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Dr. Grauer's Column - A Look Under the Hood

A Look Under the Hood
Head of School's Report to the Grauer Board of Trustees
The Grauer Foundation for Education, May 2019

Every month, Dr. Grauer reports on the state of the school to our Board of Trustees. These meetings are generally open to the public. This report from May 2019 not only reviews key findings about the 2018-19 academic year, it also suggests key directions going forward as The Grauer School forges real, intended, long-range governance leadership.

Fellow Trustees,

As a part of being your Head of School, I serve as our board’s primary advisor. Whenever you want to learn about independent education or Grauer practices of any kind, I enjoy either answering your questions or preparing reports and research. Our practices in particular are refined but always evolving and adapting—the small school advantage. So, they need constant articulation.

At The Grauer School, it is hard to keep the focus on our unique organization and mission and not drift into every other school’s mission. The current, prevailing model in practice for education does not particularly include why we have The Grauer School, does not focus squarely on curiosity, engagement in the real world, and producing innovative thinkers who cultivate real passions, and it rarely questions why we are sending our kids to school. 

Nationwide, this was a huge year of scandal in part as a result of a frenzied college placement race that is making children sick and teachers discouraged and unhappy all over the country. While others focus on this race, or how to get out of it, at Grauer, we focused all year on being in nature.

Visual Arts and Photography students on a Field Trip in the Anza-Borrego desert - April 5, 2019

Education, my chosen field, is an odd field where people who are the most entrenched in the old systems routinely call themselves “reformers.” In fact, almost no one in my field does not call themselves a reformer. Debate is ongoing on all sorts of conflicting models for schools, competing philosophies, different ways of testing kids, different ways of presenting curriculum, different ways to prepare, evaluate and remunerate all kinds of educators, many of which serve to drag us back into old models of schooling and lose track of the “why”. 

At our annual board retreat in April, we worked on advancing a supportive, inquisitive style of governance that could create the conditions for skilled educators to create freely and one student at a time within all these unknowns. But, by many counts, we have always had a supportive, inquisitive board of trustees at Grauer. 

At our school, we show plenty of positive outcomes. On our nationwide, anonymous Panorama survey last month, student ratings placed our school in the 99th percentile in the majority of measures of socio-emotional learning. Yesterday, our research office informed me that, on that survey, our faculty rated the effectiveness of our school leadership in the 99th percentile. My leadership team and I are stunned with gratitude by this phenomenal vote of confidence. This week, we received a quarter-million dollar grant to establish a STEM leader endowed chair, after four years of applications to the Loewy Foundation, every year engaging wider circles of involved school leaders. 

Grauer's STEM Programs: Robotics students fixing their robot at a competition - January 12, 2019

The “endowed chair” is a college norm, but why not establish such chairs in independent schools? I envision more endowed chairs at Grauer and the growth of our endowment so that it pushes an annual payout of five thousand dollars per teacher in the medium range. What if we had endowed chairs in the arts and in athletics? Endowment is moving the dial, and it grows exponentially. 

And, we opened up a Bitcoin account with Coinbase to accept a $25K donation in appreciated assets. We accept appreciated stock, as well. And your used automobiles!

On August 1, Alicia Tembi, after a brilliant performance as WASC accreditation chair this year (we got a rare, full six-year term), will take on the title of Assistant Principal or provost, so that she may continue to study and practice a high level of leadership, assist our administration a lot including in the summer, help us develop teachers, advance our efforts to develop a next generation transcript, and in many other areas. Alicia’s title is not based upon other jobs which might have the same title—it is our very own proprietary moniker and has been in creation mode for two years. 

Assistant Principal Alicia Tembi, pictured with Skye S. '23 - June 4, 2019

We made more progress on the Head of School succession plan—something important for all boards to have, and something very executive session level confidential on boards, but board members are again invited to read what we have so far in this eternal work in progress. Trustee Julie Dunne and board Chair Craig Gertz, thank you for your readings of the latest version. As a founding Head of School, I don’t see succession as a fixed plan, but as a vision that is perpetually evolving, being redrafted and refined along with the school and my own trajectory. However, it must contain essential elements we all must support.

Thanks to Trustee Scott Berlin for coming to senior portfolio presentations and to those board members who attended school events. This is a key part of trustee engagement and I hope trustees will all come to graduation and to events year-round. The Gala event that almost all of our trustees attended was a smash and netted about $240K, and we will develop our outdoor spaces, along with expeditionary and physical education from this extraordinary outpouring of support. Let’s all “get outside!”

Soon, we will do our annual board and head evaluations where our trustees can think about their work and all of our work and what we are each doing to advance that. Like board orientation, board evaluation is an ethical practice to keep our governance focused on “the Grauer way.”

We have a lot to do towards sustainable governance with a strong, shared culture. I know each of our prominent board members has other things to do, but here is the way I see our work: Our children are the most important thing in the entire life of every parent in the school, bigger than the billion-dollar business deal, so this is big work that warrants the effort.

And last, thank you for reading my reports and weekly blogs, and for your service all year. I know it is a lot. A year contains the full range of human conditions, which can be intense in a small school. 

As a board, our organization suffered a rapid shift in membership two to three years ago that the Governance Committee (committee of trustees and nominations) of just three of us is working to rebuild. We are building a board to reflect and sustain the unique, powerful Grauer culture. 

Culture is not always widely understood, but it is the essence of all we do. I like to harken it back to the way Edgar Shein explained it in the 80's: culture is simply “the way we do things around here”. So it follows, to sustain our culture, we need a very strong board orientation—we will keep improving this after each new orientation. Getting everyone focused around our vision, being the best small school in the world, and our board mission, which I could summarize as building an adaptable, yet sustainable culture focused around big values like gratitude and courage, means everyone pulling in the same direction. 

I am incredibly grateful for The Grauer School Board of Trustees!


Dr. Grauer loves to hear from his readers. Please click on the "Comments" drop-down box below to leave a comment about this column!

Dr. Grauer breaking in the school's new Barbeque grill - June 10, 2019

Visual Arts and Photography students on a Field Trip in the Anza-Borrego desert - April 5, 2019

Grauer's STEM Programs: Robotics students fixing their robot at a competition - January 12, 2019

Assistant Principal Alicia Tembi, pictured with Skye S. '23 - June 4, 2019

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