Our Plans for the Fall: An Update From the Head of School

Like many times since the rise of the global pandemic, this week has been rather unpredictable. Our initial plan was to host community forums where we would present the culmination of months of work, of policies and protocols and schedules that would enable us to resume on-site learning in some capacity this September.

On Wednesday, I joined other heads of school for a meeting with Dr. Travis Gayles, Montgomery County health officer, and Dr. Earl Stoddard, the county’s emergency manager. Citing rising COVID cases in the DMV, Dr. Gayles stated that it is unsafe to open any school for in-person learning in the county at this time, and their recommendation is that we continue to utilize virtual learning platforms when school opens.

Also on Wednesday, Gov. Hogan shared that a recent uptick in COVID-19 cases in Maryland signaled a need to pause the reopening plans for the state. Dr. Gayles echoed his sentiments. Although Montgomery County has made significant progress on controlling the spread of the virus, COVID-19 cases have increased as businesses have begun to reopen. Dr. Gayles believes strongly that reopening schools will further increase community spread of COVID-19.

We have invested tremendous time and resources during the last several months to prepare us to return to campus, and we are both ready and eager to do so. But we also have a responsibility to protect the health and well-being of our students, our faculty, our staff, our families, and the general public.

In light of recent trends, the WES Board of Trustees met to discuss these issues. In consideration of the best interests of the WES Family and the larger community, we have made the decision to proceed with caution and care as we move forward with our plans for the 2020-2021 school year. We will begin the school year learning virtually while planning to resume on-site learning as soon as we believe it is safe to do so. We will reassess the conditions in our county on Thursday, October 1, to determine if there are opportunities to transition to a hybrid model at that time. While classes will be virtual as we start the school year, we are exploring safe ways that students can be invited to campus periodically for age-appropriate activities in September.

While we are now shifting our focus from an in-person start to a virtual one, the significant time and resources we have invested will allow us to pivot quickly to on-site learning when we are able to do so.

We remain committed to providing an exceptional educational experience for your children. Our Continuous Learning Task Force has been working diligently this summer to help us build upon our earlier remote learning model and incorporate the feedback we received from our surveys last spring.

We have expanded our capacities for at-home instruction from both a technological and a pedagogical perspective. All students will receive a WES device on which to learn, and at-home learning will vary by division and grade level. In order to meet the developmental needs of all our students, we will provide live, synchronous instruction as well as opportunities for independent and project-based learning.

We have also invested in additional faculty members to help us provide a high-quality and seamless continuous learning experience, and our teachers have engaged in professional development over the summer to further expand their skills in remote instruction. We understand that the ability to learn and flourish is deeply rooted in social-emotional health as well. Throughout this pandemic, we have sought to prioritize mental well-being and community connections, and we will continue to do so.

I presented the news that we will begin the school year learning virtually with our teachers at a faculty meeting yesterday afternoon. While much of our planning has been based on the hope that we would return to campus, our teachers instantly began sharing ideas as to how they could make a virtual start of the school year special, bringing the same creativity, dedication, and passion for educating children that they have consistently displayed throughout this highly fluid situation. I know they will inspire and nurture joyful learning in our students as we begin the new school year.

As we reflect upon our values, and the virtues that we hope to instill in our students, we must proceed forth with compassion and be wise stewards as we protect the community to which we belong. Our first responsibility is to promote the health and safety of our students and our faculty, and we must also be good neighbors to those around us.

Thank you for your patience and flexibility. I will continue to be in touch frequently with the latest updates.

Danny Vogelman
Head of School