To Deerfield Alumni from Dr. Austin

May 14, 2020

Over these past weeks, I have spoken with many in the Deerfield community—from current students and their families to alums who graduated more than fifty years ago—each navigating this pandemic as best they can, all hoping that the people and places they care about remain healthy and safe. I very much hope that you and yours are well.

In my conversations, I have heard and shared examples of courage and character. There has been, naturally, a great deal of reflection, struggle, hope, strength, and optimism—a lot of optimism. Much of it has come from students, particularly members of the senior class, who have shown remarkable grace and maturity. Because the closure of schools has been extended in Massachusetts until June 29, I had to share with seniors the news that we will not be able to hold Commencement in May, as we had hoped, but I assured them that they will reunite on campus as soon as possible, perhaps in August, to celebrate their achievements and spend time together at Deerfield.

In addition to this news, I write to offer an update, and I invite your support and feedback, knowing that participation of alumni—your input, time, and generosity—has long been the foundation of Deerfield’s strength and well-being.

Here is a snapshot of recent decisions and the status of our program:

  • Online classes began on March 30, thanks to faculty who quickly retooled their courses for distance learning. Because Deerfield students come from more than 40 countries, and to account for different time zones, we are offering both synchronous and asynchronous instruction.
  • The College Advising Office, Admission Office, Student Life Office, Information Technology, and other resources remain available to all students. The health services Counseling Center is open; however, various laws limit our ability to offer services online.
  • Reunions have been postponed until June 2021, when we will hold two Reunion Weekends.
  • In early March, the Admission Office completed its candidate review process, having vetted 1,979 candidates and admitting 319.
  • We are preparing for every contingency, but plan to welcome students back to campus in the fall (including our new families—215 strong) with enhanced safety protocols focused on screening, testing, and contact tracing.
  • Sustaining a robust Financial Aid program has long been an Academy priority, and we are committed to our goals in this crisis. All students who were part of the Supplemental Aid program have continued to receive their monthly allowance(s) while at home. We have decided to extend these benefits into July and August for all returning supplemental recipients.
  • Regarding tuition assistance, a number of families currently receiving financial aid—as well as families who have not previously required assistance—have asked for either increased or first-time aid. We anticipate receiving more requests, and preliminary calculations show significant additional funding will be needed to meet these requests.
  • We remain committed to our present levels of staffing; we have frozen nonessential hiring. Unless circumstances change dramatically, we are committed to paying employees through summer as we prepare to open. We have no plans to furlough or cut jobs.

Brian Simmons P’12,’14, President of the Board of Trustees, recently remarked that “our school culture is based on teamwork and selfless effort in pursuit of exceptional results.” I couldn’t agree more. Our current position of strength comes from this ethos, from generations of alumni and families who have exemplified, through large and small gestures, the shared values of the Academy.

A key to our strength is financial flexibility, which we have achieved through years of excellent planning, leadership, and a generous alumni body. Our ability to deliver our program in the midst of the current crisis requires further flexibility. Which is why the Annual Fund is a top priority of the school right now. Supporting faculty and students in online learning, protecting our workforce, and ensuring that our campus runs safely and smoothly are dependent on reliable and flexible funding.

This is an unprecedented situation, and I well understand and fully appreciate that each of our circumstances is different right now. I am reaching out to ask those who can help at this time to consider doing so, knowing that many others who would like to cannot. This is Deerfield. We pitch in when and how we can. We pull together, knowing that our collective effort, over time, is what defines us. I extend my heartfelt appreciation if you have made a gift already.

I want you to know that your support and example—whether through words of encouragement, commitments to your own communities, or a gift—sends a positive message to our students, and will inspire them as they endeavor to complete the academic year with heads held high.

I will update you again soon, hopefully with good news about when the Great Class of 2020 can gather again on campus. Until then, I hope that you stay safe. And please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me; your input is invaluable to my senior team and me. Thank you for all that you do and for being a part of this extraordinary community.

Sincerely,

John Austin
Head of School