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TK-2nd Grade Waiver Approved

September 09, 2020
By Seth Yocum

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 nalafa@spsvisalia.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 cramsey@spsvisalia.com.
● 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 cramsey@spsvisalia.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
example.


Kind Regards,


Seth W. Yocum
Head of School
St. Paul’s School

Saint Paul's School Covid Update

July 23, 2020
By Seth Yocum

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

St. Paul's School - Considering Summer and Fall

June 01, 2020
By Seth Yocum

St. Paul’s School Families,


     My sincerest hope is that this communication finds you and your family well, eagerly anticipating the end of an unforgettable school year, and relieved that the end is well within sight. As I write this today, I could not be more proud of our entire community, and the commitment you have all made to the continued quality education of our children through such improbable circumstances. I’ve always argued that parent involvement is a critical ingredient in each child’s education, yet never has that reality been so starkly apparent as it has been over the past two months. You would be hard pressed to find a school in any part of the country that has handled this pandemic as successfully as St. Paul’s School, and although this is certainly a testament to our determined and dedicated educators, none of this would have been possible without the loving support and tireless efforts of our parents.
     As we prepare to enter our summer break, I am certain that there are myriad unanswered questions circling the minds of our parents, students, and staffulty; but few more pressing than what our intentions are regarding the opening of St. Paul’s School this fall. My objective with this communication is to answer that question, and a few others, as forthrightly as possible. With that said, it is also important for our community to understand that our plans must remain flexible, and will be continually revised as new information emerges and recommendations are made by federal, state, and local authorities throughout the summer. In short, there is no way to know exactly where we might stand, and what we might be facing in August. Rest assured that regardless of the circumstances, St. Paul’s School will be ready to lead the charge, and committed to offering high quality educational programming.
     

What are St. Paul’s School’s plans for opening in the fall? St. Paul’s School has every intention of having students back on campus for school beginning Thursday, August 13th. There has been a glut of media conversation over the past few weeks about what schooling in a COVID era might mean, and how challenging the task might be for schools. For obvious reasons, this has given rise to a great deal of anxiety. Please know, though, that our school’s leadership teams (now collectively called the COVID Response Team) feel that these recommendations are achievable at St. Paul’s School, and will still allow for us to run our educational programs in a relatively normal fashion. Understand that it is likely that school will look a little different come this fall, but know that what sets us apart from so many other schools is our ability to self govern, to control factors that are out of the hands of many other schools, and adjust quickly to evolving demands.
     At St. Paul’s School, this flexibility and nimbleness are critical aspects of our identity, and are allowing us to plan for a return to campus this fall in ways that may seem unattainable for other schools. This is positive, for sure, but our flexibility and nimbleness as it relates to the CDC recommendations for schools is predicated on St. Paul’s School capping classrooms at 16 students per classroom for the 2020/2021 school year. As it currently stands, several of our grades are at or near capacity. Although this has been a difficult decision to make, 16 students per classroom should allow for us to honor all of the current CDC recommendations and still live our school lives with a general sense of normalcy. It is our mission at St. Paul’s School to offer the best educational programs possible in “a close, caring community.” With that in mind, we have been compelled to make this difficult decision.
 

Will there be summer school? St. Paul’s School is currently putting the finishing touches on an online, academic oriented summer school program for students entering 6th through the 8th grades. Our intentions here are to offer academic summer programs that will ensure our middle school students have the requisite skills they need to confidently begin the 2020/2021 academic year. For a while we were holding out hope that these classes could be held in person, on campus. Unfortunately, with the uncertainty of how our state and county will navigate reopening over the next several months, coupled with the overwhelming success of our online middle school program this fourth quarter, we believe that an online offering is the best option moving forward. Information regarding online middle school summer programs should be released next week, and yes, there will be spots open for students who are not currently enrolled in St. Paul’s School.
     As for our K-5th grade enrichment summer school programs, we are still tentatively hoping to begin programs during the later part of June or early July. At this point, we have determined that our enrichment programs can only be honored in person, and thus, will not have an online option. Again, this decision is predicated on the state and county easing the Shelter in Place orders, and our ability to mobilize and honor the CDCs recommendations for schools. If we are able to run these programs, it is important to understand that they will likely look quite different than they have in the past, and numbers of students will be limited to 16 students per classroom.  More information on these programs will be released when appropriate, and yes, we will have spots open for students who are not currently enrolled in St. Paul’s School, assuming we run them at all.

Will we continue with distance learning in the fall? St. Paul’s School will continue to offer a high quality online learning platform in addition to our in person programs. The forced “professional growth” in online platforms and educational technology that our teachers have undergone will forever change the way that we offer student learning opportunities here at St. Paul’s School, and we believe it’s for the better. The number of scenarios that schools and businesses are asked to consider for the fall can become overwhelming, but to maintain a rigorous online learning space for our kids will make whatever situation we must deal with significantly easier. We really have no way to determine if and/or when we might again be placed under Shelter in Place orders, or when overwhelming circumstances might dictate that St. Paul’s School discontinues in person sessions for a time, and resorts to distance learning. But as we establish continuity between classroom instruction and an online component, we will concurrently be establishing continuity in student learning in general, whether at school or at home, under Shelter in Place order or simply working on a group project or completing a complex homework assignment.
     With that said, it is our goal to limit the amount of time our students spend in a distance learning format as we fundamentally believe that our students learn best when they are on campus, with their teachers and colleagues. Because of this, our administrative team has currently developed four different possible calendars for next year that would allow for us to evolve with shifting scenarios, maximizing the time our students spend on campus with teachers, and minimizing the time students would spend learning remotely from home. Please understand that as of this point, next year’s expected calendar follows a very traditional format. However, in the event that we are put under another Shelter in Place order for an extended period of time, we will reserve the right to change our calendar to allow students more “time off” of school when required to be at home, and then will make up those weeks later in the year. This is in no way a perfect scenario, but it is a plan intended to minimize the amount of time we spend in a distance format, and to maintain the integrity of our children’s education.

What about 8th grade graduation? St. Paul’s School has every intention of honoring our graduates in the most respectful and responsible ways possible, and are working diligently on plans to make this a memorable graduation. As I write this letter, our middle school leadership is finalizing plans on an 8th grade graduation video that will capture all of the magic of our regular graduation ceremonies, but in creative ways forever memorialized on video. We are excited about our ability to honor our graduates at the appropriate time, even if required to do it in an adjusted format.                    In addition to this graduation video, St. Paul’s School is still hoping to offer an in person celebration to all of our graduates when we can responsibly hold a ceremony. Our campus offers a beautiful backdrop, and large amounts of open space that should allow for appropriate physical distancing and a memorable experience. With everything that our students have had to compromise these past few months, we want to make sure that our 8th grade students know how valued they are by the St. Paul’s School community. Plans are still in the works, but I can assure you that we will do everything in our power to make this a special send off for a special group of kids (including their deserved Vintage Press dinner -- even if we have to cater it!). Moreover, and if I know our 8th grade parents, there are likely to be several out there who are planning some form of celebration for these amazing kids on their own. One of the things that I love about our community most is that when times get tough, creative people come up with creative solutions. I foresee this happening here, and applaud all efforts to celebrate our graduates in respectful and responsible ways.
     Please know that we are all holding out hope that our world is in a much healthier spot come August, and that all schools are allowed to resume in formats better suited to promote student learning and social development. But for now, we have to make plans otherwise. As stated earlier, what schools and businesses are being asked to consider in order to responsibly resume their operations can quickly become overwhelming, and my intention here is not to overwhelm, but to inform. I hope that this communication finds you well, and has answered some of the looming questions you have had about our intentions for summer and next fall. I hope you also find solace in the fact that many of our staffulty will be working long hours throughout the summer to address the myriad challenges that schooling in a COVID era might levy, with the goal of keeping our kids happy and healthy, and to bring students back to the St. Paul’s School we all grown to know and love. Certainly we have a challenging road ahead, but there is no other community where I would rather lead that charge, and no other community better positioned to come out on top. Please feel free to email or call me with any questions or concerns that you might have. I look forward to our continued work together.


Kind Regards,
Seth W. Yocum
Head of School
St. Paul’s School
syocum@spsvisalia.com
559-739-1619

Spring is upon us so soon?

March 05, 2020
By Seth Yocum

Spring is upon us so soon?

It is hard to believe that as I sit here on this late February morning, the anticipated high for the day is a toasty 81 degrees.  Is it really time for spring? For those of you who have a backyard garden, and who are wont to start your tomatoes from seed, your sprouts have begun to spring.  But typically this is the time for heating pads and indoor growing lights, as ordinary February temperatures do little more than freeze your sprouts dead in their tracks.  Not this year. In fact, my tomato seeds sprouted several weeks back, and because of the temperate weather, I’ve been able to leave them outdoors to harden off a full month before the official start of spring.  Whether or not I like it, it is time to look forward to spring.

And the same can be said for this season here at St. Paul’s School.  Here we are, well into the downward slide toward summer, eagerly anticipating the exciting events that hallmark our spring season, but there on the horizon sits the beginning of yet another school year.  Understand, I don’t want for us to get too far ahead of ourselves. Certainly Spring Auction, Explore St. Paul’s School, The Fun Run, Field Day, Spring Concert, and so many other second semester events deserve our due attention, but I cannot help but begin to look forward to what’s in store for the coming year.

As most of you well know, the theme for this year at St. Paul’s School has been a review and reinvestment in our mission.  As the board of trustees, our leadership teams, and our staffulty have pushed deeply into the mission, we have grown a renewed commitment to what is core in our educational programs, and what our commitments are to our constituencies.  St. Paul’s School provides “a learning experience of high academic standards in a Christian environment; where children can develop their intellectual abilities and their sense of self worth and responsibility; where students, parents, and staff form a close, caring community where all support and share in each other’s growth.”  From this deep dive into our mission, we have been able to refocus some of our curricular and pedagogical approaches, and have asked the hard questions about our programs, practices, and facilities. How are we making good on our mission? Where do we need to grow?

From this work, the board of trustees -- in concert with the administrative team -- have put forth a 2020/2021 budget predicated on areas in need of cultivation in order to honor our mission commitments.  We need to invest in our facilities to ensure that our space is conducive to developing vibrant, confident, healthy, and intellectually engaged children. We need to invest in our staffulty, in their education and compensation in order to retain and attract the very best that we can.  We need to invest in the best curricula available, so that our educators have the tools and resources available to appropriately attend to the needs of all of our learners. We need to invest in our leadership as it relates to student services and campus culture. If we really want to make good on developing “whole” children, we must have the resources and staff available to deal appropriately with their social and emotional lives as well as their academic lives.

For over 50 years, St. Paul’s School has been recognized as one of the most effective educational institutions in our community.  This was by design, not by accident. Our mission and approach to developing the whole children -- their spirits, their minds, their bodies -- is unparalleled in our community.  Our efforts toward recentering ourselves on our core values is so that we don’t forget who we are and how we serve. As always, I’m proud to be in service to your families and to this institution.  I have never been more challenged, and never more rewarded. I look forward to our continued relationship, to fostering the growth of your children, to cultivating honest relationships with your families.  So let the renewed life of spring begin, even if we are still -- technically -- in the throes of winter.

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