Notes from the Head of School, September 25, 2020
It is hard to believe that nearly two weeks have passed since we reopened our doors. Welcoming our students back, whether in person or virtually, after six months apart has made for a new school year like no other. Each of our students, from our kindergarteners to our seniors and Next Steps students, has demonstrated remarkable flexibility and patience in adapting to new routines and practices over the past two weeks.
Despite all that is new, the diversity, kindness, and resilience of our students remain distinctly IDEAL and are perhaps even more apparent today as we joyfully reunite than ever. One of our newest students wrote to me and several of his teachers late last week, “I love that our school stands for Inclusion, Diversity, Excellence, Acceptance, and Leadership. That sums up who I am. I think if we are to become a great person or a great country, then we must become IDEAL.” His words beautifully articulate the power of IDEAL, especially in these extraordinary times.
Even in these unprecedented times, IDEAL has continued to grow. This year, we opened our doors to 216 students, increasing our enrollment from 201 students in 2019-20 and 190 students in 2018-19. The IDEAL Class of 2021 includes 13 remarkable seniors who, like all of our alumni, will be pursuing paths reflective of their own unique passions, interests, and identities after graduation. Graduates of the Class of 2020, for example, are attending a range of postsecondary programs and colleges including IDEAL’s Next Steps Program, Hunter College, Medgar Evers College, New York University, and Westchester Community College.
As always, IDEAL’s success and growth are driven by its dedicated faculty, the inspiring relationships they create with our students, and the partnerships they form with you, our families. As I am sure you recognize, each of our faculty and staff members made a deeply personal and powerful choice this summer to return to school despite the pandemic, and they have gone over and above to inspire students within our hybrid model. Our administrators, teachers, associate teachers, and therapists exemplify IDEAL through their teamwork and commitment to celebrating the identity and voice of each of our students.
IDEAL’s facilities team also worked throughout the summer and our first weeks back to equip our buildings with the ventilation and furnishings that made it possible for us to reopen, with the generous guidance of consultant Gordon Jensen, Facilities Director at Horace Mann School. In the past week, we have installed new social distancing signage in both the Lower and Upper Schools and replaced many of the long tables in some Upper School classrooms with smaller, individual desks that had been back-ordered. The work to replace more of the long tables in Upper School classrooms with desks will continue this Friday to prepare for the coming week. We have also added two porters to our staff, one in each building, since the start of the school year. Our porters work on a schedule throughout the school day to clean and disinfect high-touch areas such as doorknobs, banisters, and bathrooms, adding to the nightly cleaning and disinfection schedule.
Earlier this week, we also received approval from the Department of Parks & Recreation to close 91st Street to traffic between Riverside and West End and use it for learning and recess through Thanksgiving. Once we establish appropriate safety protocols, we will begin making use of 91st Street to incorporate outdoor classes and physical education into our routine. We are exploring the possibility of Upper School students using this space as well, in addition to the outdoor classroom we have been able to create with the generosity of a gift from the eighth grade Class of 2017 on the roof deck of the 89th Street building.
Our technology department has worked over the past two weeks to continue to upgrade our network and technology. Every room in both the Lower and Upper Schools is now equipped with its own access point, and we have increased our bandwidth in both buildings. We have added a technology assistant to our staff, and all students have been equipped with devices--iPads in the Lower School, and Chromebooks in the Upper School. We are awaiting a shipment of Chromebooks for Upper School students that will be distributed first to sixth graders who are currently using iPads, as well as to students with older devices that need replacement throughout the division.
As you have seen at arrival, we take our obligation to screen our community and to refer students or faculty who are displaying COVID-like symptoms for testing seriously. Our school nurses have been instrumental in implementing our health protocols under the guidance of our consulting nurse practitioner Dr. Ava Dawson, DNP, RN, CPNP-PC. DNP, and epidemiologist Dr. Will Greendyke, MD, who are beginning to join classes and advisories to promote proper hygiene and social distancing practices. Since the start of Opening Meetings, nine faculty or staff members and nine students have been tested for coronavirus. We are pleased to report that no tests have been positive to this point. Just as important as our physical wellbeing is our students’ safety online. In the coming weeks and months, teachers and advisors will be working closely with our Technology Integration Coordinator to integrate lessons on digital safety and appropriate use of technology into our curriculum. We will update you on this work by division moving forward.
In the Jewish tradition, we wish our friends and family Shana tovah u’metuka--a sweet and happy new year--each Rosh Hashanah. In this spirit, I wish you all a sweet and happy start to this extraordinary new school year and thank you for all you do to make our community IDEAL.
Head of School
The IDEAL School of Manhattan
IDEAL in the News
Notes from the Head of School, May 2, 2020
Dear IDEAL Community:
Thank you for your support for the excellent work of our faculty and staff and for the thoughtful feedback you have shared in conversations and surveys. We continue to learn and grow from our partnership with you and from our conversations with our faculty. IDEAL’s successful shift is a testament to our school’s mission-based commitment to inclusion and differentiation.
As you have most likely heard, yesterday, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the closing of all schools statewide for the remainder of the school year. Although I am deeply disappointed that we will not gather together again in person this year, I am grateful for the powerful school spirit that has kept our community strong over the past six weeks. I know that the same IDEAL spirit will continue to lift us up as we join together virtually to celebrate our school’s cherished spring traditions, from our Civil Rights Museum and ArtBeat in May to our Moving Up Ceremony and Graduation in June.
Anticipating the likelihood of Governor Cuomo’s announcement, our faculty and administration have already begun planning virtual iterations of our school’s spring traditions. As we plan a virtual Moving Up Ceremony and Graduation so that we acknowledge these important rites of passage in real-time, we are also eager for the suggestions of our fifth and eighth grade students, our seniors, and their families, to guide us in planning specific celebratory events honoring each of these capstone years. We will be sending a survey to families with students in the fifth and eighth grades, as well as scheduling a Zoom meeting for Senior families to discuss virtual and live options for celebrations, now and once restrictions are lifted.
Of course, along with planning for a joyous and meaningful culmination of our current school year, we are already engaged in conversations to prepare for the school’s opening next fall. I am closely following updates from the New York State Department of Education, which is forming a task force to examine all topics around a safe reopening. We are also engaged in close conversation with other NYSAIS member schools and will continue to update you as state guidelines emerge and our own plans and protocols take shape. Although I imagine that some aspects of our school life may look different when we return, IDEAL’s mission, traditions, and, most importantly, our exceptional students will always distinguish and unite us.
Friday afternoon, just after Governor Cuomo’s announcement, the seniors and I Zoomed for our weekly virtual lunch. They impressed me, as always, with their resilience, empathy, and leadership. For the upcoming week, the seniors have planned a second IDEAL Spirit Week, with designated daily themes to inspire our community. I am especially excited about the seniors’ plans for Class Color Day on Wednesday when each grade will be assigned a color of the rainbow to feature in their clothing (think ROY G. BIV!). See The Buzz for the details. Together, the class colors will form a rainbow, reminding us of the promise, peace, and power of IDEAL’s inclusive community.
Finally, I hope many of you will join my son Teddy and me on Tuesday evening, from 8-8:30 PM, for our second weekly Lower School Pajama-Time Read-Aloud. This week, we will be joined by IDEAL alum Max Rubin ‘18 and several members of our current eighth grade class. For those with family and friends suffering from COVID-19, my thoughts are with you, and for all who would like to discuss their experience with distance learning, my virtual door is open.
Head of School
The IDEAL School of Manhattan
Earthfest is the First Virtual Assembly