Face Off: Leading the next generation

Face Off: Leading the next generation

2022-07-18T11:56:52-04:00July 15th, 2022|Dallas, Education|

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Writer: Jerrica DuBois

2 min read July 2022 — The education sector in the metroplex is formidable, with institutions like the University of North Texas, Texas Woman’s University and Texas A&M University–Commerce and many others calling the area home. But there are also many pre-k through 12th grade schools doing the hard work of getting young people prepared for higher education and beyond. 

Eric Lombardi, head of school of Fort Worth Country Day, and B. Paul Wolfe, head of school of Cambridge School of Dallas, shared with Invest: their thoughts on the current challenges and opportunities in primary and secondary education.

How do you construct and update your curriculum?

Eric Lombardi: Work like that of our Portrait of a Graduate project helps us revisit our curriculum from a new angle, in this case identifying the demands and needs of the people going into the larger workforce. 

Additionally, we have an ongoing Curricular Audit Process that has been on pause for a couple of years because of the pandemic but it will resume during the fall. With that program, we bring four teachers from other parts of the country to our campus and give them access to everything in one department. They produce a document that gives us a comparison point between us and the schools they come from.

How does Cambridge school distinguish itself from competitors in the area?

Paul Wolfe: The Cambridge School of Dallas is a unique school, for several reasons. To start, we are a single-track classical college preparatory school with a focus on honors and AP (Advanced Placement). In spite of this, we have a fairly broad admission philosophy. There are many young people who would not be in such a rigorous and advanced program elsewhere, but we believe they can achieve a higher potential. We believe in the importance of producing effective and thoughtful student leaders – this is how we distinguish our school. Every student must graduate with at least 4 AP courses. We have six Ph.D.s on our faculty. Many of our professors are published scholars, so their professional development is in the field of their guild. We also distinguish our school by having a small faculty-to-teacher ratio. We believe education is a relational and personal enterprise. We like to say, “We do not teach subjects or curricula. We teach students.” This is why we have a vibrant community here at the Cambridge School. Finally, as a Christian school, we are aiming to help shape young men and women who have a vision and understand a bit more about what it means to live a life of real human virtue. That is sometimes challenging for students to comprehend. We need virtuous people to do that and our faculty are not only scholars but they strive to be a part of a community that engages students about the important questions in life.

What does the rapid growth in the Dallas region mean for your school? 

Lombardi: In 2015 when I first arrived, we were down in enrollment. When you are 90% driven by tuition dollars, enrollment is fundamental. One way we addressed our enrollment challenge was by creating a junior kindergarten, aimed at children who are not quite ready for kindergarten. At the same time, we implemented several initiatives that included personnel changes and community-wide efforts at telling our story better. As a result of those efforts and certainly of changing demographics in Fort Worth, we’ve had a waitlist for kindergarten for four years in a row. Addressing the enrollment challenge frees us up to work more on JK-12 programming and overall progress from good to great and great to greater.

Wolfe: This growth means we are getting a lot of out-of-town inquiries from prospective parents and students. The hits on the Dallas County website have increased considerably over the last two years. Direct inquiries from international students have also increased significantly. About 12-15% of our school consists of international students at any time, from five to six different countries, which adds a rich diversity to our internal culture. We are seeing increased demand across all grades and our eighth grade for next year is closed. Overall interest continues to increase but the pandemic and the destruction of our facility did cause a setback. I believe that once visitors see our new campus being built and coming to life through its ongoing construction, we will experience an increase in demand for places in our school.

What is your outlook for 2022 and beyond?

Lombardi: We have a Strategic Plan, adopted in 2018, that really serves as my marching orders. In that plan, we commit ourselves to being excellent and innovative in all that we do. We also commit ourselves to breaking down our protective berm a bit, metaphorically. We seek to have our students more and more engaged in the greater Fort Worth community and beyond. Our Center for International Studies is one of the early commitments in that second component of the Strategic Plan. Third, we have a stated goal of being more and more reflective of the Fort Worth community. Our new full-time Director of Community Engagement and Inclusion gives us the chance to have a wise leader, Nicole Masole, coordinating this essential work. And, lastly, our Strategic Plan calls for us to maintain an emphasis on long-term financial sustainability – finding ways, like this year, of reducing our tuition increase to 2%.

Wolfe: Mark Cuban recently said that he would strongly recommend that students major in the humanities and liberal arts. There is a lot of misunderstanding about what a liberal arts education means. The reason he said this is because economics and finance degrees are a dime a dozen and they only prepare you to work in a single field. A liberal arts degree prepares one to interact more creatively and more imaginatively in virtually any sphere. From this, you can then learn economics or finance. We are preparing young leaders to do exactly that. American education has been in a crisis for decades and we are a school that wants to have a role in contributing to a more informed citizenry who can solve problems in everything from national security to construction to real estate.  

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