- Head of School/CEO
By Avi Halzel, Head of School/CEO
Spring is a time when educational leaders are planning for the next school year and working to finish the current year strong. I find myself reflecting on what a truly unique year this has been. Each and every one of us have had to adapt our lives to the pandemic in some way. We have all had to adjust our behaviors to varying degrees. It brings new meaning to the phrase “no one is immune”.
A year ago, when we set out to develop a plan for school this year there were more questions than answers. There were more changes to guidance than there was guidance to rely on. There were more opinions about what we should do than time to digest them all. There were more conflicting demands than I had seen in my 30 years in the field of education.
There was no shortage of challenges we knew we were going to face:
- The lack of seeing facial expressions because teachers and students would be wearing masks.
- Trying to keep kids and adults distanced from each other.
- Teachers not seeing parents in person.
- New social-emotional issues playing out in challenging ways.
- Milestones and transitions looking entirely different.
How do you change the whole educational system to accommodate all of that? What does risk management look like for employees? How do you plan fiscally for any of this?
I recall many conversations with nervous parents last summer. One day I was talking to a pre-K parent about enrolling her daughter in kindergarten at Denver JDS. She was very nervous about COVID and was so pleased to learn about all the safety precautions we were planning to implement. But she said to me, “Just please don’t make the children wear masks. My daughter will never be able to wear a mask all day at school.”
The next evening, I took a call at home from a doctor. He suggested that we purchase N95 masks and face shields for every student and employee and require them at all times.
This past year I had people telling me that they were really glad they didn’t have my job...even more than they usually do. But the truth is, my work this year started to become more meaningful to me than perhaps at any other time in my career. Suddenly, the work that had to be done was critically important; it was about sickness and health, potentially life and death. So, I leaned in. I became determined to not only survive but thrive in this COVID environment.
When reflecting carefully on the challenges of operating school in a pandemic, from the changing guidelines to the wide variety of thoughts and opinions from our own community as well as our state and federal leadership, it all seemed to come down to two central themes:
- Keep everyone as safe as possible and Number two - Deliver Denver JDS’s unique and inspiring brand of education to our loyal students and their families.
- It was also clear that keeping our school open for in-person learning was a most important goal.
Once it was narrowed down to these priorities everything started to come together. The data indicated that the most important things that can be done to keep students safe are mask-wearing, distancing, and sanitizing. So, that is what we prioritized. We received grants to help with the staggering financial impact of the COVID-related changes. And we created our own school guidelines, including the Denver JDS COVID Covenant, and we communicated this information frequently to our community.
And here we are in April and we have been incredibly successful at providing a safe and powerful learning experience for all of our students. We have had in-person learning for the vast majority of the school year. Only a small number of students and faculty have had COVID and no one got seriously ill. And we were one of the first schools in the state of Colorado, public or private, to get all our teachers vaccinated because of our strong affiliations with key leaders and institutions in the state.
A year into the pandemic I am proud. I am proud of our students, parents, teachers, staff, administration, board of directors, and our entire community. I recognize some things are never going to be the same. But here is what I know to be true now: For however long we must adjust how we educate due to COVID, no matter what crisis we confront next, no matter what opportunity we have to continue to grow into the best versions of ourselves as a school and a community. We were ready, we are ready, and we will be ready for an exciting and meaningful future for our students and our school community.
Head of School/CEO