Spend two minutes with Saint Mary School Principal Anna O'Rourke and you will know three things about her. She has incredible energy, her glass is ALWAYS half full, and she is passionate and dedicated to what she calls her Saint Mary School family - students and families past and present, teachers and staff, and friends of the school. This school year, her tenth as principal and 24th at Saint Mary School, has been unlike no other.
She described the past few months in distinct phases.
March was all about planning and executing this unprecedented shift from school as we had always known it, to implementing distance learning for three distinct student communities that make up SMS - preschool, K-5, and middle school. "I am tremendously proud of how our faculty didn't skip a beat. We had surveyed our community prior to closing and deployed Chromebooks where needed in order to have that continuity for our students. We are combining synchronous and asynchronous instruction for all ages."
O'Rourke described her overarching goal for April as reinforcing the connection with students and families. This didn't just fall on her teachers. "I personally called all 184 families at our school. I wanted them to hear my voice, to learn how they were coping, and to take any feedback." In addition to the personal calls, O'Rourke hosted 15 class-specific "virtual coffees" for parents via Zoom calls. "I walked away with two majors things. First of all, if you have a relationship with people, they will give you great feedback. We were able to tweak our distance learning in really meaningful ways based on this feedback." Her second observation is very powerful. "Each family has had a very different experience with this pandemic. Our challenge is how to support the range of experiences to the best of our ability while accepting that there may be situations where we cannot satisfy everyone."
The focus for May has shifted to planning for the end of this year while also diving into scenario planning for the 2020-2021 school year. "We are trying to re-imagine events like our upcoming Virtual Coffee House, which takes inspiration from our talent show and spring concert. Our Kindergarten Graduation and Grade 5 promotion ceremonies will be virtual, and we are still evaluating our options for Grade 8 graduation." O'Rourke does not have any inside information as to what the return to school will look like in the fall. "The only thing that I am certain of is that Saint Mary School will adapt to the requirements and will continue to provide an excellent educational experience for our students."