Last Friday evening, we had a farewell for the Class of 2020, with faculty in their cars on the perimeters of the Upper School parking lot cheering and honking horns as the seniors and their parents drove by waving and smiling, some through tears. A sweet and touching moment for all.
While we will push on to finish the year well, Friday’s event signifies we are nearing the finish line, and now we begin to focus more fully on the year to come and the challenges and opportunities we have before us. This crisis has required some rethinking of standard practices and opened us to new approaches and ideas that will ultimately strengthen and enhance the TBS program.
I know everyone is weary and remains worried about health and safety, about our national and personal financial health, and about all the uncertainty that lies ahead. Everyone needs and deserves a break. Nevertheless, I am asking the faculty and staff to find the resiliency, energy, and spirit to look ahead and plan as best we can for August 18 and another school year. As you would expect from the way they have handled the past months, they have responded well.
We have two working groups engaged in discussions and planning for August. One is focused on logistics, protocols, spaces, and furnishings to ensure we are able to provide the safest environment possible for your children. The other is working on the academic program and cost structure. Of course, there is a lot of overlap, so the two groups are collaborating closely. In the coming weeks, I will provide regular updates on the discussions and decisions. By June 15, we will have an outline of scenarios and programs for our August opening. Today, I want to share several initial actions.
Given the number of unknowns regarding program adjustments to be required by the evolving COVID situation, the Board has authorized a change of date for tuition payments for the 2020-2021 school year from June 1 to June 30. This will provide additional time for the School to define the program and contingencies for the coming year before parents are obligated to commit to tuition payments for the school year.
One of the biggest challenges of our planning is that we are attempting to lay out our opening days’ schedule and routines not knowing what conditions will be or what restrictions will be in place. Given that, we have decided that on August 18, we will be prepared to open on campus following mandated and recommended practices, as well as practices we feel are beneficial to the health and safety of the TBS community. At the same time, for those families who choose not to send their children to campus, remote learning program(s) will be available.
As we continue planning, we would like to have parental involvement. Last week, the Lower School conducted a survey on the remote learning experience; Middle and Upper will do so this week. That input will be valuable, but we also will be seeking volunteers for participation on the working groups mentioned above and subsets thereof. The number of details involved in addressing the known adjustments we will need to make and trying to foresee evolving issues is daunting. To develop workable solutions will require multiple perspectives garnered from all constituencies’ experiences with the School, its programs, and its operational routines.
I have asked the Division Heads to put these groups together. They need to be small, probably three or four parents added to each (program groups will include division level teams), so if you are not able to participate directly, please know there will be another opportunity to be involved. We have set up an email account to collect additional ideas and suggestions from our parent body, and feedback on decisions. Recommendations received at this address will be distributed to the appropriate committees and personnel. To submit your ideas, please email email@example.com
Another aspect of reopening will be evaluating academic levels of our students. Lacking our typical spring term assessments, summations, and conclusions to classroom work, we are beginning to plan the work of opening days to adjust for that. While the beginning of any school year includes review, we recognize this year will be unique and want to be very intentional in our planning to address potential gaps and ensure every student gets off to a great start.
I will end with a thought from the practices of the early Jesuits (though not a graduate of any of their institutions, I do admire their work). Ignatius inculcated a belief in living with “one foot in the air” to ensure his followers did not get wedded to place and possessions and could adjust and adapt quickly to change. Our times require this same practice. We need to keep one foot firmly anchored to The Benjamin School mission, but we must be ready to be flexible and forward- thinking. The planning of the coming weeks will be exciting. With your help and support, when we get to August 18, TBS will be ready with a program and practices in place for this most unusual time that are second to none.
Thomas J. Reid
Interim Head of School