How the Administration Planned for School, Ensured Students’ Safety

The unseen challenges of planning for HTLP

Noor Naseer, Managing Editor

Blake’s COVID-19 response team, consisting of Head of School Anne Stavney, Associate Head of School Anne Graybeal, Director of Transportation, Safety, & Security Mike Feinberg, Chief Financial & Operating Officer Dan Kelley, Director of Counseling Erin Adams, Director of Human Resources Laurel McMullen,  Sunita (Ta) Vongharath-Evenson, Director of Buildings & Grounds Lisa Uhler, and PK-12 School Nurse Carissa Osterud, spent the past summer working on a plan to get students back into the building safely and smoothly. 

Planning began with the Summer at Blake program. According to Feinberg, this planning allowed the team to implement protocols, such as the daily health screenings, and gauge what the best way was to get students and adults in the building safely. Feinberg explains, “[During summer at Blake], we had those programs, coaches, or teachers screening their own pod of students [and] athletes. What I learned was that that wouldn’t work for the broader community in the fall, so we had to hire additional screeners in the protocol that we set up.” 

This daytime scanning crew also required additional support as Graybeal explains, “We are successfully screening everyone’s temperatures every day and there are some members of the COVID response team who speak English as a second language. And so we’ve really needed to support them maximally in feeling comfortable asking these screening questions to families as they arise.” 

For guidance, the COVID planning team looked to international schools in Germany, Denmark, and Japan that had already re-opened. Graybeal describes, “[Blake] is part of a benchmarking organization called Index and that’s a group of 50 schools,[…] and what Index did was to facilitate in-depth interviews with some of those international schools so we could really dive deep into what their processes have been.”

As these plans began to take shape, Osterud joined the team in July. She shares that her role in the planning process “was really to just help make sure that what [the COVID Response team] had worked on over the summer aligned with the Department of Health and CDC guidelines.” Betsy Cawood began working at Blake on September 14 2020 to assist Osterud in answering COVID-19 related questions, tracking symptoms of potential COVID cases, and answering questions about symptom management, quarantine, and isolation protocols. 

Math Department Chair, Chris Robinson, created an algorithm to split the student body in half. Robinson shares why Blake didn’t split up the student body alphabetically: “One could split it [alphabetically] before you create the schedules, and then force folks into close to even groupings. Ms. Phillips had already done all the work to create the schedule before we knew we were doing hybrid, and so instead of redoing all of that work, I did the work that I did.”

In addition to planning for in-person school, the COVID Response Team adjusted the RTLP, Remote Teaching and Learning Plan, from the spring based on the community’s response. Graybeal explains, “We did two community surveys last spring, so we had a whole lot of data about people’s experiences. And then in late June, we had a group of over 60 teachers and administrators who dug deep into those surveys and then from a divisional perspective made recommendations to evolve RTLP.” The majority of these changes were implemented to maintain a sense of community and create a more structured, challenging workload.

After all these months of planning and preparation, Osterud shares that they were  guided by the fact that “the most important thing is keeping everybody safe, …[and] We know that the best way for people to learn is in person, so we had to come up with a plan that we felt could keep as many students in school as possible so that they could get the Blake education that they’re expecting and deserving.”