Academic Strategic Plan - LifeReady - McDonogh School

Academic Strategic Plan

Great schools are built on trust. Whether it’s a first grader who leaves her mother’s hug to get on the bus, a middle schooler in the care of teachers heading to the Chesapeake Bay, or a senior preparing to enter the wider world, the school that serves them must continually inspire confidence in its parents, students, faculty, and alumni.

At McDonogh, that confidence has never been stronger. The AIMS accreditation team that performed its three-day visit last year praised the school for its vibrant, world-class faculty. And the reports from a range of focus groups who participated in strategic planning activities last year celebrate the many ways that children emerge from each experience at McDonogh with the skills, character, and joy that promise their success and service for life.

McDonogh is responding to the demands of a rapidly changing world. To this end, the Naylor Building and the Edward St. John Student Center are welcoming its first students with state-of-the-art facilities worthy of their talents and ideas. On another front, McDonogh is investing in the most engaging, rigorous, and inspiring academic program possible. Indeed, in the strategic plan that follows, you’ll see that its focus is the academic program and that students are at the very heart of its objectives. This should not be surprising since McDonogh is fundamentally about life-affecting relationships.

This will never change.

The world, on the other hand, is constantly changing, and McDonogh is poised to address the way we learn and teach in a thoughtful and responsible manner, regardless of the unknowns in the future. How can we say this? We can because we hold several beliefs, arrived at through experience and research, that ensure success for each graduate. Our families trust that we will assume the responsibility to help our students not only to face the future, but to be a force for good in it. We promise to deliver this at the same time we honor the vision that our founder, and all those who came before us, imparted—a gift that has allowed so many to do the greatest possible amount of good for the world in which we live.

Our families trust that we will assume the responsibility to help our students not only to face the future, but to be a force for good in it.


McDonogh School is a community that finds joy in work, in play, in discovery, and in the realization of personal potential. Strong, mutually respectful relationships inspire a passion for teaching and learning, a dedication to personal integrity, and a commitment to excellence. Embracing diversity of background, culture, and thought, the school builds upon its founder’s original mission to provide life-altering opportunities and to develop in students the will “to do the greatest possible amount of good.”



McDonogh School is a joyful community built on close relationships and trust. Children educated at McDonogh will emerge as people of character who are exceptional communicators and who honor diversity in all its forms. They will learn to pose their own questions and grapple with complex problems with creativity on their own and with others. We believe that preparing each child to be “life ready” is the ultimate object of each student’s experience at McDonogh. WHO WE ARE Since its founding in 1873, McDonogh School has followed its founder’s “Rules for Living” in its decision making, in its vision for the future, and in its daily work. Over its 140-year history, McDonogh School has produced students of character and intellect, committed to service, who have gone on to have an impact locally and globally. And while photos of the school from the early 20th century look, on the surface, different from those in recent years, every community member—students, teachers, parents, and alumni—shares bedrock values that have guided McDonogh in fundamental ways since the School welcomed its very first student.



In every era of its history, McDonogh has succeeded because of its ability to retain its essential character while constantly evolving in thoughtful ways to serve its students fully in an ever-changing world. At this moment, McDonogh serves a diverse population of extraordinary students with world-class teachers in state-of-the-art facilities. Its extracurricular programs allow students to deepen passions and to discover new ones. When graduates return “home” for a visit, each invariably speaks of their readiness and of the relationships that shaped their lives in profound ways.



The world is always changing, but never has it transformed so rapidly as in our time. From technological innovation to natural phenomena, future occurrences will invariably pose specific challenges to the human race that no person or educational institution can anticipate. A great school can only prepare students to be the very best communicators, problem solvers, nimble thinkers, and creative visionaries to meet the challenges of a volatile, uncertain world. We must be comfortable with ambiguity and must welcome failure as necessary for true success. McDonogh has the teachers, the students, the facilities, and the trust superb schools require; and now we have the plan.

A great school can only prepare students to be the very best communicators, problem solvers, nimble thinkers, and creative visionaries to meet the challenges of a volatile, uncertain world.


McDonogh honors its commitment to rigor and to life preparation. Nevertheless, it is fair for parents or alumni to ask, “After reading the Plan, will McDonogh still be the school I remember?” “Will my children be rigorously prepared?” “Will students still learn grammar, and how to add and subtract?” Yes.

Great schools like McDonogh pursue the responsibility to evolve precisely because they want to provide the highest, most challenging educational experience possible to meet the realities of a changing world. To achieve this, a school must preserve the elements of a first-rate education, and certain fundamentals that are tried-and-true will always be essential to a McDonogh education. Now, as before, McDonogh graduates will know how to communicate effectively for a range of audiences; they will understand the great sweep of human history; they will plunge into the complexities of mathematics and science; they will discover their place in the wider world by studying languages from around the globe; and they will experience the beauty and relevance of strong arts preparation.

McDonogh must present these core curricular elements to students in ways that are intrinsically motivational and timely. McDonogh will stay true to mission so long as it remains committed to the excellence that has always defined this institution.

Nevertheless, McDonogh believes it must prepare students for challenges and professions that have not yet been conceived and for a future characterized by

• Volatility
• Uncertainty
• Complexity
• Ambiguity

McDonogh must be a place where how children learn is just as important as what they learn.  

All students must be able to

• Communicate well in a variety of arenas
• Form questions and solve problems in groups and on their own
• Adapt, lead, and think for the good of communities global and local

To achieve these goals, learning must be:

• Deep: Learning environments, in and out of class, will enlist and awaken excitement in students for the material that they study so that they understand concepts fully and fundamentally.

• Project- and Problem-Based: All students will learn through a curriculum where essential problems and questions lead students through projects that invite them to form their own questions and to construct their learning. This approach reflects the life environments students will find themselves in after high school and college. Moreover, projects and problems involve students at a deep level where they can practice the art of creativity and innovation on a daily basis.

• Collaborative and Global: Students will learn in purposefully collaborative environments where they practice the art of working in teams to accomplish a goal. In a project-based learning environment, students will learn to create, communicate, negotiate, and delegate to achieve their objectives. Further, an understanding of—and work with—global communities will inspire students to think well beyond their local experiences in order to prepare them for worldwide service. Not only will local and global collaborations prepare them for their lives to come, but they will also encounter meaningful experiences that will help strengthen the elements of McDonogh’s character compass: service, honesty, respect, kindness, and responsibility.

• Authentic: Student work will be authentic. Authentic work is a project, for example, that matters to students and to others; that has ties to real-life challenges and questions; that can be assessed in ways that reflect real-world measures; that is intrinsically compelling because it is driven by a specific goal. A curriculum that prioritizes authenticity supports deep, project and problem-based, and collaborative learning.

• Integrated: Each student will encounter an integrated learning environment during his or her education at McDonogh. In order to best prepare students for life and to have the habits of mind when they do decide to specialize in a particular field in their post-secondary education, learning will require that they draw on multiple disciplines at once to reflect real-world practices. Courses, organized by big ideas and pressing questions, for example, can create conditions where students will have to work in an interdisciplinary way. Moreover, when teachers work in collaborative teams to help students discover the interconnectedness of things, they model the kinds of collaboration with which we hope our students will be proficient now and in the future.



• Character: We will provide each child with character-defining moments, occasions where they will call on their ethical and moral reserves to understand and do the “greatest possible amount of good.”

• Diversity: We believe that to be fully prepared to do the greatest good, our students and our community must possess a deep commitment to diversity in its many forms. Understanding the necessity to work and grow with people from all backgrounds and experiences is central to preparing students fully.

• Relationships: In such an environment of ongoing collaboration and communication, students will deepen their relationships with their peers and with their teachers; these experiences