This blog originally appeared in the April 13th Catholic School Matters.

Last week, I wrote about the next eight months and what school might look like this fall.  There’s no question we must prepare a hybrid model that we can switch from home-based to school-based on a moment’s notice.  This shift will take preparation and intensive professional development (done remotely, of course!) over this summer.  We must also acknowledge that our people are exhausted and our remote learning needs to be improved.  We are struggling with access, motivation, and techniques.  All of these things can be improved if we take some time to regroup and plan together.

I would be surprised if any schools were reopened this school year.  Memorial Day is six weeks from today.  I think we should give it our all until Memorial Day and then transition to teacher professional development and robust learn at home options for students.  We need to preserve some of our contract days with teachers to give them training now AND we need to give students resources and pathways to continue learning over the summer.

How do we make this happen?  I submit to you these considerations for planning your next six weeks.  I have created a document for the Montana Catholic principals (found here) that will give them a roadmap for their own planning for the next six weeks.  This breaks down tasks for school leaders by week so they can prioritize their time and efforts.  Use it and adapt it for your own circumstances.  The six considerations for your planning:

  1. Financial/Advancement: Don’t assume that everyone knows your financial status. This is exactly the right time to be transparent.  Are you scheduled to fall short in tuition, extended care, fundraising or parish support?  Explain this.  Did you lay off or furlough employees?  Explain why.  Do you have most of the same expenses?  Did you receive a PPP loan?  What does this mean?  Your stakeholders deserve to know where you stand.  Then it’s time to make an appeal for more support.  If you’ve been transparent, then that appeal should be more successful.
  2. Graduation/Rituals: People are watching how you treat your seniors (or 8th grade class). Younger students are watching.  Potential families are watching.  How you work to establish a new ritual to honor them is important.  Since most of us don’t have access to a drive-in theatre where we can stay in our cars to watch the big screen, we need to adapt.  Why can’t we invite every student (and his/her parents) to film them crossing the stage in their robes with their parents.  Maybe they can each say a short one-minute speech.  Spread those filmings out by 15 minutes.  Film the opening prayer, the graduation speeches, include a photo montage, and the students might receive a great new ritual focused on the students.  Don’t wait until the week before, it’s time to get started now.  And once you come up with a better idea (and there will be better ideas!), share with me and I’ll curate these best practices.
  3. Recruiting & Marketing. Can you define what your hybrid model will look like?  Can you explain what is working well?  Before you begin (or renew) your marketing, you should make sure you have a clear message of why your hybrid model is valuable.  And then you should be contacting potential students (they are at home, after all) to recruit them.
  4. Cash Flow & Budget. When are you going to have an accurate estimate of how much tuition you will receive this year?  You should continue to update your cash flow projection for this year.  If you received a PPP loan, be careful to track those expenses clearly.  Next year’s budget needs to be revised to reflect any changes in enrollment
  5. Human Resources. Policies regarding expected observations need to be suspended and employees need to officially notified.  Policies regarding deadlines such as non-renewal notifications and contract offers need to be extended or suspended and employees need to be officially notified.  Contract offers might not be available until mid-June due to the uncertainty.
  6. Summer Programs. You need to identify how your teachers need to improve and where you can find the best (remote) training.  Then you need to develop a program and plan for that training.  Likewise, we need to give our students backpacks of resources to continue learning over the summer.  We need to give students books to read (or lists of books), online practice programs, and a roadmap for important skills and concepts to learn over the summer.

Notice that I didn’t offer a communication plan.  Clear, consistent, honest communication to all stakeholders should be baked into any operational plan.  You need to communicate your priorities to bring direction and focus to these uncertain times.