We have just completed a week of instruction during what will be remembered as one of the most difficult times in a generation. We are besieged by a 24-hour news cycle complete with mixed messages, have just received confirmation of the COVID-19 virus in the Roanoke Valley, and are faced with very real health and financial concerns. As a community, we feel an isolation and an inability to regain control of our lives. It seems that things happen around us and all we do is respond.
I have been here before, watching my house and my city being swallowed up by the flood waters of Katrina, a refugee four hours away from my home, buying clothes at Walmart because we only packed for a long weekend away and everything we owned was back in New Orleans. I didn’t know if I still had a job, or whether I was going to receive a paycheck, or whether New Orleans would ever be rebuilt. We were helpless and our lives were dependent upon the largesse of others.
So let me pass on some lessons I learned during Katrina that I think will benefit the North Cross community.
Most important, the first week is always the most difficult week. The news comes fast and furious, everything is an emergency, and our discomfort is maximized. I certainly believe this is true and I am glad we managed to put this week in the books. With each passing week, the new normal becomes less new and we accept what we have. It is too much for this letter, but if we see each other, you can ask me the significance of “turning left” during our Katrina recovery.
Now, we begin settling in for the long haul. At North Cross, we are planning based on the belief that we will be in virtual mode for the remainder of the trimester and the campus will remain closed through the end of June. Getting through this first week of instruction has been huge but we remain committed to continual improvement of our instruction using feedback from parents, teachers, and students. Each week will get easier as we all determine the best path forward and each time we hit a bump in the road, we will figure out a way around it. I have that much confidence in our community.
Secondly, focus on the things that you can control and try to make your life as normal as possible. Treat school as the daily routine your kids always have. Find a “classroom” where your children can get into school mode as distinct from the rest of the house where they can be in non-school mode. Prioritize family meals as times to discuss the day. Bedtime and wake up times should remain the same. Have the kids dress for school, if not in dress code, then at least something that shows a transition to school mode.
And finally, recognize that school is a really important part of our culture. Children spend one-third of their week in school and it is not only academics, it is the primary vehicle for socialization. Do not be afraid to relax constraints on social media use to allow vehicles for appropriate friend-to-friend interaction. Things that I hated as a parent, like on-line video games, can provide an outlet for fun and connectivity between kids. Help put your children in touch with their friends.
We were the first school to reopen in New Orleans following Katrina and the school was one of the very few things in our lives that was normal. At North Cross, we are trying very hard to create and maintain a school that reflects the old normal while embracing the realities of the new normal. In this, we are helped by a tremendously talented and dedicated faculty and staff. The professionalism they have demonstrated in transitioning to distance learning is evidence that they each understand the important role they play in our community response to a crisis. I could not be more thankful for how they have heeded the call, and I am very appreciative of the positive emails you have sent to them.
Let me close by saying that the Katrina year in New Orleans is among my favorite years as a headmaster because of the way our community pulled together. While very different and more isolated, I fully expect North Cross to emerge from this crisis a more tightly connected community, and a stronger school for all of our trials.
Please stay safe,
Christian J. Proctor, PhD
Dr. Proctor is the ninth Head of School at North Cross and has served as such since 2011. He has more than 30 years of experience in education. He has served as headmaster at Porter-Gaud School in Charleston, South Carolina, St. Martin’s Episcopal School in Metairie, Louisiana, Grace Episcopal School in Monroe, Louisiana, and as Interim Headmaster at Wesley Academy in Houston, Texas. In each location, Dr. Proctor’s tenure was marked by creativity, innovation, and school growth.