The following is a transcript of my on-air address. To watch the video, visit our YouTube channel.
Thank you for joining me for our third “on-air” State of the School address. Before I get started, I wanted to thank all of the families, faculty, board, alumni and friends of the school who have given so much time and effort to our school this year. The support we receive from all of you is essential to our success, and though it is easy to get lost sometimes in the day-to-day details of school life, it is truly enjoyable to stop once a year to express to you my deep gratitude for your part in making today the best time to ever be at North Cross.
As many of you know, we are in the beginning stages of not only a capital campaign, but also the reimagination of the central portion of our campus. Toward this end, we have engaged John Harlow of The American Consulting Trust for Philanthropy and coincidentally, one of our current parents, to conduct a preliminary study and to lead us through a capital campaign. Craig Balzer of Balzer and Associates, a local architectural firm, will complete the schematic design phase of our planned expansion and renovation. Our goal is to have a capital campaign designed to fund our wish list, which has been developed over the past two months by groups of faculty and staff from all divisions. It is incredibly exciting to see talented teachers and staff members describing what will allow them to take North Cross to the next level. There is a palpable excitement in the air, fueled by the anticipation that North Cross will become one of the finest independent schools, not just in the region, but in the Commonwealth. I have been known to bounce a little when I walk but there is definitely an added pep in my step these days.
Following Board approval of a capital campaign, we have begun the work of the silent phase, firming up leadership gifts and gathering commitments from the Board of Trustees and our faculty and staff. Everything we have heard has encouraged our pursuit of a campus that matches the quality of our program. In fact, we have already received our first commitment for a seven figure gift and have been received positively in all of our visits. I am being purposely vague on our promises, partly for theater but also because I don’t want to jinx our success, but let me say this, every ask of which I have been a part has seen the donor stretch to a number twice what they had originally indicated. I believe I am witness to a pent up desire to see a world class independent school in the Roanoke Valley.
Coming back to earth, I firmly believe that any success we find in our campaign is the direct result of 8 years of hard work by an incredibly dedicated and talented faculty and staff. Year after year, the number of AP classes taken by our students has increased and the number of AP Scholars has increased. There are more than 40 North Cross students currently at the University of Virginia and our admissions success rates at William and Mary and Virginia Tech are shockingly high. Our SAT scores remain significantly higher than those of our public school competitors with our average score above 1200 for the first time in recent history. It is enjoyable to work in a place where our alumni return as best selling authors, MacArthur Genius Award Winners, and policy makers recognized by the President as one of forty under forty to watch.
My excitement should come as no surprise. North Cross is leading the way.
Next year, we will continue to add to our academic offerings, moving further to advance our program in the sciences. Specifically, we will continue to expand our computer science offerings, adding more options for coding in the lower and middle schools, adding AP Computer Science in the upper school, and competing inter-scholastically in programming and robotics. Dr. Dan Dudek will begin teaching AP Biology next year and we will completely outfit an AP Biology lab using revenue from our China operations. AP Biology is a historically difficult course to fit into a schedule because it requires so much lab time, but we have made it work and I couldn’t be more excited.
The most incredible thing about our recent increase in science offerings is that they have been met with high student interest. For a small upper school like ours to offer three AP level courses in mathematics and three AP level courses in the sciences, and AP Computer Science, indicates that students are taking more than one mathematics or science course each year. In fact, this year 42% of our seniors are taking more than one science or math class. I count this as one of my favorite measures of the rigor of our average upper school course load.
STEM Co-Coordinators Amy Bagliani and Jennifer Landry have led the charge in building a cross-divisional curriculum that began in earnest this academic year. The results are impressive. With a new Lower School Computer Lab and mobile laptops, with more iPads in the Early Childhood Program, and a Middle School Computer Science and Design elective, coding happens on every level, during every week. But it’s not a machine that will foster creative thinking, students must be presented with challenges where an immediate solution is not apparent. We, as educators, need to encourage the process of solving a problem, the joy in the ‘why’, and give them the tools to choose the best solution. We are fortunate that our teachers have embraced this initiative with open arms, even coming in over summer break to participate in a full-day seminar on coding curricula from code.org.
That’s a somewhat easy segue into talking about our outstanding community. Not only are we a community excited to take on new challenges, but new ventures as well. This year was our first foray into the world of boarding schools. As with any new program, there were unexpected hiccups in the day-to-day operations, but we teamed up with our extended family at Wilson International to figure out things like holidays, bus schedules and after-school activities. Lower School instructor Daryan Horner and Upper School English teacher Josh Kier stepped up as our transportation go-tos. Upper School French teacher Chris Brandon is the on-floor faculty resident for the boys at the dorm, and Lin Liu, our visiting teacher from North Cross-Xinhe, is there for the girls, along with Lauren Williams, the dorm’s full-time residential coordinator. Stephen Alexander, our football coach and the Executive Director at Wilson, lives on the main floor with his wife and three young girls.
These latter individuals provide something more than just a supervisory eye, they have helped take an unfamiliar living situation and turned it into a close-knit, caring community. Walk in one night for dinner—which you all are welcomed to do by the way, just give a heads-up to Stephen—and you’ll find students from backgrounds thousands of miles apart, sitting next to each other, chatting and joking over a hot meal. You’ll see Stephen’s daughters milling about, holding hands with their teenage counterparts. Much like our athletics program which imparts lessons not easily taught in the classroom, our dormitory program extends the reach of a North Cross education to a personal level, one that teaches us that family and community extend beyond bloodlines and countries of origin.
Changing gears to athletics, we continue to make improvements to our facilities and fields through generous gifts from the Raider nation. This past Homecoming Weekend, we, along with family and friends, dedicated the Cydney and David Willis Field in memory of David Willis, past parent and long supporter of the North Cross mission. David, the father of five boys, spent many an afternoon watching athletic events, and as an alumnus, spent many afternoons picking rocks up off Thomas Field. These donors made it possible for us to level, re-seed the field with Bermuda grass, and install a new scoreboard and irrigation system, along with seating and landscaping. Recently, again through the kindness of donors, excavation began on new Porterfield Ballpark dugouts and a backstop. We will also remove the fence in left field to extend the home run distance to and above the ivy covered wall. For you Cubs fans, we will now have local ground rules covering balls lost in the ivy that was planted by Andy Benson, Class of 2019.
We are also certainly doing our part as a community to prepare our students to be their best selves. Beyond the boundaries of Colonial Avenue, juniors and seniors in the Upper School were introduced more intimately to the ‘real world’ through their participation in the first year of the Malcolm K. Douglas Summer Internship Program. As the name implies, the effort was spearheaded by veteran faculty member Malcolm Douglas and he continues to explore and cultivate relationships throughout the Valley so that our students can experience a variety of fields where their intellect and talent will be put to immediate work and practice. The feedback from both the participants and the host companies could not have been more positive, proven by the fact that many of the companies have once again requested interns, and many of our students are returning to their previous summer’s hosts for another season of meaningful work experience. Beyond the obvious attraction colleges have for students that have experience in the working world, we recognize the role North Cross plays in creating the dynamic workforce Roanoke will need in the coming boom in biosciences and technology. An early introduction to many of these areas can only serve us well going forward.
It is easy to talk about our success as a school community, but it is just as important to teach our students to look beyond his or her own reality and understand those of others. To create truly ‘global citizens,’ participation is key. Students must be part of the conversation, put themselves out there, thoughtfully and respectfully, even when it’s uncomfortable,. They need to approach difference with an open mind, and more important, open ears. With this in mind, Alex Hash has done a magnificent job in getting our students into the community to serve others. Our partnership with the Rescue Mission has been well received with each advisory group giving 8 hours of time to help them in whatever way they require, whether it’s stuffing annual appeal envelopes, or sorting DVDs in their thrift store. This time, though not spent in a traditional classroom, teaches our students a lesson in compassion, citizenship and the responsibility we all have to contributing toward the common good.
We also invite the world to come visit North Cross through our CrossCurrents speaker series where our students have opportunities to hear viewpoints typically only found on college campuses. This past year we welcomed an alumna and photojournalist who chronicled families in the tobacco trade, a Moroccan native who researches youth involvement in politics, and an alumna who studies adolescent aggression and is now a nationally renowned expert in bullying prevention. Recently, and very meaningfully, we hosted a friend and colleague of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. Virgil Wood marched beside Dr. King and continues to support his legacy today. Before his speech, members of both the Middle and Upper schools had the opportunity to have lunch with him. Fifth graders met with him briefly as well. The memories created from these conversations with a man of his history and experience may not be appreciated today, but in future years, my hope is that they’ll look back on what a gift their time with him truly was.
And finally, we once again have operated with a balanced budget. This may sound simple to you new families, but for those of you around for the leaner times of past, the sense of peace and stability that comes from a well-managed budget is one that only recently we can enjoy. We have retired our debt, our revenues from our China campus regularly improve the student experience by equipping computer labs and robotics teams, and funding a soon to arrive, brand spanking new, 50 passenger bus. Going forward, we will continue to operate a balanced budget while prudently placing 1% of operations in a plant replacement fund to ensure our campus is well maintained. And we will be able to do this while continuing to moderate any increases in tuition. I commend the Board of Trustees for their fiscal responsibility and am pleased to report that all is well.
We will raise tuition 3.25% in the upcoming year, a raise that will allow us to increase teacher salaries by an average of 2%, hire another math/science teacher to support our STEM initiative in the upper school, and add a second school counselor. I believe these additions are essential to meeting very real needs in our program and the increase is the smallest increase we have had in eight years.
Re-enrollment for the 2018-2019 school year is now accessible through On-Campus and I can’t stress enough how important it is for you to re-enroll as timely as possible. Our ability to plan for next year as well as our ability to focus our admission efforts on new students are greatly increased once we can turn our attention away from re-enrollment. As an added incentive, over the next two weeks, you may take advantage of a discount on the deposit required for re-enrollment. Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to call David Lake or Lauren Horner in the admissions office.
This has been an extra long address, positively Clintonesque in its length, and for that I apologize. Believe it or not, I just cut out five paragraphs of really good stuff, and I never even mentioned the remarkable successes we are having internationally. It just seems that there is so much to talk about at North Cross School, so stay tuned for further information in my blog posts on our exceptional, newly designed website. One could even say: “There has never been a better time to be at North Cross.”
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.