Private high school founded on trust, respect and creativity
During the last decade and a half, University High School, a private college preparatory school, has evolved on Carmel’s west side. Every day, hundreds of Carmel residents drive by the school’s striking Fairbanks Hall, but only a small number ever have seen inside the school’s growing campus, located along 116th Street.
Creating a unique experience
Walking through University, the halls are calm and collected. Not a single locker has an actual lock. Bells do not usher students from one class to the next. According to Head of School Chuck Webster, this is all due to a school culture focused on student trust and personal responsibility.
University’s mission statement and its culture are centered on excellence, personal responsibility, creativity, stewardship, diversity and mutual respect, support and trust. It is this strong sense of school culture that Webster says is at the heart of the experience that University is hoping to create. It is one of the primary reasons Trustee Bob Kaspar and his family became involved with the school itself.
“(My daughter) was really focused on culture in a high school that really allowed you to be who you are. The culture at University High School is very strong,” Kaspar said. “My daughter felt it when she did her shadow day. She felt that it was the best fit for her. (It was) focused on academics and focused on the student experience.”
Beyond the guiding aspect of culture, University has embraced a number of structural changes throughout the school day and academic year.
Every day opens with a morning meeting in which the entire school gathers to share the day’s events, curriculum or anything that students or teachers would like to address. This meeting is extended on Fridays so a guest speaker from the community can speak, exposing students in four years at the school to 50 to 60 guest speakers.
The school also has a three week academic term between its fall and spring semesters. Known as January Term, this special term allows students to take one specially offered class and focus their studies on one specific subject. Every year, some courses offer travel opportunities both inside and outside the country.
Both Webster and Kaspar spoke extensively about January Term, touting its ability to revitalize the students before the beginning of the spring semester and give teachers an opportunity to teach outside their standard curriculum.
Becoming a part of the community
With University nearing its maximum ideal size, the school is looking to grow its role in Carmel and the surrounding communities, hoping to avoid the “walled garden” atmosphere of many private schools.
“One of the things we’ve always (thought) about is how to be a community resource, even more expansively than we’ve been so far,” Webster said. “We are working with St.Vincent’s Sports Medicine in our training and athletics, and we are talking about some ways to get healthy sports and healthy P.E. to the Carmel community outside of school and how to use the land best to be a steward in the community.”
In the past, University has asked entrepreneurs from Carmel and around Central Indiana to be part of student workshops, has taken part in community activities such as an annual choir performance at the Carmel Fire Dept. every holiday season and awarded annual Trailblazer Awards to members of the community that University feels personify the school’s core values.
“While I think being a great school is one of the ways we (better Carmel), I think there are other things to do,” Webster said. “Stewardship is a big idea here, and the notion that you take care of things that are greater than yourself is in the DNA.”
On the horizon
After 13 academic years, University is still a relatively young organization. The average private high school in Indiana is 54-years-old.
During the next several years, University is hoping to grow to a maximum size of 320 students. Webster and others believe that this is the ideal number for the school, given the space currently available.
“Being small is a great strength for us,” said Kaspar, explaining that a number of the school’s unique opportunities would not be as easy to create on a larger scale.
After reaching its self-imposed admission cap, University will be looking more toward servicing its current student population and its community better, rather than simply building more classrooms.
“Institutionally, we feel like they’re young adults and can see what ideas look like when a large number of kids and faculty are committed to them,” Webster said. “We are looking for the next set of innovations. A lot of those are tied to culture and relationships. The newer ones will be tied more to community and to the final academic program.”
For more information on University High School, visit www.universityhighschool.org.