Update to Academy Families — April 9, 2021
Dear St. Johnsbury Academy Families,
Taking their first round of “SBAC” (Smarter Balanced Assessment) tests may not have been the most exhilarating reason to be here on a Friday, but seeing members of the freshman class arriving in person at the field house this springish morning felt very hopeful. Brighter days are approaching!
Today I want to share a few important updates about newly revised health and safety guidance from the Vermont Agency of Education, and about the progress of our recovery and renewal efforts, including some of the things we are planning to finish this incredibly challenging school year strong for students, families, and faculty and staff.
Strong and Healthy Finish: It is very exciting that Vermont is putting into place the plans that will hopefully allow us to get back to a more normal summer. The Agency of Education and the VT Department of Health released new guidelines for schools yesterday afternoon. While there is not much change for us—we are still wearing masks, distancing, operating in the hybrid mode, and discouraging non-essential travel—there are some slight changes you will want to read about. Please see the COVID response team update below.
Recovery and Renewal: As we look to move past the COVID pandemic, from crisis response to rehabilitation, there is once again a great deal of planning to be done. As from the beginning, there remains uncertainty about both the nature and the timing of changes to the pandemic conditions and the public health guidelines that will steer us; but we want to be as ready as possible to do what’s best for students in the coming months. As we strive to meet these challenges, our guiding priorities will be:
To bring our students back to campus in a safe, responsible, and sustainable way;
To mitigate the effects of the pandemic on the well-being of our students and the school community, with attention to school culture, renewal of learning, and social-emotional health;
To learn from lessons of the pandemic to restore and build our understanding of essential learning, and to repair disruptions in student engagement and academic success.
Please see the Appendix below for more details on our efforts.
End of Year: In the spirit of short-term recovery and renewal, and with better understanding of the possibilities for gathering in June, we have decided to adjust the final days of the school year. We hope both to allow for more celebration of our seniors and to offer some respite to all.
The last day of Spring semester classes will be Thursday, May 27th, with an exam make-up day on Friday, May 28th.
Students will need to submit any work for spring courses by a deadline of May 30th.
The week after Memorial Day—Tuesday June 1st-Sunday June 6th—will be a “senior week” during which we will do our best to offer some of the traditional end-of-year events such as Last Chapel, Class Day, Senior Breakfast, and Baccalaureate, ending in Commencement on June 7th as planned.
We are planning a couple of different scenarios for Commencement Ceremonies including what we can do outdoors, indoors, and including as many faculty and families as possible.
Please feel free to be in touch with us about any of these updates—there is a lot here to absorb, but things are changing in good ways. We will hold a Senior Parent Zoom forum on Tuesday, April 13th at 7:00pm to talk about the end of the year plans for our seniors. An invitation will follow; please join us there. The COVID Response Team email is COVIDResponseTeam@stjacademy.org; and my email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you more now than ever for your support and partnership,
Dr. Sharon Howell
COVID RESPONSE TEAM UPDATE:
Physical distancing: The guidance for mask wearing and six-foot distancing is still in place and important with the rise in adolescent cases in Vermont. We have been successful in staying open this year in large part because of how we have adhered to these standards and worked with the Department of Health, and we don’t want to lose that now.
Vermont also has new travel guidance as part of its reopening plan effective today. (They are still discouraging non-essential travel until you are fully vaccinated.) The new guidance asks unvaccinated Vermonters to test within three days of returning to Vermont. You do not need to quarantine while you wait for your results if you do not have any symptoms.
Because our boarding students live together in a dorm and have many close contacts, we will continue to require a seven-day quarantine followed by a negative test result for our boarding students returning from out-of-state travel.
The guidelines for quarantining for COVID symptoms, testing because of symptoms, close contact quarantine and isolation of positive cases remains the same.
We will continue to rely on our Academy families to do daily health checks prior to school, keep sick kids home, and have their student tested within the three days after traveling outside of Vermont.
We will also continue daily health screening. The revised guidelines do not require it, but they do ask us to “monitor” students for symptoms, and this is a great way to do that—both to greet all students as they arrive, and to make sure they’re not coming to school sick.
The updated guidelines will allow some freedom in mixing student cohorts and classes for educational purposes, which will give us more options for student-teacher meetings for extra help.
APPENDIX: RENEWAL AND RECOVERY PLANNING
Our Renewal Planning Team, made up of staff from across the Academy, will consult with relevant faculty and administrators, rely on data from the state government and public health experts, track the guidance of educational leaders and our professional organizations, and help the school put in place both a short-term renewal plan and a process for continuing to adjust our long-term plans in informed and appropriate ways as we move into the summer and the coming years.
Our hope is to have the Academy back to full operation, with all students on campus and programs running, for Fall 2021—and until then to create the conditions academically and culturally for true long-term renewal. We will:
Enhance the supports available for incoming students;
Adjust some of our freshman offerings to respond to the needs of the moment;
Offer some creative summer programming for students and teachers;
Work closely with returning students to finish the current year strong and in a way that will start building the foundation for return to school in the fall.
We know that things will not be the same, and anticipate needing to keep in place some of the health and safety measures, online and hybrid teaching options, and operational structures that we have developed over the last year; to continue to offer a version of our “Virtual Academy;” and to continue to communicate in the more robust way we have over the course of this year given the ever-changing landscape. As before, we will acknowledge that while we will not always get everything right or see around every corner, we will share our thought processes and the information that informs our decisions as transparently as possible.
Renewal Planning Team:
Sharon Howell, Carol Lyon, Beth Choiniere, Hank Eaton, Sarah Garey, Jack Cummings, Tammi Cady, Mat Forest, Sean Murphy, Kurt Zschau, and Jack Driscoll
Over the next two months, this team will convene and regularly report to the Academic Committee in order to:
Determine key questions (esp. around school opening);
Assess needs of students, faculty, parents;
Gather data from relevant experts;
Model scenarios and options for recovery and renewal;
Align plans and solutions with the rollout of state and federal funding;
Pursue appropriate funding.
The Renewal Team will work in relation to the State of Vermont’s proposed “recovery” timeline—roughly late March to begin planning, and fully implementing by June 1st. But we know there may be steps we want to take along the way, so our goal is not to produce a static “plan” by June, but instead to plan continuously and iterate across the coming weeks.
Our directives from the Board of Trustees will steer all our work, particularly as we look to maintain financial sustainability and fidelity to the mission, while continuing to improve the school strategically in response to changing conditions and advances in thinking.