Dr. Audrey C. Menard: Keeping Command of Campus

Prep school headmaster runs school like a business

by Alison Stanton

Audrey MenardAs the new Head of School for Rancho Solano Preparatory School, Audrey C. Menard, Ed.D., credits delegating and collaborating as two keys to her success. She does this, she explains, by creating teams of employees with various strengths to handle different responsibilities. Also, by remembering that she runs a business — albeit one that emphasizes creating outstanding students rather than a traditional product — Dr. Menard keeps her priorities in order to make sure the school produces students “ready for the world.”

Dr. Menard took the helm of the Scottsdale-based private school in June 2013. Rancho Solano, which offers an advanced and highly personalized curriculum for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, currently has 1,100 students enrolled and 150 employees. The school has four campuses – one in Gilbert, one in Peoria and two in Scottsdale – but will be consolidating them to the two in Scottsdale at the end of this school year. Keeping the campuses running smoothly and working closely with staff and students, she wears a variety of “hats” but follows a uniform approach. “I’m a delegator,” she says. “I see the forest; I let others work on the trees. It helps me not get mired.”

The Meritas Family of Schools, which owns 10 schools around the globe, had purchased Rancho Solano in 2007 from the family that started the school six decades ago. In order to build momentum under her leadership, Dr. Menard initiated a strategic planning process that allowed her and other stakeholders connected with the school to “work together to assess the lay of the land” and determine the school’s path moving forward. This reflects another effective approach Dr. Menard employs — working closely with the school community to set the course of the school going forward.

Dr. Menard worked with strategic planning experts that helped assist with focus groups and analyze student, staff and parent priorities. “I hired an internationally recognized organization for the sake of transparency, but also because one of my strengths is collaboration,” Menard says, noting the focus groups were made up of teachers, community members and students. “The students are the ones who live it every day, so I wanted them to be included.”

This collaborative effort developed a new mission for the school, Dr. Menard says: cultivating in the students the ingenuity to thrive in a global society and to be architects of their future. “The big challenge is changing who we are, and shifting our school from an old mission to this new one. We’re in a different niche now, and so in order to be the top school in the Valley, we are embedding into the curriculum, intentionally, softer skills, such as communication, critical thinking, teamwork, cultural sophistication and comfort with ambiguity.”

From the information shared in the focus groups and strategic planning process, Dr. Menard says many opportunities have “bubbled up” that have helped her to prioritize what needs to be done at the school and align the students’ learning experience with the school’s overall strategic objectives. Keeping the lines of communication open with staff also has benefited Dr. Menard throughout her career in education. She spends a lot of time talking to teachers, and visits their classrooms on a regular basis. Because of this, she knows and understands teachers’ successes and challenges, as well as the students’ daily experience.

As her first year at Rancho Solano comes to a close, Dr. Menard admits that working long hours has been challenging. To get through the late nights and weekends filled with work, she reminds herself that, in addition to vision, steering transitions takes time and patience. “It’s like drinking through a fire hose,” she says, “but I know that this is a normal process and there is light at the end of a very long tunnel.”    

Extra Curricular

  • Dr. Menard became Head of School at Rancho Solano in June 2013, after serving as Principal at St. Thomas More Catholic High School in Lafayette, La.
  • Dr. Menard has an M.Ed. in educational administration from the University of Massachusetts, and completed her doctorate in education leadership, policy and organization at Vanderbilt University.
  • Prior to coming to Arizona, Dr. Menard received a $1.3-million grant, which allowed her to launch an internationally recognized one-to-one tablet computer initiative at her previous school in Louisiana.
  • Rancho Solano is a leading private school in Arizona offering an advanced and highly personalized PK-12 curriculum. The school has 1,100 students enrolled and 150 employees; consolidating from four campuses to two as of July 2014, it will offer grades PK-5 at its Greenway campus and 6-12 at its new Via de Ventura campus.
  • Opened last year, the new campus on Via de Ventura has a state-of-the-art 25,000-square-foot athletic complex and student center. The center won the Engineering News-Record Best K-12 Education Project award.

 

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