Admission Office Profile: Greenhill School

Admission Office Profile: Greenhill School

Photo, above, l-r: Louise Thompson, John Thompson, Sarah Markhovsky, Amy deBorst, Wendy Kyle.  Not pictured: Valerie Stelzer.

Describe the attributes that characterize Greenhill School and make it unique among the greater Dallas independent school community.

Greenhill is a coeducational independent college preparatory school of nearly 1,300 students in grades PK-12. We offer a challenging and balanced curriculum, exceptional and committed teachers, a welcoming and diverse community, and strong character education. We hold a fairly unique niche in the Dallas market as one of the very few nonsectarian coeducational institutions. In addition, our mission states explicitly that we are a “diverse community of learners” that “values individuality.” We are proud to say we have delivered on this mission with a student body comprised of 45% students of color from more than 100 different zip codes throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex area.

While we are known for exceptional academics, broad diversity, and outstanding debate and film programs, it is our students who stand out. They are drawn to the unknown and are motivated from within. They ask questions that lead to more questions, think critically, and unearth “the why.” They’re willing to make mistakes, voice opinions, and embrace differences. They serve with compassion, work with tenacity, and develop personal strengths for lifetimes of success—success they define themselves.

Does the admission staff have school responsibilities outside of the office? How do you help prioritize or integrate their admission work into their other responsibilities? Do you employ seasonal staff at intervals during the year to help address volume at the busiest points in the season?

This past year, I [Sarah] became an academic advisor for 13 juniors in the upper school. This is a role I enjoyed in my previous school, and it is a wonderful way for me to get to know the culture of the upper school, since I have a good view of the preschool and the lower and middle schools as a parent. I co-advise with an upper school teacher who leads the group when I cannot attend due to the busy admission season. John [Thompson] spends his summers working in our Summer on the Hill camp program, and is a wonderful liaison for those non-Greenhill campers who are considering applying to our school. Louise [Thompson] is a former collegiate athlete who is an assistant field hockey coach in our middle school, a position that allows her to miss practice if admission duties call.

Our admission team has been comprised of five people for a number of years. We are thrilled that this year we are adding an additional seasonal position of admission processor, which will be filled by our former office assistant. She will be with us from October to March to help us with our electronic application process, which is all coordinated in-house.

Financial aid practice among the ISAAD schools has been unique to that of many independent schools. Can you describe the changes in this process? How do you believe that shifting the timeline for financial aid considerations will impact your work in admission at Greenhill?

When I arrived in Dallas, I was glad to find that many of the independent schools in Dallas belong to a very collegial consortium, the Independent School Admission Association of Dallas (ISAAD). ISAAD meets quarterly, produces a school fair called the Private School Preview, and shares common application dates. I was surprised to find that Dallas families did not apply for financial aid until they were admitted, and then did not receive their award notification until after they had signed their enrollment contracts. In order to better serve the families, this coming year the consortium has decided to release financial aid decisions and admission decisions simultaneously. At Greenhill, we certainly feel that this practice is more aligned with our mission and is a cleaner and less confusing practice for applying families. Many cities across the country already release decisions simultaneously, which provided confidence that when the new policy was implemented, it would be successful.

I am proud of our consortium for taking this difficult but important step, as it is a huge change in the way all of our offices operate. In our case, it meant that Amy deBorst, our director of financial aid, will no longer be able to maintain her role as an associate director of admission and our in-house data manager. It also meant that we could expand our office coordinator role to include more data management. We also could not have done this without retaining our former office assistant as our seasonal admission processor.

In what ways does your admission office collaborate and involve other offices within the school (i.e. head, finance, advancement/alumni/development offices) as part of the admission process?

Serving on Greenhill’s administrative team has been one of the unexpected pleasures of my position. We all work closely together to shape the direction of the school while ensuring that we are fulfilling our mission. In a weekly meeting with my head, we review day-to-day admission operations and discuss notable applicants. Our chief financial officer is a crucial member of our financial aid committee, bringing a wealth of knowledge to our discussions. Our advancement office assists with our fall events and also co-hosts our New Families Welcome Reception each spring.

How has your own professional background benefitted your leadership role in the office of admission?

My work at Severn School instilled a deep understanding of how independent schools operate. However, perhaps even more important was learning to work with students and parents as a college counselor. It is amazing to see the similar hopes and dreams and fears between a parent whose teenager is applying to college and one whose five-year-old is applying for kindergarten. I feel strongly that we in admission are both educators and advocates, helping families find the right fit for their child, whether that child is four or 16.

Additionally, as a college counselor, I frequently traveled to visit colleges from coast to coast and as a college admission officer, I visited high schools all over the country. That outside perspective sometimes gets lost in the locally-focused world of independent schools, and I am glad to bring that 30,000-foot view to the table.

Both my work in the college admission profession and as an actor have helped me to be a better admission director. There is no question that my ability to speak in public and connect with people stem from my career in theater and film.

What are the greatest challenges impacting the success of the admission process at Greenhill?

I think many of the challenges facing our admission process are similar to those at other schools around the country. While we are fortunate to be in a strong and growing market, demographics and the economy may not always be on our side. We are proud of our need-blind admission policy and the way it fits with our mission, but while economic diversity is important, it is an expensive proposition. Additionally, we feel our financial aid program needs to cover additional costs beyond tuition, such as after school care and extracurricular activities, and we don’t want to forgo that supplemental support. This last year, in addition to awarding over $5 million in financial aid, we spent almost $500,000 on supplemental aid, which covers such items as tutoring, athletic fees, books, and graduation dresses. We want to ensure that we can serve as many needy families as possible. To this end, like many schools, we are doing a deep look into financial sustainability not just in our office, but as an institution.