Weilenmann School of Discovery retains Cindy Phillips as director
Educator plans to stay through 2019-2020 school year
February 7, 2017
Cynthia Phillips has shepherded the Weilenmann School of Discovery from its first days in 2010, when its future seemed anything but certain, to an era of stability in which it has carved out a space as a thriving charter on the fringes of the Park City area.
Given that, she's not about to watch from afar as the school's next chapter begins to take shape. The school's board of trustees recently announced it has extended Phillips' contract through the 2019-2020 school year. Phillips, who also teaches middle school Latin at the school, dreams of one day returning to teaching full time, either at Weilenmann or another school, but a chance to lead the school into its 10th year was too much to pass up.
"We have some new administrators this year and some new teachers, and I decided that I probably couldn't in good conscience leave in the next year or two," she said. "And if I'm going to stay for one or two years, I'm going to be here for the 10th anniversary."
Phillips aims to help fulfill a number of lofty goals before her tenure is finished. She said the most ambitious include expanding and renovating the school, whose programs have outgrown the building's current footprint; growing the school's digital and STEM learning initiatives; and completing the implementation of a new grading system introduced this year designed to reflect mastery of skills and be less arbitrary than traditional grading.
She is eager to see those goals realized.
"Our hope is that we're a school that has cutting-edge pedagogy, maintains the things from tradition that shouldn't be thrown out and continues to be innovative," she said. "When I leave, I want to have a well-established culture that is open and excited about innovation."
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Steve Williams, for one, is delighted Phillips is sticking around for three more years. He is the dean of the middle school and said that Phillips is the glue that holds Weilenmann together, staying on top of every detail that affects the school while harvesting fruitful personal relationships with faculty and parents.
"She works hard," he said. "And not just works hard — she works harder than anyone I know in my entire life. … She is somehow able to keep all of those details together and manage them and make them happen, then take care of all the people who work here."
Melissa Shunn-Mitchell, lower school director, added that Phillips has a unique ability to see both the small picture and big picture at the same time, while also keeping her eye on the school's future.
"To have that vision of where we are, where we're going and where we've been, and to make those adjustments to really get us there, is important," she said. "She knows the structure of where we're going and the people, too. And she sees where people have strengths that can get us to where we need to be."
Phillips said that, more than six years into her tenure as the school's executive director, her passion remains. She lauded Weilenmann's philosophy of combining a traditional liberal arts education with innovative technology and the hard work of the dozens of faculty members who have made the school what it is.
More than anything, though, she is proud of how hard the school works to connect with its students.
"We know our kids," she said. "Sometimes you get into schools where the classes are big and the school feels never-ending, and you'll find that, except for maybe some select honors classes, the teachers really don't know the kids. But we know our kids very well. It feels like a family."
For Phillips, the last six-plus years have been a whirlwind. She recalled memories from the early days, like when a large pile of dirt sat in the middle of the school when it opened because construction had not been completed and many classrooms were lacking basic supplies such as tables and whiteboards. But the parents who had enrolled their students didn't lose faith, and neither did Phillips.
Now, she marvels at how far the school has come. It is not only successful but has become a valued part of the Park City community.
"It's been a miracle," she said.
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