Len's Letter from News From The Hall

Dear SMH Families, 
 
The start of the school year is always so full of hope and expectation.  It’s a time of year when we look forward to deepening relationships with old friends, meeting new ones, embarking on new adventures, and learning new things.  Having all our students back on campus is so revitalizing.  There has been a marked cheerfulness in our students this year.  We are all, perhaps, incredibly grateful to begin the new school year with deeper connection than in the last couple of years.   
 
Our students and faculty returned from the summer break to see many exciting upgrades to our already-beautiful campus.  The Lewis Family Field received restoration of the turf and track, the replacement of the scoreboard with a new digital jumbotron, and the upgrading of lighting that will improve the field of vision for our athletes and the ability for us to support our community events more dynamically.  We also made significant investments in a college counseling suite of offices and common areas.  The new spaces enable us to realize several exciting enhancements in our college counseling program.  Our college counselors will now work year-round and be available in the summer.  We added two additional members to the college counseling team for a total of four.  Mrs. Ellen Deitrich has begun her role as Assistant Head of School for Academics/Dean of College Counseling.  We are also adjusting the way we weight the grades of advanced classes in the Upper School to represent better the rigor of our curriculum.  For more details on our overall efforts to enhance our college counseling program, please see the letter I sent to our Form 8-12 Families last week on College Counseling, Grade Weighting, and Community Service Updates. 
  
You may have noticed that the front entrance to campus has been beautified through landscaping. Some of our classrooms in lower school were remodeled and repainted,  we created a library space in the middle school, and the upper school faculty lounge saw a much-needed renovation.  The Prichard Classroom, several office moves, and the creation of an innovative classroom we’re calling The Workshop were among other upgrades to our facilities.  Dom Smith, and our entire facilities team, deserve a special thanks for their dedicated efforts this summer.    
 
The idea for a pilot classroom came out of our initial work in creating a Campus Master Plan.  We completed the first phase of our planning process last year.   The Blanchard Group, from Richmond, VA, has consulted and led conversations that will also inform our next strategic plan.  We are beginning that strategic planning process this fall.  I will share in a future communication more about the strategic planning process and outline ways where you can share your ideas to help shape our next strategic plan.   
 
It has not gone unnoticed by the SMH community that today is the first day of school for the Uvalde (Consolidated Independent) School District.  Our SMH community continues to hold the Uvalde community in our hearts.  The impact of the events this summer were felt by our own teachers, students and families, and we continue to seek ways to support our community as well.  Creating a learning environment where all feel safe--emotionally and physically--will continue to be a priority at SMH.  To that end, I wanted to share that after conducting two safety and security audits this summer, we are moving forward in creating a new position at SMH for a full time Director of School Safety and Security.  In making this additional investment in safety, we will ensure that we are always leading the way in best practices for campus security. The Director of Campus Safety and Security will report directly to me and work closely with our Director of Facilities, our current campus security team, and our entire faculty and staff to ensure that our campus is always a safe, secure, and nurturing environment for learning.    
 
We will also continue to enhance safety and security based on the recommendations that come from the audits we did this summer.  Listed below is a summary of the many layers of prevention and protection that are in place to ensure the safety of our students and staff:  
•    Medical Emergency Training (CPR, Defibrillators) was given to our teachers, administration, and soon will include all maintenance staff, Sage employees, and the rest of our staff. Every adult employee on campus will be trained to respond appropriately to a medical emergency.  
•    Mental Health First Responder Training: all teachers have completed Mental Health First Responder certification, helping to identify mental health emergencies and intervene promptly  
•    Armed SAPD presence: Saint Mary’s Hall has a long relationship with the San Antonio Police Department and known patrol officers, who know our campus and students, are on campus every single day.   
•    Additional patrolling security: In addition to SAPD, our campus has daily patrolling security  
•    Visitor Screening System that includes license plate/criminal background screening for all outside visitors   
•    Titan Emergency Communication System: Saint Mary’s Hall is reintroducing the Titan Emergency System App to faculty and staff, enabling seamless communication and rapid response in the event of an emergency.  
•    Single point of entrance and external 8-foot safety fencing   
•    Active Shooter Response Training: all faculty and staff underwent Active Shooter training offered through the Bexar County Sherriff’s Department  
•    Digital video surveillance systems at all divisions and throughout campus  
•    Regular and ongoing emergency drills and faculty training for appropriate response during those drills.  
•    Enhanced phone system: the SMH phone system has been improved to allow immediate communication across all classrooms 
We are committed to a continuous improvement process for ongoing monitoring and adjustment of our practices. Thank you for your continued support as we work to ensure the safety and security of our students and staff. Do not hesitate to reach out with concerns or questions. 
 
Lastly, it is vitally important to the success of our students that we continue to build a culture of belonging at SMH.  To that end, thank you, and a special thanks to our new family mentors, for helping to welcome our 117 new students and their families.  I hope you will be able to join some of the many community-building events we have planned for this year.  Those events would not be possible without the partnership of our faculty and staff along with our Parent Circle.  Each form has a Parent Circle Leader who can help connect you to ways to get involved.  One such upcoming opportunity is our Parent Coffees, and of course our SMH Fiesta is around the corner on September 30th. I also want to mention the book club I will be leading on September 21st, from 11:00 to 1:00, in the Prichard.  We will be discussing The War for Kindness by Jamil Zaki, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, who makes the case in this book that empathy is a skill that can be taught.  I believe that this book, and the research Professor Zaki cites, has important implications and ideas for how we can continue to strive toward living our core values through a shared commitment of listening, considering other viewpoints, and cultivating empathy. 
 
As we strive to make this year one where our hopes and commitments become reality, we would be well served to remind ourselves of the importance of doing things in a thoughtful, intentional, and compassionate way.  As we head into a year so full of hope and expectation, we can accomplish our goals by working together.  Here’s to year of good health, realized goals, and delight in simple things. 
 
Len