Board of Trustees Update—December 2020

December 17, 2020

Dear Putney Community,

As promised, the Putney board of trustees has increased its effort to communicate directly with our many constituents in hopes of keeping you apprised of important discussions and decisions, especially during these unusually challenging times. Thank you for taking the time to read this report and, if desired, to offer your thoughts in response. 

The board met virtually and in a shortened format in December, a session focused on making sure that the administration and trustees are well informed about the success and challenges of the fall term and what appears to lie ahead for the spring and beyond.

Josh Laughlin ’82, Chair of the Board of Trustees

I opened the meeting with a brief commentary on a very successful several months of operating under the constraints of the coronavirus. All members of the administration, faculty, and staff at the school have been putting in an incredible effort and maintaining remarkable strength in the face of many challenges. We had only one confirmed case of COVID-19 on campus and it is clear that everyone’s efforts allowed us to have a remarkably successful fall. Much gratitude to all! 

Head of School Emily Jones gave us an overview of her perspective of the fall trimester which largely confirmed the impression that the enormous efforts involved were well worth it to provide a meaningful educational experience for our students. She also conveyed her deep gratitude for all of those that worked so hard to make it possible. Emily did express a concern that in the context of the coronavirus we have necessarily relaxed the need “to treasure the hard stretching of one’s self” as highlighted in the Fundamental Beliefs. Emily feels that Putney has wandered from that foundational principle for sometime and that the coronavirus has nudged us further away from a treasured tenet of the Putney experience. She also noted that circumstances have forced the school to implement an inordinate number of policies and procedures that can reduce individuals’ inclination to take responsibility and lean toward expecting detailed prescriptions in most situations. It will take some effort to reconstitute the ethos of grit and independence that Putney seeks to cultivate in students. She does, however, feel confident that gains made in working to understand each other’s and one’s own limitations have created a more nurturing community.

Tom Howe gave a presentation about how the summer program has adapted for both summer offerings and to expand the non-summertime options for creative and interactive experiences for our summer participants as well as regular students, adults and alumni. Current offerings include a growing number of programs offered throughout the year to bring people together for a Putney experience. 

John Barrengos presented an overview of admissions and an enthusiastic view of the current group of students looking at Putney. John did not want to be overly optimistic but it’s clear the admissions office has been able to reach out to potential students by using unconventional methods. He indicated that his office has learned a lot about how to provide interested applicants with an interactive experience that accurately conveys the spirit of Putney. Methods adopted in this admissions year will influence the admissions process for the foreseeable future and we have learned valuable lessons. John is optimistic that the current level of interest will translate to significant applications. Several students will be joining us midyear when school restarts in February.

CFO Randy Smith provided an update on the current business and financial situations. Expenses are in line with projections made going into the fall trimester. Revenue for the first two quarters has been as good as we could have hoped and the investments related to modifying facilities and habits for health and safety reasons have clearly paid off. We hadn’t set aside quite as much as we needed for COVID-19 testing but the overage was modest. Randy explained that the budget is being adjusted as we respond to circumstances beyond the school’s control. We are hopeful that in-person attendance for the spring will remain strong. The investment committee met in the latter half of November and decided to actively invest more of the school’s funds. This reflects a moderate shift from our recent position maintaining many of our assets in more liquid form. The federal funds received under the CARES Act in the form of a PPP loan have been fully expended and we are in the process of applying for loan forgiveness.

The Committee on Trustees and Governance has been working on a number of different projects including completion of a more robust conflict of interest policy, encouraging the development of board committee charters, evaluating the annual board self-assessment, and identifying potential trustees we plan to invite to attend the January board meeting. The committee presented the COI policy for a vote and it was approved unanimously. The board self-assessment provided with meaningful feedback to guide the trustees and administration forward in our work over the next year. 

The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee has been working on drafting a charter as well as looking to update the school’s strategic plan to better reflect the increased focus on DEI issues, set and achieve measurable goals, and communicate these efforts to all who are interested in this essential topic. There is an ongoing effort to improve outreach to all of the constituents interested in the school’s DEI efforts. We are aware that a clear definition of the board role is very important in order to have meaningful strategic goals with achievable and measurable actions. 

The audit committee has reviewed and recommended approval of the year’s financial audit. It also reviewed the school’s tax forms. The board reviewed and approved both documents.

Hugh Montgomery provided a brief update on development which noted the tremendous success of the previous year’s Annual Fund and the importance of the ongoing support. He also expressed appreciation for the board’s leadership and enthusiasm for the partnership the school has developed with Graham-Pelton, the consulting firm assisting us with the comprehensive campaign.

The board of trustees will meet in the middle of January for a more extended session. On behalf of the entire board, I want to extend our heartfelt gratitude to the faculty, staff, students, and families for all of the hard work done over the last eight months to keep Putney not only running but in many ways thriving under difficult circumstances. We are also grateful for the commitment to continuing this hard work as we look to brighter days this spring. 

I’d like to close by expressing my deep thanks to all trustees who have once again exceeded expectations and worked so hard to ensure the vitality of Putney, and to all who continue to demonstrate a strong interest in school.


Joshua D. Laughlin ’82, P’21, ’23

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