Naples, Florida—Nestled in the realm of independent, PreK-12 college preparatory day schools, Community School of Naples (CSN) stands as a beacon of educational excellence and leadership under its Head of School, Dr. David Watson. Dr. Watson, an experienced leader with a passion for education, has not only shaped the institution’s commitment to teaching and learning but has also fostered a culture of innovation, global citizenship, and holistic development. In a candid interview with Dr. Watson, we delved into the core values and initiatives that make CSN a true bastion of educational advancement.
Excellence in Teaching and Learning: A Commitment Embodied
In his tenure, Dr. Watson has seen the creation of and been a part of the development of many initiatives at the school. One such initiative is the Global Exchange Program.
“This program very much embodies much of our school’s mission statement,” Dr. Watson explained. “It provides our students with the invaluable opportunity to engage in aspects of cultural immersion and international understanding. Through exchanges with international peers, our students gain a profound appreciation for diverse perspectives, fostering their development into well-rounded, globally conscious individuals. It aligns perfectly with our commitment to nurturing holistic learners.”
Equally significant is the implementation of the Mandarin language program, reflecting the school’s dedication to diversity and cultural enrichment. The commitment to language diversity highlights the institution’s forward-thinking approach to preparing students for a globalized future.
Additionally, CSN has expanded the number of AP classes to a total of 32. Dr. Watson highlighted the importance of this, “these advanced courses provide our students with the opportunity to challenge themselves and prepare for success in higher education.”
Dr. Watson’s description of these initiatives collectively painted a picture of a school unwavering in its commitment to academic excellence, holistic development, and preparing students for the future.
Technology: A Transformative Tool for Learning
Like many schools, CSN has had to deal with the technological evolution that has happened since it opened. With everything from smartphones to artificial intelligence finding its way into classrooms, CSN has taken the use of technology in stride.
“The integration of technology into our curriculum is nothing short of transformative,” Dr. Watson emphasized. “It profoundly enhances the learning environment by opening doors to a broader range of experiences for our students. Through technologies like video conferencing, our students can engage with experts and professionals from around the world. This exposure fosters a global perspective and a deeper understanding of real-world applications of knowledge.”
“In addition,” he continued, “technology plays a pivotal role in our research endeavors. Our well-equipped labs utilize advanced tools such as incubators, enabling students to engage with high-level technology right here on campus.”
“Furthermore,” Dr. Watson stated, “as we navigate the shift from a network economy to an AI economy, we are integrating artificial intelligence into our curriculum. This prepares our students for the evolving job market, equipping them with the skills necessary to excel in an increasingly technology-driven world.”
Technology enriches the learning experience and empowers students, as Dr. Watson aptly puts it, “transforming education for the better.”
Fostering Independent Thinkers
With the advancement of technology comes a wealth of information and misinformation located in the phone in many students’ pockets. For this, they must be independent thinkers with the ability to critically think and analyze information for themselves.
Dr. Watson explains CSN’s approach, “our curriculum prioritizes inquiry-based learning, encouraging students to ask questions, explore diverse perspectives, and engage in problem-solving. This approach nurtures intellectual curiosity and prompts students to think critically about the world.”
“Our dedicated faculty members serve as facilitators,” he continued, “creating an environment where students are urged to voice their opinions, challenge assumptions, and defend their viewpoints. This open dialogue promotes analytical thinking and builds the confidence to question conventional wisdom.”
Furthermore, he explained that the school promotes interdisciplinary studies, enabling students to connect ideas across subjects, broadening their perspectives.
He explains, “our extracurricular activities such as debate teams, Model United Nations, and academic competitions, allow students to apply their critical thinking skills in real-world contexts.”
Balancing Tradition and Innovation
While technology has advanced at the school, the importance of lessons taught by tradition cannot be overlooked.
“Harmonizing tradition and innovation in the quest for academic excellence is a nuanced endeavor,” Dr. Watson acknowledged. “We see it in action at our Robotics Club where students use their knowledge of mechanics to create innovative technologies. We also see it inside the classroom.”
He then provided an example from the AP Seminar class, highlighting this careful balance.
“In this course, students delve into history, adhering to the rigorous standards of academic research and analysis, firmly grounded in tradition. However, our innovation lay in the incorporation of data from our Peak Performance program,” he explained.
Dr. Watson elaborated on the Peak Performance program, which meticulously tracks the athletic data of student-athletes as they train and compete. Students, in their AP Seminar projects, adeptly integrate this data, creating a synergy between athletes’ achievements and historical inquiry.
Adapting to Challenges: Teamwork in Action
While CSN has prepared its students to adapt to challenges, the school itself has had to face several of its own.
“Throughout my tenure,” Dr. Watson began, “we have faced multiple challenging situations, many of them weather-related. Last year, we faced Hurricane Ian. Before that, Hurricane Irma. Luckily for me, I have had support and input from the entire Senior Leadership Team when faced with these situations.”
Dr. Watson then delved into a major example involving managing the impact of COVID-19 in the school’s educational setting.
“In line with prioritizing the safety and welfare of our students and community,” he explained, “the school temporarily transitioned to online learning from mid-March 2020 to May 2020. This decision, although disruptive, was made after careful consideration and expert consultation. Throughout this period, transparent communication was maintained with all stakeholders. Regular updates and resources were provided to ensure a seamless transition to online learning.”
“It is noteworthy,” he continued, “that our commitment to safety didn’t deter our dedication to education and infrastructure development. Despite the relatively short duration of online learning compared to other schools, we successfully resumed in-person classes in August 2020. This return was marked by increased enrollment and the completion of two significant construction projects: the Institute of Science and Environmental Research and the John N. Allen Family Stadium.”
Faculty Learning Opportunities
As the world evolves, schools need to as well to meet the growing demands students will face upon exit. For that to happen, faculty must be given the opportunity to continue learning as well.
“My team and I are steadfast in our commitment to fostering an environment where both students and faculty continue to evolve in step with the changing educational landscape,” Dr. Watson affirmed.
He outlined several strategies and initiatives:
– Professional Development: The school offers an array of professional development opportunities for teachers, including the Fund for Faculty Excellence, which supports additional degrees, advanced education, and specialized academic studies.
– Recognition and Awards: The school recognizes and celebrates exemplary teaching through the Distinguished Teacher Award, coupled with the Distinguished Teacher Scholarship that supports educators in pursuing further academic endeavors.
– Regional Engagement: The school actively engages with regional professional development groups, fostering a culture of collaboration and the exchange of innovative ideas.
The knowledge educators gain through these initiatives ultimately goes back to the students.
Community and Collaboration: The Heart of CSN
From a quick glance at CSN’s website and social media, it is clear that the school values fostering a collaborative community. Dr. Watson’s eyes lit up as he spoke about a cornerstone of the school’s commitment to community and collaboration, the Juliet Collier Sproul Center for Community & Global Impact.
“It is a dedicated space and initiative that facilitates community involvement, global awareness, and character development among students. The center fosters collaboration through various programs, including community service, leadership opportunities, and global experiences. Through its multifaceted approach, the center strives to cultivate responsible citizens who are equipped to make a positive impact on both local and global scales,” Dr. Watson said.
Within the heart of this center lies a simple but beloved tradition: Buddy Day. This annual event pairs Upper School students with their younger peers from the Lower School. These carefully orchestrated pairings allow students to serve as mentors and role models, imparting the wisdom of CSN’s four core values: citizenship, leadership, scholarship, and stewardship. With each Buddy Day aligned to a specific core value, a sense of unity takes root as students share experiences, knowledge, and aspirations.
Preparing Global Citizens
With citizenship being a core value of the school, it is no surprise that it emphasizes the importance of citizenship within the school community and around the world.
“We have always strived to create global citizens and have had that as part of our mission statement for nearly a decade,” Dr. Watson began. “This is a concept we are well practiced in bringing to fruition.”
He outlined a comprehensive approach to instilling global citizenship and global awareness:
– Character Education: The school emphasizes character education, teaching values like empathy, respect, and responsibility, creating a strong foundation for civic-mindedness.
– Global Perspectives in Curriculum: Global perspectives are integrated into the curriculum, exposing students to diverse cultures, global issues, and encouraging critical thinking about their roles in a global context.
– Cultural Exchange: The school offers opportunities for cultural exchange, both inbound and outbound, fostering connections with international students and promoting cross-cultural understanding.
– Language Program: The language program includes Spanish, French, Latin, and Mandarin, encouraging linguistic competency and a celebration of the cultures where these languages originate.
By combining these elements, students are empowered with the skills, knowledge, and linguistic capabilities necessary to make a positive impact on a larger scale.
Engaging Parents and Guardians: A Partnership for Success
While most schools have a strictly drop off pick up relationship with parents, Dr. Watson explains that the parent connection runs much deeper at CSN.
“We firmly believe that collaboration between home and school is pivotal in a child’s educational journey,” Dr. Watson explained.
He outlined several strategies the school employs to engage parents effectively:
– Open Communication: The school maintains an open and robust communication system, with regular newsletters, emails, and announcements keeping parents informed about school events, curriculum updates, and their child’s progress.
– Parent-Teacher Conferences: Face-to-face meetings provide a platform for in-depth discussions on a student’s academic and personal development. It allows parents to gain insights into their child’s strengths and areas needing improvement.
– Volunteer Opportunities: The school actively encourages parents to volunteer in extracurricular activities, committees, and events. This involvement not only assists the school in various initiatives but also strengthens the sense of belonging within the school community.
– Workshops and Seminars: The school offers workshops to effectively communicate and ensure parents understand student values. These events empower parents with knowledge and skills to support their child’s learning journey.
– Parent Association (PA): The PA aims to improve the parent experience through volunteerism and meaningful opportunities. They sustain a positive school culture by organizing acts of appreciation, service, and wholehearted support for school activities.
– Digital Platforms: The school leverages technology through user-friendly digital platforms that grant parents real-time access to academic updates, assignments, and school news. This keeps parents engaged and informed.
– Divisional Events: Divisional events like Coffee Talks and Headmaster’s Round Table allow parents to connect with school leadership and stay involved in school decision making.
In sum, Dr. Watson described a multifaceted approach that aims to create a holistic partnership between parents and the school, enhancing the overall educational experience and, ultimately, the achievement of the students.
Facing the Future
The toughest, and most important, job of a school is preparing students for life outside it. Doing that is no simple task.
Dr. Watson said that there is much more to it than just academics.
“We emphasize the importance of character development, teaching our core values of citizenship, leadership, scholarship, and stewardship,” he explained. “Our school’s academics are framed in these values. These values, coupled with their academic prowess, ensure that our students are not only well-prepared for their future careers but also for a life of purpose and contribution to society.”
Educational Philosophy: A Path to Transformative Education
As our conversation drew to a close, Dr. Watson reflected on his personal educational philosophy and leadership style.
“I have always been impassioned by the belief that education is the key to unlocking not only knowledge but also the profound wellsprings of happiness, fulfillment, and passion,” Dr. Watson began. “It is my firm conviction that a good education is a privilege that can bestow these treasures upon individuals.”
He explained that this philosophy profoundly influences his approach as Head of School, advocating for a holistic education that goes beyond the mere dissemination of facts and figures.
“I place great emphasis on nurturing the freedom to think critically,” he continued, “teaching our students not what to think but how to think. With the advent of artificial intelligence and the easy availability of information, the ability to navigate this vast sea of knowledge with discernment becomes paramount.”
Furthermore, he emphasized the importance of schools embodying and imparting values and character.
“Education should teach young minds how to treat their neighbors and navigate the world with empathy and integrity,” Dr. Watson concluded. “In essence, my leadership style is rooted in the conviction that education should be a transformative journey towards not only intellectual prowess but also the cultivation of virtuous citizens who contribute positively to society.”
A Holistic Approach to Education: The CSN Difference
From our conversation with Dr. Watson, a clear picture emerged of an institution dedicated to providing an exceptional education that goes beyond academics. CSN’s commitment to excellence in teaching and learning is evident through its innovative programs, its integration of technology, and its emphasis on critical thinking and independent inquiry.
The school’s strong sense of community and collaboration is exemplified by the Juliet Collier Sproul Center for Community & Global Impact. The school’s dedication to involving parents and guardians in the educational journey further strengthens this sense of community.
CSN’s ability to balance tradition and innovation creates a dynamic educational experience that prepares students for a rapidly changing world. The school’s focus on global citizenship, lifelong learning, and character development ensures that students are not only well-prepared academically but also equipped to make a positive impact on a global scale.
Community School of Naples embodies a holistic approach to education, one that values not only knowledge but also character, empathy, and the pursuit of a meaningful life. It is a testament to the transformative power of education.