State of the School
Head of School Scott Nelson, joined by Assistant Head of School Meredith deChabert and Director of Advancement Lynette Gioffre, delivered the annual presentation of the State of the School to current families on February 3, 2021. Below is a summary of the presentation.
The RCDS Experience and Spirit
The RCDS experience is characterized by the passionate pursuit of learning and character in a diverse and inclusive community. In addition to providing an excellent academic program, Rye Country Day prepares students to have a positive impact on their communities, demonstrating our motto, Not for Self, but for Service, in their choices and actions. This year, our mission-level commitments to academic excellence, character, and service have been called on perhaps more than ever as the School navigates the significant impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on education and life at large.
2020-21 Theme: Character
To distill the most meaningful integration of the study and practice of character, students and teachers are applying this year’s theme to a number of timely issues, including the COVID-19 pandemic, systemic racism and the path towards change, dialogue across difference, and the national political landscape, to name a few.
As we navigate the pandemic, the focus on character serves as a guide for each and every member of the RCDS community and as a reminder that we all can—and must—be advocates for the greater good. This includes vigilant adherence to public health and safety protocols such as mask wearing, social distancing, and living up to the commitments to one another outlined in the RCDS Community Compact.
It takes immense strength of character to navigate uncertainty, discomfort, and disruption with grace and attention to the well-being of others. Faculty, staff, students, and families have all demonstrated such strength of character, and they have been admirable ambassadors of the RCDS motto, Not for Self, but for Service.
Learning at RCDS
The pandemic has caused major disruption to education around the globe. A recent article in the New York Times was entitled “13,000 School Districts, 13,000 Approaches to Teaching During Covid.” All schools, both private and public, are contending with the same challenges of how best to teach using digital platforms and with the day-to-day uncertainty of the effects of the spread of the virus on the make up of any given classroom on any given day.
The delivery of the RCDS program has had to shift radically since the pandemic forced us into fully remote learning last spring and into a hybrid model this year. The curriculum and modes of instruction continue to be thoughtfully adjusted, and now we can turn our attention to a transition back to an academic program that is as close to normal as possible. RCDS academic excellence was and remains a constant, unalterable foundational attribute of our program.
In the global experiment of hybrid learning, RCDS has performed well, ensuring that students have the maximum synchronous learning time possible. We know that synchronous learning is optimal, and we have strategically applied our resources to be able to provide this opportunity to our students. Our efforts to have the greatest possible number of students on campus and the greatest possible amount of synchronous remote learning are a testament to our dedication to the best possible education for our students.
Our teachers, counselors, and staff have been instrumental in the transition to hybrid-flex learning. They have gone and continue to go above and beyond to be available to their students in our signature small classes and to provide the one-on-one relationships and support that characterize the Rye Country Day experience. A transition like this is only possible with expert and dedicated educators, whom RCDS has always been proud to employ.
Technology is a central part of hybrid learning. The School began the year fulfilling its commitment that all students be guaranteed access to a device and a reliable internet connection. Faculty and administrators received devices and training to ensure strong skills in educational technology and hybrid-flex teaching. To augment students’ digital learning experience, the School supplemented the use of its learning management system Haiku/PowerSchool Learning with additional online learning tools including: Clever, Seesaw, G Suite, Kahoot, Nearpod, and Explain Everything. The feedback that families and employees provided during RCDS@home was integral to optimizing our remote learning efforts and envisioning our hybrid-flex learning model for the 2020-21 school year.
Our commitment always is to act in the best interest of our students. In a new landscape of many unknowns, our approach of constant evaluation, feedback gathering, and thoughtful calibration is necessary, and RCDS is fortunate to have the resources to enable it.
Community has always been a primary focus at Rye Country Day School. With the pandemic, it is more important than ever for our community to be caring, flexible, resilient, respectful, and supportive. We continue to direct resources and attention to our community through the comprehensive DEI Plan, our Public Purpose initiatives, the Financial Aid Advocacy Program, and Student Support Services.
2020 required a great deal of perseverance and teamwork, and the RCDS community rose to the occasion. From adjusting to hybrid learning to adhering to risk mitigation protocols in the interest of collective safety and well-being, our students, teachers, and families have shown that we are indeed one RCDS: strong, collaborative, committed, caring, and understanding. This spirit will be required in the months ahead, as we continue to navigate the challenges of the pandemic and ongoing political division in our country. To counter the understandably exhausting range of emotions this period will evoke, Rye Country Day will continue to provide community as a source of support and comfort in difficult times. We will find and celebrate joy and remember that better days will come.
Below are a few examples of how our community is coming together as one for the greater good:
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Plan
Engaging all constituencies in a collective effort to build and sustain a community that is safe, welcoming, and diverse, RCDS began implementing its comprehensive DEI Plan in the summer of 2020—with institutional accountability a central piece of the School’s anti-racism, anti-bias, and cultural responsiveness efforts.
The DEI Plan is rooted in the belief that the responsibility to do this necessary work starts with the Board of Trustees and the Head of School and extends to all aspects of the School’s operations and each member of our community. As such, board members, administrators, students, faculty, and parents/guardians have participated in anti-racism and anti-bias training and continue to engage in programming and discussions that address these crucial issues. Alumni have stepped forward as a powerful network for positive change and profound support through RAMP (Resilience in Alumni Mentorships Program), a program connecting RCDS students of color with RCDS alumni of color, and other student programming.
RCDS Student Support Services, the Financial Aid program, Athletics, and College Counseling are being reviewed with an advocacy-forward lens. The curriculum and classroom experience are essential areas where the work of diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice takes place. Our DEI team has been expanded, and team members act as key collaborators to ensure that students are seen and heard in the classroom and their identities are reflected in their class content. The Office of Admissions, in collaboration with the Board’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, is developing a recruitment strategy with an emphasis on race and socioeconomic status, which includes effectively communicating the School’s commitment to diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism—and to seeking families who share these values.
The implementation of the DEI Plan to date has been community-wide, holistic, and subject to regular assessment and feedback. Thoughtful proposals from students, employees, and alumni, have informed the work, and the School has prioritized civil discourse and highlighted the role that each and every one of us can and must play in providing strength, support, and understanding for our community. It is important to note that our year-long, and mission-level focus on character has served as a fitting guide for the work of being an anti-racist community and school, developing a common language, and laying the foundation for positive, transformative change at RCDS.
Read detailed updates on the RCDS Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Plan here. The next update on the progress of the DEI Plan is scheduled for March 2021.
Health and Safety
Rye Country Day School began the 2020-21 school year with a firm commitment to health and safety. The School reopened in September with a thoughtfully researched, comprehensive reopening plan that was guided by the School’s Medical Committee.
Risk mitigation efforts—reconfiguring campus to support social distancing, along with daily health screenings, mask wearing, and proper hand and respiratory hygiene—were combined with weekly all-community pool (or surveillance) testing. Through weekly pool testing, all RCDS students and employees participating in any on-campus activity are tested. Every week, approximately 1,200 saliva samples are collected, organized, and sent for lab testing, enabling the School to identify potential asymptomatic cases, prevent extensive exposure, and ultimately avoid school closures. Rye Country Day’s pool testing program has served as a guiding example to peer schools who have implemented similar programs after consulting with members of our Medical Committee.
Implementing pool testing is a labor intensive, “all-hands-on-deck” community effort reflecting the School’s motto Not for Self, But for Service.
- Employees from across the School—teachers, administrators, and support staff—volunteer every week to help coordinate testing protocols, distribute test kits, and assist with saliva specimen collection and drop-offs.
- Earlier this fall, Upper School student-athletes volunteered to help assemble the testing kits.
- The Medical Committee liaises with the lab and reviews pool testing results and other COVID-related situations. In addition, the Medical Committee works tirelessly to develop and continually evaluate and update school Health Policies in accordance with new scientific developments and often-changing requirements and guidelines from the New York State Department of Health. RCDS Trustees Dr. Cindy Roskind, M.D., and Dr. Nina Cheigh, Pharm.D., in collaboration with RCDS medical consultant and pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Natalie Neu, M.D., M.P.H., have provided an invaluable service to RCDS. They have dedicated their time and expertise to helping the School ensure the safest possible environment for our students and employees.
- The frontline Health Office staff have gone above and beyond, as all medical personnel have during this pandemic. Led by Nancy Gordon, the School Nurses liaise with families and employees to provide guidance and care; complete thorough contact tracing daily; and are always on call to do whatever it takes to help our community stay safe.
- Families act as critical partners by staying alert and vigilantly following all current restrictions and guidelines and recognizing our shared responsibility for community safety and the well-being of our essential workers, colleagues, classmates, employees, neighbors, family, and friends.
The countless hours and immeasurable effort that go into successfully implementing pool testing and the School’s extensive risk mitigation protocols are a testament to our community’s commitment to safety and to fulfilling our mission even amidst unthinkable challenges. This commitment was codified through the RCDS Community Compact, which is a collective pledge to adopt changes in habits and daily life routines both on and off campus that are needed to promote the safest school environment possible for students and employees.
In a time of unforeseen and unprecedented challenges, the Rye Country Day community has come together in inspiring ways, demonstrating our shared commitment to excellence, character, and service. The state of the School remains strong because of the steadfast dedication of our students, families, employees, and alumni.
The Board continues to be committed to supporting socio-economic diversity through the RCDS financial aid program, which supports 153 students with $6.1 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 $1.9 million or 4.8% 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 $2.238 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 (73.2%) 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.
This year, a significant portion of the School’s resources (approximately $2.5 million) is being channelled towards COVID-related expenses and support. This includes:
- Health & Safety
- Personal protective equipment
- Facility enhancements to ensure social distancing
- Hiring additional nurses, food service personnel, and maintenance staff
- Weekly pool testing of all employees who come to campus
- Enhanced wireless capability
- Audio/visual hardware for hybrid learning
- Remote learning software
- Additional substitute teachers
- Community Support
- Assistance for community members in need due to the pandemic
Tradition of Strong ParticipationRCDS 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.
- Over the last five years, the average current parent participation at RCDS has been 96%, well above the national five-year average current parent participation of 65%.
- RCDS’s five-year average alumni participation of 25% is almost three times the national five-year average participation (9%) for independent day school alumni.
- RCDS employees also have strong participation in Annual Giving. In 2019-20, faculty and staff achieved a 94% participation rate. Notably, 100% of our staff made a gift for the second year in a row!
2020-21 Annual Giving Campaign
In the fall of 2020, the Office of Advancement launched the RALLY FOR RCDS ANNUAL GIVING CAMPAIGN, a call to each and every member of our community to support the 2020-21 Annual Fund.
In addition to making a gift to the RCDS Annual Fund, the campaign asks for additional gifts to the #RCDStogether COVID Relief Fund, which was created to help the School cover COVID-related expenses and support our community members in need.
Rally results (as of January 22): $3.4 million from over 700 donors, which includes 58% of our families. Incredible! And, there is still time to rally! Make your gift today www.ryecountryday.org/give
We are extremely grateful to our community’s generous support, as it is crucial in providing the resources necessary to meet the needs of the School during this challenging time.
The School annually draws 4% of a rolling twenty quarter average from the RCDS Endowment Fund. This year, the endowment will provide $1.92 million or 4.8% of the operating budget's income. Over the last 28 years, the endowment has grown more than sixteen-fold through capital and senior gift campaigns, as well as prudent management of the Endowment Fund.
Current Enrollment and 2021-22 Admissions Update
Rye Country Day is fully enrolled and admission to the School remains highly competitive. During this time of social distancing, RCDS adjusted its admissions procedures to ensure a positive and informative virtual experience for prospective families. Weekly admissions events via Zoom, digital and print communications, and new online screening and interview processes were implemented to ensure that families know about the School's many opportunities, and that the Admissions process is warm and welcoming. These adjustments to the Admissions experience are part of a targeted effort to effectively engage with prospective families during the pandemic, while maintaining the School’s current strong position.
The major entry points to Rye Country Day School are Pre-K, K, and Grades 4, 6, and 9. A few students are also added in Grades 5,7, 8 and 10. Entry into all other years depends on the number of spaces available. While the application deadline is December 15, the School does receive applications each year in the second round/rolling process for Middle and Upper School.
The application pool for the 2021-22 year is very strong and comprises impressive students. The Admissions Committee is currently in the process of reviewing applications and is very optimistic about the potential new additions to our community.
According to NAIS, the average acceptance rate of independent day schools hovers at nearly 45%, nearly 20 percentage points higher than RCDS, and the average attrition rate (12%) is more than three times 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 $6.1 million in financial aid to 16% of the student body (153 students).
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.
This year, as part of the RCDS DEI Plan, the School instituted a new Financial Aid Advocacy Team, comprised of the Dean of Financial Aid, the Financial Aid Officer, the DEI Team, and the Assistant Head of School. The team spearheads robust and responsive support for families and students in the Financial Aid Program. The team meets weekly and employs a holistic approach to supporting each student and family, including direct outreach and programming to ensure that students have access to the materials, supplies, and equipment they need; can access support in areas that might be overlooked; and receive necessary academic and socio-emotional support.
While it is still early in the process for the Class of 2021, 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.
To date, 37 members of the Class of 2021 have committed to matriculate at:
Bowdoin College (2)
Bryn Mawr College
Carnegie Mellon University
University of Chicago (2)
Cornell University (2)
Emory University (2)
College of the Holy Cross
University of Miami (2)
New York University
Northwestern University (2)
University of Pennsylvania (3)
Washington and Lee University
Williams College (3)
As we continue to contend with the challenges brought about by the pandemic, we are also actively and strategically planning for the School’s future. Campus expansion is a significant piece of the planning. In the fall, Rye Country Day School received a $1 million gift designated for property acquisition. In addition, the purchase of the New York State Thruway Authority land across Boston Post Road is still under consideration.
Rye Country Day completed a few key facility enhancements over the summer of 2020.
- The replacement of the artificial turf on the North Field (football, soccer, and boys’ lacrosse) was completed using an AstroTurf product that uses an underlying shock pad and Envirofill infill. This project completes turf replacement on all four of the School’s fields.
- Air conditioning was completed in the Pinkham Building science labs and the Athletic Center classrooms and offices. Air conditioning for the Main Building first floor (K-3) and Grades 7 and 8 wing is scheduled for summer 2021.
- Bandwidth was expanded and hardware was installed to support hybrid learning software.
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 across New York State. 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 concluded the Bold Vision 2020 strategic plan, whose goals were successfully fulfilled. The next strategic plan was drafted and going through the Board approval process when the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically changed the landscape of education. As a result, we will be reviewing and updating the draft of this next strategic plan, which will guide RCDS through 2021-2026, ensuring that the School 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. The new community and academic needs, as well as the lessons learned in 2020, will guide the Strategic Planning Committee’s updates and revisions to the draft.
Lower School Principal Search
The search for this position is in its final stages, 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 in February.
Head of School Search
On January 11, 2021, Head of School Scott Nelson and the Board of Trustees announced the plan for his retirement at the end of the 2021-22 school year. Read the announcements from Mr. Nelson and the Board of Trustees here.