The President's Blog
And we begin again…
In the Rule of St Benedict there is a consistent thought that we rarely achieve perfection and recommit ourselves to the journey on a regular basis. As the calendar turns to August and we prepare for the return of teachers in several weeks and students in less than a month, I want to update you on summer projects, issues that will affect all of us, and some initiatives to stay abreast of during the year. As we begin the new year, we are committed to delivering an innovative and personalized student experience for your children.
As I write this letter we are anticipating increased enrollment of about 25 students over last year - our sixth straight year of growth - for a total of 875. This is less students than we originally anticipated, mostly due to a decline in international students over our record enrollment in that category last year. Long term, we remain optimistic that we can meet our goal of reaching capacity in the near future.
Our tuition increases over the past four years have totaled 7.24% versus inflation of 8.4% and our competitors’ increase average of 15.05%. As the economy slows down, we remain vigilant about controlling costs while still delivering on our long-term commitments and providing value for our families. During this same period, tuition assistance and annual scholarships have increased by over $500,000, bringing greater access to the school and increasing diversity from 13% to over 20%.
Along with this we have increased our College in the Schools offerings from 8 to 20 classes, resulting in the class of 2019 earning an average of 7.75 college credits upon graduation, or an approximate value of $11,625 in college credits. Our long-term goal is for each student to earn an average of 12 college credits, which will create a savings far exceeding the cost of their last year at Hill-Murray.
NEW STUDENT EXPERIENCES
In addition to our extensive co-curricular activity offerings, we are adding a new category that will join athletics, clubs, theatre, music and choir called TechSports.
This fall we will be offering several levels of teams in the burgeoning area of eSports with teams playing in several online gaming “leagues.” If you have not checked out the new eSports offerings, I invite you to visit the Clubs & Activities portion of our website or my blog for a longer explanation.
TechSports will have a winter season, in which we will continue to offer both middle school and two levels of high school robotics. During the spring TechSports season, we will continue our tradition of coding contests, “hacking” nights as well as kicking off our inaugural drone racing team.
We will be the third school in the state to sponsor these kinds of TechSports teams and following an email to students, we had over 130 expressing interest. We believe these activities are consistent and aligned with our goal of providing innovative educational experiences and will prepare students for careers in the 21st century. Personally, I can’t wait to race a drone around gates and over obstacles along the stadium track… I better check on our insurance before I start that!
During this school year we will be reviewing a proposal to start our third pathway with a certificate in “Design Thinking.” Similar to our Engineering/Computer Science and Entrepreneurship pathways, we are exploring a set of classes, activities and internships for students interested in fashion/interior/graphic/product design/architecture and related industries. If you have interest in these areas and want to participate in the process, please feel comfortable in reaching out to Sam Dahl, our fine arts chair or to Brent Johnson our Director of Learning.
When they return in August, students will notice some improvements we made over the summer. We have expanded and remodeled the Campus Ministry Space; a new Alumni Center will be completed by Homecoming; the main office area has been spruced up; we have replaced a 60-year-old boiler with a new energy efficient heating and cooling system that should address most of the heating and some cooling issues in classrooms throughout the building as well as in the Chapel/Lunchroom area; and we have rebuilt the iconic rock front wall at the main entrance that was falling apart due to weather erosion.
CONSTRUCTION ON LARPENTEUR & CENTRY AVENUES
Construction season has not been our friend, but hopefully both the Larpenteur Avenue overlay project and the Century Avenue Gas Line Extension Projects will be completed soon.
The Larpenteur Avenue project calls for a shutdown of one lane with flagmen. This project was scheduled to be completed in June but as of today, it has not yet begun. The County is estimating work to take less than a week to complete. We have alerted the County of our start date and our concerns regarding traffic flow but have not received any communication regarding completion dates. The lead project manager is aware of the conflicts this will cause if not completed before the start of school.
On Century Avenue, Xcel Energy is replacing 70-year-old gas piping from North St. Paul to the gas plant near the railroad tracks south of Hill-Murray. They currently have the area south of the intersection of Highway 14 and Larpenteur shut down, with no access in either direction. This work is scheduled to be completed by August 22 depending on weather. This will require students and parents to find alternate routes to Hill-Murray. The project manager from Xcel is aware of our schedule and will attempt to not close the intersection at Larpenteur completely. I have asked Father Kevin to say a few prayers on this one…
Xcel will then move south to work on the section from Larpenteur to the gas plant but anticipate only closing down the southbound lane during that construction and completing the project prior to October.
TRAFFIC FLOW ON CAMPUS - SHORT TERM & LONG TERM
Short Term Congestion
A consequence of our enrollment growth and driver habits has resulted in unacceptable congestion at the start and end of the school day near both of the entrances. Worse yet, there were several accidents last year that were potentially devastating as drivers exited the parking lots.
To assist us in fixing the traffic flow issues, last spring we retained a traffic engineering consulting firm that conducted aerial reviews. They have recommended changes to traffic flow both entering and exiting the school grounds, as well as directional rules and designated areas for pick up and drop off of students. Complete diagrams of the new traffic flows have been provided in your back to school package, are available on the website and will be given to each student during orientation days. Staff members will be out the first few days assisting drivers with the new rules.
There is NO perfect solution, but we are trying this temporary fix to address the short-term issues we all have faced.
Long Term Solution
The facilities committee of the Board of Trustees have also retained several consultants to help us brainstorm ideas and create potential designs for a longer-term solution that would allow for an increase in parking spots, a bus drop off, and direct access to Century on the east side of school. All potential solutions, along with their feasibility and costs will be studied in the fall and a recommendation made, so that if possible, the new plan could be constructed and in place for the fall of 2020.
As so it begins again. Due to retirements and career changes, we are looking forward to welcoming a few new faces among our faculty and the experience they bring. We are excited to integrating them into the culture of Hill-Murray as they welcome EACH unique student to our school community.
Visit the master calendar on our website for upcoming events and we will see you on August 22 for the first day of school!