Name of School: Epiphany School, Seattle, Washington
Type of school: Coed, Day
School Mission:Through innovative teaching in a caring and traditional environment, Epiphany School challenges every child to be a confident, curious, and courageous learner.
Greg Jones, Director of Admission — Greg earned his bachelor’s degree and teaching credential from the California State University-Chico and a master’s degree from Leslie University. He went on to teach for 26 years in public and independent schools. A 30-year education industry veteran, Greg has spent the last four years as director of admission at Epiphany. As a member of the advancement team at Epiphany, Greg is responsible for admission, enrollment, and placement for 5th grade students. Working as a member of Epiphany’s advancement team, Greg guides and counsels current and prospective families and works closely with Elizabeth O’Shea, development director, and Keri Sliger, director of marketing and communications.
What is the composition of your admission office?
I’m the “sole” admission team member. When I started at Epiphany, I was also responsible for marketing. We now have a marketing and communications director, who handles the bulk of the school’s marketing needs and is a master at managing all of our events. Our business office manages financial aid awards, and our school office coordinator helps out, so even though I am an office of one, there is a great team that makes it all work well. We process about 150 applications and about 230 inquiries each year. Each applicant family is required to schedule a school tour, parent interview, and student assessment.
Since you work with younger children/learners about whom less information is available, do you have a background in early childhood education?
My teaching credential and experience are in K-12. I rely heavily on our PK teaching team and experienced admission committee to help me review the assessments of our youngest applicants. If the child is currently enrolled in school, we require a teacher evaluation from the current preschool teacher.
Do you partner with the faculty and/or a division chair to assess kindergarten and elementary applicants?
We have a PK teacher, a kindergarten literacy specialist, a K-2 grade math specialist, and a PK-5 music teacher on the assessment team. Each team member conducts a part of the assessment, and together we evaluate each applicant.
Our 1st –5th grade applicants visit the school for a day. After I conduct a short interview, I take the applicant to the classroom he/she will be visiting. I rely on the classroom teacher and specialist teachers (PE, art, music, french, science, library) to make careful observations of classroom behavior and social skills. A literacy specialist also conducts a one-on-one assessment identical to the bi-annual assessment administered to our current students. We compare the applicant’s assessment score to the scores of current students to determine their academic fit in relation to the current class.
What professional development do you engage in related to lower school admission?
We are fortunate at Epiphany School to have a healthy professional development budget. I have been able to attend conferences and workshops that are directly related to my admission and placement work. I have participated in many local, regional, and national workshops and conferences including ism’s Admission 101, AISAP’s annual conference in 2014, and the last two SSATB Annual Meetings. I was fortunate this year to present with my friend, Pam Lauritzen from Bertschi School, at the SSATB Annual Meeting in Orlando about facilitating outplacement for elementary families. Presenting is an incredible professional development opportunity. What better way to learn than to work with a partner and to teach!
I stay current with the trends in elementary education mostly through the Summer Planning Institute that our chief academic officer organizes. Our teachers spend an intensive three-day session with their colleagues to strengthen their already dynamic and engaging curriculum and teaching skills. I attend some of the sessions to learn the latest in classroom best practices. This is particularly helpful as it allows me to articulate to prospective parents how our school stays innovative, while also keeping me up to date on the kinds of behaviors and skills we should look for in children during our assessments.
Another way that I keep up on trends is through my head of school, Matt Neely, who regularly shares books and articles with us—on my night stand now there are five books related to educational theory and leadership waiting to be read!
You have the unique experience of handling admission and placement. How do you switch gears and begin the relationship with enrolled students to assist with placement?
I begin by setting up a “Middle School Information Night” early in the school year. I invite a different middle school director each year, an educational consultant, our fifth grade teaching team, our director of student learning, and our director of student and community information to speak at this event. Each of these guests offers advice and information on a particular part of the process.
Parents are reminded to make the process a personal family journey. They are given information on how to use the online application, a calendar of what to do each month, and a parent questionnaire to complete before meeting with me in the fall. My main goal is to reduce anxiety and make parents and students know that we’re here for them through all aspects of the placement process.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
I make strong connections with prospective families, as I believe it’s important to thoroughly know and understand each family and their needs. Once I become emotionally attached, it can be hard for me deny those families that love our school.
Outplacement work offers a separate set of challenges. As I work with the parents of outgoing students, I must help reduce anxiety and really focus on listening. I need to offer all that I can to help them prepare as they begin the process of exiting our school, but need to gently remind parents also to be present for their child’s last year in elementary school.
Decision week brings another challenge as often there are one or two students who have been wait listed at all the schools to which he/she had applied. When this happens, the head of school and I go into high gear helping the family deal with disappointment while assisting, in any way we can, with finding a good fit school. Though challenging, this momentary setback can be highly rewarding when at last an acceptance letter is sent, and the student is in a school that is a great fit.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I enjoy being on the front line with parents and students—touring, interviewing, and counseling. I take pride in making the admission and outplacement process as enjoyable and stress-free as possible. As a member of an administrative team of six, I have also found great enjoyment in being a part of schoolwide decision and policy making.
What do parents worry about that they shouldn’t? For example, does the rumor mill have parents believe that kindergarten applicants must be able to read?
Prospective families and graduating families share a common worry that there are not enough spaces in independent schools for all who that apply. Though there can be reason to worry, I believe that children and their families all end up in the right place. Of course, it is hard to communicate this to parents when they are in the thick of the process. Over the last three years, each of our students were placed in Seattle’s top schools.
How do you get to know the schools to which your students are applying?
There is a relatively new admission collaborative connecting families and schools in Seattle called Puget Sound Independent Schools. This consortium grew from a small group of people who were working on common forms for applicant families. As we saw the need for the application process to be common and collaborative, we created a steering committee to manage the group. As one of the marketing and communications chairs, I am in constant communication with member elementary, middle, and high schools.
My head of school and I visit schools each year where our alumni are enrolled. We like to check in on them, to talk with them over lunch, and to learn about the successes and challenges found in their new school. Asking them questions about their preparedness and current middle school experience helps understand what the school’s expectations are and how we can better prepare our Epiphany students for placement. In addition, I attend educator tours and open houses of our area middle schools and utilize networking at conferences, like the SSATB Annual Meeting, to spend time with middle and upper school colleagues.
Do you actively seek out “new” schools to which your students can apply?
Our families tend to apply to what I call the “Big Five.” Of course, we have so many more amazing school options for our graduating students. I love getting to know the kids well enough to learn what schools might be good fits. I get excited when a family looks at a school that wasn’t originally on their list, then comes back to tell me how surprised they were to discover it, and that they will definitely apply.