Dear Stevenson Families,
Given that it's been seven weeks since our students left campus, and we are now entering the final third of the semester, it is important we update you on our plans for bringing the school year to an effective and compassionate close for our students. I also write to request your help as we seek to continually improve our program under the present circumstances.
Before proceeding, I want to acknowledge the incredible efforts of our teachers, whose professionalism and dedication have been unsurpassed during this challenging time. We owe them all a great debt of gratitude. Of course, our students’ good will and commitment have also been key ingredients in our successful pivot to remote instruction. We are all in awe of how well these young people have adapted and helped us keep them moving forward. We are confident that they will be academically prepared for next year, be it their next grade level or their first year of college. Just as importantly, they will have realized their resilience, their role in their education, and the depth of their connection to their school.
What We’ve Learned
Speaking on behalf of my colleagues, what we’ve learned over the past two months reinforces our commitment to Stevenson. Our teachers’ truly collegial commitment to learning and to each other has been inspiring. My colleagues’ grace under pressure, combined with your family’s unwavering patience and trust, has given us the best chance possible to emerge from these unprecedented challenges in a position to thrive.
More specifically, we have all learned a great deal about how to teach and learn effectively online, and the importance of retaining meaningful connections between students and their teachers and coaches. We can observe that curious engagement is the key to keeping days fresh and meaningful. We know that students cannot attend to lengthy lectures or extended periods of passive learning, so teachers have learned to use virtual breakout rooms and offline activities to provide variety and interactivity. We are continually recalibrating our thinking about screen time, content goals, homework loads, and assessment. Because it has never been clearer that we all thrive on social interaction, we are providing opportunities for connection through athletics, advisory, and other co-curricular activities that mitigate the sense of isolation that can easily set in while we shelter in place.
Honoring the Class of 2020
Having sought students’ input and considered all feasible options, we have now published our plans for graduation week. While we all know that there is no way to perfectly replicate our traditional spring events, we have developed an approach that preserves as much of our regular program’s spirit as possible. We very much look forward to honoring and celebrating this remarkable class in the weeks to come. You can find more details here.
In order to improve the flow of the week for families, students in grades 9-11 will not have classes on Memorial Day. We usually have no scheduled classes on the Thursday before commencement in order to accommodate a number of community events. Because those events have either been cancelled or rescheduled, we will now hold classes on Thursday, May 21, and Friday, May 22, and resume classes on Tuesday, May 26.
More on the Final Week of School for Grades 9-11
Underclassmen have one more week of school following commencement, and we have made a few adjustments to reflect the challenges of fairly assessing student work under the current conditions. We have cancelled all final exams; semester grades will be based on ongoing assessment in class since January. We know that some schools have introduced varying versions of pass/fail grading. We discussed this option extensively, and decided to stay with graded assessment for a number of reasons. Among them:
Our spring semester began on January 4, so we have a significant amount of data gathered before the move to remote instruction. Many of the schools that chose to offer pass/fail operate on the quarter system, so must assess students’ work during a period that has been conducted remotely for its duration.
We have continued with our regular class schedule, taught synchronously for most students, and with recorded classes and regular access to teachers available to all.
Our learning specialists are still working with students who received such support when on campus, and we continue to have advisory support at hand.
We issued grades at the midterm, providing narrative feedback to students with low grades, and all students received substantial feedback from their teachers over the past two weeks. We continue to monitor grades, and are reaching out to students whose grades have fallen significantly since the midterm. It is important to note that any significant drops in grades are almost exclusively due to missing work or unexplained absences from class, which we are investigating on a case-by-case basis to make sure we have full context in each situation.
Teachers have been instructed to weigh participation and engagement more heavily in their grading, and to be flexible with deadlines for work submission if required to help a student maintain good standing in their class.
The most compelling reason for keeping grades, however, is that we have heard from our own students that eliminating grades would feel like we were not honoring their hard work, resilience, and ongoing effort. While grades are not the be-all and end-all of the classroom experience, it is a currency that students understand and value, and we are committed to giving each student every opportunity to feel successful in their spring semester classes.
A Request for Your Feedback
Your daily vantage on your child’s engagement, challenges, and successes can help us continue to refine our instructional practices. We have developed a survey, adapted from one used by the National Association of Independent Schools, with some questions added by us that address screen time and homework. We have also added a free response section so you can share additional insights. Please click on the link in the first paragraph of this letter, and take a few minutes to share your thoughts on what you perceive has worked well, and to give any suggestions you have on how you believe we can improve. We have received a number of emails from parents over the past seven weeks, and I want to thank those who have written not only for their kind words, but also for their candid feedback, which is invaluable. Our hope is that this survey will allow all of you to have your voices heard.
The Road Ahead
We remain optimistic that this period of separation will be behind us come the fall, but we are aware that we must make plans for every eventuality. While we cannot guarantee what school will look like as we navigate this moment in time, we know that good teaching is good teaching, regardless of the medium. Our job is to inspire students’ engagement, curiosity, and love of learning, and we must do so with an eye on the individual experience of each of our students. We must be responsive, compassionate and kind, and keep the bar high enough to retain a sense of achievement but not so high that it feels intimidating. I am so proud of both our faculty and student body for the way they have met this moment, and know we will emerge stronger on the other side.
Dr. Dan Griffiths
Head of the Upper Division