April 19th, 2017 by amynylund
By Ted Graf, Head of School
Last Tuesday (April 11th) was an important evening for the future of Headwaters. Board Chair Heather Vickers and I got to express our deep gratitude to the faculty as we welcomed them to a dinner gathering at Vinaigrette Restaurant (thanks to the extraordinary support and generosity of parent Jasen Trautwein). We also had the chance, as we have had with many of you, to share the philosophical clarity we’ve uncovered and to lay out, in detail, the opportunities that lie ahead with regard to facilities.
In case you don’t know, it’s rare and difficult to gather in one place the faculty from all three campuses and all five programs (YCC, Primary, Elementary, Middle School, and High School) at the same time. For those of you who have children on different campuses, you know that our daily schedules are slightly different; our weekly meeting schedules are quite different; it’s challenging to find a space that holds of us comfortably, and, culturally, we’re just now building the infrastructure, relationships, and practices to unite us across the campuses and across our programs.
While the overt plan for the evening was to update the faculty about the developments and opportunities surrounding facilities, the primary agenda was to feed the faculty well, to provide space and support for connection, and to test some ideas with them.
By now, many of you have heard me talk about our evolving vision of the high school and the River Campus—one in which our students and teachers are actively engaged in the downtown area doing research, service, community engagement, internships, and outreach. We imagine our students connected with local businesses via internships, assisting non-profits, and participating in civic life. In short, we are inviting faculty, especially on our downtown campus, to embrace the city as an extension of our campus and to amplify it. Over the course of the evening, we also emphasized our view that our entire school is uniquely poised to claim real world problem-solving and peace-making as the “true north” of our academic programs. I was heartened to hear widespread enthusiasm and excitement, and we look forward to sharing the faculty perspective with you.
The other piece of the evening involved making the financial and logistical case that staying downtown doesn’t just make programmatic sense, it also makes good business sense for the entire school.
As some of you know, beginning in February 2016, the board and school leadership conducted deep and extensive market research across Austin, having explored and/or visited upwards of 40 different properties. We have learned that the market is exceedingly competitive, especially for a relatively small non-profit. We have learned that the cost of renting is high and that it has risks, especially when you have three different landlords (as we do on the River Campus). We also learned that, ultimately, it is in the school’s best interests to own, provided that ownership allows us to reduce our monthly commitments and is fiscally responsible.
And so, as Heather so persuasively explained to the faculty, a purchase of the downtown properties will help us improve all of our programs, sharpen our identity, and improve our bottom line.
In the days ahead, we’ll be reaching out to the whole school community to make this case in person and to ask for your support. This is another watershed moment for the development and evolution of our school. We hope you’ll join us in turning our vision into reality.