16 May 2020

Dear Gould Families,

We are living in a time of great uncertainty and anxiety for our future. I know firsthand the disruption that you are experiencing; everyone on our board of trustees and faculty shares the profound sense of loss that you and your families are feeling today. Not having students return to campus from spring break was a difficult decision, but the correct one for our school, our town, our great state of Maine, our country, and the world. We know people who have become sick from the coronavirus, been hospitalized, or seen their livelihoods vanish, and those who have lost even more. In these times of crisis, we rely on the values that bind us together, and the Gould mission has never felt more necessary and more profound than it does now: 

...preparing ethical citizens who will lead lives of purpose, action, excellence, and compassion in a dynamic world.

A crisis can bring out the best in our people, and right now Gould students and alums are at home putting food on the table, caring for others who are less fortunate or who may have health issues, they are lifting up their communities, building and sustaining. Some are leading research teams dedicated to developing vaccines and cures, or on the front lines of the fight in hospitals and ICUs around the country. This is the Gould way — ethical, purposeful, active, excellent, and compassionate — and I am proud to consider myself part of this dynamic community.

I want to take a minute to address a question that many of you are asking: “Will Gould reopen this fall?” We have been asking ourselves the same and have asked incoming Head of School Tao Smith ’90 to lead a task force focused specifically on what plans and actions need to occur for our campus to reopen for 2020-2021 at the end of August.

Let me be the first to say that life on campus this fall will be unlike anything a Gould student has ever experienced. While we are confident that our school will reopen as scheduled, we know that we will be living with the very real threat of COVID-19 for some time. 

That’s the bad news, and although we would like to resume Gould life as normal this fall, that does not seem realistic at this time. We are working with the assumption that daily life will be affected by this pandemic for at least two years. As we consider how Gould might restart, our number one priority that will guide all of our decision making will be to protect the physical and mental health, wellness, and well being of our students, faculty, extended family members, and the Bethel community. We will work to ensure that our current and future students may continue to enjoy the very best education and experience that Gould can provide, and we remain committed to the values and mission of the school. 

Extra precautions will be needed to protect the most vulnerable. We will take measures to ensure that we are aligned with the recommendations and requirements of the federal and state Centers for Disease Control and other experts. 

Gould will need to rethink daily life — in terms of classroom density, residential life, athletics, experiential learning, assemblies, travel, and myriad other categories. Changes will impact virtually every aspect of a Gould education, but our commitment to the integrity and quality of our students’ experiences will not waver. It will be different, but it will be Gould, and it will be great!

Our Task Force, led by Tao Smith, includes the Senior Administrative Team, Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees, and members of our faculty and staff. We will include a wide range of voices on our subcommittees, including, but not limited to, current faculty and staff, trustees, past trustees, current parents, alumni, and experts. Tao has launched the subcommittees and given them the directive to report back to the Task Force with goals, action items, and a timeline for implementation. 

The Return to Campus subcommittee co-chaired by Chris Hayward (Director of Experiential Learning) and Olivia Hendry (Director of the Student Health Center) has been tasked with creating a health and risk management plan built around current known recommendations and best-practices. They will explore every aspect of daily, weekly, and monthly Gould life from arrival on campus, to residential life, athletic events, travel, classes, assemblies, dining services, and more, and develop a plan that will establish the conditions necessary to ensure a safe re-opening. This subcommittee is expected to present an initial working draft to the Task Force by the end of May.

The Continuity of Teaching and Learning subcommittee is being co-chaired by Brad Clarke (Assistant Head of School for Teaching and Learning), Jason Chase (Director of Technology), and Sara Shifrin (Humanities and Teaching Librarian). The possibility exists that COVID-19 will force the school to suspend in-person instruction for periods of time over the next couple of years. This subcommittee will focus specifically on academic and athletic curricula and combine the very best of online and in-person instruction, so the school can be prepared for every contingency. We can predict that this pandemic will have a profound impact on every aspect of education, innovation, business, occupation, and government. The crisis will force change that educational experts have been pushing for years, and we want to ensure that Gould is at the forefront of this wave. Embracing what we’ve learned in the past several months and preparing for a different future is in our school’s best short and long-term interests. This subcommittee will present a draft document for the Task Force by June 30.

The pandemic carries with it the possibility of significant financial impacts, and we are working to anticipate how this will affect Gould. The Pandemic Finance Committee, co-chaired by our current and future Chief Financial Officers, Bill White and Dave Willis, will explore various scenarios that might play out over the next two years, and will prepare the school leadership to make thoughtful, informed decisions as situations occur rather than reacting to each pending crisis. Many of our Gould families have already contacted us to let us know that their financial futures are uncertain. This committee will review everything from worst-case scenarios to updating contracts, acceptance of risk waivers, and increased Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and COVID-19 mitigation costs, including the possible need to increase short-term financial aid for families in need.

It is important for you to know that we don’t have a crystal ball, nor do we profess to have all the right answers. Your input and participation in this process will help make for a better outcome, and the Task Force will organize opportunities for you to contribute your questions, concerns, thoughts, and ideas. We anticipate a combination of surveys, forums, and town-hall-style video calls that will allow you to participate in this process. The effort to reopen Gould will be a community-wide undertaking; we cannot bring any student back to campus without your understanding of the conditions under which we will operate, and your support for our faculty and our mission.

The Task Force will meet weekly, and the work of the subgroups is ongoing. We will update families throughout the spring and summer as decisions are made, and we look forward to hearing from many of you.

This is a time to remind ourselves of what makes Gould a special place and how our core principles might guide our decision making as we go forward. We will continue to 

  • Know, respect and embrace the needs of each individual student
  • Nurture each student’s intellect, self-confidence, self-determination and respect for others through strong relationships between students, teachers, coaches, and staff 
  • Challenge students to achieve their personal best in every pursuit; to demonstrate the energy to try, the willingness to risk, and the capacity to persevere 
  • Promote curiosity, open-minded exploration and disciplined analysis 
  • Develop each student as a whole person, through intensive experiences in academics, the arts, community life, and the natural world, and 
  • Be responsible global citizens

These are the standards that guide us. These are the times that will shape us. These are the values that will chart our course.

Thank you for being part of our wonderful school and community. We look forward to serving your children’s educational needs now and into a bright future.

Most sincerely,
Phyllis Gardiner, P’09 
President, Gould Academy Board of Trustees