By Amanda Pogany
I read the article “Let Leaders Lead” with some frustration. The anonymous author claims that every leader they have spoken to would be making a different decision about starting the school year in person, if it was truly left up to them. As a Head of School myself, entering my 9th year leading Luria Academy of Brooklyn, this is unequivocally not my experience, nor that of my thoughtful colleagues, as together we work through the challenging but not impossible task of safely opening schools for our students.
Over the last few weeks, parents have reached out asking me why we are choosing to open when there is still risk to our children, our staff, and our families. The question of when we will be able to get back together in person has been on my mind since the moment we closed our doors in March. We are not reopening because parents need to return to work, even though I recognize and have myself experienced how challenging it is to work while our children are at home. And we are not reopening because it will save the economy, even though I wish it was in my power to do so.
We are opening our doors on August 31st because we believe it is best for our students. They deserve to connect with friends, in person. They need to be supported and nurtured emotionally and academically by our teachers, in person. We know that the experience of celebrating Jewish life and building Jewish identity is enhanced by being in community, and that is what we are here to do.
And we are opening our doors because we believe we can do it safely. After months of task force and health advisory meetings, restructuring classrooms and HVAC equipment, carefully crafting arrival and dismissal protocols, we are prepared to greet our students. We’ve supplied our teachers with every form of protective equipment, stipends for facilitating safe travel to and from school, and minimized the number of students and adults they will come into contact with. New York’s numbers have been low since June and have held steady throughout the summer. For the eighth consecutive day, New York’s positive rate has been below 1%. We know so much more now than we did in March about the virus, and we are learning more every day. We have been using and we will continue to use what we know to create the safest possible environment. And we will make thoughtful decisions as we begin to see how things unfold when we venture back into the building.
We cannot know what the school year holds, but we can anticipate that there will be some portion of the year where teaching and learning will happen online. We believe that 10 months of distance learning is too much for our students, our teachers, and our families. If we have the opportunity for a safe reopening now- for 6 months, 6 weeks, or 6 days, we believe we should take it.
True leadership is taking the information available to you, weighing the unknowns, and making decisions that are grounded in the values of your institution. It means making brave decisions and then working non-stop to ensure the meticulous follow through of those decisions. It means communicating your process and your decisions with your constituency so that they understand where you’re going and why you’re going. It means being prepared to pull back or shift course if new information emerges, or it becomes clear that you’re headed in the wrong direction. This is hard. And while I understand the sentiment of the anonymous author, from where I am sitting, my colleagues are not only leading, they are doing it with strength and courage. It is an honor to be among them.
Amanda Pogany is the Head of School at Luria Academy of Brooklyn. She is a recipient of the 2020 Covenant Award.