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We have a plan!

At their final meeting of this school year, our Board of Directors approved a Strategic Plan for Cary Academy.

Putting it together

This plan represents the collective work of our entire community, and more specifically the efforts of 24 members of a core strategic planning committee and another 36 individuals who served on four action teams. These groups included board members, employees, students, parents, and alumni.

Our planning teams relied heavily on data collected from two big community surveys last year as well as focus groups that helped provide a deeper dive into the state of our school. In addition to school-centered data, the team had a broad reading list that included reports from the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), Independent School Management (ISM), the Organization of Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD), the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and the Harvard Business School. They tapped the scholarly work of Clayton Christensen, Tony Wagner, John Kotter, Michael Fullen, John Hattie, as well as local experts from UNC-Chapel Hill and NC State’s Friday Institute for Educational Innovation.

The writing of the plan took place beginning at a two-day retreat in October and ending with a two-day retreat in March. In between, action teams fanned out to research and write draft strategies and action items.

Five-Year Planning Cycle

The school has been working on continual improvement through strategic planning for the last 10 years, with plans beginning in 2005 and again in 2010. These plans did a great deal to help create the school that we have today. A quick look at the key goals from each of those plans can help us see how the school has evolved.

Our goals in 2005

  1. Create an environment that attracts, develops, and retains outstanding educators committed to the mission of Cary Academy.
  2. Nurture and grow a constituency that is emotionally connected to the school.
  3. Support students and employees in establishing and maintaining a balanced life.
  4. Better communicate Cary Academy’s admission philosophy, profile of the ideal Cary Academy student, and profile of the ideal Cary Academy class.

Our goals in 2010

  1. To prepare students for their futures, Cary Academy will be a leader in teaching and learning enhanced by the creative and effective use of emerging technologies.
  2. Strengthen the development and retention of outstanding employees who will uphold and advance the mission and values of the school.
  3. Build the framework necessary to ensure the long-term financial sustainability of the school.
  4. Strengthen student development programs to include character education, leadership, ethics, global citizenship and commitment to respect, integrity, and compassion.
  5. Strengthen multi-culturalism in an increasingly diverse school community through education, experiences, and meaningful relationships.

Our vision, goals, and strategies for the next five years

When moving into a new planning cycle, we do not abandon the old goals but instead pull those accomplishments and dreams into a new vision:

Cary Academy will create learning opportunities that are flexible, personalized, and relevant.  We will cultivate self-directed and bold life-long learners who make meaningful contributions to the world.

Our goals and corresponding strategies:

  • Create institutional flexibility to facilitate innovative and dynamic learning experiences by
      • Creating institutional mechanisms to strengthen and sustain a robust culture of innovation
      • Creating collaborative time for students and faculty to engage in nontraditional, bold learning opportunities within and across divisions
      • Reviewing and revising our academic programming to reflect our commitment to student-centered learning
  • Foster the intellectual and cultural elasticity needed to adapt and thrive in the world by
      • Enabling community members to identify and delve deeply into areas of passion
      • Ensuring community members have opportunities to expand cultural awareness and develop cultural competence
  •  Strengthen existing relationships and build new connections to embrace multiple perspectives and opportunities by
      • Improving access and exposure to Cary Academy news, events, and opportunities for participation in community life
      • Establishing an accessible network of Cary Academy community members to strengthen relationships and share expertise
      • Seeking out opportunities with other schools, organizations, and individuals to gather and share knowledge, inspiration, and innovations
  • Build the professional and learning environments necessary to realize our strategic vision by
    • Identifying and implementing enhancements to the school’s culture and operations
    • Identifying and implementing improvements to the campus
    • Designing and implementing a funding program


The implementation of our plan also will require a broad community effort. The plan is designed to be a “living document” — meaning we have clear goals and strategies in place, but the action items will be determined each year as the plan and our needs evolve.

This spring and summer, our Leadership Team will be working to develop the first set of action items that will begin in the fall. These items likely will include:

  • Creating operational language and structures to promote deeper innovation at Cary Academy, which could include expanding the use of design thinking beyond our current implementation in upper school visual arts program;
  • Strengthening community by showcasing the breadth of creativity and innovation currently in practice at Cary Academy;
  • Implementing a formalized, cross-divisional curriculum review cycle;
  • Reviewing our communication structures within the school and recommending improvements;
  • Tweaking our academic schedule to enhance collaboration opportunities between and within divisions;
  • Moving forward with the development of a campus improvement plan to create more student-centered and flexible learning spaces.

The development of this new strategic plan also involved updating the description of our mission statement and the creation of core beliefs about learning, and I look forward to sharing more about these in a future post.

You can follow the full planning process on our web site.