Preparing to return to campus in the fall

 

above: a recording of the first of a series of Town Halls, conversations between parents and school leadership.

In June 2020, Dr. Thomas López led a series of Town Halls with parents to discuss plans to reopen Gordon's campus in the fall. A video of the first Town Hall is above; what follows is a brief summary of what was discussed.

On July 1st, Gordon will share the next major communication about the fall reopening, with more details on the plans outlined below.
 

Reopening Gordon’s campus

Barring a stay-at-home order from the Governor, Gordon plans to resume full-day, Monday to Friday classes for every grade in the fall.

Though school this fall will likely look very different from when we left campus this past March, our priorities should feel quite familiar: the health and social-emotional wellness of the community, a substantive and high-quality educational program, and the long-term financial viability of the school. 

The modifications needed to return to campus safely will reflect public health and government guidelines, scientific data and research, guidance from our consulting physician and other experts in the field.


Mapping our future 

Gordon has adopted Futures Thinking to guide our reopening planning. Futures Thinking is a strategy that allows us to creatively navigate the current ambiguity to actively shape our future, rather than passively responding to events.

Futures Thinking is an inherently collaborative process that aligns with Gordon’s culture by putting people at the center of the design process. 

Our Futures Thinking process has three stages. While their titles may sound simple, the work is comprehensive and complex.

Planning (April - June 2020) 
Preparation (July - August 2020)
Operation (September 2020 - June 2021)

We are currently in the planning stage and will communicate again at the beginning of the preparation stage on July 1st. 


Our work to date

In April, Gordon began to establish the systems and structures necessary for the complex and comprehensive work of planning for this fall. 

Gordon conducted surveys and interviews of students, faculty and staff, and families to gain a deeper understanding of their hopes and concerns for the fall. The intersecting needs that emerged included:

  • Need for school to be on campus
  • Need for social-emotional health to be a priority 
  • Need for the curriculum to feel meaningful and engaging
  • Need for school to feel joyful 
  • Need for student-to-student, student-to-teacher, parent-to-parent connections
  • Need for resources for faculty and staff, students, and parents
  • Need for clearly communicated expectations: what to expect day-to-day, the teacher’s role, the parent’s role, the student’s role
  • Need for less screen time


Our team

The planning is being coordinated by the Futures Steering Committee, made up of members of Gordon’s administration and staff. This committee and its working sub-groups are researching best practices and emerging trends in the following areas: the educational program; health, safety, and wellness; campus operations and logistics; and business continuity. 

In addition to leaning on the wisdom and expertise of our existing community, Gordon has contracted with Auxiliary Services Organization to support this process. AUXS specializes in working with independent schools, colleges, and universities to offer guidance on campus operations, programs, and safety.

Gordon is also lucky to have our consulting physician Dr. Jen Friedman guiding us along the way. Dr. Friedman is a professor of pediatrics and epidemiology at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, the Division Director at Hasbro Primary Care, and the Director of the Lifespan Center for International Health Research. She is also mom to middle schooler Elise and alumni Zach and Sam. 
 

Envisioning this fall

The planning stage of our process is still ongoing, and we have some working models for what school will look like in September: 

Returning to campus

Based on our initial planning and walkthroughs of the building, Gordon is confident that we will be able to meet all state and federal guidelines and make the physical modifications necessary to welcome all of our students back to campus this September. 

At this time, we are exploring the following modifications for on-campus learning:

  • Daily screening of students and all employees
  • A cohort model where grades are organized into small groups of students that stay together throughout the school day
  • Limited movement of cohorts in the building to decrease use of shared spaces
  • Limiting the number of people that can gather in a space at one time
  • Wearing of masks
  • Enhanced sanitizing and cleaning throughout the school day
  • Program and schedule modifications to accommodate the cohort model, physical distancing, facility zoning, etc.
  • Changes to drop-off and pickup and campus access for parents and visitors.

Hybrid learning

We know that there will be a small number of families, because of health reasons, who may not be able to send their children back to campus in the fall. Gordon is exploring online platforms that can facilitate dynamic learning and meaningful engagement for students who need to remain home in the fall. 

Flexible learning models

If we do see a second wave of COVID-19 at any point and we are ordered by the state to close campus again, Gordon will need to be prepared to return seamlessly to the Online Learning Community. We’re proud of what we were able to create this year, and we see an opportunity for further growth. Our incredibly talented teachers are already exploring how to adapt and innovate for the possibilities ahead.
 

Financial implications

Like any family or business planning during this difficult time, Gordon needs to continue to engage in thoughtful and strategic work in order to ensure that we may overcome the financial uncertainties ahead. 

Last year, Gordon began the work of strategic budget planning for the next three to five years and made some hard decisions around expense management, in particular, that put us in a better position to face this crisis.

In addition, in April, Gordon received a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program. These funds, which we expect to be fully forgiven, are being used to cover faculty and staff salaries and other payroll related costs through June. While this may provide short-term budget relief, it will not be enough to mitigate all of the probable challenges ahead, including families being unable to make tuition payments, possible drops in enrollment due to job changes, and the impact of market volatility on Gordon’s endowment. 
 

Compassionate Community Fund

Many members of our Gordon community may be experiencing financial hardship as a result of this pandemic. The Compassionate Community Fund was created to help families who have suffered economically as a result of COVID-19 to remain at Gordon School. It will also be used to help pay for facilities expenses related to reopening safely in the fall, and to address other pandemic-related financial needs that may arise for students, faculty and staff. One of Gordon’s greatest strengths is our community, and so our fundraising efforts for the next six months will focus on this fund. 

If you are able to support Gordon through a gift to the Compassionate Community Fund, please visit www.gordonschool.org/compassionatecommunity. If you think your family will need to access this fund in the coming year, please reach out to Gordon's Chief Financial Officer Tom Cicatiello at tcicatiello@gordonschool.org


Tuition considerations for online learning

The Gordon community was incredibly supportive as we entered into historic and unprecedented territory this past March. This support was critical in our ability to deliver an online learning experience that centered on community and academic engagement; we thank all of our Gordon families for their patience and dedication. We also know that we needed to call on parents and caregivers to take on more responsibility at home in order to make the Online Learning Community work. 

As we consider the continuing needs of our families, Gordon’s Leadership Team and Board of Trustees is exploring the possibility of a tuition credit should we need to move to an extended period of online learning next year. There are many questions for us to contemplate in order to make this decision one that does not undermine the financial sustainability of the school, and our goal is to have an answer no later than July 1st.

Optimism with deep roots

As we look towards bringing all of our students back to campus in the fall, Gordon has a wealth of experience and expertise working in our favor:

  • Our origins as the “Open Air School” We were founded by a pediatrician. We have always focused on health and wellness. We have taken a fact-based, science-driven approach to learning and living on campus.
     
  • Our natural resources We have a beautiful twelve-acre campus that will allow us flexibility when thinking about classroom spaces and room for children to learn and play in safe ways. We have gardens and ponds, and a longstanding commitment to outdoor education. 
     
  • Indoor spaces that serve the developmental needs of our students and our community We are at a comfortable enrollment of 330 students with two sections per grade, in a building that can accommodate 450 students and three sections per grade,. We have the space. We will not need to move children off campus or move them to non-classroom spaces to accommodate a cohort model. 

This pandemic may have more surprises for us, and a decision to open campus may be out of our hands. But our hope is that, if we can demonstrate that Gordon has met all of the state and federal health and safety guidelines for reopening, we will be on campus in the fall. 

Our reopening intention is not driven by pressures to “reopen the economy”, but fueled by the fact that we know that children learn best when they are connected in a caring and inclusive community. If we can make that happen safely, we certainly will.