This is a huge week for our seniors. Remember what it was like waiting anxiously to hear from colleges and universities, knowing that an envelope in the mail (or nowadays, an email) could define your critical next chapter in life? Our 38 members of the graduating class of 2016 will have many exciting options – and we look forward to communicating their final matriculation decisions to you later this year. As we strengthen our alumni network which now extends from St. Croix around the globe, we also look forward to engaging all of you in the college admissions process, through informal phone conversations with upper school students about your particular college experience, to panel discussions here on campus, to conducting mock Skype interviews to help our students reflect on their own values and goals and prepare for the next part of their journey.
Speaking of journeys, I was fortunate to travel last month to the Bay Area where I hosted a small gathering of energetic alumni (see description below), attended the National Association of Independent Schools Conference, and connected with several people and institutions who can be resources for our School. For your reference, my detailed trip notes can be found here Bay Area Trip Summary 2016.
Lastly, I thought I’d share with you my five key 2015-16 goals that I already shared with the Board of Trustees:
Note: With very few exceptions, faculty have not received an increase in compensation for five years. This will represent a huge step forward for us.
Note: We are easily losing 30-40% of our learning and productivity as a result of unreliable and dirty power, rooms that are too hot, and pesky mosquitos. On a $5M budget, this means we are losing $1.5M+ annually by NOT addressing these fundamental challenges in systematic ways.
Note: When I arrived last July, we had $180k in tuition payment arrears – and I had to turn around and cut $300k from our budget. We want to be as generous as we can with our financial aid – this year we are providing $900k in financial assistance to 46% of our student body, well above the norm for private schools including institutions with multi-million dollar endowments. But we still need to pay our bills and ensure financial sustainability – and that means tightening up our collections.
Note: This is a critical step in professionalizing our organization and developing a culture of learning and drive for excellence, which ultimately we want to model for our students.
Note: As we spruce up our campus, we look forward to hosting many more speakers and events, including those involving alumni.
I hope you enjoy the profiles below of graduates blazing interesting paths. We look forward to seeing you soon!
San Francisco Event
On Tuesday, February 23, a small group of energetic graduates met at Southern Pacific Brewing in the Mission District to hear the latest from Good Hope Country Day School, reminisce about the “Best of St. Croix,” and catch up on each others’ trajectories. The group included a high-end landscaper for Steve Jobs’ house in Silicon Valley, a stewardess who has logged millions of miles with stories to tell, and a canine expert who comfortably walks a dozen dogs through the gorgeous hills of the Bay Area. We look forward to our next off-Island alumni reception later in 2016!
Pictured left to right: Shea Sweeney (GHS’10), Noreen Gill (CDS’78), Cody Shrey (CDS’95), Britta Victor (CDS’06), Sam Mares (CDS’05) and Head of School, Kari Loya.
Phyllis Biddle, Written by Tina Thompson, March 30, 2016
Art Teacher Phyllis Biddle loves the challenge of teaching art at different levels and abilities. She brings her students up to a level plane, then moves them forward on great projects. As a teacher, she sees her purpose to bring out the treasure of ideas in each student. She is most proud of teaching artists to use materials correctly, to find and to express themselves. Since coming from St. Catherine’s School in Richmond to the Good Hope School in 2002, many of her students’ art projects have graced the halls of Congress representing the Virgin Islands, including last year at Good Hope Country Day School.
Phyllis’ mother was an art teacher at Parsons School of Design and her grandfather’s artwork is hung in several museums. That attracted Phyllis to teaching in order to help all students develop similar tools to express themselves. While Phyllis was a student herself at Yale, her own art work was recognized and supported by the professors there. As a result, her paintings were included in New Jersey Art Shows and one painting of hers is hung in a home of a Kennedy family member.
Phyllis loves teaching art history. Her favorite artists are Picasso who painted with passion and Rene Magritte from Belgium. A favorite architect is from China, I.M. Pei. Phyllis finds the people of St. Croix fascinating in how they learned to survive here. Therefore, her work often reflects the cane fields and the Danish architecture of the island. Her favorite museum to visit is the National Gallery of Art in Washington D. C.
Phyllis is a swimmer and a runner whose shoes would no doubt be impossible to fill. As her co-worker, I have discovered that Phyllis is able to see and bring out the beauty in every single person she meets. I believe Phyllis has made the world more beautiful with her teaching, her work and her life!
Keena Fleming, Women’s Footwear Designer, GHS ’06
Keena has always loved shoes from an art and design perspective. Her earliest design memory is from first grade, when Mr. Franks, a long-time art teacher at Good Hope School, assigned the class to design a shoe out of recyclable material. That piqued her interest. In third grade, her mother Mrs. Schill, a French and Spanish teacher from Good Hope, had an opportunity to move to Paris and teach through a Fulbright exchange program for a year. That year, Keena was constantly surrounded by art, not to mention the drastic transition from traditional island footwear (flip flops and sandals) to Parisian everyday footwear, where women even grocery shop in heels. Her interest in footwear and design began to flourish.
After studying fine arts at Virginia Commonwealth University for a year, Keena took a leap and moved to New York City to study accessory design at the Fashion Institute of Technology, where she participated in several design competitions. The first was a colabo with Saks 5th Ave, Jimmy Choo and FIT. Keena’s winning design was displayed at the Saks 5th Ave shoe floor and later at an art gallery in the Meat Packing district. The second big competition, Shoe Star, was a footwear design spin-off of Project Runway. The contestants were judged by a group of celebrities, including Vera Wang and Fergie, on a series of design challenges and eliminated one-by-one each week. Keena earned second place, which led to her becoming a designer at Vince Camuto working on his Signature line, VC Signature. From there she moved to Limited Brands and worked on the Victoria’s Secret collection of women’s shoes, and is now one of the women’s footwear designers for Kenneth Cole.
“My design work has brought me amazing opportunities to travel extensively to places in Asia and Europe,” she reflected. “I think the open relationships I developed with my teachers at the Good Hope School, the push for creativity, and the immense diversity, really sculpted the skills I now use daily in my industry, especially while working overseas. I am currently based in New York City and dream often of coming back to St. Croix with a little shoe store of my own.”
She concluded, “For me, a designer helps make people be who they are or wish to be. What you wear can set the tone of your entire day and your whole raison d’être. I’ve always loved being responsible for altering ones mood entirely, but still remaining kind of behind the scenes.” We look forward to seeing her back on Island – and wonder what shoes she’ll be wearing…
Becky Bass, Award-Winning Recording Artist Keeps Climbing, CDS ’09
Janett “Becky” Bass, Valedictorian CDS ’09, credits her love of music to her dad, well-known St. Croix steel pan artist Bill Bass, and to 10 years of classical piano lessons and musical training under St. Croix’s Marsha Shuman. Becky credits her love of acting and theater to numerous performance opportunities while at CDS.
Becky followed her dream after graduation by attending Brown University in Providence, RI, where she earned a BA in Theatre Arts and Performance Studies with a minor in Music. During her time at Brown, Becky joined the university chorus and two a cappella groups, serving as Musical Director for both groups. She performed with a touring opera company from the University of South Africa in a production of the opera Le Nozze di Figaro and starred in many theater productions at Brown, including an original work entitled “Yermedea” in which Becky successfully toured with the production to Boston and to NYC Off-Broadway. During her junior year, she had the wonderful opportunity to study abroad at the London Dramatic Academy under the direction of Richard Digby Day, renowned British stage director and professor. Upon graduation in 2013, Becky received Brown’s Weston Fine Arts Award for Excellence in Musical Theatre and the Marsha Z. West Legacy Award for Outstanding Contributions in theater and the Arts.
Becky now performs as a vocalist and steel pan artist with several bands in the New England area, including Lion Eye Music, Natural Element, Mystic Jammers and as a solo artist. She also is a lead vocalist and soloist for RPM Voices of Rhode Island, a cross cultural, multi-generational gospel choir. In 2014, Becky was the proud recipient of two New England Urban Music Awards, one for “Best Female Vocalist (Caribbean)” and “Best Album (Caribbean – “My Love Is Real”). On stage, Becky’s credits include Aida, in which the Boston Globe reported “There are a few bright spots in the supporting cast, though, including Janett “Becky’’ Bass as a Nubian slave named Nehebka…Bass and Gibson lead the ensemble in “The Gods Love Nubia,’’ which delivers a much-needed jolt of electricity to the production and brings Act One to a rousing close.”; Disney’s The Little Mermaid; Rent; A Night with Lady Day, a one-woman show honoring the songs and life of Billie Holiday; The Divas, a reprise of her successful role of Billie Holiday. Becky recently returned to St. Croix to headline a Caribbean Community Theater fundraiser where she performed some of her favorite show tunes and jazz songs.
Becky’s looking forward to her up-coming stage performances of Showboat at the Shubert Theatre in Boston in July 2016. Becky will be seen as an extra in the feature film “November Criminals” coming out in November 2016. She will be traveling with her band to perform on Florida’s Treasure Coast in April 2016 and hopes to return to Chicago, where she recently performed with several locally renowned jazz musicians. In addition, Becky is working on a new album on which she will debut several original songs that she is composing and writing. She is also busy working toward her Equity Actors Association membership. You can keep up with Becky’s endeavors at her website www.beckybass.com.
Dodson James, Hopes To Create A Healthier Virgin Islands, CDS ’09
Dodson James Jr. CDS ’09, a proud “CDS lifer” who started in nursery school and completed his entire education at CDS, is currently pursuing a Masters in Public Health/Masters of Business Administration at Benedictine University. He hopes to one day work for the Center for Disease Control and move back to St.Croix to establish enhanced community outreach programs and influence public policy to create a healthier Virgin Islands.
After graduating from Florida International University in 2014 with a degree in political science, he began working at Ross University School of Medicine of Dominica as a clinical coordinator. Within his first year working at their corporate office in Miramar, Florida, he won the prestigious Ron Taylor Award, one of the highest employee recognition awards and was promoted to a Clinical Advisor. We look forward to seeing more recognition ahead for this ambitious, service-oriented graduate!
Shea Sweeny, A Biologist with a Thirst For Adventure, GHS ’10
When Shea Sweeney, GHS ’10, moved from Vermont to the Good Hope School for her senior year, she was intrigued by the outdoor campus. Marine Biology wasn’t just something she read about – she experienced it first-hand. Besides adjusting to a new school, she had to adjust to a new culture as well. Shea quickly connected with this diverse, friendly, and open community. Frecos, and salt fish pate’s at Rosa’s, were her favorite exotic treats. For her senior research project, she delved into the language structure of “Crucian”. She even converted an act of Shakespeare into Crucian and performed it with a classmate.
After leaving St. Croix, she attended Dickinson College, earned a B.S. in biology, and continued exploring the world and different cultures. Shea spent a semester abroad in Tanzania studying wildlife management; she studied Japanese her junior year in a rural Japanese high school. Her thirst for adventure and new experiences continued as Shea packed her belongings and drove across the country from Vermont to San Francisco, with her bearded dragon on her shoulder, camping and rock climbing along the way.
Shea now works as a dog handler as well as at the San Francisco Zoo where she work with small animal species such as her favorite, the opossum. Additionally, Shea works as a steward on the Hornblower Cruises sailing San Francisco Bay in the evenings. Eventually, Shea hopes to become a field biologist. In her free time you will find her reading, rock climbing, hiking; anything to stay fit.
While uncertain about the trajectory of her career path, Shea is thankful for her broad educational experiences, including her time at GHS. She fondly remembers AP English, where Ned Washburn was always pushing limits and encouraging thinking in different ways. “His questioning, probing style,” Shea recalled, “matched my way of thinking and learning”. She also fondly remembered the celebration of Arts, Academics, and Athletics, which allowed her to explore all sides of her personality including performing on stage, in volleyball, chorus, and soccer. She is confident that everything will come together in career bliss!