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2021-22 Annual Report | Letter from the Head of School

Navigating Change

As we prepare for warmer weather and dethaw from the winter months, I am reminded of the 2021-22 school year and the “dethawing” that was necessary from our faculty, staff and students to return to normal social practices after spending two years in a “COVID freeze.”

The “dethawing” was a methodical and careful process led by our leadership which resulted in—among many other things—our community’s safety and our ability to host in-person events. I enjoyed getting back to my favorite signature Solebury events that I had missed for what seemed like at times an eternity. We honored the senior class at their annual dinner event with the Board of Trustees, celebrated the return of travel at our Around the World: An Evening of Adventure auction which broke fundraising records for that event, and welcomed alumni back to Solebury for their 2022 Reunion Weekend. I am forever grateful for the unwavering efforts of our community which helped us thrive in a unique time to Solebury’s history. 

The 2021-22 school year had a common theme: change. This past year saw changes in the way we operate, changes to our faculty and staff, and changes to the physical appearance of our campus. You may wonder why so much change? Part of that change was a return to pre-pandemic practices described above, which felt very different for students who have only known Solebury in pandemic times. But the answer also lies in our strategic growth and the goals we are striving to reach. These changes (while sometimes uncomfortable) will help Solebury School soar to new heights. The future is very bright!     

Nothing lasts forever–sadly not even the careers of some of our most outstanding faculty and staff. At the end of the 2021-22 school year we had to say goodbye to a few of our finest. Cinnie Wappel, longtime Director of our English as a Second Language Program, decided it was time to begin a new life chapter and entered into retirement after dedicating 30 years to Solebury School. Sadly (for Solebury School) Cinnie wasn’t the only one to retire; she was joined by Annette Miller. As Dean of Students, Annette impacted generations of Soleburians by providing her infinite guidance and wisdom to thousands. In addition to her students, Annette was also always more than happy to assist her colleagues in any way she could. Joining Cinnie and Annette in retirement was long-time faculty member Diane Downs, P'03 '08 '09. A lot of collective wisdom and history departed Solebury in that moment. I, along with the Solebury community, miss them already but am comforted knowing that they are enjoying the next chapter of their lives. 

After nearly 40 years and 500+ wins, Boys Basketball Coach (and Solebury School legend) Cleve Christie retired. I’m a huge believer in the power of sport and the vehicle it can be to teach life lessons. No one has had a larger role in my development of this belief than Cleve. Throughout his decorated tenure with Solebury School, he has racked up plenty of wins and accolades, but nothing stands out more to me than the young men he has helped develop. Over the course of his career, 99% of Coach Christie’s players have gone on to four-year colleges, some as players—but all as dedicated learners. That says it all. I know I speak for our current and past faculty and staff, students, parents, alumni and alumni parents when I say (as emphatically as possible), “THANK YOU COACH!”       

The theme of change persists as I report that construction on Hope Hall, our first new construction on campus since 2007, began at the end of the 2021-22 year. This residence hall will serve as a 32-bed/four apartment living space and is on track to open in fall 2023. This new hall, in conjunction with our other efforts, puts us in a great position to surpass our previous highmark in boarding student enrollment of 131. What is really exciting is that this dormitory continues Solebury’s commitment to sustainability and is being constructed to Passive House standards, designed to be as energy efficient as possible. Our design was recently certified by Phius as being in compliance with Passive House requirements and, when complete, Hope Hall will be among the first residence halls in Pennsylvania to be certified as a Passive House structure. Also aligning with our vision of growth and sustainability is our soon to be completed membrane bioreactor water treatment plant. Using membrane bioreactor technology, the new wastewater treatment plant will support Solebury’s future growth in addition to being incorporated into our science curriculum. 

The 2021-22 school year was especially notable from a fundraising perspective. As you will learn as you read this annual report, the auction raised the most money in its history, totaling more than $262,000. The most moving moment of the night came during the event’s special appeal, which saw our community come together and pledge more than $170,000 in support of our Shaping Solebury capital campaign. The Solebury Fund, which supports our operating budget, also had a historical year, exceeding $487,000. A large reason we were able to achieve this high level of success is due to our annual giving day, #LoveSolebury. On December 8th 2021, we raised more than $147,000 from 302 generous donors in support of the Solebury Fund. Throughout the day, seven challenges and 10 matches were completed which helped inspire donors to participate and maximize the impact of their gift. The support we received is truly humbling and is a testament to you, the Solebury community, who make everything we do here possible. As you comb through this report and review our progress, please keep it front and center in your mind that you, and every other supporter, are essential in making our goals a reality. 

So, while I can never thank our community adequately enough to represent my immense gratitude, I’ll try. Thank you for all that you do to make and keep Solebury School the one-of-a-kind vibrant learning experience that is inclusive and welcoming to all who seek it. 

The corner of Phillips Mill and School Lane is truly a wonderful place that I am fortunate enough to call home. It is my pleasure to share in the accomplishments of our students, faculty, and staff while having the opportunity to build relationships that will last a lifetime. How lucky am I? 

Tom Wilschutz
Head of School

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