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State of the School Community Meeting 2023 - Presentation Notes

State of the School Community Meeting Wednesday, January 25, 2023 Presentation Notes

Opening song led by Adam Petersen, Music Teacher – “We Shall Overcome,” in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Welcome from Susan Gray, Administrative Director - This meeting is focused on the business and health/well-being of the Cincinnati Waldorf School. Susan expressed gratitude for the Board members and administrators who would be presenting this evening.

High School Report from Janelle Johnson, High School Director – Janelle expressed that it is an honor to be the director of our high school, leading such an amazing group of faculty and students. She led a meditation/breathing exercise - holding the children and families of our school. The State of the School is YOU. She is looking every day at what brings the HS light and what needs to be released. What do you love about teenagers in high school? Innovative, fun, beautiful souls on the cusp of adulthood. Please read below the remainder of Janelle’s presentation:

I am showing up incredibly grateful, full of love, in awe of what I see happening and what is life-giving with our teens at our high school.

I am so grateful for teachers who think deeply and strategically about their content. For teachers who are thinking more and more about how to change the narrative and bring more truth equity into our curriculum.

I am so grateful for faculty who know every student at our school in a way that they are on top of how to support them academically, are aware of the intersections of specific emotional challenges and celebrations with their academics and know how to support the students in all of this.

I am grateful for the collection of several faculty members who greet each student by name every morning, smile at them, and check in on how they are doing that day. They are really seeing them and in that quiet way celebrating their lives.

I am so grateful for the student body navigating the waters of their teen years in a world that is very turbulent. I see them listening attentively to their teachers, working diligently in main lesson books, engaging in passionate conversations with each other to get to the bottom of the matter whatever the topic may be.

I see them thinking critically and investigating historical paradigms, creatively disrupting what was taken for granted, and becoming innovative in problem solving. They are genius in their approach to live lives of truth. They are fueled with passion.

They are discovering who they are.

Additionally, I am grateful for what I have seen over the past few months. I have seen the high school increase its capacity for more life by the strength in teaching provided by our teachers, its DEI work by updating its curriculum and increasing training in our faculty. I’ve seen practices cleared out that no longer align with our current growth phase. I’ve seen us building our communication practices between the school and families, and so much more.

I am up close, feeling the pulse of life that is at the high school every day. I am literally seeing students’ lives transform. I am seeing them thrive and witnessing tremendous growth in their academics, their social interactions, and emotional well-being.

Our high school is here to guide our students into finding and aligning with their calling which will then evolve all of humanity. This is no small mission. And it is one I am proud to be a part of and celebrate tonight.

Join me in this celebration by taking a moment to pause, put your hand on your heart, bring to mind your children, all the children … and in your own way settle into a moment of deep celebration and gratitude for the lives of each being we are blessed to serve, care for, and guide in the journey of their lives.

Governance/Organizational Structure presentation by Adam Petersen, College Chair - Adam has spent much of this year focusing on one important piece of our Strategic Plan – bringing clarity to the community around our governance structure. The photograph at the top of this blog post shows Adam’s beautiful chalkboard illustration of the CWS governance structure. His verbal explanation follows:

The purpose of this presentation is to present an overview, a living picture of our school’s organs of self-governance and how they cooperate. The primary structure here is triune, or three-in-one/one-in-three, a threefold overlapping of spheres, within which there is a “hidden fourth,” or a central hinge.

The Board of Trustees is a group of community members and faculty leaders who develop and execute legal and financial strategies, maintain organizational integrity, and support the visions of the College and their teaching faculty, to ensure the institutional stability of our school. They are responsible for the hiring, placement, support, and dismissal of administrative team members. This group meets monthly, and makes decisions by majority.

The Administrative Team is a team of directors who develop policies and processes, operate systems, facilitate communication, and curate equitable opportunity for faculty, students, and families, in order to uphold governmental accountability within our school. This group assembles daily, and makes decisions as situations evolve, as needed.

The College of Teachers is a collegium of teaching faculty who contemplate, discuss, and resolve matters of spiritual, cultural, curricular, and pedagogical nature, in order to shepherd the educational creativity of our school. With representation from the EC, Grades, and High School departments, as well as administration, they are responsible for the hiring, placement, support, and dismissal of teaching faculty. This group meets weekly, and makes decisions by consensus.

The three teaching departments comprise all lead teachers and assistants in the Early Childhood, Grades, and High School. Each department has a chairperson nominated by the department, who rotates typically every two years. Each of these three spheres [Board, Admin, College] also has a chair, or director, who together with the three department chairs, and along with the Full Faculty Chair, comprise the seven-member Leadership Council.

The Leadership Council is a quorum of representative leaders who facilitate interdepartmental communication, delegate tasks, hold long-term and big-picture perspectives, and make economic, political, and pedagogical decisions [as mandated by the three spheres], all in effort to hold an organizational overview of our school. This group meets weekly, and makes decisions when mandated by the three spheres to do so.

All of the smaller organs connected to the larger spheres are committees belonging to that sphere. Each of the larger organs benefits mutually and extensively by the focus and effort of each of their committees. The Board has 5, the Admin has 3, the College has 14. Over these last 2 years, by impulse of our current long-range Strategic Plan, the Board and College have done the meticulous work of reviewing, revising, and/or developing charters for each of their committees. Each of the charters were then mandated by their governing body, vesting each committee with a clear sense of purpose, agency, and responsibility. The intention behind doing so was to cultivate more clarity and understanding, internally and externally, around this organization’s functions and priorities, now and forward.

Because our organs of self-governance are integrated with one another, because we charge teachers to flex administratively, and for administrators and Board members to think pedagogically, because the majority of our leadership are constantly rotating, we often become entangled with how, or by whom, certain issues are being discussed and resolved. We are endlessly wrestling with a narrow balance between curating democratic inclusivity of our collective faculty, and supporting the individual initiative of our leaders; between being thoroughly contemplative, and decisively efficient. This sometimes becomes a skirmish between, as it was once put, the “muckrakers, and the dictators.” Yet we pride ourselves on this structure we have developed and sustained and continue to refine, a structure modeled after indications given by Rudolf Steiner for the very first Waldorf School, in which every person must be fully responsible within themselves and their role, and by which teachers should take part in the running of the school. Our model seems to chase a kind of ideal way of being and working together, and though we often fall short, the chase can be rather dynamic and exciting, and now and then, we encounter a moment of righteousness.

I close with a quote from Ernst Lehrs, an original Waldorf teacher who lectured on Steiner’s indications on self-governance. He says: “It is the responsibility of the ‘demos’ [the faculty] to accept the actions of the ‘aristoi’ [the leadership] as part of their chosen destinies and thus support them. It is that of the ‘aristoi’ to accept the ‘demos’ as their organ of consciousness. In the daily striving to make necessary sacrifices on both sides, a rhythmical center-sphere is established, wherein the ego of the community may achieve its heartbeat, that the community organism may develop a healthy breathing.

Board of Trustees report by Jeff Brandt, Board President – The Board is made up of wonderful human beings, many of whom are parents! Introductions were made and Board member bios may be found at the CWS website HERE. “The State of the School is simply really good.” The overview perspective Jeff shared is that his children were incredibly blessed by this school and have turned into impressive young adults that others admire. Even when he first joined the CWS Board many years ago and “saw behind the curtain,” his love and admiration for the school remained intact. That continued to be true after his first term as President and remains true now. Financially we have come so far! Once upon a time, we didn’t even have a “rainy day fund,” and now we are financially sound. While many Waldorf and other schools had to drastically cut staff and salaries during the pandemic, we just gave a significant raise to our faculty. We are no longer renting or in a basement. We own and care for two buildings. The governance model is impressive. Our high school is the ultimate culmination of our business plan. Even as he continues to be tasked with overseeing the difficult financial and legal issues that face a school, he’s still certain that CWS is the best place to be. There’s magic on the other side, or Jeff wouldn’t still be here. He can’t imagine being the President of a Board of Trustees at a better place or time.

Strategic Plan report by Nick Hummel, Board Vice President – Nick is heading up the implementation of our current strategic plan - developing, growing, and managing the school. The plan has 5 pillars: External Engagement, Facilities & Sustainability, Lower School Culture & Curriculum, High School Culture & Curriculum, Operations and Governance. External Engagement is being actively worked on through the regrowth of our Parent Association and our Development efforts. Nick is most proud of the Operations work that has been done to create a new model ensuring that our faculty are finally adequately compensated in today’s market. We are now heading into year 2 of this 5-year plan which will bring all faculty to a competitive wage. Working through the Strategic Plan is a process of continuous improvement and refinement. If you have any questions about the Strategic Plan and/or its implementation, please reach out to Nick at

Finance Report by Josh Dorsey, Board Treasurer - The school is financially in a really good place overall. Many people put in a great effort to get faculty salaries to the right place. This requires a commitment from our parents in the realm of tuition to help make that happen. While this first year has been a big leap, we are confident that remaining years should be more incremental. The school (lower and high) is operating slightly better than budgeted at this point in the year. The high school is still an area of growth and needed focus, but is currently operating better than initially expected. We sold the South Meadow property that the school has owned for over two decades for $250k. This money will be used to 1) rebuild our reserves after pandemic losses and costly HVAC renovations, 2) facilitate needed capital improvements, and 3) continue to support our high school until it is sustainable.

Development Report by Beth McDaniel, Community Development Director – A parent shared with Beth recently why they chose Waldorf: “We wanted our children to have a childhood, which is a rare thing these days.” Why are you here? Those reasons are powerful and they drive engagement within this community. Her presentation follows:

Thank you to everyone who has given their time, talents, and treasure to make this school year such a wonderful one so far.

  • Starting back in August and early September with faculty Annual Fund pledges - 100% participation and over $10,000 raised!

  • These same people who hold your children with such skill and compassion every day also make a financial commitment to the health and well-being of the school.

And to everyone who celebrated being back together by giving their time at Michaelmas.

  • To make dragon bread and honey butter, to cut up apples and veggies and bring in hummus, to set the tables and clean up.

To the parents who brought food and to our high school students who came out on a beautiful day to be together for fun and conversation at Fall Frolic.

To all those grandfriends who attended Grandfriends Day to show their support and pride in the grandchildren who were so delighted to have them there.

To those of you who provided food and served as tour guides at our fall Open House.

To everyone who has supported this year’s annual fund.

  • Special thanks to our CWS Board members and families who stepped up to provide matching gift funds for Giving Tuesday.

  • Making possible a one-day fundraising total of nearly $12,000 raised!

Thanks to all the faculty, parents, grandparents, alumni parents, alumni students, and friends who have given to our Annual Fund.

Thanks to Craft Guild, Community Singing, parents who come in for reading groups or chaperone field trips or make cookie dough or make costumes or do lighting and sound or recording for a school play, to our Board members, to the parents who are on call to help me and other members of our Faculty on a daily basis.

So much love and so much effort goes into making the life of this school what it is - and I want to thank everyone who has contributed in some way so far this year.

I want to report that we are actively working to get funding for the school through grants. In fact, we’re already seeing the fruits of this and will have exciting news to share with you all in the coming weeks.

So, it’s been a great year so far, but it’s not over. There’s still work to be done … more fun to be had and more fundraising to do.

To date, we have raised a total of $34,000 toward the annual fund. That’s a big accomplishment, but we’re not there yet. We set an ambitious goal of raising $50,000 - and I’m still hopeful we can get closer to that goal. So, if you haven’t made your Annual Fund gift yet, I hope you’ll consider doing so. And please reach out if you have any questions or would like to know more about how your gift will support the school.

We are also in high gear planning for this year’s Spring Benefit, which will be held here at the school on April 1st.

We have a group of dedicated people working on sponsorships, auction items, decorations, entertainment, and logistics - and I am so grateful to these folks.

  • And, I am also asking that every family consider making a contribution to this event. It can be something you make, a skill or service you can share, a gift of something you have, or a gift or sponsorship you request from your employer, a local business, a friend or family member.

It’s been a great year so far, and with your help, there is so much still to look forward to.

I want to leave you with a quote that, I think, speaks to what children receive through a Waldorf education, and what we’re all aspiring to in our own way.

“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” ~Pablo Picasso

Teaching Faculty report by Connie Davis, Faculty Chair – Letters of Intent for 2023-24 have been returned and teacher retention for next school year is currently at 98% across school. Only Ms. Harris is not returning because she is retiring. She won’t be gone entirely, as she plans to stay involved with CWS in the coming years by teaching occasional main lesson blocks and mentoring new teachers.

#1 Question: What is Waldorf? Connie used a clever prime factorization graphic to explain the basics. We have two jobs: 1) to teach academics, 2) to educate the soul. Academics: 1) math – arithmetic, geometry, algebra, and 2) Language Arts - reading, writing, spelling. Soul: 1) emotional - senses, phenomenological sciences, wonder, fun, tactile learning, purpose, being in the world, and 2) social education. Our soul learning is what separates what can be done by a computer or robot from what can only be accomplished by a special human body. This is what all children, especially adolescents, need.

PA report by Amie Duncan, Parent Association Lead – Amie opened with a much-loved Steiner verse: “May we strive together with good will to form a community where the gifts of each one are acknowledged and where each one does one’s best, that the highest spiritual powers may help us bring forth a school worthy of all children – That they may learn to live and breathe in spirit awareness, blessing the World with their deeds.

Amie led the restart of the PA last year. It is a mighty, forceful group of people and she’s thankful for their time and effort. It is wonderful to be back together after a separate, disjointed time. The work of our PA was paused during the pandemic, and they are now taking a slow and intentional approach to determine what they want the PA to be moving forward. Mission: 1) Strengthen the parent community for new and returning families - parent ambassador program for new families; strong group of class reps supporting the teachers and fellow parents; bringing back Holiday Faire in 2023; return to parent education evenings and social opportunities. 2) Foster leadership among parents for the greater good of CWS - calling and asking families to volunteer in the name of building community; we want each family to have a role in sustaining our community. 3) Support the faculty through parent involvement - recognizing faculty birthdays, holidays, end of year, lunch at retreat, appreciation week. To sum up, be prepared for explicit asks to get involved. Parent involvement shows our children how important this place is and really emphasizes the soul of the school.

Parent Q&A:

Q: To whom did we sell the South Meadow land?

A: Cardinal Land Conservancy

Q: Is the teacher "looping" model going to become policy?

A: No, that is not the intent. It will likely vary from teacher to teacher. As a College, we’ve decided not to make a strict policy but to look at the needs of each individual teacher and class. In recent exit interviews of departing teachers, we’ve repeatedly heard that there is an intense burnout factor for many teachers with the 1-8 model. Teaching all new curriculum every year for eight years is a herculean task! Some teachers love it and are up for the challenge, while others prefer a more gradual approach. Smaller cycles allow teachers to revisit what they’ve already done and attempt to do it better. As a school, we’re trying to make this job more manageable for our teachers so that they’ll stay and feel enabled to be their very best selves for the students.

Q: How much longer can the High School grow in its current space?

A: This is something we’re considering regularly. We will obviously reach a point in the fairly near future where we will need a new building/location. There is some exploration around the possibility of going to a 7-12 model (like most other Cincinnati high schools), which would also provide additional much-needed space at our current Lower School location. There are no exact numbers - the issue is more classroom space by grade and gathering spaces. The High School Department and Board are working collaboratively on this question at all times.

Q: Aren’t we also outgrowing our Lower School space? Can we expand our Early Childhood program to add another kindergarten?

A: Yes, and yes. Sustainability is a major focus of our Strategic Plan and a new/additional campus is being considered and explored. This is definitely our next top priority now that we’ve addressed the faculty salary improvements.

Q: Are we considering a program for our youngest children (babies & toddlers) at some point?

A: This is definitely a long-held dream. Perhaps it will be a priority in the next strategic plan!

Closing song: “One by one everyone comes to remember we’re healing the world, one heart at a time.”

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