Mount Vernon Presbyterian School: A Conversation with Dr. Angél Kytle

Q&A   25 May 2017
By Dr. Angél Kytle

 

Most gratifying are stories that describe learners—young and old—using their learning as an opportunity to make a difference in our community.

Dr. Angél Kytle
Chief Integration Officer, Mount Vernon Presbyterian School

Q. What roles have you played in the education space, and what role do you currently play at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School (MVPS)?

A. Before joining MVPS three years ago, I worked in a number of learning environments as a teacher, Director of Admission, Director of Studies, Head of a Division, and Head of School. Serving as Chief Integration Officer at MVPS, my role is to assess internal progress, lead internal activity, engage with internal partners, realize the fulfillment of the blueprint the School has designed, and advise on the future.

More practically, I serve as a bridge for all divisions—Early Learning through grade 12—to ensure cohesion and flow in a learner’s academic, social-emotional, co-curricular, and extracurricular life. In addition, I work with different team members to ensure the literal systems aren’t working in silos and the experiences provided for the whole community make sense. Next year, I have been asked to move into the role of Head of Middle School, and I look forward to returning to a role where I can connect more deeply with students, teachers, and parents.

Q. What’s important to you about connecting more deeply with those individuals—particularly the learners?

A. Education—correction, learning—has always been a part of my life. As a child, I remember setting my Raggedy Ann and Mrs. Beasley dolls down at my table and “teaching” them. At a very young age, I was taught that teachers are to be revered, yet when I looked around, society seemed to think differently—from both a respect and a compensation perspective. As a result, I was discouraged from entering the education industry. Still, I just couldn’t get it out of my system. Whether it was the spark of light in a learner’s eyes when a concept clicked or the deep relationships that are made with students, colleagues, and parents, participating within learning organizations is a part of my fabric.

The impact of specific connections with learners, parents, and teachers may be hard to quantify, yet I have found that through relationships, the learning amplifies. Emotional connections serve as conduits to curiosities and passions, as well as confidence and competence.

 

One of our many goals is to offer parents the opportunity to learn from each other and partner together as they tackle the many challenges children face.

Dr. Angél Kytle
Chief Integration Officer, Mount Vernon Presbyterian School

Q. In your third year at MVPS, what is different here compared to your previous professional experiences?

A. Every independent school is unique, yet there are so many aspects that look the same at first glance. What is most palpable here at MVPS is that we are truly mission-driven. We live out our mission every day through our language, interactions, experiences, plans, hopes, and dreams.

The Mount Vernon Continuum is the strategic blueprint for the School and reflects the elements we feel a great school requires:

  • a clear and compelling organization mission (purpose);

  • cultural norms that invite people to step outside their comfort zone (culture);

  • people-centered design principles that guide teaching and learning (design); and

  • six relevant, applicable habits of mind (results).

We travel indefinitely along the Continuum, deliberately visiting the same spots time and time again, and each turn provides us a fresh outlook and perspective. When we place the learner at the center of the Continuum, we better understand the why behind our mission. Our norms establish ground rules, if you will, for our relationships with learners and offer frames in which our learners grow. Design principles reflect what learners need in their journey and hold us accountable to our approaches. Lastly, Mount Vernon Mindsets offer documentation of our teaching and learning and the foundation for the impact our students will have in designing a better world.

Q. MVPS supports learners as young as six-weeks-old. What systems have you and your team designed to enroll parents in their child’s learning?

A. Valuing our partnership with families and recognizing the type of learning required for this generation of students, MVPS formalized and expanded education opportunities by establishing Parent University a few years ago.

In my first year as Chief Integration Officer, our Head of School asked me to refine and iterate the existing system of parent education to ensure its focus on mission, as well as its infusion throughout the entire community. One of our many goals is to offer parents the opportunity to learn from each other and partner together as they tackle the many challenges children face—challenges revealed in parent surveys, one-on-one discussions, and reflections on child development and parenting. We hold many events throughout the year from local and national educational experts, special guest speakers, as well as teachers and leaders within our Mount Vernon community. Topics include child development, digital citizenship, learning, and parenting. In 2016, the program went a step further, tying the School’s cultural norms to specific topics for discussion.

  • Sharing the Well—sessions on teaching and learning, including topics like how to navigate the School’s learning management system and online grading platform, the how’s and why’s behind teaching and learning in the curriculum, and what parents need to understand their child’s experience

  • Assuming the Best and Failing Up!—presentations and dialogues centered on child development and parenting

  • Starting with Questions—freer-in-form session conversations centered on specific Mount Vernon initiatives

  • Having Fun—get-togethers to enjoy each other’s company and celebrate the Mount Vernon community

This school year we’ve held over 25 Parent University sessions, which were widely appreciated and applauded by our parent community. Responding to their desire to understand more about how we “do” learning at MVPS, we will continue to refine and grow the program.

 

Our goal is to design a cohesive and multi-dimensional system that proactively frames a culture and climate of wellness.

Dr. Angél Kytle
Chief Integration Officer, Mount Vernon Presbyterian School

Q. With this dynamic parental support structure in place, what types of services can learners themselves take advantage of?

A. During this school year, I had the distinct pleasure of guiding a team of MVPS student-support professionals through an audit and vision-casting of MVPS’s student support services. Included on the team were personnel from academic resource, guidance counseling, college counseling, and the health clinics. This amazing team of experts engaged in a design-thinking process to prototype a comprehensive and balanced student support services system.

To assess our current student support services, we engaged in discovery and empathy experiences, which included journaling two different days (no day is ever the same) in each member’s work life, studying a sample of local and national K-12 and college support services models, interviewing MVPS users (students, teachers, parents) of support services from each area, reviewing protocols and processes currently in place at MVPS, and examining exemplar health and wellness initiatives in independent schools. During the audit, the quality of services was recognized and applauded; we also discovered a need for greater connections among those who serve students in a myriad of ways. The experimenting and prototyping phases have included designs within each area of wellness, as well as visioning an overall system.

Our study led us to expand the idea of student support services to thinking about it as Collaborative Care and Wellness, which includes:

  • Learning wellness

  • Physical wellness

  • Social-emotional wellness

  • Spiritual wellness

  • Life (beyond MVPS) wellness

Most schools’ understanding and practice of health and wellness have been reactive and isolated. Our goal is to design a cohesive and multi-dimensional system that proactively frames a culture and climate of wellness. Components of this culture and climate include:

  • Integration throughout the program (multi-disciplinary and interscholastic)

  • Collaboration and coordination among team members

  • Family engagement

  • Academic balance

  • Mindfulness and stress prevention

  • Healthful living across the lifespan

Grounded in our new strategic plan, we have designed a systemic all-school and localized Collaborative Care and Wellness Team. They organize and oversee all aspects of collaborative care and wellness, engaging in Research, Design, and Iteration of programs (building capacity of all learners); processes (balancing access, confidentiality, and communication); and progress.

Mount Vernon’s design principles are focal points for this team in all its work. In addition, this team fosters and cultivates an external network of psychologists, learning specialists, doctors, and other community resources outside of MVPS to assist us in serving our children and families. Localized more closely to the child, the Collaborative Care and Wellness Team has satellite teams comprised of division-specific personnel who join with key all-school team members as appropriate. These teams focus not only on program and process but most heavily on individual learner progress in wellness. Next year will be our first round of implementation, and I am excited to see where this intentional work leads us.

 

Leaning into the future, we seek to multiply our influence, increase our value, deepen our impact, and drive design and innovation.

Dr. Angél Kytle
Chief Integration Officer, Mount Vernon Presbyterian School

Q. What has been your favorite story or stories since you’ve arrived at MVPS?

A. My favorite story is probably the one that has not been written, but I can see glimpses of it emerging in our work. Most gratifying are stories that describe learners—young and old—using their learning as an opportunity to make a difference in our community. They are not learning just to learn or, even, to be prepared to make a difference after they graduate. They are learning and growing for the betterment of themselves AND others now. We are truly on a journey, and everyone has a story to tell. Our next strategic plan provides focus in this area by challenging us to amplify and deepen mission, vision, and community by empowering voices, cultivating relationships and experiences, and personalizing the story for every learner at Mount Vernon. Stay tuned for what I am certain will be some amazing stories to come!

Q. Your passion and drive for this work is incredibly evident. How does the MVPS team ensure similarly driven individuals are hired? What training do they receive before and after they start working with learners?

A. Last year, the Executive Team of the School designed a comprehensive and intentional recruiting, interviewing, hiring, and onboarding (RIHO) process because, as a school of inquiry and impact, we move fast. It is not unusual for several initiatives to occur simultaneously. As a result, we recognize assumptions are sometimes made that things are in place that are not. Such gaps can be seen when hiring seasons don’t go as well as we hoped.

Because of our growth, we wanted to ensure the people we were bringing on were mission-aligned and of the highest caliber. In addition, we planned for an ongoing system of building their capacity within our culture—capacity reflecting the Mount Vernon Continuum and the way we “do” school here, as well as capacity in best practices of teaching and learning.

The RIHO process was designed with the mission as the focus, then delineated on our website to show prospective team members exactly what we’re looking for. The interview process, always including teams of people rather than an individual, fully focuses on mission, culture, norms, and our design elements. We recognize that Mount Vernon is selling itself to the candidate as much as the candidate is selling him/herself to Mount Vernon. The same protocol is now followed school-wide.

On-boarding avoids the assumption teachers should hit the ground running from day one and focuses on acclimation, enculturation, and empowerment; as soon as a contract is signed, we begin pre-boarding with our newest team members. New Faculty/Staff Orientation is considered the “on ramp” of a new team member’s experience with a high dose of mission and vision. The on-boarding process continues throughout the entire first year at Mount Vernon and perhaps beyond.

Q. What big things are on the horizon for MVPS?

A. MVPS has just completed the next iteration of our strategic vision—MVx—which will be launched to the entire community in August. We have already begun to cascade the work internally with our faculty and staff. Recognizing we live in a world of exponential change, we choose to tackle that concept head on. Leaning into the future, we seek to multiply our influence, increase our value, deepen our impact, and drive design and innovation.

The National Association of Independent Schools most recently named MVPS as one of the top ten innovative schools in the nation, and we take that honor very seriously. Three essential, interconnected questions serve as design drivers of our future work.

  • How might we make school more reflective of real life?

  • How might we empower all learners to be seekers and explorers?

  • How might we inspire one another—and the larger world—through the work we undertake together?

The past five years have been a time of transformation for MVPS, propelling us forward as a thought and innovation leader. The next five years will surely follow in like fashion.

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