Head's New Year's Letter
Just prior to the winter break, I hosted a series of Zoom sessions with Rectory families. These online gatherings provided an opportunity to discuss the opening to our highly anticipated centennial year and to share plans for January as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. During the Zooms, I highlighted the fact that one of our primary goals for our students is to make this year, which is unlike any other, feel as much like a typical year as possible. Thanks to the incredible efforts of our teachers and staff, along with the engagement of our students and support of our families, Rectory has enjoyed an incredibly successful fall with encouraging signs ahead in this milestone year. I am pleased to share highlights of this start with you in this annual Head’s New Year’s letter.
The pandemic forced all students online last spring, and that taught us a great deal as we spent the summer months heeding the recommendations of local and national experts and planning for this year’s opening. This meant measuring classroom space to assess capacity under social distancing protocol; installing acrylic dividers where needed to provide the safest living and learning environments; and building not one but two middle school academic schedules as we understood a number of our students in this division would begin the school year online. September couldn’t come fast enough as the plan, assess, revise cycle was nonstop with new information and guidance being delivered to schools on an ongoing basis. But finally, adorned in centennial-logoed masks that merged our historic celebration with the realities of this school year, on Thursday, September 10, after a six-month hiatus the Memorial Dorm bell once again rang as student activity returned to Rectory’s campus. The adjustments to school life have been significant but well worth it.
Opening day featured one of the highest populations of day students in school history, though only half of our boarders occupied our dormitories while the other half, along with some middle school day students, elected to continue learning remotely—many because travel restrictions made it difficult if not impossible to get to campus. To best accommodate the needs of this online community, the daily schedule featured fully synchronous classes that began at 6:00 a.m. to serve a range of time zones. In addition to the expert instruction offered in our core classes, online students also participated in regular advisor meeting time, extra help sessions, art instruction, and twice-weekly e-assemblies that combined our online and in-person groups in an effort to make all students feel connected and a vital part of the Rectory community.
The many students who did make it to campus this fall enjoyed not just the start of another school year but also the benefits of the nearly completed renovation of the John B. Bigelow Academic Center. At this point, classrooms on all three floors have received new windows, new flooring, new wall treatments, updated technology, and improved ventilation that assures a most conducive space for learning. How fitting that one hundred years since he was first enrolled as a student at Rectory School, the structure named in honor of Mr. John offers such impressive updates to our instructional spaces. The one remaining piece to the Bigelow Academic Center renovations will occur this summer when the science labs, thanks to a generous gift from the SPIROL Corporation, will be completely overhauled and expanded.
Like the physical improvements to the academic building, Rectory’s fall sports and recreational opportunities took on a new look this year. In an effort to provide more options conducive to social distancing, Rectory supplemented the traditional fall offerings with two additional choices: tennis—normally a spring sport—and mountain biking. After receiving a fleet of mountain bikes as a gift from a Rectory family several years ago, Rectory has been busy building a trail network and finally introduced this option in September. Regardless of the sport, the focus for all of Rectory’s teams was on skill building as we were not able to engage in interscholastic competition. Despite these less than ideal conditions, the high degree of satisfaction and improvement our athletes enjoyed is a testament to their positive attitudes and the hard work of our coaches.
Considering the limitations of the athletics program and the inability of our students to engage in off-campus activities, Rectory introduced several new recreational activities designed to make campus life that much more enjoyable for our students. A pickleball court now adorns the Seaward Pavilion, a slackline spans two trees in the main circle, a nine-hole disc golf course spreads across the campus, and a new outdoor skating rink will be ready to go this January. Young people should experience joy in life. These new offerings are playing an important role in maintaining the physical and mental health of our population in an otherwise challenging year.
Rather than ride out this year of the COVID storm, Rectory has responded with new initiatives across both internal and external school operations fronts. Case in point: Rectory used this year to introduce MAP Growth, a new student assessment instrument that assesses individual and group progress across a range of disciplines and skills. Administered three times across a year, teachers now have timely, in-depth information on student learning, which can be immediately incorporated into instructional strategies. Rectory also continues to refine a middle school health and wellness curriculum that works in collaboration with our advisory program to support a growing understanding of self and one’s relationship with others.
One of the tenets of Rectory’s recent strategic planning effort was to “Engage our community, particularly alumni, in an effort to fully benefit from the talents, resources, and relationships within our constituencies.” With the launch of a new school website (with enhanced content for alumni and a centennial-appropriate school history section), the distribution of Rectory’s new alumni e-newsletter the Bell Tower Bulletin, and a robust social media campaign, Rectory, more than ever before, is providing timely, relevant, informative material to our alumni and parent constituencies. Similarly, our admissions office is hard at work creating virtual tours, hosting virtual open houses with student panels, and producing podcasts featuring Rectory faculty and staff for our prospective families and students.
Recent events have made it abundantly clear there are things we cannot control. But even as COVID-19 wreaks havoc with scheduled events like our Centennial Gala Celebration, which will likely be pushed to the next school year, and hampers certain aspects of school life such as athletics and off-campus weekend activities, Rectory’s resolve to best serve our students remains as rock-solid as ever. The results, thanks to the commitment, generosity, and talents of the Rectory community, continue to move our beloved school forward, regardless of any obstacles.
Best to all of you as we usher in a new year...and a new century of learning at Rectory School.
Frederick W. Williams
Head of School