What makes the coronavirus pandemic especially significant for private, independent schools is first and foremost because the mechanism of transmission sits at the very center of the way we do school. The massive economic impact is secondary, despite the threat it poses to the viability of schools as businesses. This particular communicable disease spreads through the exact way our schools operate: by transmitting person-to-person via close proximity in shared space. The closer the degree of engagement between an infected and non-infected person, the higher is the likelihood of transmitting the virus. Close engagement, whether one-to-one or in groups, is how teaching and learning happens AND how the disease transmits.
In effect, this means that our “secret sauce” has become at best dangerous and possibly even toxic. Parents BC (Before Covid) told us that the magic happens for their children through relationships with teachers and each other. What, then, do we offer of value when those sorts of connections are rendered onto a flat screen rather than in person? Is Zoom a decent (put aside good) proxy? And how does this work for younger children, say, pre-K through about grade 6?
Absent a scientific miracle (an oxymoron if there ever was one) leading to a safe, effective vaccine in vast quantities before September, school leaders need to work through with faculty the value proposition options:
- Replicate enough of the in-person experience and inter-human connections to make remote learning worth the premium independent school price;
- Forget replicating and go for something new–a unique value proposition based on a new way of teaching and learning; or
- Hang on by one’s teeth hoping for a vaccine in 2021 or 2022 allowing a return to school as it used to be (and the forbearance of parents in the meantime).
We think the first and second options are not mutually exclusive and probably offer our clients their best chance of survival. The open question is whether we can get teachers to tackle the second option until the third proves impossible.