- Nerve Center and Task Forces
- Guiding Principles
- Scenario Planning
- Key Assumptions
- Guide to Re-entry
- Helpful Resources
To prepare for Trinity’s re-entry to school in the fall, we have created a Nerve Center, which consists of five senior staff covering a wide range of Trinity departments and divisions and representing a broad diversity of the Trinity community. This group will communicate regularly with the head of school, and in conjunction with him the Nerve Center will make decisions about the re-entry plan and see that these plans are executed.
In addition, we have established task forces (on the perimeter of the diagram below) that will meet through the summer to do scenario planning for various areas. The task forces will report back to and carry out tasks assigned by the Nerve Center.
The head of school will keep the Board informed about the planning progress. When there are Board-level or policy decisions to be made, the head will bring these to the Board.
The Nerve Center began its work on June 1, 2020.
As the school formulates plans to respond to the pandemic and prepare for fall 2020, Trinity's mission remains at the forefront.
The following principles will guide Trinity throughout the planning process:
- The glory of God is the most important thing. Non Nobis: this is our mission and our commitment, and COVID does not change this at all. We should ask, how can our response to this and in this give glory to God, and make Christ’s name great?
- Safety is a top priority. This includes physical safety, to minimize viral exposure to our students and faculty; emotional safety; and spiritual safety, teaching students that God will hide us in his shelter in the day of trouble.
- Trinity’s distinctive mission (classical, Christian, rich, and unhurried; truth, goodness, and beauty) has deep roots and is adaptable to all sorts of conditions. We have remained true to that mission, and we will continue to do so.
- God never wastes a crisis. God works through times of disruption—remember the story of Joseph. He can use this time to build character, to deepen our commitment to Trinity’s mission, and to help us clarify our vision.
- Relationships are central to Trinity. Students are known and loved. Faculty model what it means to follow Christ and learn.
- The public authorities are God’s servants, and we owe them respect and honor, especially in these times of crisis (Romans 13).
Our Non Nobis core value means that we must be willing to sacrifice our own needs for the good and safety of others, especially those who are most vulnerable. This whole springtime of remote learning has been a huge Non Nobis moment for our school.
We will base our planning on the following assumptions:
- We rely on reputable sources of data (e.g., the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Center) and guidelines (e.g., those of the Centers for Disease Control and our local health department).
- Mitigation and social distancing reduce the rate of COVID-19 transmission.
- The pandemic threat is likely to continue, to wane and return, until large-scale herd immunity is achieved, probably through a vaccine. This immunity is not likely to be achieved during the 2020–2021 school year.
- We expect several additional waves of this infection—at the very least, it is prudent for us to plan for such.
- Different Trinity families have different needs (e.g., vulnerable family members) and risk tolerance. We want to honor these different needs as much as possible.
- One of the ways to minimize risk is to establish clearly defined contact circles.
- For the 2020–2021 school year, we will need to be prepared to toggle among different models that range from in-person to distance learning.
- As much as possible, we want to design these different models to be manageable and sustainable for both faculty and parents, both of whom are tired from this spring of emergency remote learning.
- We will need to be flexible and to adapt our decisions to new insights about the virus and its transmission, and to the emerging and evolving needs of the Trinity community.
- We want to deploy resources in support of all Trinity students, parents, faculty, and staff. This includes making available financial support and support for learning, mental health, and more.
How to Talk to Your Kids About the Coronavirus (Healthline)
Additionally, Trinity School communicates regularly with other schools across the country through its INDEX network, with the schools in the Southern Association of Independent Schools, and especially with the North Carolina Association of Independent Schools and other independent schools in the Durham–Chapel Hill area.
How is Trinity’s approach to distance learning different from in-person learning?
Distance learning can deliver the same curriculum as in-person learning, but there are significant differences for the teacher, the student, and the parent. The teacher becomes much less the keeper of knowledge and moves into serving as the facilitator of learning. The transfer of knowledge happens in new and creative ways (audio, video, reading), and the teacher serves as the designer of learning experiences and the guide even more so than when teaching in person. Distance learning requires students to be engaged as active learners. The less independent the learner (due to, for example, age, learning style, or learning challenges), the more parents need to be involved in guiding and directing the learning at home. Feedback and assessment also change with distance learning. We look for rich, formative assessments that allow students to demonstrate what and how they are learning across the transactional distance that the remote learning atmosphere entails.
What does distance learning look like for TK and kindergarten students?
Trinity delivers a developmentally appropriate classical, rich, and unhurried curriculum to transitional kindergartners and kindergartners as the gateway to our educational program. Our TK and K classes offer students the same approach to curriculum delivery, just at a more developmentally appropriate pace. Transitional Kindergarten classes are quite different from a preschool program that is often focused on socialization and child care.
Based on research, we strive to minimize screen time for our youngest students, who need rich, in-person, relational teaching and lots of social interaction. There is no question that the younger the student, the more challenging the distance learning experience is both for the child, and for the adults who often need to help direct it. Our re-entry task force is prioritizing the planning of on-campus, in-person learning for our youngest students. If remote learning is necessary (as in spring 2020), we will adapt the learning experience as much as we can to suit our youngest students.
Will Trinity hold families to enrollment contracts signed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic?
Our enrollment agreements commit families for the next academic year. On the basis of these agreements, we enter into faculty agreements for the coming year: over 70% of the school’s expenses are in personnel, and faculty agreements are finalized in the spring before the next school year. Trinity School and its faculty and staff depend on families to keep those commitments, so the school can continue to function. Also, enrollment agreements determine the number of new offers of admission that can be made beginning in early February.
We work with families to help them honor their agreements and to make the decisions that are best for their family. We can be flexible with payment plans, if families are unable to meet the expected deadlines for payment. And we are happy to talk to families about how to manage their particular challenges and risks through this extraordinary season.
For families who think they might have to withdraw from Trinity School in the upcoming school year, we offer the opportunity to purchase a tuition refund plan until August 1 2020. We encourage families to review the financial obligations they are committing to when they sign their enrollment contracts.
If Trinity must continue with or move to distance learning in 2020–2021, what is the potential impact on tuition?
The Board, through its Finance Committee, is studying this carefully. On the one hand, we recognize that another period of remote learning would impact certain parts of the full Trinity experience, especially in co-curricular areas like athletics and the performing arts. At the same time, most of the real costs of a Trinity education continue through remote phases, and the faculty and staff end up working harder during these times than normal. Adding and subtracting faculty as we toggle into and out of different learning phases is not a strategy that promotes the integrity of the Trinity educational experience over the long term, and our commitment to our missional, excellent faculty informs our decisions in this regard. Our faculty and staff’s ability to plan for and implement multiple models of education is one of the great values that Trinity offers.
At this point, there are no plans to refund tuition under remote conditions, but the Board and the Finance Committee will continue to monitor the situation and evaluate options as new information becomes available. For now, the Board has focused on allocating additional funds for flexible tuition to be offered to families whose financial situation has been impacted negatively by the pandemic.
Many families have greater financial need when one or both parents’ wages have declined, and we are committed to keeping currently enrolled students enrolled for the upcoming school year. For families who are experiencing financial hardships in conjunction with the COVID-19 pandemic, we are offering additional one-year tuition assistance through our pandemic relief grants. If interested, please contact Brent Clark, Director of Finance, and complete an application for flexible tuition for the 2020–2021 academic year.
How is Trinity doing financially?
To keep tuition rates lower, Trinity operates under a tight budget with little contingency. Still, we entered this crisis in a very strong financial position. We have built up a meaningful cash reserve and are in the final stages of a successful fundraising effort for our new building and faculty support. Nevertheless, the current COVID-19 situation presents us with new and unexpected challenges.
Like most independent schools, we rely primarily on tuition revenue to fund operations. The uncertainty of the current financial situation is having an impact on decisions regarding enrollment. On the good news front, we have seen new inquiries for admission and subsequent enrollments based on our strong distance learning efforts over the past few months. On balance, Trinity is in good shape, given the circumstances. The length of time it will take to return to the “new normal” could test us in the months ahead, but we are planning as best we can for a variety of operational and financial scenarios.
Do you anticipate layoffs or other cost-cutting measures?
As of now, we have retained all of our faculty and staff and continue to hire for critical vacant faculty positions. We are always mindful of costs but have asked division directors, department heads, and the finance team to redouble their efforts to find savings in light of what may be a challenging year.
At this time it’s not possible to assess the amount of liquidity sufficient to support ongoing operations in this new environment. Potential limits on classroom size, requirements for new space, shifts to online learning, heightened health and safety standards, and new cleaning protocols will require additional spending and human resources in the transition to the new COVID reality.
We continue to closely track our enrollment, which is forecasted to be lower, as it drives our revenue. We will take appropriate action to bring our costs in line with revenue should circumstances require us to do so.
Why did Trinity decide to apply for and accept PPP funds?
Trinity applied for, was granted, and decided (through Board action) to accept the funds offered through the Payroll Protection Plan (PPP). In the best judgment of the Board and its Finance Committee, the economic challenges of the current crisis (primarily in enrollment and financial aid) make it likely that the school will not be able to run a balanced budget through this period of COVID-19 restrictions. We are applying the PPP funds for payroll only, in accordance with the legal advice we have received and the practice of many other independent schools of similar size across the country.
Are we planning to continue with the construction of the Arts and Engineering Building?
The Board and staff have discussed the Arts and Engineering Building (AEB) project at length. As you may know, we had planned to break ground this past March. As the COVID-19 pandemic began to take shape, we paused to consider our changed circumstances. We are now moving forward again in what we believe is a measured and prudent way, with the unanimous approval of the Board and relevant committees. At its May 14, 2020, meeting the Board approved funding for an overhaul of the existing modular units to significantly improve the interior and exterior space for the Trinity Neighborhood after-school program, using donor funds specifically allocated to improvements to the Lower School. The Board also voted to proceed with the “messy” portion of construction for the AEB with site prep and infrastructure work, some of which is best completed alongside the improvements to the modular units. We believe the AEB is still the right building for the long-term needs of Trinity, and we plan to continue the project unless there is a significant change in our financial position or future outlook. Should we need to hit the “pause” button once again, we will be in a much better position to restart construction at some future point after having invested in this work over the summer. Both of these steps are being taken using existing donated funds.