February 24, 2020: At Gill, One Size Does Not Fit All

Everywhere I go, in person or online, I seem to be bombarded by marketing efforts of all kinds. Whether it is selling a product, a service, or a subscription, they come at me fast and furiously each day. Along with the many other things in my life; all compete for my attention and try to persuade me to buy something.
The various ads boldly speak of their “value proposition,” hence the reason I should say “yes” or click on them. Afterwards, depending on my level of satisfaction, I may continue the subscription, maintain the service, or buy the product again. If I am particularly pleased (or not), I may even post a review online and directly share my experience with family and friends.

Few people that I know would take issue with the notion that much in our lives today is far more complex than in past years. Consider health care for example, or housing. The same is true of education.

I am fortunate to have served as the Head of Gill St. Bernard’s for almost 20 years. During this time, our school has grown and changed in many wonderful ways. While the change is most apparent in our campus and its facilities, our programs have also changed. Further, a number of those who have worked here during this time have retired or moved on to other opportunities, replaced by fresh faces and new perspectives. Our college list has also changed, as more and more of our graduates go on to highly selective colleges and a growing number play sports at the collegiate level. These things are important takeaways for many parents, though I do not necessarily include them in my own version of our own value proposition.

Educators have been slow (at least in independent schools) to fully embrace marketing. It seems somehow crass and unbecoming, yet it is being more widely accepted (and necessary) as demographics shift and the competition for students intensifies. Certainly, I point to our mission and core values as some of the ways in which we differentiate Gill from other schools. However, strong academics, extensive co-curricular offerings, and community service programs all exist to a certain extent at peer schools. Further, our unique niche programs, such as spring unit travel, have in recent years been copied by others. As I regularly survey our cohort of schools, I am surprised at the number that are now emulating Gill, advertising “balance” or adding travel experiences. Perhaps I should not be surprised though, as their changes only underscore the reality that we were right all along to embrace this approach.

The same cannot be said with regards to community and the way we fully embrace each student for who and what they are. After all, from the moment I set foot on the GSB campus, one of my most important goals was to build a community of teachers, students, parents and alumni; learners all. For many years, we have consciously gone about the process of building a special and unique community here in Gladstone and Chester. Some of the ways we have accomplished this – ceremonies such as Convocation and Commencement, organizations like the Parents’ Association and Booster Club, as well as events such as Family Day – build and sustain our community. The sense of commitment to each other here at Gill is usually most apparent in the face of a difficult challenge or when a tragedy occurs. I suspect almost everyone has felt this special warmth and support in these moments. It does not exist in the same way at most schools, regardless of what some might say.

When I am asked to describe a “typical” Gill student, I often pause because it is not easy to describe our students. Each one is distinct and uniquely different; one size does not fit all. “Nice” has become the descriptor I seized upon in the past several years. Our students are scholars, actors, athletes and more, they are nice.

Perhaps this is the basis for my version of our value proposition that families should consider: one size does not fit all. Every student, every human being, is different – in interests, aspirations, and talents – and each is on their own unique journey. We all have our strengths and weaknesses; each of us, no matter the age, remains a work in progress. Given this simple truth, why not be a part of a community that understands this insight and values each student. Here, we meet our students where they are, employ a balanced approach and help them to learn and grow. In time, they become their best selves.

At Gill, “one size does not fit all,” and that is a very good thing.
Gill St. Bernard’s is a private, coeducational day school for students age three through grade 12, located in suburban New Jersey. Each of the three school divisions provides a rigorous, meaningful, and age-appropriate curriculum, and all students benefit from the environmental learning opportunities that exist on our 208-acre campus.