December 22, 2020
Dear SBS Families,
I hope that you are all well. I know our students and faculty are happy to have arrived at Winter Break after a challenging fall and are excited about putting academic routines to the side for a time. Despite the many obstacles 2020 has given us, we celebrated and supported one another and grew stronger as a community. Over the past week, our students, faculty, and staff have exchanged virtual Secret Snowflake emails to spread kindness and words of encouragement. It is small gestures like these that make Stoneleigh-Burnham School such a great community.
As we near the end of December, we are still facing rising COVID rates locally, regionally, and nationally. This will be a difficult winter, and a great health risk comes with bringing students from all over the country and the world back to campus.
Members of the Head’s Council and the Board of Trustees have had many conversations centered around determining the best decision for our school, and our medical team has met frequently over the last few weeks. While we are confident that we have a strong Return-to-Campus plan and are prepared to implement it when the circumstances allow, we have now made the prudent decision to postpone the return to on-campus learning until the end of Spring Break, March 15.
I know that the decision to continue with remote learning will bring disappointment to some, and relief to others. We long to have our students and faculty back on campus; however, the projections for the winter are cause for serious concern and maintaining a safe community is our primary goal.
Here are some COVID-19 related facts, as of this week, that have contributed to this decision:
- Inter-state travel is increasingly limited and international travel restrictions remain in place for many countries.
- The State of Massachusetts has returned to Step 1 of Phase 3 of the State’s reopening plan.
- There is a decreasing hospital capacity and increasing number of cases both locally and statewide.
- Greenfield is now considered a high-risk community as of December 15 and more than half of all Massachusetts is considered high-risk as of December 17.
We know that each independent school, boarding and day, and public school is unique in its makeup and situation. Stoneleigh-Burnham has a population that is currently composed of half boarding and half day students, and over half of our faculty are commuters to campus. Having a greater number of people coming and going each day would create unique challenges for our school during a time when the local situation is deemed high-risk. We also believe that in the spring with the outdoors more available, rather than in the depths of winter, students will be better able to handle the necessary safety restrictions of a return to campus.
Over the summer, we built a strong Distance Learning Program and continued refining it through the fall. Using feedback from family and student surveys, our faculty has built on and adapted their remote teaching strategies to support and challenge our students in healthy and dynamic ways. Our caring faculty and small-school community have allowed us to support students’ individual learning needs. The Student Services Team has provided additional targeted support for students who need it. At the end of fall term, we had a professional development day, and faculty spent considerable time debriefing the fall and fine tuning approaches, focusing on both the academic and social-emotional experience.
We are proud that our community has maintained strong connections: houseparents offer inviting and fun virtual social activities each week; student leaders have found new ways to alter and implement beloved SBS traditions (such as Secret Snowflake and Adopt-A-Family); and performers have wowed us with their passions and talents. We will now start to plan for how to adapt other important School traditions for the Junior and Senior Classes this winter term.
We look forward to preparing for a hybrid SBS experience by engaging faculty in focused training and best-practices discussions in the first week of January. We will build on the consistent program our students became accustomed to, while continuing to incorporate new practices that will enhance our robust remote instruction. This ongoing work will prepare us to offer a strong hybrid learning experience that can meet the needs of both in-person and virtual learners.
As communicated in the COVID-19 Community Handbook Supplement, we will assess tuition adjustments based solely on the extension of the School’s fully remote period, and we will do so once the school year is complete.
We are in the final stages of updating facilities, including the classrooms, the Health Center, and the Dining Hall, and we have invested in supplies and technologies necessary to support students on campus and at home. We are also well into the process of hiring extra housekeeping, nursing, and dining hall staff. However, this is not an easy time, and it requires difficult decisions. We look forward to the time when our community can be together again, in person, and we will be prepared for everyone’s safe return when that time comes. In the meantime, I truly hope that you will understand that our love for our students and the welfare of our community are at the forefront of this decision.
We will reach out with more details and information during the first half of January. In the meantime, thank you for your continued support and partnership. I wish you all the best for a safe and peaceful new year.
Head of School