It is a goal I frequently make known to families here at North Cross, to make our school an equal, if not a leader, among the very best independent schools in our Commonwealth. While not discounting our already stellar programs, I am aware that Virginia has a tremendous independent school heritage with a number of well-established, well-funded, world-class schools located in larger populated areas. To excel, we will need to do things that perhaps come easier to those schools, while working within the reality of our parameters. I firmly believe there is a path we can pursue that will lead us to parity with these schools over the next decade.
While the results of our new Capital Campaign will bring our facilities up to the caliber of our faculty’s success, and the increased revenue from our foreign campuses allow for additional financial stability, it is our academic program where we can also focus our creative energies to evolve and attract the best and brightest minds in the Valley. The Global Studies Program, our comprehensive focus on world languages, and our rapidly expanding STEM and coding initiatives provide sound building blocks on which to create our next benchmark for success and excellence: instruction.
As parents, we all remember what a difference a wonderful teacher made in our lives. We want our children to have that same experience. North Cross provides this at every level with faculty who love the freedom an independent school curriculum provides, who enjoy the recent increased availability of professional development opportunities, and who take pleasure in the engaged and passionate families whose children look forward to class. However, the reality remains that the way we teach children has remained relatively the same for the past century. For North Cross to reach the ranks of the very best, we need to remain aware of the latest in instructional techniques, discard the trendy, and efficiently make the changes that best provide benefits.
Technology has allowed for many gains in instruction over the past 20 years. Teachers have more options for how they deliver information. Access to information is made easier thanks to the Internet and students are independently able to explore topics outside of the classroom. The stage is set, so to speak, for a different take on how we work with students. Though technology presents its own set of hurdles, it also breaks down many of the walls that controlled where and when learning could happen. Technology makes it is possible for students to achieve mastery in learning, that is, to master a subject while being allowed to learn at their own pace.
A traditional classroom is made up of a group of individuals, students who learn at different paces and students who require more or less guidance in a subject. It is the job of the teacher to move the entire class through a defined curriculum something they do by defining set parameters as to when is a practical time to “move on” to the next lesson. Usually, the accepted standard to proceed is when the class has at least 70% comprehension occurs—that is, most students achieving at least at a “C” level. Students who are below that mark must come in outside of class time or hire tutors to catch up to the rest of the class. On the other end of the spectrum, those students who master a subject early on must sit passively until the rest of the class catches up—a lost opportunity to keep moving forward.
The inefficiencies of this system, one which was established over 100 years ago, are obvious. Those who struggle to keep up with their classmates progressively fall further behind as the year continues unless extreme measures are taken to keep them on the same level as their peers. Their delay may not be due to poor teaching or poor intellect, but as all good educators know, students learn differently. Any teacher can recount many instances of a student who struggled with a concept who then finally understood after a different way of explaining the matter caused the “A-ha!” moment every educator relishes. The student simply needed more time and a patient, creative instructor.
To address this obstacle where students either are frustrated as they fall behind or bored while they wait to move ahead, North Cross is introducing a new initiative called No Ceilings. This innovative approach to our language arts curriculum will be piloted within next year’s seventh grade and should demand warrant, next year’s sixth grade. Developed over the past year by Language Arts instructors Lisa Cone and Allie Kier, the program is designed for students who have demonstrated a relative academic maturity and an enjoyment of reading. Students will follow a curriculum which allows them to proceed at their own pace, while being closely supervised in classes of 10-12 students, and using selected materials based on each student’s individual academic profile.
In subsequent years, our plan is to expand the enrollment in No Ceilings to 8th grade and 4th and 5th based on the results of the pilot study so that students who were not initially selected will be able to participate. In addition, we will begin the process of incorporating No Ceilings instruction approaches into other disciplines at the school.
Some of you may have already received notice of upcoming meetings to discuss this exciting new program. If you haven’t, you will soon. I encourage you investigate No Ceilings if you think your child would respond well to this dynamic instructional approach.
I believe that our ability to allow our students to progress at their own pace is an educational achievement that will encourage our students to excel to their fullest potential. I am aware that it sounds dramatic, but I really do believe that North Cross can break the inefficiencies of traditional classroom instruction and in doing so, separate us from the ordinary. After all, mastering our own subject, that of educating students effectively and with passion, is a task I and our faculty take quite seriously.
Christian J. Proctor, Ph.D.
Head of School
Christian J. Proctor, PhD
Dr. Proctor, the ninth head of school at North Cross since 2011, has more than 26 years of experience in education, 15 of which have been at the head of school level. He has served as headmaster at Porter-Gaud School in Charleston, South Carolina, St. Martin’s Episcopal School in Metairie, Louisiana, Grace Episcopal School in Monroe, Louisiana, and as Interim Headmaster at Wesley Academy in Houston, Texas. In each location, Dr. Proctor’s tenure was marked by creativity, innovation, and school growth.