Strategic Focus

Results and Responses from St. Paul's Annual Parent Survey

Introduction from the Head of School

September 16, 2019

Dear St. Paul’s Families,

As many of you know, we recently conducted our 2nd annual family survey. We received an outstanding response, with over 60% of our families participating. I would like to thank everyone who took part - in our partnership, your voice matters. The 467 completed surveys generated an extremely robust data set, and school leadership spent much of the summer “mining” this data for themes and patterns. We were very gratified with the overall positivity of the survey: St. Paul’s received 4.65/5 stars, and 97% of St. Paul’s families said they would refer a friend to the school. Directionals are positive as well, as our ratings ticked up in every category rated. We most enjoyed the 71 printed pages of individual faculty/staff kudos - we read nearly a thousand of them! Your feedback confirms that the faculty and staff are St. Paul’s greatest resource. At an institutional level, we rate a solid “A” from some pretty high standard evaluators. However, we will never rest on our laurels and are firmly committed to continuous improvement as a school. Your children deserve no less.

For clarity and ease of review, we’ve broken the survey results into major thematic areas. Under each, I’ll briefly relate the feedback themes and the areas on which we will “focus forward” over the next several school years. I’m confident that many of our efforts will be of direct interest to your family. I invite you to review the functional areas below and see which relates to your hopes and desires for your child. You may be surprised!

The love and excitement that I feel about St. Paul’s – and the open partnership which we all deserve – leads me to want to share with you the long forward strides we are making as an institution. While these plans, which will unfold over the next several years, are ambitious, the leadership of the school was unanimous in their belief that we have the vision, the talent, and the drive to make them a reality. After all, they are being undertaken for the benefit of our true customers – our students – and the brighter future they will in turn help bring. On behalf of the board of trustees and the entire faculty and staff, I thank you for trusting St. Paul’s as partners in the education of your children. You could pay us no greater compliment.


Sincerely,

N. Blair Fisher
Head of School

Academics and Arts

The academic program – the heart of any school – was rated very positively, with salient strengths in English, social studies, and writing. The Alternative Instruction Program and arts programs are also rightly recognized for their excellence. Respondents very much appreciate our holistic curriculum review process and are thrilled that the comprehensive math renovation we recently implemented will give St. Paul’s the most advanced math program in the region. You are also excited to see the outcomes and impact of our upcoming science review. You will be happy to know that we have also expanded our drama program in the middle school, and are already planning to add more honors level courses to the upper school program to allow students to begin taking challenging courses earlier. We are also studying an expansion of the dual enrollment college program for our highest fliers, and of creating STEM electives.

Focus Forward Areas

  • Completing deployment of new math program (in progress)
  • Expanding drama into MS (in progress)
  • Conducting comprehensive science study (2020)
  • Expanding honors class options (Biology 9 Honors, History 9 Honors, English 10 Honors) (2020)
  • Expanding dual enrollment options (2021)

Admissions

Operationally, I am delighted to report that St. Paul’s had a terrific admissions season; because of strong demand, we added a complete section of Pre-K, and overall school enrollment significantly exceeded our expectations. The positive feedback for our admission office staff, which is appreciated for their warmth, professionalism, and personalized approach, wasn’t a surprise, but it is extremely gratifying. We are thrilled for the opportunity to make a difference in more children’s lives, because the world always needs more Saints!

Focus Forward Areas

  • Expanding the parent ambassador team program (in progress)
  • Creating a student ambassador program (in progress)

Advancement

A robust endowment is vital to the long-term health and sustainability of any independent school, and the advancement team is making the growth of St. Paul’s Foundation assets a priority this year. We’ve completed the necessary groundwork and have commenced active outreach. Please know that this is a way in which you can add your legacy to this wonderful school and ensure that the same opportunities which your children have enjoyed will remain available for generations to come. The Fisher family has already made our foundational commitment to the future of St. Paul’s, and it’s our sincere hope that you will join us.

“Advancement” in an independent school comprises marketing; communications; fundraising; and community, volunteer, and alumni engagement. All received positive feedback from the family survey, and also valuable suggestions on how the school might improve in these areas. The Parent Council’s service to the St. Paul’s community adds a depth and richness to our school that cannot be overstated; with that principle in mind, we are working to further broaden volunteer opportunities, with a goal of 100% engagement by all interested in serving the school. Similarly, we seek 100% connectivity and engagement by our alumni wherever their individual life journeys have taken them. Finally, in a school that is so active and does so much outside the classroom, it’s easy for many small monetary asks to occur; we recognize the frustration that frequent “nickel and dime asks” can cause, and the school has already created a fundraising policy to significantly reduce their occurrence.

Focus Forward Areas

  • Expanding volunteer service opportunities (in progress)
  • Expanding alumni outreach program (in progress)
  • Reducing frequency of small monetary requests (in progress)

Athletics

Anyone with even a passing knowledge of St. Paul’s knows the strength of its athletic program, which holds more championships than any other school of in state. Our parents appreciate that our coaching staff prioritizes a high character approach to competition. Athletics at St. Paul’s isn’t about state championships, but they come as a function of hard work, dedication, and discipline. On a practical level, our families very much appreciate the securing of the Wilmer Hall gym to relieve pressure on the main gym, the strong support St. Paul’s has given to the growing club lacrosse movement in Mobile, and its outstanding intramurals programs for our young Saints.

As we continue to feature the best overall program in the region, we will work to ensure that we shine a bright spotlight on the accomplishments of all of our Saints teams and on ensuring that our teams have class-leading facilities across the board. St. Paul’s will also continue its enthusiastic support of club lacrosse, and will just as enthusiastically embrace it as a sanctioned sport when that occurs at the state level. After its use as faculty parking during the building of the Student Commons building, Bennett-Quigley Field is worn and in need of renovation; this project is also high on our priority list.

Focus Forward Areas

  • Ensuring strong and wide coverage of girls sports and smaller sports (in progress)
  • Continuing support of lacrosse club (in progress)
  • Continuing improvement work for athletic facilities for all teams (2020)
  • Bennett-Quigley renovation (2020)

Business Office

You appreciated the professionalism and responsiveness of the Business Office staff, which focuses on creating a positive “customer service” experience. Two tension points appeared commonly in survey responses: That the existing student information management software is dated and “clunky,” and that you wished for a simpler and easier re-enrollment process. We’re happy to report that we had already identified the same challenges and begun work on both. First, we are moving to the latest version of our Blackbaud student information management system. This will streamline your account, providing easier to read account information and simplifying bill payment. Secondly, we are working to similarly streamline the annual re-enrollment process. You will receive more details on both these projects in the months ahead.

Focus Forward Areas

  • Deploying new Blackbaud system (in progress, will occur in stages)
  • Moving to continuous enrollment (2020-20121)

College Placement

In today’s competitive college admissions milieu, parents deserve a “high touch,” personalized approach to college counseling services. We have created such a program, which will now begin much earlier than in previous years. Beginning in 8th grade and prior to the first high school class selections, our college placement staff will work year-over-year to ensure that your family is carefully guided throughout a holistic process designed with your child’s needs and your unique family situation in mind.

Focus Forward Areas

  • Executing on expanded college preparation program

Communications

St. Paul’s has three distinct information sets that need to be communicated to two different groups. We must share Student Progress with Current Families, share Connecting Information with Future Families, and share School News with both Current and Future Families.

Student Progress – Our Current Families need fast and easy access to their child’s information concerning grades, progress reports, and class assignments. As parents, you appreciate the responsiveness of our teaching staff when you have questions or concerns. However, parents naturally hunger for more proactive outreach and as much feedback as possible on student progress. We are committed to providing both. Fairly, many of you voiced frustration with the current school website, whose complexity can make quickly accessing desired information a challenge. The school had already identified that the website would benefit from streamlining, and that work is in progress.

Connecting Information – Future Families want access to information that will help them learn how St. Paul’s will serve their family and provide the best education possible to their child. Feedback from new families has shown an appreciation for the detailed information on our website which helped them move forward into the admissions process.

News – News about school events, programs, and student accomplishments are of interest to both Current and Future Families. Therefore, this information needs to be accessible to both groups. Parents are very happy with the expansion of our social media presence; it helps them better understand what makes St. Paul’s special and keeps them better connected to the school. Similarly, they appreciate the newly deployed calendar of events, which automatically updates across all platforms when date or time changes occur. We will focus next upon ensuring that all events are well-publicized across the full spectrum of interested stakeholders.

Focus Forward Areas

  • Renovation and streamlining of school website:
    • New calendar system (already implemented)
    • New external website (2020)
    • Improved “MySainthood” interface (2020)
    • Updated news format for relevant constituents (2020)
  • “4P” philosophy: Proactive + Positive + Professional + Personal (already implemented)
  • Teacher webpage consistency (already implemented, inspections ongoing)
  • Incorporation of effort & conduct grades on report cards (in process)
  • Reformatting of Open Houses for personalization and transparency

Community and Student Life

We are obviously delighted with the widely expressed and heartfelt appreciation for the depth of community that is a true strength of St. Paul’s. It is rightfully a source of great pride for our school. While parents recognize that we enjoy a positive and gentle student life, we are committed to making instances of negative behavior even more rare through a renewed emphasis on our advisory program, Olweus anti-bullying program, and steady and firm adherence to our discipline policies. We can be loving and hold high standards. Parents also hunger for help in navigating the many challenges facing families today. We are delighted to partner in this area, and have created “Parent University” to help provide parents with in-depth information on a variety of parenting topics.

Focus Forward Areas

  • Counseling: Continue good work, continue proactive outreach and regular student check-ins (ongoing)
  • Implementing Parent University series (already begun, will continue)
  • Continuing annual survey (ongoing)
  • Head of School - Parent Partnership Conversations (continue)
  • Re-emphasis on advisory & Olweus program (in process)
  • Continue firm adherence to discipline policies (ongoing)

Diversity and Inclusion

As an Episcopal school, we are firmly grounded in our Episcopal faith and tradition, and are thereby inspired to build an inclusive, caring community dedicated to timeless values and to serving others. Diversity is a valuable part of our Philosophy and Core Beliefs - “To promote an environment that embraces, respects, and teaches tolerance and appreciation for cultural, ethnic, religious, and racial differences within our community.” Parents appreciate our commitment to this ideal, recognize the value of a diverse student body, and love our welcoming culture and community. Many parents, however, note that we could improve both the diversity in our faculty and staff and the socioeconomic and geographic breadth of our school culture.

Focus Forward Areas

  • Intentional and steady focus on increasing diversity of faculty and staff: (in process)
    • Post positions publicly
    • Encourage diverse applicants
    • Attend diversity job fairs
    • Partner with diverse families to identify talented teachers from diverse backgrounds and conduct outreach to same
  • Partner with diverse families to identify and encourage more students from diverse backgrounds to consider St. Paul’s for their school home (in process)
  • Partner with local pastors and diverse youth leaders to engage with and educate student body (in process)
  • Conduct regular check-ins with diverse families as to their experience (in process)

Facilities

St. Paul’s is committed to providing a physical environment that is functional, attractive, and conducive to learning. It’s not surprising that our families love the new Student Commons building (as do we!), but it’s also gratifying that you recognize the work we have begun in renovating classrooms, installing new landscaping, and extensive repairs, repainting, power washing, and decluttering. You desire us to keep it up, and we will. We are in the process of creating a long-term facilities plan, and planning is also underway to completely renovate the upper school science labs, Saints Square, Bennett-Quigley Field, the Bedsole and L-Shaped building, to expand the service learning area, to update entrances, bathrooms, and hallways, and to beautify our landscaping and grounds. These will be multi-year projects, but they are queued up and will take place as funds become available.

Focus Forward Areas

  • Creating long-term facilities plan (in process)
  • Renovations on tap: Science labs, Saints Square, Bennett-Quigley, Softball field, Pre-K playground, bathrooms, classrooms, hallways, entrances, gyms… Just need $$$! (2020)
  • Expanding service learning area (2020)

Faculty & Staff

The St. Paul’s faculty as a whole received glowing marks for their professionalism, ability, and love of our students. Dozens of teachers were individually lauded for their outstanding work, and many of them are recognized as “life-changers!” As someone who walks the halls and tucks into classrooms every day, I am not at all surprised by such feedback; I am continually impressed by the teaching and learning I observe. However, that does not mean that we cannot improve, and we will work steadily and intentionally towards our goal of having a “rock star” teacher in every classroom. We will do this by a strong adherence to our faculty growth and evaluation system, an emphasis on personalized professional development, and steady and deliberate hiring protocols.

Focus Forward Areas

  • Utilizing and adhering to strong, systematic hiring protocols (ongoing)
  • Strong adherence to the Progression Model faculty evaluation system (ongoing)
  • Continuing use of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) for professional development (ongoing)

Safety & Security

Nothing is more important than the safety of your children. Frankly, this is not even a survey issue – all parents and educators want to surround their children with the safest environment possible. You will be pleased to know that this past summer, we engaged safety & security experts to complete a comprehensive review of our safety and security protocols in a wide variety of contexts. While we rated very well, they identified ways in which we can enhance the safety of our students, and we are in the process of implementing their recommendations. Because of the importance of the topic and the extent of our work in this area, I will not simply summarize the improvements here; instead I will spell them out in detail in a separate letter in the next few weeks. I believe that you will be extremely gratified with our work in this area.

Focus Forward Areas

  • Continuing full-time police presence on both campuses (continuing)
  • Expanding police presence at after-school events (in place, continuing going forward)
  • Conducted comprehensive safety & security review (completed Summer 2019)
  • Replaced and upgraded several playground areas to prevent accidents (completed Summer 2019)
  • Will implement a host of safety & security improvements:
    • ALICE training for faculty & staff (2019)
    • Installing room securement systems (in progress)
    • Installing panic buttons at key locations (2020)
    • Improving lighting in key areas of campus (2020)
    • Expanding camera coverage of campus (2020)
    • Linking cameras to “Project Shield” system (in progress)
    • Renovating intercom system for quick, unified messaging across campus (2020)
  • Conducting education series on digital safety, vaping, and other emerging issues (in process, ongoing)

Spirituality

Parents are profoundly grateful for the spiritual center of St. Paul’s. As someone who worked in secular schools for 20+ year, I recognized quickly that the Episcopal values of this wonderful school make everything else we do possible. Needless to say, we are committed to maintaining the integrity of this foundation and are taking active steps to expand the spiritual core which makes everything else possible at St. Paul’s: We are safeguarding chapel times, prioritizing morning prayer, and adding “Grace” to lunches when possible. You’ll also likely note more prayer openings to school events. Finally, we are adding more voluntary prayer and spiritual opportunities at all levels.

Focus Forward Areas

  • Locking in chapel & morning prayer (ongoing)
  • Adding Grace to lunch (in process)
  • Incorporating prayer more widely to open school events (in process)
  • Expanding voluntary spiritual and prayer opportunities (in process)

Technology

Overall, parents are happy with our approach to technology, and feel that we are doing a good job in preparing students for the tech-centric reality of life and that overall it is well-used and a great learning tool. Of course, this is a “hot-button” topic with a wide spectrum of parent responses; some feel that St. Paul’s is too tech-centered while others believe we are not tech-centered enough! Being in the middle of the bell curve here is probably where we need to be. However, since we do incorporate technology regularly into the learning environment and routinely in our communications, it is fair to expect that all teachers should be fluent in its application, and this will be an ongoing upward push for St. Paul’s in the years ahead.

Focus Forward Areas

  • Broader technology training for faculty and staff, especially in the use of the school’s “OneNote” and “NetClassroom” platforms (in process)
  • Training students on effective use of technology with follow up to validate fluency (2020)
 

The St. Paul’s Players Present – Antigone by Sophocles - More Info  

Out of Uniform Outerwear Clothing Allowed – Wednesday, November 13 - More Info