Dear Alumnae, Families, and Friends,
There is tremendous energy on campus as the 122nd year of Miss Hall’s School is well underway. A new academic year always fills me with joy and anticipation, and this year is no exception. We convened as a community in August, anticipating new courses, new programs, new colleagues and classmates, and new opportunities to explore, volunteer, create, and collaborate. We have set new goals, expanded our perspectives, and grown. The MHS core values and mission
stay the same, but our experience is different because we are different. As we change, the School changes. As we grow, the School grows, too.
We opened the
year with 58 new students, bringing our enrollment to 217 students from 20 states and 16 countries. Our new students are talented artists and athletes, actors and activists, and all have a passion for learning inside and outside of the classroom. They will make many contributions while at MHS and, later, as alumnae. They are also a diverse group
—new states and countries represented in our enrollment include Canada, South Africa, and Ukraine.
As is our tradition, we have a theme to guide our work this year. The 2019-20 theme, a “back-to-basics,” if you will, is the School’s core values
of Respect, Honor, Authenticity, and Growth, the four guiding principles that support the mission of MHS and shape our culture. Specific programming is planned for each quarter of this year, with students and adults having time together to dig into each of these values and explore what they mean to them as individuals and to us as a community. We began by focusing on Respect, with initial discussions facilitated by the student-led Theme Committee. There will be many more conversations as the year continues, and I look forward to sharing collective insights.
Our work more broadly as a school is guided by the Strategic Design
adopted in 2016, which outlines the priorities and goals for Miss Hall’s School. I am pleased to report that we have made significant progress in each of the four priorities it lays out—innovative programs; inclusive community; a commitment to engagement, service, and leadership; and a culture of adaptability, collaboration, and excellence. I am immensely proud of the work that the Trustees, students, faculty, and staff have done toward accomplishing these strategic goals.
remain at the heart of the Miss Hall’s mission, and, as the School evolves, so does the classroom experience. The deeply talented MHS faculty
are committed to providing a rigorous curriculum of rich, dynamic courses that challenge and inspire students as learners. Understanding that learning in our complex world is less about knowing and more about thinking, and requires putting information into context and applying it to real-world issues, our teachers incorporate collaborative, project-based, and student-directed learning into their classrooms. At Miss Hall’s, we are creating innovative, experiential opportunities that equip today’s students for the future.
The major academic initiative underway this year is the introduction of eight, upper-level Hallmark courses—yearlong, advanced electives that foster independent inquiry and intellectual curiosity among students. These rigorous, passion-based courses capitalize on the expertise of our outstanding faculty and offer students deeper learning experiences and a higher level of mastery. Unlike one-size-fits-all, test-driven courses, each Hallmark class is unique to MHS and based on the pillars of the School’s core competencies—vision, voice, interpersonal efficacy, and gumption.
Hallmark courses also open a window into the college experience and distinguish students’ transcripts as they apply to colleges and universities. During the 2019-20 academic year, each academic department at MHS is offering at least one Hallmark course, and we are preparing a broader rollout in 2020-21. Current offerings include the Advanced Humanities Seminar; Rethinking the Mediterranean: Late Antiquity to the Renaissance; Literary Ghosts; Project-Based Statistics; Environmental Science; and Hallmark French, Latin, and Spanish. While we continue to offer select Advanced Placement (AP) courses this year—and AP courses are also offered via our online learning platform, One Schoolhouse—our intent is to move the Miss Hall’s curriculum beyond AP to richer and more meaningful investigatory learning.
The connectedness of the MHS community was tested last year as we experienced division and conflict around race and identity. Two student protests led to many community conversations about how to make MHS a place where everyone feels included, seen, respected, and honored. These conversations were not easy and, along the way, there were misunderstandings, anger, and hurt—all of which makes sense, because exclusion, prejudice, and racism should make us upset. Tackled head-on, these challenging moments also provided powerful teaching and learning opportunities and created openings for deep dives into cultural competency and citizenship. In the context of our nurturing community, young women are able to practice interpersonal efficacy and civil discourse, not only in their relationships with classmates and peers but also in their day-to-day interactions with teachers and adults. This is an invaluable experience to have at the high school level and will ultimately serve students well in their colleges and careers and in the wider world.
With our strategic commitment to fostering an inclusive community firmly in mind, we have redoubled our efforts this year by welcoming Paula Lima Jones
as the School’s first Dean of Equity and Inclusion. Ms. Lima Jones is a member of our Senior Leadership Team and, as a veteran in this work—she was the Director of the Office of Diversity Initiatives at Dickinson College for eight years—she provides critical direction and partners with students and adults to strengthen our culture of inclusivity on campus and beyond. Her hiring marks a significant milestone for our school. At the same time, we are mindful that fostering equity and inclusion at Miss Hall’s is not the job of one person. Rather, it is the responsibility of the entire community. Our new dean was not brought in to “fix” issues of equity and inclusion at Miss Hall’s. Instead, she brings her expertise to lead our diverse community through this work together.
To that end, we continue to collaboratively review policies and practices
at MHS with an eye toward whether they foster inclusion and meet the needs of students and adults in the community. We expanded our Affinity Groups, which are spaces in which students and/or adults who identify similarly can talk about issues affecting them. We also rechartered essential clubs—Essence, the International Student Alliance (ISA), and Spectrum—as Essential Coalitions
, recognizing the importance of the work the groups do and opening pathways for students, faculty, and staff to collaborate. We have extended our approach of observing all religious holidays
within the Miss Hall’s community during the school year to allow students and adults who choose to observe the holidays the time and space to do so in meaningful ways. There is more important work to do in the area of inclusion, and I promise to keep you posted as we progress.
Commitment to Engagement, Service, and Leadership
This year marks the 25th year of Horizons
, the School’s one-of-a-kind service-learning and internship program. This groundbreaking program improves year after year, as Director of Horizons Alison Basdekis and her team update the curriculum and incorporate new experiential learning into the mix. MHS students contribute more than 12,000 volunteer hours of service per year at more than 75 sites throughout the Berkshires. Increasingly, however, students are also pursuing on-campus independent Horizons projects tailored to their inventions, interests, and talents. One entrepreneurial student is creating a business plan for a household trash can that composts. Another is writing a blog about what it is like to be a student of color in an independent school. Meanwhile, a new, student-curated site—Miss Hall’s Makes—will launch this year, spotlighting student work and featuring content in various media, from poetry and essays to visual art and videos to original music and podcasts made by students. These are formative experiences for high school students, and we hear often from MHS alumnae who credit Horizons with providing them a foundation in community learning and service, and insight into a potential college major or career.
While the seniors
are busy this fall innovating, interning, and volunteering, MHS sophomores
are gaining a sense of this place that is the Berkshires. They have visited Hancock Shaker Village
, learning about Shaker views on work and worship, equality, and their relationship to the land. They have worked on nearby farms
and in community gardens
, learning about issues of food system inequity, sustainable agriculture, community gardens, and food insecurity. These explorations help set the tone for future site work. The ninth-graders
, meanwhile, get to know themselves as members of the MHS community, gaining a better understanding about team-building and collaboration, and learning to grow and work together.
Other schools have internship programs, and other schools have community service programs, but no school offers a program like Horizons. Further, I am proud to say, the MHS commitment to engagement, service, and leadership extends far beyond Horizons. Our students are active, engaged participants in the world around them, and they are passionate about the activities and causes in which they believe. They participated recently in the Global Climate Strike
and the Elizabeth Freeman Center’s Walk a Mile March
against rape, sexual assault, and gender violence. They have advocated for changes to a dangerous intersection near the School and have raised money and supplies to aid the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. These are young women who know how to use their voices for the common good.
MHS adults, for their part, never stop modeling service and leadership by presenting on panels, taking on leadership within organizations, and keeping Miss Hall’s School at the forefront of the conversation about girls’ leadership and citizenship. In the past year, our faculty
have presented at the Educating Girls Symposium
, taught at the National History Academy
in Virginia, and led a day-long STEAM training for local teachers. This summer, MHS hosted the Southern New England Chapter of APPA
(the association of educational facilities professionals) conference on campus. These are but a few of the many commitments that administrators, faculty, and staff have made to professional development, advancing Miss Hall’s School and leading the way beyond our campus.
Culture of Adaptability, Collaboration, and Excellence
Miss Hall’s is fortunate, because of Mira Hall’s good judgment and dedication to the School after the 1923 fire, to enjoy a uniquely beautiful campus
, and, in recent years, we have invested significantly, adding new buildings and upgrading existing facilities. A notable improvement for our Athletics program has been the construction of the NCAA-compliant Class of ’57 Field
for soccer and lacrosse. In addition, this summer, we added two new faculty apartments in Benjamin A. Groves Hall and returned Hill House to faculty housing, allowing us to add residential faculty to the campus. These adults are invaluable additions to the life of the School and provide more opportunities for students to form meaningful connections that are so much a part of the Miss Hall’s experience.
As we have invested in our campus
, we have also taken opportunities to assess how noncontiguous properties fit into our overall strategic plans. Since the spring of 2018, the Divestment Housing Task Force, which includes administrators, faculty, and Trustees, has been studying our off-site properties and generating plans for additional on-campus faculty housing to support our robust residential life program. The most significant outcome of this study was to begin to divest of five properties, the largest of which is Riverbend, an estate given to the School in 2012. Though the last few years have seen several approaches to integrating Riverbend into campus life—as a space for faculty housing, receptions, department retreats, and other uses—we were not able to utilize the estate fully and were pleased to close on the sale of the property in May.
We also continue our efforts to make our campus more environmentally sustainable. You may remember in last year’s letter I mentioned an initiative launched by the Class of 2018
to introduce composting on the MHS campus. Because of those efforts, we have so far diverted 71,600 pounds of waste from the trash stream and into composting. Other initiatives have included “Utility Challenges” to reduce our use of electricity and water across the campus. Our Housekeeping and Campus Services teams have seen an increase in recycling and a reduction of trash. Our students, not surprisingly, have taken the lead in this area. The Hall’s Environmental Action Team (H.E.A.T) is active in promoting ways in which students and adults can live more sustainable lives. One student designed reusable shopping bags that students can borrow and return when making shopping outings or on weekend trips. In October, a student submitted a bill
and testified before Massachusetts state legislators, advocating for restrictions on single-use plastic straws in the commonwealth.
As always, I am grateful to the Board of Trustees
, alumnae, students, faculty, staff, family, and friends of Miss Hall’s for the support all of you provide in so many ways. The work that Miss Hall’s School does for girls and young women is nothing short of extraordinary, and I know I speak for all of us here on Holmes Road when I say that we take great pride in this wonderful institution. Thank you for all you do for MHS and to transform the lives of young women.
Head of School
P.S. The Annual Fund for MHS
makes it possible for girls to gain the skills they need to change the world. It is for this reason that I ask you to be as generous as you can with your gift.