Imagining the Impossible

Ten years ago, a group of educators began a wide-ranging discourse about the evolution of education and what ideas lurked on the horizon. We met often, scribbling endlessly on the glass boards that hung in my office. There were many partners in this new venture who shared the question,”what if?” 

We soon realized that our work and research were fueling many different iterations of this idea, which was heretofore unnamed. Our passion ultimately delivered the opportunity to incubate innovation and creativity at a school-wide level. We wanted students to see themselves as budding entrepreneurs, able to engage in design thinking and empathic question-asking. From hope and idealism SCH’s CEL was born; to paraphrase Steve Jobs, we wanted to put a ding in the universe, or at least at SCH. 

The first piece of CEL furniture was a funky table hewed from one of our campus trees. It became our guiding symbol, and with the space, the table, and the enthusiasm of many, we began to plot the course offerings that would further our mission.

Several teachers became early adopters. Over three consecutive summers, this core group attended The D School at Stanford University in order to understand and ultimately train other faculty in Design Thinking. I remember the milestone day of professional development in 2012, when these “early adopters” trained and inspired a full house of faculty, administrators, staff, and trustees. Everyone came away believing that herein lay the possibility of disrupting education.  

Teachers brought it back to their classrooms while administrators employed Design Thinking as a way to facilitate buy in for change. We all embraced Carol Dweck’s research into what it takes to develop a growth mindset. The Board of Trustees added its hearty endorsement, as well as expertise. Dick Hayne, former board president and founder and CEO of Urban Outfitters, and all its offspring, was one of the significant visionaries for CEL. He would critique our progress and offer his advice or thoughts. 

It was an honor to have such a successful businessman, and a consummate entrepreneur, to guide me. Dick and I would meet in the late afternoon, and I would pepper him with all of the questions we had accumulated. He was a critical voice in this process as he had created a wildly successful brand through his disruption of the world of retail, and I wanted to learn how he did it and how he caused disruption. I was immensely grateful to have this amazing mentor as he poked holes in my thinking and planning and encouraged us when we were on the right track. He challenged us to imagine the impossible.

It is hard to believe that the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership has been a living, breathing program for a decade. To those who currently work in the CEL, you have taken a nascent program and developed a curriculum that is progressive, salient, and supportive to so many students, some of whom discover their true passions in this remarkable space. It has been an opportunity differentiator in a highly competitive market for new students and its existence has been a model for other schools. 

Under the leadership of Ed Glassman, CEL’s executive director, the program has blossomed, flourished, and thrived, surpassing all expectations. These are the characteristics that educators strive to instill in their students and that the future needs more than ever. I had the good fortune to watch the first generation of innovators and accelerators, and what a thrill it was.

We could not have predicted that the 2020 Pandemic would become the catalyst for an explosion of creative out-of-the-box thinking. Innovation was everywhere, from vaccine development and mass distribution of products to advancements in remote meeting apps. Schools like SCH that had prioritized innovative thinking were able to turn on a dime and adapt programs and technologies that enabled them to provide a seamless education remotely. These past two years have been a testament to the power of human ingenuity and to what innovative-minded schools like SCH can do.  

I am currently head of a very different type of school but I have found great similarities in the problems, challenges, and opportunities that we face. All schools have students who manage to go unnoticed, are bored, or struggle with a traditional school structure. Often, these students have outside interests that are all consuming. It is where their heart and energy reside. Whether it is through boredom or a calculated method for keeping the demands of school at bay, they become adept at living under the radar while discovering a passion that supersedes class time and conventional academics. These are students who may use their considerable intelligence to subvert their education. For them, a place like CEL offers the opportunity to chase down a dream. So thank you to CFO Frank Aloise, Chief Innovation Officer Pete DiDonato, former Head of Upper School Christine Heine, former Director of Admissions Liz Harris, former Dean of Upper School Kathleen Tkac, and the incomparable Assistant to the Head of School Maria McNichols for keeping the magic flowing. 

The good news is that the current CEL team will continue to morph and change the program based on the mandate of supporting a growth mindset for our students. I am so proud of all that SCH is accomplishing and so grateful to have had my time at both Springside and SCH coincide with the birth of CEL. It was a formative time in my career, and I remember it as one of the shining lights in my 26 years as a head of school.

by Priscilla Sands Head of School, Marlborough School in Los Angeles, California | Former President of SCH Academy


Over the past 10 years, the Sands Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership (CEL) has become a cornerstone of the SCH educational experience. It is a program as substantial in its educational content as in its inspirational impact. In celebration of the CEL's 10th anniversary coming this May, we are publishing a commemorative booklet with the voices of those thought leaders who have had a role in shaping the CEL since its inception. We look forward to sharing these articles leading up to CEL’s milestone event as it continues to provide opportunity, devise creative solutions, effect positive change, and more for the future of education at SCH Academy.

Learn more: www.sch.org/cel

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