Dear Dana Hall Families,
Here we are, near the end of our first full week of distance learning. Our transition to remote teaching and learning is going smoothly, thanks to the attentive and thoughtful work of our faculty, staff and administrators. I am grateful to all of you who have written with words of thanks and affirmation for their efforts.
Excellence in Remote Learning
Throughout spring break, Academic Dean Nia Jacobs collaborated with Director of the Upper School Jessica Keimowitz and Director of the Middle School Lauren Goldberg to research best practices in remote teaching and to create our new online learning environment, including the schedule.
They led the way in taking webinars on effective remote learning so that they could become resources to faculty, and they brought their vast knowledge of girls at different developmental stages to the creation of our online approach. As you know, the result, based on that careful research, is innovative and solution-oriented. Educators from other schools and colleges have already commented to me about how creative our program is and how well it meets the needs of our students of different ages and time zones. The team was faced with many challenges, not the least of which was the speed with which our students and faculty were going to have to adapt to these changes! Their leadership, together with the faculty’s remarkably flexible, positive and professional approach, have made these early days of the transition a success, and other schools are now turning to us as an example of what is best practice in education. We will, of course, remain flexible and learn as we go, tweaking and adapting the program as we learn from experience.
Our transition also went smoothly due to our amazing Information Technology (IT) department, led by Fred Clayton. Because our 1:1 iPad Program has been so robustly used and supported, and because the IT department is already well integrated into the academic program of the School, many of the challenges that other schools are encountering have not affected us. We have had some issues out of our control, mainly with Schoology and Zoom, which are being used at unprecedented and at times unsupportable levels. The entire IT team has worked cheerfully and tirelessly to ensure that our students have as robust an experience as possible.
Modifications to the Grading System During Distance Learning
I know many of you have questions about grading for the period of online learning. During this period, we will move to a Pass/Fail system. You will be hearing more details tomorrow from the division directors, but it is important to note the following: teachers will continue to grade work and offer students feedback to help them maintain a sense of their progress toward their mastery of key skills and content areas; students will be able to see individual assessment grades in Schoology, but there will be no overall trimester average or year average shown; currently, we are working on equitable solutions for how we will assess and portray a student’s overall work throughout the year. Director of College Counseling Cara Hanig and members of her office have been in communication with colleges, and they have assured us that this approach will not put our students at a disadvantage. Many colleges and universities have already issued statements indicating that they will treat P/F as typical; many of these same institutions have themselves transitioned to this form of grading for the spring of 2020.
Sustaining our Community
While we are working to help our students advance in the curriculum, we also remain keenly aware of the social and emotional needs of our students, and the importance of connecting with one another. Faculty are checking in with advisees, Zoom interest groups are being hosted, and club meetings will soon be scheduled. Our coaches and fitness instructors are posting workout programs on the girls’ Schoology page. To facilitate social interaction, we’ve even continued with Upper School weekend activities! Last week's included suggestions to take a virtual museum tour
; create positive affirmation signs; get book recommendations from our Dana Hall librarians
, keep a quarantine journal, try baking a new recipe
, or pick up an old hobby. Perhaps your daughters will invite you to join in on a future weekend activity.
Despite all our efforts, none of this will replicate a true Dana Hall education, one that is steeped in interpersonal connections, daily interactions and strong relationships. As I have said in the past, we can’t understate that other important aspects of our “curriculum” are delivered while waiting in line at the salad bar or during happenstance meetings in the hallways or while walking to Shipley or Bardwell. As I wrote last week, we do remain constant in our mission to help the girls become resilient, strong and compassionate as they undertake their academic endeavors.
As we all look ahead to the hopeful return of a more familiar spring, I have disappointing news to share, although those of you in Massachusetts are likely already aware of it: Governor Baker has ordered that all schools remain physically closed until May 4. Hence, we know that we will not all be seeing one another in “3-D” until at least May 4. As a parent of teenagers myself, I give you my complete empathy as you manage the many disappointments that this unprecedented circumstance has caused.
My thoughts are with all of you who are experiencing the virus first hand; many of us have been impacted through friends or family, and our grief is beginning to accumulate. I hope that the strength and support of the Dana community will sustain you.
Head of School