March 18: An Update for Employees from Dr. Austin

Dear Colleagues,

As you know, on Sunday, Governor Baker issued additional orders to stem the spread of COVID-19 throughout the State, and on March 16, the White House also released new guidelines to slow the spread of the virus. I write to you now to describe some steps we here at Deerfield are taking to support these efforts.

First, thank you for your flexibility, good will, and grace as we have initiated changes as to how we collaborate and work together. Many of you are now working remotely from home. Some of you are sequestered following travel abroad—or are unable to return to campus because of travel restrictions. All us are working to limit our interactions with others to protect our neighbors and those who are most vulnerable—even as we seek to connect in meaningful ways with family, friends, and members of our community.

I make the decision to restrict our face-to-face interactions with one another with the utmost reluctance, since it stands in opposition to our mission as a residential boarding and day school committed to the care of others, shared experiences, and a powerful sense of community. More than anything, our connections to one another define us. They define our families, they define our community and this nation, and, most of all, they define Deerfield Academy. At the same time, we must act in a way that protects the common good and supports the efforts of our civic leaders and public health officials to stem the spread of COVID-19 and the economic hardship that it brings to many. To that end:

Operations:  

  • We will continue to offer lunch through this Friday, but we will suspend that service thereafter. Mike and his team have done an outstanding job reconfiguring the seating in the Dining Hall, shaping the flow of traffic by having us eat in small shifts, and implementing service that is in keeping with proven measures of social distancing, good hygiene, and common sense; however, we believe suspending service in the Dining Hall is a prudent and reasonable protective action, consistent with similar restrictions we are seeing elsewhere among businesses and institutions in Massachusetts.
  • We will also be moving our faculty and staff meetings online, beginning next week. For faculty, this is a change from my message on Saturday due to updated State and Federal guidance. Faculty need not be on campus for meetings the week of March 23. We do ask that faculty and administrative staff maintain access to high-speed internet throughout the next weeks, and that each member of our administrative staff and faculty open a Zoom account (as Ivory suggested to faculty in a recent email). I have participated in many Zoom meetings over the last two weeks, and I am confident that it will allow us to plan, prepare, and collaborate with ease and effectiveness. I recognize the fact that this transition may be bumpy, but please know that our team in ITS is standing by to support us. We will all be learning (perhaps me most of all!). Thank you in advance for your flexibility, patience, and partnership as we move our operations online. ITS is curating resources related to help for working from home and you can always call the Help Desk (413-774-1444) with questions; someone will be available to answer your questions “in person” from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm (EST).
  • To the many employees whose primary responsibilities are unable to be accomplished remotely, you should have already or will be hearing directly from your supervisors about plans for next week. As Head of School, I am committed to keeping you healthy and safe in the workplace. I also want you to know that we envision no significant changes to our employment levels or our existing approach to compensation and benefits. We fully expect a normal 2020 – 2021 academic year. I am deeply grateful for everything that you do, and please trust that the Academy will continue to support you in the coming weeks.

Facilities:

For those of you who need to retrieve books and materials from your classrooms and work spaces as you prepare for distance learning and work, please do so as soon as you are able. We do ask that, as much as possible, you limit your time in to campus buildings to retrieving materials and that you continue to follow social distancing practices. Beginning on Tuesday, March 24, we will be restricting access to academic buildings to reduce the strain on our custodial staff and do our part in keeping everyone healthy. In keeping with the spirit of State guidelines, the Athletics Complex will close at the end of this week. Finally, also out of respect for our custodial staff, who are working tirelessly to sanitize spaces, please refrain from using any common spaces in dorms or spending time in corridors unless you are going directly to a faculty apartment.

Communication:

We are committed to communicating effectively, frequently, and well with all of you as we curtail operations and move our educational program online. Our goal is for our communications with you—and with parents and students—to be centralized, predictable, and carefully coordinated. Regular communications with our parent community and other external constituencies will go out from my office. John Taylor and Ivory Hills are busy preparing for next week and the virtual planning that will take place then. They will be in frequent communication with faculty. Jess Day will be coordinating all other communications, and I would ask that anyone who has a message they would like to share with all employees or all students send that note to her for review and distribution. In short, please refrain from directly emailing the employee or student distribution lists until further notice. Jess and her team are working closely with me to ensure our communications are streamlined and consistent, so please expect to see regular updates with digests of logistical notes from her.

In the coming days and weeks, email will be the primary method through which my team and I will communicate to all employees important updates about Academy operations and public health. Please reach out to Kim Butz or call the Help Desk (413-774-1444) if you, or anyone you know, are having issues with their Deerfield email account. To ensure that all employees are receiving this direction, we will be sending out a RAVE message tomorrow to remind people to check their email regularly.

Teaching and Learning:

Next week faculty will gather virtually to prepare for the coming weeks. More details will follow from Ivory and John Taylor soon. We have tried to plan and prepare next week carefully and intentionally, consulting with members of the faculty and experts in the field of online learning who bring insight, wisdom, and understanding to the challenges—and opportunities—ahead.

I begin this work with you fully aware that most of us will be teaching in an entirely new format for the first time, inventing new routines and designing new approaches, and connecting with students across time-zones—and that you are doing so while balancing a variety professional and personal obligations that are unique to you and your family. My hope is that we can approach this shift to online learning with a sense of adventure, openness, and flexibility—and an acceptance that our work together with colleagues and students will be messy, imperfect, and sometimes frustrating, but also fun and rewarding. In the most basic sense, we will be doing what the Deerfield faculty has always done: modeling for our students a spirit of optimism, flexibility, and generosity, engaging and connecting with them, and inspiring them to live curiously, creatively, and for others.

Lastly, please know that the Academy is fully committed to helping you and your families navigate this period of disruption and economic uncertainty. Those with specific questions should contact:

For Technology Support: Kim Butz 413-774-1444
For Student Life: Amie Creagh 413-774-1452
For Distance Learning: Ivory Hills  413-774-1470
For Faculty: John Taylor 413-774-1420
For Campus Operations: Keith Finan 413-774-1410
For Human Resources: Sara Cahillane 413-774-1472
For Head of School: John Austin   413-774-1425

As questions come in, we will also do our best to update the FAQs online, and Bear Benson has provided some additional important information on travel and social distancing.

Future challenges, no doubt, await. But our community is strong and resilient and, together, we will meet these challenges as they come.

Be well—John

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