State of the School: Hill-Murray’s Weathering the Storm(s)

As I looked out the window Thursday at all the fresh snow piled high in my neighborhood, I couldn’t help but think how the weather has impacted our school year. We’ve had five weather-related online learning days and three early dismissals or late starts. That’s obviously not ideal for our students, but I am grateful that our teachers can pivot quickly to online learning and are available to our students on zoom. I hopped online with our Leadership Team bright and early Thursday and was quickly reassured that although the weather is often unpredictable and topsy-turvy, Hill-Murray is very much on solid ground.

Why do I say this? Let’s start with admissions. Our new student applications are up more than 10% from last year, and our current enrollment is 970, the highest in 10 years. Our retention rate is also better than the previous school year, indicating our students and families are pleased with the overall experience created by our outstanding teachers, coaches, counselors, and staff.  And this is not an outlier year by any means. Long before the pandemic and well before the challenges facing schools today, Hill-Murray was on an ascending trajectory. 

In fact, we are the only private school in our area to grow, year-over-year, for eight consecutive years. Word has spread that Hill-Murray is the place to be, and we are currently working with newly accepted Pioneers to complete their enrollment process. If you know of families considering Hill-Murray, please let them know that NOW is the time to connect with us as we expect wait pools again for some grades in the fall.

We know that a positive school experience is grounded, in part, by thriving co-curricular activities. Hill Murray offers tremendous opportunities for students to be involved in athletics, clubs, activities, fine arts, and service. These experiences create a strong sense of community and reinforce a feeling of belonging. They also push our students to pursue their passions and inspire them well beyond the school day.

That’s happening every day, it seems! Mock Trial (pictured above) has advanced to the state tournament, and our Girl’s Alpine Ski Team just made Hill-Murray history, winning the school’s first state championship last week. Like our enrollment trajectory, several of Hill-Murray’s programs, such as volleyball, girl’s tennis, and alpine ski, continue to see their numbers grow. Alpine Ski, for instance, now has more than 90 boys and girls skiing on the Hill-Murray team or in our club. Several years ago, there were barely enough kids to field one team!  This week we honored the state championship team and one of the hardest working coaches I know, Don Shipp. At the pepfest honoring the team, he led the school in the Our Father (pictured below).

Encouraging families to come to Hill-Murray and ensuring they have a good experience will always be hard work. But I can say from experience this labor of love is made much easier here because of our community’s incredible generosity. After raising an impressive $1.25 million at last April’s Pioneer Premier Auction, we will continue to offer tuition assistance and scholarships to over one-third of our student body. More specifically, the Friends of Hill-Murray fund distributed over $650,000 to students in need – the most ever. And we now have more than 200 total scholarships, with more than two dozen started and deployed to the new class of students.  As long as I am the president, I can assure you that accessibility for Hill-Murray families will remain a priority. 

Lastly, we are constantly looking for ways to improve and innovate especially when it comes to caring for and supporting our students.  Our new Daily Schedule is grounded in adolescent research and balances the structure and freedom our students need. It preserves the robust and rich tradition Hill-Murray has for academic excellence. 

I wrote about the new schedule in a previous President’s Perspective. One of the critical features of the new plan is the addition of the Pioneer Period in high school. This period allows our older students to learn to manage time, set academic and personal goals, and develop their mind, body, and spirit. As you can imagine, students will need the physical space to ensure the vision for the Pioneer Period comes to life – an area where they can gather, collaborate and study in a comfortable, modern environment that meets their needs. We’ve been working on this concept, especially as it relates to our Innovative Campus pillar of Go Boldly, our strategic plan. 

There are challenges ahead, and the path often spirals and takes time, but as the Pioneers who’ve come before us, we know there is no obstacle that true grit, faith in God, and amazing grace cannot overcome. We also know – and have proven – that we can weather all storms, as long as we navigate them together.