2020 Reopening Plan

The Year Ahead Will Be Like No Other. We're Used to That Here.

Now, like always, we are challenging teachers and students to think differently. To be creative. To explore, hypothesize, problem-solve, and prototype. These are the skills that will become second nature for the people who will answer the next set of big questions in our world.

Learning occurs best in the context of connected community. Establishing this sense of connection and belonging to a broader community is fundamental to the Sonoma Academy experience and is a priority at all times—whether we are teaching and learning in person or virtually. 

In extraordinary times our core values of creativity, innovation, empathy, and flexibility are more necessary and relevant than ever.


We will begin our school year remotely on August 17. I write today to share with you more detailed plans about the beginning of our school year, as well as to summarize the most current information and guidance we have from the Sonoma County Health Department, the Sonoma County Office of Education, and the California State Department of Public Health. I want to be clear from the outset that our safe return to campus and in-person learning is a top priority. The timeline for that is beyond our control but, as we prepare for a successful launch of our revamped distance learning program, we are hard at work preparing to welcome students on campus as soon as possible. 

We all share so many emotions, perspectives, opinions, and needs as our community contemplates what education will look like throughout the next stage of the Covid-19 pandemic. We know that this will be a year unlike any other we have experienced in education. Fortunately, our inherent values and core principles are well-suited for the challenges ahead. We will, as always, focus on building a strong sense of community and connection, and the creation of opportunities for creativity, innovation, healthy risk-taking, and the close teacher-student relationships that provide our students with an exceptional learning experience.
Due to Sonoma County's ongoing presence on the California State Covid-19 Watchlist, Sonoma Academy is required to reopen in a 100% Distance Learning Format. We have decided to remain with this model through Quarter 1, which ends on October 15.

Because this is a highly fluid and constantly changing situation, it is possible that conditions will improve sooner than that, in which case we will pivot to our Hybrid Model which alternates in-person/on-campus time with distance learning. We will provide ample notice should it become apparent that this change will be possible. We will provide an updated Hybrid Learning Schedule and detailed safety plans and protocols at that time.

We will remain alert and in touch with the most current developments and health orders in order to refine or alter our schedule as needed.

100% Distance Learning

After assessing the various guidelines and discussing the current situation with our Academic Leadership and Admin Team, we have decided that—unless conditions improve and it is clear that Sonoma County will come off the watchlist—we will implement our 100% Distance Learning model and schedule for the duration of Quarter 1, which ends on October 15.

Although we are prepared to return to in-person learning sooner than that, we also want to provide clarity and consistency rather than waiting to make new decisions every week or two. Our teachers need to be able to plan for and implement the best possible teaching and learning model, and our students also need a sense of clarity and consistency. While implementing this plan and schedule at the beginning of the school year, with August 17 and 18 planned for two days of “The Returns” (see more below) and August 19 as the first full day of classes—we are actively refining our plan to reopen our campus with the ability to meet the stringent safety guidelines established for schools by the state and county. We will provide a detailed safety plan for our entire community when we have a date to launch our in-person learning program.

Revised Distance Learning Schedule

We have adjusted our 100% distance schedule, incorporating feedback, and readying us for an effective online launch for the 2020-21 school year. The schedule (shown below) will be our daily schedule throughout the 100% distance learning time period; this schedule will remain as the Distance Learning portion of our hybrid schedule. Our staffulty worked hard to ensure that all student, faculty, and parent/guardian voices provided input—through surveys, focus groups, and individual department meetings—before finalizing our revised distance learning schedule.

Here is a list of the feedback that we addressed with this new schedule:

Building Class Community and Preserving the SA Experience
We decided to return to our typical four academic blocks each day. This will help teachers build their online classroom communities while preserving a sense of familiarity for returning students. Seeing teachers every class day will create a routine for students and minimize the confusion about what classes meet when.

Homework More Evenly Distributed Across the Week
Students mentioned that with infrequent class meetings, homework felt like it was piling up. Often this led to procrastination and having to do a mountain of homework the night before a class. Meeting every day will limit the amount of homework assigned each day, helping students manage their workload.

We added a weekly Exploratory period on Wednesdays that is required for all students. 9th and 10th graders will be able to fulfill their PE requirement during this period while older students can choose between a PE or other Exploratory. If a 9th or 10th grade student is satisfying the PE requirement elsewhere, they may apply for a PE waiver. They will still be required to participate in another Exploratory. These Exploratories will be taught by adjunct faculty and SA alums, increasing the opportunities for students to connect with the broader SA community. 

Community Day
While we are 100% remote, Wednesdays will be dedicated to community programming. With Exploratory, Health & Wellness, College Counseling, Impact, Community Meeting, and Advisory, students will have a chance to focus on connecting to each other and the SA Community in a variety of ways.

Our newly branded Impact program is for 10th, 11th and 12th-grade students who are not in College Counseling to participate in programs designed to help them find a way to have an impact on their communities: SA, local, national, international, etc. Students may choose to participate in a teacher-led program or an independent study. The time period has been placed in the schedule so that students could have a longer block of time (until 3:30 pm) to volunteer or otherwise interact with the community.

Moving Back to a Hybrid Schedule 
When the time comes, we will be using this new schedule as our Week B of the hybrid schedule. We also made some minor tweaks to Week A to provide balance given the changes in Week B. We will share the revised Hybrid schedule, as well as the cohort groupings, in advance of our return to in-person learning later this fall. As a reminder, during 100% Distance Learning, there is no need for a cohort model and all students placed into a class will virtually attend that class.

Building Connection & Belonging

We know that learning occurs best in the context of a connected community. We know that establishing this sense of connection and belonging is more important than ever as we begin our school year in a 100% Distance Learning mode. We realize that nothing online can live up to the expectations of rafting down the American River, or kayaking across Lake Sonoma. Still, we need to come together as a class and reconnect. We’ve created a program we’re calling “The Returns” to differentiate them from our usual school year retreats. These Returns will be short meetings online with some activities to see each other and have some fun.

Normally, we’d have a couple of class days and then go on retreats. This year we're starting out the school year with "The Returns” because we feel it's so important to come back together even before classes begin. We have two separate programs—one for our new 9th graders and transfer students and one for our returning students.

New Students
We are excited to welcome 92 new students to our community (85 in the ninth grade). We are putting more time and energy into planning our New Student Orientation than ever before, realizing what an important year it is to welcome our incoming 9th graders and transfer students and provide for them a sense of place and belonging. New Student Orientation will be held online via Zoom on the mornings of August 17 and 18 from 9 am to 11:30 am. 9th graders will meet their Health and Wellness cohort, which will get together weekly throughout the year, along with their senior TAs. Our transfer students will create their own cohort with two of our All-Stars who will help acclimate and welcome them to SA. The focus of the program will be on establishing connections and learning about our caring and vibrant student culture at SA. Dean of Student Life Darren Duarte will be sending out links and information to new students prior to August 17.

Returning Students
In lieu of our typical off-site retreats, our 10th, 11th, and 12th graders will gather via Zoom on August 17 and 18 (times TBD) to reconnect and kick off the year. The agenda is being created collaboratively between Darren, new Student Activities Coordinator Jasmine Wingard (see this weekend’s Need to Know News for her bio), and the Student Leadership Council to create the best program possible given the circumstances. Darren will send more detailed information and links to each grade level prior to August 17.

Parents & New Parents
Connection and belonging are important for our parents too! While the Sonoma Academy Parents Association is developing a number of plans to support our parents, we also want to highlight a couple important connection points for parents coming up at the beginning of the school year.

New Parent Welcome Coffee, Thursday, August 20 (10:00 am–11:00 am)
In honor of our tradition in welcoming our new parents for a cup of coffee during the first week of school, usually on the morning of Convocation, we welcome you to join Tucker, Ellie, and Darren for a cup of coffee via Zoom.

New Parent Orientation, Thursday, September 3 (6:30 pm–8:00 pm)
This is a great way to learn the nuts and bolts of Sonoma Academy while also building connections within our parent community.

Join SAPA! 
SAPA is a vibrant organization that sits at the heart of the school, working with administration, staff, teachers, and coaches in enthusiastic support of SA's mission and values. Our goal is to nurture a culture of collaboration and generosity within the adult community, reflecting the same values of participation, leadership, and inclusivity that the school embraces for our students. We meet on the first Thursday of every month from 10:00 am- 11:30 am via Zoom and, new this year, we have added an evening meeting on the same day from 7:00 pm-8:00 pm. Join either or both (Zoom links to be posted in the Need to Know Digest)

Please also expect to hear more in the coming weeks in our Need to Know News and the Coyote Courier about opportunities for parent engagement, education, and connection.

Other Considerations

The Waiver Option
Initially, when California announced a rollback of its reopening plans and created the County Covid-19 Watchlist, it was indicated that some schools in counties on the Watchlist may be able to apply for a waiver to reopen. In the weeks that followed, it has been made clear that this waiver is available for elementary schools only. Additionally, elementary schools in counties where the case rates are more than two times the threshold to be on the County Monitoring List (>200 cases/100,000 population) will not be considered for a waiver to re-open in-person instruction. While there is not an option for high schools to apply for a waiver to reopen, we are looking at “non-instructional” opportunities to bring students on campus (more on that below).

Learning Pods
Many parents have written to us with ideas and suggestions about how to implement and facilitate possible off-campus “learning pods”— small groups of students who might meet in-person to do schoolwork or other activities together and to support each other during the remote learning format. While we have no influence over what families chose to do in response to the county’s Shelter in Place orders, we must make it clear that we will not be involved in any way in the organization or facilitation of such groups. They violate the mandate requiring counties on the watchlist to implement distance learning plans. They pose a significant risk and liability to our school and could even endanger our accreditation status. Additionally, the creation of off-campus pods could create issues of inequity and feelings of exclusion for those students who are not included or unable to participate due to health, safety, or financial resource reasons. 

Non-Instructional Activities on Campus
We are seeking guidance on what, if any, non-instructional activities we may be able to offer while the county remains on the watchlist, as we believe these could provide good opportunities for our students to engage in non-academic ways. The county and state have been clear that schools may not utilize a daycamp model as a means to get around the restriction on reopening, but it is not clear yet whether there are ways that we can utilize our campus to promote reconnection and outdoor activities. 

State & County Guidance
We are in close communication with our County Health Department and the Sonoma County Office of Education. Additionally, we are closely monitoring the state and county Covid-19 data on a daily basis. The most up-to-date and official data can be found here and you can find a more detailed explanation of the watchlist criteria here. We are in constant review of the situation as it changes and unfolds and are prepared to respond and shift our plan accordingly. 

Closing Thoughts
As we are all aware, the issue of restarting school is one of the most heated issues being debated in our country. The reality is that there is no ideal way to navigate a global pandemic and educate our children. That said, we are working around the clock to design and develop the best possible programming for our students and our entire community. In this moment, amidst the many challenges facing our society, a SA education is now more valuable than ever. We will continue to work tirelessly to deliver the best educational experience possible as we support our students and our community through the challenges and uncertainties that lie ahead. 

We are also ever watchful for the opportunities that will arise—even now, for example, we are excited about our new Impact program and the potential for our students to more deeply understand their role and potential impact on our communities. The new schedule has opened up possibilities for our alumni to teach Exploratories—and they are eager to engage with, and positively impact, the campus they still consider home. 

In times of challenge, we are called on to focus on the best of ourselves. That is easy to do at Sonoma Academy and I have no doubt that whatever challenges we face, we are all more than up to the task.
2500 Farmers Lane 
Santa Rosa, CA 95404 
(707) 545-1770 

Sonoma Academy Is...

...is the only private, independent, college preparatory high school in Sonoma County. On our beautiful campus nestled at the base of Taylor Mountain in Southeastern Santa Rosa, our students are able to explore their interests and passions in a rigorous and inspiring environment that develops a lifelong love of learning and prepares them for college and beyond.

Sonoma Academy admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school. We do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other school-administered programs.