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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