July 27

Twist endings…movie buffs love them! Those knock you through a loop, never saw it coming, jump out of your seat, endings that are so original, so jaw dropping, so perfectly executed that when the movie is viewed- the word of mouth buzz surrounding the “twist” propels people into the theater to see what all the hype is about. 

If you’ll indulge me for a moment, without giving anything away–because who is more loathed by a film fanatic than the person who spoils a movie’s ending for another person…let me name of few and if you’ve seen them, you’ll recall instantly the twist I’m referring to, and if you haven’t, well then…fire up the Netflix and enjoy. Who saw the now infamous ending of The Sixth Sense coming a mile away? Or, The Usual Suspects (which I consider the “father” of modern twist endings!) The Others, The Departed, Shutter Island, Saw, Fight Club, Atonement, Murder on the Orient Express ( and shame on me for never having read the book before I saw the movie…a funny story, but for another time!) and the list can go on and on, but I promised I’d name only a few. 

People who love films might tell you things like “I saw it coming” or “ I figured it out” but to that I say no. Some of the most famous twist endings, the ones those of us who have seen them can call upon instantly, we never saw coming. It’s only when one goes back and watches again with a careful eye, that we see the clues left embedded for us by the filmmaker. Ah well, it’s the perfect description of that famous expression “ Hindsight is 20/20.” 

And, as we reach the end of July, with only five short months left until New Year’s, I’d say if 2020 were a movie, we’d be gearing up for a huge twist ending coming. What that twist will be, I cannot even venture a guess, for although I am pretty well versed in Film Studies, the “clues” laid out for us thus far this year are too difficult for me to interpret. Who do we trust? Who’s giving us the best advice? Masks needed? Masks unnecessary? Safe to dine indoors or not safe? A second wave is coming? No second wave will appear? COVID- 19 is as unpredictable as a first time director handed a script with an ending almost too challenging to put onscreen–it’s got all of us second guessing, changing our opinions each day, listening to different theories and trying to puzzle them out…and far from being an enjoyable experience for us, if you are anything like I am, your stomach gets into knots at any given moment.

Twist endings are fine when it’s a movie, when we remove ourselves from the action, watch from our perch on our couch or in theater and serve as the outside observer, commenting on what happens to those involved in the situation. It’s an entirely different scenario to be thrust into the action, the 4th wall removed and suddenly, we wait as breathlessly as a character onscreen waits, to see what the next pages of the script say. 

You and I, each one of us is not only the actor in our own 2020 story, but the director as well. Now, we’ve been handed a lot of last minute changes, a lot of hurdles and red herrings in our scripts this year. And yet, here we are, with 7 months of 2020 behind us and 5 to go. So, you may ask, how do we outsmart, outwit, out plan whatever twist ending 2020 has in store for us? Well, the answer, as it often is in this twist movies, is right in front of us only we don’t see it clearly.

To get through the hardships and shocks this year has held, we need to focus on all the good we have in our lives, take credit for all we’ve been able to achieve from March onward, and trust that as the “credits” roll we will have come out stronger, more resilient, and more empowered. How is this achievable? For that answer, I direct you to where I draw my inspiration daily…

The Gospel of Matthew – 17:20

Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say this to the mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.

Only God knows how the 2020 twist will end and if we put our faith in Him, our vision will remain clear and certain enough to guide each of us through. Keep the faith!

July 13

How can it be that right now, in NJ it’s not safe to eat inside at a restaurant, go to a movie, go to a concert, or have an indoor wedding–but schools will open? How can it be that right now, just across the Hudson, theaters on Broadway will remain dark until January—but schools will open? Each of those activities is shorter than the length of a school day–and almost all of those activities are done either by adults, or with adult supervision of minors…and yet they are not safe right now–closed–per government orders. And thus starts the never-ending “ what if” questions that plague the mind of every parent, teacher and school leader nightly right now. 

What’s going to happen if one child removes their mask and breathes on another child? How can anyone do lab work in a science lab–no lab partners, no sharing lab equipment? What if we can make a school totally “safe” according to guidelines, and then our athletes play a sport against a team whose school has not taken those precautions? Who has to clean up the discarded masks that will wind up on the floors? What if the school says no lunch will be served, but the parent cannot send in lunch? What about allergies? What if two teachers, on two different floors, each let a student go to the bathroom and while in the bathroom they remove their masks? 

What about fire drills? How can they stand six feet apart? What do we do if the building goes on lockdown? How can they be kept safe in the designated space-they will not be six feet apart? What if someone forgets their pencil…they can’t borrow one? What if, on the bus to and from school, students refuse to wear their masks? What if someone forgets to wash their hands? How do we teach subject areas that require some contact–P.E., Art, Drama–or do we just not cover these subjects? What about the teacher who goes home to care for his/her elderly parent? What about the coach with a pre existing medical condition? What about the student whose asthma is so bad they can’t wear a mask, but who lives with a grandparent and does not want to risk carrying virus home? 

What if schools don’t open? What happens to the child who is being neglected at home? The only child for whom school is their only chance to socialize with their peer group? The children who live with parents who work 2 or 3 jobs to make ends meet and who cannot be home to help them learn remotely? What happens to the child who is being abused, and who would look to confide in a trusted school adult? What happens..? What about…..? How do we …? What if…? 

The decisions about school in the fall were first put into the hands of individual states/governors and then many governors decided to put the decisions into the hands of the school districts/leaders themselves–with the mindset that those who lead the schools know how to best serve the students and families. Now, all across the nation, we have many voices weighing in; issuing guidelines, saying “it’s safe”, threatening to withhold funds, arguing its impossible to safely open, comparing states where numbers are high to states where numbers are low, comparing elementary school plans to university plans, comparing large districts and small districts–and once again an endless debate rages onward, fanning fires and explosions-pitting people against each other– educators and government–parents and principals–and for what? To what end?

I am a school administrator, of a private school and so a great deal of the planning for September falls to me and the team I have working with me. I can look to my local district for guidance, but what works for their size and space may not work for mine. I’m the parent of a child who has to return to school in some way come September, and so all those questions listed above weigh on my mind in two ways, as they weigh on the mind of any parent who is looking toward September and any teacher who is looking to return to work. It’s up to me and other school leaders to find the answers, to make things “safe”, to reassure, to project confidence, to ensure that each student receives the best possible education and also a welcoming, safe, and caring school environment. 

I’ll admit it–I don’t have the answers to all of those questions. I just don’t. And it’s ok for me to admit that, because nobody has all the answers. This is unprecedented. It’s an unimaginable situation–and as the numbers change–the situation could move in a different direction at any given time. It’s as if I am the principal of a school in an M. Night Shyamalan movie–it looks like the regular world, but from out of nowhere pop these unexpected and terrifying scenarios that have to be overcome. So, how could I or any other school leader offer our teachers, our parents or our student a 100% ironclad guarantee that “nothing will happen”, that “everything will be fine”…if I offered that–you’d have good reason not to trust me.

Our students are not merely alphabetical lists of names on a class roster. If I were to lose even one of them, the risk would outweigh the benefit. Our parents who support our school with their time, who trust us with their daughters, are essential in the day to day lives of our children–to lose one of them would be a tragedy. 

And our devoted teachers–who will come back in September–they are our own personal “front line”–and they are most certainly not disposable; a good teacher is irreplaceable, not only to the students he or she teaches, but to the family he or she returns to each day. These men and women never signed a contract stating they’d risk their lives; and yet they do it every day–in the event of fires or lockdowns or shootings–and now in the face of a worldwide pandemic, they are once again risking it all to ensure our children, yours and mine get the education they deserve. To lose one of them would be a heartbreaking loss for the school community–one that none of us would ever fully recover from. 

Does all of this mean we cannot open schools? No, of course not–we need schools. Does that mean I can guarantee a full, five day a week, 7 hours a day, full roster of athletics and activities and proms and ring ceremonies…and the list goes on. Well, no. I can’t–I just cannot guarantee that right now and I’d be very foolish if I did. 

The re-opening of schools, Saint Dominic Academy and across the nation, will happen–in some form. It may be hybrid, it may be shortened days or no lunch–more and more plans come out daily. The only way we can each, parents and the school, do our best to make it “safe” is to have faith in each other and to trust each other. Faith and trust have been very hard to come by since this past March, that I know. But it’s essential right now–

And so, please, put your faith in me and the other leaders of Saint Dominic Academy–we will make the best possible decisions to benefit you and your daughters. Please, trust us–we are their teachers, their leaders, and truly we care about each one of them as if they were our own. Faith, and trust—two key intangible but essential ingredients as we head toward September–coupled with prayer, always, are the first steps back. 

Saint Dominic Academy continues to develop plans for re-opening in September, and will update parents in a timely manner on any and all new changes, restrictions, and re-opening plans.

July 6

July is upon us and hard as it is to believe, 2020 is halfway over. I hope everyone had a safe and celebratory 4th of July weekend…I’m sure you can guess that mine centered around the premier of Hamilton on Disney Plus. It did not disappoint at all; even after having seen it onstage twice, nothing compared to seeing this original cast- what a wonderful way to ring in the 4th this year. 

And now, having enjoyed the long weekend, many of us are “back to work” today- whether that work is in person or remote. The Board and Administration at SDA have already been devoting their time to various workstream projects- focusing on teacher workshops and training, schedule and handbook revisions, social emotional and diversity based curriculum, as well as hiring practices and Board expansion. We will all be picking up where we left off last week, as well as working on finalizing plans for opening in September, increasing faculty training on hybrid and remote learning, having two administrators, myself and Mrs. Buge trained to earn COVID-19 Safety Manager certification, and the entire staff is working with New York Life Insurance to become certified as a Grief Sensitive School.

While all this is taking place, each teacher is working to reassess and reevaluate his or her curriculum: adding new readings and lessons, updating prior guidelines and broad based plans, and for our AP classes, ensuring that the curriculum we are using is in line with all of the most recent College Board standards. Some days, each of us is “nonstop” ( you see, I got a Hamilton quote in here!) as we are tireless in our goal to ensure that we can offer each young lady in our SDA family the most well rounded, challenging, and exceptional educational experience this coming year. 

In that vein, today I am happy to give a quick sneak peak into the AP Literature and Composition curricular readings for the 2020-2021 school year. The course, which has been available to seniors at SDA for a number of years is revised time and again; with a suggested list of over 400 authors who may appear on the exam, each teacher who has instructed this class has made it personal and special his or her own way- selecting works each felt were exceptional examples of literature- ones that would work to ensure a high score on the free response section. AP Literature is the culmination of four years of honors level course work in English at SDA and the readings from 9th through 11th are geared to cover some of the authors who may appear on the exam. In 12th grade, in addition to intense study of poetry and short story in preparation for the objective assessment portion, scholars are required to engage in in-depth novel studies; all fictional as per The College Board, in order to develop and enhance their literary analysis skills, in preparation for the essay portion of the exam. 

As I said, with over 400 authors to chose from, each teacher selects a Reading List that reflects a timely curriculum, one that will “speak” to the young women in the class. This year, as the course changes hands, a new reading list has been selected- one that reflects some of the changes we at SDA are making in our curriculum, as we strive to offer more diversity within our courses of study. The list for the 2020-2021 school year is as follows:

Beloved by Toni Morrison: Using the real life tragic story of slave Margaret Garner, this novel appears on the AP exam free response almost yearly; it’s complex text about ghosts and guilt, about the choice between life as a slave and death at the hands of a loving parent is heartbreaking and emotional and a must read. 

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood: Another AP favorite, this dystopian novel is now a popular TV miniseries- which I’ve heard captures the mood of the book perfectly. Hard to read, especially for young women, it is nevertheless an important look at our dangerous the future could become, if all are not truly treated equal. 

The Wedding by Dorothy West: A shorter read, but an important one. Set in The Oval, a upper class black community in Martha’s Vineyard in the 1950’s, it walks us through a mixed race wedding, where our white groom is unsure of his place in this wealthy family. The family, hiding secrets of its own and not altogether comfortable with their own mixed race status, would prefer their daughter to marry within The Oval community. Often overlooked, West’s final novel is a masterpiece. 

Othello by William Shakespeare: Everyone knows the tale; if only Othello had been given the advice to keep your friends close and your enemies closer, he may have avoided his fate. Distrusted because of his race, looked down upon for marrying Desdemona, but praised for his military heroics- it’s no wonder the seeds of doubt planted by Shakespeare’s most evil villain Iago bring about the downfall of our hero and his wife. Jealousy, insecurities, and rage prove to be a fatal mix. 

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner: This family may well be the polar opposite of the family created by Dorothy West, which will make for interesting compare/contrast analysis. Told from the POV of over 25 characters, this poor Southern family’s quest to bury their mother is harrowing and eerie all at once. Another AP favorite, for sure. 

Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot: It’s hard to imagine this beautiful poem was penned by the man who brought us the inspiration for CATS. Light years away in content and form from dancing felines, it tells the story of religious conflicts between church and state, and on a more personal level, between two friends as well. Culminating in the murder of Saint Thomas Becket; this is a showcase of how history can be blended with literature to create a moving and compelling tale. 

Atonement by Ian McEwan: This was selected most especially for its message about the dangers and perils of lying and spreading gossip. Perhaps no other modern novel immerses readers in the depths of a lie of this proportion and outlines quite so clearly how it has devastating results on everyone’s lives. A good foil for Shakespeare’s play, the ending will shock each reader. 

The Color Purple by Alice Walker: An epislitory novel, written as letters to God, Walker’s book has been a must read for AP scholars since it was penned. It’s unique style alone makes it worthy of an AP level study and the content, so rich in colorful descriptions and featuring themes of identity, self worth, female empowerment, and love in all forms, is moving and soul stirring. Readers won’t see purple in nature ever again without thinking of God. 

Wicked by Gregory Maguire: A newer choice, one that allows scholars to see how a “classic” tale can be re-spun and reinvented for a new generation. More than just a peek into the World of Oz and a fanciful story of how someone becomes the wicked witch, this novel deals with the ideas of discrimination, jealousy, social climbing, abandonment by a parent, and political power and oppression. And, most timely for our young ladies, it features a strong, empowered female protagonist–the cities may be emerald and the monkeys may be flying, but at the heart of the novel, the obstacles faced by Elphaba hit very close to life as many of us may know it. 

That’s a small look into our ever changing, ever growing curricular endeavors at SDA. Moving forward in the coming weeks, we will be sharing more updates with our SDA community: on curriculum expansions, faculty workshops and webinars and the like…stay tuned to hear all that is taking place at SDA.