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Canterbury School in Greensboro: “They’re all about the kids”

Children find a welcoming environment at Canterbury School, an Episcopal day school that serves about 360 boys and girls from preschool to grade 8.  In the mornings, teachers and administrators stand in the carpool line and greet each child by name.  Middle school students hold the hands of little ones as they lead them to chapel.  The school’s no-cut athletic policy ensures everyone makes a team.

The small, nurturing setting inspires students “to take some risks that they might not otherwise take in a bigger more intimidating environment,” said Burns Jones, head of school.    “They know it’s okay to make mistakes.  If they fall, if they struggle, we will be there to support them.”

The school, located on 36 acres in Greensboro, North Carolina, offers a challenging curriculum with learning opportunities indoors and out.  Science classes are often held in the outdoor classroom, where students are steps away from a pond.  The setting provides an opportunity for them to take water samples and observe nature up close.  The school also has a ropes course in the nearby woods, where students can learn about team-building and leadership skills while soaring through the trees.

“There’s a joyfulness—it feels good being on that campus.  When you walk around, you immediately know who that campus was designed for.  They’re all about the kids,” said Kathy Hanson, senior consultant and principal at Marts & Lundy, and adviser to Canterbury School since 2007.

Canterbury’s devotion to its students has resonated with parents, who are enthusiastically supporting the school’s $9.5 million Focus Forward capital campaign.  Funds will support building a new gym, renovating the existing gym into a science and technology center, and increasing the school’s endowment.

“The families are passionate about the school,” said Hanson, noting that 96% of the families participated in the 2010-2011 annual fund.

Jones, appointed head of school in 2008, has directed that passion towards an ambitious campus master plan.  He hopes to fund the plan through a series of capital campaigns. 

The master plan arose from a strategic planning process that took place in 2008.  Hanson played an instrumental role in guiding that planning.

“Kathy knows independent schools incredibly well.  She knows what works in schools, and knows from experience what doesn’t work.  So she was a wonderful source of advice and counsel for us as we began to wade through a variety of different planning goals,” he said.   “She helped us ensure that our goals, and the processes that we put in place to achieve those goals, were sound and would be effective.”

He also praised her work with the volunteer strategic planning committee.  “She was very good at pushing the committee, and making sure we stayed on task.  She really kept us moving forward.”

The committee identified five areas of concentration: middle school development; enrollment and tuition management; marketing and communications; diversity and inclusivity; and financial management.  From there, the committee set goals for the next few years.

From this arose the Focus Forward capital campaign.  The next part in planning was to begin a feasibility study conducted from May to June 2010. 

Hanson talked with 35 people to see how they felt about the school, its leadership, and the preliminary case for support and said, “Their responses were overwhelmingly positive.  The study allowed us to align Canterbury’s needs with donor interests in the best possible way.”

She worked closely with a committee of volunteer fundraisers, and provided them with training in the art of solicitation.  She also offered guidance to the recently hired director of development, who had never before managed a capital campaign. 

Jones considers Hanson’s “ability to energize our volunteers” one of her greatest contributions to Canterbury.  “She has a unique ability to motivate.”

The committee approached 40 families to participate in the leadership phase.  With their support, the school raised $7.1 million toward its $9.5 million goal.  The campaign, which recently entered the public phase, is one of the largest campaigns ever undertaken by an independent school in Greensboro.  The highlight for Jones has been three $1 million-plus gifts.  It’s an impressive feat for a school that began its operations in 1993.

Hanson credits “the passion of faculty, and of a young, smart, very focused head of school who knew that they could do programmatic things better and knew that they could have a premiere school in Greensboro.  They were so confident and so positive and energized, and to me that’s the story.  They had a vision and they were going to do it.”   Hanson said there are other schools “who are much older and have never raised that much money because they don’t have the confidence that they need in order to be successful.” 

Jones is looking forward to beginning renovations this year for the new science and technology classrooms with labs designed around the needs of K-8 students.  He hopes to open the new gymnasium in 2013, when the school celebrates its 20th anniversary.  The facility’s amenities will include two athletic floors and a climbing wall. 

As part of its endowment campaign, the school has already secured the funds to permanently fund its Canterbury Scholars program.  The program began this fall, with the enrollment of two sixth graders.

“It’s a scholarship program that’s designed to attract high achieving, low income minority students,” he said.  “I think, more than anything else we’re doing, it’s the most important representation of who we are as a school.  Canterbury was founded on, among other things, the principle of offering an unparalleled education for any worthy student regardless of socioeconomic status.”

With one campaign nearly complete, Hanson reflected on the next stages in the master plan. 

“Some of the administrative offices are literally still in the original trailers.  That’s been their last priority,” she said.  “Instead, they’ve provided for the kids and focused on enhanced teaching and learning.”

Consultants

Senior Consultant & Principal; Leader, Schools Practice Group
Chattanooga, Tennessee