It's late spring, early summer 2020. If you are the head or owner of a private K-12 school, you are coping with the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. Academic year 2019-2020 was going so well until everything stopped in March. You sent students home. You sent teachers home. In a matter of hours, your in-person classroom instruction became online instruction. Your old way of doing things was predictable and full of cherished traditions that made your school what it was. Your brand had dozens of metrics that proved to potential families that your school was worth the fees you charged. Your mission to educate the whole child that depended on personal interaction and watchful supervision was rarely questioned. Your brand and your mission have not changed. But the way you deliver them has most definitely changed. So, how does a school like yours survive the aftermath of this terrible pandemic? By living in the moment with a cautious, clear vision to the future.
In this video, a doctor explains what COVID-19 is.
Step 1. Convene a planning committee to prepare for academic year 2020-2021.
Keep your committee small but representative. Your administrative staff, faculty, board members, and parents are experienced, devoted people who care about the school. Their job is to develop a road map for the immediate future. Management of the day-to-day running of the school is your job. Not theirs. Hold regular virtual meetings. Charge each member of the committee with tasks such as communications, compliance with state and local COVID-19 directives and regulations, digital teaching, marketing, admissions, sanitizing facilities and equipment, renovating teaching spaces, health screening and so on. Prioritize the tasks. The committee's major responsibility during the summer of 2020 is to get the school open. The NAIS has resources to help guide your planning.
Step 2. Ask your benefactors to help.
While every small gift will help your financial situation in the coming year, you will need some major gifts both to keep the doors open and to encourage others to support the school both with their gifts and with their children. You also are looking at expenses that you had not budgeted for, such as daily deep cleaning of your facilities and equipment, the renovation of office and teaching spaces, purchase of masks and gloves, and much more. None of these items comes cheap. You know the names of alumni and families who love the school. Now is the time to ask for $20,000, $200,000, $2,000,000, or whatever amount your research tells you the ask should be. Aim high. It's the school's future that's at stake. Inside Charity offers some advice to guide your thinking.
Step 3. Adapt! Adapt! Adapt!
Planning for previous school years was an exercise in predictability. Everybody from the head of school on down to maintenance staff knew what to do. Many of these staff members had been doing the same job for years. They could do their jobs blind-folded. You had your teachers lined up. You had most of the places filled. You scheduled faculty meetings, new student orientation, and all the rituals of the new academic year. Now, everything has changed. The pandemic just threw out your playbook.
In the fall of 2020 you still have to plan for all the normal events associated with the opening of school. But this year you have to execute everything differently. The pandemic has transformed the way you interface with everybody: students, parents, teachers, staff - everybody.
In the fall of 2020 you have to adapt to vastly changed circumstances. And you often will have to do it on a moment's notice depending on how your local situation looks. Independent School Management offers some suggestions to help you manage the situation.
This video from CBS Sunday Morning examines the effect of COVID-19 on schools.
The way we did things last year might not work the same way this year. For example, teaching a class with students seated next to each other will not all the all-important social distancing to occur. Find a new way of teaching. If the classroom is large enough, can you spread out desks, tables, and chairs? Be prepared to offer several ways of teaching depending on the subject being taught. Maybe you will have to start the academic year with many classes being taught online. Perhaps a mix of classroom and online teaching makes sense and can be executed safely. Another approach proposed in many large public high schools is having teachers move, and students remain in their classroom.
Step 4. Safety comes first.
While not instinctive or habitual, social distancing and wearing masks are the new norm in academia. Keep reminding the members of your school community that NPIs or non-pharmaceutical intervention strategies will be around for a long time. Scientists are racing to develop vaccines for the virus. But it takes lots of time. There is also no assurance that researchers will be able to develop a vaccine. Fact: there is no vaccine for HIV and it has been around for over thirty years.
Step 5. Be inspired by the history of private schools.
Private schools have always adapted. They have a long history of being innovative. Look at trail-blazers like Stephen Girard, the Phillips family, John Dewey, Lucy Madeira, Frances Nightingale, Maria Montessori, and others. Life dealt them tough hands to play. But they overcame the challenges which stood in their way, made their dreams a reality, and went on to change the way we teach young people. More at 5 More Founders and the Schools Their Gifts Established.
Conclusion: What's the future going to look like?
Most economists seem to think that the economy will recover slowly. Both in the United States and abroad. It is difficult to predict the effects on private schools. Much depends on how severely your local area has been affected. One suggestion which makes good sense even in the best of times is to have your school develop multiple income streams such as online courses for all age groups and interests. Your school has the IT infrastructure and the digital teaching experience and skilled faculty to make that possible. Finally, you may have to face the reality as the New York Times says that keeping your "business going may mean both growing and shrinking".
This video reports on what schools will look like post-pandemic.
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