The Power of a United School Community

Reopening a school each year is complex enough.

There are new documents and waivers to produce, deliver and receive signed from parents, students, faculty and staff. There are positions to fill and new students to be oriented as well as veteran employees and older students to reorient. Curriculums to update, new uniforms to be sized and purchased, transportation, athletics and extracurriculars. It adds up, every single year.

Adjusting all of that and more in the midst of an ongoing global pandemic is no small feat.

“While we are proud of our distance learning experience in the spring, surveys of our parents, students, and teachers demonstrated a strong interest in returning to in-school learning as soon as possible,” said Dan Meixner, president, Chaminade Julienne Catholic High School. “We felt we had to give our best effort to reopening the school for in-person learning.”

Chaminade Julienne’s decision to reopen campus was complex and, certainly, was not made without extensive planning, preparation and teamwork. It also meant calling all employees together mid-summer to apprise them of the working plan and invite faculty and staff to offer feedback.

To plan, CJ leadership worked to assemble a task force to address the bevy of new challenges and circumstances they would be operating in for the coming year. This task force was organized with three main areas of concern: health and safety, academics, and student activities.

Comprised of members from CJ leadership, administration, faculty and staff as well as select parents and community members, the task forces worked diligently to develop a plan that covered the bases as well as possible, but also left room for impending adjustments and built-in pivot points in case the school needed to shift plans in light of rapidly changing circumstances.

Since collaboration is an essential element of school culture because of the influence of the Marianists, CJ sought insight and guidance from other Catholic schools in the region as well as Marianist and Notre Dame schools around the country. They kept a constant line of communication with health officials at the local and state levels, and consulted with the most up-to-date information distributed by national organizations like the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

After an initial release of the reopening plan, “The Light Ahead,” CJ sought feedback from parents. A special email address was established for parents to submit questions, concerns or general feedback to regarding The Light Ahead. This step was crucial in getting a new, incredibly important perspective on reopening campus. CJ also hosted a virtual question and answer session to discuss the plan with parents in real time.

“Having such a collaborative community is an invaluable tool for us,” said Meixner. “From students and parents to faculty and staff, everyone involved has shown the true meaning and power of a united school community.”

Some of the biggest process changes CJ implemented were a new four by four block schedule in lieu of the traditional eight period school day, mandatory face coverings, staggered arrival and dismissal times, updated lunch procedures to cut down on contact and movement, new visitor and attendance policies and more.

In terms of brick and mortar changes, CJ brought on an expert safety coordinator to help install things like mounted digital thermometers for temperature checks, socially distanced classrooms, outside lunch areas and new signage to direct flow in hallways and on staircases, among other things, all to help ensure safety on campus.

Even while developing measures to maximize safety, CJ also wanted to be as prepared as possible to respond in the event of a community member testing positive for COVID-19. The task forces worked with local and state health officials to develop a detailed response plan to enact if there is a positive case. This plan includes a transition to distance learning and work from home procedures for at least two school days to enable proper cleaning and sanitization on campus, contact tracing and quarantining for those who fall into the contact trail, a full distance learning plan and more.

Throughout all this, from the initial planning to editing, implementing building changes and, finally, reopening, collaboration and adaptation were crucial to success. There is no game plan for how to adjust to COVID-19, no precedent to base plans on. One of the only certain things CJ could rely on was the power of community.

“We have tried to create as much certainty as possible for our students, parents and staff, but we have to be humble enough to recognize that we are not really in charge as we experience this pandemic together,” said Meixner. “We do know that we’re prepared to venture toward new challenges united together as a community inspired by the goodness of God.”

You can view CJ’s full reopening plan on their website here.


-- This story was published on September 14, 2020.