January 2019 Board Meeting

In the spring of 1974, during a similarly dynamic time in our country’s history, Mardy Murie gave the graduation speech to Jackson Hole High School. While 45 years ago, the Teton Science Schools of today immediately leapt from her words. Her talk moved between the three components of the “place triangle” — economy, culture, and ecology. She highlighted “curiosity” (word two in our mission), “integrity” (TSS core value), and the value of an “interdisciplinary approach” (one of our six place-based education principles). Mardy’s words provided guidance for that graduating class of seniors and demonstrated the timeless value of the transformative nature of learning embedded in place.

Looking back 45 years, we see many unifying themes to our mission today. Looking back one year to January 2018, I see significant forward progress in our OneTSS strategic plan. At this time last year, we were beginning to analyze the results of an employee housing security survey. Attached to this packet you’ll find the master planning document Mithun Architects built articulating what is possible after their visit to our Wilson, Teton Valley, and Jackson Campuses in October. In late fall last year we had just under $400,000 of cash on hand (the equivalent of about two weeks of TSS expenses). We are now at just over $1 million of cash on hand (the equivalent of 31 days of TSS expenses), cut our debt in half to just under $400,000, and well positioned to invest in several key areas of the institution. At this time last year we had just launched summer camp registration connected to a singular database yet our website was outdated in both style and structure. We now store all student and donor information in a singular database and put our best foot forward with a simplified and mission-aligned website.

As we approach our winter Board meeting next week, let’s do a “map check” of our key change initiatives across the organization. We’re building a FY2019–20 budget. As planned from the April 2018 Board meeting, in 2019 we will simplify the language we use to talk about the TSS brand to tell our best story. We are exploring investments into our campus infrastructure to improve employee housing security and program capacity. We are exploring responsible means to pay for campus investment including philanthropy. After integration of Educator Development and Field Education, we are taking the final OneTSS programmatic step in opening one independent school across two campuses for 2019–20. Agenda items for our Wednesday, January 23rd TSS Board meeting will focus on these five priorities.

Across the following pages, you will find updates related to each of our five strategic goals and across our three program areas — Independent School(s), Field Education, and Educator Development. Please take the time to review addendum two, Mithun Architects’ master plan for what is possible to achieve our goals across our Wilson, Teton Valley, and Jackson Campuses. In preparation for branding work in the coming months, we will spend the second half of our meeting thinking about a TSS Theory of Change. Many non-profits today are replacing a vision statement with a defined Theory of Change — bookending our mission statement and learning framework with the problem we are trying to solve and long term impact we intend.

Being just over halfway through our current fiscal year, we are simultaneously managing expenses through the balance of this year (ending May 31st) and planning for our next fiscal year. A key outcome from the Finance Committee and Board meeting in January is aligning expectations for the budget to be passed in April. As we build the final budget of our OneTSS strategic plan, we see four core priorities:

  1. Financial responsibility — how we approach the entire budget. Numbers continue to be intentional and grounded in reality.
  2. Independent School Integration — a thriving PreK-12 school across two campuses is central to our position as the leader in place-based education. Multi-year modeling gives us confidence that school integration is best for student experience, faculty retention and recruitment, and financial health AND as with most beginnings, requires initial investment.
  3. Compensation — as stated within the Outstanding Team goal of our OneTSS strategic plan, an employee compensation increase is a priority. We plan to prioritize investing in existing employees and not expanding additional staff. As we are at the beginning of the budget process, this is a priority and it is also not a promise.
  4. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion — we believe this essential strategic goal must be prioritized through time allocation and focusing existing resources (ie: professional development funds). We do not plan to significantly increase DEI spending.

Mardy left the graduating seniors of 1974 with a few final words. “If all is right within you. If you have enthusiasm. If you have curiosity. If you take it all as a great adventure, just seeing what you can do about it, while you are here.” I am enthusiastic on the future of TSS and curious what we can do with our coming year, the last in our OneTSS strategic plan.

Imagine one year from now, January 2020, and the success we’ve achieved. We’ve opened the TSS Independent School with aligned leadership and operations with almost 250 students across two campuses. A rich process with stakeholder engagement refines and simplifies the language we use to talk about TSS across the institution, including a name for our independent school. We’ve initiated architectural planning for our Wilson staff housing campus. We have clarity on realistic fundraising targets for our capital needs. We are prioritizing the final to-do’s in the last four months of our OneTSS strategic plan and beginning to think about what’s next. Mardy asks all of us to embrace the adventure and see what we can do.

Read more in the complete January 2019 Board Report.

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