Friday Update – March 20, 2020

Mark Turner

Dear Parents and Guardians,

We live in unprecedented times. Never before has the school been closed indefinitely by provincial authorities. We believe that in adversity there is also opportunity. By staying true to our values of respect, courage, honesty and service, we will get through this.

As we reach the day that was officially designated as the end of term, I am pleased to have this opportunity to write with a summary of where we have come from, where we are at, and how we are likely to proceed over the next little while. I propose therefore to use the broad structure, past, present and future.

PAST – so much has happened and so much has changed, that looking back to the start of term in January seems to be like gazing into a different era. Despite that, I think it is important that we recognize that by all our usual yardsticks, the broader SMUS community has enjoyed an extremely successful term.

In the first few weeks of January, there was much anticipation and excitement around the launch of Floreat, our 2020-2030 Strategic Plan. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and real momentum has already been generated. With a clear roadmap to guide us, I predict that the good ship SMUS will rapidly sail towards a flourishing future. In summary therefore, Term 1 of the 30-term duration of Floreat can be ticked off as a great success.

PRESENT – but then against all the positives this term were the first darkening clouds, as we closely monitored developments of COVID-19 around the world. There was a sense of growing concern as we could read the trends and begin to predict the impact. I can say that SMUS was very fast out of the blocks. We quickly set up a Response Committee and reached out to gain as much relevant and professional advice as we could from all the key agencies: public health, educational organizations, ISABC, CAIS and detailed medical advice from our own advisors. With Board of Governors representing numerous professions, and living both local and abroad, we were well informed. This led us to develop a raft of reasonable and proportionate measures, as the risk level gradually rose.

As you know, this culminated in the decision to close the school last Friday (March 13) and to commit the last week of term to training for faculty and staff as to how we will move forward with our remote learning curriculum, should it be impossible for us to congregate as a community at the scheduled start of term on Tuesday, April 14. I am pleased to pass on that our period of intensive training has been reported on by the Director of Academics and the Directors of the Junior, Middle and Senior Schools as a great success. Please refer to the FAQs (frequently asked questions) and address further queries as advised.

Here are some key points:

  • Our No. 1 priority remains the health, safety and welfare of all our students, staff and faculty.
  • Friday, March 13 – SMUS dismisses students early for Spring Break.
  • Monday, March 16 to Friday, March 20 – SMUS faculty and staff undertook intensive remote learning training – a success and opportunity.
  • Tuesday, March 17 – BC Premier John Horgan and BC Minister of Education Rob Fleming announce the closure of all BC schools indefinitely.
  • Tuesday, April 14 – SMUS prepares to launch remote learning for all students.

Although life will be different and everyone will need to be flexible and pull together, we believe that we can maintain meaningful learning over an indefinite period should that be necessary. We believe that there is a real opportunity for SMUS to distinguish itself in this field. During this time, I have felt particularly for our boarders, several of whom have had to change plans and then change them again. I am relieved to know that everybody is now safely either at home, with close relatives here in Canada, or in homestays. I should like to express my thanks to the numerous parents who reached out with offers of homestays, should boarders have been stranded. These generous offers to open homes at a time of increasing anxiety, demonstrates the SMUS values at their very best. In short, in the present I feel that given the range of other possibilities, we are very fortunate indeed.

We are in fast changing, uncertain times. We appreciate that all of you will be experiencing increasing anxiety from this and developing your own coping mechanisms. You must know that having been a global issue, COVID-19 is now much closer to home. As per Andy Rodford’s specific email yesterday, now on our website, one student has tested positive and it is important that all members of our extended community listen closely to and act precisely on all the latest public health advice.

FUTURE – having decided to close the school a week early, which as events have unfolded has proved to be a good decision, faculty have been able to devote quality time to preparing for our delivery of the curriculum through remote learning. In this, we have been ably led by Denise Lamarche, Director of Academics, and Dave Hlannon, Director of Educational Technology. We now feel confident that we will be able to roll out this effective curriculum as required, from the first day of term, Tuesday, April 14.

As mentioned above, BC Premier John Horgan and Rob Fleming BC Minister of Education, closed all public and independent schools indefinitely on March 17. While this is disappointing news, we are very much of the opinion that in adversity comes opportunity. We are strongly committed to preparing thoroughly, adapting quickly and ensuring our students’ education is as continuous as possible.

Please be aware that although we are bound by provincial decisions, we will be aiming to open our school as quickly as possible when the time is right. We are hoping for an earlier start but planning for the realistic possibility that school may not resume on campus before the end of June.

Within our FAQs on the SMUS website, we have tried to anticipate some of the more obvious questions that are circulating. It will however take some time for us to develop a fair, reasonable and proportionate response. We are aware that everyone has questions. In the spirit of one of our key values, honesty, we do not have all the answers just yet but we are working on it. These will be discussed in various extraordinary Board meetings over the next few weeks and announcements will be made as soon as possible.

Over the course of the coming days, we will endeavour to keep our online FAQs section regularly updated and will make further announcements as and when necessary.

In a recent presentation to faculty, I mentioned that in challenging situations I often refer to poetry. One of my favourites is contained within the Exeter Book, a collection of 9th century middle English writings, riddles and poems. In this anthology is a poem called “Deor’s Lament”, in which the author lists a whole series of events, some happy, some sad, some occur on a vast scale, some are very personal. After describing each one in the verse, we hear the repeated refrain ‘that passed away, this also may.’ As an optimist, and having worked in schools for more than 30 years, one cannot help but be optimistic, I am very much of the opinion ‘this too shall pass.’

With very best wishes to you, thanks for your understanding, and the hope that you will all stay safe until we can meet again as a community.

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