On the beautiful fall day of October 18, 86 alumni, parents and friends of Brooks School attended the first-ever Brooks Summit. The morning began with remarks from Zack McCabe ’15 and Head of School John Packard P’18 in the Science Forum. Packard admitted he hadn’t slept much the previous evening.
“I was so eager to be here with all of you and to share our hopes and aspirations for the school with you. All of you constitute what is rich and powerful and great about Brooks School. It means an enormous amount that you’ve chosen to be here today,” he said.
The Summit was designed to lay everything on the table for the attendees: the school’s strengths, weaknesses and areas where improvement is needed. And those in attendance weren’t just asked to listen; they were active participants in conversations about the school’s future and how to achieve large goals.
“My hope for the day was to get a key group of people to think with us about the future of Brooks, while having a tactile experience on campus,” said Director of Development Gage Dobbins. “In order to make the day worthwhile, we felt we needed to build a whole day of programming.”
Packard began the morning by assuring attendees that the school is in good shape now.
“That’s why we need to put our foot on the gas more aggressively,” he said. “Now is the moment to push, not to look at the school somewhere down the line wishing we had. There are things you’ll see and feel on campus today that we can’t tell you about while you sit in your office.”
After reading the school’s mission, Packard made it clear that everything he hopes for the school, whether a new building or the ability to offer more financial aid, emanates from that mission.
When he became head of school in fall of 2008, Packard said he received hundreds of notes from alumni and parents wishing him luck in the position and assuring him they had faith in him as head of school. He said the notes gave him a strong feeling of responsibility and pride, but that he knew the notes weren’t just for him.
“They really were hope for the school through me. I don’t think that level of support and care is common. We’re here today because we have opportunity and we have a responsibility to this place.”
To begin to face that opportunity and responsibility, attendees broke up into groups and rotated between three “classes.” They learned about the current financial state of the school, academic programming and campus construction projects.
Following lunch in the Frick Dining Hall, attendees broke into groups once again, this time to tour three different buildings on campus. They saw a “before” project in the auditorium: an old barn that holds 270 people but is not big enough to fit the entire school community. It also presents challenges to the art department.
“We have a great art program and it’s gaining momentum. But what’s happening is our program is growing, and the facilities can’t keep up. We’re limited by the physical space,” said Chair of the Arts Department Rob Lazar.
To see a building project currently underway, attendees donned hard hats, vests and goggles to enter the Chapel. Amid the noise of banging hammers, representatives from Consigli Construction described the scope of the project. The goal, they said, was to retain the essential nature of the building.
“It feels the same to me,” said Chris Picotte ’88 when he entered the Chapel.
Lynne Sawyer ’83 agreed.
“I think it’s super. You won’t even notice the difference, which is the point,” she said.
Finally, the group got to see an “after” project: Chace House Dormitory. The building, designed by Rob Bramhall Architects, has changed what it means to live in a dorm for the 22 boys who call Chace home. A large, central common room means there’s space for the whole dorm to gather on a regular basis and makes it easier for the three faculty members who live there to keep a handle on what’s going on in the dorm.
When the tours were finished, attendees gathered briefly in the Science Forum again before splitting into even smaller groups to discuss what they had heard and seen throughout the day.
Dobbins said the Summit was a great success, and an idea to hold multiple such days throughout the year is already in the planning stages.
“It was tremendously energizing and there were great ideas of how to carry this forward. It was more than we could have hoped,” she said.
As Lazar said when he was speaking in the auditorium, having a great program in place matters more than having great facilities. Even so, resources are important.
“We have 2014 dreams in 1948 confines,” he said. “We need to be sure we provide our children with the best tools possible to succeed, here and in life.”