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A Summer Message from Dr. Dan Griffiths

Dear Stevenson Families,

As we step into summer and look forward to the fall, I write to review several high points from the spring semester, provide some updates, and share relevant information. 

A Year Unlike Any Other
Compared to the vast majority of their peers across the nation, our students will be much better prepared for their next academic experience, whether they are beginning college or returning to Stevenson. While the disruptions of the last 18 months necessitated some reductions to our normal coverage of material, our teachers’ keen focus on skill development has provided our students with the tools they need to thrive academically once they resume their studies this fall. Though none of us will miss spending hours on Zoom, we learned a great deal about effective use of Canvas, our learning management system, and the effective use of technology in the classroom. Our extended period of remote and hybrid learning also challenged us to develop innovative assessment strategies, with traditional tests and quizzes often giving way to creative, project-based assignments. To the degree that these adaptations have brought about new ways of teaching, the past eighteen months have served as an incredibly impactful exercise in professional development.

Our eight weeks on campus this spring brought a welcome flurry of co-curricular activity, including 157 interscholastic competitions. All of our varsity teams qualified for Central Coast Section (CCS) playoffs. Among many amazing performances, Evan Johnson ’22 won titles in the 100m and 200m at the track and field finals. Notably, of the 338 students who returned for campus instruction, 292 (almost 90%) participated in some form of athletic activity, and 243 (more than 70%) competed in interscholastic competition. Meanwhile, to everyone’s delight our performing arts department performed a live musical in front of a live audience in the amphitheater (despite unseasonably frigid conditions!), and our multi-talented students closed out the year with a week-long lunchtime concert series. 

All of these achievements were made possible in large part by our medical team’s remarkable efforts. Our daily symptom checks, health screenings, rapid testing, and isolation protocols kept the campus COVID-free throughout the spring. We returned no positive tests from the moment we invited students back to campus in early April. Within 48 hours of the state making vaccinations available to people over the age of 12, we provided vaccination access to all of our upper division students. It is important to note that our students were remarkably committed to adhering to the Pirate Pledge, and never balked at occasional reminders about keeping masks on and maintaining physical distancing--testament to the strong relationships forged between students and teachers despite our separation for so many months. 

Class of 2021 College Placement
The past two years have been among the most unpredictable in the history of college admissions, and conditions were complicated further this year by reduced access to standardized testing and the decision by most institutions to suspend or even permanently discount such test scores. Nonetheless, our seniors gained admission to a range of institutions notable for its quality and diversity: prestigious art, film, music, and theater programs; military service academies; small liberal arts colleges and major research universities; top institutions in other nations; and the most selective schools in the United States. Owing in large part to the spiraling cost of higher education, we also saw some students wisely take advantage of merit scholarships and community college articulation agreements within the University of California system. At every step of the process, our students have access to outstanding resources in our college counseling center. Our counselors work tirelessly to keep the needs and interests of each student and their family central to the process. We are proud of our graduates and confident that they are well prepared for the next step on their academic journey.

Graduation
Our creativity and organizational skills were tested by the task of giving our seniors the best possible send-off under conditions and restrictions that seemed to change on an almost daily basis. As a result of some remarkable work from multiple departments across the school, and with great gratitude to our seniors and their families for their patience and good will as we worked through the complexities of hosting community gatherings in a pandemic, we successfully hosted a number of events to celebrate our seniors’ final few weeks at Stevenson. On May 30, we welcomed over 400 guests to a wonderful graduation ceremony at the Jeff and Beth Young Athletics Complex on a gloriously sunny afternoon. Presenting diplomas to this remarkable class was the highlight of my year.

Planning for the fall
Understandably, we’ve started to receive questions about what campus life and instruction will look like in the fall, insofar as the pandemic is concerned. With county metrics in steady decline, vaccination numbers on the rise, and state restrictions being relaxed, we see grounds for optimism that things will be much closer to normal come September. As an indication of that confidence, we do not anticipate that we will need to continue remote instruction as an option. Over the summer, we will monitor California Department of Public Health guidance, but don’t expect to receive definitive information for schools until late July. At that time, we’ll know more about the degree to which masks, physical distancing, post-travel quarantines may continue to be required, and we’ll also learn whether the state of California will add COVID-19 shots to its list of mandated vaccinations for students. In the meantime, we encourage you to remain vigilant, especially if you and your children are unvaccinated and traveling by public transportation this summer. If you have questions or concerns, please contact Erik Olson, dean of students.

For the families of students whose travel to campus requires visas and long flights: please know that your special needs and concerns--especially given the present scarcity of available flights to the United States from certain countries--are very much on our minds. A webinar has been scheduled for our international families and an invitation will be sent to you via email.

New Faces
I am delighted to share the following information about some of the superb teachers who will be joining our team next year.

Isabel Aguirre-Kelly will teach English and support our equity and inclusion work. Isa has extensive boarding school experience, teaching and coaching volleyball at Taft School, Choate Rosemary School (where she also served as the diversity coordinator), and School Year Abroad in Spain. She holds a BA in English from Georgetown University, and is currently enrolled in a Masters program in Diversity and Inclusion Leadership at Tufts University.

Andy Bessette will teach mathematics, and live with his family in the Treasure Island dormitory. He joins us from the Hill School (PA). He holds a BA in mathematics from Colgate University. 

Katie Cardinalli joins us as director of technical theater. Katie brings a wealth of professional experience from theater, television and film production, and holds a BFA from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco and an MFA in theater (scene design) from Purdue University.

Hannah Fox comes to us from Colorado Timberline Academy, a boarding school where she taught math, coached multiple sports and led a variety of outdoor education activities including week-long backpacking trips. Hannah holds a BA in philosophy, with minors in Spanish and math, from Seattle University.

Johanna Kroenlein will teach science, joining us from Notre Dame High School in Salinas. Johanna holds a BA in ecology and evolutionary biology from Princeton University, where she played varsity lacrosse, and an MEd from San Francisco State University. She is already familiar to many in our community, as she has been coaching girls’ lacrosse at Stevenson since 2018. 

Dr. Allison Madar will teach history, joining us from the University of Oregon, where she is an assistant professor of history. Her independent school experience includes time at Lake Forest Academy (IL) and the Kinkaid School (TX). Allison holds a BA in history and biology from Kenyon College, where she was a varsity soccer and basketball player, and an MA and PhD from Rice University. She has coached basketball, soccer and softball at the high school and college level.

Chris McKhann will teach computer science and mathematics, arriving from the Gunnery School (CT). He will live in Wilson dormitory with his family. Chris holds a BA in philosophy from the University of North Carolina, Asheville, and was a nationally ranked track cyclist in college. He also served as a strength and conditioning coach for Middlebury College’s athletics department.

Melody Pao will teach all levels of French, joining us from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies (MIIS), where she was an adjunct professor. Melody holds a BA in French from Wellesley College, an MA in French literature from Middlebury College and an MA in teaching foreign language from MIIS. She is also fluent in Spanish, Italian and Mandarin!

Stephanie Shore will teach history. She comes to Stevenson from Avenues: The World School in New York. After training in the Teach for America program, Stephanie worked for the U.S. Department of State in Haiti and for non-profits in west Africa before returning to teaching eight years ago. She holds a BA from the University of Iowa in political science and history, and a Masters degree in international affairs, economic and political development from Columbia University.

Dr. Rebecca Upjohn also joins our science department, having recently completed her PhD in ecology at the University of Wyoming. Rebecca brings years of experience as a field researcher and instructor, and taught at Worcester Academy before pursuing her doctorate. 

The Road Ahead
We can look forward to the coming school year with optimism, fueled by a sense of achievement for how we maintained our focus during the unprecedented events of the past year and a half. Our community has emerged intact, and stronger for the experience, and I am confident that we have significantly enhanced our reputation both locally and nationally as a result of the clear and disciplined way in which we navigated all that has been thrown at us. There is an extraordinary amount of interest in becoming a Stevenson Pirate, and we have had a remarkable admissions season. We currently have the largest enrollment for many years in both the day and boarding population, and have a lengthy waitlist for places. We are most proud, however, of the incredibly low level of attrition we are seeing in our current families, with the vast majority of students choosing to return to Stevenson in the fall. We are grateful and humbled by this vote of confidence, and will continue to work tirelessly to repay your trust in us.

We will spend the summer not only recuperating and re-energizing for the next school year, but also reflecting on the lessons we have learned. After a few weeks of hard-earned rest, we will begin the task of preparing for a new academic year in which the majority of our student body will have spent very little time on campus (only our senior class will have experienced a full year of on-campus instruction!). This will require patient and deliberate community building, offering the opportunity for us to both introduce and reinforce the values that have served generations of Stevenson students so well. In the meantime, I hope you all find ways to rest, recuperate and recharge in preparation for what we hope will be a much less complicated fall!

Sincerely,


Dr. Dan Griffiths
Head of the Upper Division