May 7, 2020

Dear Oakcrest Families and Friends,

I wrote to you in March when we first began the journey that we have all been on together these last weeks, one that none of us could have foreseen or truly prepared for in any real sense, and I turned to the lighthouse as an image of hope and light.

It continues to be a good symbol for us as we navigate the end of the year for all the students and our entire community. I am praying every day for each of our families, our students, teachers and staff. 

In a school community, like any big family, joys and sorrows are ever-present. I pray that those who are experiencing sorrow these days may be uplifted and comforted, and those who are experiencing joys may share their laughter and smiles abundantly. 

Thank you so much to those who have asked me how I am doing. I am fine, thank God. My main concern has been my 94 year old mother who lives in an assisted living facility with my 96 year old father, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. I have prayed that she be peaceful when, like so many of our precious elderly, she cannot receive the visits that give her joy. I am relieved to report that she is indeed peaceful and happy, so my load is light.

One of the most important and helpful lessons reinforced in this time is the need for good communication. It is in this spirit that I write to give you an update on the state of Oakcrest, including our plans, aspirations, and needs at this time and going forward.

Our first goal when we realized we would need to go to online learning was to keep the education for our students as strong and vibrant as we could, and our second one was to provide the girls with the joyful Oakcrest spirit that permeates all the aspects of school life that we love: from homeroom to student elections to personal mentoring. We were determined to ensure that the Oakcrest experience, albeit in a different form, would reach every student in the best way possible.

I am happy to report that this is a reality, thanks to every one of our teachers and in a special way to Elizabeth Black, our Dean of Faculty and Curriculum and Meghan Hadley, our Dean of Students. Of course, we are still learning every day how best to respond to needs, some of which are, frankly, completely new to us. On that note, I want to give a special thank you to the parents who have provided excellent feedback, both regarding what is working and what is not. 

As you might imagine, I have worked more closely than ever with our Board of Directors at this time and am in frequent communication with our Board President, Shaun Pacious (Kathleen ‘04, Monica ‘08, Annie ‘16). I am very reassured that the Board understood from the first moment some of the unique challenges that our community faced. Having an all-female faculty and mostly female staff meant that a significant amount of time suddenly had to go into attending to the needs of children at home, including college students. Still others found themselves as much-needed helpers with grandchildren and other relatives.   

As a faculty and staff, we were also largely new to online learning, which meant that Roger Porres, our Director of Technology and Marty Lerner, our Communications Director, were called in to bring us all up to speed in very short order. Thank you, Roger and Marty!

The Board’s first response was to reach out to every faculty and staff member with a personal call followed by a personal note to thank them,   assure them of their support for their efforts on behalf of our students, and of their prayers for their families. While I know it is true, I was happy and reassured to see so clearly expressed in this effort that our Board has the right priority—the people who teach our students and serve them in so many ways.
As fiduciaries of the school, the Board is also responsible for working closely with me and the Administration to ensure the continued financial strength of Oakcrest. The economic impact of the pandemic has affected everyone, and we continue to monitor the school’s financial health and plan for its future.  

We are committed to continuing to offer our incomparable program and deliver on our noble mission, a goal that requires us to support our faculty and staff and those families who are experiencing financial hardship. Our CFO, Matt Buonocore, working with our Finance Committee, headed by Chris Tierney (Emma ‘14, Grace ‘17), immediately began to figure out how we could continue to keep all our employees on staff and continue to provide the generous Tuition Assistance we are committed to offer our families.  I encourage any Oakcrest family who is facing increased financial hardship or has concerns along these lines to contact Matt Buonocore.

We have always put the priority on our families, our faculty and staff, and on stewarding every penny we have. Prudent, responsible financial work and prayer are important and critical “weapons” to win the battle of staying true to our mission. This work is even more important in these uncertain economic times. 

Since the beginning of this school year, due in part to an unexpected reduction in international enrollment caused by difficulties in our students obtaining visas (which we fully expect will continue next year), we have worked diligently to reduce our operating expenses. These expense reduction efforts continue in light of the current economic situation. Our faculty and staff have rallied to this challenge and I am very grateful for their diligent efforts with this.

We are grateful that our ability to respond to this crisis has been supported by the generosity of donors who contribute to the Annual Fund. Tuition does not cover the full cost of an Oakcrest education, and it is important to remember that all students benefit from annual giving. 

The current economic situation has slowed fundraising efforts; however, your support of the Annual Fund has never been more important to sustaining our school, faculty and staff, and our families in need. I will tell you here that we find ourselves needing approximately $325,000 to achieve our current year fundraising goals to support the financial health of the school. 

Our Annual Fund campaign was going extremely well, thanks to a strong team of parents under the leadership of Matt and Sarah James (Helen ‘25) and we were only $15,000 short of the goal when we all went online on March 16.

We were on pace to raise the $135,000 goal still remaining in our scholarship fund, but because of the uncertainty of the market, the major funder informed us that he must step back from this at the moment.

Finally, we counted on the Gala and Auction, our most important fundraiser, to raise $175,000. All of this together would have gone very well, under the leadership of Mike Barvick, our Director of Advancement, had we, like everyone else, not stopped our in-person operations.

For now, my appeal to you is to help us finish this year financially strong by supporting the Virtual Gala and Auction on May 29 and help us in any way you can to meet our $325,000 fundraising goal.

Mike Barvick, Marty Lerner, Jenn Compton and the Gala Committee will be working diligently towards this effort, which we are aptly calling “Weathering the Storm.” You’ll note that we chose the lighthouse as inspiration for this effort. 

In the same way that Oakcrest, its students and alumnae provide the world with much needed light, we hope our Weathering the Storm effort will inspire our community’s generosity to ensure that light continues to shine both now and in the future. 

One of the very best ways to help Oakcrest is to refer families to us. We have seen a great interest in the school because of the example of our faculty, students and families, despite the evident challenges, and would love to share our invaluable mission with many more families. We are excited to welcome our 64 new students next fall, and we would love to increase that number with your help. 

We have set up a committee to study and plan for the return to school this fall. It is our most earnest desire to welcome our beloved students back in September. We will be studying the best safety measures as well as honing our distance learning skills with our faculty so we are nimble, and ready to address whatever situation we face. We will be reaching out to our parents with a survey at the end of this school year to inform our planning.

We have already seen heroic support for the school and for that I am so grateful. We will continue to monitor the situation, with common sense and prudence. I have so much confidence in the Oakcrest community because I have had the privilege of seeing how we have weathered other storms, most significantly building our permanent campus!

We share deep ties of faith, hope, and love, with the good of our girls at the heart of it all, and truly nothing can weaken ties like that!
Warm regards,
Mary T. Ortiz, Ph.D.
Head of School