[sticklist] - Summary - Three Year Strategic Plan Meeting

Richard Forno rforno at infowarrior.org
Fri Jun 29 19:16:32 UTC 2007

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While the school indeed videotaped the event - and we encourage you to
watch/listen when it becomes available - what follows are some initial
comments/thoughts/observations following the 28 June 2007 Strategic
Planning Briefing held at Valley Forge.  Approximately 75 alumni from a
wide range of class years were in attendance.

The meeting¹s structure provided a question and answer opportunity at the
end of each presentation segment. A break was taken, and then an open forum
Q&A session was held. Please note that the comments below are based on the
three-hour main briefing only; due to time constraints, we (Susan Rapp and
Rick Forno ¹90 Œ92C) were not able to attend the open forum.

< - >

Report On The Three Year Strategic Plan Meeting
June 28, 2007
Introduction from Bill Floyd, Chairman of the Board of Trustees (BOT):

Bill noted that the strategic planning process began a year ago involving a
committee of BOT and various consultants.  He indicated that this is a plan
and it cannot be successful without alignment and support from all
stakeholders.  The purpose of this meeting was to solicit input and comment
on the proposed plan.  He indicated that the BOT does not intend to depart
from the school¹s mission and asked the audience to maintain an open

President¹s Office:

President (Tony McGeorge) noted that VF is the most expensive military
school in the US and third most expensive two-year college.  Says the
marketplace data trends show increasing interest in day-school offerings as
opposed to traditional boarding.  Reports that attrition remains a major
problem for VF.  Admits physical plant and student support services are
³not competitive² and is a major reason for attrition.  Says absence of
endowment leads to things like staff salary freezes, delayed plant
improvements, etc.   Reports BOT and staff guiding principle can be summed
up as ³Transform and Maximize².  Other comments included an observation
that VF is surrounded by excellent private schools, that the pool of
potential Pennsylvania students is decreasing for private school education,
and that VF has been successful in attracting new students but unable to
retain those students year-to-year. One very important point that McGeorge
made was that ³VF is asset rich and cash poor², which may be an insight
into what the BOT may decide to do to increase cash availability.

Enrollment Management (formerly Admissions/Recruiting/Retention):

MAJ Greg Potts (Director of EM) notes absence of technical support such as
databases and contact-tracking software is major problem for ensuring
appropriate follow-through on inquiries.  Says his department is absorbing
Parents Assn office to exploit that internal recruiting/retention
mechanism.  Wants to ramp up Latin American efforts and get more Latinos
back into the Corps.  He indicated that the school wants to make more
data-driven decisions, such as which are the ³feeder² schools that send
the most students to VF.

Academic Affairs ­ Academy and College:

Dr Kathleen Anderson (VP/AA) reports only 35 F/T faculty in the Academy.
Planning to have a Œhouse parent¹ in the barracks to serve as
homework-helper and presumably academic counselor, much like what is done
at traditional prep school dormsŠ.this will be in addition to the regular
tactical officers already-present in barracks.  Says need for classroom
technology is primary objective of her office --- smartboards, laptops for
all cadets, online collaboration and teaching, etc.  Says Academy is
understaffed in guidance office. Reports they just hired a Dr Dan Zupan
(sp?) to serve as College Dean starting this coming academic year ­ from
what we were told, it sounds like he¹s got good academic and military
credentials.  She also indicated that the school is re-thinking its initial
plan to move the College to Mellon Hall and exploring the idea of
constructing a College building located at the site of the old Sullivan
Hall (Infirmary) that was razed several years ago.

Superintendent¹s Office:

COL J.J. Doyle (Superintendent) discussed campus security, noting that
Hocker Hall has cameras inside the barracks, and that initiatives are
underway for security cameras in all barracks if not also around campus in
the future.   Tuesday Vespers to be moved into late afternoon to allow
greater faculty participation ­ accordingly, Vespers will be renamed
³Community Chapel.²   Says the A/B weekend proposal is still being
considered but nothing has been formalized yet.  He realizes the Corps
quality has slipped ³a bit² this year and that is a major issue to be
fixed.  In response to an alumnus question, said the school does not need
alumni support in teaching Œbasic¹ things that have stumbled in recent
years such as shoe-shining, wall locker organization, traditions, etc.  He
also noted that the 7th/8th/9th grades will be housed together (perhaps a
separate company, but not really defined) and that the overall Corps rank
structure will be revised to reflect a smaller Corps of Cadets (also not
defined).  Additional questions from alumni requested clarification on who
is responsible for cleaning the barracks, personal discipline, and
retention of tradition.  He became increasingly hostile at questions and,
as noted above, rejected any suggestion that included having alumni serve
in an instructional or mentor capacity to cadets.

Commandant¹s Office:

COL Tom Medearis Œ66 (Commandant) understands the Corps requires
Œserious work¹ and is proud to take on the challenge. Notes that esprit
de corps cannot be purchased but is brought about by personal pride and
discipline based on being part of the regimental system.  He also shared
the personal observation that it is the military structure of the
Commandant¹s department that serves as the critical underpinning that
supports the academics of Valley Forge and that, while technology and
laptop computers for students may be important, he feels that without
success in providing structure, all of the other ³stuff² (our words) is
secondary.  He received several standing ovations of support and
encouragement from alumni in attendance.

Institutional Advancement:

Ann Sinatra (Director of Development) noted the poor state of VF
development efforts.  Current plan is to raise $9.8M for barracks
renovation, $2.1M for operating costs, and $600K for consultants to help
the school implement its Strategic Plan.   The Ten Year development plan is
to raise $25M for capital improvements, $6M for endowment, and $4M for
operating costs. The school is exploring new ways of philanthropy and
moving forward with corporate and foundation support, as well as public
funding (i.e., grants).

Marketing, Media & Outreach:

Jen Myers (Director) is working to develop targeted messages and ways of
branding the VF ³product² in the marketplace.  Niche marketing efforts,
a push into online advertising, and even a few billboards in/around the VF
area.  She indicated that several marketing ³slogans² have been
trademarked and will be used in marketing efforts.


CAPT Hale (Exec Asst to President) reports the physical plant needs work.
Says the school is exploring ways to revamp the College facilities --- the
Hart Halls are much too small for current student body and student needs.
Possible options include rebuilding the Hart Halls, build a new College
building in the Sullivan Hall area, or moving the College to Mellon Hall.
Some prospective site plan maps were on display that showed various real
estate segments and concepts ­ one of which suggests the disposition of
College Hill and faculty housing so that the main campus would be bordered
by the Post Engineers¹ Road.

Guest Speaker: 

Dave Trainer ¹62 requested the opportunity to be included on the agenda.
What followed was a cheerleading endorsement of Tony McGeorge and a very
pointed attack on the Superintendent for the Corps failure in recent years.
Dave said that he thinks that it is time for the alumni to stop their
attacks on a very fine man (McGeorge) and to focus their energies on
raising money for the school to ensure its longevity.

# # # # #

Now, a few comments/observations from Rick and Susan in the audience during
the briefing session:


(1)    While many on all sides were expecting trouble, the briefing was
rather cordial and civil.  However, several alumni (including myself) were
noticeably taken aback by COL Doyle¹s brash and at-times rude response to
their questions, and what can be described as ³repeated smugness² on
the part of CAPT Hale as alumni were asking questions.

(2)    Appearing in the last slide of the conclusion segment was a
statement that VF was considering a co-educational day school for the
Academy by 2010.  Whether this is a declared strategic goal or something
that may or may not happen based on the success of the Œpilot¹ program
of the Day School these next few years remains unclear.

(3)    While I agree that technology and support services are necessary for
VF to remain competitive, some members of the administration truly
³gush² over technology and its purported benefits in the classroom and
on post.  As a career technologist myself, certainly I agree that
technology in the classroom has its place and is required for the school to
be competitive in the marketplace and develop competent graduates ready for
the workforce -- but I hope the desire to acquire and use it does not
overshadow the ability of teachers to conduct lessons and provide education
without becoming dependent on it.

(4)    In speaking with several alumni after the meeting, they expressed
concern over the ability of the current institutional development director
to be an effective fundraiser given her relatively-weak performance at the
meeting.  Although a certain amount of trepidation was to be expected at
this meeting given the high emotions on all sides, the development director
did not appear comfortable talking to large audiences. Based on this I am
not reassured about her ability to fundraise effectively in a face-to-face
venue where potential donors might be hesitant or somewhat-hostile to the
school¹s needs.  However, there was mention of the school hiring a senior
development executive and/or otherwise beef up that office, so this concern
may become moot in the future.

(5)    I spoke with Jen Myers about the current proposed marketing slogans.
 She admitted that one of their phrases ³The Finest Institution of Its
Kind In The World² is still a work-in-progress and agreed with my comment
that it sounds hollow and meaninglessŠ..after all, the same claim could
be made by any institution looking to promote itself. However, I do like
the "Military College of Pennsylvania" moniker for the College.

(6)    In response to an alumnus¹ question about what is being done to
ensure that the traditions of the Forge are maintained, it was surprising -
and disturbing - to hear both CAPT Hale and COL Doyle reply ³what

(7)    On 29 June I spoke with Al Crosbie ¹90 who attended the open
forum. He reported that Bill Floyd expressed the strongest possible support
of the BOT for COL Medearis in his new role as Commandant.


(1)    I agree that the overall tone was civil but both Doyle and Hale were
rude to alumni on numerous occasions.

(2)    The alumni are clearly behind Tom Medearis.  I spoke with Tom as I
was preparing to leave, and he said that he doesn¹t know if the school
will give him full latitude to do what he feels must be done.  He may last
a month or a year or longer, but he fully intends to maintain his own
integrity and if the school doesn¹t back him, he could well be let go.

(3)    The administration repeatedly pointed to the inadequacy of
facilities as the main reason for attrition, but little or no mention was
made of the decline in tactical standards and expectations.  Numerous
alumni stated that their own experience as cadets included spartan
facilities and that it was part of the learning process as cadets.

(4)    I don¹t know what technology is currently available for cadets in
the classroom, and I think it is important, but I agree with Rick that
there appears to be an over emphasis of its value.  There is a lot that the
school could do to obtain computers, smartboards, etc. through grants and
special initiatives.

(5)    I am concerned that Ann Sinatra may be out of her league as director
of development.  Her presentation was the weakest of all and did nothing to
engender confidence in her abilities as a fundraiser. Apparently, the
school plans to hire both a VP for Advancement and/or an external
consultant to help develop and implement the fundraising activities.

(6)    I was offended by Jen Myers¹ frequent reference to ³product²
in referring to cadets.  Likewise, the other presenters frequently used the
words ³boys² instead of cadets and other terminology that was more
appropriate for a prep school than a military school.

< - >

Thanks for reading.  Again, I encourage all Alumni to view/listen to the
presentations once the school makes it available on the Internet, to hear
more details "straight from the source."

Have a good weekend!

Rick Forno '90 '92C

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