Your Summer Checklist for Fall Re-Opening

Your Summer Checklist for Fall Re-Opening

By Mike Zavada  |  June 2, 2020

If you are like me when I was a school leader, you both know and abhor that the devil is in the details.  In the summer, I was particularly anxious about how time seemed to slip away while details were left for the hectic last few weeks before school re-opening.  All of these factors played into avoidable stress.  A way that I found to combat the lurking stress caused by fear of the unknown, undone details was to create summer checklists.  Checklists have several benefits:

  • First, they get our creative juices flowing while still helping us stay detail-oriented.  This duality is a mark of the skilled school leader. 
  • Second, once a checklist is made, it can be tweaked, bettered, and ultimately help us in those possible crisis situations down the line.  A great checklist can be used as a template for future checklists as well. 
  • Third, checklists are psychologically beneficial because there is inherent joy and a sense of accomplishment when we complete a task and check it off the checklist. Research shows that these steps can dramatically reduce stress. And we don’t want any of that stress, especially in the summer!
  • Finally, checklists have been used for centuries by those in the safety industry to increase standards and protect more people.  Obviously, this fall those features make checklists highly inviting.  (Oh, in the increasingly litigious society that we live in, demonstration of a reasonable and logical checklist demonstrates that those in charge (you) took measured steps to plan for and combat the known possible detriments. This can shield you and your school from possible liability down the road. 

Note: as always, you should additionally seek advice from your school’s legal counsel if you intend for any of your plans or checklists to be weighed as a hedge of protection against liability

For a more detailed reading on why checklists are so important especially during times of crisis or uncertainty pick-up Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right.


The Post Covid-19 Summer Checklist for Re-opening for School Leaders:

✅ Pray.  Pray using Proverbs 2:2-6 as your guide as you face the daunting task of re-opening “listening closely to wisdom and directing your heart to understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God.  For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth comes knowledge and understanding.”

 Look at your facilities with your facilities crew and see what you can do to limit exposures to the factors that cause the spread of COVID-19.  Look at water fountains, high touch/high breath areas such as glass, and areas of congestion in your hallways.  Ensure your cafe personnel/outsourced company are making plans to safely serve the lunch needs of students that are in step with the school’s reopening plans.  Likewise, make plans to dissipate congestion in the areas of high congestion and make plans for regular cleaning by many people (not just maintenance staff) for the surfaces that could cause infection spread.  If feasible, have the facilities team construct clear plastic partitions between faculty at risk and students when the students come to the faculty desk for interaction. Finally, check with your facilities crew and/or outsourced cleaning crew to ensure your supply chains for a safe cleaner, wipes, paper essentials, masks, gloves, and other essential items are strong.

✅ Look over last year’s health records for returning students and recommend/require health records for 20-21 be turned in weeks before school.  Have your team identify and record those students with pre-existing conditions that would make them vulnerable to COVID-19.  Set up calls with those families and your school nurse or health professionals to come up with plans for re-entry, stay at home thresholds, etc.  Keep open and empathetic communication with these families and students to create trust and strong relationships.  You will need to rely on that when the frustrations of flu season and potential COVID-19 flare-ups happen down the line.  

✅ Gather (virtually) an Academic Delivery Task Force that will develop a checklist for virtual/distance/remote delivery expectations by grade in the event there are future on-campus disruptions because of health concerns.  The checklist should include: learning platform guidelines for teachers (what must be posted/where), synchronous/asynchronous expectations, assessment expectations, project expectations, AP course expectations, supplies required when working from home, and even plans should the teacher of the course be impaired for 2-3 weeks.  You should also have every faculty member include these expectations in their syllabus/lesson plans/online course page from the beginning of the course so that there are all are on the same page. 

✅ About 30 days prior to your school’s projected first day of school finalize a 2020-2021 school calendar that takes into consideration your state and local government’s guidelines for reopening, restrictions, and the past several years’ data for flu season via the CDC/NIH for your area/state.  Have another task force study this information and build out a calendar with your best possible option for getting in the most school days on campus while taking the start and traditional peaks of the flu seasons into account.  It may be wise to plan either automatic or contingent remote learning weeks in the slots that typically formed the start and peak of the influenza season.  In my area, this tended to be early November and early February.  Data will suggest the best times for you.  Many universities are starting earlier than normal and putting the remote learning at the end of the first semester (Thanksgiving break), but they have considerably more travel considerations than our day schools do.

✅ Also, while you are considering the calendar, have your team consider a 30 week on campus calendar versus the traditional 36-38 week schedule.  Such a schedule would keep students and faculty at home during potential peak three-week stretches and help parents plan ahead for childcare.  Ultimately, any summer checklist should seriously consider a revision to the yearly academic calendar to make it 21st Century relevant and COVID-19 preventative.  The agrarian calendar is no longer relevant to most schools, so put it on your checklist to revise and also to offer fair warning to families planning childcare and vacations. 

 Gather your special events team including your Director of Athletics and Director of Fine Arts and have a responsible calendar session that spreads out critical events to reduce the stress on students. During regular years, we have the tendency to spread students too thin because every group needs a “Christmas concert, Christmas pageant, Christmas tournament.” These also seem to creep up to exam times and the critical last projects of the semester.  Even the healthiest students get stressed out.  Purposely plan to space these events out and get an agreement that everyone will sacrifice for the good of the whole. Our school calendars should not look the same as previous years based on what we now know.  Those looking at the calendar should also consider when standardized tests will be conducted noting that there may be a push for first-semester testing since this past year’s testing window may have been lost. 

✅ Do an audit/assessment of all of the things that routinely pass through multiple hands of the people on campus.  Items like paper, books, folders, writing utensils, iPads, etc. have lots of hands that touch them throughout the course of a school day.  Consider substitutes or cleaning schedules to reduce the risk of infection.  Schools have wanted to go paperless for years and many have most textbooks online.  Now is a good time to plan these changes in a climate that will be more understanding. 

✅ Meet with your HR Director, Business Officer, and key Division Leaders and come up with a plan for covering for or enabling older faculty and those with pre-existing/vulnerable health conditions to stay home as needs may arise.  Develop a confidential survey that will help you engage in conversations with your faculty individually about their concerns going.  Build up goodwill and trust with those who may be fearful about coming back to campus.  Create a support network of seasoned class supervisors and long-term substitutes who can come in if the need arises.  Money budgeted here will be well worth it if the need arises, and also allow everyone some comfort that students are not being neglected while the esteemed faculty member gets the time and space they need at home.  Fueled by faculty input, develop expectations for remote work if/when the faculty member is home and the students are on campus.

✅ Write plans for weeks when you may have to separate sections of your school population to adhere to social distancing guidelines.  Work with your team to create plans A, B, and C.  A would be a normal plan with the aforementioned calendar, congestion, and cleaning precautions in place but would look more like when we left. Plan B would include a hybrid mix of some of the population on campus and some off (MW  A-L last names on campus, T/TH M-Z last names on campus, with Friday as remote learning or catch-up day).  Plan C could include days where different divisions or grades report exclusively  (M/W Odd grade levels report, T/TH Even grade levels report). 

✅ The last thing to put on your checklist, but perhaps the most important item I should have listed is some rest and relaxation for you as the school leader.  Consider rewarding yourself with a day or several days off after checking two or three boxes off.  Start the summer with a break, tackle two boxes, take a day, and then tackle some more.  You need the mental energy to do each of these key areas well.  



Mike Zavada (@mikezavada) is the Chief Strategist and Founder of RoundTable Education Consulting and an advisor for Epic Media Partners. He offers his expertise to school leaders as an executive coach, instructional coach, and strategic planning consultant.  Working primarily in the Christian school space, Mike’s expertise comes on the basis of over twenty years in some of America’s best independent schools in roles that include dual division head, revenue generation strategist, athletic director, admissions representative, college counselor, dean, teacher, and coach.  His current writing project “Metamorphosis: A Framework for Authentic Professional Growth” will help faculty and those that lead them to grow in a manner that will keep both thriving. 

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