In a year where many of us have been simply holding on for dear life as a pandemic ravages daily life, the Strategic Summit Team looks to SLUH’s future plans with hope and vision. Fourteen faculty members spent the weekend of April 17-18 at the Mercy Center to look at what’s been done right and what can be done to make SLUH a better place in the future.
“I want us to be ready to have an agenda of big, bold pieces that doesn’t make us overcommitted to doing too many things, or to miss big opportunities to learn from what we’ve had,” said principal Ian Gibbons, S.J., who signed off on the creation of the Strategic Summit back in late February.
The team will be focusing on the academic years of 2023 through 2027, charting a course for the adaptations that SLUH will inevitably have to make as it transitions forward from these unprecedented times. The pandemic likely won’t disappear all at once but at some point its effects will no longer be prevalent in life at SLUH, and the Strategic Summit Team aims to be prepared for that moment before it happens.
“I don’t want us to be a school where we look around and say ‘The pandemic’s over. Now what?’,” said Gibbons.
“The pandemic, of course, blew everything to bits. And everybody sort of had to stop doing whatever we were doing for essentially five quarters,” said economics teacher Kevin Foy, who helped organize the event. “It just sort of seemed like it was a good time to step back and say, ‘what were the things that we already were planning to address? What did we learn during the pandemic? . . . Did anything change because of the passage of five quarters that we would want to look at differently?’ That is sort of the thesis. And then the point of it was to figure out answers to those questions. There wasn't necessarily much of an agenda going in about what it was supposed to be or not.”
Some specific topics that the Strategic Summit Team will deliberate over for SLUH’s future past 2023 include the 1:1 technology policy, graduation requirements, a possible system pairing students with their own adult mentors, and of course, scheduling.
“The big issue that I think everyone knew was scheduling for the 2023 academic year,” said Gibbons. The team will be working on assembling committees of 6-8 faculty and staff members to begin planning and creating timelines for the work that needs to be done starting in 2023.
Many schools have stuck solely to what Gibbons described as the “Pandemic Task Force Approach,” constantly attempting to respond to the ever-changing conditions presented by the pandemic. SLUH also has taken this approach with their own Pandemic Response Team, but the Strategic Summit takes everything one step further and sets SLUH apart from many other schools. It does not replace other bodies such as the Administrative Council or the Instructional Council, but rather adds a forward-thinking, visionary aspect to a school that otherwise often prides itself on deep-rooted tradition.
The team, which consists of 14 members including an executive group of 5 members, met via a retreat at Mercy Center to discuss the issues facing SLUH and what will have to change or go back to normal as the pandemic slowly fades out of everyday life. They analyzed some foundational documents to begin with, including the mission statement, grad at grad, and the sponsorship review among others and broke out into small groups.
“We had three whiteboard sessions, and then we met in small groups to discuss, and then we came back to this large group to share,” said Foy. “We just sort of came up with all of this stuff rooted in all of those documents. So, you know, what is the mission of SLUH? Well, we look back at the mission statement then we apply it.”
“Through the next academic year (2021-22) I expect us to be entangled in a pandemic in many ways,” said Gibbons. “There’s not gonna be a hard stop to something like a pandemic.”
As the pandemic eventually, gradually winds down, the Strategic Summit Team will have the next academic year to determine their priorities and determine the vision for what SLUH will become and how it will both adapt and return to modified normalcy from 2023-2027.
Overall, Gibbons is confident that the Strategic Summit team will help SLUH emerge from this period of crisis in a good position to both uphold its prestigious reputation and also make strides towards the future.
“It was really inspiring to hear the perspectives of a lot of thinkers to think a lot about the flow, and what makes the school a great place,” said Foy.
“I think it’s going to make us a cleaner, more systematic school,” said Gibbons. “I think it's going to make us a more deliberate school in our mission and make us a school that is really capable year in and year out, of being able to assure the quality of leadership development that we aspire to.”
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