Sage Hill Head of School Patricia Merz Leads School Through Pandemic

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Patricia Merz

Last March, schools had to decide how to best serve and protect their students, faculty and staff while still providing a high-quality education.

In the middle of making adjustments due to the pandemic, Sage Hill School in Newport Coast was also transitioning its leadership model.

The Sage Hill Board of Trustees made the decision to eliminate the position of president and named Head of School Patricia Merz as the sole leader of Sage Hill.

Merz was entrusted to guide the school and its students as everyone navigated new ways of distance learning while looking ahead to when students could return to the classroom.

“I truly believe Sage Hill School has differentiated itself by giving students the power of choice when it comes to their education. We are asking them to understand how they best learn,” Merz said. “Since we reopened our campus in September, all Sage Hill students were given the choice to attend school all day, five days a week as an in-person learner or a distance learner.”

Merz had a mandate to make sure all students received the same high level of instruction whether at home or in the classroom while maintaining important connections to the community and their peers.

According to information provided by Sage Hill, the school’s “Spring at Sage” program offers students opportunities to grow in leadership, creativity, and risk-taking beyond the traditional classroom. In the past, students even had the chance to develop cross-cultural competencies with domestic and international travel, which was not an option last year, or this year. Instead, students are enrolled in immersive seminars on the topics that interest them most. All seminars are accessible to both in-person and distance learners.

Sage Hill School campus. — Photo courtesy Sage Hill School ©

“We again needed to make sure we were providing offerings to our students that met them where they were,” Merz says. “We may not be traveling; however, we are still giving them this incredible space to apply what they’ve learned through experience whether in-person or distance learning, and when a student has an emotional tie to what they’ve learned, that is what sticks.”

As the state, and the country, emerges from the pandemic, Merz reflects on the past year and is making assessments on what the school should continue doing, what worked and what they can build upon.

“We are going to continue to give our students and families the best learning opportunities in the face of all the other challenges that we are up against now and in the future,” stated Merz.

Sage Hill School is Orange County’s only not-for-profit independent, nonsectarian, coed college preparatory high school. Located 30 acres in Newport Coast, the school was founded in 2000 and provides a premier education for its 540 students through small class sizes averaging 16 students per teacher, world-class educators, an outstanding program of curricular and co- curricular offerings, highly personalized college counseling, and a public purpose.

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