Purpose and Passion
Parents and administrators may offer slightly different responses to the question, “What makes your school special?” An Admissions director will answer through the lens of mission and message; a parent will respond from a most personal point of view. Ask the question of someone who combines both roles, and you’ll hear both purpose and passion.
Courtney Hundley holds these dual responsibilities at Grace Episcopal Day School in Silver Spring, Maryland.
“What makes Grace Episcopal Day School special?” we asked. Hundley answered wearing both hats.
“In this location, in this competitive environment, every school has to differentiate itself.
“I am a current parent. We have two children in the school, so I have that perspective, too, in addition to being Director of Admission and Financial Aid. We came to this community three and a half years ago. We found it to be a warm, inviting place. Kids are allowed to be children at Grace Episcopal, which we appreciate as parents, in this busy, hectic world of ours. Of course there is a splendid academic program. We hear from the schools our students attend after leaving Grace; a lot of the schools talk about Grace kids who come to them in Middle School and High School that Grace kids are really good citizens. They also remark on the moral compass our students have. As a parent, that makes me happy. That’s what we were looking for. Kids are really excited to come to school here. We’ve got incredibly talented teachers. Every kid is known here, no matter what grade you’re in, you are known by all the teachers.
“We have two campuses, so that’s a challenge. The 3-4-5 year olds are on one campus, and the elementary and middle school students are on the other. We do a lot to bridge that distance. We have a mentoring program. I’m not sure who likes it more, the older kids or the younger kids. You’ll see the connections made when they are together in Chapel, or writing, or social service. It’s not uncommon to see an eighth grader call out to a first or second grader by name. That makes the little kids feel good, and the big kids, too.
It’s also important to mention the spiritual piece. We are an Episcopal school. The Episcopal component makes us special—not unique. We embrace that, yet we are a community that comprises many different faiths. In our community, students learn they are children of God, that there is a larger world they need to contribute to. We are nurturing the service piece as well. We have a weekly Chapel service; parents are invited to come, we have 20-30 parents come each week. There is music, prayer, attention paid to accomplishments. Students from the upper campus, the kids, write a prayer every week, one grade each week. They choose a theme and present it themselves. For instance, after the earthquake in Haiti, the students wrote prayers about wanting to be in support of those people. We just had our first graduating 8th grade class in June. Twelve eighth graders each wrote a prayer. Each one took a grade in the school and wrote a prayer for that grade. It was very heartfelt. Seven of the graduates were lifers; they expressed a real appreciation for their time here.”
It has been 50 years since the school’s founding as a neighborhood preschool. Today, Grace serves more than 200 students, from preschool through Grade 6, on two campuses—an administrative challenge for the Admissions Office.
Hundley spoke to us about the improvement in productivity Grace has experienced since installing SANDBOX by inRESONANCE in 2008.
“Being able to connect our two campuses is a big improvement. Before SANDBOX, whichever person received the update had to contact the other campus. Sometimes things got lost, and as a result we frequently had the wrong contact information for a family. Now one person makes the change to the entire system.
“It is so much easier having everything in one place.”
As is typical of many small schools, the Admissions Office at Grace Episcopal Day School was using spreadsheets to manage admissions data. Of course, every time someone exports a new version of a spreadsheet and makes changes, the opportunity for error multiplies.
“Before SANDBOX, it used to be wild papers everywhere. We were having to update spreadsheets, and it wasn’t unusual to have multiple copies of the same spreadsheet on different computers. Changes weren’t dated. It was madness, a lot of useless paper.”
Hundley knew how much more productive she could be with the right database.
“I was originally hired as an assistant in the Admissions Office. Soon after I arrived, the director left, and for a while, I worked alone. There was no admission database at all. We had no real ability to communicate personal family information from one campus to another. We would enter data separately on both campuses. We did a lot of paper tracking. I had previously worked at a large independent school in Georgia, and I knew that tasks that were taking me hours here could be managed by the right database in ten minutes. So I started making suggestions.
“We wanted something to track families in the admissions process, to make changes more simply, to access the same information from computers on both campuses. Two of my colleagues here had experience in FileMaker, so, once we started the search for a database, it was a no-brainer to select inRESONANCE.
“We felt SANDBOX would give us all the functionality we need, we didn’t think we needed the larger one [PORTAL]. Two of our administrative assistants are very well versed in FileMaker Pro. That was a real factor in our decision. But by contrast, I don’t know FileMaker Pro at all. Our Assistant Director of Admission, Lauren Rahall, knows it a little. There’s a lot to learn all in all.
“But what a difference! Now that we have SANDBOX, the workflow is completely different. It is so easy to do things across the campus. I can communicate without things getting lost.
“We have been enormously impressed with inRESONANCE. We are always able to get a voice on the phone, it is very personal contact. iR is terrific about answering questions, minor ones or much larger. Lauren and I went up to iRU. What a great company. We had such a great time. I want to work with this company always.”
Hundley suggested we also speak with Rahall, who is more hands-on with SANDBOX.
Grace brought families closer when it implemented online inquiries and an online application in 2008, and installed FAM, for the Family Directory, in 2009. Lauren Rahall was able to fill in some of the details about improvements in productivity, saying, “SANDBOX Web Services makes it so easy to get the application data through our new finalsite web site. It’s great to have that online application. We are not sending out nearly as many print materials this year as last. We’ve seen pretty significant growth in the number of families applying online. Hardly anyone uses checks anymore, it is much easier for them to just use a credit card. It’s great. We look forward to becoming paperless.
“I know that the other SANDBOX users here are finding it a lot easier to manage attendance. Before SANDBOX, the school used printouts, and reported attendance on a weekly basis. Now it’s easy to track daily. We also used SANDBOX to produce our Family Directory this year.”
How does Rahall rate iR’s support?
“iRU was definitely helpful. We like it that inRESONANCE is a small enough company that we could all have dinner together and talk at iRU, it’s not just an email exchange with some faceless person. Everyone at inRESONANCE has been so nice; the company is very user friendly. Support is really good, and we have an excellent relationship with our account manager.”
Learn more about Grace Episcopal Day School.