Right Onward 2023 december 2021 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 and November of 2020, 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. I am happy to provide you with another update on how we have executed the Plan’s priorities.

Last year, the focus of my communication to you was the work that we had completed in 2020 to address the impact of the pandemic -- and the positive impact that the priorities of the Strategic Plan had on that work. In addition, I noted our devotion of more time, resources, and energy to our diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Once again, the Plan provided us with important support for these imperatives.

This year, as we slowly emerge from the restrictions imposed upon us by the pandemic, we have had more opportunities to look forward while simultaneously managing the present. Thus, the following update speaks to the Plan’s impact on both the current operations of the school and our plans for the future.

George B. Sanderson, Head of School
Original Priorities: Reflections, Adaptations, and Implementation

Priority #1: 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 and the work done to implement these steps over the past year.

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.

In 2021, we restructured our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives under the leadership of the Dean of Student Life, Kath Brandwood, and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Julian Cook. As part of this restructuring, we named division-level coordinators: Claudia Buzko in the lower school, Colleen McCormick in the middle school, and Julian Cook in the upper school. These individuals are responsible for division-specific, age-appropriate programming and initiatives. We have also added, in our new middle and upper school schedules, specific time for our DEI initiatives. Additional measures include the following:

  • The creation of Triple A (Affinity, Awareness, Accountability) Spaces in the upper school in early 2021, the addition of dedicated time in the schedule for these meetings, and the training of student facilitators in the fall of 2021
  • The inclusion of more diverse voices presenting to all divisions (recent examples include Allie Woodard ‘12, Slam poet and writer S.C. Says, and Bluejay of the Lenape Tribe)
  • Student representatives attending, for the first time, the Student Diversity Leadership Conference, a national (remote, for the past two years) gathering of independent school students
  • Student representatives attending, for the first time, the middle school DEI Summit, which brought together over 100 students from independent middle schools
  • A year-long self-evaluation of curriculum using a DEI lens
  • A more consistent effort to recognize historically marginalized groups through extracurricular programming. A recent example was a presentation to upper school students on neurodivergence
  • A thorough evaluation of the Katherine Potts Library, with a focus on curating a collection of “window and mirror” texts that represent, affirm, and celebrate diverse identities, experiences, and cultures
  • The creation of a lower school DEI parent group to assist with the development of events that help to meet the following two goals: to engage LS families in programming that affirms and celebrates our diverse identities and experiences and to provide LS families with welcoming spaces to learn about and discuss topics related to diversity, equity, and inclusion

A determination of how we identify students who will thrive at Doane.

In 2021, we modified our admission process to include new assessment tools that can better identify students who will thrive at Doane. These include the following:

  • New documentation for lower school classroom visits
  • The addition of Early Childhood educators to the lower school admission committee
  • The inclusion of faculty of color in admission committees for all three divisions
  • The addition of multiple perspectives to the admission process, including, when appropriate, learning support, social-emotional/wellness, and the school nurse

The identification and development of life skills, leadership, and character.

An important change this past year was the appointment of individuals to lead our work in several important areas that are related to living our mission. Jarred Williams now oversees our advisor program in the upper school, Katie Sereduk leads our school-wide community service programming, and Stacy Anderson is responsible for the School Family program. Upon the departure of Father Haynes, who had served as our chaplain on two different occasions in the school’s history, we named two teachers with extensive youth ministry experience to serve as co-chaplains: Donte Milligan and Kate Cottrell. In addition, we completed the following initiatives:

  • Over the past year, the scope and sequence of the middle and upper school Lead Onward programs have been refined to better serve the program and our students
  • We refined the proposal and election processes for both middle and upper school student government, thereby making those bodies more effective in their work
  • We brought back Rocks, Roots, & Wings this September and in doing so applied a more purposeful curriculum, in conjunction with the YMCA of the Pines
  • We have continued to refine the Sustained Dialogue program, adding leadership training for seniors together with dialogue training for both middle and upper school students
  • We continue to transition to being a 1:1 device school and in doing so we have increased our focus on digital citizenship, technology and life management, and media literacy
  • We refined the Sexual Misconduct Policy in the upper school handbook and devoted more time to going through these provisions in detail with our students
  • We created a separate middle school arts and drama period, thereby giving middle school students more autonomy and choice
  • This year, middle school students have been meeting in person, as a group distinct from upper school, on a weekly basis. This time has allowed students and teachers to focus on middle school specific issues and challenges in an environment that is safe, supporting, and entirely directed to the middle school age group
  • The new schedule in the middle and upper schools provides times for flexible programming such as special presentations to students on topics such as health and wellness and cultural celebrations
  • This year, we launched a community storytelling project as a way to build community -- first within our faculty and more recently among our broader community of teachers and students
  • The lower school report card was rewritten to represent five categories of social-emotional learning development: speaking and listening; emotional awareness and self-regulation; executive function; social interaction and community; habits of mind/approach to learning
  • The lower school had added divisionwide SEL themes and practices, including community meetings, monthly themes, and gratitude journaling.
  • The lower school added a focus on restorative discipline and responsive classroom practices

An emphasis on the academic rigor necessary for success in college and beyond.

Emphasizing the academic rigor of our program continues to be a high priority for the school. Over the past year, we made several changes that support this priority, including the following:

  • We established a partnership with One Schoolhouse, a leading provider of on-line class programs for independent schools, and in doing so added access to a broader array of challenging courses, including Multivariable Calculus, AP Spanish Literature, and AP Computer Science “A”
  • We have refined and improved the Lead Onward structure and program to make it a compelling programmatic component to colleges. The new school profile, completed in the fall of 2021, supports this goal
  • We appointed a new, highly regarded director of college counseling.
  • We increased the integration between academic student schedule construction and the college counseling office
  • We heightened understanding of the connection between health and wellness and the resilience required to navigate academic rigor, a step supported by the addition of a second school counselor
  • We added courses that prepare students for the current college environment, including the nuances and complexities of important and evolving discussions around diversity, equity, and inclusion: Statistics, Film, The History of Indigenous Rights, AP Spanish Literature
  • We introduced a new lower school curriculum in the areas of reading, writing, social studies, and word study. Our research-based programs (reading workshop, writing workshop, FUNdations, and Inquiry Journeys) use best practices to build students’ skills and knowledge with thoughtful sequencing and developmentally appropriate practices
  • We continued other curriculum additions and modifications, including the continued enhancement of the middle school health and wellness curriculum, the addition of History of Indigenous Rights upper school history elective, and the modification of whole-class texts in PreK-12 English courses
  • We revamped lower school report cards to match the new curriculum and to emphasize the importance of standards based assessments and social-emotional learning

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.

In the wake of the pandemic, our Health and Wellness Program has taken on added importance. The emotional health needs of our students have never been greater, and we have updated our program to serve these needs. Changes include the following:

  • We have added a second school counselor with the express intent of creating the health and wellness bandwidth to design proactive programming in this area
  • We have added stand-alone Healthy Boundaries presentations, led by our school psychologist
  • We have added special topic presentations, including one on the dangers associated with vaping
  • Our health and wellness team has made presentations and led workshops for students on self-care/meditation/mindfulness
  • The Student Health & Wellness Club was established and, as its first undertaking, advocated for the addition of sanitary supplies in bathrooms. This project has been completed
  • The middle school Health curriculum has been updated
  • In middle school, we have increased our focus on digital citizenship and student management of the technology that is such a large part of their lives.
  • We have introduced whole-class lower school lessons on topics such as identifying emotions, using I statements to express emotions, mindfulness, and healthy boundaries
  • We have established running club for grades 3-5 that met twice per week in the fall and serves approximately 15 students
  • We have introduced a new lower school physical education curriculum, based on the SHAPE America physical education standards

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.

We continue to invest in the growth of our faculty. The resources that we have devoted to this priority have been supplemented by funds provided to us by the state so that our spending on professional development continues to grow. Our latest initiatives include the following:

  • Professional development around new curriculum in the lower school: reading workshop, social-emotional learning, social studies, a DEI workshop led by Rosetta Lee for teachers and families, and classroom management. Collectively, these programs have helped teachers create curriculum and classroom practices that value more fully the identity of each student and help students find joy in learning
  • We continued to increase our investment in the NAIS People of Color Conference. In 2020 and 2021, we were able to include a larger number of students and teachers in this experience because of its online format
  • We have supported computational and mathematical modeling enhancements in the science and math departments
  • Due to the pandemic, we shifted our professional development focus to opportunities that allow faculty and staff to pursue personal growth through self-paced, online programming
  • Professional development is being integrated into the school day in the lower school. A coaching model has been implemented, with coaching provided by experienced teachers in important roles: the Director of Studies & Academic Innovation, the Director of Learning Support & Literacy Innovation, and the head of lower school. Moreover, lower school “department meetings” have been scheduled during shared prep times to keep professional development conversations moving along and focused on the application of professional development to everyday practice. In addition, support and coverage is provided for lower school teachers to spend time in each other’s rooms and learn from one another’s practice

Priority #2: 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.

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.

Over the past two years, we have implemented our technology plan throughout all divisions of the school. Important aspects of this integration include the following:

  • Integrating technological tools (such as Kami and Padlet) and practices developed in a hybrid learning environment and incorporated with heightened dynamism and efficacy into an in-person learning environment
  • Expanding usage of the maker-space to include more lower school classes and develop new skill sets for middle and upper school students. In addition, we have made plans to upgrade devices to support more increased technology demands across the curricula
  • We have integrated programming concepts and coding principles into the science/STEAM curriculum for grades K through 10, which includes the addition of coding in a variety of courses, including 9th grade Physics

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.

Over the past six years, the upgrading and maintenance of our infrastructure has been a major priority for the school. Over the past year, we have accomplished the following:

  • Updated internal server and security software
  • Continued maintenance and replacement of wireless access points
  • Upgraded connection speed and volume with Comcast
  • Increased our wireless internet range to include outside spaces, the Chapel, and the Boudinot property
  • We procured Emergency Aid to Nonpublic Schools (EANS) funds to invest in replacements for our STEAM Lab laptops and will be using additional funds to pay for new smart-screen technology in strategic areas on campus
  • Ongoing upgrade and replacement of student Chromebooks. The majority of upper school students now possess Chromebooks with touch-screens and styluses

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.

Over the past two years, the technology skills of our faculty have grown exponentially. In support of this priority, we have emphasized the following:

  • Regular time dedicated during division meetings to present new and useful information about critical online tools (Google Classroom, specifically)
  • Investment in school-wide licenses for popular technology tools, including Padlet, EdPuzzle, Kami, and Pear Deck. In-house and third party professional development
  • Funding provided for faculty to take self-paced accreditation courses with tech tools (for example, Kami and Google Educator classes)

Priority #3: Enhancing Our Campus

As noted in the original Strategic Plan, we still have some programs that are underserved 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.

The enhancement of our campus has become a major priority as we consider the future of the Boudinot property. We continue to evaluate how our current facilities support our programs and how enhancements could improve the delivery of our programs to our students.

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

  • We have received a grant from the New Jersey Historic Trust to repair and upgrade the gutters and roof of Odenheimer Hall. This work will be undertaken in the summer of 2022
  • We have devoted time and resources to managing water, in order to minimize flood damage to the basement of our historic buildings and Rowan Hall
  • We upgraded the air filtration systems in our buildings with the installation of new filters in Rowan Hall and the addition of HEPA air filtration units to our classrooms
  • We continue to monitor and update our long term asset repair and replacement budget, with the assistance of the Board’s Finance and Buildings and Grounds committees

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

  • We have completed our assessment of the future of the Boudinot property and the current gymnasium. To assist us in determining the cost of building and upgrades, we have partnered with A&E Construction, which is providing pre-construction services to us. Their work will be ongoing through the coming 12 months

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.

  • We are in the early stages of capital fundraising to secure the funds necessary to complete the Budinot project and gymnasium renovation. We expect this effort to continue for the coming three years, at a minimum
  • We launched an enhanced Planned Giving marketing campaign, which generated several new prospects and actual planned gifts
  • In the fiscal year that ended 6/30/21, we experienced a significant increase in both Alumni and Parent participation in the Annual Fund, which supports the ongoing operations of the school

Priority #4: 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.

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

  • We completed an updated College Counseling Profile
  • We have increased digital marketing presence through the enhanced use of social media, digital advertising, and SEO optimization in partnership with Finalsite, our website provider
  • We updated and upgraded our photography, with the assistance of professional photographer, Michael Branscom, who visited campus this fall.
  • We have continued to update the website, both with new photography and text
  • We have added student testimonial videos to our social media presence

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.

  • We have recorded a 34% increase in enrollment over the last three years, with particularly robust increases in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten
  • We split the Primary program into pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, with Montessori as one of many models we draw inspiration from for our play-based curriculum
  • We improved the transition from kindergarten into first grade and future lower school classes, using curricula such as FUNdations, reading and writing workshop, and Singapore Math
  • We added staffing in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten to support these foundational years of early learning
  • Our new Director of Learning Support observes regularly in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten and provides personalized support and recommendations for students in all areas
  • We rewrote the description of our lower school on the school website to reflect the enhancements we have made to programming

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

  • We have increased our visibility this year by attending in-person events that were not available last year because of the pandemic. These include Yardley Harvest Day (attending for the first time), the Wood Street Fair, and the South Jersey Mom Expo at the Cherry Hill Mall


As we noted last year at this time, none of us contemplated the possibility of a global pandemic arising less than two years later when the Board of Trustees approved the Strategic Plan in 2018. That said, the Plan’s priorities helped us to quickly reimagine our operations in 2020 and successfully pivot to a new operating model, especially when we were teaching remotely in the spring of that year.

In 2021, our challenge has been to move forward with the implementation of the Plan while continuing to operate under pandemic conditions. Balancing these priorities has been difficult but we are proud to report that we have made significant progress this year in advancing the Plan’s priorities, even at a time when many of our resources have been diverted to maintaining our operations during the ongoing health crisis. For example, at a time when many schools de-emphasized professional growth, we maintained our focus on using the Folio process for goal-setting, classroom observations, and growth conversations with teachers in support of our Transformative Learning priority.

Indeed, the above update provides readers with a long list of actions we have taken to implement the 2018 Plan. Our progress has been so notable that we are already beginning the process of developing a new Strategic Plan, which will acknowledge our accomplishments while recognizing the need for Doane to continue to build on our success. This upcoming process will, as it has in the past, rely on input from all of our constituents. Thus, it is quite possible that the next correspondence that you receive from us will ask for your help in identifying our priorities for the coming five years.

We are hopeful, of course, that the coming year will be less eventful than the last twenty months. 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.

The Doane Academy Strategic Planning Committee

Erick Del Aguila ‘90, committee chair; Adam Paglione ‘91, Board president; George Sanderson, head of school; Christina Cecchi ‘85, trustee; Heather Buzick ‘97, trustee; Ted deVillafranca, trustee; Kelly Dun, trustee; Dr. Kennedy Ganti, trustee; Fr. David Snyder, trustee; Ran Holeman, head of upper school; Kristin Rusinko, lower school faculty; Richelle Sherwood, president of Parents’ Association