March 25, 2020
Dear St. Michael’s Parents and Families,
As with all of you, we have been rising early and working late, trying to make sense of the immediate and emerging economic and health-related impacts of the coronavirus crisis—for the global community, for the United States and the State of Arizona, and for Tucson and our St. Michael’s community. Our administrative team, campus support staff, and faculty remain active and engaged, working to maintain continuity of learning for all of our students, your sons and daughters, and staying attuned to further health alerts and concerns. In this upside-down, apprehensive, and anxious time, I continue to think about you and your families and our faculty and staff each day—about the well-being of all in our community—and to grieve the enormous loss of human life worldwide.
Please note that we have added a new feature to our school website, a page explicitly devoted to our community coronavirus response: stmichael.net/coronavirus/. This page contains an outline of dates for our interim distance-learning initiative and an archive of all recent communications from me and our division directors. The page also includes a number of online references and resources for you to consider for health-related and social-emotional-related concerns. Among a number of excellent resources I could recommend, I would encourage you to spend a few minutes reading the article, now linked to our website, from the World Economic Forum on managing mental health.
With the current recommendations and guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for maintaining a safe working environment (e.g., limiting in-person gatherings to a small number, keeping a distance of six feet or more), I continue to work on campus with a handful of administrators and will do so until, and only unless, we are directed by local governing agencies—the City of Tucson or the State of Arizona—to proceed otherwise. At that time, when and if the directive is made, we will be working exclusively from home, as some administrators here (and most faculty) have already chosen to do. In either case, please know that you can reach me, the administrative team, and members of the faculty through email and by phone. Please use my work mobile number, as needed and at any time, for any and all urgent matters: 619-251-7608. I am in touch daily with our division directors, and they in turn are in touch daily with our faculty. Our administrative response team convenes as well once a week, online; and I am in touch weekly as well with the leadership of our Board of Trustees and with the Rector of St. Michael and All Angels Parish, Brother David Hedges.
We do not have a new date for a return to campus. Until we confirm a change to the April 20 tentative date, which is possible within the coming week, we will maintain April 20 as our tentative return date. While a number of U.S. schools and colleges, including the University of Arizona, have more recently canceled the remainder of their on-campus academic year, I prefer to wait as best we can to make such a decision. In the event that we are indeed faced with no other option than to extend distance learning through the end of our academic year, I have asked our eighth-grade parent group to begin thinking of alternate, creative (though no less disappointing) options for celebrating Commencement for the Class of 2020 in May. At that time, when we have made a firm decision for the end of the year, I will also provide details for decisions to cancel or defer all other end-of-year events.
As I have noted before, there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 within the St. Michael’s community. For any and all health-related concerns, COVID-19 or otherwise, please know that our School Nurse, Mrs. Erika Huff, continues to work as part of our response team. Nurse Huff is available to consult by phone or email to help answer any questions and to provide ‘remote’ confidential medical guidance to any families in need, above all to assure the continued good health of all of staff, students, and families in our care.
As I also have noted in my previous communications, I will continue to provide email updates each week for all of you. More recently, for the academic and enrichment work our division directors and faculty are now coordinating with students and parents at home, I have asked Mandy Hart and Alex Hawes, and our Lower and Upper School faculty, respectively, to assume most of our bandwidth with you while this vitally important work begins and as it continues through March and into April, and possibly beyond.
Tomorrow, we will begin a ‘soft’ outreach campaign for families, with the intent simply of staying connected to all of you by phone, above and beyond the online academic work that our faculty have begun and will continue to provide. Nine staff members, under the direction of Dr. Matt Teller, our Associate Head of School, will begin this important effort tomorrow, as noted. Above all, given the limitations of a closed campus and the urgent appeals to stay home, we want to stay connected with all of you throughout and to help in any way we can.
At my own home, I am finding the experience of having us all together to be a blessing and a challenge. Alison and I are trying to balance our increasingly complex responsibilities with work and with children at once, and watching more and more of our common family spaces converted into interim classroom space. We eat dinner each night at our small family table, our plates and glasses arranged haphazardly beside notebooks, laptops, and three-ring binders. At the same time, we are recognizing the benefits, the simple gift, of being together, of making the most of the build-it-as-you-fly mindset that all of us have been required to assume.
I cannot overstate the importance of staying connected as a community during this time. The quick and nimble response from our faculty with the transition to distance learning was driven by the need and instinct to establish immediate connection with students. I am very pleased to hear that, while imperfect, this interim transition is off to a great start. Our very capable division directors and faculty are committed to refining our online academic framework with each passing day. They are performing what I see as wonders, under very challenging circumstances, all in order to provide a seamless and engaging continuity of teaching and learning for our students. Nonetheless, for all of the good work our teachers are doing, which is possible only with your sacrifices and support at home, nothing will ever replace the in-person, human relationship between teacher and student on the St. Michael’s campus, in the company of friends and peers. Like all of you, I am looking forward to being back here together as soon as we are able to return.
As a closing thought for now, I recognize that this exceptional and challenging time may present unforeseen financial challenges for you and your family. If you are concerned about your ability to meet your remaining tuition obligation for this school year, please communicate directly with me or with Charmaine Lang, Director of Finance. We will do everything with the resources available to us to help you meet these challenges.
I wish all of you excellent health, joy in this time of great anxiety, and peace with everything.
Head of School