KEYNotes: Tom Rossini, Director of Enrollment and Outreach

Five years ago, when I was hired as Director of Enrollment and Outreach, I was given lots of advice on ways to get up to speed on Key. The tidbit of advice, or maybe it was more of a warning, that surprised me the most during my onboarding was this notion that it would take me years to fully understand our program. They weren’t wrong, but what I’ve come to learn is that there will be no single moment in time that I will be confident I know everything about Key, and that’s a really good thing.

Having worked for 10 years in admissions at similar independent schools in the ultra-competitive markets of Boston and New York before coming to Key, and with a somewhat recently minted master’s degree in cognitive science, I knew there would be a learning curve but I also assumed I’d be a quick study.

I took copious notes and dove into the website and curriculum guides. I had also done significant research prior to interviewing, so it wasn’t as though I was starting from scratch. Admission work is significantly easier and more rewarding when you firmly believe in the school’s approach to teaching and learning, and believe in the direction of the institution. I’m very much a mission-driven individual, which is one of the reasons I was drawn to this line of work right out of college. Needless to say, I wouldn’t have even been in the hiring process at Key had I not already done enough research to know it was an exceptional school with a mission closely aligned with my own.

My due diligence went even further as I was thinking about my 2-year-old son Nolan, and the type of educational experience I wanted for him. The program would absolutely need to be inquiry-based and “essential skills” focused. That was non-negotiable for our family. The program would have to value these skills over rote-content itself and would challenge him with depth and complexity, and not with pure volume of content or exercises to test his stamina and level of compliance. His school would need to teach him to think critically, creatively and collaboratively. The community would need to be diverse and not a completely homogeneous bubble like many independent schools—from racial diversity, diversity of thought, socio-economic diversity, and more, this was a must. Lastly, it needed to embrace some of the core ethos of our family values—essentially, we wanted our son in an environment that valued and taught kindness, where it’s common and woven into the programming.

Ultimately, I found Key to be one of only a few programs in the entire state of Maryland I would consider counseling families to and enrolling my children in. Even with all of this research and experience, and with a philosophy that aligns perfectly with that of Key’s, my colleagues weren’t wrong about the effort it would take to become an expert on Key.

What I realize now, five years later, is the program itself is designed to constantly evolve—which makes it more challenging for us parents to know everything about Key. In my role, I spend most waking hours learning about what’s new at Key and talking about our programming, and I can never fully feel caught up with what’s new or what’s on the horizon. While that is a very good thing for our children, it also means we have extra homework to do. We, as parents, will need to continuously engage and reengage with Key, and with our children’s teachers, to create our own understanding and appreciation for the program.

Another reason Key can, at times, be  misunderstood, and it too is core to what makes this an ideal community for children to learn and grow, is the School’s commitment to being an egalitarian community.  This sometimes prevents us from bragging when we should. I think most parents can agree our School is ideal for developing good people and graduates that find intrinsic fulfillment and purpose far beyond  what focusing on individual accomplishments breeds.  We do however also believe we can model for our children that it is absolutely possible to be both humble and considerate of others while still being proud and sharing accomplishments, internally and externally, which has been more of a focus for us over the past several years.  We want to shout what we can from the Gazebo-tops and empower our parents to do so as well.

To that end, and to help parents kickstart their commitment to reacquainting themselves with Key, I will leave you with several factoids, outcomes and programmatic changes that should all be points of pride for our community. Also, please go ahead and wear your Obezag gear to the gym, to your house of faith, to book club, and to every function possible. When someone asks you why you chose Key, tell them your reasons. And thank you for taking the time to hear mine!  Go Zags!

A sample of programmatic changes implemented over the last few years:

  • Creating a Build-It Lab and devoted science space in the First School.
  • Adding a third teacher in Kindergarten during Language Arts, dropping an already great ratio from 8 or 9 to 1, down to 5 or 6 to 1 during one of the most important years of early literacy development.
  • Adding Coding, iExplore and Dreambox in the Lower School to an already robust tech integration and Maker Tech program.
  • Expanding Middle School math sections to create more differentiation and challenge.
  • Developing the Middle School MakerSpace to further integrate technology into the core curriculum.
  • Moving the Upper School from a traditional 5 to 7 class periods per day schedule, to a four, 85-minute block schedule to better mirror college schedules and to help create time for depth over breadth programming.
  • Introducing the Upper School Integrated Science program, which fully integrates physics, biology and chemistry, allowing immediate connections and more opportunities for practical application. It is important to note that this structure is on the cutting edge of what high schools nationwide are currently doing; only the most progressive and forward-thinking schools have embarked on this very successful approach.
  • Adding Calculus 2/3 to challenge our most tenacious mathematicians.
  • Introducing an alumni networking platform, CommuniKEY.
  • And, in support of further evolving and refining an inclusive curriculum and community, the addition of a Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Outcomes:

  • Over 82% of the Class of 2019 received merit scholarships
  • 81% attend “Most/Highly/Very Competitive” colleges/universities
  • 25% scored 1430+ on the SATs; Class mean 1313
  • 11% earned National Merit Scholar Recognition (national avg. < 1%)
  • 24% attend Research 1 Universities
  • 35% pursuing STEM-related studies including engineering, computer science, marine and environmental science, pre-health/vet, and architecture
  • 38% of the Class of 2019 conducted college-level research through an Independent Study and/or Experimental Design project during their time at Key
  • 98% of alumni parents surveyed would recommend Key to a friend, colleague or family member

More pride-building, awareness-raising facts can be found at Key by the #s

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