May 1, 2020
7 Iyar 5780
Dear Heilicher Families,
I have said this many times, and will continue to say it - I am eternally grateful for the work of our teachers and administrators and for their extraordinary efforts that have kept Heilicher@Home going strong over the past six weeks. I am also incredibly grateful for the loyalty of our families and your steady and patient engagement with Heilicher during this time.
Over the next few weeks, I feel it is important that I am able to share with you the progress we are making on planning for next year. These updates may include tracking decision-making on broad and specific matters (for example, ranging from thoughts on graduation all the way to how we will reopen next year), as well as sharing my philosophy on how to approach planning and decisions in the face of significant uncertainty. Most grade-level matters will be shared by your teachers or advisors, but I see graduation as a capstone event that has symbolic and structural relevance beyond eighth grade.
I hope you find this helpful.
Current Approach to Re-Opening in the Fall
There is only one thing that is clear right now: the whats, the whens, the hows, and the whys of reopening certain businesses are in an incredibly murky place. While decisions for summer camps as to whether and how to operate are in the immediate foreground, decisions for school and the fall are not far behind. In fact, typically, we are significantly advanced in our major planning for the fall around this time of year. We are moving along, at our usual pace, with our usual planning to maintain and evolve the Heilicher program, but we also need to now account for different possible school-related realities in the fall.
The best way to approach decisions and planning for next year is by looking at various possible scenarios and sketching an outline that prepares us for each one. Currently, we are starting this process by generating questions surrounding different possibilities. The Board and the staff will be looking at a broad range of scenarios and considering what we might wonder about, what we might need to know, and various other questions that may need answers in order to plan for the fall.
From there, we will work over the next two weeks to use those questions to drive plans for each of the most likely scenarios we may face heading into next year. I will keep you updated on the progress of this process over the coming weeks. I would also like to work on a parent forum or town hall, where I can field questions and hear ideas from our parent body.
I think it is important to note that we have an incredibly rich field of schools with whom we can collaborate on plans for next year. The Prizmah network of North American Jewish Day Schools is a wonderful national network, allowing us to easily communicate and share ideas with similar schools on a national level. And, more locally, the Minnesota Association of Independent Schools (MAIS), has been an incredible resource during this time in terms of sharing ideas and research. Beyond those two networks, we have other local schools with whom we can connect and work, such as Talmud Torah of Minneapolis, Talmud Torah of St. Paul, and Torah Academy.
We are not alone.
There is currently a small team working on plans for graduation. We have heard a lot of very helpful and thoughtful feedback from families and staff about graduation and what the ceremony means to our school and our students. I will continue to provide updates over the coming weeks.
Timing On Decisions
When this pandemic began, there was a significant need to make urgent decisions in the face of fairly little data. Where we thought we had a week to see how things evolved, we only had a couple of days. When we thought we had a few days, we had only a few hours. We are now on the other side of that trajectory. While we are hungry for answers and next steps, we need to wait-and-see as much as possible. Our best path forward when making major decisions is to be as prepared as possible, as informed as possible, and as safe as possible.
What I feel this might mean for you, and what we might ask from you, is malleability and continued patience. Heilicher's staff has been exceptional during this crisis and I have no doubt that we are going to continue to make strong decisions, keeping education and the health and safety of students, staff, and families at the forefront of those decisions.
We are preparing diligently for various scenarios, but we will also wait as long as needed to make the right decisions for our community.
That brings me full circle to why I am starting Heilicher@Home Shared Journey. The goals of these weekly updates are transparency, proactivity, and continued dialogue as we navigate this journey together.
Some Heilicher@Home Thoughts
I am very careful about being overly boastful about Heilicher when it comes to comparing with other schools because I believe there are many great schools and many great ways to deliver education. That said, I think Heilicher@Home has been an exceptional success among our peers, and I could not be more proud of our teachers for making this happen and our administrators for guiding the way.
One thing I have noticed, particularly for families with younger students, but not exclusively those families, is that there is a tough balance of desire for parents to retain academic rigor while also not wanting to overburden their students with stress, given the challenges of the distance learning platform and the overall uncertainty of the times. Typically, I believe families exist along a broad spectrum of expectations for their children from 'I just expect you to do your best, show up, and be a good person' to 'mastering each step is critical, push harder, excel in all studies.' Most families exist in some middle place along the spectrum of these expectations, and each family's approach has value and meaning to them. Wherever one stands, all of our typical expectations - on many matters - are being challenged during this distance learning period and we likely need to adapt our priorities and expectations in some way.
If this is the case for you, wherever you usually sit on that spectrum, I suggest some of the following ideas:
- Dialogue with teachers and advisors, and trust teachers and advisors. I say this because one of the things you are likely experiencing is that you are seeing some insight into your children that teachers may know and to which they may already adapt, when your child is in school. No report card or work assessment or conference can fully capture the amount of micro-adjusting that teachers do on a daily basis to balance rigor and nurture every day for every individual child. My point is, it takes a lifetime to learn to teach with this mastery and far more challenging when it comes to working with your own child.
- Take some pressure off yourself. It is ok to start by thinking about what you need to work, to live, and to stay healthy, and then consider how to adapt Heilicher@Home and the expectations of your child's work. Our expectation and our mantra is that if you, the parents, are not healthy of body, mind, and spirit, then Heilicher@Home, and likely life in general, will not operate as it should. I think it is very hard for all of us to change our expectations of ourselves. We are not failures for needing to slow things down, care for ourselves, and adapt our priorities to the times.
- Talk with your kids, listen to your kids, and don't feel like you need to have the answers. I always think it is important to differentiate between our own stresses and worries and our kids'. This is a very hard thing to do and also takes a lifetime to learn and practice. One thing you can do, which is sometimes counter to our instinct, is just ask questions and just listen. You don't have to respond to your kids in the moment. But I think taking some time to ask questions, ask follow up questions, and really listen to what your child is saying they need, could help you formulate solutions and develop a set of shared expectations. As far as school is concerned, yes, we do need students to continue to learn, and the longer this period of time goes on, the more we will help create a shared rigorous and nurturing school process. But, before anyone can learn, anxieties need to be acknowledged and guided and health has to be in order. This may take more time than we typically want, but that is expected in this unusual and stressful era.
I hope some of this is helpful and we will continue to provide thoughts on many topics over the coming weeks. Please email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, if you have thoughts, ideas, or questions that you might want me to address in an upcoming post.
I will do my best to keep updates more brief as this moves along. I did not include much of the detail of how we are thinking about the summer and how we are approaching collaboration with other organizations, but I will endeavor to update you on any significant developments as the weeks go on.
Thanks for reading all the way through and Shabbat Shalom!
- Head of School Blog