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Pursuing Excellence with Passion and Intent: A Look Back at Graland’s Strategic Plan 2017-2022

“Ultimately, we want a school in which faculty are empowered to evolve in a rapidly changing educational landscape; in which students develop the resilience, resourcefulness, and innovation to thrive in school and in life; and in which our community relies on the power of inclusivity to help all of us develop intellectually and ethically.”
-Josh Cobb, Head of School & John Gowen, President, Board of Trustees (2015-2018)

As expressed in the quote above, the vision of the previous strategic plan focused on the important themes of inspiration, innovation, and inclusivity. 
By focusing on these themes for the first two and a half years, Graland set a fundamental foundation to support the school during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. By inspiring faculty to achieve classroom mastery and implement new programs through collaboration and innovation, the school was more prepared to adapt to the new educational methods that were required during COVID. At the same time, students proved their adaptability and perseverance in the face of the changing educational landscape from March 2020 on. Finally, in order to ensure health and safety and maximize in-person learning, the community had to come together as One Graland to support the continual growth of our students, faculty, and staff. Focusing on cultivating a sense of belonging for all prepared our community for the collective action that the pandemic demanded.
 
Now, as the plan comes to a close this spring, we celebrate its role in guiding us through the challenges of COVID and its impact on our programs, faculty, community, resources, and governance during the past five years. Please see the key accomplishments in each of these areas.

Program
Provide a program that brings Graland’s mission to life.

Taking Innovative Problem-Solving to the Next Level 
The strategic plan strived to expand design thinking beyond the Middle School Gates Invention and Innovation Program. With the addition of the Charles C. Gates Director of Innovative Learning and the formation of a specially trained and skilled team, innovation has become a broader theme at Graland, infused into the curriculum at all levels. From Kindergarten through Grade 8, students participate in lessons, often onsite in the Gates Lab, to practice innovation skills, including empathy, creative thinking, critical thinking, grit/perseverance, experimentation, and collaboration. These core skills were also crucial for the entire community when it became necessary to pivot and adapt during the pandemic.

Embracing Interdisciplinary Learning Opportunities
The plan encouraged the development of interdisciplinary projects that weave lessons between subjects, such as science, art, language, English, math, history, physical education, and service-learning. Integrated learning requires teachers to collaborate and offers students the chance to dive deeper into topics, build connections across subjects, and understand information from different perspectives and angles, resulting in more meaningful learning experiences. While signature programs such as the Kindergarten Rodeo and the Grade 7 Memory Box unit were expanded, new programs like the Grade 1 Bird Study and the Grade 6 Food Scarcity program were developed.
 
Reaching Higher in Middle School
The plan put a new emphasis on skills expansion in Middle School to ensure that students are prepared for life after Graland. Growth rubrics were introduced to supplement traditional grades, providing both teachers and students with the means to gauge development beyond basic academic expectations. New projects, such as the Grade 8 Capstone, encourage students to showcase thought leadership and bring voice and agency to their studies. Electives were expanded, allowing students to further explore their passions and interests during their time at Graland. Grade 7 and 8 students participated in the Youth Purpose Summit, during which they identified their strengths and articulated how they could use those strengths to help others. 


Faculty
Enhance Graland’s dynamic learning community of highly effective educators, administrators, and staff.
Compensating Faculty to Reflect the School’s Values
The strategic plan drove the development and launch of a reconceptualized faculty compensation model that rewards faculty for their contributions in the classroom, as well as their impact in advancing Graland’s program. The innovative “sphere model” recognizes the values of faculty collaboration, innovation, and leadership. Retaining our talented faculty and recruiting top talent is central to its design, and a $10 million endowment was established to support the faculty compensation structure in perpetuity.
 
Inspiring Faculty Growth
The sphere system provided a way for faculty to control their financial trajectory at the school, and to clarify their journey of professional growth. To help support that growth, the strategic plan called for a reassessment and subsequent redesign of the faculty evaluation process to include coaching with faculty growth partners and informal support through peer cohorts. The school expanded professional development opportunities to encourage teachers to tap into new approaches to learning, social-emotional growth, and inclusivity. Furthermore, Graland established the summer grant program and the Borgen Fellowship to support faculty in focused growth opportunities and the pursuit of advanced degrees. Finally, training in project-based learning and the adoption of new technology became essential and gave faculty new techniques to use as the school pivoted to remote learning in the spring of 2020

Enhancing Hiring Practices
The strategic plan challenged school leaders to find better ways to attract high caliber and diverse candidates. Process improvements were put in place to better seek and find talent to broaden and enhance the school community. Following trainings on best practices in hiring, the school standardized its resume review and interview process, specifically focusing on developing questions related to the specific traits that are most valued at Graland and then asking those same questions to each candidate. Materials were redesigned to better reflect Graland’s culture and values as well as the tangible and intangible benefits of working at the school. A human resources manager position was created to strengthen Graland’s hiring practices and to develop systems for onboarding, training, and support. 

Community
Foster an inclusive community focused on supporting Graland’s mission statement and guiding principles.
Creating a Sense of Belonging 
The plan advocated for more inclusivity, creating a school where everyone has a sense of belonging. A full-time Director of Equity and Inclusivity joined the administrative team in 2017, sparking initiatives like a DEI cohort, bringing more culturally responsive practices to classrooms, and engaging expert speakers. The role of parents in this conversation became more defined through Parent Education Network (PEN) events, affinity groups, and the Equity and Inclusivity Vice President of the Graland Parent Association (GPA). The School Climate Advisory Committee (SCAC) expanded and the chair was brought in as an ex-officio member of the Board of Trustees. The School recommitted to the “all-in” tuition model to ensure that most costs are covered by tuition.
 
Partnering with the Graland Parent Association
The strategic plan called for more active engagement with current families. The GPA works passionately to plan events around community building and connection. Over the past five years, the school’s partnership with the GPA has deepened and aligns more directly with school initiatives. The PEN speakers series is now a joint effort between Graland and the GPA, exploring themes relevant to the student experience. The GPA’s efforts are key to building a thriving community.  
 
Engaging the Broader Graland Community 
The plan recognized that all community members, including alumni, past parents, past leadership, grandparents, and friends have invested in and impacted Graland. Thus, new events and communications strategies encouraged broader engagement of the Graland community and invited these valued groups to learn more about the school, connect with leadership, and see the school in action.
 
Communicating About Who We Are
The strategic plan led to the rebranding of marketing materials to make the “Go Graland” theme feel more welcoming, inclusive, and accessible. The colorful artwork developed is not only more joyful, but also gives a more authentic representation of the Graland experience and values.

Resources
Support the most current and effective educational program by maximizing and expanding the school’s resources.
Redefining Philanthropy at Graland
The plan recognized the importance of strong financial support in addition to other types of resources. To educate Graland’s various audiences that its culture of philanthropy and giving included both financial and non-monetary contributions, such as family engagement, volunteerism, and leadership, we developed a new publication: Go Beyond: A Guide to Giving and Getting at Graland. This resource shared all the ways to be a part of Graland, specifically recognizing the value of being an involved parent, offering volunteer time or a specific talent, and contributing to the annual fund, the endowment, and other giving opportunities.We also shared more about the financial model of independent schools to better educate families about the strategic importance of the annual fund and how critical it is to the operating budget. Additionally, The Family of Funds was developed as part of the Graland Annual Fund to allow donors to find increased meaning by directing their giving in one of five categories.  
 
Endowment
The strategic plan recognized the importance of supplementing tuition with an endowment as a critical revenue source to uphold Graland’s commitment to financial aid, faculty development, and retention. With support from targeted campaigns and skilled fund management by the Graland Country Day School Foundation, the endowment nearly doubled, growing from $35 million in 2017 to $66 million in 2022. The Foundation’s 25th anniversary event and publication recognized the exceptional leadership of past and present donors and celebrated the vital role it plays in providing Graland with a strong financial foundation. 
 
Inspiring Giving
The Inspire Campaign was launched to support the faculty compensation model in perpetuity. Thanks to the Inspire Campaign Co-Chairs and Committee, generous donors, and the Graland Community, the resulting $10 million endowment generated critical resources to ensure that appropriate compensation decisions are made without interference from other budget considerations.
 
Improving Systems and Safety on Campus
The strategic plan identified the growing need for increased safety protocols for K-12 education, resulting in a focus on identifying new technology platforms and systems to support campus operations and communications. By 2019, Graland had launched parent IDs, increased campus security, implemented a pick-up carline, rolled out an emergency communications platform, and activated the Learning Management System (LMS) schoolwide. These systems, which were already in place by the time the pandemic hit, proved to be essential for supporting operations and communications, including remote learning and other daily disruptions.

Governance
Continue board involvement and support to meet Graland’s mission.
Increasing Board Engagement and Accessibility
The final focus of the strategic plan was sharing a better understanding of the role of Graland’s Board of Trustees and its governance structure. With greater board engagement and accessibility, Graland can attract trustees from broad backgrounds, who bring a breadth of experience and knowledge to Graland’s governance. The Board became a more familiar presence on campus through meet-and-greet events, increased community communications and updates, and a revised nomination process that includes recruiting non-Board members to Board subcommittees to broaden participation. The Board also participated in generative learning opportunities to better understand strategic initiatives around independent school education and inclusivity. 

The Launch of Strategic Plan 2022
While Graland is proud of its accomplishments over the past five years, the school looks forward to launching its new strategic plan later this year, which will build on the foundations of the previous strategic plan.




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Graland Country Day School

Graland Country Day School is a private school in Denver, Colorado, serving students in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and middle school. Founded in Denver in 1924, Graland incorporates a rich, experiential learning approach in a traditional classroom setting, emphasizing the development of globally and socially conscious leaders who excel academically.