Dear St. Stephen’s Families,
With the 2019-20 school year now completed, we have shifted our attention and focused our resources on next school year. While no one knows how the global health situation will evolve between now and then, or the exact conditions under which we will begin the new year, we have initiated planning for the most likely scenarios. Our top priority throughout all these efforts remains the health, safety and well-being of our students and employees, and we are working diligently to minimize risk. At the same time, we are eager to create innovative and engaging educational experiencesfor the entire Spartan community.
Aiming to Be on Campus, Planning for Three Scenarios
We are currently planning for three scenarios, but our goal is to begin the school year with classes on campus. We know that we are at our best as a community and as a school when we are living and learning together on The Hill. But even this scenario will require us to add safety measures and reimagine certain types of activities. We recognize that some of the factors affecting our ability to resume classes on The Hill are beyond our control, including improvements in the quality of COVID-19 testing, access to testing and the spread of the virus in Austin. Nonetheless, we will work hard this summer to scrutinize every significant aspect of the student experience on campus, adapting our facilities, behaviors, processes and protocols so we can return to campus in the safest way possible, as soon as possible.
We also are planning for ahybrid model combining in-person and distance learning, with two to three versions of this approach depending upon several factors. The third scenario is a continuation of remote learning that would be improved by lessons we learned in the spring, results from the parent and student surveys, technology enhancements and faculty professional development through our new institutional partnership with the Global Online Academy.
Intensifying Our Planning Efforts
Last month, we formed a Reopening Task Force to guide our planning and preparation for the new school year. The task force consists of representatives from nearly every segment of our school, including academic administration, advancement, admission, athletics, dining hall, facilities and grounds, faculty, finance, fine arts, health and wellness, human resources, our international and residential programs, marketing and communications, and IT services. Task force members are considering the myriad details required to prepare for each of the three scenarios—from health screening, social-distancing protocols and facilities usage, to online teaching, assessment and collaboration tools, as well as daily and weekly academic schedules, and even the length of the fall term and appropriate breaks and holidays. All of these issues are complex and interconnected. In making its decisions, this task force is drawing upon a range of internal information as well as best practices from other school districts, universities, and independent and boarding school associations; the latest guidelines from the CDC; and official orders from local, state and federal agencies.
These planning efforts will augment the customary ways our faculty and staff spend their summers improving the campus, refining courses, and enhancing programs and resources to better serve and support our students.
Giving Families a Choice
St. Stephen’s recognizes that each of our families is unique. We also know that our families have different concerns about their children returning to classes on campus. While the school may decide to resume classes on campus, and some parents may be comfortable with that decision, others may prefer for their children to continue learning remotely from home. Whichever model we start the new year with, we will work with families as best we can to provide an educational experience that honors their concerns. I also recognize that many of our boarding families need to make travel and other logistical plans, and we will strive to make decisions and communicate them as expeditiously as possible so they can plan accordingly.
Supporting Parents in Uncertain Times
St. Stephen’s understands that some of our families have questions and concerns regarding tuition in light of the financial distress and uncertainty caused by COVID-19. We have looked at several solutions to help you manage uncertainty and alleviate stress. All families are welcome to use a tuition payment plan that would allow them to make 10 equal payments beginning August 2020 through May 2021. This option requires enrollment in our tuition insurance plan. If you are interested in pursuing this option, please contact Lawrence Sampleton, Associate Head for Enrollment and Financial Assistance, at email@example.com. In addition, we recognize that some families may not be comfortable meeting the June 15 tuition deadline in the midst of so much uncertainty. We are eager to work with individual families on a case-by-case basis if they wish to request a deadline extension for the remaining tuition and fee payments.
Our school has a long history of working to make the St. Stephen’s Experience accessible and affordable. The board of trustees voted this spring to make an additional limited amount of financial aid available in light of the economic downturn. If you recently have experienced increased financial hardship and would like to discuss need-based financial assistance, please contact Mr. Sampleton.
Communicating with Parents this Summer
We are very proud of the work our students did this spring, and early next week you will receive year-end comments from your child’s teachers and advisor. We will then send a survey to parents and a survey to students regarding their experience with remote learning this spring. These surveys are critical pieces of our overall planning efforts, and I hope that you and your children will complete them by noon on Saturday, June 13. This is an important opportunity for the Spartan community to reimagine parts of the educational experience at our school, and I look forward to this collaboration.
I plan to communicate with our families every two weeks over the course of this summer as the global health situation evolves and we continue our planning efforts. In upcoming emails, I will shed more light on the three learning scenarios/models we are preparing for and provide updates on our plans to support our community’s health and safety.
I wish you all a safe and healthy summer, and look forward to hearing of the many creative, fun-filled and purposeful ways you spend your time in the coming months.