UPDATE May 8, 2020
Dear Saint Paul’s Community,
We welcomed May this week with some beautiful, although somewhat unseasonably cold weather. Nevertheless, this month we are inspired by Our Blessed Mother, Mary, whose steady intercession on our behalf during these extraordinary times is so very welcome. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops recently consecrated the United States to her protection. We look forward to honoring all mothers this Sunday for Mother’s Day. I send my personal gratitude to all the inspirational mothers who have shepherded our students through the difficulties of remote learning and those who are on our staff working tirelessly to provide the excellent education that elevates all of our boys to their fullest potential.
In today’s update I want to share our plans for The Choir School’s Day of Giving that will take place on June 5. I also want to share a few updates on our progress with remote learning and some steps we are taking to plan for eventual re-entry to school next September. This week was progress report time for our students so our faculty took some time to plan for bringing the academic year to a close.
The outstanding results of our school attest to the caliber of our students and families and they showed this in an extraordinary show of gratitude for our dedicated faculty. The steadfast commitment of our faculty whose subject-matter expertise, care for the whole child and resilience during these uncertain and demanding times is remarkable. The devotion of our pastoral team led by Fr. Kelly and our administrative team held together by the tireless work of Mrs. Flaherty are unsurpassed. As a parent as well as leader of this school I share my deep appreciation for all that they do as well. Please enjoy this brief video that the Parent’s Guild prepared, with special thanks to Karen Celano for organizing it all: Teacher Appreciation Video
Looking ahead, we are focusing our attention on finishing the current school year strong; offering a thoughtful and focused array of virtual summer courses; and preparing for the 2020-21 school year. Amid the uncertainty in the world regarding COVID-19 and many factors that are entirely outside of the Choir School’s control, we want to assure you that our administrative team is committed to re-opening the School in the fall in the safest manner possible, provided that it is permissible for us to do so. Our decisions will be guided by government and public health guidelines and rooted in promoting the best interests of our students, fulfilling the School’s mission, and mitigating the risk to the health and safety of our entire community.
Our planning for the fall reflects ongoing research on best practices and a careful review of assessment data we are collecting during the month of May. We anticipate a variety of potential scenarios, including but not limited to: a full, on-campus opening for all students, faculty, and staff with strict social distancing, sanitation, and symptom-monitoring protocols, as well as various hybrid approaches consisting of on-campus instruction and distance learning, with adjustments (as necessary) to class schedules, locations, and hours. I am meeting daily with our faculty, experts from the Catholic Schools Office, heads of school from various independent schools and our national accrediting partners to work through the details of these different scenarios to ensure that our plans reflect best practices and incorporate the most up-to-date information available. We continue to evaluate all that has taken place in our digital classrooms over the past several weeks and communicate with and benchmark ourselves against peer schools around the world. We are also keeping abreast of new tools and resources, ranging from innovative distance learning methods and software and social distancing techniques to air filtration units, ultraviolet sterilization devices, body temperature monitoring systems, and handwashing stations.
Our team will continue to share new information and plans with you as they materialize. In the meantime, please know how grateful we are for your outreach and expressions of support for our faculty, staff, and administration.
Academic Progress Reports
For all students, our remote learning class instruction will end on Friday, May 29 as originally scheduled for end of term grades to be reported. We will continue with remote activities during the week of June 1 – 5 to prepare the boys to take advantage of the summer and to provide fun and enjoyable ways for them to interact. This week, our faculty reviewed all student progress to date and prepared individual comments for progress reports that will be sent out early next week. Overall, our review of the students’ progress show excellent work in many ways given the daunting circumstances we faced with remote learning. We are confident that there will be minimal learning lost and are making plans to provide optional remediation for any family who wishes to take advantage of it during the summer.
One consistent issue that faculty identified that we hope address over the coming weeks is the unique social and emotional fatigue that remote learning brings to the boys. Simply put, they miss meeting with each other and with our teachers. Our advisory program will kick into high gear in the coming week with all advisors scheduling and conducting an individual check-in with their advisees. During these virtual meetings with their advisors, students will review their academic progress reports and also discuss how they are faring socially and emotionally. At the beginning of the year advisors met with students to set goals and they will ask students to take a moment to ask themselves: What have you accomplished this year? What new things did you try? How have your friendships deepened? and to treasure all that they have experienced.
All faculty have prepared and will administer assessments over the course of the next three weeks to help us to best understand what we have accomplished and where we need to begin next September. We ask that parents to continue to work with us to provide the best possible learning environment for your boys during our last leg of the term. While we hoped to be able to administer an unofficial NWEA/MAP test during the first week of June, the Catholic Schools Office in collaboration with NWEA are currently unsure if we will be able to have the appropriate monitoring support to do it in a way that would provide meaningful date.
Eighth Grade Graduation and other Year-end Celebrations
This spring we will not have a moment as a school in which we come full circle and reflect in person on who we have become as a school. That inability to reflect together, to take in a final moment together, leaves a hole in everyone’s experience and causes a feeling of grief. This is true for the whole school, but especially for eighth graders. Traditionally we would gather in the Church at the graduation ceremony and celebrate the eighth graders, where each one received their diplomas and we witness as a community how much they have grown over the years. With sincere sadness, we will not be able to hold an in-person celebration in June of this year. We will bring the community together at some time in the future to celebrate their outstanding achievements.
We applaud our graduating students and know that their faith will guide them in this time where there is no playbook for what will happen next. We know that they leave us with an extraordinary education, and we are confident that they will use their skills to forge new accomplishments in their high schools and beyond.
Day of Giving
Our Parent Guild and a hard-working team comprised of members of our staff and Board of Advisors has been working diligently in the background to prepare for the unveiling early next week. In lieu of our Annual Gala, we ask that all who treasure the choir school’s transformational impact on the boys, the beautiful liturgies and the elevation of our faith will be moved to support this event and share broadly with your friends and family through social media and personal outreach to make the event an extraordinary success. We know that the economic devastation that surrounds us cannot be overstated. However, borrowing from the wisdom of Fr. Henri Nouwen, my hope is that through this invitation to give generously and through the relationships we develop through this Day of Giving, we will all grow closer to God.
Over the course of the next month leading up to June 5th, we will be orchestrating a campaign to help everyone share the school’s great treasures and communicate effectively what the choir school does and means to us who live with it on a daily basis. Our staff and Parents Guild will be the engine behind the event and are developing content for our Day of Giving social media page that will feature testimonials and encouragement to tune in on June 5th to participate in this celebration of the school. Watch for announcements of the launch of the content page sometime this coming week.
May you all be blessed with good health and prosperity,
Head of School
Our Goal: Maintaining our Excellence in the face of Remote Learning
Throughout the last few weeks, we are frequently reminded that learning remotely is not ever going to be as good as meeting in person. Nevertheless, our goal is to do all that we can to maintain our pursuit of excellence despite the challenges of remote learning. In the process, we are also learning along the way and we hope that you are too. Our teachers are being guided by Director of Academics Ms. Fox. They have explored research best practices to bring all that we find to be effective and put it into action to serve our students in these challenging times.
Each week our staff reviews progress during meetings and explores lessons learned along the way. We are sensitive to the different ages of students we serve and are making adjustments that accommodate different stages of development in our approaches to delivering online learning opportunities. As you have experienced, the results are innovative and oriented to the feedback we are receiving from students and families, but altogether rooted in what works best. Our teachers are in frequent contact with specialists from the Catholic Schools Offices and other professional organizations in order to stay abreast of what works. We have received feedback from many who admire how creative and agile we have been in meeting the many challenges we are facing. Our Parent Guild meeting yesterday evening further affirmed our early success in meeting the expectations of families who shared their appreciation for all that our teachers are doing.
Our transition continues to develop as we are increasingly aware that the duration of the learning from home timeline is expanding. While we long for a quick return to school as normal where we can greet each other and experience the joy of personal interactions, we are also acutely aware of the need to heed the guidance of health and government guidance for the safety of all.
In my conversations with other school leaders, we have unanswered questions for several important aspects of the current period of learning online. I have instructed our staff to make every effort to continue to follow learning objectives we have for our students so that the time away from school will be productive. Our current progress looks promising. We have every intention of finishing the year with the ability to award grades and document learning progress for each grade level. Our 8th graders will graduate on time and have a smooth transition to high school.
We are, at the same time, deeply aware of the social, emotional and spiritual needs of our students. We miss the need to connect daily with our students and know that they miss each other. Our faculty are working to reach out to their advisees when help is needed and encourage parents to take notice and share with us if you are concerned with your boy’s progress. We will continue to seek ways for the boys to interact through our contests and weekly assemblies. The boys are finding ways to keep virtual relationship alive in ways we would never imagine and sometimes in ways that might require a little more parental supervision.
May God bless you all,
Head of School