As we conclude the current school year in a most unnatural fashion, I would like to thank you for all you have done to ensure the continued education of our children. Certainly the faculty and staff have outdone themselves and I hope my praise for their efforts helps you recognize their accomplishments have been truly extraordinary. I also recognize that families have borne the burden of furthering the education of our children. I know it has not been easy to keep our students focused on learning when so many others have prematurely ended the school year. It cannot be denied that the events of this spring show us that there is a culture of continued learning at North Cross that culture has carried us through a very difficult time.
We are beginning to get a number of questions about the reopening of school this fall, and while we cannot be certain of what September brings, we are actively preparing for several scenarios. I believe I can provide enough information at this point to provide assurance that we will open next fall in a manner that is consistent with recommended best practices.
First and foremost, I recognize that parents are concerned about being contractually obligated to a North Cross education when they are not certain of the form that education might take. At North Cross, our enrollment contracts do not become binding until July 1, and should the level of uncertainty warrant, we will consider delaying the binding date until August 1. Those of you who were enrolled this year are automatically enrolled for next year, so there is nothing you need to do in the interim. For those of you in the midst of the admissions process, I ask that you go ahead and complete the enrollment contract so that we can plan for the future. Again, your enrollment contract will not become binding until July 1, or August 1, if so determined.
In addition to a normal reopening of school on September 8th, we are currently planning for three additional reopening scenarios. The first has us reopening in an on-campus, social distancing posture that limits the number of children in a classroom. The second is reopening in a distance learning posture, and the third is being forced to move to distance learning at one or more points during the school year. Our choice of which reopening scenario we employ will be the result of government recommendation and available medical advice.
I believe there is a strong likelihood that a September reopening will require that we maintain strict social distancing practices on our campus. Early discussions in school circles appear to indicate that in this scenario, classrooms will be limited to nine students and one teacher. Obviously we are constrained by available space on campus, but we have a plan that allows for all students in JK-3 through Grade 7 to attend school each day. Students from Grade 8 through Grade 12 will attend school every other day, utilizing a Zoom classroom from home during the intervening days. In addition, there will need to be staggered arrival and dismissal times, changes in our lunch practices, and the elimination of large group activities. This scenario will be different than what we are used to, but I believe it to be very workable and much preferable to total distance learning.
There is a real chance that September sees a second wave of the virus in late summer and we are forced to open with a distance learning format. Should this happen, we will first look to delay the opening of school until October and shift the school year so that it ends in late June. The goal of this shift would be to maximize the amount of in-class instruction and minimize the amount of distance learning. There remain a number of academic questions that we are considering, particularly the fixed timing of AP courses, but I am confident we can use the experience we have gained this spring, and a summer of reflection, to make distance education remarkably productive.
The final scenario would be an on-campus opening followed by a transition to distance learning following a second wave of the virus. We have proven capable of transitioning quickly to distance mode, so I feel comfortable with our ability to toggle back and forth from on-campus to distance mode should we be required to do so.
I am acutely aware that we charge tuition for our services and that while our success in distance learning has been extraordinary, distance learning does not provide the interaction and extra-curricular activities associated with on-campus learning. We have begun discussing an alternative tuition schedule should we be forced into an extended period of distance learning. This information will certainly be made public prior to the binding date of our enrollment contract, but it is important to realize there is a balancing act between tuition and the retention of faculty and staff. I will do my best to strike the right balance.
And finally, I have spent nine years in Roanoke and upon my arrival, was made aware of the importance of our public schools. I recognize that the growth we have seen in the Roanoke Valley is only possible with the existence of a stable and functional public school system, so we are blessed in this respect. I also recognize, and have repeatedly said, that Roanoke needs a quality independent school on par with the best independent schools in the Commonwealth in order to attract high-end talent for our nascent brain economy. North Cross serves this purpose.
But beyond the success of both public and independent education in the Valley, there remains a very distinct difference in the way North Cross has responded to the current pandemic. I believe our response reflects an agile institutional independence and faculty members who view themselves as professionals in charge of the education of our students. Our success is less about our administrative response to distance learning and much more about our individual teachers taking advantage of their instructional freedom to create dynamic lessons. As we settle into the heart of the recruiting season, I ask you to gently point this out to your friends outside of North Cross. Ask them how certain they are about the quality of education their child will receive in the upcoming school year.
I know that I have probably raised as many questions as I have answered, but that is to be expected given the complexity of the times in which we now live. To help address lingering questions, we have scheduled a virtual town hall on Wednesday, May 20 at 5:30pm. You will all receive a link and several reminders.
Please stay safe, and I look forward to the time we can be together.
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.