Skip To Main Content

A State of the School Message — June 2020

Kelly Slonaker

June 1, 2020

To the Canterbury Community,

June greetings.  We trust this letter finds you and your loved ones healthy and safe.  As the coronavirus-impacted world begins to reopen, we are reaching out to all members of the extended Canterbury family with a State of the School update regarding the strength and stability of Canterbury, our ongoing COVID-19 planning, and our timeline for decisions moving forward.

On May 23rd, we shepherded the Class of 2020 across the virtual Commencement finish line and congratulated them on staying the course despite the unexpected hurdles placed in their way.  As I said to the Sixth Form that morning: "Thank you for being my, and Mr. Stone's, diehard copilot class.  For never taking this place for granted.  For managing the disappointment and disruption of this spring with grace, humility and resilience.  And for loving this school, and one another, so deeply."  Now, we turn our full attention to the 2020-2021 school year and the path forward to bringing our community back together on this hilltop.

Most critical to today's letter are the following key messages: 1) Canterbury remains an excellent, transformative option for students, now more than ever; 2) We plan to bring our students back to campus this fall, with classes to begin the week of September 7th; and 3) the financial, medical, and human infrastructure of our School is both enduring and extraordinary.


I. Why Canterbury: While the experience and program offered by Canterbury have always been life-changing, our ability to meet the needs of students and families in the wake of coronavirus is simply unmatched.  We are a deliberately small, student-centered community in safe, rural western Connecticut.  Our response this spring to stay connected to, and present for, our students was overwhelmingly well-received by our families; we are proud of the success of our Distance Learning Plan as well as our Student Life framework, from consistent touchpoints by advisors and coaches to virtual weekend activities and an explosion of student-driven social media. 

Moreover, we place the highest priority on the self-advocacy, independence, and personal growth of each student, and we foster that academic, athletic/artistic, and ethical growth by knowing our students as individuals and expecting them to play an active and engaged leadership role in building community.  As the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged each of us to affirm and prioritize our values, Canterbury stands as a reminder that excellent academic programming can be interwoven with an unwavering system of values: Honesty, Respect, Compassion, Spirituality & Self-Reliance.  Indeed, our School's mission to "inspire moral leaders in a complex, secular world" is as relevant and important now as ever.  As both an educator and parent, I cannot imagine a better time for families to consider boarding school as an option for their teenage children.  What our community can offer and inspire simply cannot be replicated by day and public schools.


II. Student Return: What we have learned about COVID-19 over the past three months will continue to grow exponentially in June, July and August.  Knowing that each week will bring greater clarity and improve our ability to plan, we will proceed toward September under the expectation that both our boarding and day students will return for classes as originally planned the week of September 7th.  Certainly this timeline assumes that the medical landscape continues to improve and that Canterbury can meet the public health expectations established by the CDC and the State of Connecticut in order to take excellent care of our community.  Along the way, we will provide updates as possible when we reliably and transparently can regarding the following topics, a list that is incomplete at best:

  • Our Partnership with Parents: To reiterate prior messaging, a successful return of our students to campus will rely on our continued strong communication and collaboration with our parents/families.  This partnership will include expectations regarding testing protocols (types, frequency, response to outcomes), summer medical physical exams, compliance with on- and off-campus safety protocols for our students, and acknowledgement of reasonable risk.  We will share Canterbury's Medical Response Action Plan by August 1st and ask that all families read, discuss, and acknowledge their understanding of the expectations and responsibilities placed on the School, our students, and our parents/families.
  • Remote Learning Option: We know that for some families, the need for remote learning may continue into the fall.  We plan to offer a robust virtual academic program this fall (and winter and spring as needed) that provides access to our traditional and innovative on-campus academic schedule.  For enrolled students who need to access the Remote Learning option (due to travel restrictions, illness, or other complications), Canterbury will adjust tuition and fees accordingly.  Details regarding the Remote Learning Option, and its cost, will be available by August 1st.
  • Athletics: We understand that our students deeply value both the individual physical/emotional growth they experience through athletics and the benefits (and joys) of team competition. We are paying close attention to decisions made across local and state organizations, peer boarding schools, and higher education.  As of today's letter, there is promising news regarding athletic competition and avenues by which our Saints can resume play. As we determine when we can begin practices on campus—with the goal of interscholastic competition to follow—the safety and health of our student-athletes will be at the forefront of all decisions.
  • Student Leadership: We still plan to bring our 2020-21 student leaders back to campus for training prior to the start of classes, most likely as the "first wave" of students to move into dormitories and learn our new safety protocols in order to help model and norm them in their interactions on our hilltop.

We plan to share formal updates by July 1st and August 1st and will offer relevant details along the way as possible; please also continue to check our Opening of School 2020-2021 webpage.  In addition, I am fortunate to have been invited to serve on the TABS (The Association of Boarding Schools) Healthy Opening & Operation Committee, a small working group that meets twice weekly to: "provide boarding school leaders and practitioners with concrete resources and actionable ideas that can help boarding schools open and operate in the healthiest possible way."  Finally, please note that Canterbury is on track to receive a Reopen CT Badge as part of our staged reopening this summer for employees, and we are following the guidance provided by the Reopen CT: Report of the Higher Education Subcommittee for the fall.


III. School Infrastructure: To be sure, COVID-19 has disrupted the world's medical and economic foundation.  We know that members of the Canterbury family have been affected as well, and we extend our thoughts and prayers to you.  As this healing continues, we believe that it is important for our broad community to know that our Trustees and Leadership Team have confidence in the vitality of Canterbury's infrastructure: 

  • Our teaching faculty have not only risen to face the challenges presented by COVID-19 but have taken professional and personal ownership to sustain the attention, expertise, and presence we provide our students.  Their devotion to Canterbury is unparalleled.  Meanwhile, our Administrative Team—in partnership with our Board of Trustees—has been stalwart in responding to a disrupted spring with persistence, creativity, and devotion to the sustained well-being of this community.
  • Careful stewardship of your financial support to Canterbury is very important to us, particularly in the face of the significant turbulence in the financial markets created by COVID-19.  Thanks to our Investment Committee, along with our Investment Advisor, the Canterbury Endowment has defended well during these last few months.  Moreover, we are not only on track to exceed our FY '20 Annual Fund goal but were thrilled and humbled by the outpouring of support during our May 19th Saints Giving Day: our aim was 300 donors and $100,000 to unlock a $100,000 match...and our outcome was more than 600 donors with $223,631 raised!  Furthermore, we are on track to open the Steers Center this fall, a project inspired by our students and reflective of our commitment to innovative academics grounded by values.  We believe that these successes will propel us toward the finish line for our capital campaign and help galvanize the critical work of growing Canterbury's endowment.
  • As we create the roadmap toward welcoming students back this fall, we are fortunate to be located in Litchfield County, where the COVID-19 statistics (incidence, prevalence, mortality) have been low since March and have become increasingly reassuring.  In addition, our campus is located less than one mile from New Milford Hospital, and our Medical Task Force benefits from the extraordinary leadership, wisdom, and gravitas of School Physician Dr. Ken Marici '87, Director of Health Services Colleen Cook, RN '02, and Trustee/Pediatrician Dr. Anna Flik P'21.  Just as we work toward preventing the spread of coronavirus within our community, we also work to address the physical and emotional health challenges experienced by our students during this time apart.  Indeed, wellness is multifaceted and demands a collaborative, community-centered approach.

We hope this State of the School provides clarity, reassurance, and confidence in our School.  I look forward to connecting with our alumni virtually this weekend, and we will be inviting newly enrolled families to a virtual Town Hall on June 10th.  Finally, please encourage friends and family with teenage children to attend our Admission Virtual Open Houses on June 24th and July 22nd.

We can't wait to welcome our students back to campus this fall! 

Go Saints!


Alternate text                    Alternate text

Rachel E. Stone P '23, '24                    Robert H. Steers '71, P '11

Head of School                                     President, Board of Trustees