Three Cheers for You

We've learned much this year and families, students, and faculty have made adjustments on many fronts. For those reasons, we're adjusting the academic calendar.

- Thursday, December 17, 2020 will be a half-day for Grades K-8, and High School is using the day for students to catch up on assignments and tutorials.

- Monday, January 4, 2021 will be an inservice day for faculty & staff to work together and prepare for the new year.

- Tuesday, January 5, 2021 will resume school post-Winter Break.
Take a step back to appreciate what this semester has asked and answered of us and for us. The choice to begin in remote mode way back in August evolved into a K-12 finish, substantially in-person, here near the eve of our winter holiday. Along the way, we built our experience base, benefited from expert medical counsel, and tested a range of educated hypotheses about making school function during a pandemic. We witnessed regional case numbers improve markedly before becoming far worse than ever, and we've weathered that storm, working day by day by day. In search of the consensus that will inform a successful approach from here forward, consider the following:
 
It turns out that masks really work. And keeping distance, and washing hands, and putting up with outdoor temps for at least part of each day. Our fundamental commitments to these basic mitigation measures, recently reaffirmed by this CDC summary, appear to be making a critically important difference. We're now acclimated to desk partitions in every classroom. We've been extra stingy about allowing anyone other than students, faculty, and staff on campus. We've modified every facet of familiar routines, largely with a ramped-up adult presence everywhere. Back in August, when we didn't know it all would work, we leaned on general sources like the Harvard Global Health Institute—making decisions based on what we knew then, as we opened incrementally, successfully. Now we know and understand so much more.
 
Communication is essential. As favorably inclined to write as I've been lo these many years, the past eight months are unprecedented in the sheer volume of messages sent your way—by my office, by our Division Heads, or our Health Team, and our teaching teams. We calibrate and recalibrate and adjust as we go—reluctant to ask one more thing of you at home but subject to changing circumstances and the need to rethink our plans. Two cases in point—we had planned a full school day for Thursday, December 17, 2020, but our faculty have asked for a schedule that finishes by noon that day, and after all they've done, I'm not going to say no (thank you After School for stepping in to help in the afternoon).
 
The second similar instance is a request to schedule a day for teachers to meet and share best practices as we start the new semester. I've never been an add-a-day at the end of a break type of person, preferring to crank things up and reserve any such time for mid-run. But having eliminated late starts and other team meeting times in pursuit of more hours in class this fall, I'm conscious that we've missed the chance for more than scattered shop talk in the midst of the daily crush at USN. Now we have a far, far better sense of what works, and if ever there was a case to be made for a day to gather here together (several feet apart), this is the year. So we'll claim Monday, January 4, 2021 for that purpose—apologies in advance, but the big beneficiaries should be our students.
 
Calendar projections in general for the coming months continue to prove elusive. Even thinking of the next few weeks conjures all kinds of possible images for me, as it now seems like Thanksgiving came and went without a spike on top of the surge nationally—but Dr. Anthony Fauci's warnings resonate. Preparation for any eventuality should be our watchword, at home and at school. After what we've been through, it's hard to imagine anything being an unmanageable surprise. Let's just stay in touch and stay ready. For that matter, thanks again for reading these weekly updates.
 
By now you've probably heard or read about the swiss cheese theory of staying COVID-19 safe. The operative concept there stresses the importance of multiple lines of defense, combining to cover any holes created by any single shortcoming along the way. If you'd commit to help close up the holes and to build up the layers of mitigation, everyone wins. That's the story of the semester, at the center of the success we've experienced. If you've been an exemplar, stay strong. If you've been borrowing a little from the collective good work of the community, it's almost New Year's resolution time. Really—every choice carries potentially profound implications.
 
And on that note, make yourself read the most recent CDC travel guidance. If you're doing something exotic, let us help think through all the implications, and know that time is our ally if we plan right, together. If you're hunkering down, treasuring the absence of things to do, know how deeply that's respected on this end. You surely earned this respite. Let's finish strong and keep appreciating this opportunity to be in school. All best wishes for a restful, responsible, restorative break.
 
Back to the vaccine countdown,
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