Business and Operations//
May 16, 2021
As the weather gets warmer and COVID-19 vaccinations are on the rise, private schools are looking toward the fall with a healthy dose of cautious optimism.
First, a reality check: COVID-19 is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. For the sake of stability and sanity, any reopening roadmap should start from that vantage point. If there’s any lesson to be had from the past year, it’s that flexibility and contingency plans aren’t simply good ideas—they’re a blueprint for survival. Every school must create a reopening structure that works within the confines of the next phase of the pandemic, whatever that may be. Now is the time to be intentional and put the knowledge and experiences of this year to good use.
Students Come First
Before delving into planning details, remember the umbrella under which all decision-making must fall: students’ well-being. Last spring was pure chaos, followed by the controlled chaos of September. While we can’t say goodbye to COVID-19, we can leave behind much of the pandemonium that once accompanied it.
Children perform better—on both academic and social-emotional scales—when they’re in a stable environment and know what’s expected of them. Student and teacher relationships flourish when their environment is stable; decision-making is more effective when it’s data-based.
What does all of that mean for the 2021–22 school year?
Planning ahead, with intention and flexibility, will lead to successful outcomes for academic communities. With that in mind, School Heads should aim to complete reopening plans by mid-June.
Six key decisions should serve as the framework for private school reopening plans. Not surprisingly, many are centered on information sharing and transparency.
Initiate a two-way dialogue with your primary constituents—your students, their parents, and your faculty. Not only do they need to hear the plans, they may need to air concerns. Individual or group parent meetings, teacher meetings, and town halls are all viable options. Find what works best at your institution.
Educational objectives won’t mean very much if no one knows about them. Transparency will be key to a successful transition into next year. Be specific—share plans for the classroom experience, extracurricular offerings, etc.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and health department guidelines cannot always be predicted, but every academic institution has campus safety strategies that are likely to remain constant, such as masks and social distancing. Be conservative—it is always easier to loosen restrictions later than to backtrack and tighten them.
How will remote learning look next year. Will it remain as is? Require a few adjustments? Be cancelled altogether? Use data based criteria to support this decision, and assist faculty in their curricula planning as needed.
On-site schedules this fall will undoubtedly need revision, or in some instances, a total overhaul. Faculty require scheduling frameworks that boost experiential time with students. Block scheduling has been implemented in many independent schools—both before and during the pandemic—maximizing classroom time while minimizing transitions and busy hallways. Work with administration, faculty, and staff to develop a system that meets your students’ needs.
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Keeping plans and tasks on time and on target requires structure. Project management helps identify outcomes, deadlines and responsibilities—leaving little to chance. Whether housed in a spreadsheet or shared file, these working documents will contain several moving parts. Key stakeholders should be able to see updates and progress in real time—these stakeholders include your faculty/staff, reopening task force, and board leadership.
Stay Open and Accessible
Planning for the upcoming school year may seem daunting, especially for schools that have primarily been conducting classes online. Take one step at a time; resist the urge to go micromanage. Most importantly remain open to new ideas, to change, to transparency itself. Everyone shares the same ultimate goal: To create a successful, productive, and joyful student experience for 2021 and beyond.