August 10

What to watch on yet another day of being in the house? At this point, I’m certain we are all sick of Netflix and Amazon and Hulu and whatever other options are on the screen in front of us—they’ve been our constant companions since March and even now, when more and more people are venturing out—they still are for many, the “highlight” of the day. And so, what to watch on this stormy Tuesday with the rain pouring down in buckets and the trees blowing fiercely? I don’t know about you, but lately, nothing comes to mind when I turn on the TV. I literally cannot think of a thing to watch. Thank goodness these trusty channels will “recommend” something.

Because you watched Jaws…and literally every movie Richard Dreyfuss movie is contained within the recommended movie scroll. Oh..well…Mr. Holland’s Opus…I remember that one. I saw it first when I was 18 years old- fresh out of high school, heading to college and still perhaps a bit unsure of what I would do with the rest of my life. And so, I press play and sit back on the couch for 143 minutes of what Amazon terms: a wonderful, ‘feel-good’ story about a young man who wants to compose music… but takes a job teaching music in a school to provide a reliable income. … But the years roll by, and he finds himself more and more drawn into the life of the school, making an incredible difference to many of the students.

I remember liking it when I saw it. And I remember watching it early on in my teaching career and thinking–wow–thirty years of teaching; look at how many lives he touched; that’s amazing.  And today, I realized, I’ve only been teaching 9 fewer years than he taught in the movie. Quite the impact that thought had–am I almost as old as Mr. Holland?! Well no, he started teaching a bit later than I did, but still- thirty years of being in education doesn’t seem quite so impossible to this educator anymore. It seems like a wonderful way to spend a life. 

These past weeks, with the “road to reopening” a hot topic among parents, teachers, school district leaders, politicians and well, pretty much anyone else who wants to weigh in on social media outlets, have been tense to say the least. In March, teachers were hailed as heroes; parents singing their praises after just a week or two of having to teach their own children. That tune seems to have changed, at least somewhat, in recent days. Teachers who are hesitant to go back into the classroom are being criticized and critiqued and called cowards, at times by the very same people who praised them in March. I’m not going to wade into the politics of it- each of us is entitled to our own personal feelings on the subject. 

However as I wept my way through the movie and boy did I, a line at the end of the film had the tears flowing harder than before. Without spoiling the movie for those who have not ever had the pleasure of watching it, suffice to say our hero, Mr. Holland, a music teacher, has “retired” after 30 years. He says to his closest friend, also a life long teacher–

You work for 30 years because you think that what you do makes a difference, you think it matters to people, but then you wake up one morning and find out, well no, you’ve made a little error there, you’re expendable.

And I wondered, how many teachers, right now across America feel the exact same way? And, if any of us, by a comment on social media or a half thought out comment about “getting back to work” has caused someone who has given their entire adult life to the service of education to feel expendable. I’d like to think that as an educator myself, I’ve never given any other educator cause to feel that way, but in the event that I ever have, I deeply apologize. 

I could go on and on, the movie perfectly captures what it means to be a teacher- the late nights, the stacks of papers, the giving of yourself when you almost have no more to give, the constant tug for those teachers who are parents “the school kids need me” and “my child needs me” at the same time…the students who light up your classroom for years and then, suddenly grow up and are gone. And the teacher is left to wonder–did I have any effect on them at all? Did I do anything meaningful with my life?  As I said, I could go on and on, but I won’t. I’ll do this instead.

Anyone reading this, whether you are one of my “faithful” weekly readers or reading for the first time, whether you’re on my faculty or on a faculty elsewhere, whether you have a child at SDA or a child in another school, or are just reading because it popped up in your news feed–I challenge you to do the following.

Take the 143 minute run time and the $3.99 cost to rent the film on Amazon Prime. Grab a box of tissues and settle back against the couch cushions. When you watch, picture not only the superb teacher that Richard Dreyfuss portrays as Mr. Holland, but the teacher that had an impact on you- be it in kindergarten or at the end of your educational career. Watch it, thinking of all that teacher must have sacrificed to be there for you, and for all the other students under his/her care each day and then…if you’re going to weigh in on the current debate about reopening- do it with that teacher’s memory in your mind.

Choose your words carefully, should you post anywhere and let’s remember, whether school is open fully, open in a hybrid model or open remotely, our teachers are our heroes and they deserve the support of everyone in the community. Look at where we all are today–each of us as a teacher to thank for that. So I say thank you, to the fictional Mr. Holland for reminding me of what I needed to recollect–

Teaching is a work of the heart. 

May God bless the teachers of SDA now and in years past and teachers the world over. Thank you all, for all you’ve done.

Return To School Plans

Dear Parents:

I am certain each of you has been awaiting Saint Dominic Academy’s announcement regarding opening plans for the fall of 2020. We at SDA have been working tirelessly in order to arrive at what we feel is the best and safest decision for our students, our parents, and our faculty and staff. Recently you were asked to participate in a parent survey regarding three different school opening scenarios. I want to thank all of you for your prompt responses and today I want to share the data with you; as it weighed into the final decision made. 

Opening SurveyFull Remote OptionFull In OptionHybrid Option 
Would Return 55.3%55.3%74.5%
Would Not Return 18.3 %24.3%8.1%
Unsure24.6%20.4%17.4%

We took the responses to this survey to heart and shared this data, along with faculty surveys and the recommendation of the school’s Remote Advisory Committee with our Board of Trustees. After talking with them regarding their insights and concerns, the administration at Saint Dominic Academy made their decision about how best to open in September of 2020.

All of us are aware that the COVID-19 numbers in NJ could change at any given time, for better or for worse. Therefore, we have created a plan that will allow us to transition seamlessly into a different format, should we see an improvement in the testing numbers or should we see the numbers rise at an alarming rate. We wanted, first and foremost, to be able to offer our parents and students our assurance that regardless of how the year progresses, we have planning in place to meet any need that arises due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In September of 2020, Saint Dominic Academy will open on a Hybrid Learning Model for the first semester. A full remote option will be offered to parents who request it. Requests for a full remote option must be made to the Head of School by September 1, 2020. 

Our Hybrid Learning plan, which is detailed in the complete “Return to School” packet included with this letter, will be re-assessed at the end of the first semester with the hope that we can move into full in house learning in the early months of 2021. I would like to assure you that if at some point before the end of the first semester our State seems ready to allow for what has been termed the “new normal” after meeting all 4 stages of the Governor’s Recovery Plan, then the administration will discuss moving back into full in house learning at an earlier date. Of course, at the other end of the scale, if at anytime between now and the end of the first semester, it becomes necessary to transition to full remote learning for the health and safety of our students, parents, faculty and staff, Saint Dominic Academy is prepared to do so as well. 

Our plan is comprehensive, based on research, workshops and webinars focused on the best possible ways to safely open, and the model is in line with many of our local Boards of Education and private school models. I ask that you take time to review the plan in detail with your daughter, as it outlines building area closures, duration of the school day, mask requirements, dress code for the first semester, and some changes to our school calendar and activities/club meetings. 

If I may reference the data above one more time; although I was pleased to see that over 70% of our families supported a Hybrid Learning Model, I am equally concerned with the 17% that is unsure about this model and of course, most concerned about the 8% that would not send their daughter back at this time. If your hesitation to have your daughter in the school building at all led to a response in either of those areas, then please let me assure you, we can offer you a full remote option in place of the Hybrid option for our 1st semester. If your concerns or hesitations fall in a different area, then I am asking you to reach out to me for a one on one conversation, via Zoom or phone, so that I can work with you to ensure that your daughter can safely return to her SDA family in September.

My wish, as Head of School, would be for all of our young ladies across all grade levels to return smiling and full of joy to our home on Kennedy Boulevard in September. However, my job, as Head of School, is to ensure that the young ladies under my care receive not only the best educational experience possible at Saint Dominic Academy, but also that they are in the safest possible environment to attain that education. At this moment, I feel I am offering the best possible scenario for each and every student at Saint Dominic Academy. 

Those parents interested in a full remote option for the first semester, please reach out to our Academic Dean, Mrs. Guen Farrales at gfarrales@stdominicacad.com to discuss in detail the structure and guidelines for our full remote option. Again we ask, if you are selecting this option, you do so by September 1, 2020.

Those parents and students who have any anxieties, questions, fears or concerns about our return to school in September of 2020, I ask that you reach out to me directly at sdegnan@stdominicacad.com so that we may schedule a phone or Zoom meeting to talk one on one. 

In August, more information regarding opening in September, including details on drop off times, temperature screening procedures, and the schedule of remote/in school weeks for each grade level will be distributed. Between now and then, as need arises, I and the members of the administration will be in touch with parents regarding any changes/developments in regard to our reopening in September. 

On behalf of the school administration, I thank you all for your patience and understanding as we worked to arrive at this Reopening Plan and I am grateful to each of you for your confidence in our abilities to provide a safe and stellar learning environment for your daughters, our beloved SDA students. You and your families are in my daily prayers as we continue to weather the effects COVID-19 has on our daily lives, and I ask that you hold the community of Saint Dominic Academy in your prayers as well.