5 Questions with Chad Small, Headmaster of The Rumson Country Day School: Innovative Education & Lifetime Friendships

By February 20, 2012Interviews
5 Questions with Chad Small, Headmaster of The Rumson Country Day School: Innovative Education & Lifetime Friendships

The Rumson Country Day School was founded in 1926 as a not-for-profit, independent, non-sectarian, coeducational elementary school set on a 13.5-acre campus in Rumson, NJ.

The school enrolls 450 students from pre-school through eighth grade.  The student to teacher ratio is 7:1 with an average class size of 15.

The Rumson Country Day School also offers a half-day nursery program, half-day and full-day pre-K programs, and full-day kindergarten.  In 1999, the school was recognized as a “Blue Ribbon School of Excellence” by the U.S. Department of Education.  Chad B. Small has been Headmaster of The Rumson Country Day School for 23 years.

Interview With Chad Small

Question: At the top of The Rumson Country Day School website is the phrase, “Educating the whole child, one at a time.”  Can you explain this philosophy?

Educating the whole child is sometimes a misrepresented term in education. What we mean by the whole child is the affective aspect as well as the academic aspect. We have four core values that we talk about on a regular basis – be kind, be honest, be respectful, be responsible. That’s the affective side of things.

We want kids to not only be strong in academics – we have a challenging academic program – but we also have physical education four or five times per week and a strong “no-cut” athletic program in our middle school. We have a family-style lunch so kids can converse with each other. We have assigned tables so there might be fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth graders and a teacher at a table, so there’s always good conversation and nobody is excluded.

We’re a small school of 450 students from three-year-olds through eighth grade. I know every kid’s name. We know their families.  We know each child individually so nobody falls through the cracks.

Question: The Rumson Country Day School offers a very unique program called “School Within A School.”  What is this program designed to do?

rumson-country-day-school-logo1This program was started for kids who have reading difficulties, reading processing problems or dyslexia. They otherwise are wonderful in school. They’re good athletes, they do well with science and history, but they struggle with reading. I hate to see any child struggle. This program gets kids into classes of maybe four for reading, math and modern language, and it really makes a difference. I think all American education should be doing what our school is doing. It’s very child-centered with small classes taught by people who are trained in special education, especially in reading, and the children get so much support.

To tell you the truth, some kids get out of it in sixth or seventh grade and when they graduate from eighth grade, they go to the same types of high schools that all of our kids go to. They’re ready for the world. I’ve seen kids who used to be discouraged because school was so challenging and now they walk around with their heads held high. It really works.

Question: What challenges do you face, and what do you do to overcome these challenges?

Pricing and affordability are always a struggle because you want to be able to pay your teachers a good, fair salary with good benefits.  Health insurance is killing us like any industry. That’s just a soaring price. We do give about $600,000 in financial aid every year and it’s need based, not scholarship. In this turbulent economy, we’ve introduced what we call “bottom line tuition.” Beginning in the next school year, we’ll no longer have ancillary fees. We’re going to offer tuition as one charge for the entire year. They don’t have to pay extra for lunch, books or anything else. Everything will be included in tuition.

Question: How do you market the school’s academic and extracurricular programs and special events?

That’s a tough one. Our marketing is not the primary function of The Rumson Country Day School because we obviously prefer to direct those dollars to our classrooms and our students. We rely heavily on the word-of-mouth of our current parents and students, from the soccer fields to the pools. They consistently share their experiences with their peers. Newspaper ads and things like that just aren’t as powerful and real as one parent talking to another or one kid talking to another. We always ask how people found out about The Rumson Country Day School and more often than not, it’s because someone knew someone or had a conversation over dinner.

We also use social media to remind families, friends and local communities about school events, and it’s great for keeping in touch with alumni. Social media makes it easier to maintain and strengthen relationships that begin as young children and continue for life.

Question: Working in education can be an extremely rewarding experience.  What has been most rewarding for you?

One of the most gratifying things for me is the number of people – even when they’re 40, 50, 60 years old – whose best friends came from the Rumson Country Day School, no matter where their lives took them. Some are here, some are in California. It’s amazing to me how their best friends are from their elementary school years. Normally, friendships dissipate when kids go to different high schools and colleges, but it doesn’t dissipate here. I speak through three of my own children who went to The Rumson Country Day School. Their best friends are from here. This is always a place of real comfort and friendship for our students, and that means a lot to me.

To learn more about programs and special events, visit The Rumson Country Day School website.

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