Recently, a colleague told me about a conversation they had had with a Park parent in which the parent was – understandably – advocating for more progress in a particular area of school programming. It happened to also be an area of programming that my colleagues and I believe in, something we have been eager to develop and implement more fully over the last few years. My colleague confessed, “Talking to this parent, I sort of broke down. I said, ‘It’s just that it’s been so very hard. We’ve been dealing with a lot. There’s just only so much we can actually do in the current environment.’ And the parent listened, and said, ‘Wow…that’s the first time anyone in the Park administration has expressed it that way and acknowledged the tension of moving the School forward in a time of pandemic.’”
That comment struck a chord with me. You see, we are busy taking care of our students, and working to support teachers as they negotiate unforeseeable and – these days, it seems – unending challenges, and because we are professionals, the thing we don’t acknowledge is just how very hard it all actually is.
None of us went into education thinking that we’d be spending our time redesigning the very patterns of school life around the health and safety concerns brought on by a global pandemic. Our senior administrators did not expect to be covering P.E. classes for teachers out with COVID. Our leadership team did not expect to need to plan things once, plan them again, and plan them yet again in response to ever-changing circumstances.
We thought we’d be going about the business of expanding and refining the best PreK-8 academic program in the greater Boston area.
As a community of educators, we have been committed to doing our best in support of the Park mission – even if what that demands right now involves things like weekly COVID testing. There were many days this year when members of the admin team and I were personally conducting individual rapid tests in Lower Division classrooms when word of a positive test came through. Hours of unanticipated labor that we recognized then and continue to recognize now as “the work that needed to be done” to keep school running, and to keep our students and teachers healthy. As we have stated many times over the course of the last two years, health and safety come first. Academic excellence follows. We can’t have the latter if we don’t first secure the former.
Alile Eldridge, Park’s Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, often talks about the importance of reflecting the “lived experience” of members of our community. Understanding the “lived experience” helps guide the priorities we set, and what needs we answer to. Right now, the lived experience of every member of this community is shaped by the daily challenges brought on by COVID-19. We just try to take that in stride and get on with our mission.
I am incredibly grateful to all the members of the Park team whose extraordinary extra efforts, resilience, and ongoing good humor have made all this possible. In the face of all this being so very hard, sometimes the fact that my teammates – administrators, staff, colleagues – can laugh together gets us through some of the toughest days. Yes, of COURSE we’re going to reinvent this part of school life or that part of a planned event yet again. That’s what we do. And sometimes, all we can do behind the scenes is laugh.
We didn’t reveal this to our community of families, and perhaps we should have. Perhaps we made it all look too easy, and in doing so, missed the opportunity to more fully buy our families into the most critical priorities and to reveal the human impact of all this. Instead, we have kept our focus on what is possible, and how well we can continue to advance priorities beyond health and safety.
There is so much good progress rooted in academic excellence beyond the challenges of COVID.
- We launched Park’s two-division model and rolled out a new PreK-8 schedule, adding instructional minutes and longer teaching blocks.
- We established Assistant Division Head roles.
- We launched, assessed, and restructured the DEIIP and created the Faculty & Staff DEI Council, while also continuing DEI professional development for faculty and staff.
- We brought back Grade 8 travel.
- We launched a brand new music ensembles program in Grades 4-8.
- We extended advisory programs and athletics into Grade 5.
- We launched Upper Division electives, providing students with more opportunities to discover and explore new areas of interest.
- We piloted Grade 8 Geometry Independent Study.
- We redesigned the Upper Division Discipline Process to focus on restorative practices.
- Our Makerspace program has become thoroughly integrated into the academic program, bringing hands-on learning to everything from Grade 8 math to the Grade 2 Changemakers project and more.
- We reestablished the Lower Division Math Specialist and Coach role, which supported an entire rethinking of the Lower Division math program and the overhaul of math homework goals.
- We introduced the “push-in & -out” model in Grades 2-4 math to support remediation and enrichment, as well as the Test My Progress diagnostic tool to support routine progress assessment.
- We achieved a new record in Giving Day outcomes.
- And perhaps most important, we strengthened confidence in the School, we built community, and we had fun.
Our lived experience encompasses all this exciting progress, and that’s where we keep our focus. Even when it’s not easy. And we keep moving forward.
We’ve all earned the respite that summer provides, and I’m excited for all the adventures ahead.