Re-Opening Plan 20–21
This plan for the re-opening of Watkinson School is an extension of our best thinking, subject to change, and intended to be our guide to bring us together in the 2020-2021 school year.
Watkinson’s plan to re-open our campus has been, like so much of our work, a collaborative effort, with initial research commencing in the early spring with our participation in myriad webinars at the state, regional, and national level, intensive reading and investigation into scientific and public health data as provided by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), The National Institutes for Health, and Johns-Hopkins University, and through scenario planning based on disease trends and the dynamic flow of public health guidance.
That initial research and development evolved, once school ended, into a large scale planning effort, involving some thirty-five members of Watkinson’s faculty and staff, board members, and advisors. This team worked intensively for three weeks, at which time we began the rigorous implementation of the plan. Of course, our plan is a live document, and provides a guide to our daily and weekly actions. At the same time, like all plans during the COVID-19 era, we must all acknowledge and accept that things change, sometimes daily, and we must remain attentive, flexible, and ready to adapt at a moment’s notice. Watkinson is fortunate to have a team of committed and experienced practitioners who have generously gave their time and energy to this most challenging endeavor at precisely the time of the year when they most needed a break.
This plan for the re-opening of Watkinson School is an extension of our best thinking, subject to change, and intended to be our guide to bring us together in the 2020-2021 school year. It describes the process we undertook, and contains information we hope is helpful to our families.
Experts agree that a key component for the safest possible back-to-school plan is to limit broad contact and large groups and provide spaces that allow social distancing. The central feature of Watkinson’s campus plan is to re-imagine the campus in three distinct pods. By establishing three separate mini-campuses, we are creating pristine areas for middle school students ( grades 6-8), for students in grades 9-10, and for 11th and 12th grade students.
Each pod will serve the one cohort of students, and be their home for classes, for lunch and breaks. When necessary, students will stay in their pods for virtual learning in the event that they are placed in a class in a different pod. Teachers will remain in one pod if possible, but when necessary, teachers, not students, will move between pods to provide instruction. Afternoon activities, athletics, and arts will adhere to the pod structure as well, and even when students come together in outdoor activities, they will be grouped at a distance, and in observance of the pods.
Our ability to establish and maintain the pod structure is a cornerstone element of our ability to open school and fully reunite our community. It will require the attention, diligence, and compliance of every individual on campus, but we are confident that the structure we have set will help us to limit student contact with the entire community, and facilitate containment and contact tracing should someone become ill.
One of the hallmarks of our successful virtual schooling effort last year was our commitment to remaining attentive to the needs of our students. On day four, our students and families let us know that when it came to synchronous learning, more was better, and so we immediately revised our plan to include daily synchronous classes for all class meetings. This face to face contact, in the context of our close community, was an essential element of classroom learning, even when classrooms became dining rooms, kitchen tables, and even bedrooms. Meeting with students, in real time, every time class met meant that our students were seeing one another, their teachers, and growing in their capacity to learn well in this new setting. This commitment is among the distinguishing characteristics of Watkinson’s virtual schooling program, and one that remains and the centerpiece of that program when we return to virtual schooling.
Nothing can replace face to face learning in school, but we have learned that consistent, planful, and intentional synchronous learning closely approximates the classroom experience, and that the daily contact with teachers, classmates, and material activates learning and serves our students irrespective of their location. It is what we’ve come to call “a keeper”: something we have learned through the challenges of last year that is best for our students.
The plan is to start the school year with everyone on campus. Even knowing this, there will be periods of virtual schooling in the year. As we anticipate a very different kind of school year ahead, we do so knowing that so many of our students’ experiences beyond the walls of the classroom provide meaning, value, and substance. Our school is intentionally small, fostering a sense of community and allowing for relationships to grow and thrive through gatherings of all sizes, clubs, community events, and informal opportunities to learn and share. As face to face gathering will be largely put on hold for the coming year, we have been working hard to determine alternative ways to hold fast to the traditions, events, and even spontaneous and idiosyncratic things that characterize any given day or week at school. Please see School Life & Culture for more details.
The school calendar follows the same overall structure as last year with a few points of note:
- The first day of school is August 31, 2020.
- Consistent with nationwide educational practice, virtual schooling will be in place from November 30, 2020-January 15, 2021.
- Graduation is June 11, 2021.
Our daily schedule when we are all on campus will be very similar to last year with a few points of note:
- We now have staggered arrival and dismissal times to avoid congestion and aid social distancing at the start and end of the school day.
- The daily schedule allows for longer passing times in order for cleaning to occur in between classes and for students and teachers to get outside and take necessary mask breaks.
As was the case last year, when we are in virtual schooling classes will not meet on Wednesdays in order to allow advisory, clubs, and other student groups to have ample meeting time. All details about the Schedule and Calendar are here.
Arts, athletics, and activities are an integral part of student life and learning. As such, we have created plans to keep students active and engaged in the pursuits they love. That being said, as has been the case with most schools and many universities, the Housatonic Valley Athletic League (HVAL) has decided to cancel the 2020 fall HVAL season, including regular season contests between member schools and all tournaments and championships.
All teachers and classes will address the needs of students present on campus as well as those needing virtual schooling because of COVID-related constraints. For the consistency of both students’ learning and safety/attendance protocols, parents will need to commit to an agreed upon length of time for virtual schooling (meaning students may not continually alternate between being present and home on a daily basis).
Some boarding schools have instituted programs for regular testing in order to monitor the overall health of their communities, which makes sense as students are in residence together. Many day schools are not doing weekly testing, but rather are implementing monitoring systems such as the one we are using, from Magnus Health. Head of School Teri Schrader serves on the board of the CT Association of Independent Schools and is following best practices for our industry closely.
Our families have made it clear that they highly value a Watkinson education. In these unprecedented times, we know that it is important to reconsider the financial cost to families, particularly as we cannot foresee the impact of the virus going forward, or accurately predict its course, or the precise need or time for us to return to virtual schooling in order to protect the health and welfare of all.
Practically speaking, Watkinson’s costs to educate our students have not been reduced. To the contrary, the extraordinary new costs invested to make our campus the safest possible environment according to public health guidance for our families, and a campus with students who are technologically ready for whatever the changing conditions require, makes clear why the cost of a Watkinson education holds steady even in these challenging times. With that said, we recognize how our families may see the value and cost of a Watkinson education amid the current conditions as an important lens. This has been another important element in our planning.
Regarding tuition and the question of how the school will handle a prolonged period of unplanned virtual schooling, Watkinson’s Board of Trustees has approved school leadership’s proposal and has authorized the following:
- If we must revert to closing our campus and providing our teaching and learning virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic for more than 75 days of the school calendar, we will provide a $2000 credit for each student (prorated for financial aid or other tuition support awards).
- This credit refers specifically to campus closure that is not scheduled on the school calendar but occurs through State decree or at governmental directive or urging (ie; this does not include the scheduled campus closure between Thanksgiving and MLK day). This credit does not apply to any other campus closures, such as for weather. Similarly, if parents choose to keep their student home for 75 or more days, the credit does not apply.
- We recognize that if such an extreme situation happens, Watkinson best serves our families if we acknowledge the lost value of being on-campus, and our commitment to define today what you can expect from us tomorrow if conditions change. This credit to families acknowledges the lost value of on-campus presence, even though our institutional costs to operate will remain the same.
The menu at the top of the page leads you through our plan for the 2020-21 school year. As we have all learned over the past five months, planning during the midst of a global pandemic is both necessary and fraught. Our Re-opening Plan represents our best thinking to date, and we are eager to share it with you, our families so that you are able to understand and anticipate the start of the school year. At the same time, we do so cognizant of the reality that life in the COVID-19 era means we must be ready and willing to adapt in the face of new information and changing conditions.
As always, our goal remains the safety, well-being, and education of our students, and of the Watkinson community. We look forward to the start of the year, and to seeing you all again soon.
Teri Schrader, Head of School
On behalf of the Re-Opening Task Force
Watkinson’s Re-Opening Task Force
- Create a viable plan for the start of the 2020-21 school year, one that considers a variety of possible scenarios for on campus and virtual schooling, in combinations and potential permutations, including a late start on campus, and periods of intermittent planned and unplanned campus closure as warranted by health advisories and local data. In the plan, “viability” will be defined by up to date public health and governmental terms.
- Ensure that the centerpieces of our re-opening plan are Watkinson’s mission and the goals of the strategic plan, which for 2020-21 highlight the completion of curricular re-design in the Upper School (Goal area#1) and an emphasis on building a more inclusive community. (Goal area #2).
- Acknowledge the successes and areas for improvement of our virtual schooling that took place March–June of 2020.
- Acknowledge that, even as we hold fast to Watkinson’s mission, how we express that mission will likely change profoundly in some ways as the reality of COVID-19 will persist indefinitely. We must understand, internalize, and then act on the reality that, even as we return to campus, things will not be exactly as they were, and that re-opening is a careful balance of innovation for a new and challenging era, and mindfully tending to what is non-negotiable at Watkinson.
- As an institution we will err on the side of safety and caution in our decision making, using the best available, most current guidance from the public health sector, local, state, and federal government, legal counsel, the NIH, the CDC, and organizations such as the Connecticut Association of Independent Schools and the National Association of Independent Schools.
- We will use scientific evidence as our North Star.
- We will create a plan for 2020-21 that considers multiple scenarios, including plans for on campus, face-to-face learning, a move to virtual schooling, an alternative plan for decreased density on campus, and a “hybrid” option for students/staff to learn/teach from home.
- All members of the Watkinson community will wear masks and, if deemed necessary, other personal protective equipment. The use of PPE will be mandatory for all students, staff, visitors.
- The concept of social distancing will be a central tenet of our planning and extend through the entirety of the school year.
- Health and safety procedures and protocols will be developed and documented to help ensure the safety of the school community, and will be circulated to families via the re-opening plan, as well as the family handbook, and to all employees.
Our work was accomplished through whole group meetings and through smaller sub-committees.
Facilities, Technology, Operations, & Public Health
This group was charged with assessing and meeting the operational needs of the school for the coming year, and providing, procuring, and ensuring that school is ready to open in the fall from all logistical perspectives.
Time, Place, & Space
This group was responsible for developing a master plan for school life on campus, including the development of feasible models for safe and distinct cohort-based learning, a daily and weekly schedule, and a yearly calendar.
This team was charged with ensuring that the approaches and execution of teaching and learning fulfills the school’s mission and meets reasonable expectations regardless of means of delivery (on-campus or virtual schooling, or in combination or repertory), as dictated by health and safety guidelines.
School Life & Culture
This sub-committee was asked to help ensure that the non-academic, yet equally important aspects of Watkinson, such as advisory, arts and athletics, activities, large and smaller group gatherings, traditions and milestones, and student groups continue, albeit differently, on campus using social distancing, and in virtual schooling.
Mental & Emotional Well-Being
This group was charged with undertaking research, gathering information and perspectives and resources to support the members of the Watkinson community to manage the impact of living and learning in the influence of COVID-19.
Teri Schrader, Head of School
Wanda Schulman, Director of Finance and Operations
John Crosson, Director of Admissions, Assistant Head of School
Jon Olear, Head of Buildings and Grounds
Ryan Reese, Head of Upper School
Jenny Esposito, Head of Middle School
Rick Gemme, Buildings and grounds
Nate Herzog, Director of Technology
Marie Namkoong, school nurse
Anne Reed, school nurse (incoming)
Christina Bernbach, Chair, English department, 9/10 Grade Academic Dean
Andy Rees, Dean of Students
Skyler O’Neil, Director of Equity and Social Justice
Jen O’Brien, Director of Global Studies, faculty
Christina Muro, Chair, Math department, faculty
Rob Deitelbaum, 11/12 Academic Dean, faculty
Ann Haggerty, Director of Athletics and Activities, faculty
Downey Knapp, Director of Learning Skills Program
Jon Birney, Food Services Director
Terry Ullram, Director of College Counseling
Jenni French, Communications Director
Hillary Sibille, Chair, Language department faculty ESL coordinator
Evelyn Cohen, Assistant College Counseling
Stacy Donovan, Creative Arts Program Director, faculty
Anna Alferi, English department faculty
Lisa Glowacki, LSP faculty
Robin Jaffe, LSP faculty
Jeff Sigler, Science department faculty
Thomas Kothe, English department faculty
Marcy Webb, Language department faculty
Carol Martino, Assistant Director Admissions
Chris Kozey, Language and English department faculty
Ken Schmoll, Assistant to the Head of School
Gene Thompson-Grove, consultant and co-facilitator