It is truly a pleasure to have the time to write to you again!
Successfully navigating through the last twenty months has required nearly constant focus on student and employee health. However, this is finally easing, and we have stabilized into “normal” COVID operations that allow time for reflective practice.
With this in mind, I want to update you on the state of the school, including a quick pitch on how you can support us if you are so inclined. But first, I want to thank Ann Wendth and the Institutional Advancement staff for creating Happenings to take the place of a regular Head’s Letter. We hope you enjoy receiving it and will keep sending it along.
When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in March of 2020, we shifted our primary focus from delivering a world-class education to keeping our community as healthy as possible. To do this, we developed and delivered three different health, safety, and learning plans throughout the pandemic, providing students with the best education feasible within ever-changing emergency
public health guidelines.
For example, during the spring of 2020, faculty and administrators quickly designed a fully-remote educational and co-curricular program to comply with New York’s mandatory lockdown. We provided this online program until the end of the school year in June 2020. Then, over the summer, we developed a hybrid learning approach, reopening for the 2020-2021 school year with in-person and remote learning options.
As a result, roughly seventy percent of students returned to campus in September 2020, following significant COVID protocols such as masking, cohorting, and social distancing so they could come to school five days a week. The remaining thirty percent continued learning remotely to mitigate their risk of contracting the virus.
Offering in-person learning at the height of the pandemic was not without challenges. In December 2020, we experienced a COVID outbreak on campus, requiring a return to remote learning until mid-January. This type of disruption continued throughout the school year, which ended with 100 positive cases in our school community and over 800 individuals quarantining at different times throughout the year. Yet through it all, we did not have a single individual hospitalized or report serious illness.
Offering remote learning was also a significant undertaking, as we committed to providing students an experience as close as possible to their in-person peers. To do this well, faculty, staff, and administrators developed and refined new practices to provide as much of our co-curricular program as possible, including virtual social gatherings, assemblies, advisory meetings, and performances.
These two modes came together in the classroom, with faculty members simultaneously teaching in-person and online, often dividing their attention between live students and a classroom camera. To add to the excitement, students regularly switched between the two depending on health directives or quarantine needs. So it was little wonder that we ended 2020-2021 exhausted and relieved that the year was over.
This September 2021, all students returned to campus for in-person learning, with proven COVID mitigations in place, including modified social distancing, masking, and ongoing screening testing. In addition, to help us develop a sense of normalcy, we adopted a theme of Thriving: Return to Standards, Structure, and Strategy. This theme has re-focused us on the strategic plan adopted by the Board of Trustees in 2019, and I look forward to sharing this work in subsequent letters.
For many of us, the last twenty months have been the most challenging period of our professional lives. But, there was never a doubt that our professional community was “all in” on providing the highest quality experience possible for our students. We truly lived up to our motto of being “one family” and came together in remarkable ways to continue teaching and learning at a high level despite the challenges we faced.
Perhaps the most profound lesson of the pandemic was realizing just how capable we are. Administrators, faculty, and staff worked tirelessly to keep our students and faculty healthy. Faculty members
also quickly learned to teach remotely, then how to simultaneously teach both in-person and remotely. Students made numerous sacrifices to keep learning, including giving up sports and the live events that are the traditional hallmarks of an Academies education, such as Chapel, Bacon Bat, Class Days, and Commencement. We also learned how to host all types of events virtually for parents, alumni, and alumnae and create new ways to communicate effectively and keep everyone informed.
The result is that we kept our community intact and saw little learning loss in our students when they all returned back to school in person. Perhaps most impressive, our seniors earned stellar college admissions outcomes last year, reflecting their resilience and diligence. I could not be prouder of them and the faculty, staff, administrators, and family who supported them. That said, we don’t discount the effects of the ongoing anxiety, uncertainty, and disruptions caused by the pandemic. So, as we came back together this year, we have focused significant attention and resources on supporting our community’s mental health and well-being as we adjust to a post-COVID world.
Pandemic economics have also affected us. We incurred significant unbudgeted expenses complying with required public health guidelines and continue to feel the effects of market uncertainty in our Lower and Middle School enrollment. While we work through this, our fiscal health is buoyed by our endowment and reserves, which have been steadily strengthened over the last few years through generous philanthropic support.
Another valuable lesson of the pandemic was to ask for help when needed and gratefully accept it when offered. In this spirit, I want to say “thank you” if you have contributed to our annual or endowed funds. Your gift was essential in supporting the school during the pandemic, and I hope you will continue to think of us. If you have been considering investing in the school, there is no better time than now to make this intention a reality. There are many ways to do this, either through the annual fund, setting up a scholarship, giving to capital projects, or leaving a legacy during estate planning.
Finally, as we prepare to return to our tradition of a shared Thanksgiving meal on campus, I am mindful that one of the holiday’s historical underpinnings is the theme of reintegration. While we are certainly not living through something as dramatic as The Reconstruction, it feels to me that there are some hopeful parallels to an eventual return to a more normal life. I hope the same is true for you, wherever you may be.