Q&A with Paul J. Stellato, Head of School at Princeton Day School

Tell us about Princeton Day School’s history and current campus location. 

Princeton Day School is located just two miles from the center of Princeton, and includes more than 106 acres of open meadows, streams, ponds, and forests. The school began operation in 1965, on its current Great Road campus, with 650 students. Today that campus serves 972 students. As Princeton Day School was formed through the merger of two schools, Miss Fine’s School and Princeton Country Day School, it enjoys a rich heritage that stretches back to the 19th century.  

What grades does PDS serve, and how would you describe the school’s approach to learning through active engagement?

Our coeducational day school serves students in grades PreK through 12, and is divided into three divisions: Lower School (PreK-fourth grade); Middle School (grades five-eight); and Upper School (grades nine-12). We enroll 972 students.

Students are guided and supported by a veteran faculty, drawn from across the country and around the world. The school fosters a cooperative partnership with its parents, many of whom volunteer their time and talents on behalf of their children.

In building a student body, the school seeks a diversity of cultures, views, and talents, all of which promote the intellectual growth and moral development of our students.

Give some examples of PDS’s vibrant student life. 

Princeton Day School students may learn within and explore an expansive teaching garden; meet and collaborate with authors, policy makers, and visiting artists; study architecture and create research partnerships with local businesses and universities; travel to Edinburgh, Scotland, to perform in the Fringe Festival; travel to any one of 10 countries through school-sponsored initiatives; and compete as members of 74 interscholastic teams in 24 sports—from lacrosse to fencing to ice hockey.

The school offers more than 40 student clubs and affinity groups representing a wide variety of interests and provides a broad range of leadership opportunities.

What programs make PDS unique or unusual in the field of the arts?

From its founding, Princeton Day School has made a broad, deep commitment to student experience in the fine and performing arts.  In fact, student enrollment in the arts is surpassed by only enrollment in English courses.  At the core of this program is its teachers, each of whom is a practicing, professional artist in his or her own right and is able to lend to the classroom experience the strong sense of professional purpose.

Having just returned from an outstanding run at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, the theater program has garnered the following awards:

• Outstanding Achievement in Pushing the Envelope in Academic Theatre, New Jersey Theatre Awards, 2017

• Outstanding Acting Ensemble, New Jersey Theatre Awards: 2013, 2015, 2016

• Outstanding Musical Production, Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Awards, 2014

• Educational Impact Award, Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Awards, 2014

• Outstanding High School Theatre Program, Northeast Region, Stage Directions magazine, 2014

• Scholastic Art & Writing Regional Awards: More than 150 awards in 2016 and 2017

Within the architecture program, students may choose from more than a half-dozen elective courses to explore architectural concepts in depth and create ambitious original works, all in a dedicated space that emulates a professional architectural design studio. Over the past five years, graduates have been accepted into top college architecture and engineering programs based on their portfolio, including Cornell, Washington University, Carnegie Mellon, Notre Dame, and Tulane.

For each of the last four years, Princeton Day School photography students have earned national acclaim for their work.  And just last month, three Upper School students were recognized for their work at the annual AWFS Fair, the pre-eminent biennial woodworking show in North America.

In what ways does PDS prepare students for college and beyond?

As its students attend the nation’s finest colleges and universities, the school offers an expansive college counseling program.  While the formal college counseling program begins in a student’s junior year, the resources of the College Counseling Office are used well each year by parents of younger students, many of whom will attend a wide range of seminars and workshops for parents and students who have yet to enter the college process.

What are PDS’s plans for the future?

In preparing for the years ahead, the school will seek to expand its financial resources, thus allowing it to attract and retain the finest students and faculty; to enhance its facilities, to meet growing interest in the performing arts, athletics, and technology; and to advance a host of academic initiatives: the Miss Fine’s Center for Interdisciplinary Study, international travel and global studies, student wellness, and sustainability.

   Among its most ambitious new programs is that of STEAM, an interdisciplinary approach to the study of science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics, each of which is an as access point for guiding student inquiry and critical thinking.

The coming school year will welcome the arrival or expansion of three other curricular initiatives:

• The Ninth Grade Core Curriculum, a common, foundational experience for all ninth graders, with core courses that emphasize the enduring relevance of the liberal arts and traditional academic disciplines while also exploring connections through interdisciplinary studies.

• The DaVinci Program, a new and innovative Middle School program with courses on a wide range of subjects, including robotics, sustainability, coding, and service learning, all of which aim to engage students as the captains of their own learning.

• Fourth Grade Leaders, which engages its students in four leadership classes through the course of the year. Whether these students are leading an assembly, teaching our community how to recycle, or spearheading a service learning initiative, these classes help students become confident public speakers, as well as role models for the Lower School community.