In an address Wednesday to the NCS Parents Association, Head of School Kathleen O'Neill Jamieson provided a snapshot of accomplishments and highlights from the 2015-2016 school year, as well as a preview of the big changes just ahead with this summer's completion of renovations to the NCS campus.
"This is such a powerful place for young women to experience. It is the high standard for many, not only around the country," Mrs. Jamieson said. "Educators from around the world want to know, 'How do you get these students to communicate, to write, to stand up and present the way you do,' and the answer is, the relationships between the teachers and the girls, and the families who support them."
More than 80 people attended Wednesday's meeting, at which Mrs. Jamieson gave an update on the search for an assistant head/Upper School head. She noted that a handful of semifinalists have paid visits to the Close and another's visit is scheduled for Thursday.
She also pointed to academic initiatives that underscore "the overall vision of the education that we strive to offer to your remarkable girls." Robotics and coding classes are NCS's newest STEM offerings, following the development of an engineering elective and the creation last year of an engineering garage at the Carriage House. And a restructuring currently underway of the Technology Department will result in more academic-technology expertise becoming available to NCS faculty and students alike.
"We have very good news on our admissions front," the head of school said: NCS is fully enrolled for the 2016-2017 school year, and "our yield of accepted students stands at a five-year high." Ninety-three girls will enter NCS for the first time in September. Nearly a quarter of them are siblings of current students or the daughters of alumnae. Mrs. Jamieson cited statistics that show NCS's success this admission season in expanding the school's reach and developing a community filled with varied life experiences — crucial elements of the school's strategic plan.
The head of school also addressed college acceptances — "the other end of the admission world," as she put it. It's too early to have complete data on where the Class of 2016 will matriculate, Mrs. Jamieson said, but "our girls continue to enjoy significantly higher acceptance rates at the most competitive colleges than the general applicant pool." She noted some broad national changes in admissions, including more young women expressing an interest in studying engineering at highly selective institutions ("There's not the same edge for girls in that field as in the past") and how universities who have gone to a test-optional admissions policy are seeing a surge in applications.
Mrs. Jamieson discussed the growing role of NCS alumnae in the life of the school; more than 15 women have returned to the Close this year to meet with and talk to current students about the path of their lives after Flag Day. "One of the most valuable things you're providing your daughters by having them here is the experience of the alumnae network that follows, once they graduate," she said.
She reviewed the renovation of Procter Hall and the Woodley North courtyard, the final phase of the 25-year-old Facilities Master Plan. Work is scheduled for completion in June, and the Jane Henderson Boyden Craige Gray ’32 Library, on the top two floors of Procter, will be ready for students when school starts in September.
Mrs. Jamieson noted that fundraising for this phase remains incomplete. "The [governing] board took a considerable leap to decide this building was going to be continuous, we're not going to stop it to wait for the definitive fundraising to conclude ... [and thereby miss] an entire group of students" getting to use the new facilities.
"We are now $2.4 million from that final goal, so we've come a very long way," she said, adding that more than 800 people have made campaign gifts ranging from $100 to $3 million. Many of those gifts have come from alumnae, including 54 leadership-level donations: "There's a wonderful surge of alumnae energy behind all of the work we're doing."
"Participate," she urged the audience. "Join the team. Be part of it. And if each of us does what she can, we can provide this essential environment for the girls, absent debt for the future. I have faith we can do it. ... That would be quite an accomplishment for this generation of families and trustees."
After Mrs. Jamieson, Glenn Youngkin, the chair of the Governing Board's Finance Committee, took the lectern. He reviewed the 2016-2017 budget and explained the board's overarching objectives for that budget: enabling NCS to enroll a truly diverse student body and attract and retain extraordinary faculty; preparing for the school's long-term needs; responsibly managing proceeds from the school's endowment; and moderating any tuition increase.
NCS's fiscal picture compares favorably with other independent schools in the region, Mr. Youngkin reported, and the school is financially strong, with robust oversight and no new debt on the horizon.
Mr. Youngkin, an NCS parent himself, highlighted for the audience — as did Mrs. Jamieson — how a larger endowment (currently at $26 million) could ease the pressure on tuition increases to cover NCS's needs.