Gary Neils

An important question students ask teachers is, “How will I be evaluated?” The same question is worth asking about Winchester Thurston School. How will WT be evaluated or better yet, how should we be evaluated?

One evaluative instrument is demand. For a number of years following the Recession of 2008, independent schools nationwide experienced a decline in enrollment. It could be said that this reflected a decline in demand. This has not been the case at Winchester Thurston. WT opened school this year with the highest enrollment in the history of the school: 685 students! In fact, this is our ninth year of record enrollment.

If standardized tests are what they claim to be—an instrument to measure academic achievement and skills —then presumably student performance on the tests are another way to evaluate a school. Once again, WT students score remarkably well. On the ERB tests that we administer in grades 4-8, the median WT student score was a significant 35 points above the national norms in reading and 42 points above the national norms in mathematics. On the SAT, which we benchmark against 35 other outstanding independent schools, the median score of the middle 50% of the Class of 2016 was fifth highest in reading, sixth highest in writing, and seventh highest in mathematics.

Still I hear that some families evaluate schools on their college placement lists. Ninety-eight percent of the Class of 2016 was accepted into colleges that were ranked by Barron’s as Most Competitive, Highly Competitive, or Very Competitive. Better yet, 58% of the Class of 2016 was admitted to the Most Competitive colleges and universities. Our admit rate to the Ivy League colleges this past year was an extraordinary 13% compared to the average admit rate to Ivy League Colleges of between 6% and 7%.

Finally, one of the most important instruments to evaluate a school is customer satisfaction. This is one of the reasons we have participated in the National Association of Independent Schools’ (NAIS) Parent Satisfaction Survey. The culminating questions in the survey ask parents to rate their overall satisfaction with the school, and to report how likely they are to recommend our school to others. On average, 83% of parents in the national benchmark group reported satisfaction, which I am told is a remarkably high number. Well, at Winchester Thurston School 89% of our parents not only expressed satisfaction, but would recommend our school to other families.

Certainly these are a few ways in which some people may evaluate Winchester Thurston School. However, I would like to suggest that these instruments alone are too shortsighted. The measure of our performance as a school is less quantitative than it is qualitative. It is in the quality of our graduates’ lives. It is in whether our graduates are productive and good citizens. It is in whether they are evolving into good human beings. Not long ago a WT graduate summed up her time at WT in the following remarkable reflection:

“I can truly say that over the past four years I have been affected by Newton, by Plato, and even by Thoreau, but they didn’t give me knowledge, they gave me facts. As a wise man once said, ‘facts you can read in a book’ and I have, and I appreciate them, but it’s not what made me grow, what made we want to change, what made me knowledgeable. Knowledge for me and the knowledge that (our school) has taught me and of which I am truly grateful is how to consider myself credible.”

I do not discount the importance of metrics and quantifiable measures of performance. However, I think the greatest value of a Winchester Thurston education is qualitative and long-term, as this graduate so beautifully expressed.