Planning for a Bright Future

WES is like…. a rocket ship, a bird’s nest, a bakery. Or perhaps it’s a dance party in front of a pyramid, in which all of the attendees climb that pyramid, transform into a bird, and then fly away. These are just a few of the metaphors the Strategic Planning Committee (SPC) generated last Friday when we were asked to describe our school. 

While these descriptions may sound whimsical, they were part of an important collaborative brainstorming session during the kick-off meeting for our strategic planning process. Our facilitator wanted us to think deeply about WES in a new way, challenging us to reflect on what we do and how we do it.

As I shared with parents during our Back to School Nights a few weeks ago, WES is entering the next stage of its strategic planning. We are at both an exciting and pivotal time in the school’s history, with the largest enrollment WES has ever had. As a result, we believe it’s essential to evaluate where we currently are, where we came from, and where we hope to go as we seek to live out our mission of developing kind, confident, and prepared students. Consequently, we are partnering with Leadership + Design, an innovative educational planning firm, as we research, design, and build WES’s next strategic plan.  

Our strategic plan will set a direction for the school’s future – it will help us envision how we deliver a relevant and meaningful student experience in new contexts, markets, and a changing educational landscape. It will guide and focus our work for the next 3-5 years and help strengthen and secure WES’s position in the DC area. 

This is a deeply collaborative process. The SPC is composed of parents, board members, faculty, staff, administration, and past parents, and there will be multiple opportunities for other members of our community to get involved. On Friday, the parameters of our work were defined, and we engaged in multiple exercises challenging us to think creatively about our school, our identity, and the external factors influencing both society and the future of education.

The timeline will be as follows:

Over the next month and a half, our SPC will be interviewing multiple members of our community. 

Next, there will be faculty, staff, and parent think tanks on November 10 and 11. These Think Tanks are a chance to come together and think about the future of the school. They are designed to be fun, helping us generate more complex, strategic, and interesting ideas through working together. These events are a chance to engage in thinking about our school, education more broadly, and the ways that WES can meet the needs in our world.  

Then, on Saturday, January 28, we will have our Community Day, which is a chance for the community to provide feedback on the work of the SPC. During this day, constituents are broken into smaller teams; each tasked with designing solutions to specific areas of inquiry identified by the SPC. It is a day of community building, community thinking, and the SPC leaves with hundreds of ideas to inspire, inform, and influence their work.   

After we receive that feedback, we will finalize the 2-3 big ideas that will shape the focus of the school’s work for the next 3-5 years, and share the results with the community during the late spring or early summer. 

The future is designed by forward-thinking communities, and we are excited to see how this process helps propel WES into its next stage. 

Danny Vogelman
Head of School

A Beautiful ‘Oops’

Does a spill ruin a drawing? Not when it can become the shape of a goofy animal. An accidental tear in the paper? No worries. It can turn into the mouth of a roaring alligator. 

These are just a few of the valuable lessons our Kindergarten students have been contemplating in art class this week. After listening to the book Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg, our Dragons learned that an “oops” can become an opportunity to make something new and impressive as they created beautiful art out of a paint splat, a torn paper, and a smudge.

More importantly, our art teachers have been reminding the students that the same lesson holds true in other endeavors as well. 

Research shows that mistakes have real value – they help us learn. When we pause to consider how and where we went wrong, it increases our ability to reflect on our thinking (metacognition). It also increases our confidence in our abilities to accomplish a difficult task. It’s called productive failure. 

Failure and mistakes can also force us to use our problem-solving skills and imaginations to find another way, just as our Kindergarten artists did. At WES, we seek to create a safe and nurturing environment so our Dragons can experiment, fail, and continue to find new ways to accomplish their goals.


Danny Vogelman
Head of School

Building Community and Leadership in Caroline Furnace

I don’t often have the opportunity to wear my hiking boots to school, but yesterday happened to be one of those days. I had the privilege of joining the Grade 8 students as they began their 3-day retreat at Caroline Furnace, VA. 

Our experiential learning trips are one of the trademarks of our program. We believe that students learn by doing, and our study trips accelerate this learning, show the real-world relevance of what they learn in the classroom, and provide opportunities for reflection and creative problem-solving. During their trip, our students will take a deep dive into the history and geography of the region, engage in leadership activities, contemplate their hopes and dreams for the coming year, and build community. 

Our Dragons will witness the glory of the night sky of the Shenandoah Valley, canoe down its famous river, and work together in teams to lead various activities over the course of this adventure. 

Grade 8 is an important year–there are so many opportunities for personal and academic growth. It’s also a time when our students begin preparing for the next stage of their learning journeys. As they pause to notice, to appreciate, to imagine, and to plan their year during this retreat, we will also ask them to focus on their connections with one another and to remember that each one of them has an important place in our community. 


Danny Vogelman
Head of School

Discovering Our Why

Yesterday, I brought a PK3 student inside who obviously was having first-week jitters and was a little tearful. Immediately, two first grade students came over to comfort the child. After thanking the students for their kindness, I reflected upon whether the students were consciously aware of why they chose to help the child. It reminded me of some conversations we had last week during our Faculty Work Week. 

At the beginning of every school year, our faculty and staff gather together as a team during their work week and reflect on the ideas that will guide our work in the year to come. This year we asked everyone to remember their “WHY” – why did they choose to become educators or to join the WES Community.

There were so many similarities in the dozens of answers. We discovered that each “why” reflected the values of the individual and that, perhaps as expected, there was a tremendous amount of intersection in these values.

Tomorrow during our Opening Chapel, I will share with our students a summary of our faculty’s “whys” and how those “whys” are not profession-specific or even “adult-only” values. These are values that we consistently talk about at WES – joy, love, community, and connections. And as educators, being grounded in a why helps us to stay focused and overcome obstacles.

The same is true for our students. As we seek to help our students develop their own moral compass, we want to encourage them to think about their values and how they influence their actions. When our students are able to recognize why they choose to be kind or helpful, then they can continue to make choices they are proud of even when the situations become more difficult. One way we can foster this type of reflection is to have deliberate conversations with our children.

Tomorrow, I will ask our students who they would like to be. We are not looking for answers such as a lawyer, a teacher, or a scientist. Or Elon Musk or RBG or Lebron James. We want to know who they want to be as a human being and how they want to be known. Kind? Reliable? Impactful? Their answers should help them identify what their core values are. 

At WES, our motto is “be kind.” However, kindness doesn’t just magically happen; it’s something we must deliberately cultivate through self-reflection and through our choices. 

Danny Vogelman
Head of School