March-April 2013 | HIGHER LEARNING




Tucked away in a quiet corner of Salisbury off Hobbs Road is a citadel of learning called The Salisbury School, where the leaders of tomorrow are being bred

Written By: Nick Brandi | Photographer: Grant L. Gursky

Imagine if you will an island, an oasis, really, swathed in a sanctuary of pristine wood and as far from the madding crowd as it is off the beaten path. It is a hallowed place, practically inviolate. Yet, there is in this parcel of secluded serenity something of a revolution under way, one that promises to expand the frontiers of learning and broaden the horizons of life for all who experience it. It’s called The Salisbury School, and for more than 40 years, this quietly powerful vanguard of academic excellence has been systematically blazing a trail of personal development and self-actualization that provides the basis of hope, and even enthusiasm, for what the future may hold.

What’s unique about The Salisbury School is palpable even from a distance. Founded by a coalition of concerned parents in 1970, The Salisbury School spent the first two years of its life in space rented from a church before hiring the nationally renowned architectural firm of Hardy, Holzman and Pfeffer to create a unique and award-winning learning environment, which incorporated suggestions from the students themselves. More buildings were added over the years, including the upper school in 1999 and the award-winning middle-school building in 2005, designed by Salisbury’s Becker Morgan Group. The result is a 43-acre campus unlike any other scholastic facility in this part of the United States, sporting evocative domes and conical designs that instantly symbolize the upward-reaching and intellectually ambitious mentality of those who gather within them.

That Hardy, Holzman and Pfeiffer have been repeatedly hired by Ivy League and similar institutions was no coincidence for TSS, an unabashed college-preparatory school that maintains only the highest standards and expectations for their students. They do this through their time-tested regimen of rigorous academics, experiential learning and uncovering the maximum intellectual, physical and artistic potential of each student. Starting with the cultivation of a lifelong love of learning in the primary grades and ending with advanced-placement curricula in their upper school, graduating students are prepared for the highest levels of academic pursuit and are ready to lead a well-rounded life of purpose and creativity.

The learning experience at TSS invokes the most successful aspects of Montessori-style education within an innovative environment that emphasizes independent thinking, community responsibility, a strong sense of inner discipline, the ability to embrace life’s challenges with confidence, and a willingness to explore cultural differences with an open mind. Thus, TSS does not aspire to be a factory that churns out cookie-cutter billionaires on an assembly line but rather a cloistered haven that nurtures students by inculcating the essential skills to excel in any walk of life.

“I had an amazing time in The Salisbury School,” proclaimed CNN’s Erin Burnett, host of Erin Burnett OutFront 
and an alumna of TSS who attended the school from ages 3 to 13. 

“Actually, my parents helped found the school,” Burnett continued, “and I’m very proud of that. It was such an encouraging environment and very open, both structurally and intellectually. It’s designed very effectively to bring out the best in each student, and I find it very difficult to imagine having gone anywhere else during those key, formative years of my life.”

Burnett is correct about the environment at TSS. Drenched in ambient sunlight from endless skylights and big picture windows, the interior throughout the school is very bright yet cozy. It features a wealth of wood and other natural textures, while consciously eschewing such structural inhibitors as high walls and banks of sequestering doors. The overall effect is very welcoming, even conjuring the image of an enormous homeschool for the way one space so gracefully and harmoniously flows into another, just like the floor plan of a well-designed house.

And if The Salisbury School were a house, perhaps the most intriguing accessory would be the figurative welcome mats deployed at every entrance. 

“We consider ourselves a private school with a public purpose” noted Headmaster James Landi, a Who’s Who in Education professional who began his tenure with the school in 2002. This mentality was demonstrated when two students on break from another high school approached their doors. The two boys, who are brothers, had just ridden their bikes nine miles in near-freezing temperatures to get a good look at the school they had heard so many good things about from their friends. They wanted to find out how their family might become a part of this special place, so Gail Carozza, the school’s director of Admission, dropped what she was doing and gave the students a personal tour.

The stereotypic inaccessibility of private-school education is simply not felt at The Salisbury School. A diverse student population serves as testament that all are welcome there, regardless of race, nationality or socioeconomic status. This deliberate inclusion is exemplified in numerous ways, such as the school’s celebrated Experiential Week and Global Awareness Day, a thriving international student-exchange program, foreign-language instruction for every student as of pre-K, and the newly added Mandarin Chinese curriculum available to students at all grade levels.  

Incidentally, they don’t have lockers at TSS; they have “cubbies,” which not only don’t have locks but are nameplated for each student once they enter sixth grade.

“The kids are expected to adhere to an honor system of community standards,” said Landi, “because we think it is important to show that children can be both trustworthy and responsible. And it is with great pride I can tell you that our students personify that principle brilliantly.” Further examples of this personal accountability are demonstrated through the manners and etiquette classes taught in the Lower School, as well as the job teams assigned to students, allowing them to take ownership and pride in the appearance of the school.

Landi also pointed out that currently only .6% of American children attend schools like TSS, which is a member of National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) and the College Board in addition to being accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, and certified by the Maryland State Department of Education. In the past five years, a full third of those accepted to Ivy League colleges and universities have come from NAIS schools like The Salisbury School — which not only boasts an incredible 100% college-placement rate but has successfully landed young men and women in schools like Harvard, UPenn, NYU, USC, Columbia, Cornell and Johns Hopkins, among many other elite institutions.

A central reason for the school’s sterling results year after year has to do with the all-important student-to-teacher ratio. Not wanting to sacrifice quality for quantity, TSS likes to support a pre-K–12 enrollment of around 400, a very manageable student body that enables them to maintain their coveted 7:1 ratio. To put that into perspective, that’s less than half the national average (15.6:1) or the average for the state of Maryland (14.4:1).*

Equally if not even more important is the way TSS allocates funds and tuition. Whereas the typical public school nationwide spends 40 cents out of every dollar on non-instructional support, TSS spends more like seven cents per dollar, leaving the rest to be allocated for purely educational endeavors. That translates not only to things like a superior faculty but also superior facilities, resources and programs. 

The Lower School, for example, has a gym, a theater facility and an art studio so that physical education, fine arts, performing arts, technology training, foreign language and music can be integrated from day one. The Middle School, meanwhile, boasts a state-of-the-art technology lab in addition to the popular multifunctional meeting space known as the commons. National Standard-base coursework in English, math, history, Spanish and science are enriched by opportunities in concert band, concert chorus, art, wellness, physical education, technology and community service.
Wireless and wall-less, the Upper School is designed to foster a sense of individualism while preparing the student for the rigors, and freedoms, of university life and beyond. It includes a complete Advanced Placement curriculum, National Standard-based core subjects (including optional honors-level courses) and individualized study programs. TSS also offers girls’ and boys’ athletic programs in soccer, golf, cross-country, basketball, lacrosse and tennis (many of which are recent champions in the ESIAC division). By the time a student graduates from TSS, they are virtually guaranteed to have learned to speak a second language, participated in at least one theatrical production, explored the fine arts in depth, played a competitive team sport and devoted a minimum of 40 hours of individual service to the community — engendering the kind of well-rounded adults today that become the leaders of tomorrow.

“The unique environment at The Salisbury School provided me with a strong foundation for learning and a curiosity for which I will always be grateful,” praised Dr. Daniel Luppens of Atlantic Plastic Surgery. “Mr. Munnelly, the founding headmaster, took an individual interest in the students and the faculty, and his tradition is carried forward to today. Because of the small class sizes and teaching methods, learning is much more interactive. Perhaps most importantly, I think students at The Salisbury School get a head start in relating to peers and learning how to treat others with respect.”

Once again ahead of the curve, TSS in 2010 installed a security key-card scan for all three divisions of the school, which, 
according to Landi, is due in no small part to the generosity of local businesses like Alarm Engineering and Salisbury Door and Hardware. Similar security measures are currently being made to the perimeter buildings, and cameras are being added at each building’s main entrance. Each classroom now has an emergency-exit door, and the school recently commissioned a task force to work hand-in-hand with an outside security firm in the development and implementation new policies and procedures.

Meanwhile, the treasure of TSS still has Headmaster Landi to shake their hands every morning as they arrive, a bidirectional parade of smiles setting the tone for that day and every day at TSS. And though such an image may seem too good to be true, it’s not as incredible as you might think. If you had a child at The Salisbury School, you’d be smiling, too.


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