Friday Update – May 15, 2020

Mark Turner

Dear Parents and Guardians,

Greetings and best wishes after a week in which the education sector, public and independent, has been considering options and planning our next steps in support of the BC Government’s plan outlined in Premier John Horgan’s statement, and given some detail by Education Minister Rob Fleming today, Friday, May 15 at 10 am. We are now on a path towards a gradual restarting of our economy and, in a phased way, the reopening of schools.

Our Senior Leadership Team has been diligently processing research data and advice from public health authorities, the Ministry of Education, school support associations (ISABC and CAIS) and our own local context with schools on Vancouver Island.

We have decided on a plan for the next few weeks which we believe is safe to deliver, provides continuity, and supports both students and parents from Kindergarten to Grade 12, in line with public policy directives.

Junior School

At the Junior School, the delivery of our remote learning curriculum will continue for all, through to the last day of classes on Friday, June 12. Surveys indicate that remote learning has settled into a successful routine which is working well given the circumstances for the vast majority of students. Therefore, we aim to maintain the continuity, momentum and stability that has been generated thus far.

On Monday, June 1, we will be extending the BC mandated provision of ‘child care’ from the current situation – the children of Essential Workers, to any student from Kindergarten to Grade 5 who wishes to access it. We hope that this will support those parents who intend to, or must return to work.

Initial surveys conducted last weekend suggest that this may be approximately 40 to 60 students. In line with public policy, access to this child care will be voluntary and the offered program will not be the pre-COVID 19 Junior School program and daily schedule. We stress that students in our care will continue with the remote learning curriculum online as if it is being accessed from home, in what is a now familiar routine. In reaching this decision, we have been guided by our commitment to the health and safety of our students and staff, along with a priority to maintain continuity of learning, and a desire to help parents begin to respond to the reopening of the broader economy.

A school-based team of senior leaders, along with the Director of the Junior School, Mrs. Anderson and her team, will now be planning specific details for an increased number of students being cared for in the Junior School building. To support this planning, we ask all parents to respond to the survey that will be sent to you by Mrs. Anderson, requesting a clear indication of whether your child will be accessing this ‘child care’ or not, so that we can allocate an appropriate number of staff, and prepare the physical space and equipment required to ensure that this partial return is as safe as possible.

Middle School and Senior School

For all Middle and Senior School students, remote learning will continue until the last day of classes on Friday, June 12. Once again, surveys have indicated the success of this method of delivery, albeit one that has been a necessary alternative we all would have rather avoided.

The week of June 15 to June 19, leading up to the formerly stated end of year, will involve a separate program to allow students to connect directly with staff and to provide a sense of closure to the school year. There will also be the opportunity for students to come to the campus on a phased basis to retrieve possessions that may still be stored in their school lockers. We will be working on plans to make this return to school experience as meaningful as possible.

In the case of boarding students, this process of retrieving belongings will be communicated by Keith Driscoll and your Senior Houseparents.

In addition, during this time, our faculty who have been focused on the delivery of remote learning courses, will also be engaging in planning that will support the preparation for September return to learning. Director of the Middle School, Mr. Brambley and Director of the Senior School, Mr. Anderson, will be in touch with details of how this program will work.

Graduating Class of 2020 (Grade 12)

It was excellent that Premier Horgan specifically mentioned the graduating class of 2020 as being particularly impacted by this crisis. We note that today’s announcement makes a return to school for a form of graduation ‘rite of passage’, a real possibility. Mr. Anderson and his team are working on what this will look like, and we understand the importance of saying both “hello and goodbye.”

We will be looking at all options to support our graduates as “you go forward into a future that you can make for yourself… and into a world that will start small but will grow.” (Premier Horgan)

Financial Aid

  • COVID-19 Relief Plan: after the Board of Governors’ decision to allocate significant major support for Financial Aid, we launched an urgent Financial Aid Relief Fund appeal. This was generously matched by our Parents’ Auxiliary up to $100,000, which we are hoping to match throughout May. We do have the option to reconsider requests for Financial Aid, if your circumstances have changed significantly as a direct result of COVID-19. As previously stated, our aim is that no student should have to leave our school as a result of the short-term financial impact of this current situation. The closing date for applications for this relief fund is Thursday, May 21. Please email Alexis Lang Lunn at [email protected], Director of Admissions for more information. Please email Adrienne Davidson at [email protected], Director of Advancement for more information on how you might support the Financial Aid Relief Fund campaign.
  • Our Deferred Payment Plan, designed to support those who may have short-term cash flow pressure, will be accessible on request by email to Rita Lord at [email protected], Chief Financial Officer by June 1.

Planning ahead to the start of the new academic year, Term One September 2020

Following today’s announcement from the Minister of Education, our focus and attention will now turn to planning for the resumption of the new school year in September. We were encouraged to hear such a strong commitment to ensuring education will be returning to a ‘new normal’, whatever that proves to be. Nevertheless, our mantra in this regard will remain ‘hoping for the best but planning for the worst.’

Currently our enrolment numbers have held up exceptionally well, which gives us optimism. Obviously, we would like to be in a position where we could open with the full freedom to return to the SMUS of old, which you all voted for, and which worked so well up until March 13.

Knowing that the ‘past normal’ is unlikely, our faculty and staff will be planning for a variety of educational and community scenarios, which we will share with you in due course. Additionally, we are advised to build into our planning several possibilities, including mitigations for a potential ‘second wave’ and individual outbreaks of the virus. If these events do occur, there will be a requirement for the school, and all of us, to be nimble, flexible and able to pivot at short notice.

In Conclusion

I am finding as time goes by, each week brings its own highs and lows. It seems to me that by starting to think about a phased return to normal, albeit within the numerous caveats that are always quoted, we may have turned a corner! There is at least some light at the end of the COVID tunnel.

This last week, the undoubted highlight for me was reviewing the presentations for Head Prefect positions. In this regard, I take my vote seriously and wanted to gain as much information on each candidate as I possibly could. I listened intently as each candidate gave a two-minute virtual presentation on their values and philosophy behind the responsibilities of taking on these important senior leadership positions.

The process was a wonderful reminder of why some of us have committed our working lives to students and schools. To hear outstanding young men and women outlining their visions for the future was uplifting. If I needed any reminder that things will get better, this was it. Our SMUS leaders of the future will bring courage, honesty, a dedicated sense of service and deep respect to tackling whatever problems are surging towards us over the horizons of the future.

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