September 25, 2018 | Abby Liu
(Note: this is the speech given by Tom Postema, Head of School, at the the Strategic Plan Celebration Party on September 24, 2018)
At the start of this 40th year of Mustard Seed School, we’re kicking off a new season in the life of the school. We’ve just launched our Strategic Plan and I’m eager to tell you about it.
But first, I need to acknowledge the work of the many people who labored together over the course of last year to build this plan. This plan is the result of well over 1,000 people hours.
Maybe you were one of the 169 of people who filled our comprehensive survey and gave us precious feedback. If you were, I want you to know that we spent a lot of time with the survey data: analyzing it, considering it, asking hard questions. Your thoughts were really important in this process. Thanks!
Maybe you were one of over 65 people who attended an all-day Saturday retreat last fall. That was the day that we began the process with appreciative inquiry and continued to think deeply about what we do well, and where we need to grow. If you attended the retreat, you helped us begin the planning process from a position of strength. Please accept our deep appreciation.
And I’m extremely grateful to the people who served on the seven Strategic Plan Task Forces: Admissions and Facilities, Finance and Governance, Marketing, Program, and Staff. Over 50 of you gave up significant evening and weekend time for seven months last year. You analyzed data, researched best practices, debated, questioned, and worked extremely hard to create a plan that will propel Mustard Seed School forward and better serve our students and families. You gave sacrificially of your time and talent. Words cannot fully express how grateful I am. Thank you.
I also want to acknowledge the contribution of Ginny Christensen, who led the retreat and guided us through the process. She kept us focused, asked great questions, and became a part of the Mustard Seed team. Ginny, thanks for working with us.
To all who worked on this plan, you challenge us. You call us to renewed action on behalf of Mustard Seed students. You call us to rigor and extraordinary work. This is an ambitious plan–intentionally ambitious. Through it, we reaffirm our commitments: to the highest level of education; to you, the students and families we serve; and our commitment to our identity as a community of faith.
We’re calling this plan Thriving Roots and Flourishing Branches because through it we will continue to deepen our roots even as we nurture our branches so they can reach closer to the sky.
It’s going to take a community of people working together to carry it out the Strategic Plan over the next five years. It’s going to take you and me and our entire staff as well as the Board of Trustees. Abby Hall Choi has been appointed in a new role at school, Director of School Initiatives and Improvement. She has served at Mustard Seed for 12 years as a teacher and administrator. She led us through the successful accreditation process three years ago. She will help to keep us on track. The work will be demanding, but it will be exciting. And we will see results that will last for the next 40 years.
Five years from now, when you walk through these halls, you’ll see new evidence of all the ways that a Mustard Seed education addresses the whole child: mind, body, and spirit.
We’re going to spend time reviewing and refreshing our program. We’ll be considering what all students need to flourish and excel, but pay particular attention to to those who need more challenge and those who require more support. Students who outpace their peers in a subject area will have the opportunity to work at a higher level of difficulty. At the same time, students who struggle in a subject area will receive additional support to give them what they need to be successful. We want all students to grow in their areas of giftedness and weakness, and become impassioned lifelong learners.
We want to nurture a faculty and staff that reflect the ethnic and cultural diversity of the Greater New York City area. And we want to guide all staff so that they have the skills that they need to value diversity and inclusion in all areas of school life, including learning styles and social-cultural contexts.
Christian faith and Celebration will remain at the center of school life. We’ll build a more formal structure around service learning. Our alums will continue to leave MSS with an understanding of the importance of getting involved in their communities. They’ll continue to make a difference in the world and live lives of service.
We’re calling the next part of the plan, Nurture Our Core. That’s you! You and the students are the very reason for the existence of the school. We know that living in the city is wonderful, but it can be difficult. We all lead demanding lives. We will serve your needs better by implementing an after school program. We will also establish a parent support network to strengthen parent connections. We want everyone who walks through these doors to feel known and welcome.
Those of you who have been around since the beginning of the school (people like Shanna Pargellis and Joan Litman!) know that the tiniest of seeds has become a mighty tree! But we’re not always good about telling the story of who we are and what we do. We’re going to be evaluating and improving our storytelling. We’ve already completed the first step, we’ve created a role for Marketing and Communications and we’re excited that Abby Liu has been hired to take on this new responsibility. This is Abby’s 12th year on staff, and she’ll be working with others to refine our message and better inform you about the program, so you understand why we do what we do. We want you and our supporters and the community around us to better understand the value of a MSS education and the outcomes for our students.
We’re also going to refresh our look, and part of that will be a new website. We hope to be releasing a beautiful, more functional website in the spring of 2019. And you’ll see our materials change to reflect the new look.
There are several aspects to cultivating and spreading our roots.
The first has to do with space. We love teaching, learning, and creating in the former Our Lady of Grace School building. Our lease will expire in 2025. Our goal is to have another long-term plan in place before that happens.
The second goal has to do with technology. The one-to-one laptop program in the middle school came about from the last strategic plan. We want to take our use of technology to the next level. We’ll be providing more structure and support to further enhance student learning.
And finally, the way that we’ll SPREAD OUR ROOTS is by creating an intentional leadership succession plan and increasing the diversity of our Board of Trustees to reflect our student body, seeking people with the skills needed to accomplish the goals of this strategic plan.
These are just a few highlights of the plan. I’m including a link to the strategic plan information that we included in this year’s annual report. If you need more detailed information, you can talk to me ([email protected]) or Abby Choi ([email protected]).
I’m excited about what lies ahead. We’ve come so far since the early days of this school and we’re going to grow even stronger. In five years’ time, we’re going to look back through this plan and celebrate all that we’ve done together.
I’m reminded of a song by a Mustard Seed friend that’s been sung at MSS hundreds of times in the past 40 years.
(from the Tree Song by Ken Medema)
I’ve got roots growing
Down to the water
I’ve got leaves growing
Up to the sunshine
And the fruit that I bear
Is a sign of life in me
I am shade from the hot summer sundown
I am nest for the birds of the heaven
I’m becoming what the Lord
Of trees has meant me to be
A strong young tree
Please join me as we carry out the goals of Thriving Roots & Flourishing Branches.