Strategic Focus: Academic Programs

By Adam Dubé, Head of School

“We aspire to develop programs that are dynamic and individualized. We seek to build an engaging learning environment that encourages collaboration, innovation, and entrepreneurial thinking with a goal of creating lifelong learners and active global citizens.”


Each of our four areas of strategic focus begins with an aspirational goal. As Robert Browning famously wrote, “(A) man’s reach should exceed his grasp.” At CIS, we constantly aspire to be more. To improve. To guide our students to pursue excellence. To exceed our grasp. We actively do this by encouraging a growth mindset in our faculty, staff, and students.

Our aspirational goal for Academic Programs focuses on those skills and competencies we believe our students need to develop not only for success in college, but also for success in life. To that end, there are four areas of focus related to this goal:

  1. Adopt a student assessment program that balances content acquisition with skill mastery so that faculty can individualize instruction, promote innovative thinking, and encourage student initiative.

  2. Create a seamless curriculum from JK through 12th grade that encourages student curiosity, engagement, and innovation in order to foster collaboration among peers and between faculty and students.

  3. Create engaging learning environments that result in lifelong learners. Engaging learning environments spark curiosity and provide the necessary tools to pursue knowledge beyond the formal education system

  4. Develop global citizens who can and should impact the lives of others. Global citizens need to be flexible, creative, and proactive in order to solve problems, make decisions, think creatively, communicate their ideas effectively both verbally and in writing, and work well with teams and groups.


These four goals can be summarized by four words: innovation; collaboration; communication; and engagement. The first three are skills. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review states that more than “one in three workers may need to adapt their skills mix by 2030.” Of the skills identified as necessary for success in the future, innovation, collaboration, and communication regularly make the list of critical skills for the future, not to mention the present. By shaping our curriculum to encourage the growth of these skills, we aspire to move students towards mastery of them.

Engagement is the final word, and it speaks to the relevance of learning. Traditionally, schooling is something that increasingly happens to students as they get older, rather than being an active participant in the learning. We seek to turn that model on its head. CIS graduates have always been well-prepared for the rigors of selective colleges. We seek to keep students actively engaged in their learning through problem-based instruction, hands-on activities, and higher-order thinking, creating lifelong learners (see the HBR article referenced above).

While schools can prepare students to succeed on paper-and-pencil-style tests, we realize that many of life’s most important tests don’t involve paper and pencil. A strong foundation must include both knowledge and skills, and should be flexible and adapt to our changing world. At CIS, the skills of innovation, collaboration, communication, and engagement will continue to inform and shape that foundation.

Strategic Focus

by Adam Dubé, Head of School

Focus. Vision. Insight. Foresight. Hindsight. We use many words related to the act of seeing when analyzing our behaviors and actions. A manager who leads her company to success is said to have great foresight. A person who lacks insight easily sees the faults in others, while ignoring those in himself. Though hindsight is said to be 20/20, I’ve repeated enough mistakes in my life to know it’s not quite that perfect. A person with a vision has the unique ability to see things as they might be, rather than how they currently are.

At Columbia Independent School, our school adopted a new Strategic Focus last spring. The four areas related to this focus are: Academic Programs; School Community; Teaching and Learning; and Upper School Program.

We chose the word “focus” for several reasons. First, the ability to focus means seeing things clearly, and often requires adjusting or adapting your perspective to the current conditions. Focus is also an intentional act in which we turn our gaze in a specific direction. Finally, focus is the ability to ignore peripheral distractions that might cause us to shift our view from what’s at the center, which for CIS is preparing our students for college and beyond.

Over the next four blog posts, I will discuss the four areas of our Strategic Focus, the related goals, and how CIS is addressing each.