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Winter Rector's Letter

Dear Chatham Hall Community,
 
When I assumed the role of Rector of Chatham Hall in 2019, I understood, and was excited, that the delivery of our academic experience was being explored in depth and changes would soon be coming.
The world today is not the world of 20th century education, and the processes and trends that have governed American education for decades no longer best serve our students and society. Some may view these as bold statements, but it is hard to argue that the measures of academic mastery and success that have long held pride of place - think exam results and standardized tests - are no longer our best options. 
 
Our students need to be educated in a way that prepares them for a future none of us can envision, one in which they will undertake jobs that don’t exist today, perhaps in areas that thus far have only been imagined. In order to do this, a reconceptualization of the components of education is necessary. In my time here, I have used three guiding questions that have directed our work and our planning.
  • How do we expand and better personalize the intellectual and emotional development of our girls knowing both their varied interests and the confusing pressures that bombard them every day?
  • How do we encourage them to expect more of themselves which often means embracing the messiness and learning that comes from mistakes and failures?
  • How do we make sure they see a place for themselves in our community and can make their unique contributions? 
In answering these questions, we are developing a blueprint for truly living well both now and in the future.
 
Since 2016, Chatham Hall has been guided by a strategic plan committed to empowering girls to better the world. The plan, created by the adult and student community at the time, is dedicated to several outcomes including enhancing and fortifying the student experience. The world has changed a great deal in the five years since we adopted this plan, but our goals remain as relevant now as they were when they were written. I thank my faculty colleagues for the time they’ve put into this work, especially as COVID-19 emerged and consumed so much of our lives. I thank our students and alumnae for their input, formally and informally, at critical points. I am thrilled to update you today on several developments in our Chatham Hall experience that will allow us to advance our Strategic Plan and ensure that your daughters are as equipped as possible for our 21st century world, have opportunities to explore what lights them up, and ultimately are able to begin creating lives that are all their own.
 
Living Well: Reimagining Time
A major milestone towards enhancing and fortifying the student experience is reimagining the deployment of time. As author Annie Dillard noted, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” With this in mind, Dean of Academics Martha Griswold has led a multi-year investigation into the School schedule with an eye towards balance between academic requirements, extracurricular and cocurricular activities, and “down time” for both our students and our faculty and staff. The three guiding principles of this new schedule include a focus on wellbeing, supporting students in appropriately committing themselves to academics and activities, and allowing creativity and flexibility in course meetings. At key times, through surveys, conversations, and meetings, we sought input from School community members. While the finer details of the new daily schedule will be released in the spring (and have the benefit of faculty and student reactions), we are committed to keeping recent schedule adjustments that we know work well for young people such as the later start time to the school day. 
 
Additionally, it is with great excitement that we now announce the addition of a January Term beginning in 2022. This new, required term will allow students to explore courses that are not currently part of our semester curricula, as well as offer ample opportunity for co-curriculars, to meet graduation requirements, and/or to undertake courses for personal growth. Examples of our first offerings will include Financial Literacy, Introduction to Art, and World Religions. More details on this program will be forthcoming and I am personally very excited at the possibilities a January Term brings to Chatham Hall. Among other things, in the years ahead I see January Term as a time in which student-alumnae connections are able to expand via guest experts, shadow opportunities, and internships. I see every student graduating from Chatham Hall with a command of personal finance that will lay the groundwork for supporting their hopes and plans. I see students able to better control their time as they explore their interests and passions. 
 
Living Well: How We Use Our Time
Much as we have been investigating how we deliver our curriculum, we have also been exploring what we offer within our academic program. Dean of College Counseling Dr. Erin McHugh has led an effort to analyze our Advanced Placement (AP) program and we are proud to announce that, like a number of peer schools across the nation, we will be moving away from the prescribed curricula of these courses in favor of our own advanced courses. These new courses will allow our faculty and young scholars much greater input and flexibility in the breadth and depth of their studies, as well as the independence to undertake research on topics that may not be covered or covered in depth as determined by the College Board. We pride ourselves on meeting students where they are, and our students and faculty are creative, enjoy challenges, and would like to work beyond the limitations of AP curricula to grow in exciting and meaningful ways and ultimately encourage a love for lifelong learning. Frankly, our teachers have been thinking about this for years. Examples of new, advanced courses we expect to offer in the 2021-2022 academic year include A History of Western Civilization: Conflict and Accommodation, Hispanic Heritage in the U.S., and Advanced Physics.
 
In our conversations with college admissions offices, including those in the Ivy League and those most popular with students and alumnae, we have been assured that Chatham Hall’s stellar academic reputation will ensure that our current students’ college applications will not be impacted by this move, and indeed that colleges today are interested in seeing rigorous, relevant coursework that prepares students with 21st century skills rather than simply AP courses listed on transcripts. We are committed that our new advanced courses will not only provide the strong foundation of critical thinking expected by colleges, but will expose students to a more diverse range of topics and thought that will allow them to interact with and develop an understanding of the world around them, include student input, and remain firmly rooted in the dimensions of our Living Well initiative. Students will still have the opportunity to take AP exams at Chatham Hall should they choose to prepare for these courses on their own, as some students have selected to do in the past. Dean Griswold will send more detailed information to current Chatham Hall families on this shift to unique advanced courses tomorrow.
 
Next Steps
We are looking forward to the work we will be doing this spring, and of course into next year, as we develop and launch these programs. No doubt you will have questions about these announcements, and we cannot wait to discuss them with you. We will be hosting a Zoom on Tuesday, February 9 at 8:00 p.m. so that current parents will have the chance to chat with me and members of my administrative leadership team. Please read Dean Griswold’s letter for more information and look for an invitation to our February 9 parent Zoom next week. We also look forward to chatting with alumnae about these developments in upcoming regional Zoom events. 
 
I know you join me in the excitement of new opportunities and experiences for our Chatham Hall students, and your support will be a critical component of the implementation of these changes for the best possible learning experiences for our girls. This is an exciting time in education, and a very exciting time to be at Chatham Hall. Thank you for all that you do for our community, and all that you will do in the months and years ahead.
 
Esto Perpetua,

Rachel Connell
Rector
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An all girls boarding and day school in Southern Virginia, Chatham Hall prepares girls for college and for productive lives. Our innovative academic program offers Advanced Placement courses, global study and travel, as well as project based learning. Our athletic teams regularly compete at the State level and our exceptional riding program is nationally recognized. We foster the intellect and character of each student and, through our Honor Code, live in a community of trust. Grounded in its Episcopal heritage, the school welcomes students of all faiths and backgrounds.  
800 Chatham Hall Circle | Chatham, VA 24531 | 434.432.2941 | admission@chathamhall.org