upper school and fourth grade chemistry doing a lab togetherby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

Growing up, I loved the summer vacations of our family. They were wonderful cross-country car trips that my mom and dad would spend months planning, engaging my sister, brother, and me in the process. (We still laugh that my little brother sat on a cushion between the two bucket front seats on the entire ride out to Boston and back.) Those road trips never quite worked out the way they were intended, but were, nonetheless, spectacular and we always had a marvelous time.

President Dwight Eisenhower is famous for saying, “Plans are worthless but planning is everything.” Like our summer road trips, a plan is essential, but what is most important is the planning. As we look forward to the 2021-22 school year, we are building upon the successes we’ve enjoyed this year as well as the lessons we have learned. A year ago, we began with a core set of values drawn from our school’s mission statement. Given the uncertainty, we knew that we needed a plan that was flexible and agile so that we could pivot quickly if necessary. Tying ourselves to a set of values enabled us to successfully adapt as the circumstances warranted.

As I shared in the Town Hall Tuesday night, our planning is once again grounded in a core set of values that are uniquely tied to the mission of MPA. They are very similar to those set a year ago, including:

  1. Ensuring the health and safety of all members of our community.
  2. Advancing the continuity of learning.
  3. Having all students on campus for in-person learning.
  4. Leveraging the powerful partnership between parents and the school.

The Administrative Team has identified a series of assumptions that then are driving the formation of action plans that reflect and advance our values. We are putting a stake in the ground and planning to open the 2021-22 school year with all students on campus. While we are focusing on this key value, we also have a number of contingency plans to fall back on should circumstances dictate another approach.

One thing we can be certain of is that COVID-19 will still pose a public health threat this fall. Looking ahead even a month these days can be risky. There is still much we don’t know about the virus and the uncertainty results in fear and anxiety that can be paralyzing. It is safe to assume that some COVID-19 mitigation strategies will remain in place, but we don’t know right now what they will be. However, we can be sure that medical and scientific research will emerge and public health protocols will continue to evolve. We intend to reconvene our Community Advisory Group comprised of parents who are in the medical and public health fields to provide guidance and support.

Coming back together in the fall will require a new blueprint that addresses student wellbeing and mental health needs as well as assesses our academic program to reflect the needs of our students, both returning and new. One priority we are certain is before us is that we need to collectively “relearn” what community means at MPA once all students are back in the building. As part of that effort, each of our time-honored traditions, such as Homecoming, dances, concerts, etc., will need to be evaluated through a health and safety lens and perhaps reimagined.

For a number of reasons, including the strong referrals of our parents, we are expecting to grow again this year. We expect a 10% increase in Lower School, an 8% increase in Middle School, and the Upper School will remain roughly consistent with this year. Regardless of enrollment growth, rest assured that what’s best for students is at the heart of all we do and all of our decision making. A hallmark of the MPA way is our commitment to small class sizes and we are incredibly focused on maintaining the optimal student experience—academically, but also socially and emotionally.

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, “You can never step into the same river twice.” We cannot, nor should we, try to go back to the way life was before the pandemic without reflecting on how we have grown and changed. As one teacher recently shared, “I’ve learned to be adventurous, to never stop trying new things, to not be afraid to fail, to be responsive yet proactive, and to support and encourage one another during this great experiment.” Another teacher observed that the pandemic confirmed what is at the heart of who we are, “MPA is an amazingly resilient, strong, creative community of individuals who care deeply about and will work hard creating a positive educational environment.”

It was inevitable at some point during our summer vacations that we would get lost. I remember clearly driving around in circles for hours trying to find our way out of Rhode Island only to happen across a restaurant with the best clam chowder I’ve ever tasted. Our summer adventures were magical but not because of a meticulously predetermined and unchanging daily itinerary or a set of detailed directions. As an adult, I’ve come to realize my parents’ secret: it wasn’t really what was in the plan, but what the planning made possible.

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