State of the School
Headmaster Scott Nelson delivered the annual presentation of the State of the School to the Parents Association on January 15, 2020. Here is a summary of his presentation.
The RCDS experience is characterized by the passionate pursuit of learning and character in a diverse and inclusive community. Aside from our excellent academic program, what sets Rye Country Day apart is our commitment to preparing students to have a positive impact on their communities, demonstrating our motto, Not for Self, but for Service, in their choices and actions.
The 2019-20 school-wide theme is citizenship. One of the "big four" in the RCDS Portrait of a Graduate, citizenship was selected as the theme because of its inherent incorporation of the other attributes and outcomes articulated in the Portrait—citizenship represents character in action, and it requires skills and knowledge. For the RCDS community, citizenship means a collective commitment to encouraging students of all ages to approach others with empathy, to examine local and global issues, to appreciate differences in opinion, to recognize stereotypes and bias, and to embrace and understand the importance of diversity. It is also rooted in school-wide agreement that aware, engaged, and purpose-driven citizens are upstanders, not bystanders; they are thought leaders and innovators who engage in open, appropriate, and effective interactions across difference; they are changemakers who seek solutions and take bold action to address societal needs and issues.
During the State of the School presentation, I mentioned three examples of citizenship from our community. These are just a sample of what I see on campus day in and day out:
I am pleased to report that the state of the School in 2020 remains strong because of the steadfast dedication of our students, families, alumni, faculty, and staff.
Like most independent day schools, RCDS remains "tuition-driven" as 85.2% of income derives from tuition.
The Board continues to be committed to supporting socio-economic diversity through the RCDS financial aid program, which supports 145 students with $5.9 million in need-based aid. This financial aid program is funded through restricted endowment funds, the operating budget, the RCDS Parents Association, and several other annual giving donations specifically for financial aid. The majority of families who receive financial aid receive grants of 75% or more.
The School annually draws 4% of a rolling twenty quarter average from the RCDS Endowment Fund. This year, the endowment will provide $2.15 million or 5.5% of the operating budget's income. The RCDS Endowment continues to grow through capital and senior gift campaigns. The School also is debt-free.
This year, the School must raise $2.275 million in unrestricted annual giving in order to balance the budget.
Rye Country Day, like other educational institutions, is labor intensive and thus spends the major portion of its budget (72.8%) on salaries and benefits. The Board of Trustees is committed to attracting, supporting, and retaining an outstanding faculty and staff; therefore, competitive salaries and benefits, as well as professional development funding, are critical expenditures.
Major expenses also involve maintaining and improving the School's physical plant, which includes 316,300 square feet of buildings, four artificial turf fields, and an ice rink on a 26-acre campus. Recent major projects such as artificial turf replacements and air conditioning are funded through the operating budget.
Growth of Annual Giving
As shown in the chart above, RCDS relies on gifts from the community to help bridge the gap between total revenue and total expenses. The RCDS Annual Fund has grown from $827,503 in 1993-94 to $3.85 million in 2018-19. During this period, the annual giving program has raised over $73.9 million for the School, including over $10.5 million for the RCDS Endowment Fund through the very successful Senior Gift program.
Continuing Strong Participation
RCDS benefits tremendously from a strong culture of giving throughout the school community. According to National Association of Independent School (NAIS) statistics, RCDS participation levels in annual giving far exceed national averages for independent day schools. For 20 consecutive years, 95% or more of current RCDS parents have supported annual giving, compared to just 66.5% nationally. In addition, RCDS alumni participation of 25% is more than 15 percentage points higher than the national average for independent day school alumni.
Current Parent & Guardian Participation
1869-Minute Annual Giving Challenge
On October 23-24, 2019, the RCDS community came together to support the Annual Fund. During these two days, RCDS challenged the community to raise $1.869 million in gifts and pledges, with a total of $150,000 in challenge grants from anonymous donors as incentive.
The result: in total, 950 donors raised $2.8 million - a new challenge record. Incredible!
The School annually draws 4% of a rolling twenty quarter average from the RCDS Endowment Fund. This year, the endowment will provide $2.15 million or 5.5% of the operating budget's income. Over the last 27 years, the endowment has grown eleven-fold through capital and senior gift campaigns, as well as prudent management of the Endowment Fund. One of the driving goals behind Advancing a Tradition of Excellence, the School's recent capital campaign, was to increase the endowment by $15 million.
The School is fully enrolled and admission remains highly competitive. In an increasingly competitive market, Rye Country Day admissions is focusing on making sure that prospective families know about the School's many opportunities, that the admissions process is warm and welcoming, and that the School maintains its current strong position in the years to come. Nationwide, independent schools have seen a decrease in applications in the early years as parents wait until middle or high school to make the investment in private education. Rye Country Day competes directly with excellent public schools available in the area and with boarding schools, which are a popular choice in this region.
The major entry points to Rye Country Day School are Pre-K, K, and Grades 4, 6, and 9. A few students are added in Grade 10. Entry into all other years depends on the number of spaces available. While the application deadline is December 15, the School does see several applications each year in the second round/rolling process for Middle and Upper School. As of January 2020, applications for 2020-21 have exceeded last year's August 1 totals at every major entry point except for Grades 9 and 10. The application pool this year is very strong. The average acceptance rate of independent day schools hovers nearly 40 percentage points higher than RCDS, and the average attrition rate is more than double the rate at RCDS.
RCDS is actively committed to maintaining a school community of students from diverse backgrounds and experiences, and our extensive financial aid program helps to make a Rye Country Day education accessible for highly qualified students whose families have demonstrated financial need. RCDS grants approximately $5.9 million in financial aid to 16% of the student body.
Financial aid grants consider the entire expense of attending RCDS including "extra" costs such as lunch, books, school trips, and other expenses. The financial aid program is a mission-critical facet of the School.
Diversity & Inclusion
About ten years ago, Rye Country Day School made a small but significant change to its mission statement, amending "Rye Country Day School values diversity" to read "Rye Country Day School is actively committed to diversity." RCDS formed a Diversity & Inclusion initiative that has led the School in this work since. Over the course of the 2018-19 year, a school-wide Diversity & Inclusion Task Force comprising students, alumni, parents, board members, faculty, administrators, and staff developed a strategic plan for the Diversity & Inclusion initiative, which has started to be implemented this year.
Schools often cite, and indeed we are often asked to report, the percentage of the student body that self-identify as people of color. This is an indicator of a community's diversity, but not in itself a measure of our success in our Diversity & Inclusion initiative. The School acts consciously and deliberately in all divisions and offices to create and sustain a diverse and inclusive community. This applies from the admissions process to the curriculum to faculty/staff recruitment, professional development, support for families, and much more. The School is committed to sustaining a diverse student body across multiple identifiers.
While it is still early in the process for the Class of 2020, most students have already received acceptances as a result of "early action," "restrictive early action," "rolling," and "early decision" applications. A complete list of their college choices will be posted on the website in June.
Please note: RCDS only posts matriculation decisions once they are final. Many students have received acceptances (not reflected below) and are waiting to make a final decision because the acceptance they have received is non-binding. It is important to the School and to our students that we respect and preserve the privacy of the college decision-making process by only posting matriculation selections when they are final, and we will never post a list that identifies individual students.
To date, 52 members of the Class of 2020 have committed to matriculate at:
Bucknell University (2)
University of Chicago (2)
Claremont McKenna College
Colgate University (2)
Columbia University (2)
Cornell University (6)
Harvard University (2)
New York University
Northwestern University (4)
University of Pennsylvania (3)
University of Notre Dame
University of St. Andrews
Vanderbilt University (2)
Wake Forest University (3)
Washington University in St. Louis
Wesleyan University (2)
Williams College (2)
The completion of the Advancing a Tradition of Excellence Capital Campaign was celebrated at the Headmaster’s Circle Reception in October. The most ambitious and successful fundraising effort in the School’s history, the Campaign surpassed its goal of $35 million, raising $35,528,112 in support of endowment for financial aid and faculty and staff compensation, campus facilities, and several strategic initiatives, including Character/Leadership/Ethics, Diversity and Inclusion, Educational Technology, Global Studies, Health and Wellness, Public Purpose, Sustainability, and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics).
The Campaign’s goals were defined in Rye Country Day’s strategic plan, Bold Vision 2020, to enable the School to sustain and advance its position as a top-tier independent day school at both the national and local levels.
Read more about the Advancing a Tradition of Excellence Capital Campaign here.
For decades, RCDS has hoped to acquire the nine-acre piece of New York State Thruway Authority (NYSTA) land across Boston Post Road. This purchase is now closer to reality than ever before. In November, Governor Cuomo signed into law an amendment to the 2017 legislation enabling the Thruway Authority to sell the Boston Post Road property to RCDS. Sponsored by Assemblyman Steve Otis and Senator Shelley Mayer, the amendment supersedes the requirement in the 2017 legislation of a shared use agreement between the School and the City of Rye and establishes instead a requirement for the School to offer public user groups rental access to recreational facilities there for 29% of usable hours.
While the RCDS Board of Trustees attempted to negotiate a shared use agreement with the City of Rye in good faith for 22 months, a consensus could not be reached because the City Council sought shared control of the property. The amendment will enable the School to continue its pursuit of acquiring the property.
The School envisions building a track, field, parking, and eventually a field house on the property (one idea is to move to the ice rink to the Thruway property, reconstructing it anew with energy-efficient features and freeing up 25,000 square feet of buildable space in its place). RCDS has just 10,000 square feet of buildable space remaining on the current campus. The acquisition of the Thruway property would allow further expansion of facilities on the existing 26-acres. We intend to offer the facilities we build on the Thruway Property for rent to Rye-based youth sports organizations when the School does not need them, which has long been our practice regarding our athletic facilities. We are excited by the long-term benefits of this acquisition for the School, as well as for the Rye community.
New York State Substantial Equivalence
Last year, the New York State Department of Education was attempting to impose local public school district oversight of non-public schools to ensure substantial equivalence. Thank you to those that wrote letters about this serious matter, which could have significant impact on Rye Country Day School and on other independent schools in the state of New York. There have been educational leadership changes at both the state and local levels, and at the moment, there is no further update on the state requirements. On our end, we have been comparing our curriculum with existing standards, and a team of faculty has worked over the last few years to develop a comprehensive curriculum map, which has many benefits, including enabling the School to easily demonstrate substantial equivalence should we need to do so.
2019-20 concludes the Bold Vision 2020 strategic plan, whose goals have been successfully fulfilled. We are currently developing the next strategic plan, which will guide RCDS through the next five years, ensuring that it remains a leading institution, both nationally and locally, and one that is ever-evolving and able to provide students with an excellent education that will prepare them to succeed in college and beyond. We plan to share information about the new strategic plan later this spring, following the completion of the strategic planning committee’s research and development work.
Middle School Principal Search
The search for this position is underway, and it is being guided by Bruce Dennis, former Head of School at The Packer Collegiate Institute and a senior consultant for the leading educational search firm Carney, Sandoe & Associates. The candidate pool is outstanding, and the School hopes to complete the search by the end of January.
Upper School Schedule
A team of faculty in the Upper School is exploring a new block schedule for the Upper School, which would allow more time for experiential, cross-disciplinary learning, as well as more opportunities for collaboration and community time. The new schedule would also align with the research on best practices regarding teenage health and wellness.
It is my greatest honor to serve as headmaster.
Scott A. Nelson