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2019-20 Annual Report | Letter from the Head of School

Head of School at Desk

For Solebury School, the 2019-20 school year was bifurcated by the COVID-19 virus. Pre-January 2020, a normal school year unfolded. Happy students, faculty, and staff going about their business on campus, enjoying the bucolic campus setting, engaged in learning, enjoying all the traditions of fall and early winter. Soccer Under the Lights continued its homecoming tradition and was a gem of a moment in October, followed by my favorite holiday (Thanksgiving), and then Cookies and Carols. The latter was reimagined as 2019 ebbed away. Relocated to Boyd Dining Hall, sweet snacks were enjoyed by all as the Solebury School Chorus inspired many to join in on holiday songs leading to a special moment when, with the flick of a switch, the trees and bushes of the Dining Hall and Main Office were illuminated with festive holiday lights. We closed the year together, joyfully.

Solebury’s world began to turn, slowly at first then faster beginning in mid-January. On January 22, the virus landed on my radar in a tangible way when I received my first email about the coronavirus from the parent of a senior, wondering if I was contemplating any travel restrictions for our boarders with the coming spring break, still about two months hence. Like a roller coaster slowly churning up that first, long hill, by March we had crested the hill and began plummeting—spending all of our time and energy discussing, gathering information, and planning for the spring trimester as the virus found the shores of our country and then spread. 

Spring break for the senior staff and our health personnel was entirely consumed with endless discussions about learning in a pandemic. At the midpoint of the break, we made the decision to go fully remote, sharing with the community that Spring Break would be extended by one week allowing our faculty to be as prepared as possible for this new mode of delivering education. Virtual classes resumed in early April and quickly our attention was pulled in many different directions simultaneously. 

Our three most significant goals as the spring trimester commenced were: deliver an excellent education in a virtual environment; sustain community in this virtual environment; and support our seniors who faced losing some significant moments: Prom, Senior Dinner, and of course, Graduation. At one point during the spring trimester, we had formed no fewer than six separate task forces to tackle various elements of the challenges Solebury School faced. 

The good news—we successfully met all three challenges and cleared the bar in each with room to spare. Our faculty received enormously good feedback on the quality of the educational experience. On my weekly Zoom calls with parents, we heard over and over how happy they and their students were with remote learning. We focused on all things around sustaining community and were amazed—musical gatherings, Bananagram competitions, Dress your Pet competitions, weekly hangouts with senior DJs spinning old and new tunes and sharing the music via Zoom, book clubs, Crib Notes, and Coffee House virtual musical gatherings. I marveled and was very proud of the truly creative community-building activities thought up by our students, faculty, and staff.

The highlight for me this year: Graduation. We had discussed on several occasions with our seniors, and their parents, what was most important to them about this moment. Their voices were as one: we want to graduate on campus, with our friends, outside. Yikes. So, we took a deep breath and set about formulating a plan to make this happen. On Sunday morning, June 7, under a clear sky with brisk temperatures, I waited for the procession atop a newly constructed platform with a podium, located in an outdoor, natural amphitheater on a portion of the new land Solebury acquired. I heard the sirens wailing as the procession of cars carrying the seniors and their parents wound through campus, led by Eagle Fire Company trucks and the Solebury Township Police. The cars proceeded to the boxes that had been painted on the grass. Friends, family, faculty, and staff sat in lawn chairs and on blankets, physically distanced, cheered wildly, and witnessed a first of its kind graduation ceremony for Solebury School. It was a graduation to be proud of—on campus, with friends, outside. Our seniors and their parents could not have been happier. Their smiles were so wide you could see them peeking out the sides of their masks.

Today, we find ourselves still negotiating the pandemic, offering in-person and remote learning, simultaneously. We spent the summer re-imaging virtually every aspect of life and learning at Solebury. For this outcome, we have so many to thank—faculty, staff, students, parents, friends. And all of you reading this letter. It took energy, brainpower, patience, hard work, persistence...and support from you to achieve all we have accomplished at Solebury, before and now during a worldwide pandemic. 

Without your support, we honestly would not have been afforded the flexibility and nimbleness required to adapt our academics, our campus, and our community in the ever-changing moments of COVID-19. For that I am eternally grateful. 

So, from all of us who live, work, and play on the corner of Phillips Mill and School Lane, a heartfelt thank you for the thoughtful support you continue to offer that allows us to provide this exceptional experience to our students.

Tom Wilschutz
Head of School

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