July 7, 2020

Dear Oakcrest Parents,

We have come a long way from March 9th, our last day of in-person instruction. Thank you for every effort you put forth to help your daughter through these times, thank you for your communication with her teachers and with us, and thank you for your continued support and appreciation for Oakcrest—especially the prayers!

I have four purposes in this letter: to outline our plans for the fall; to inform you of the faculty and staff who will not return next year; to introduce the faculty and staff who will be joining us; and to share a few recommendations to help you guide your daughters well this summer as preparation for the best return to school.

Our plans for the fall

First, we plan to open for in-person instruction five days a week this fall. We remain convinced that this is the best way for our students to flourish. As shared in our school communications, we will follow the basic required health and safety protocols, which include physical distancing , when possible, facial coverings when physical distancing is not possible, and special arrangements to give plenty of room for large gatherings. We plan on going forward with our fall sports program and our middle school show (which will be announced later this summer) following the best current practices regarding physical distancing and facial coverings. Our transportation and food services will be adjusted to meet the current health and safety practices.

Our reopening team has been following closely the guidance from local government authorities, discerning what is mandated from what is left to the discretion of the school, and reaching beyond to consult other sources of information such as the American Academy of Pediatrics. As you know, the guidance is ever evolving; this is why we are sharing the broad lines of what we plan to do and intentionally refraining from going into minute detail. We follow the principles that guide every course of action in the life of the school, that is, prudence, calm, and common sense as applied to our mission, taking very seriously the trust that you give us. We also work with the knowledge that our actions should exemplify the virtues we encourage our students to strive for.

We will use the strong advantages we have as a small, all-female private school in a new building—many large classrooms , relatively small class sizes , plenty of space for outdoor classes and gatherings, and a spacious chapel with overflow room in the lobby, among other advantages. We will work with each family individually who may have reason for concern in returning to in-person instruction because of health factors, financial concerns, etc. We have followed this course in these past months, and it has been very effective because each case is unique and, therefore, deserves specific care.

The real strength and resilience of our community—parents, faculty, staff and students—which comes from a shared commitment to a vision of life and education was on full display this spring. This makes me confident that we will have a successful reopening this fall, whatever the challenges we may face. I saw continual lessons in character lived out as each person tackled his or her responsibility and tried to deliver the best work possible, whether that was through the classes, mentoring, Student Life events, the virtual Talent Show, the virtual Concert and the Senior Dinner, Graduation and Baccalaureate Mass.

These important culminating events have served as a good indication to me for our reopening in September. We followed safety protocols and because of the dedicated, detailed work of our graduation team collaborating with senior parents, we had a beautiful Senior Dinner under a tent and an elegant, uplifting in-person Graduation and Baccalaureate Mass. We had the opportunity to socialize while respecting the basic common sense measures in place. These events were certainly different from previous years, but the joy, warmth and beauty were palpable. I anticipate the same for our experience in September. Yes, there will be differences, but we will quickly see that it is still Oakcrest, with all we love about it!

Prepared for interruptions

If we are mandated to go to Distance Learning , we will build on the lessons we learned this spring. You have shared your experience with us both individually and in the recent survey. We have determined that we will be able to deliver the essential content and skills best with more required instruction and attendance, especially for the middle school. We will retain a daily schedule , with possible modifications. We will ensure that there is more streamlined communication between school and home and try to minimize students and parents having difficulty knowing exactly what is required for a class, homework, etc. We will improve the ability of our Academic Support Team to connect quickly with students who are experiencing more challenges in this difficult environment, removed as they are from direct, personal access to teachers throughout the day. If we must return to Distance Learning, we will again lend out laptops and increase the ability to help with technology needs for our families.

On this point, I encourage you to take stock with your daughter on what went well, why, and what did not go well, why, and what she and you would change, should we need to resort to this alternative. With time, rest, and distance, we can see with a more balanced and hopeful vision, so before school starts, I suggest that you help your daughter take note of what she learned, that you do the same as a family, and make a few resolutions to hold on to in case we need to move to this mode.

We will be in touch in early August with more details about the fall. If anything changes in any significant way, we will reach out immediately.

Departing faculty and staff

I wish to share gratitude to the Oakcrest faculty and staff who will not be returning next year. Mrs. Bonnie Hanssen (Jane ‘90, Susan ‘92, Lisa ‘03) beloved teacher and mentor, is retiring after 27 years of service to Oakcrest. Kate Hadley (Liz ‘98 , Cecilia ‘99, Claire ‘02, Meghan‘06) will be stepping down after 13 years of leading our mentoring and parent enrichment programs, and serving as a member of the Administration. Christie Keuchel is concluding her 13 year tenure at Oakcrest, having served as Associate Head of School for Students, Director of Middle and Upper School, creating the Student Life programs and serving as a member of the Administration. Both Kate and Christie have been instrumental in the critical decisions of the school in these years of transition to our permanent campus. We will always owe them a great debt of gratitude for shaping so much of what we have and love at Oakcrest. Mrs. Kim Lowinger , Master teacher of the Mathematics Department, will not return next year. We are very grateful for her superb teaching and her leadership of the department. Dr. Edwina Maksym shared her excellence in teaching and her wisdom in working with students as a mentor for us for two years, and we are immensely grateful. She taught classes on philosophy for mothers this year as well. She is a beloved member of the Oakcrest community with whom we hope to keep connected in the years to come. Mrs. Nancy Miggins ‘98 , our school nurse, will not return this fall. She has given generously of her excellent professional skills, which she delivered with joy, wisdom and humor. We are currently interviewing candidates for the school nurse position. We also bid farewell to Miss Mary Ann Thompson , who served as Director of College Counseling, guiding two classes through the college admissions process and representing Oakcrest to colleges. 

New faculty and staff

We welcome Mrs. Jeannie Herrick as Director of Mentoring (Jackie ‘13, Kathryn ‘18, and Julia ‘25). A nurse by profession, Mrs. Herrick brings empathy, common sense, and joy to this role. Mrs. Miranda Johnson will join us as Director of College Counseling . Mrs. Johnson brings many years of experience as a university and medical school admissions officer and a great enthusiasm to share her wisdom with our students to guide them through their journey towards college. We welcome three new faculty members: Mrs. Julie Casola , will be teaching mathematics . Mrs. Casola has a Masters Degree in Mathematics from Virginia Tech and has been teaching for six years. Miss Ines Zinkowich will also be teaching mathematics . She has taught physics and math at St. Therese Classical School in Santa Barbara and holds a B.A. from the University of California, Los Angeles. Miss Susan Drummond , who joins the Latin department, earned her M.A. in Classics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has been teaching Latin for eleven years. In addition to her role as Director of International Admissions, Mrs. Carolina Agostini (Giorgina ‘15) will also teach Spanish IV . Mrs. Agostini has eleven years of teaching experience, holds a B.A. in Economics from Marymount University and is certified with the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. We welcome back Mrs. Andie Salerno as Student Life Coordinator . Mrs. Salerno was a beloved Senior Dean, mentor and teacher for four years in our McLean campus. She holds an M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction for secondary education with a concentration in history and social studies. Mrs. Maritere Gramatges Crum ’91 will transition from President of the Oakcrest Alumnae Association to serve as Alumnae Relations Coordinator . Mrs. Crum graduated from George Mason University in 1994 with a B.A. in English Writing and has been involved in education for over twenty years.

Two recommendations for the summer

The first is a suggestion that you stay up to date on your daughter’s social media life. Here it is important to take nothing for granted. It is a bit like gardening. Frequent checks are needed. This is not a matter of a lack of trust in your daughter. Remember that young people often lack good judgement. Vigilance is simply facing up to the reality that our young people are vulnerable, especially girls, and they need us, especially their parents, to protect them. Decide if this is an area that is best discussed with either mom or dad, but please don’t assume that your daughter is immune or indifferent to this world, even if she has been in the past. Get to know how she is engaged, in detail, and find a way to stay updated.

My second suggestion is about regaining healthy habits that may have been lost during our period of Distance Learning. Sufficient sleep (7.5 to 8 hours per night), fresh air, reading, physical work, serving others, time daily for prayer and quiet all are free, restorative ways to help a person maintain a healthy interior balance; this is a crucial way to help our young women navigate the waters of adolescence well, and are especially important to regain and maintain balance after a period of uncertainty, separation from friends, teachers, mentors, and sacraments.

St. Augustine wrote about a pithy statement of his, “Don’t count my words….weigh them.” I don’t think you should do either with this long letter! Count on continued prayers for each of you and your daughters. Know that we are all so grateful for everything you have done for Oakcrest. We have many things to celebrate. We exceeded our financial goal that I wrote to you about on May 7. Our enrollment for next year is robust, and so importantly, I am immensely proud of the Class of 2020, who proved stalwart, cheerful, and generous all the way through their last weeks at Oakcrest. Congratulations to them! The world needs you, ladies!
Warm regards,
Mary T. Ortiz, Ph.D.
Head of School