual visit” videos and live virtual events attempt to capture that sense and interest in the school for the 2021-2022 school year is strong -- with application numbers up slightly from a year ago.

Telling our story well is also an important strategy for retention which, even after a year when our attrition figure was at an all-time low, remains a priority. Current families are missing being on campus this fall and experiencing -- in person -- the value of a Doane education. We provide a window into events and small moments at school via social media and other media, and this has become even more of a priority under the current circumstances.


When the Board of Trustees approved the Strategic Plan, none of us contemplated the possibility of a global pandemic arising less than two years later. The pandemic has required us to reimagine nearly all of our operations in a very short period of time. We have devoted a tremendous amount of resources -- resources that were originally dedicated to the implementation of the Plan -- to meet these critical operational changes.

And yet, it is remarkable to consider how the Plan’s priorities put Doane in a position of strength to respond to the events of the last eight months. For one, the Plan’s emphasis on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion helped the school to better process and respond to this year’s challenges. Second, our work integrating technology was a direct result of the Strategic Plan, which positioned us well to address the dramatic technology needs when the pandemic hit last spring. Our professional development work with the faculty in 2019 provided our teachers with the tools they needed to make the transition to remote teaching and learning more smoothly. The closing of the campus to visitors has forced us to pay particular attention to how well we tell our story and share it with the broader community.

As the above suggests, the Strategic Plan enabled us to be better prepared for challenges associated with this year, and has provided momentum for implementing the priorities of the Plan. We are hopeful, of course, that the coming year will be less eventful than the last. But we are confident that the Strategic Plan will continue to provide us with the focus that is so important as we make our way through an ever-changing landscape.