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Fall 2020 Opening Plan

Kelly Slonaker

August 1, 2020 

Dear Canterbury Families,

It has been almost five months since our full community has been together on our hilltop, and we have spent the past two months intently and steadily focused on the return of our students.  With each day, my colleagues and I have listened to and learned from medical and public health experts; brainstormed and collaborated with peer schools and their academic, athletic, student life, and health services teams; reflected on the most critical, defining, and differentiating aspects of the Canterbury experience (people, values, cultural norms, program); and taken steps to envision the community we will build this fall, a community shaped both by new safety protocols and by a shared love for our school and commitment to one another.  To that end, we now offer our most updated plan for Fall 2020 on Our Hilltop, a plan that will surely continue to grow in detail and be influenced by the medical landscape.

As you dive into the sections that follow, I would ask that we approach the weeks and months ahead with a combination of optimism, rational thinking, and acknowledgment of risk.  As a parent and Head of School, I have spent a great deal of time this spring and summer thinking about risk.  Every day, our choices and actions assume a level of risk to ourselves, to those for whom we are responsible, and to those in our broader communities.  The public health layer of my foundation often refers back to one of the first lessons we learned in graduate school: public health interventions like prenatal screenings, seatbelt laws, and drug-free school zones (and now mask-wearing, hand hygiene, and social distancing) are designed to protect both the individual and the population. Indeed, they are designed to mitigate risk.

Beyond protocols and regulations, however, is the role of personal responsibility in risk mitigation.  Boarding school communities have always relied on a collective dedication to their values and safety, and since Canterbury’s founding, moral leadership has been a central tenet of our mission.   I cannot emphasize strongly enough the role we must each play in bringing our community back together—a healthy, responsible, excited community—and my belief that as a small, student-centered boarding and day school, located in the part of the United States best containing COVID-19, and fortunate to have faculty and facilities prepared for the flexibility required to tackle the months ahead: if any institution can build the infrastructure to open safely and take exceptional care of its extraordinary community, Canterbury can.

As you know, this combination of citizenship, partnership, infrastructure, and compliance means that the fall will look and feel different.  From the expectation that all members of our community spend the weeks leading up to our opening days on campus in “quiet” mode (and some in quarantine), to an additional quiet month of September (no on-campus admission tours, no interscholastic athletic competition, “closed” weekends), a shift to a virtual Family Weekend in October, and the reality that packing the gym for the Pink Out can’t happen this year—I share your disappointment (sprinkled with some frustration), but know that the alternative is far worse.   At some point, we will shift to the next, far-improved chapter of COVID-19, and we will be grateful to have weathered the storm together.  And fear not: the Steers Center is on schedule to open in October, and there will be plenty of gorgeous, innovative, community space—designed with input from our students—in which we can socially distance as long as we need to!

The pages that follow, and the preparation involved across all aspects of community life, are the result of remarkable efforts by my colleagues. I am deeply grateful to our Grounds, Maintenance, Dining, Housekeeping, and Office Staff teams, the Teaching Faculty, my Leadership Team, and our Medical Task Force, a group whose wisdom, passion, and gravitas have been inspirational and invaluable.

Once you have read and processed this update, please do not hesitate to reach out to Associate Head of School for Academics Sue Roberts, Assistant Head of School for Student Life Peter LaVigne, Director of Athletics Jim Stone, or Business Manager Stephen Carleton.   Our August 19 Virtual Town Hall—now focused on the opening of the year generally and Athletics specifically—will also provide an opportunity for remaining questions and clarifications.  Meanwhile, we eagerly anticipate the return of our students in just a few short weeks; let the packing begin!


Rachel E. Stone P '23, '24
Head of School