Changing ships

Between my time in the classroom, on the soccer field, on the stage, and in the mock trial courtroom, St Gregory was the place that shaped me into who I’ve become.

It was the place that taught me to learn, to listen, to understand, to grow, to challenge, to compete, and most importantly, to question. Which is what I’m left doing this week, questioning. Questioning the decisions and strategy of a place that I once identified so deeply with.

As a Potter Award recipient, Student Body President, and two-time commencement speaker, I’ve had no shortage of exposure to St Gregory’s core values. In many ways, I found my identity within those same values, which is why I struggle so much to see them change.

The St Gregory I knew valued individuality. It valued curiosity, independence, intellectualism, and even a bit of quirkiness. It was a place where you could find your passion and chase after it. But even more importantly than the place were the people. It admitted students that exhibited these qualities and employed educators who encouraged them. It was run by administrators who not only had a clear vision for execution but also the self awareness not to sacrifice the rest.

I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t know anything about running an independent school. I’ve never managed teachers or students; I’ve never dealt with unruly parents (or, in this case, alumni); and I could never understand the immense responsibility that comes along with that obligation.

I haven’t been the most engaged alumnus. I haven’t taken the time to meet every board member or decision maker. I haven’t even attended a graduation since my own.

However, since leaving, I have noticed the ripple effects of each decision made by an institution I once stood behind. I’ve felt the wind slowly come out of our alumni sails when we discuss our alma mater. I’ve heard the murmurs throughout an alumni network that spans across the world. Most importantly, I’ve seen administrators, board members, faculty, and more have changed.

I understand that running an independent school is much like running a business. And I understand that in business, swift and bold decisions are sometimes necessary to get to greener pastures. However, just like in business, an independent school is selling a product. And I’ve never seen a product improve by writing off its most valuable assets or by ignoring feedback from its users.

While the decision to have every teacher reapply for their jobs is not only hubris and unprecedented, the decision to remove key players on campus without consulting alumni feels outright naive.

It’s too late to change these decisions, but it’s not too late to ensure they don’t go on without discussion. At the fear of my own hubris, here are a few unsolicited suggestions I’d like to propose to the place I learned so much from:

1) Instill an alumni advisory board.

Follow in the footsteps of many other great independent schools — Archer School, St Francis DeSales, etc. — and gather a group of alumni from various years to act as consultants, sounding boards, and potential cheerleaders for your new vision of the school. Include them in key decision making.
Realize that for over 30 years, St Gregory has developed students to go on to become great leaders, entrepreneurs, members of the community, educators, and more who are now not only capable and qualified of being heard, but also have a deep enough understanding of St Gregory’s legacy to help ensure its longevity.
Leverage the value of this community. This is the only way for those who still care about what St Gregory once was to be supportive of what it’s becoming.
(I can’t help but notice the St Gregory Alumni page still proudly features a cover photo of 5 distinguished faculty members, overlooking the fact that a near majority of them have already been asked to leave.)
Without asking alumni, how would you know that 5, 10, or 20 years later, it was not those who conformed that we remember. It was instead those who challenged us, taught us to think, and pushed us beyond our comfort zones that made us who we are today. Those are the ones we remember. They made us proud to be alumni. It was those who challenged the status quo that taught us to do the same. It was those who made the impact. Give us an avenue to voice their importance to you.

2) Act with transparency.

When Facebook was accused of suppressing conservative news stories, Mark Zuckerberg acted with transparency and maturity by inviting conservative leaders to their headquarters to discuss and investigate the process. Be like Zuck. Act with transparency.
Change is inevitable, but by consulting stakeholders, former, and future members of your community, you are showing us respect and garnering support for any decisions you may make. Host an open discussion about how and why these decisions were made.
Tell us why someone who has committed decades of their life to shaping an institution deserves to be removed from it. Tell us why an effective educator and community leader is a net negative to the institution. Tell us why the others have been demoted, removed, or otherwise.
Tell us now and involve us in the future. It may also help spot a few mistakes before making them next time.

Obviously, these suggestions are opinions of my own, a selfish attempt to keep in tact the core of an institution I so highly regard. A hailmary to preserve the version of it that I align with my identity.

However, I realize today that St Gregory no longer exists. The place and people have changed. The product has changed.

What we now have is The Gregory School; The Gregory School with a St Gregory sized shadow. A new institution with a new vision and a new product. One not to be compared with its predecessor, though stuck with decades of stakeholders trying to do just that.

Unfortunately, perhaps instead of trying to plug a St Gregory shaped hole with The Gregory School, it may be time to just let it sink and build a new ship.

Originally published at on May 31, 2016.