Welcome to Cary Academy’s planning pages for a healthy fall. In the spirit of transparency, we are sharing our evolving plans for the 2020-2021 school year. Please understand that in this fluid situation, information can change rapidly.
Designing for Safety (and Excellence)
Driven by Mission and Strategic Vision
As always, our school mission and current strategic vision remain front and center, a driving force in shaping Cary Academy’s response to the pandemic. While this period is undoubtedly challenging, it also presents unique opportunities to respond with different learning modalities and approaches that support and advance our larger vision.
A learning community committed to discovery, innovation, collaboration, and excellence
Cary Academy will create personalized learning opportunities that are flexible and relevant in an environment that supports student wellbeing. We will cultivate self-directed and bold life-long learners who make meaningful contributions to the world.
Scenario Planning: Determining the Way Forward
Throughout the pandemic, Cary Academy has followed the guidance of the state and public health authorities. Despite the current unknowns about the fall, it is necessary to begin scenario planning for 2020-2021.
As they are released, future guidance from relevant authorities will be used to help make ongoing operational decisions.
We desire to get students back on campus as quickly as it is safe to do so.
In planning for the next school year, we are operating under the following assumptions:
- we are going through a monumentally stressful and disruptive time in history, and we should not expect to flip a switch back to “normal;”
- there will be heightened attention to matters of wellness and public health which will impact our students, their families and the format which learning needs to occur;
- various formal and informal forms of social distancing will continue; and
- coronavirus waves are predicted to cause future short-term, place-specific stay-at-home orders for the foreseeable future.
Our Immediate Goals
- Define, design, develop a “Digital Core” for Cary Academy
- Adjust academic schedules for maximum flexibility between normal, hybrid, virtual learning modes
- Adjust physical environment for distancing and heightened public-health protocols
- Review programs, policies, and procedures for safe operations
- Identify tools and resources to make work easier and effective in this environment
We are beginning with what we can control in the spring and early summer. Working groups were created on May 4 to review:
- Health and Safety
- Facilities and Operations
- Financial Contingencies
- Policy Ramifications
These groups rely on guidelines from governmental and health bodies as well as business and medical experts within our community.
When we operationalize re-opening in the fall, we will organize around the following framework to keep our community healthy.
- Education about the virus and how to stay healthy
- Program adjustments to maximize inividual and community wellness
- Physical and social adjustments to minimize risk of exposure
- Monitoring regional and local outbreaks to understand community risk
- Ensuring individuals coming to campus are of low risk of spreading illness
- Tracking individual cases and trending illnesses within our community
- Communicating with local health authorities and internal community
- Adjusting operational modes
- Implementing cleaning and disinfecting protocols
Health and Safety Team
Using guidance from trusted health authorities, this group will determine the best policy and operational approaches to keep our community healthy during the COVID-19 outbreak. Areas to explore could include:
- Providing educational frameworks and approaches to keep the community informed regarding health and wellness best-practices
- Providing guidance on PPE, screening, contact tracing or school closure recommendations
- Developing methods for communication with divisions about on-campus health trends
- Conferring with the Facilities and Operations team
- Conferring with the Dining team
Our internal team is recieving support and guidance from doctors, government scientists, and public health professionals with connections to Cary Academy.
Facilities and Operations Team
This group will review governmental and health guidelines to develop clear and reasonable operational guidelines and protocols for facilities use. Areas to explore could include:
- Occupancy guidelines/restrictions based on state recommendations
- Expectations for parents, prospective students, and outside visitors
- Cleaning protocols used by Cenplex cleaning teams
- Cleaning protocols for classroom teachers/individuals
- Sourcing and procurement of resources
- Installation of additional handwashing or sanitizing stations
Social Distancing Physical Adaptations
- Recommendations for spacing/barriers to desks and counters – classrooms, offices, and public spaces
- Procedures to reduce touching of doors and/or cleaning of heavily used objects
- Developing appropriate signage/wayfinding instructions
Social Distancing Human Adaptations
- Altering “human traffic” patterns
- Potential restrictions for lockers and other max-contact areas
- Gathering guidelines and/or restrictions for larger groups
This group will develop robust and flexible, and mission-driven curricular delivery mechanisms that provide instructional continuity and excellence within a variety of scenarios.
This past term has been a lucrative period of experimentation and we have learned a great deal. Moving forward, we will
- leverage those lessons to implement digital homebase/daily routines for each class that could support virtual and f2f learning (a Digital Core),
- streamline communication and course expectations,
- and evaluate appropriate expectations in hybrid environment
In looking at digital course design and schedules, we will prioritize
A Digital Core that
- allows for coordinated and clear communication,
- builds opportunities for collaboration and community building, and
- accommodates base instructional delivery regardless of location.
A schedule that
- reduces unnecessary contact between individuals as much as possible,
- easily pivots between different delivery modes, and
- provides the flexibility necessary to run robust co-curricular programming for advisory, clubs, activities, and community building.
And a Digital Core and a schedule that, together,
- promotes employee and student wellness, and
- is philosophically aligned with our mission and beliefs about learning.
Projecting Four Operating Modes
We expect to shift between several operational modes next school year.
- Phase Green – Full Campus Use/Traditional Operations
- Phase Yellow – Moderate Physical Distancing / Limiting Large Gatherings
- Phase Orange – High Physical Distancing / Limiting People on Campus
- Phase Red – Virtual / Essential Personnel Only
Current planning assumes school will open on August 12 with some form of distancing expectations (Yellow or Orange). We are looking at the best ways to onboard new students (including all 6th graders) that could include prioritizing their first days on campus.
Hybrid Modes Explained
Living with a highly contagious virus means that our routines will be disrupted to minimize spread until a treatment or vaccine can be fully implemented.
Assuming we will have limitations on movement and gathering, we are projecting two variations of distancing.
A mild form of distancing might see no large indoor gatherings on campus, such as lunch, presentations, and assemblies. It might also assume a limit on large community events, even if they are held outdoors, because social distancing would be too difficult to enforce.
A more severe form of distancing might see the overall capacity on the campus restricted. The most common model being discussed in education right now is a 50/50 split, where half the student body is on campus while the other half is at home. This could be managed in a variety of ways. Three common scenarios include:
- Week on / Week off
- Day on / Day off
- Half-day on / Half-day off
Cary Academy is exploring all models to determine which would best fit within our philosophy and instructional delivery preferences. In all the hybrid modes, the desire is to maximize the time students can have on campus, while also providing a robust digital core to serve as a homebase for learning.
While being apart is not ideal, Cary Academy provides full-featured Lenovo Windows laptops as part of tuition for all our students. We are confident that we can deliver the highest quality hybrid learning experience for students even within these face-to-face restrictions.
However, we recognize that this level of restriction could have significant impact on families. As faculty explore hybrid modes this spring and summer, we will keep students and parents informed as our planning evolves.
While we value our independence, when it comes to delivering the best academic program for our students during a global pandemic, we must remain connected to the wider community and not act unilaterally in decisions regarding our students’ and the larger public health.
To that end, in addition to being guided by our task forces and community data, Cary Academy will also continue to consult with local public and private schools, as well as regional and national associations, to gather data and make informed decisions.
Switching between operational modes will be decided using the following inputs:
- Governmental requirements/guidelines
- Science/health metrics: treatments, response capacity, virus spread
- Community (Triangle and CA) health and outbreaks data
What We've Learned So Far
Throughout the third trimester, Cary Academy has been gathering data from teachers about their use of digital tools and progress towards learning goals. On May 8, students and parents were asked about their experiences with digital learning. More than 350 parents and 460 students responded within a week. That data is to be used by faculty as they re-imagine the Digital Core for the future.
Near the end of the virtual journey for 2019-2020, students reported a fairly high level of challenge, success, and happiness during what has been a very challenging time.
When asked how often they felt the following during T3, students responded:
As might be expected during such a disrupted time, student feedback varied on how things went this past term. We were very pleased, though, that students generally said:
- They transitioned well to the virtual platforms because of the high-integration of digital tools in the regular program and the fact that most learning materials were already digital (i.e. online textbooks developed by teachers in Microsoft OneNote).
- They were happy with the variety of the modes of instructional delivery but reported some work needed to be done to increase student collaboration (i.e. online discussions).
- They were appreciative of the flexibility given to manage their learning. Most reported sleeping better due to the later start of the school day. Students then adjusted their “homework” time all over, with equal amounts doing work in the morning, afternoon, or evening.
- Most reported that the challenge-bar was set appropriately (with much smaller but equal numbers saying it was not challenging enough or that it was too challenging).
- Where stress levels spiked, it most often involved the executive-functioning skills needed to navigate in a digital environment. More work needs to be done to help students navigate a “digital home base” and easily find and manage the tasks to be done.
Use of Time
The majority of students reported spending roughly six hours a day on academic work, including class time, with equal numbers reporting slightly more and slightly less. This feels about right when you consider the reduction of so much of the other items that normally happen during a school day. Of course that other activity and social time has tremendous value, in both indirect learning opportunities and social/emotional health and growth. This is why we believe more students reported being bored during their time with at-home learning.
Giving students more flexibility to manage their time and own their learning has been a part of the school’s strategic vision since 2015. Learning at Cary Academy happens in a variety of ways, with only a small portion being what might traditionally be called “direct instruction through teacher lecture.”
This is what has allowed us to transition to a digital environment more smoothly.
We see potential in what hybrid learning might provide, not only as a solution to a practical problem in the moment but as a way to continue to flex time in the most positive ways for our students.
Athletics and Activities in Hybrid mode
It is too early to fully project how athletics and activities might look next school year. Partner organizations are exploring and adapting in forward-thinking ways, and we will continue to work with them to deliver the safest and highest quality opportunities that we can. For example, many of our groups (speech and debate, for example) competed virtually in competitions in lieu of face-to-face events this spring and summer.
We do expect that our modified hybrid schedules will still allow for the types of extra and co-curriculars that contribute to a Cary Academy experience: active and varied clubs and exciting opportunities for students to explore individual passions.
In the case of athletics, official competitions will be determined in partnership with our state and local organizations.
As of early may, our Upper School association, the NCISAA, has developed a few timelines should the fall season need be be delayed. If practices are not be able to start on July 27, the NCISAA will begin the fall season Tuesday, September 8. Though shortened, the season will conclude with playoffs being held at the same time – middle to the end of October. If the season is unable to begin September 8, the NCISAA would begin the fall season Monday, October 1 and the playoffs would be pushed into November. And, if the season is unable to begin October 1, a decision as to whether to have a fall season or not will be made October 15.
Financial Considerations and Support
Thankfully, we entered this crisis from a strong financial position. Cary Academy carries no debt and remains fully enrolled with wait lists for each grade. As part of our strategic planning process in 2015, we developed several long-range financial planning models that give us the necessary flexibility to respond to and weather our current situation.
However, like most businesses, the school has experienced a number of unanticipated financial impacts resulting from Covid-19, especially as it relates to a sharp drop in ancillary (non-tuition) income that directly supports the academic program and general operational expenses.
We anticipate additional costs this summer as we prepare the campus for social distancing and as our faculty works hard to build out our Digital Core.
Tuition and Fees
As we evaluate our budgeting for the end of this year and into next year, we have seen all operational savings consumed by the unanticipated costs of the crisis. As a result, we have had to dip into our operational reserves to cover this difference.
However, considering cost savings realized by canceling food orders in the Dining Hall, the school has provided a credit on unused Dining Fees during T3 of the 2019-2020 school year. In addition, families were refunded all fees for the World Language program in the 10th grade, even in cases where the school could not get back deposits for travel or lodging.
As we begin to process billing for the next school year, we are holding off in billing certain fees as we explore the potential impacts to the program. At the moment, the World Language fees for next year will not be charged until November. Other fees could also be held until we have a more clear picture on the status of some of those services.
Supporting Families in Need
We recognize the stay-at-home order and subsequent economic shutdown has impacted the finances of many families. Cary Academy wishes to be as responsive and flexible as possible during this uncertain time.
Families wishing to discuss the need for a more flexible payment plan or potential emergency tuition assistance should reach out to our Director of Admissions and Financial Aid Heather Clarkson.