Shifting Expectations for Independent School Parents

Posted by Chris Bartlett '86


As the year comes to an end and we prepare to watch the Class of 2017 head off to their many college destinations, we are always conflicted. Where is she going to college? Did he get off the waiting list at so-and-so University? Why do we do this? We cannot help ourselves. We have read the articles by Frank Bruni, analysed the data showing the lack of correlation between elite schools and economic success, and the longitudinal studies showing that happiness cannot be ranked by US News and World Report.


For those who choose to spend their careers in education, one quickly learns that, over the long haul, student engagement and individual growth are the ultimate measure of success. Watching a student evolve from an uncertain 14 year old to an “I cannot believe she painted that incredible landscape, wrote an convincing essay about 1st Amendment rights, played her heart out on the lacrosse field and spent 10 weeks on Ocean Classroom” - type person never ceases to amaze us.


At Proctor, the Admission team spends countless hours walking a tightrope each year. For prospective families, the simplest yardstick of a school’s value is the mean SAT/ACT score and the list of college matriculations. Families want validation. They want to know that Proctor students matriculate to the most competitive colleges in the country. We can provide the data to our prospective families because each year Proctor students do attend plenty of most-competitive colleges, but doing so seems to contradict our purpose.


I received a note from a parent of a recent Proctor graduate the other day, parts of which are shared below:

Dear Chris,

I hope this finds you well. I've been thinking about you lately as Sam is heading down the home stretch at Syracuse.  Who would have thought that after the struggles and frustrations before going to Proctor that she'd be graduating magna cum laude?  She is graduating with a dual degree, one from The Newhouse School in public communications and the other from the College of Communication Science Disorders.  She's heading to Northwestern in the fall to pursue her doctorate in audiology in an accelerated 3 year program. She is a confident,organized, diligent student. Next week she will walk away with a number of academic and leadership honors. Thank you for helping her with her journey.

Isn’t that the point of high school education? Helping students gain the skills and confidence to launch into adulthood? Taking students from uncertainty to confidence? Why do our societal norms tell us that matriculation to elite colleges is the benchmark?


How can you possibly infer the experience of a student based upon where they choose to study after high school? To boil down the complexity of a school’s impact on a young person to a curated college matriculation list posted on a website undermines the intrinsic value of a boarding school education. Proctor’s value does not lie solely in the ‘outcome’, but in the process; not in the destination, but the journey. The Class of 2017 is heading off to wonderfully diverse destinations representative of 109 unique journeys. As we enter these final two weeks of the school year filled with end-of-year awards, we are reminded of the power of the Proctor experience and the seeming impossibility of objectively measuring the self-awareness, self-advocacy, community engagement, compassion, and kindness of this graduating class.


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