April 30, 2020
by Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School
My thinking these days on navigating this crisis has been informed by one of my favorite bloggers, Pascal Finette. In his recent post, he wrote about a global consulting firm that looks at the world in three time dimensions: Now, Next and Beyond. The world, observes Finette, has changed dramatically. “In the world BC (Before COVID-19) Next was one to two years out, and the Beyond was somewhere past the five-year mark. Today, Now and Next are happening in parallel and at the same time, while Beyond is AC (After COVID-19).” AC, wrote Pascal, “requires a very different view of the world and leaders to show up in very different ways.” I would like to use this framework to share with you how MPA is successfully navigating this crisis and planning for the future.
During the last six weeks, we’ve made an incredible shift to online learning, ensuring the continuity of learning for our children. We have done so while holding fast to our whole child philosophy and our commitment to rigor with purpose. As I said in the beginning, “first different, then better.” Modeling the resiliency we inspire in our students, we have been engaged in an ongoing process of designing, implementing, assessing, and adapting teaching and learning to meet the needs of our students in our new reality, even as the crisis itself evolves.
Plans are in place and unfolding to ensure success in the continuity of operations, admission and enrollment, and the fiscal health of the school. I am confident that we will weather the storm.
- Continuity of Operations: In order to sustain the quality of the education you’ve come to expect, we must continue to support our teachers, cover all of our non-teaching expenses, and invest in innovative ways to deliver our curriculum for our students. In fact, the school has invested in additional operating expenses associated with adopting and implementing online learning tools. In addition, we have a number fixed costs. For instance, even though we are not at school, we still have costs to maintain the building, pay utilities, mow the grass, etc.
- Enrollment: BC (Before COVID-19) recruitment and admissions were strong and exceeding expectations. I am very happy to share that both new enrollments and re-enrollments continue to be strong today. New enrollments are trending significantly higher than at the same time last year, and re-enrollment is on pace. Even in the face of uncertainty, families are seeing clearly the value of MPA—perhaps in contrast to how other schools are managing remote learning. Please continue to share MPA in your networks.
- Financial Health: Through managing expenses and carefully monitoring cash flow, we are positioned well to end the fiscal year. Philanthropic giving has been very strong BC and our reimagined Spring Auction was a phenomenal success. To assist families and employees who are experiencing financial difficulties, a Community Care Fund has been created.
- Employees: We will continue to compensate all of our dedicated and hard-working faculty and staff through the end of the school year. Wherever possible, staff have been reassigned to support the overall operations of the school. We are making every effort to honor the everyday commitment they make and to ensure their continued employment during these uncertain economic times. We must retain our highly qualified and dedicated teachers and staff as we look forward to next year.
- Lunch and Busing: One of the things we keep hearing from MPA families is their gratitude and appreciation for how MPA teachers and staff have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many have asked how they can give back and support the school during this difficult time. We will have more ideas for you soon, but one easy way for your family to consider is donating back your hot lunch and transportation costs. Click here to express your desire to this or to receive a refund.
Academically, teachers are hard at work adapting curricula, assessing in-class work and homework, and rethinking assessments and grading. Flexibility, compassion, and empathy are guiding how we provide feedback, assess, and grade. Teachers are also working to strike the right balance between synchronous and asynchronous learning. Just as each student learns differently, there is a wide variety of teaching. Teacher autonomy matters at MPA and no two days look exactly alike.
The social, emotional, and mental health of our students is also a priority. Virtual school at MPA is designed as an extension of the care teachers have for their students and to nurture a community that will endure our present challenges. Teachers are checking in with students daily and staying in touch with parents through phone calls and virtual meetings. Upper School clubs continue to meet, coaches are sharing workouts, Panther Den is facilitating after school activities for Middle School students, and there is even a virtual playground for Lower School students. Our student support teams and counselors continue their work, meeting individually and in groups to support students and their families.
While this is not the way we thought or hoped the school year would end, I am confident that the continuity of learning is, and will be, successfully continued and advanced. Last week we announced a shift in the weekly schedule at each division and many of our honored, year-end, traditions have been re-imagined and will take place, albeit in a different manner. The academic, social, emotional, physical, and mental growth of our students will transcend this crisis.
The uncertainty of the economic impact of the pandemic will be ongoing and dynamic and so will be its impact on our finances, enrollment, and budget. It is reasonable to expect the impact will come in waves and while we are well positioned at the moment, we strive to make wise, data-driven decisions. The MPA Board of Trustees, working together with the school’s Administrative Team, is at work considering the Now, Next, and Beyond of MPA.
Using a scenario analysis exercise, the trustees and administrators considered three scenarios for the coming school year that take into account a full spectrum of driving economic forces, relevant trends, and critical uncertainties. Within each scenario, we identified opportunities and risks and considered the probability and impact of the risks and opportunities on MPA in order to create strategic objectives and potential operational models. We are now in the process of developing strategic action plans to mitigate the risks and maximize opportunities. Critical to successfully implementing a portfolio of actions, we are identifying a series of triggers that will forewarn a need to change course so that we can act quickly and decisively.
It is my great hope that we return on-campus for the start of the 2020-2021 academic year as planned in August. We are actively planning for a variety of possibilities, taking into account the recommendations and guidance of local and state public health officials. Over the course of the past week, a number of articles were published about how schools will look different as a result of the pandemic. As a part of our crisis planning, MPA already has a detailed plan in place to guide school operations. The plan is being continually updated to anticipate the impact of potential health and social distancing protocols that may be in place in the fall.
As it has been since the beginning, our primary goal is to protect the health and safety of our students and community. We are developing contingency plans that are proactive and that will enable us to act quickly as our reality changes. Modifications to the daily and weekly schedules, adjusting the school calendar, enhanced and increased cleaning protocols, re-imagining recess, and adjusting classroom density are just a few of many measures that are associated with each contingency plan.
AC: After COVID
I believe it was President Eisenhower who said, “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” We may not know all the answers now, but I am confident in our approach. While the future is uncertain, we do not need to be held captive by it and paralyzed by fear. The world will look differently AC, but the strength of our community, the durable relationships we enjoy, our dedicated and exceptional faculty and staff, and our history, mission, and values will power us through.