State of the School
January 26, 2024
|This past Friday, Robert C. Parker School hosted our State of the School address virtually for an audience of current families, donors, and friends. This annual presentation by our Board and Head of School offers a behind-the-scenes understanding of how our school is run, and provides an opportunity for us to share all that we are proud of at Parker.
Today, we are sharing a summary of our State of the School conversation in hopes of widening our reach to share this important information with our caring community of families, faculty, donors, and friends. You may also watch a recorded version of our presentation by clicking HERE. We deeply value the investment of time, talent, and energy that our esteemed community pours into our school, and we hope you will see that your investments have paid off tremendously in promoting the success of our beloved school.
|Our annual State of the School opened with a welcome from Marjorie Castro, Vice President of Parker’s Board of Trustees. Marjorie shared a brief overview of Parker’s Board of Trustees: “Our Parker board is diverse, with members who are parents, educators, and community members, all very dedicated to Parker. The board is very active, with committees meeting monthly and accomplishing a great deal. The board meets bi-monthly as a whole.” Marjorie then shared a brief history of Parker:
|Robert C. Parker School was founded in 1991 by a group of educators and parents from The Children’s School at Emma Willard. They were interested in starting a progressive school for children in grades 4-8. Initially, the school was housed in the Town Hall building in Wynantskill. In the fall of 1997, Kindergarten through 3rd grade was added, and in September of 1998 the school moved to our current 77-acre campus and expanded once again, adding a PreK program for three- and four-year-olds. The founders named the school for Robert Curtis Parker, principal at Emma Willard School from 1979-1986. Bob Parker embodied integrity, enthusiasm for life, warmth and energy. At Emma Willard, he created a learning environment where children developed mutual respect, a love of learning, and an expectation that learning is exciting, interesting, and fun – very much the school that Parker is today.
|Jennifer Gresens, Parker’s Head of School, was next to present. Jennifer reports that Parker is stronger than ever and thriving: “We’ve seen steady growth throughout the 33 years that Parker has been in existence. Pre-pandemic, Parker’s enrollment was always 110-115 students – our goal was 110 students in any given year. We took a bit of a dive during the pandemic, as many schools did. However, Parker came back from the pandemic stronger than ever, and we have nearly doubled our enrollment. This year, we are extremely proud to say we have 157 students enrolled, our highest number ever. That speaks so highly of our community and the program that we offer.”
Jennifer also spoke about the success of our strategic plan that has been in place for the past 5 years. We are in the 4th year of implementing the plan (we took a one-year hiatus during the pandemic), and it is still very relevant in guiding our school in so many ways. She also discussed the many new ways we are using our campus in so many new ways, from pond studies to woodworking and plant and landscape studies in 3rd-8th grade art class. All of our PreK and Lower School classrooms have an outdoor classroom that they enjoy frequently, if not daily. Finally, Jennifer shared that one real strength of Parker is our programming, which is always grounded in our mission: Robert C. Parker School engages each student in a thoughtful and challenging learning process that inspires curiosity and a passion to achieve, nurtures confidence and community, and cultivates purposeful action. We accomplish this through project-based learning, engaging curriculum, emphasis on social and emotional learning, nurturing student/teacher relationships, and promoting student agency.
|JoAnn Bennett, former Parker educator and co-chair of our governance committee, then presented an overview of Board governance: “One of the main responsibilities of the governance committee is to maintain and strengthen the board in number and quality. A large part of our work is to recruit, evaluate and recommend candidates for inclusion on the board. The recruitment process is informed by a full board skills assessment survey, which ultimately guides the committee in recruiting individuals with skills needed by the board to effectively support and sustain the school. Our committee’s work is done with an ever-growing awareness of and desire for diversity, equity and inclusion within the board.”
|Following this, Lisa Brown, chair of the finance committee, explained the role of this committee and shared a basic financial overview of the school: “The finance committee holds a responsibility for the fiduciary health and integrity of the school, and works closely with the Head of School and finance director to ensure careful monitoring of income, expenses, investments, management of facilities, and related legal requirements.” Lisa stressed that as a nonprofit, Parker must maintain our budget in the black, but we should not be making huge profits. We need to have enough money for a healthy operating budget that will support excellent programs for our students and growing salaries and benefits for our faculty and staff. Enrollment is the heart of the operating budget income, comprising 83% of our sources of funds. It is the task of the finance board to assess previous enrollment and fundraising data balanced with future predictions to set a yearly tuition that will support programming, provide salaries and benefits that motivate faculty retention, and be reasonable for our families. By design, Parker includes a line item in our budget to support generous financial aid for families who qualify.
|Stephanie Long, co-chair of Parker’s development committee, was next to present about the Board’s involvement in Parker’s fundraising efforts: “We educate the broader community about the school, our mission, and how we achieve that mission. We ask people in the community for gifts to help support the school. We also tell them how their gifts are put to work and thank them for those gifts. We also support the school by giving to the school ourselves, both financially and also as volunteers on the Board of Trustees.” Steph went on to explain that fundraising at Parker is necessary because tuition only covers a percentage of our operating expenses. Fundraising closes the gap between yearly operating expenses and what is raised through tuition. Steph concluded by reviewing Parker’s three primary sources of fundraising: our Annual Fund, our Spring Benefit, and cultivating partnerships with large donors for special projects.
|Our presentation concluded with a brief look at community engagement from Fletcher Haulley, Parker parent and Board trustee: “One thing that is very clear to anyone that interacts with Parker is that our community is one of our standout strengths. Parker offers a warm and nurturing community where children feel safe and secure to learn on a daily basis.” Fletcher expanded on this, explaining that the critical thinking being taught to children at Parker really extends to our community at large. One key aspect of the committee’s work is to help think about how Parker students can interact with our community to cement their critical thinking skills. In recent years, some examples of that work can be seen in our 8th grade career mentorship program and our grant-funded community garden program.
Finally, our presentation concluded with a Question & Answer session addressing inquiries that were submitted in advance from our community.