March 26: To Students From Dr. Austin

Dear Students,

Greetings from a very quiet Deerfield Academy campus. As we approach our first advisory meeting tomorrow and resume classes on Monday, I am sending you and your families my very best wishes, and want to share a couple of thoughts about the coming week.

Your teachers have been working tirelessly this week in course redesign workshops, department meetings, and scanning marathons. They have taken to this work with energy, excitement, and patience; we have all been students again, learning together, collaborating, and sharing expertise and experience. I have been working to move my own senior spring elective online—a steep climb for someone with no social media accounts (stubborn to the end) and a strong preference for pen, paper, and books!

In an earlier letter I said that we will be approaching the next weeks almost as if it were the beginning of a new year, and over the past few days my mind has often drifted back to that beautiful September day when we gathered together and did, indeed, welcome in the new school year. At Convocation, I invoked the example and wisdom of Mrs. Boyden . She envisioned learning as a dynamic relationship between a teacher and student—an inspired collaboration—and that is how we should think of our work together in the coming days. A teacher never teaches, I remarked, quoting her, All she can do is direct you so that you might learn. This is true now—perhaps more so—than it has ever been before. As teachers and advisors, we will be learning new ways to “direct” you—even as we rely on your engagement, creativity, and leadership.

Attached here is an important letter Mr. Bicknell has written outlining our hopes and expectations for the coming weeks. He reminds us of our community pledge, and offers some helpful suggestions. I ask that you read it carefully, and add only this: Try to bring to your online classes the same sense of purpose, the same ethos, the same curiosity and high level of engagement that has always defined your work here at Deerfield.

While much of our focus this week has been on preparing to begin the Spring Term online, I continue to meet twice daily with a team of senior administrators to plan and prepare. We continue to monitor the guidance of public health agencies, consult with a wide variety of experts, and consider possibilities for the remainder of the school year. Yesterday afternoon, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed an order to extend the temporary closure of all public and private elementary and secondary schools. My team and I are still working through the implications of this new directive, and we will carefully consider our options in the coming days, but at this point it is clear that we will not return to campus before May 4. As promised, I will be back in touch next week with a final decision about the remainder of the academic year. As we make this decision, we will continue to prioritize your health and safety, that of our staff and our local community, and all of those who are working to combat the spread of this virus.

We miss all of you very much, and we are excited to begin our work together tomorrow. I have heard from many of you over the last weeks, and I am proud of the support you have shown for one another, and the spirit you and your families have demonstrated. Take good care and be well.

Dr. Austin