April 5, 2017
Opportunity Statement Prepared
The Opportunity Statement is meant to provide potential candidates an introduction to WMS and to encourage them to seek more information from our search consultant, Independent Thinking.
Parents are encouraged to contact Search Committee Co-chairs, Bill Dunbar and Matt Karpas, with any questions about the Opportunity Statement or the search in general.
Washington Montessori School (WMS), www.washingtonmontessori.org, was founded in 1965 and is affiliated with the American Montessori Society. Today the school serves 240 children ages 18-months through Grade 8. Its 48-acre campus, situated at the top of a picturesque hill includes two playing fields, four tennis courts, two playgrounds, and a 57,000-square-foot classroom building with a theater and gymnasium. The wooded campus includes an outdoor science lab nestled by a river and a quarter-mile running trail. The school moved to its current location in 2003.
New Preston, CT is in a beautiful rural area in Northwest, CT. The area boasts numerous independent schools including Forman, Gunnery, Hotchkiss, Kent, South Kent, and Taft. One can find great restaurants, craft breweries, boutiques, galleries, bakeries and the like on the main streets of the surrounding towns. 90+ minutes from Manhattan, the area has become home to numerous former New Yorkers seeking a different pace of life. There is a strong arts presence and intellectual vibe to the area.
The lobby of WMS is wide open and light-filled. Each morning parent volunteers stock a coffee cart and people gather and connect as they drop their children off for school. The space is filled with animated greetings and the laughter of children, reflecting the strong bonds of this community. The culture of the school community is based on respect, inclusiveness and collaboration. Working in partnership with students and families, faculty build trusting and long-lasting relationships. These relationships are additionally strengthened through the mixed-aged classrooms as this approach enhances each student’s sense of belonging while facilitating optimal learning.
The next Head of School will be joining a school community that is very positive and welcoming. Washington Montessori School has been incredibly led by Head of School Pat Werner for over 40 years. The community looks forward to welcoming a new leader who will embrace the mission and community and who will invest in building relationships and learning the culture of the school.
Washington Montessori School is an engaging and substantive academic environment supported by a deeply-rooted and diverse community of families and educators. Our students learn to recognize their individual and collective potential, develop thoughtful approaches to learning, and choose paths to responsible and fulfilling lives.
Program and Facilities
Montessori students learn more than facts and figures—Montessori education encourages independent thinking, favors discipline and focus and nurtures the innate curiosity in each child so that they may adapt to the challenges of a fast-changing world. We believe hard work produces great outcomes. We encourage tenacity and resilience in the face of obstacles and without fear of failure. We inspire young people to find the best in themselves, to develop their strengths and to use their gifts with energy and distinction to the world around them. (WMS website)
WMS’s structure reflects its Montessori foundation. Its youngest students, beginning at 18 months, are in the Young Children’s Community—YCC—of which there is one classroom. Three sections each of Lower School (children ages 3-6 years old), Lower Elementary (ages 6-9 years old) and two Upper Elementary (ages 9-11 years old) are each led by a Head Teacher and an Associate Teacher per classroom. The Middle School, which is a hybrid model reflecting the school’s Montessori philosophy balanced with preparation for the more traditional academic secondary schools graduates attend, serves students grades 6-8. Middle School faculty are subject specialists. Students meet in mixed-aged homeroom advisories, and their weekly schedule includes classes in Humanities, Science, Math, Physical Education, Life Skills, Spanish and/or Latin, as well as an array of art, music and drama electives.
There are 52 full and part time faculty and staff. In addition to classroom teachers, there is a strong team of specialists who teach art, library, music, drama, Spanish, Latin, Physical Education, Life Skills and support the after school programs. For students who need additional support the WMS staff also includes a Speech Therapist and an Occupational Therapist. Along with the Head of School, the current administrative team includes a Middle School Director, Assistant Head of School for Advancement, Head’s Assistant & Camp Director, Directors of Athletics, Development, Finance, and Safety & Facilities. An IT Director supports the school’s technology needs.
Faculty consistently cite the warm and supportive community as mainstays of their professional happiness. The culture is one of high respect for the professionals and trust for the individual. Faculty feel well-supported in their own professional growth and the autonomy they are given to lead their classroom communities.
WMS is deeply grounded in the philosophies of Maria Montessori and the wide-open, well-resourced, light-filled classrooms that serve children through the Upper Elementary Program are reflective of Montessori best practices. All Head teachers through the Upper Elementary Program are Montessori trained. While clearly grounded in Montessori philosophies, WMS has additionally incorporated research on brain development into teaching practices and the educational program. The age/grade structure of the school’s Upper Elementary Program as well as the Middle School are not in strict adherence to AMS guidelines but serve WMS students well.
Parents are greatly appreciative of the strength of the faculty and how well-known, respected and cared for their children are by every member of the faculty and staff. The school’s commitment to teaching the whole child and supporting individual growth is well-realized. A Head of School who is enthusiastic about the opportunity to know each child and every family will thrive in this school community.
WMS offers extended care programs both before and after school. For students in the Middle School, after school options include study hall, interscholastic athletic teams as well as a number of enrichment classes. WMS offers a summer program with varying options for both current families and families who are in the area for the summer weeks. Additionally, a local, very popular arts program rents space on campus for a two week day camp during the summer.
Candidates are encouraged to explore the school’s website which outlines goals for children at each level of the program and to access the curriculum guides and handbooks through the provided links.
Governance, Budget and Facilities
WMS has an active and committed Board of Trustees that includes current parents, parents of alumni and community members. The ongoing commitment of numerous parents of alumni speaks to the strong loyalty the school engenders. The Board understands and works to adhere to the principals of good practice for independent school governance. Additionally they recognize the need to build a strong partnership with the new Head of School, understanding that with new leadership, following a long-tenured Head of School, the expectations for their active support and partnership will be heightened.
WMS’s yearly budget is approximately $5M. 32% of students receive some form of financial assistance. In 2014, WMS undertook a strategic planning process that defined priorities for a 50th anniversary capital campaign. $2.3M was raised which enabled the expansion and enhancement of the school’s grounds. A sports complex that includes playing fields, tennis courts and a track were added as well as an eco-friendly playground. The move to the school’s 48 acre campus and the construction of a beautiful, well-equipped school building did include the school taking on a sizable mortgage which stands today at $6.2M; the debt is favorably financed but yearly service of the debt is $400K. WMS has a small endowment that is less that $1M.
The school is accredited by the Connecticut Association of Independent Schools and is affiliated with the American Montessori Society. WMS successfully completed its reaccreditation process in the fall of 2016 and is a member of the National Association of Independent Schools.
Opportunities and Challenges
It is only fair to begin this section with an acknowledgment of the combined opportunity and challenge for this school as it transitions to new leadership after the amazing and successful tenure of the current Head of School. Pat’s leadership has set a tone of professionalism, respect, kindness and positivity that pervades WMS. In many ways, Pat has been the ultimate Montessori teacher. Her leadership style is one of guidance and support that encourages individual growth; she is afforded authority through poise, thoughtfulness and wisdom—not through limelight seeking. WMS’s strong culture will remain, as it is held within the foundation of the school and in each member of the community. A new Head of School will inherit a wonderfully positive community—which acknowledges the need to be patient, welcoming and kind to its new Head. He or she will have the opportunity to take the time to really get to know the school, to absorb its culture and learn its traditions. While like any school, WMS has challenges that will benefit from new ideas, energy and perspective, it is a well-functioning entity, and its next Head of School will have the opportunity to partner with highly invested stakeholders to build upon the school’s many strengths.
The Northwest corner of Connecticut is demographically challenging for a school that serves children ages 18 months through 8th grade. At the height of its enrollment, WMS enrolled over 270 students and the building certainly could accommodate that size student population. However, a strong enrollment today would be about 15 more students than are currently enrolled—crossing over into the low to mid 250 number. WMS has instigated numerous approaches in recent years to build enrollment such as expanding its 3-year-old program to a full day option and has worked to further build auxiliary income. A Head of School who can enthusiastically and articulately define the values of a WMS education and is comfortable getting out into local communities as an ambassador will be welcomed. Experience tackling enrollment challenges and strategic, visionary leadership in this arena will help WMS as it addresses this challenge.
WMS has engaged stakeholders in philanthropically supporting the school through annual giving and the yearly gala; the 50th anniversary offered very good support for campus improvements. However, there is a need to further strengthen development efforts, and a Head of School who has the experience and comfort with articulating the value of a school’s program and the opportunities to invest to ensure sustainability will be a good match for WMS’s future.
An additional challenge due in large part to the school’s location is a lack of diversity. Efforts have been made to reach beyond the school’s closest neighborhoods and currently a WMS program and bus route has enabled the school to enroll students from more diverse communities. Numerous stakeholders would like to see additional attention given to increasing diversity both within the student body and the professional staff while acknowledging the inherent challenges of this. WMS has a commitment to global education, and potential scenarios for attracting and enrolling some international students to the Middle School have been discussed, offering WMS a way to both further diversify its student body and to enable all the students to benefit from a stronger international presence in the school community.
As WMS transitions to new leadership after many years and the Board works to build a strong leadership partnership with the new Head of School, the community will greatly benefit from undertaking a strategic planning process once the new Head of School learns the community. It will be a great opportunity to examine strategically with renewed vision the challenges and opportunities ahead.
Washington Montessori School seeks an experienced, knowledgeable educator with leadership skills, and teaching and administrative experience who will enthusiastically embrace the mission and culture of the school. WMS’s next Head of School does not need to be Montessori trained but does need to be a progressive educator who both highly respects the Montessori principles and will invest in building their Montessori knowledge. The new Head of School will be a highly-relational, strategically-minded leader and innovative educator who:
- Will take the time to learn the culture and community, to know the children, the families, faculty and staff, building trust and rapport as the school adjusts to new leadership
- Understands and respects the value of nurturing a strong school culture
- Is an authentic, energetic, invested, hands-on, visible and accessible leader who values community and who enjoys being an integral part of the school community
- Is a forward-thinking leader who is able to lead discussions to define expectations and implement strategic initiatives, effectively building teams, balancing collaboration and listening with pro-active decision making and follow-through
- Is adept at managing the needs of stakeholders and the internal and external demands of school leadership
- Possesses exceptional communication skills
- Has the necessary experience and ability to be an effective, authentic and passionate advocate, both externally and internally, for Washington Montessori School, its mission, programs and value
- Supports and develops excellence in teaching and nurtures an environment of continual professional growth
- Enjoys people and has the communication and personal skills to build trust and engender community
- Is a genuine person of honesty, integrity, grit and good humor who models respect, grace and courtesy to individuals of all ages
The ideal candidate will have had success teaching and leading in an independent school. He or she will be perceptive and positive, a strong communicator, listener and a relationship builder. The right next leader for Washington Montessori School will be an individual who is eager to invest in this strong community and joyfully approach the present and future challenges with enthusiasm and energy.
Please send electronically: Resume, Letter of Interest and Educational Philosophy or Personal Statement to:
Jane Armstrong or Bill Lyons, Managing Partners
All inquiries will be treated confidentially and review of candidate files will begin immediately.
March 7, 2017
Search Committee Announced
March 2, 2017
Independent Thinking Begins Process
January 31, 2017
Message from Board of Trustees Chair, Bill Dunbar
January 31, 2017
Message from Head of School Pat Werner