From the Headmaster: Welcome to the 22-23 School Year

Dear St. Christopher’s Parents, Faculty/Staff, and Students,

I hope you are having a wonderful summer, with sufficient opportunity for rest, enjoyment, and family time. My family and I have enjoyed the summer immensely, filling it with camps, family travel, and opportunities to sleep in a bit and enjoy a slower pace of life. It has also afforded the opportunity for some enjoyable and thought-provoking summer reading, which I will speak to in greater detail, below.

While I do always feel a bit like the Grim Reaper announcing the end of summer every mid-August, I also know that I am genuinely excited for the start of a new school year. There is nothing quite like the energy, hope, and optimism that 1,000 boys and 200+ faculty and staff can bring to a vibrant school campus at the start of each school year. 

Importantly, for the first time in three years, we are planning for a fall and school year filled with normalcy and the absence of onerous COVID restrictions. The St. Christopher’s leadership team and I have spent much of the summer focusing our planning efforts on the continual improvement of our academic program, the expansion and enhancement of co-curricular offerings, and a renewed commitment to student and employee health and wellness, as we continue to emerge from the challenges of the past few years. More information about several of these efforts is included below.

I hope that you have reviewed updates from our LowerMiddle, and Upper School divisions, as well as a recent health update from Director of Health and Wellness Dr. Ann Vanichkachorn and our medical team. I encourage you to read through those communications with your son so that both you and he feel confident and equipped to tackle the opening days of the 2022-2023 school year. 

Enrollment and Overall Strength of St. Christopher’s 

As our community emerges from the challenges posed by COVID, we do so stronger than at any point in recent history. Our JK-12 enrollment is robust and healthy at approximately 1,000 students. Our enrollment is now capped at each grade level, and we possess healthy waiting pools at every entry point. We reached this position of strength thanks to two record-breaking feats accomplished over the past six months—First, our retention of students and families from last year to this year is at its highest point in recorded St. Christopher’s history—nearly 98% (the national average for independent schools is approximately 90%). Second, our admissions yield (the percent of families who accepted our offers of admission) also reached its highest point in recorded St. Christopher’s history—86%.   

I am also pleased to report that the 2021-2022 school year reached record levels of philanthropy for our community, breaking records in both participation and dollar levels. I am truly grateful to the entire Saints community for this continued sign of support and solidarity. 

Security Update

As I shared in my May 31 communication, following the tragic school shooting in Uvalde, TX, I asked our security team to conduct a thorough review of our campus-security protocols and to offer recommendations over the summer regarding how we can best secure our campus, while balancing our desire to continue to present a warm and welcoming campus to students, employees, families, and neighbors. This is no easy balance to strike in 2022, but I am confident that we will reach such a balance together.

Our security team, led by new Director of Security Hal Moser, did an outstanding job of reviewing existing protocols and recommending a series of safety improvements. Starting this month, we are implementing a number of campus-security adjustments, including but not limited to the following:

  • Exterior campus doors will be locked by default for the vast majority of school hours; Middle and Upper School students will need to bring their Saints Card student IDs with them each school day in order to access campus buildings. Lower School students will be let into buildings by their teachers. 
  • We are expanding our campus security coverage to include a rotation of officers on duty every school day from 7:00 a.m. to approximately 6:30 p.m. and also at all major campus events.  I am pleased that we have invested significantly in our security team over the past five years, growing it from one team member to a group of five or six rotating team members, all of whom possess significant prior law enforcement, school security, and/or military experience. We are fortunate to benefit from their experience and insight.
  • We will invest significant time this fall training our faculty and staff on the latest campus-security protocols and procedures, as recommended by the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the U.S. Secret Service.  
 

Strategic Plan Updates

Even with the demands of COVID restrictions occupying much of our leadership bandwidth the past 2.5 years, we have also invested significant time and thought into the implementation of our current strategic plan, Momentum 2025. For example, 

  • A faculty and staff task force, led by Interim Head of the Upper School and Director of the Center for the Study of Boys Kim Hudson, has developed a new set of St. Christopher’s Core Values, which we are dubbing “St. Christopher’s Community Pillars.” These Pillars will both guide and inform our work with our boys and broader St. Christopher’s community in the years to come. We look forward to sharing our new Community Pillars later this fall.
  • We are poised to establish a new partnership with a youth-focused organization here in Virginia that will afford St. Christopher’s students, faculty, and staff with extraordinary new opportunities for outdoor education, experiential learning, student rites of passage, and student and faculty team-building. More information on this new partnership will be shared in the coming weeks.
  • Priority Four of Momentum 2025, “Ensuring Affordability and Sustainability,” calls for St. Christopher’s to “ensure long-term affordability by doubling our endowment through philanthropic support over the next decade.” While St. Christopher’s is not presently in a formal endowment fundraising campaign, I am delighted to share that St. Christopher’s raised over $6 million in new endowment commitments in the 2021-2022 school year, with a significant portion of those commitments earmarked for need-based financial aid or to reduce operating expenses, thus suppressing future tuition increases.  

Additional Momentum 2025 initiatives will be pursued and announced later this school year. We are fortunate now to benefit from an experienced and accomplished St. Christopher’s leader, Tony Szymendera, to oversee and pursue these initiatives as our new Director of Strategic Priorities.

FLIK Update 

As we enter our fourth year of partnership with FLIK Independent School Dining, we recognize and have communicated clearly with FLIK that the experience to date has not met our standards or expectations. Granted, most of FLIK’s tenure with St. Christopher’s has been hampered by COVID restrictions and labor-staffing challenges. Even so, as we continue to emerge from COVID, we have high hopes and expectations for an excellent overall dining program with FLIK.

I am grateful to the more than 750 parents, faculty and staff members, and students who offered candid feedback about their experience with FLIK via survey last spring. We have reviewed those survey results in detail both internally and with our FLIK management partners. They and we understand that a renewed commitment to overall dining excellence will be required this coming school year.  

In the spirit of new beginnings, I am pleased to announce that FLIK has appointed a new Food Service Director to lead all dining operations at St. Christopher’s. Mark Worsley brings significant culinary and management experience to FLIK and St. Christopher’s, having overseen all food and beverage operations at major Richmond venues including the Altria Theater and Dominion Arts Center. As an Executive Chef, he has overseen catering events for as few as 10 people and as many as 3,000. Previously, Mark was the Executive Chef for Omni Hotel and Resorts here in Richmond, overseeing a food and beverage staff of 35. I am confident that Mark and the returning team from FLIK will be ready to provide an outstanding food experience to our students, employees, and families this coming school year. 

Construction Update

Our facilities team has been extremely busy this summer, focusing on a number of campus improvements, including the following:

  • Complete refurbishment of classrooms in Grades 3-5 and parts of Extended Day, with new windows in Extended Day and new lights, floors, ceilings, cubbies, HVAC, and more in both spaces.
  • Wilton Hall, in our Middle School, received new windows and carpeting on the second floor.
  • Thanks to a generous donor, our athletic training room received a makeover, with new lighting, ceiling, floors, cabinetry, and equipment.
  • Our Middle and Upper School athletic locker rooms have been thoroughly cleaned and painted. 
  • Although the process is taking longer than originally anticipated, we are making progress on both our community pavilion and field lighting projects. We received the necessary permits to begin construction on the community pavilion on August 11 and have begun preliminary site work for the project. We are in receipt of the necessary equipment to begin construction of the field lighting and are awaiting a permit to proceed from the city of Richmond. We are forecasting completion of the community pavilion by January and field lighting by November. We appreciate your patience and understanding with these two exciting projects and will keep you informed of progress through the fall. 

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging (DEIB)

We are following through with several of the commitments that we made over two years ago, working to ensure that St. Christopher’s is and will be a diverse, equitable, inclusive school community, one in which every member—whether student, employee, parent, or alumnus—feels a genuine sense of belonging.

Throughout our work these past two-plus years, we have been clear that St. Christopher’s will continue to be a place in which a variety of intellectual and social viewpoints are not only respected, but nurtured to deepen a sense of empathy. Thus, we insist that students, faculty, and families conduct themselves with civility, kindness, and respectful discourse, especially when we disagree. We celebrate the multitude of perspectives and intellectual concepts that populate our vast constituencies, and we see no inherent conflict between intellectual and community diversity and civility. In fact, we believe the two should and must coexist. 

One of the commitments we made in June of 2020 was to conduct, possibly for the first time in St. Christopher’s history, a JK-12 Inclusive Curriculum Audit, taking a holistic look at what we teach our boys and the order and manner in which we teach it. The objective of the audit has been to ensure that a variety of voices and perspectives are represented in our JK-12 curriculum and that our boys are well prepared to enter college and a dynamic and global workforce and environment that awaits them. 

Over the past two years, faculty members in every discipline have investigated the content of their curriculum, answered essential and guiding questions about what they teach and why, and taken steps to ensure that their courses present a variety of perspectives and voices, particularly in the fields of history and literature. 

More specifically, our faculty have worked within departments to assess and complete the following:

  • Outline the perspectives and viewpoints included in their course content.
  • Consider how historically underrepresented groups are portrayed or characterized. 
  • Connect the course content to the lived experiences of their students and to the world beyond St. Christopher’s.
  • Identify how they can expand the perspectives and viewpoints of each course they teach. 

Modifications have been made where needed, and work in this arena will continue at faculty meetings later this month, with a conclusion of the process this fall. We feel confident that the curriculum and pedagogy we present in 2022 is more relevant, balanced, engaging, and thoughtful than it has ever been. We believe that this work will directly contribute to a positive sense of belonging for every member of the St. Christopher’s community.

Helping to spearhead this work has been Ed Cowell, who also played a pivotal role for our community throughout the pandemic. Ed has a new role and title with us, Assistant Head of School for Community Engagement, reflecting a broader portfolio of responsibilities and an enhanced opportunity to impact daily life for our boys, faculty and staff, families, and alumni. Examples of Ed’s impactful work these past few years are the creation of our first-ever Black Student Union, the creation of our first-ever Black Alumni Network, and our sponsoring of a series of “Courageous Conversations” on race, diversity, and belonging at St. Christopher’s, with students, parents, and alumni.

A significant part of Ed’s portfolio is his leadership, alongside Associate Director of Athletics Andy Taibl, of our Chamberlayne Achievement Program (CAP). As announced last fall, CAP is a new support and mentoring program for students who are new to independent schools or who come to St. Christopher’s with a life circumstance or challenge that is under-represented in our community. We provide additional support structures and scaffolding to ensure that these students and their families experience a successful transition into our community and, importantly, find success at St. Christopher’s and even after it. Starting with a very small number of students a few years ago, under Ed’s and Andy’s leadership, CAP has now grown to serve more than 40 students in Grades 5-12. We have been extremely fortunate to receive significant philanthropic support for this new and impactful program at St. Christopher’s. 

Summer Reading

Perhaps like you, the more relaxed pace of summer has afforded more time for reading and reflecting. This coming spring, I will be teaching an elective history course for juniors and seniors on leadership and historical figures, so I have read a number of books this summer on leadership qualities as well as books about notable leaders from varied eras and geographies. 

Perhaps my most poignant read of the summer, however, came from this July parenting article from the Washington Post about the significance of adolescent relationships to forming healthy young adults. Whether you are a parent of a JK, 8th grade, or senior Saint, I commend the article to you as both an educator and fellow parent (of two teenage boys and one pre-teen daughter!). 

Saints Take a Break

As we continue to focus on student and employee health and wellness emerging from the pandemic, both St. Christopher’s and St. Catherine’s are committed to offering a “Saints Take a Break Day” at some point this winter. The exact date will be shared by the end of September, hopefully providing all families with adequate time to plan and prepare. 

Finally, we are thrilled to welcome just over 20 new faculty and staff members to St. Christopher’s this year and to formally announce several new roles and responsibilities for a number of returning employees. Please CLICK HERE for information about new employees and new roles for 2022-2023. 

These are exciting and successful times to be a Saint—I look forward to seeing you and your sons on campus very soon! 

Yours, 
 

Mason Lecky
Headmaster 
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