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Head of School Reflection — September 2020

Kelly Slonaker

 

September greetings from our hilltop!  

I cannot fully express how wonderful it feels to say: Welcome back.

Now that our campus has been bustling with students for two weeks (thank goodness), I must share my gratitude with, and for, our families.  You have stood by our side throughout these past six months in partnership, determination, hope, and health.  You have helped us ask and answer the myriad questions informing our decisions and plans to return this fall.  And, it has been a steadying force throughout the summer to know that your children would once again fill our campus with engagement and enthusiasm.  Thank you.

Over the past three weeks, I have shared my opening, framing thoughts with our faculty, staff, and students.  Core to my remarks have been four themes: Gratitude, Safety, Citizenship, and Teamwork.  These seeds were firmly planted in March as the reality of COVID-19 took shape and have grown strong and tall over the past six months.

Gratitude.  Beyond our gratitude for your partnership, I reminded our students that they have already done one of the most important things we will ask of them this year—stay safe, test negative, and return healthy—and for that, we are extremely grateful.  Our faculty and staff have done so as well, once again highlighting their devotion to this community.  Moreover, if we take a moment to think back through the spring and summer, I am confident that we could each craft a long list of those whose persistence, creativity, and belief in Canterbury played a role in our return to campus. 

Safety.  As each Form gathered last weekend, I welcomed them back, reiterated just how excited we are to be together once again, and challenged them to recognize that while our safety protocols are not convenient, they are also not complicated.  In fact, our community has the most impact on our individual and collective safety than any of us have experienced since March; we all returned healthy, and if we wear masks, wash our hands, and keep a safe distance, we have every chance to stay together, stay open, and stay safe.

In addition to our focus on physical safety, we continue to place psychological/emotional safety at the center of our work.  A welcoming, inclusive community has always been core to Canterbury’s ethos, and in reflection of the conversations our students and faculty have encouraged and engaged in this summer—conversations focused on human rights, equity, anti-racism, and social justice—we are making an even stronger commitment to ensure that our students experience not only a welcoming community but an individual, personal sense of belonging within the Saints family as well.  To that end, twelve of our faculty members immersed themselves in Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) training in mid-August with Margenett Moore-Roberts; that group of twelve then served as co-facilitators for six faculty DEI pods, small groups which met daily throughout our opening week of faculty meetings and will continue to meet throughout the year.  No surprise, our student leadership training was grounded on these very same principles of diversity, inclusion, and belonging, and we will thread these conversations with all of our students through the weeks and months ahead.  I think we can all agree that with a Presidential Election on the near horizon, and current events showing no sign of growing less divisive or less unsettling, it is our collective responsibility to help our students develop informed opinions as part of their growth in values, character, civil discourse, and service to others.  We are committed to doing so.  

Citizenship.  To put it bluntly, the best reopening plan in the world will only work if we each accept and adhere to a sense of personal responsibility.  As I said to our students, even if 90% of the community does what is expected, the 10% that doesn’t will ultimately place Canterbury at risk and lead to a series of unhappy decisions.  As I also said to them, on the days when we grow frustrated with safety protocols, we need to consider the alternative!  Being together on this campus is where we all want to be.  

Teamwork.  The distinction between citizenship and teamwork circles back to the gratitude for, and commitment to, one another that we aspire to every day.  The most talented athletes know that a critical aspect of a team’s success is the responsibility each player carries for their teammates.  We must help each other.  We must pay attention to those moments when friends, classmates, colleagues, and dormmates need us to hold them accountable, to help them laugh, to remember that we are all integral to the same amazing, fortunate Saints team this year.  We have every chance to do this well!

When I  met with the Third and Fourth Forms last Sunday, I told them that it was the first morning in six months when we awoke to a campus filled with our students and faculty.  We are here, together, ready to tackle COVID-19 and embrace a sense of belonging, with each successful day leading to the next.  Here we go! 

Gratefully,

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