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Update to Academy Families — August 21, 2020

Bell tower an flag
August 21, 2020

Dear St. Johnsbury Academy Families,

 

As our boarding students start moving happily out of their quarantines and into their dorm rooms, and maintenance crews do some final upgrades to campus facilities, we are getting ready to welcome back our faculty and staff this coming Monday. All next week we will be meeting — masked, distanced, and in limited groups — to reconnect and get accustomed to the many things that will be different this semester. We know the week is going to teach us a lot, even as we train faculty and staff to follow our new protocols and help make sure teachers are ready to teach in the complex new environment we have designed. What we learn will help us to adjust and understand where we need to reimagine things before students arrive on the 31st. And it is exciting and moving to all of us to be starting the year together after the upheavals of the last few months.

 

We know, and have articulated often, that we are in this together — that we will need to partner across every group in the community to make the school year work. But every day, as our work begins in person, that fact becomes more and more clear. Along with encouraging safe habits with your kids, we hope you will help us in a couple of important ways—by remaining flexible and understanding as we adapt in real-time to a changing reality, and by staying in touch with us and sharing your concerns and questions. We will always be doing our best to offer timely and comprehensive information and updates, and we hope you will continue to support and uplift our efforts, while also understanding that we won’t always get it right.

 

That said, I have faith that the precautions we’re taking will help us stay safe, and that the hard work of so many here to anticipate and address every kind of challenge will finally pay off when our community is back together again. We can’t wait.

 

A few updates about academics, athletics, and future opportunities to hear from you.

 

1. We will host another Zoom forum for families next Thursday, August 27th, at 7pm. Please join us with your questions about Orientation week and other start-of-school issues. A Zoom link will follow next week.

 

2. From our athletic director, John Lenzini:

 

As mentioned in last week’s letter, athletics are slated to begin fall practices on September 8th. Athletes and coaches will participate in practices (and eventually competition, if allowed) in facial coverings, with the exception of cross-country athletes, who are permitted to remove their masks only while running.

 

A very important point of clarification regarding the ‘step’ guidance that determines the allowance for athletic practice versus competition: The Agency of Education, not the VPA, will determine the guidance step for all schools in the state. Schools are opening under AOE step 2 and would notionally be moved to step 3 of guidance after two weeks of safe school operation. These steps do not determine the delivery of curriculum for schools — hybrid, in-person, etc. — but guide/suggest safety protocols. Schools determine the best-fit model for their academic day.

 

That said, a step 3 announcement would indicate that schools’ athletic teams are permitted to compete interscholastically. At this point, the AOE has projected that the earliest date for competition would be the week of September 28th.

 

Most sports, with 7v7 football and golf being the notable exceptions, would simply pick up their schedules from the time competition is allowed, and missed games will not be made up. Over the course of the next days, sport-specific guidelines will be published outlining any modifications for competition (i.e. cross-country races will move from mass starts to interval starts).

 

We’ll keep you posted when we know more.

 

3. Finally, I am sorry to report that long-serving faculty member and most recently Dean of Academics Bill Vinton, who has occupied multiple roles at the school over 41 years, has decided to retire, and will not be with us for this school year. He has worked hard in recent months particularly in credit recovery for students after the spring, and we wish him the best in his well-deserved retirement.

 

For the time being, I myself will be taking on the leadership duties in academics, supervising the Curriculum Committee (department heads from across the school). You have probably already seen the excellent staff — such as Sean Murphy, who has been heroic in developing our master schedule — who support the rich academic life that is central to our mission. I am grateful for them.

 

Remember to check our Fall 2020 School Opening Roadmap for updates as well, and never hesitate to leave me a message there or email me at showell@stjacademy.org.

 

Yours Gratefully,

 

Dr. Sharon Howell

Headmaster

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