When I was a child, my father was a big Jackie Gleason fan. For those who may not know, Gleason was a New York comedian with a long-running TV show during the mid-50s to the mid-60s. His style was unabashedly brash and visual. He was a funny man and his bawdy, physical comedy had my family in hysterics from the get-go. While there are many “favorite parts,” the best part of each show for me (at four years old) was when he would conclude his opening remarks with the words, “And away we go!” as he danced off stage to the delight of people all over America.
Each August as faculty and staff return to campus, those words become a mantra, looping in my head, “And away we go!”, “And away we go!”, “And away we go!” Thank goodness the students are coming back!
There is something so special about an educational community preparing for the arrival of its students. VVS folks are particularly enthusiastic, and we get more excited as we count down the days for the kids to return. Most feel that way because the beginning of classes marks the end of a series of meetings and due diligence which seem daunting and never-ending. Teachers are born to teach. Boarding school staff are here to serve students. The rest, while important, does not bring joy like the shouts and laughter of students on the VVS quad.
VVS is a busy place for students and staff. With the requirements of the International Baccalaureate, Field Trips, Decembermester, and Project Period, VVS must get a healthy start in the third week of August in order to complete our ambitious school schedule. In fact, staff and faculty meetings began on August 8th in preparation for the arrival of students on August 20th.
Looking further ahead, we are beginning new work on our branding and messaging so that we can communicate all the strengths that make a VVS education exceptional and to maintain strong enrollment. It seems we are at a crossroads as a country in many ways and this is being reflected in international applications for college and university that are down almost 20% over two years ago. Independent schools generally go the same way higher education goes, therefore we must be well prepared to find new areas for enrollment of quality students. In fact, a colleague at a California boarding school called to ask me if our international applications are down. His school had seen a 50% decrease in international student applications over last year. We are being strategic about this and while we have seen a very slight decline in international applicants, we remain a multi-national school with 50% of our student body from overseas.
On campus, a number of capital changes approved at the June Board meeting are already underway, beginning with upgrades to our dorms. This summer due to the fantastic work of our maintenance crew, Christensen Dorm went through major renovations with new paint and flooring, and furniture upgrades. New laundry appliances are being installed in several dorms. And, plans are underway for upgrades to the Perkins common room, and the Sears boiler room. The Chapel is being fitted with new roofing, wiring, and a second egress door to bring us up to fire code. We are currently in the permitting stage to build four new staff residences on the northwest side of campus. All of these changes and improvements are the result of the generosity of parents and alumni. Thank you one and all!
We are also most grateful for two very generous gifts from our community this summer. A major gift from a parent enabled us to purchase a new truck to pull our horse trailer to the many off-site events our equestrian team participates in annually. We are also so thankful for the transformation that alumnus Chuck Burrus ’62 made to the flooring in Brady Hall. Chuck, who owns a janitorial company in Phoenix, put many hours into stripping and resealing the beautiful old wooden parquetry flooring throughout Brady Hall so that it now exudes a warm, inviting glow!
Despite all this activity on the campus over summer, the third annual Sedona Summer Colony provided a home to fifty artists who came from around the USA and abroad to spend quiet contemplative time in the red rock high desert of Sedona and reconnect with their creativity. The classrooms, art studios, and Brady Hall resonated with the energy of artists working with watercolors, textiles, ceramics, pastels, oils, pencils, jewelry, sculpture, assemblage, movement, dance, and photography. Founded in 2016, the Colony is a partnership between VVS and the Sedona Arts Center that supports creative people of all kinds, nurtures and advances their ideas, and expands our own creative community here in Sedona.
This year is a big one for VVS starting with a new school organizational chart that will be introduced by our new Assistant Head of School and Dean of Students, John Kelley, and I. In the new format, John will oversee much of the day-to-day operations, while I will now have the opportunity to be the external Head of School for Advancement. In this new model, I will be able to focus more time on branding, communications, and of course, fundraising. We are all excited by the new structure.
On a closing note, I look forward to seeing you throughout the year as you visit campus with your student, or as Donita and I hit the road with our Advancement Team. I am so grateful for the support so many of you have given to VVS over the past three years that I have been here. Please help us prepare “World Ready” students by staying involved and participating. VVS has always been blessed with the alumni and parents who contribute to the life of this jewel of a school. We are firm believers that the world needs VVS now more than ever. Please join us in ensuring that is always the case.
“And Away We Go!”