2017 Alumni Reunion Reflection from PaulAugust 25, 2017
Greetings VVS Alumni Community:
Prior to my assuming the position of Head of School, I was invited by the Board of Trustees to attend the June 2015 Alumni Work Weekend. As I was set to start at VVS weeks later, I agreed that it would be a good idea for me to be there. The one thing that was a non-negotiable for me was to be present at the Town Hall where I would be introduced.
Apart from being told that “only a dozen or so” alumni attended, several people shared with me that the school’s alumni were generally, “loyal, hard-working and in the case of many, disenfranchised.” I was intrigued. “Loyal” and “disenfranchised?”
Imagine my surprise when I walked into the Town Hall that Saturday to about 80 people – all with lots of caffeine in their system. For me, it was love at first sight. Sure, there were some upset people over past history – most of which turned out to be legitimate concerns. But the passion with which alumni spoke about their relationship with VVS was real and it was wonderful. An alumnus said to me at that meeting,
“Good luck Paul, every year we hear the school is closing and that we need to give money to save it. We are tired of that message.” I said, “The good news is, we are alive.”
That is all that mattered on that June day. In my 30 years in school and non-profit fundraising, that is one thing I’ve found to be as true as the day is long. Desperation never works. I told them the only thing I asked from them was a chance to develop the VVS Strategic Plan for which I’d need their input. When I called on them, I promised not to ask for money but instead to share their feelings, and to make recommendations about the future direction and needs of VVS. In the meantime, VVS has been successful with its fundraising and today we are supported by so many community members and our alumni. THANK YOU! Two years later, the VVS strategic Plan is alive and in action. This year’s Town Hall had well over 100 people in attendance. The tenor was different. While there was a lot of caffeine going around, the energy was so positive. In two years, through the hard work of a talented Advancement staff, and the generosity of many alumni, I have been able to meet over 300 VVS alumni. We have held 10 regional alumni events, most of them hosted by alumni. The stories all take on a similar storyline.
“VVS changed my life. It is the single most important time in my life that shaped who I am today.”
It was not all good, as an alumnus from Santa Fe said to me, “I came here for the free drinks. I swore I would never have a thing to do with VVS. But so and so said I should come and give it a chance. So, I came for the free drinks.” Happily, by the end of the evening the same person approached me and said,
“Ok, I’ll give it a go again. The mood is so different. The school sounds like it is financially healthier. Your group really loves what they do. And, you kept your promise and didn’t ask anyone for a dime.”
While each event had its own unique location and mix of alumni, I am grateful that every attendee shared all – the good, the bad, and the ugly. What I know, that perhaps others do not, is that each institution has its peaks and valleys. Folklore, stories of woe, tales of truth. It all matters – but as I said at the 2017 Town Hall – it’s time to stop looking backwards. VVS is here to stay. Let’s build the future.
The 2016-2017 school year has been a very good one for VVS, and I am happy to share the following highlights:
- The VVS Strategic Plan was launched and 30 action items were completed towards major goals.
- Continued excellence, exceptional success, talent and leadership from staff and faculty, many of whom were new this year.
- The growing success of our students, illustrated by the calibre of colleges to which they were accepted (College Acceptance List), and their excellent IB Exam results.
- The 2016-2017 Budget: The school will finish the year exceeding our budgeted revenue and under our budgeted expenses with a modest surplus – the second year in a row, and the first in many years.
- The growing support, respect and appreciation from the Sedona community for VVS.
- Created strong connections with Sedona community members and advocates which has built recognition for VVS.
- The completion of ten regional alumni events where we met with more than 150+ alumni. These events helped nurture a positive change in attitude and strengthened their consistent support of today’s school.
- The refocus and commitment to the Native American Scholarship Fund.
- The success of the Sedona Summer Colony, two years in a row, in collaboration with the Sedona Arts Center, and featured on the front cover of Sedona Monthly, June issue.
- Raised over one million dollars during this fiscal year: $500,000 for the Scholarship Fund; $200,000 for the renovation of our multi-purpose courts; $300,000+ in unrestricted and restricted gifts, and $50,000+ for the VVS Farm.
- Received a $25,0000 grant from the Arizona Community Foundation of Sedona to host a residential College Preparatory Program in 2018.
- Robust enrollment and strong retention in a time of declining boarding school applicants.
- Increased frequency of communications with constituents scoring high marks with them, as well as enhanced website development and social media activity.
In closing, I want to express my sincere thanks to the many alumni who have joined us on this VVS journey. So many of you have opened your hearts, doors, and voices to me over the past two years. Each and every conversation has been important and helpful. Your advice and counsel are helping me do a better job. So keep at it – let me know what is working and what I need to do better. As I wrote earlier, all institutions have their peaks and valleys, VVS is no different. But the one thing that not all institutions have is the emotion, passion, and work-ethic that you all bring to the party. Each and every day. For that, we are all richer and luckier.
Here’s to 70 more years,