What an amazing first day back to school. It was an honor to witness the incredible atmosphere at drop off this morning -- families lining up to take “first day of school” pictures and supporting the School with their purchase of logoed “swag,” the army of parent volunteers assuring and engaging welcome, parents dropping kids off at classrooms with gifts for teachers in hand, and the amazing amount optimism about the coming year even amidst the challenges of our times. It speaks volumes about the strength and determination of our St. Paul’s School community.
Our day began with a chapel program for the ages. To say that this was an undertaking of immense effort might be the understatement of the day. The fact that this was the first “All School” chapel for the past 17 months showed. We certainly are sorely out of practice, and the sheer magnitude of students is something we haven’t seen in years. With that said, the energy in the chapel was electric, and Fr. Rob has such skill with our kids -- he was able to deftly navigate this opportunity and see to it that our students began their year with the appropriate joy in their hearts.
The Middle School began their engagement and community building days and will continue this work through tomorrow. As a school, we are taking extra efforts this year to establish a strong foundation for our middle school students. We learned a lot from them last year -- predominantly the value of connecting our students to the community. It was great seeing them working together on team building activities, laughing and having fun with their teachers and colleagues. They were outside for a majority of the day, so I’m sure they will sleep well this evening.
The truth is, I cannot accurately express the level of joy that was present on campus today. Each year I am humbled by the staff that I am able to work for, humbled by the families that care for the school so deeply, and humbled by the students who honestly make this a place of love and learning. Today was only day one, and it is difficult to know what tomorrow may bring. I am grateful for today, and hope it serves as the harbinger of hope for the year yet ahead.
All the best,
St. Paul’s School Community,
Given the nature of the Thanksgiving holiday, the current spike in Covid-19 cases across the country, in our state, in our county, and out of an abundance of caution, St. Paul’s School has decided to resume distance learning for all St. Paul’s School students for one week following the Thanksgiving holiday break (11-30 to 12-4). We have every intention of resuming in person learning for our preschool through 6th grade students on Monday, December 7th. This decision has been made in consultation with local health providers, our school’s leadership team, and our board of trustees who all find this to be a wise “next step” as we continue to attend to the health and safety of our school community during a global pandemic. It is also important to note that this decision mirrors the precautions that numerous other independent schools across the country are exercising, while many more have decided to recess entirely for the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
St. Paul’s School has been fortunate to have maintained a healthy campus during the past several months, and has remained relatively unscathed -- though not untouched -- by Covid-19 during this time. To our knowledge, we have not had any students test positive for Covid-19, and when the potential for campus “close contact” has occurred, our mitigation strategies as described in our RePopulating Plan have been effective. One could argue that we’ve simply been lucky, but I think we can attribute it more to the committed efforts of our entire community in taking the requisite precautions to prioritize the health and safety of our school. At this point, regardless of the Covid-19 fatigue that we are all feeling, our efforts cannot diminish. We cannot assume that because it hasn’t happened, it won't happen. More likely, it’s simply a matter of time.
I understand the challenges that this decision might present to families, and that weighs heavy on my heart. I know that finding additional child care and acting as surrogate teachers during distance learning is complicated. I know that so many of our students are overjoyed to be at school, and nothing makes me happier than having them here. But these are the very same reasons why we are taking this added precaution, because we want to do everything in our power to act responsibly and preserve our ability to hold in person learning for as many students as we can. Our waiver approved by the county and the state essentially gives us license to control our in person learning opportunities as long as our mitigation strategies are effective. Up to this point, our cautious approach to Covid-19 has meant that we have not had to quarantine classrooms for 14 days, have not exposed our campus community unnecessarily to Covid-19, and continue to serve as a safe haven for in person learning. We should be proud of our efforts up to this point, and remain determined to continue taking appropriate precautions that reify our commitments.
The Thanksgiving holiday offers unique challenges to our mitigation strategies due in large part to the ways in which we celebrate Thanksgiving, and the typical incubation period of Covid-19. It is my understanding that most cases present four to seven days following exposure (nearly all cases present within 14 days). In real terms this means that individuals exposed to Covid-19 on Thanksgiving would begin to present symptoms (if they present symptoms) sometime between Monday and Thursday of the following week. By keeping our students at home in a distance learning format during this week, we aim to avoid exposing our campus to a potential wave of cases related to the Thanksgiving holiday. By no means is this a fool proof strategy, but it is a reasonable precaution that we can take to avoid some of the more severe consequences that could emerge, and in our efforts to return to in person learning with a much better grasp on the overall health of our school community.
My sincerest hope is that one day we can look back on this decision and deem it an overreaction. My hope is that our families have a joyful and safe Thanksgiving, and that everyone remains in good health. I would love to look back on this decision and think, “dude, we freaked out a little bit.” Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing other than in retrospect, and the leadership of our school has determined that the potential benefits of this decision outweigh the complications. We’d rather be wrong and look silly than be wrong and compromise the health of our community.
In the spirit of the season, I am thankful that I get to serve as the head of St. Paul’s School. I am thankful that we have an amazing student body full of bright and eager students. I am thankful that I have a faculty and staff who are so dedicated to our mission that they continue to exhaust themselves in service to others. I am also thankful that our families have remained supportive of our efforts, compassionate to our needs, and attentive to the mission of our school. Amidst all that has stacked up against us in 2020, I hope that you all have much to be thankful for as well.
Seth W. Yocum
Head of School
St. Paul’s School
September 8, 2020
St. Paul’s School Community,
At the beginning of this week, St. Paul’s School received word from Tulare County Health and Human Service Agency that that St. Paul's waiver has been fully approved for TK-2nd grades, and that we can implement in-person learning for these students immediately. This is fantastic news as we have been awaiting approval for quite some time. After much deliberation with leadership, faculty, and staff, the
St. Paul’s School Leadership Team has determined that we will resume in person learning for all TK through 2nd grades students beginning Monday, September 14th (TK through 2nd grade students who would like to continue in a distance learning format should contact Natalie Alafa, Director of Teaching and Learning, at email@example.com). The St. Paul’s School Board ratified this decision Tuesday afternoon in an impromptu meeting.
As an educational community, we are excited to begin repopulating our campus next Monday. We are eager to see so many of our students return to campus, and committed to provide an appropriate and responsible in person model given these unanticipated circumstances. Nevertheless, TK through 2nd grade is only a part of our student body, and we are eager for county epidemiological data to continue trending in the right direction in the hopes that we can have all of our students back on campus in the coming weeks and months. In the meantime, our 3rd through 8th grade students will continue to participate in distance learning, and we will continue to investigate how the small group/cohort model can be used to improve the learning experiences of these students while we await word from county health. We will be sure to keep you posted as situations develop.
In anticipation of returning our TK through 2nd grade students next Monday, it is imperative that we all:
● Read the St. Paul’s School Repopulating Plan. It is a lengthy document, but it is essential that everyone does their part to support a successful reopening. The more you understand our plan, the better able you and your family will be to support our school.
● You all should have received an email both Monday and this morning reminding you to health screen your child(ren). Please download the HealthTrac app and begin entering your child(ren)’s screening on a daily basis. It’s important that we all build this habit, and student screening is essential to our repopulating plan. If you have questions or concerns, please reach out to
Corinne Ramsey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
● Please make sure you thoroughly read all information coming from the school over the next few weeks. There will be many reminders on check in and check out procedures, face coverings, health screenings, etc. It is essential that you understand your part in supporting a successful campus repopulation.
● Any questions or concerns you may have regarding repopulating our campus should be directed to Corinne Ramsey at email@example.com. Although Corinne will be handling a high volume of inquiries over the coming days, she will attend to your question(s) as soon and as accurately as possible.
I cannot express how excited I am to see a few more of our students return to campus next week. There is a great deal of work ahead, but I have the utmost confidence that as a community, we will navigate these challenging times together. Our efforts will continue to demonstrate the resolve of our community, and our commitment to integrity and what is best for our children, in both education and
Seth W. Yocum
Head of School
St. Paul’s School
St. Paul’s School Families,
I will make this letter as brief as possible as I’ve attached a great deal of reading for you already, and I do understand how I can -- at times -- grow a bit verbose. I’ll do what I can to keep this short and focused.
As stated in an earlier communication, Governor Newsom’s Pandemic Plan for Learning and Safe Schools pertains to St. Paul’s School, as it pertains to all public and independent schools in California. As of today, this order impacts our K-8th grade programs, but will not impact our Preschool or PreK programs. As such, we plan for our Preschool and PreK programs to begin in person educational programming on August 13th as anticipated with the appropriate modifications listed in the RePopulating Plan.
For our K-8th grade programs, we are still planning to begin our fall semester on August 13th, and must anticipate beginning the year in a Distance Learning format. This is not our choice, rather it is our obligation as stated in Governor Newsom’s plan. Although I do believe Governor Newsom’s plan is intended to protect the health of our communities, I am disheartened in that our leadership teams have been working diligently to put together a RePopulating Plan that complies -- in every way -- with the recommendations laid out by the California Department of Public Health. In fact, by capping our class sizes back in May to allow for physical distancing, we are able to accommodate the recommendations in the one way that is perplexing to so many other schools. In short, we’ve got this. Unfortunately, we are not able to implement our plan just yet.
We are currently investigating the waiver program referenced in the aforementioned publication, and made contact with the Tulare County Health and Humans Services Agency on Monday morning to file for this waiver. As of Monday, our county health officials were unaware of the parameters of the waiver and informed me that “based on our current epidemiological data (in Tulare County), we will not be approving any waivers at this time.” I kindly thanked them for their prompt response, and sent them our RePopulating Plan anyway, explained to them our circumstances, much as I did for you in the preceding paragraph. After receiving our RePopulating Plan, I received this follow up communication: “Good evening Mr Yocum, in follow up to the ongoing communication, I did want to clarify that the Public Health Department does have concern with approving any waivers for schools based on the current epidemiological data, but we are still determining our processes and strategy in addressing all requests. The health department alone does not make the ultimate decision and consultation from the State is required.” As I understand it, our county health department should have a better understanding of the waiver process and strategy by the end of this week or beginning of the next.
Following an in depth conversation with our board of trustees last night, we will continue to pursue the waiver program in the hopes that our elementary school (K-6th) will be able to resume in person learning as soon as our local and state public health agencies deem it safe. If there is any way that I can lump our 7th and 8th graders in there too, I’ll be sure to make it happen. This is predicated on the fact that our RePopulating Plan addresses -- in every way -- all of the recommendations for resuming in person instruction as outlined by the California Department of Public Health. We can prioritize health screening, hand washing, deep cleaning, face coverings, and we can physically distance. We can cohort and coordinate, and spend plenty of time outside. We can utilize every square inch of our seven acre campus, and deliver in person learning in bold and creative ways. We have the community and resources to make it happen. Most importantly, we can attend to the health and safety of our staffulty, and the social and emotional lives of our students. Now we simply need to convince our county and state to see it this very same way. Although I am confident of our plan and our ability to make it happen, I’m not holding my breath quite yet. If our RePopulating Plan is the metric that matters the most, I’m confident that a waiver is well within reach. If it comes down to our county’s epidemiological data, there is still a lot of work to do. That is what worries me most, because that is entirely out of our control.
As a final thought, I want to talk about the “dimmer switch” approach to in person learning that our families will have once we are able to repopulate our campus. Our families will not have to choose between a distance, hybrid, or in person model on a term by term basis; rather our families will be able to exercise that choice on a day to day, week to week basis. You will decide when you are comfortable sending your kids to school1 , and when you would rather keep them home. Whether you are choosing to attend in person or online, our robust educational programming will be available in either format each day, and our teachers will be there to support their students each step of the way. Obviously there is no substitute for in person learning, but these are not ordinary circumstances, and we must evolve our programming to match the circumstances.
1 Obviously unless they are sick, have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19, or have traveled outside of the state. Then,they must stay home. Sorry, those are the rules. See the RePopulating Plan.
As we all are abundantly aware, these are not the best of times, and the circumstances that we must accept regarding school this fall, are far from what we had hoped in the spring. There is nothing that St. Paul’s School can do about that. But we can continue to offer the best educational experience in our community, regardless of the circumstances. We are a community built on a commitment to our mission, to be a school “of high academic standards in a Christian environment; where children can develop their intellectual abilities and their sense of self-worth and responsibility; and where student, parents, and staff form a close, caring community where all support and share in each other’s growth.” We are now -- as a school community -- tasked with this challenge in a paradigm that was literally unimaginable prior to this past spring. We only have so much energy that we can invest, let’s all invest it in the education of our students, in our commitment to a positive and healthy community, and in an effort to create a better future for our children. We need to view the 2020/2021 academic year as one of the greatest challenges in our collective lives, and simply say “challenge accepted.” We will not be bested by problematic circumstances. We will teach our kids to be resilient, dedicated, and committed to a cause greater than themselves. If we stay focused on this goal, we will light the way through the darkness of our times. The world has plenty of problem noticers, let’s take this opportunity to teach our children that leaders are problem solvers. Of all the things worth doing this fall, let’s commit ourselves to this, and make it the work of our school community.
Oh yeah, please read the attachments. Obviously, one is our RePopulating Plan. All of your questions will likely be answered there. The other is our 2020/2021 Parent/Student Handbook, an important agreement between your family and the school. Pay particular attention to the added “Force Majeure” language, and the updated language in the “Distance Learning” section. Also, please look forward to a follow up communication from our Parents’ Guild leadership regarding the upcoming Zoom sessions with the Head of School. My understanding is that you can submit questions prior to our Friday meetings, and then I’ll do the best I can to address the questions and concerns within our community.
There, I did it. Short and sweet.
Take care, and see you on Friday,
Seth W. Yocum
Head of School
St. Paul’s School