Q&A: Neudel Offers Post-Spring Break Updates


Photo illustration purchased from BigStock.com.

Caroline Champa

As students prepare to begin remote learning Tuesday, The Gator interviewed Upper School Head Joshua Neudel for an update on how the School is adjusting plans based on COVID-19.

Prior to Governor Baker’s announcement  that schools will remain closed until May 4, why did the administration extend the reopen date to April 27?

I think we had a sense that it was going to be longer than the original date of April 7 based off of the fact that Boston public schools had set their date initially for April 27, as well as Everett. We know the way that Boston goes, it’s often the way that this area will [follow]. I think just looking at the data, we wanted teachers and families not to have to play it by a week-by-week or two-week basis, but to recognize we are going to be doing [online learning] through April. We should not feel like it is just a one week or two week piece and know that we are going to be doing it for a more substantial period of time. I think that we had a sense that a longer period was coming but by having the Governor make that announcement just takes a lot of pressure off of schools.

Have you made further considerations about prom?

Upper School Head Joshua Neudel.

Before the break, Mr. Murray and I had already planned to move prom to Brimmer, to not go to a hotel, so if we were to be back at School at that time, we could do something at school. We don’t know exactly what May is going to look like. If we are allowed to go back to school, is it just to go to classes and not big gatherings? All of those things are up in the air. We knew we did not want to go to a hotel. If we are allowed to host prom, then we think we are going to want to do that at Brimmer and we will figure out the best way to do that. I think we will be able to find someone to do the catering and somebody that can do the music. If we can have prom, it will be at Brimmer.

I am hearing many colleges have canceled graduations, are rescheduling them, or are holding them online. Has the School considered alternatives for graduation?

We are in the process of talking about commencement. Since we [run] later than colleges and even boarding schools, we are still two months away from when commencement might be. We are starting to listen to what other schools are talking about. I am a part of a group of New England independent schools, and we have been meeting on a weekly basis just to talk about remote learning and other things that are happening. Most schools are still holding out that they can do commencement. We are going to have to see what things look like as we get a little bit farther into April.

We want to be able to honor the 12th-graders and all the work they have done and celebrate them. We are absolutely going to do something and look at it in different ways. Who is allowed to attend? Who is around at the time? Do we push the event later? Do we go outside versus inside? The event has always been live-streamed so that is helpful. We are going to listen to what the health department is saying to come up with a good plan that works for Brimmer. We are definitely not going to cancel commencement unless we absolutely have to do that. If this were to go off into the whole summer, we would talk about waiting and bringing everyone back to campus, at a certain time in the fall to hold commencement.

Because the School is supposed to reopen in May, what about Senior Projects?

We have been working on a modified Senior Project plan that will have people engaged, but the amount of time that they are engaged in project will be a little bit less. This is because when companies are inviting people back in the building they might not want to have interns during that time. They may want to limit it to the people that normally work there. It’s hard to know what internships and projects may or may not be able to happen. We are creating new guidelines for people for their projects for that month. If people are able to go out, what they can do? If we are still in this social distancing stay at home piece, how are the 12th-graders going to continue to be engaged in that way? We have a few ideas that we are hoping to share out in the next week or so.

How is the school managing revisit days?

We are having parent receptions through Zoom, one for each division. Those are spread out over a few different days. There is a time for parents to come in and a number of different teachers are involved in that. We are also having some student revisit days through Zoom, so some of the tour guides will be involved in that and are going to be in those meetings, [along with] some teachers. Also, we are going to have a few specialty program info sessions for accepted students and their parents―some about the diploma programs, some about art, some about athletics. Just big programs that we know students are interested in.

Would sports have a very short season or would they just be cancelled?

We haven’t talked that much about the sports season. I think that will come down from the Health Department. We know that there has been a couple of schools that have already cancelled their seasons, I think for the rest of the year. I think that we would have sports, but internally or we would not have them at all. I think it’s probably less likely that we have a sports season in which people are playing against other schools. We have not made a final decision on that. We have been focusing more on things that we can control like the classes and the community pieces. As we get into April, we will make a decision about that, but the NCAA has cancelled sports for the entire spring and a lot of schools have done that.

Due to the new AP test policies (45 minute online assessmnets for most courses) will AP courses be structured differently now that the test has changed

Certainly we want students to do well on the test and are working towards the test, but the ultimate goal is to just have a challenging course that students can take. That being said, I think teachers are going to look at the material they have to cover for the AP test. The teachers are going to look at that curriculum, figure out what they have covered or haven’t covered yet and make sure that they cover at least what is on that test. Some might go farther if they normally go farther to help students prepare for the next level. I imagine teachers are going to figure out what the curriculum is, and figure out where we are and how much time we have left.