Letter from Head of School

Following is a letter from Jen Danish regarding the sale of land to Brandywine Senior Living, LLC, and plans for future development of this site.

July 18, 2017

Dear Grace Community:

We are reaching out to share exciting news regarding the Day School. Nearly twenty years ago, the leadership of the school sought to acquire the former Larchmont School from Montgomery County as its permanent home. Because of that foresight, we are poised today to utilize our land asset to its next best use and envision an even stronger Grace. After many months of deliberation, Grace Episcopal Church and the Grace School Board have agreed to sell 5.85 acres of the school’s current land on the south end of its property closest to Beach Drive to Brandywine Senior Living, LLC, creating an intergenerational campus for seniors and Grace students. We believe that this partnership will support our ongoing mission to provide academic excellence in a truly inclusive community.

This decision is tied to the objectives set forth in the second goal of Stability and Sustainability outlined in our Strategic Plan. Grace, like all small independent schools, must be innovative in its approach to financial sustainability. For more than a decade, it has been apparent that relying on tuition alone to cover the costs of the exceptional education we provide to students is not possible. This sale will have a transformational effect on Grace’s financial stability, providing us with the flexibility we need to remain competitive in the marketplace by investing in our students, teachers, and facilities.

This is the first of many conversations we look forward to having about this project. We will do our best to answer some immediate questions you may have in this letter. We also want to invite all who are able to meet with Jen Danish and members of the Board in the school library on July 24 at 9 am and August 2 at 4 pm. We will continue similar meetings this fall on dates to be announced.

What does this mean for Grace students?
In the near term, there will be no day-to-day impact on Grace and the operation of the school. We anticipate that it could take up to two years before any construction begins. Well before that time, we will have a plan in place that addresses safety and security during and after construction. The school building will not be impacted by the construction of Brandywine’s senior living residence. The safety plan will include details about drop-off/pick-up operations and other considerations that come with a construction project next to a school. We have already begun consulting with other schools that have undergone major construction on their campuses to better plan for this project. We will also address safety and security concerns that will come from having a new neighbor.

When complete, this project will result in the creation of an intergenerational campus where students at Grace and senior residents at Brandywine can come together and share experiences and programs. Our faculty is excited about the opportunity this project will provide. Further, the Board and school leadership envision utilizing the proceeds from this sale to transform Grace in many ways, including improvements to the playgrounds, a new and relocated soccer field, enhancements to the school building, and other improvements in line with our strategic plan. Our vision is to improve upon the many great things we all love about Grace, while enabling our faculty to have a building and grounds that are flexible, inspiring, and conducive to innovative teaching and learning.

How will this new partnership help Grace reach its own goals?
At two meetings on the State of the School this year, Jennifer Danish spoke about the considerable assets that Grace holds with regards to land and facility, particularly in comparison to other peer schools. As we continue to create an even stronger educational program and financial position, this land sale will provide tremendous resources to accomplish these goals. As we consider a program for our students which is innovative and forward-thinking, we will be working on creating a master campus plan that envisions re-designed playgrounds and classrooms. The faculty is eager to partner with Brandywine and is also excited about the possibility of enhancing the current school building to further engage and promote flexible learning for their students.

Concurrently, the school will establish an endowment—seeded through a generous gift by Brandywine once the sale closes—that will support the school’s almost 60-year commitment to socio-economic diversity with a generous and impactful financial aid program. Most importantly, this land sale allows Grace to achieve long-term financial sustainability, a goal set out in our strategic plan.

What is the timeline for this project?
At this time, a purchase agreement between Grace Church, who holds the deed to our land, and Brandywine Senior Living has been completed and approved by the Vestry, the Day School Board, and the Episcopal Diocese of Washington. From this point forward, a 90-day study period has begun that will allow Brandywine to complete surveys of the land and meet with Montgomery County officials to explore the project. While there is a chance that the project will not advance past the 90-day study, if the study period reveals that the project looks viable, zoning applications will follow. The entire process could take up to two years to complete. During that time, the school will engage in master campus planning to enhance the current building and surrounding campus, and will also consider the potential programmatic and community building benefits this new partnership could yield once the Brandywine senior living residence is built.

Why is Brandywine Senior Living the chosen company for this venture?
Grace was approached by three senior living groups for potential projects and Brandywine was chosen for their outstanding reputation as a premier senior living company, for their interest in partnering with our school to enhance the lives of their residents and our students, and for their commitment to the success of our program as evidenced by their offer to seed an endowment that supports our deep commitment to providing a robust financial aid program. In further support of Grace, Brandywine will provide tuition assistance to employees of their organization who wish to send their children to the school. And finally, they will offer discounted units to members of Grace Church. All of these additional gestures signaled their commitment to partner with us in meaningful ways.

How will parents keep apprised of the progress on this project?
We will be creating a page on our newly designed school website where regular communications will be posted. Parents can also expect to receive regular updates in the form of emails or letters. Jen Danish and Rev. Andrew Walter, the Rector of Grace Church, are also available to answer questions at any time.

In the meantime, we hope you join us in our excitement about the future of Grace Episcopal Day School, one that maintains our commitment to academic excellence and embraces a vision that includes a vibrant senior community. Grace has always sought meaningful growth and change—all in support of its students—and we believe this next project aligns with that aspirational vision while being true to who we are as a community.

With warm regards,

Jennifer Danish, Head of School
Stephen Brundage, Board of Governors, Chair