Submitted by Head of School Peter Reinke
It is such a blessing to lead St. James’ Episcopal School and be a parishioner at St. James’ Episcopal Church. I miss the Men’s group gatherings and coffee hour at table one. I miss greeting all of our students each morning in the school courtyard and at the narthex doors for chapel. But this pandemic has reminded us that our school is our children and faculty, not the buildings. Also, while this year is so daunting, it reminds us of the precious joys of life, such as a masked walk to Larchmont for coffee, or our fantastic virtual chapels, presided over by Canon Koh and Mother Kate, that have grown to include an increasing number of school families.
Despite the pandemic, there is much to be grateful for at St. James’. Our admission remains very strong for Kindergarten, our key entry point. We are running about 15% ahead with applications to Kindergarten. Our conversion rate from inquiry to application is quite high. While making the case for a preschool remotely is particularly challenging, we have robust interest in our Butterfly program and may even expand the number of classes. We also are reviewing a model to grow our KRP program over the next two years.
In the preschool, we’ve added a daily science and visual arts program. Mr. Casey, our extraordinary K-6 music leader and teacher, has spent considerable time with preschoolers this year and they love it. A preschool performing arts program will commence when we are back on campus more consistently. As we continue to green the school, we are also building a gardening program for our youngest students.
Over in the K-6 program, we launched an exciting technology program, one of the only initiatives of its kind in southern California. Every child is building a robot this year and we have pledged that every entering Kindergartner in the fall of 2020 will have designed several robots by the time they graduate 6th grade. Commencing next month, we’ll launch our 1:1 program which provides every St. James’ student with an iPad or laptop to assist in their learning. In the fall, our newspaper, The Husky Howl, will also become a required class for all students. We also have started a new K-6 dance program, which began this past week.
Our annual fund is humming along at $750,000. We are so grateful to our families; we are well over our expected revenue from the annual fund of $630,000. We are working with potential donors that could yield an additional $100,00 in gifts by the end of the year. This fund has been essential to our program to build robotics and technology into our work with students and we recognize the generosity of our donors – particularly during this difficult year.
With regard to our budget generally, we had substantial enrollment over budget this year, providing a consistent revenue stream to help the school navigate through the pandemic, which included costly upgrades to air conditioning, plumbing and thermal cameras. We also added staff and purchased a staggering amount of toilet paper, masks, Clorox, face shields, Purell and other essentials during this challenging time.
Our children have leaned into our parish partnership with joy this year – we miss the school Sundays with our choir. Both Mother Kate and I are committed to resuming this program – even remotely – at some point this year. I love that our families from the class of 2020 began a tradition of a graduation gift related to the food ministries. Mother Kate thanked each of these families last spring as they dropped off nonperishable items and water to the food ministries. We also held a drive for the food ministries over Thanksgiving and will do so again with the graduating class of 2021.
Last spring, we held a lovely community concert which raised $5000 for the parish food ministries and featured two of St. James’ alumni, Sam (’12), and Sophie (’18) Glicklich, and their parents, Martin and Carmina, professors at Coburn. Longtime parishioners will recall that when Sam was 8 or 9 he asked his parents to come and play for the hungry while they ate at the soup kitchen on Fridays. That monthly tradition with the Glicklich family continued until just before the pandemic. Exciting plans are underway to identify foundation grants to support the school’s partnership with the food ministries. Foundation dollars could assist funding for the food ministries considerably, particularly with our 5th and 6th grade food insecurity courses, led by Mother Kate, Rob Krueger and Ashley Samuels. These classes are on hiatus during the pandemic, but will resume when we are back.
Church-School synergy in general is a joyous and silver lining in this challenging pandemic. Mother Kate and I still meet weekly (though no Denny’s, unfortunately) and an impromptu taskforce of Margaret Ecker, Father Feuss and Cathy Helm joined Mother Kate and I in designing models should the school need to use substantially more of the church campus this year. We are so grateful that the Church will allow us to convert the parking lot, turtle pond courtyard and parts of the downstairs of the parish building to support teaching and learning next month for the duration of the pandemic. It is not an overstatement that we couldn’t bring students back to campus without the grace and generosity of the parish.
We are blessed with wonderful church leaders who support the school. A special thanks to Ken Robbins, former treasurer of the parish, who currently serves as treasurer of the school — not an easy job this year. Steve McLean has ably led the school’s Buildings & Grounds Committee for several years and Spencer Hong gives considerable time on the school’s Finance Committee. We have also benefitted from Stephen Bedikian’s leadership as the vestry delegate to the board of trustees of the school.
In closing, our school would be lost without our Episcopal framing, ballast and foundation. The church building is the heart and soul of our little school. During this difficult year, we all have leaned even more into an Episcopal identity to better navigate societal upheaval, worry and a lack of compassion and empathy within the greater world. We are grateful to the church for its generosity and welcome guidance on ensuring our children have tremendous character education during their formative years.
God bless you,
Peter Reinke, Head of School