I write today to follow up on Dr. Levison’s email from a few weeks ago and Mr. Youngwood’s last week about plans for the opening of school and the fall semester. For several weeks Dr. Levison and I have been co-chairing a task force dedicated to this planning, and I would like to share an update with our community.
I do not start officially until July 1st, but circumstances have required me to be closely involved for several weeks now to ensure a smooth transition in a time when very little is smooth. This involvement has primarily been around the challenge of COVID-19 and its impact on the new school year, and I have much more to share about that below. I have also been communicating with many people at the school about the work that Collegiate needs to do in regards to diversity, equity and inclusion, and I am looking forward to continuing these conversations and getting to work on these important issues soon after my arrival.
This is, of course, not the kind of welcome letter that I had been imagining over the past several months. Yet I have been heartened by the hard work of so many at the school who have been deeply engaged in planning for an uncertain fall and are making decisions under difficult circumstances. This early engagement has allowed me to experience firsthand the dedication of the people at Collegiate who love the school, want what is best for the students, and exhibit a resilience and determination of an institution that is four centuries old. As one trustee reminded me, Collegiate has endured the American Revolution, the Civil War, two World Wars, the 1918 flu, the Great Depression, 9/11, and much more, and it has persevered and thrived. We will do the same in this case; this time of tremendous disruption and sadness will become a formative experience for our students, who will emerge stronger, closer, and even more prepared for any challenge they will face in the future.
Before sharing updates below, I must emphasize that much remains in flux as we imagine what the opening of school looks like. I know that all of us understand the uncertainty about what conditions in the city will be in September and what the city and state will require of school buildings when, or if, they do open. Because of the complexity of these decisions, all students should be ready to begin school on September 8th, the Tuesday after Labor Day. An in-building opening will likely be different than in the past, with younger students coming back earliest and adding older grade levels each day so that they can adapt to new building protocols. If a staggered return to 301 FPS must happen over a number of days, our older students' first days of classes may be online on the 8th. Faculty will be reporting back earlier than usual to prepare for the students’ return and for new health protocols.
As we think about the return to School, we are exploring any and all scenarios for use of the building and digging deeply into the details and tradeoffs of each one. To ensure the high standards of our academic program, we are doing extensive research into several models of online and hybrid teaching and learning and determining which are most appropriate for Collegiate. All of this having been said, there remains so much that is unknown and there are not yet firm decisions on many items. In short, everything below is subject to change. This process of getting from today to the opening of school will require all of us to be adaptable to rapidly developing circumstances, and I thank you in advance for your patience, understanding and partnership during what will need to be a community-wide effort.
I begin with the most important update: health and safety protocols should we be able to return to the building. The task force and particularly School Nurse Sharon McGahan, Director of Facilities Mark Gordon, and Director of Psychological Services Joshua Mandel have been hard at work preparing protocols for a return to the 301 FPS. This is where our research and current thinking currently leads us, though we continue to monitor updated information and guidelines:
- Classrooms and teaching spaces will allow for necessary social distancing so as to reduce the risk of virus transmission. All students will use individual desks.
- Students will not share any classroom materials.
- Every student will have a personal clear, polycarbonate desktop divider to help reduce the potential of virus spread.
- Masks and/or face shields will be required of all, perhaps with the exception of the youngest students if other measures can be put in place. Five washable, reusable masks will be provided to all students, and they can also wear their own.
- Only students, faculty, and staff will be permitted into the building. Drop off and pick up will happen outside.
- Staggered start times will allow for daily health screenings of all students, faculty, and staff. Parents may be asked to complete a daily health check via mobile app to confirm that your child is not exhibiting any symptoms.
- Isolation spaces will be available for anyone who exhibits symptoms during the school day. Additional staffing will be provided to care for students.
- Detailed protocols are being developed for movement into, out of, and through the building, including regulated use of elevators and staircases.
- The Psychological Services team and other faculty are preparing to offer enhanced mental health support.
- Hand sanitizer will be available around the building and in classrooms.
- Cleaning and sanitizing protocols will be increased, and all spaces, particularly common areas, will be cleaned several times throughout the day and each evening.
- Common areas will be reimagined so that social distancing can be maintained at all times.
- Lunch will be served in the classrooms for the Lower and Middle Schools. Upper Schoolers may be able to get lunch in the dining room utilizing safety measures and may be allowed to leave the building to get food. It is unlikely that breakfast will be available this year.
We have partnered with the architects for 301 Freedom Place South to determine the capacity of the building with physical distancing measures in place. Given the preliminary findings, we are including at the top of possible scenarios one in which we are all back in the building. We are, of course, very fortunate to be in a new building. 301 FPS is a sizable building, with large classrooms and common spaces that may be able to accommodate the students’ academic schedules while maintaining recommended distancing and implementing necessary health protocols. The air handlers are state-of-the-art, so ventilation and air quality will be maximized.
The above health and safety protocols are continually being revisited and adjusted based on new developments and latest guidelines. Up to this moment, we have relied on CDC guidelines
and those issued by California
, as we await New York’s in the coming weeks. When the state and city do issue guidelines for schools, we will adhere to those and adjust the above accordingly.
The second update is about academics and ensuring that our rigorous program is sustained regardless of our location. We have been discussing options for all potential scenarios, from a full opening of 301 FPS to online learning due to state-mandated school closure and everything in between. With the same caveat that what the circumstances will be in two months are unknown, here is our most current thinking and the steps we are taking:
- In July, the faculty will be participating in two full weeks of planning and preparation for the possibility of online teaching. Teachers have spent a lot of time reflecting on the springtime experience and have defined strategies and practices that can improve the students’ online experience. They are dedicated to taking this time to hone the skills necessary for effective online education, to design courses that maximize rigor and engagement, and to train on appropriate technology to facilitate the above.
- The results of parent and student surveys are invaluable as we prepare for this July planning. We thank all who responded and shared candid feedback with us, including key areas where we need to get better if we will be teaching again online.
- We are planning an academic schedule in the event all students are back in 301 FPS. This would mean that some homerooms and course sections may be divided into two classrooms to ensure proper distancing. If that is the case, there will be appropriate staffing for supervision and instruction and technology to connect split classroom sections.
- Whether in building, fully online, or in a hybrid scenario, there will be consistent daily and weekly schedules for the students. All schedule options are being developed and will be finalized during the July faculty planning and of course shared before school begins. This was an important piece of feedback, and we are committed to clear, consistent, substantive, and engaging schedules.
- When in the building, students in grades K-6 will likely remain in one classroom throughout the day, and teachers will travel in and out by lesson and subject matter. As recommended by health officials, we want to reduce travel through the building and limit contact between students outside of their immediate classmates.
- If we find ourselves in a hybrid scenario, meaning there will only be a percentage of students in the building to reduce density, we are developing divisional schedules that accommodate instruction both in the building and online.
- A potential element of hybrid situation we are considering is having the younger students in the building every day and older students on an alternating schedule, as the latter are more able to engage independently online.
- Either in the building or online, there may have to be changes to the students’ academic program. For example, if movement is limited in the building and time is impacted as a result, and if we are online or in a hybrid scenario, some program offerings may not be feasible for scheduling or health reasons. We are considering these options carefully.
Third, continuing to nurture the community of the school will require careful attention given the scenarios we are likely to encounter. Online, of course, will require a deliberate effort to maintain connections between students, between students and teachers, as grade levels and by division, and with parents and alumni. If we are in a hybrid environment in which we have to account for a reduced density, we will need to make a concerted effort to connect those who are in the building and those who are online, avoiding the creation of “two schools”. Even if we are in the building, assemblies and larger gatherings will likely not be allowed. How we replicate the essence and the importance of those moments is a priority in our planning for the fall.
There are understandably a few areas that do not yet have answers, but we assure you they are being discussed. The unknowns for these areas are too significant at this point to settle on final decisions, but we point them out nevertheless so that you know we are aware. These include transportation to and from the school, after school programming, and interscholastic sports.
My final update is in regards to tuition for the 2020-2021 school year and potential requests to take a year off given the uncertainties of the virus. All of the above scenarios, without exception, carry increased costs for the school. No matter if we are in the building, fully online or somewhere in between, Collegiate will experience an operating loss next year. Therefore, we will charge the full tuition rate specified in the current enrollment contract. If a family requests a year off, we will charge the full tuition to hold the spot for the following year, as well as require demonstrated academic achievement in order to return and matriculate to the next grade level.
This is a time of unprecedented challenge for all schools as they plan for next year, trying to successfully navigate the uncertainty while still delivering an exceptional academic experience. This will require a community-wide effort, one in which we understand the tradeoffs of every decision, the imperfection of each option, and the necessity to work together when challenges arise. I dislike writing letters that do not provide enough answers, yet this is our reality, and I ask for your patience, understanding, and support in the weeks and months ahead. I promise to provide an open line of communication for questions and comments. If you have anything to ask, share or suggest, please email us at this dedicated email address: email@example.com
. This will be monitored regularly throughout the summer, and we will respond as soon as possible. We are creating a webpage dedicated to the school’s reopening, including an FAQ section.
Thank you again for your faith in us and your partnership. I wish I was beginning my tenure working with you and your sons under better circumstances, but please know that I remain as excited as I was just over a year ago when I was given this opportunity to join your wonderful institution. We will be back in touch with you soon.
All my best,