One thing that hasn’t changed about Trinity High School in its nearly 70-year history is a founding principle: “We were told to serve the broadest population of students that we possibly could, regardless of their academic strengths or challenges,” said Robert Mullen.
Trinity’s president has spent 40 years at the all-male college preparatory school. While that founding principle hasn’t changed, he said, how the
school serves its students has.
“We’ve gotten better at it,” Mullen said in a May 23 interview. “We know more about how the brain works, how students learn. Teachers are much more fully trained than ever before. And then you add in the technology aspect of it and that’s why we’re able to do what we’re able to do.”
What the school does is prioritize the needs of its students by making regular updates to the campus and its technology. Annual updates are chosen based on extensive strategic planning efforts, Mullen explained.
This summer, enhancement projects will include creating two flexible learning spaces, developing a larger space for ongoing teacher development, remodeling the cafeteria to speed up serving lines, creating the school’s seventh and largest courtyard in front of Marshall Stadium and installing a video board in the stadium for digital media and communications classes.
Mullen said it’s impossible for him to pick which of this year’s projects most excite him, but said the video board “is really, really neat” and has garnered the most attention.
“What excites me about it is this is going to be 98% run by students,” he said. “They’re going to work the cameras. They’re going to work the instant replay system. They’re going to create the content. Just with some guidance by some teachers.”
Of course, football game attendees will be excited because it means instant replays of touchdowns and plays, Mullen said. But what goes on behind the scenes to make those replays possible is just as exciting.
The students will act as the directors, producers, camera operators and content creators, giving them real-world experience for future careers in digital media communications.
“It’s like, in the old, old, old days kids got excited when they got to go up to the blackboard and do a math project,” Mullen said. “To get that chalk in your hand and be able to write on the teacher’s board. That was a big deal.
“Well, we’ve just taken that blackboard and we just exploded it. And so their ability to write and create stories using this board — wow. It opens up a whole new avenue for them.”
Coming down the pike for future updates will include a remodeled gym and a new performing arts center.
“You have to constantly be on the lookout for ‘What are the needs right now, what are the needs that we can anticipate and what do we have on campus that can accommodate that or needs to be improved?’ ” Mullen said.
“So when we say these projects are student-focused, that’s what we’re talking about. We don’t build Taj Mahals, we don’t build things to build stuff, we build things to meet a need right now or one that we anticipate,” he explained.
Since 1992, Trinity has conducted such strategic planning efforts every three years to create to-do lists for the following three years.
“Whenever we do one of these strategic plan exercises, it always is trying to say, ‘OK, how do we bring our long-range vision into reality?’ ” Mullen said, noting that in 2017 they started thinking about what the school should look like and offer in 2030.
Mullen said technology “was a huge help for schools to navigate through hybrid and all-virtual” learning during COVID-19 quarantines, “but if you just look at that little piece of schooling technology, it is always changing. And it requires hardware and software and teacher training, it’s just this continual churn.
“You never get to the point where you have everything that you need or what you have is going to last.”
It’s been 30 years since that first planning session and Trinity’s campus, technology and daily operations have changed in big ways since then.
Two years ago, the school debuted a new college and career counseling center to give students “a better space and a better way to access all this power that’s present for figuring out life after high school,” Mullen said.
Around a decade ago, the school adopted block scheduling, emulating the way colleges schedule classes, which gives students more time in each class and teachers more time with their students.
After the strategic planning sessions and identifying needs and changes to make, the question becomes, “Where are we going to find the money?” Mullen noted.
“And we’ve been very, very successful at that,” he said. “People trust us and want to invest to help bring these projects about, like the library media center (which was recently updated). We also, along the process in the last four years, completely redid our technology center. A donor stepped up and said, ‘I’ll make that happen.’ ”
This year marks 20 years of regular improvements made to the campus and technology. The school is spending $3 million to complete the summer 2022 to-do list, all of which has already been raised.
The funding comes from donations made by individuals or families, through large campaigns or the endowment — not via tuition increases, Mullen pointed out.
“Tuition needs to be spent year to year directly on teaching and learning,” Mullen said. “We don’t fund projects — through tuition — that students never see. We identify what the need is and then identify a source to pay for it.”
Mullen said continual projects are not something to shy away from.
“It kind of comes down to this: We’re expecting these guys to show up every day for four years, right, and by the end of it be different and better,” Mullen said. “Well. We better hold ourselves to the same standard. And that’s what we’re doing with these campus facility projects.”