Dear GSA Community,
In October of 2022, I was offered the position of Head of School at the GSA, and I accepted without hesitation. I was living in New England at the time, and I had the privilege of spending a morning with Lisa Schmitt, who was the Head of School here from 2007-2019. In her time leading the school, the community purchased a bus for field trips, ran a capital campaign that raised $2.5 million to build the current school facility, and earned accreditation from the Independent School Association of the Southwest (ISAS). In those years, almost everything we did was strategic in nature; every decision – from adopting the Firebird as our mascot to establishing the staff position of Director of DEIB/SEL – had the potential to impact enrollment and the continuity of the school.
Fast forward to July of 2023, when I officially joined the community as Head of School, following in the deep footsteps of both Lisa Schmitt and Dr. Peña and in the wake of the peak of the Covid pandemic. The GSA community was ripe for connection after being isolated from each other. In addition, parents and staff were experiencing “inertia fatigue;” after several years of treading water, the community was ready to build momentum again.
Nevertheless, it felt important to pause before embarking on a strategic planning process so that I could get to know the community and culture of the GSA, and I’m so glad the board afforded me that time. I’ve learned so much in the past year about how our mission, vision, and values manifest day-to-day. From the traditions like Sister Groups and Community Meeting to the adults’ commitment to seeing, hearing, and knowing each student, it would be impossible to capture who we are as the Girls’ School of Austin in a single week or month of the school year. After exploring our history and present over the course of our twentieth anniversary, it’s time to actively contemplate and envisage our future.
The question is no longer one of whether we will be able to pay the bills and keep the doors open next fall; we have so many big questions to address. Just a few of those questions include:
- What skills and knowledge will GSA students need to enter a future of omnipresent AI, increasing global connectivity, and pervasive ambiguity?
- What does it mean to be a school for girls in Texas in 2023 and beyond?
- What opportunities emerge from our identity and mission that will continue to make the GSA the most relevant and unique educational environment for girls in Austin?
- What does the GSA community need in order to weather the storms of climate change, economic uncertainty, and social divisiveness?
As you have read in previous communications, we have engaged Greg Bamford from Leadership + Design to help us explore these and other questions as we imagine the future of the GSA. Greg comes highly recommended by colleagues, and he has plenty of experience with girls’ schools and small independent schools. The Strategic Planning Steering Committee, made up of GSA trustees and me, has been working with Greg since November, 2022, to lay out the “plan for the plan;” i.e., to map out the GSA’s strategic planning process, which officially begins this week.
I hope you are wondering, “How can I be involved? How can I offer input?” because there are several answers to those questions. The first opportunity is just a month away on October 19th. Everyone is invited to join a session during our Think Tank day. We have a morning opportunity (8:15-9:45am) and an evening session (6:30-8:00pm) to accommodate a variety of schedules. Also mark your calendars for Saturday, January 27th, 2024 for our Strategic Planning Community Day!
For an infographic that illustrates the journey we will travel this year, check out the Strategic Planning landing page on the GSA website (password: welovelearning). When you go to that page, you can also scroll down and click to read/listen to the materials that the GSA Design Team was assigned to read over the summer.
Reminders and details will continue to come your way over the next weeks and months. In the meantime, dream big!
Rebecca E. Yacono