Head of School Communication

Head of School Communication

May 7: Fall Opening Plans

As you know from my March 21 letter, this fall McLean plans to return to our pre-pandemic schedule, with all students in school five days a week. We are so looking forward to welcoming your children–our students–back full-time into the classroom so that our experts can do their best job of teaching the way your children learn, and your children can benefit from relationships with their teachers and their peers.

While we don’t know what the pandemic will bring this fall, we are optimistic. Transmission and test positivity rates are down locally and nationally. Vaccination levels are rising, and vaccines are becoming available for younger children. In Montgomery County, for example, 55% of those eligible have received at least one shot, while transmission and test positivity rates are at their lowest points in over a year. Students sixteen years and older are now eligible for vaccination, and the minimum age may drop to twelve years as soon as next week. On Tuesday The New York Times reported that Pfizer plans to seek authorization to vaccinate children as young as two years old by September, meaning that virtually all of our students, faculty, and staff could be vaccinated by the start of school, or shortly thereafter. Scientists agree that COVID-19 vaccines are both safe and effective, and a key to ending the pandemic.

With this promising context, not just McLean, but nearly all independent schools in the region are now planning for a return to a five-day in-school schedule. With the exception of students in quarantine, we will not offer hybrid or home-based learning unless pandemic conditions force a change. While the return to a normal schedule is welcome news for most, I know that some in our community continue to have concerns about the safety of returning to campus. We have grappled extensively with possible alternatives, without finding one that would be viable. Our choice of approach, and the reasons behind it, are explained below in the question and answer portion of this letter.

This will be a major shift for the school, and your views are important to us. Please join us for a town hall-style Zoom meeting at 7:00 pm on Wednesday, May 12, so that we can get your thoughts and answer your questions. We hope you will also provide input through a brief survey following the question and answer section below.

It’s been a long year. I’m so grateful for the patience and perseverance of our students, parents, guardians, teachers, staff, administrators, and trustees. We are indeed better together, and I am confident that we will emerge from the pandemic stronger as a result.

With deep gratitude and optimism for the future,

Michael Saxenian
Head of School

Questions and Answers on McLean’s Fall Opening

Question: Why return to full-time in-school instruction?
Answer: As educators, we know that the vast majority of students do best–academically, socially, and emotionally–with in-school instruction. And, with vaccines ever more widely available, we expect our school environment to be even safer in the fall than it is today.

Question: But our child is doing fine at home. Why not continue concurrent hybrid instruction so that families can continue to choose?
Answer: As has been widely reported in the press, concurrent hybrid instruction is extremely challenging for teachers, not only at McLean, but across the country. This is because staying connected with students both in the classroom and at home at the same time is difficult, as is monitoring how they are responding to instruction and adapting as needed. Furthermore, students can become disconnected from each other, and students at home are often not fully present. These are difficult circumstances not only for teaching, but also for learning and classroom management. Hybrid instruction five days a week would lead to teacher burnout and attrition, to the point where we might not be able to maintain our program.

Question: I understand that the school needs to return to five-day instruction, and that concurrent hybrid teaching is not an option in that format. How about offering a fully virtual, home-based instruction track?
Answer: We just don’t have enough teachers to make this possible, particularly since students are in different classes or groupings throughout the day, based on their needs and levels of skills across subject areas. Even if we had enough teachers, we know that students benefit most from McLean, academically, socially, and emotionally, when they are in school with their teachers and their peers. That time together is essential for their growth, learning, and development.

Question: How many students remain in home-based learning this spring?
Answer: Many of the families who were in home-based learning when we launched our concurrent hybrid approach have returned to school. Today, only about 12% of all students are learning from home, mostly in the Upper School, where families and teachers report that home-based learning is most effective as a result of students’ more advanced developmental phase.

Question: Will everyone still need to wear masks and maintain distance in the fall?
Answer: It’s too soon to know. Vaccinations may be a game-changer. As always, we will follow the guidance of the health authorities.

Question: Will vaccinations be required?
Answer: We haven’t decided yet, but the advice we get from public health experts is that vaccinations are important not only to protect the individual student, teacher, or staff member, but also their families and the broader community. We see vaccinations as a key to keeping our school community safe, and to playing our part as global citizens. If we do require vaccinations, students with a medical contraindication will be exempted.

Question: Will COVID-19 testing be required?
Answer: Similarly, we don’t yet know. We are hopeful that vaccinations will eliminate the need for continued testing.

Question: Wouldn’t it be better for my child, who has been anxious during the pandemic, to continue to learn from home?
Answer: Many students’ anxiety increased in the last year, and some do feel more comfortable learning from home, but educators and psychologists agree that for most, engagement at school is a better way to adapt to heightened anxiety than avoiding social contact by remaining at home. In fact, we encourage parents to consider reintroducing students to the school environment this spring, rather than waiting to do so in the fall, when the transition may be more difficult due to even more time away from a school setting.

Question: What if my child, or a family member, has an underlying health condition that puts them at higher risk?
Answer: Every family needs to weigh risks and benefits, and decide what is right for them. As noted above, regional transmission rates have fallen precipitously, and we believe that our school is a safe place for gathering. McLean has implemented CDC recommended safety strategies including masking, distancing, screening, ventilation and air purification, and disinfection. Epidemiological models indicate that our twice-weekly antigen testing, backed by confirmatory PCR tests, provides greater security than less frequent PCR testing or, at some schools, no testing at all. Vaccination–either for the student, or for other family members–may also provide additional protection for some higher risk families.

Question: Why did so many students have to quarantine last week? Does this indicate the school might be unsafe in the future?
Answer: We continue to believe that the school is a very safe environment, and that most or all of the infections last week occurred outside of school. The number of students required to quarantine last week was driven by the regulatory environment. At McLean, Montgomery County regulations, which are based on CDC guidelines, govern who needs to quarantine. These regulations assume that individuals who spent more than 15 minutes over 24 hours within six feet of an infected individual over the prior two days have been exposed, and therefore must quarantine. Last week we reviewed class lists to determine who had been in class together with students who tested positive. In some cases we were not sure of seating arrangements, so we had to quarantine full classes. We have now rectified this with assigned seating, which will dramatically reduce the number of people who may have been exposed should another student test positive. We have also tightened up on other areas of possible exposure, such as eliminating indoor lunch except in highly inclement weather. Rising numbers of vaccinated community members will make it safer still by the fall.

Question: What if my child needs to quarantine for COVID-19
Answer: With vaccinations, we believe that there will be less need to quarantine in the fall. However, if the health authorities determine that a student, or a group of students, need to quarantine, teachers will use hybrid instruction to include them in classes for the relatively brief quarantine period.

Question: What if my child is sick with the flu, or some other non-COVID-19 illness?
Answer: Young people who need to quarantine due to COVID-19 are most often without symptoms, and able to learn easily from home. Students with other illnesses who are too sick to come to school are most often symptomatic. They should be resting at home, and not joining classes online. Therefore, we do not plan to offer hybrid instruction for illnesses other than COVID-19. Instead, we will treat these as excused absences, and teachers will assist students in catching up, as we did before the pandemic.

Question: Why return to normal instruction when COVID-19 is still in circulation?
Answer: The United States may not achieve herd immunity by this fall, and much of the world is far behind in vaccinations, so we can expect COVID-19 to stay with us for some time to come. It may mutate into less virulent forms, more akin to the flu or even the common cold. On the other hand, it is also possible that our vaccines will be less effective against new, more virulent variants. Whatever the future brings, as long as we can operate safely, it is important for us to return to our normal schedule, which serves our students so well, academically, socially, and emotionally. If conditions worsen substantially we will return to hybrid or home-based instruction.

Please take this brief survey so that we can incorporate your thoughts and preferences into our planning.

March 22: Moving to Four-Day In-School Instruction

Beginning Monday, April 12, McLean will offer school-based hybrid instruction for all students four days a week (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday). Kindergarten through Grade 5, which already follow this approach, will remain in their current format. Students unable to come to school due to health concerns may continue in home-based learning. To enable our planning, please use this form to indicate your choice of school-based or home-based instructional mode no later than Thursday, March 25.

What has changed to make this possible?

New CDC guidance for schools released Friday allows for a reduction in physical distancing in classrooms from six to three feet, largely harmonizing CDC’s guidance with that of the World Health Organization, which calls for one meter. A growing body of research in the US and abroad suggests that three feet provides adequate separation when used together with other safeguards, especially masking. For example, this new study in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases compared Massachusetts public school districts with three and six foot distancing policies and found that COVID-19 case rates were similar for both students and adults. Harvard’s School of Public Health provides this additional perspective.

McLean’s twice-weekly antigen testing program and vaccination of the vast majority of our faculty and staff, on top of aerosol mitigation and CDC recommended hygiene and disinfection protocols, provide additional confidence as we make this change. Since reopening school in January, we have run roughly 7,000 antigen tests, catching three cases. Through contract tracing, we know that none were contracted at school, and nobody at school has tested positive as a result.

Finally, growing numbers of vaccinated adults in the general population and improvement in key local public and national health indicators provide a safer environment for schools. We will continue to monitor the public health context and modify our approach if appropriate.

Why is this important for us to do?

Every student has been differently affected by the new instructional modes. Some students in the two-day hybrid rotation do well academically in the current format, but may be missing out on development of important social skills. At the same time, we are seeing a larger number struggle emotionally due to reduced in-person time with peers and teachers. Additionally, some students are hampered academically due to organizational challenges, while others lack appropriate circumstances for home-based learning.

Why not go straight to five days a week in school?

In light of the significant academic and wellness benefits of coming to school, we are starting to see some students previously learning from home returning to campus. We believe parents are more comfortable sending their children to campus due to improved public health circumstances, the rigor of our testing program and other layered strategies, as well as McLean’s track record in keeping students safe.

Still, about one in five students remain in exclusively home-based instruction. We understand that families choose to keep their children home for a number of compelling reasons. In some cases the student has an underlying health condition that makes gathering unsafe. In others, household members may be at risk. Coming to campus may require use of less safe public transportation. And, some of our families have lost members of their extended families or communities, making them understandably more cautious.

With a significant number of students studying from home, teachers will need to continue with concurrent hybrid instruction, teaching to and monitoring both the students in the classroom and those joining by Zoom. This is a challenging format, and not sustainable five days a week for teachers, who also need time for meeting with students and parents, and for planning. Early indications are that the four-day format will be common this spring at other area independent schools as well.

How will we serve students at home?

Our approach for students at home will be unchanged. We recognize that with more students in classrooms, teachers will need to be particularly attentive to those who are learning online. Teachers, support staff, and administrators will work to ensure that they are fully engaged. We will provide teachers with additional professional development in this area on Monday, April 5.

What else is being done to keep our community safe?

With warmer weather, we will be moving as much activity as possible out of doors. For example, we are purchasing additional tables for outdoor lunch. We will also open windows for fresh air in cases where appropriate. HEPA air purifiers provide filtration in all classrooms. In some classrooms, air quality is already optimized through the air purifiers, and opening windows would disrupt internal air circulation through the room and filters. We will also continue all safety protocols, including twice-weekly antigen testing.

What about buses and other operational considerations?

We are modifying our transportation programs to safely accommodate the larger daily numbers, and will continue to allow parent drop-off at school. One important change will be that Upper School students being picked up after school will need to ride a shuttle to the Potomac Woods Plaza. Student drivers will also be permitted to park at the pool and walk to campus. Please look for details on the testing schedule, transportation, and other operating procedures in future communications, including the Friday divisional emails.

When can we expect to return to a five-day schedule in the building?

While we cannot project the future of the pandemic, trends in vaccinations provide hope for a more normal summer and fall. We are currently planning to return to our regular school schedule in the fall, with safeguards still in place.

We will be in home-based learning immediately after Spring Break.

As a reminder, on Tuesday, April 6, immediately after Spring Break, we will resume classes in home-based learning, as previously announced. All students returning to campus on Monday, April 12, must be tested at school on Sunday, April 11. With vaccines and reduced transmission rates, it may be tempting to take more risks over the Break. Please continue to be cautious, and to carefully follow the Community Agreement.

Better together

On the anniversary of the pandemic lockdown, I am grateful for the ways in which our entire community–students, parents, teachers, staff, alumni, and trustees–pulled together to support each other and our School. We have demonstrated strength, resilience, compassion, and mutual support.

With deepest gratitude and appreciation, and a hopeful look to the future,

Michael Saxenian
Head of School

November 16: McLean School Plans for the Holidays

Survey responses from teachers, parents, and students confirm our understanding that in most cases McLean’s teaching approaches this fall–both school-based hybrid and home-based–have been serving our students well. The earlier surveys told us that home-based learning was working well, and last week seventy percent of the 277 parents and guardians responding reported that their child’s educational experience improved since moving to hybrid instruction. Seventy-two percent reported social-emotional benefits. This is an extraordinary testament to the hard work, creativity, and perseverance of our teachers and the staff and administrators who support them, as well as to our students and families. All of us are shouldering burdens unimagined a year ago, and I am deeply grateful for your support and understanding as we navigate these challenging times.

The surveys also reflect growing unease about the safety of our community. While we are fortunate that all confirmed COVID-19 cases at McLean have occurred out-of-school, and there is no evidence of transmission in school, the rate of infections is spiking nationally and regionally. New cases in our catchment area, which spans eleven counties plus the District of Columbia, have reached levels where the State of Maryland calls for “limited or no in person programs” (as distinct from “hybrid instruction,” which was recommended at lower case rates), and which CDC characterizes as “highest risk of transmission in schools.”

While we have successfully implemented CDC’s five key mitigation strategies (plus more), thereby substantially reducing the likelihood of transmission at school, we cannot entirely eliminate risks. Next week college students will return home and families will travel or receive visitors for Thanksgiving, beginning a period of heightened transmission that will extend through the holidays. It is hard to wrap our minds around the risk. Since January, we know of 11 million Americans who have been infected. One million of these infections have occurred in the last six days.

We have therefore made the difficult decision to return to home-based learning on Monday, November 30, immediately following Thanksgiving break, and to stay in that mode through Friday, January 8. This will provide time to quarantine following each of the major holidays, and for testing in early January before we gather again in person. We plan to return to school-based hybrid instruction on Monday, January 11, with the option for families to continue in home-based instruction, as currently offered. In early January we will review public health indicators, as well as McLean community test results, in order to determine whether we need to extend our period of home-based learning. A more detailed schedule appears at the bottom of this letter.

Home-based instruction will follow the weekly schedules used earlier this fall. Upper School Physical Education and Athletics will continue out-of-doors on a modified schedule to be announced by the Athletics Department. For everyone coming onto the campus, we will continue to require COVID-19 testing roughly every two weeks, and perhaps more frequently with rapid tests in the near future. Test results for this week are due by Wednesday for students coming to campus before Thanksgiving break, and we will offer on-campus testing again on Wednesday, December 2. Testing will resume in early January for those wishing to return to school-based hybrid instruction on January 11, with drive-through testing available on Sunday, January 3. Details and sign-up links will be provided separately.

Over the last several weeks we have reaffirmed how important it is for students to be on campus, interacting with their teachers and peers, and we know how disappointing and disruptive this news will be for many students and parents, as it is for us as educators. While we will look forward to having students and teachers back in January, our survey results confirm that our home-based instruction works well for most students, taking advantage of McLean’s intrinsic strengths, including our favorable teacher-to-student ratios, our one-to-one technology program, and our expert teachers, counselors, and specialists.

We know from earlier in the fall that some home-based students need extra social-emotional and organizational support, and we are again prepared to serve them. We also know that home-based instruction takes a toll on many of you, as parents and guardians, who need to balance support to your children with doing your own jobs and handling other responsibilities. We have been providing enhanced virtual programming related to parenting and home-based education, including through our Community Education Series, our Cecily’s Advocacy Conference, and our Mindfulness Program. We’d like to hear from you if there are other ways in which we can help.

Thank you for entrusting your child’s education to McLean. Please stay safe over the holidays.

With deep gratitude for your support and understanding,

Michael Saxenian
Head of School

Key Dates

November 23 – 24


K-8 No School – K-8 Parent Conferences
School-based Hybrid Instruction for Grades 9-12
November 25-27 K-12 No School – Thanksgiving Break
November 30


Home-based Instruction for K-12 Students
Professional Development Day Canceled
November 30 – December 18 Home-Based Instruction for K-12 Students
December 2 On-Campus COVID-19 Testing
December 14 – 18 First Semester Exams for Grades 9-12 Students
December 18 – January 3 Winter Break
January 3 On-Campus COVID-19 Testing
January 4 K-12 No School – Professional Development Day
January 5 – 8 Home-Based Instruction for K-12 Students
January 11 School-Based Hybrid Instruction Resumes


October 20: Hybrid Learning - Frequently Asked Questions
Students and faculty returned to campus today for COVID-19 testing and, for faculty, practice teaching from classrooms on our hybrid instruction technology. It was a joyful time–really, even though we were COVID testing! We look forward to welcoming many students back to campus next week, and to continuing our support for those who will remain in home-based learning.

Many thanks to those of you who were able to join our Parent Town Hall last week. We covered a lot of material, and I know that we didn’t get to all the questions. We have prepared this set of FAQs, which covers questions we discussed, as well as additional topics from our Q&A channel. Please note the new policies for dropping off and picking up students.

We know that there is a lot to keep track of, so we developed this checklist, which you received last week. The FAQ’s, the checklist, and more can be found on the webpage Ensuring Educational Continuity in the Pandemic, which will always have the most current versions of these living documents.

Thank you for entrusting your child’s education to McLean, and for helping to ensure a safe return to our building.

With gratitude,

Michael Saxenian
Head of School

October 14: Important Information on COVID-19 Testing

McLean is incorporating a COVID-19 testing program into our layered safety protocols. A dedicated task force has been working for many months to identify and implement an approach that enables us to conduct high frequency, low cost, rapid, non-invasive testing.

While that effort is ongoing, I am writing now to let you know that we will begin next week with baseline testing. In order to participate in school-based instruction, students, teachers, faculty, and staff will need to show evidence of a negative test for COVID-19 dated on or after this Sunday, October 18. We believe that this entry testing is an important part of a comprehensive strategy to help protect the broader community of students, teachers, and families.

How do I get my child tested?
As a convenience to our community, we have contracted with Capital Diagnostics for testing on our campus this Monday, October 19, from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Students will be granted an excused absence for the time needed to come to campus for testing. McLean students and employees are also welcome to have the testing done by their physician or at one of the testing sites throughout our region. Montgomery County and the District of Columbia all offer free screening testing to their residents.

What type of COVID-19 test is required?
We are requiring all students and employees to receive a PCR test, the most accurate test currently available. Capital Diagnostics will be performing an anterior nasal PCR test which entails swabbing each nostril, about half way up, for two seconds.

1. How do I sign up my child up for testing at McLean School on Monday, October 19?
All parents interested in having their children tested at McLean must complete in advance the following three steps:

Register with Capital Diagnostics. Office location code: McLEAN. Registration is required. You will need your insurance information. Once registration is completed, you will receive an email with your unique confirmation number.

2. Click to Sign up for a testing time.

3. Print and complete the Consent Form and bring it with you to the testing on Monday, along with your photo ID and insurance card. This consent authorizes Capital Diagnostics to conduct the test and share test results with you and McLean School.

How will the testing be done at McLean?
Staff from Capital Diagnostics will set up testing stations outdoors to administer the tests. Please look for the tents set up on the lower field or along the front driveway. Parents and staff will be able to sign up in 15-minute increments between 10:00 am and 6:00 pm. Please park in any available space in our lot when you arrive on campus.

The Capital Diagnostics team is experienced in working with children, especially Lower School children and they will make this as pleasant an experience as possible.

What is the cost of the Capital Diagnostics testing?
There is no charge at the time of testing. Capital Diagnostics will bill the individual’s health insurance. If your insurance rejects coverage, you will be billed separately and McLean will reimburse you for this cost. If a student or employee does not have health insurance, Capital Diagnostics will bill the Human Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) Covid Fund.

How do I provide the test results to the School?
If you elect to conduct your test on campus on Monday, October 19, Capital Diagnostics will directly notify the school and you of the test results by email within 1 to 2 business days. If you elect to have your child tested elsewhere, you will need to email the test results to the School nurses at healthroom@mcleanschool.org by no later than 6:00 pm on Sunday, October 25. Anyone who does not have a negative test result on file will not be allowed to participate in school-based instruction on Monday morning, October 26.

Can family members and others who are not McLean students, faculty, or staff be tested at the School on Monday, October 19?
Unfortunately, no. Capital Diagnostics is only able to test McLean students and employees at this time.

What do I do if my test result is positive?
Test results will be shared with you via email, normally within 24-48 hours. A positive test result for COVID-19 indicates that RNA from SARS-CoV-2 was detected, and the patient is infected with the virus and presumed to be contagious. The infected individual must immediately quarantine and contact their physician. By law, Capital Diagnostics is required to share a positive test result with County and State health officials. They will likely contact a positive individual to begin the contact tracing process.

As a reminder, testing is just one of a series of layers of protection that the school is providing to our students, faculty, and staff. Mask wearing, physical distancing, hand washing, disinfection, enhanced ventilation, and other measures provide additional security. Furthermore, while the tests next week will provide an important diagnostic overview, we hope to soon announce an ongoing testing program for as long as we remain in school-based hybrid education.

Thank you for being part of a safe return to our building.


Jeffrey Berman signature

Jeffrey Berman
Chief Financial & Operating Officer

October 2: Ensuring Educational Continuity in the Pandemic

The pandemic has reminded so many what we have long understood: that educators are invaluable in children’s lives and that attending school in person offers children a wide array of health and educational benefits.1

I’m pleased to report that later this month we will welcome students back in our school-based hybrid mode. Families may choose between attending classes on campus or remaining in home-based learning.

We reached this decision after careful consideration of the benefits and risks of in-person instruction. COVID-19 is a very serious disease, and yet we know how important it is for our students and teachers to come together and get to know each other in person. We have been carefully monitoring guidance from CDC and from state and county authorities, as well as key health indicators such as test positivity and daily infection rates in Montgomery County, the District of Columbia, and ten other nearby counties from which we draw students, faculty, and staff.

Based on current guidance and trends, we begin school-based hybrid learning on Monday, October 26. We will proceed as long as public health conditions in our region remain stable or improve. However, we will delay or move back into exclusively home-based instruction if we determine that is necessary to ensure the safety of our community.

As noted in earlier letters, CDC’s six-foot physical distancing recommendation prevents us from bringing all students to campus at once, so we have developed the following approaches by grade to allow all students–some joining virtually from home–to participate in live classes led by their teachers, largely following our regular 8:15 am-3:15 pm daily schedule. To enable this hybrid approach, classrooms have been equipped with Poly Studio technology, which allows students at home to see and communicate with their teacher and classmates in the building over a Zoom link.

Classes will be held in the school building on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. On Wednesdays, students will study at home while teachers engage in planning and professional development. Wednesdays may also be used for supplemental outdoor activities, such as grade-wide community-building, as well as tailored student support and regular class meetings in some higher-level Upper School courses.

Kindergarten to Grade 5  Recognizing that our youngest students are most in need of direct instruction and classroom interactions, students in kindergarten through grade 5 will come to school four days per week–Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday–for classroom-based instruction, typically with six students or fewer and one teacher in a dedicated classroom. Lower School students will stay in their classrooms for academic instruction and “encore” subjects like music, art, and STEM. The reading and math specialists will be available to support all students. Weather permitting, lunch, PE, and recess will be held outdoors. Grade 5 students will change rooms, as they normally would so that we can meet their individual needs.

Grades 6 to 12  In grades 6-8 and 9-12, teachers will provide classroom-based instruction following a schedule similar to a regular year, but with half of the students in their classrooms, and half participating at the same time from home. To accomplish this, each grade will be split into two groups (Blue and White). Each group will be in school two days per week–either Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday. In order to ease family logistics, we will place siblings in the same groups. Please expect group placements by October 12.

Students unable to attend school due to health or other concerns will receive home-based instruction.  These students will be connected to their teachers and classmates at school and at home through our Poly Studio technology. Please contact your child’s Division Head by Friday, October 9 if you think your child will continue in home-based learning.

The McLean School Educational Continuity Plan has been updated. It outlines protocols for safely reopening our building. From reducing class sizes for physical distancing to enhanced cleaning and disinfection, to signage throughout the building, we will follow the layered safety approach called for by CDC and the Maryland Departments of Health and Education. In addition, we have studied airflow in our classrooms and have installed air filtration systems to mitigate the possibility of coronavirus transmission through aerosols. Watch here as the McLean Mustang takes you through the building and shows what to expect.

McLean School is a deeply caring community. During the pandemic, our behavior–as parents, guardians, teachers, staff, and students–may profoundly affect the welfare of others in and out of our community, including those at greatest risk. In order to keep everyone safe, it will be particularly important for all of us to adhere to the community norms outlined on page 9 of the Plan, and in this Community Agreement, which must be signed electronically by parents, and guardians, and by students in grades 5 to 12. Students and families who do not comply with the community norms outlined in the agreement, or with other school policies, will be required to return to home-based instruction.

In order to serve our students as well as possible in this more complex environment, each division has allocated two or three days over the next month for faculty professional development. Parent Conferences have been rescheduled, and we will not have school on election day. Please note these changes to the school calendar at the bottom of this letter. Additional information on topics such as transportation, our lunch program, and the MyMedBot health screening app will be sent to you in the coming week.

I am grateful to you, our parents and guardians, and to your children, for your patience with physical distancing requirements through this period of home-based learning. I am also grateful to our teachers and administrators who have made such a success of the start of the school year through their tremendous hard work, dedication, creativity, and expertise. It is a privilege to work with such a dedicated and talented group.

Thank you for entrusting your child’s education to McLean.

With much gratitude,

Michael Saxenian

Monday, October 12: No School for Grades 5-8 Students, Faculty Professional Development
Friday, October 16: No School for K-4 Students, Faculty Professional Development
Thursday, October 22: No School for K-4 Students, Faculty Professional Development
Friday, October 23: No School for K-12 Students, Faculty Professional Development
Tuesday, November 3: No School for K-12 Students, Election Day

The K-8 Parent Conferences scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, October 21 and 22 have been rescheduled to Monday and Tuesday, November 23 and 24.

1Excerpt from a joint statement of The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), National Education Association (NEA) and AASA, The School Superintendents Association.

August 10: McLean School Educational Continuity Plan: Safe and Effective

I hope this letter finds you and your family safe, healthy, and well, and enjoying the final weeks of summer.

This year we all find ourselves having to balance precious and competing priorities as we seek to protect and nurture our families and those around us. How we conduct school is one important choice. The policy context in Montgomery County shifted Friday such that we are no longer prohibited by law from in-person instruction. This throws open, again, the question of whether it would be prudent to bring students into the building. Meanwhile, the Montgomery County Health Officer who twice banned school openings has strongly reasserted that, due to widespread community transmission of Covid-19, it is not safe to reopen any K-12 schools in Montgomery County for in-person instruction.

We would like to rely on coordinated policies based on best-available science, but much is not known about infections and transmission in children, and county, state, and federal authorities have not provided clear metrics for schools. As I noted earlier, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggested that schools offer in-person instruction, while a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds that schools saved thousands of lives when they closed in the spring.

Today we learned from a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association that nearly 100,000 children tested positive  for Covid-19 in the second half of July. While many of these infections were in heavily affected southern and western states, Virginia and Maryland ranked 9th and 11th respectively for cumulative infections of children. Without the benefit of strong public policies to slow transmission, some schools have reopened, only to quickly order quarantines or close their doors.This prompts us to be cautious as we assess risk. We take seriously the costs to students, to families, and to the economy generally, of home-based learning. We believe, however, that considerations of the health and safety of our students and others–our families, our teachers and staff, and the broader community–compel us to begin our school year in our home-based (distance learning) mode, as previously announced.

Home-based learning will continue through the first quarter, which ends on Thursday, October 22. We hope to be able to move to school-based hybrid instruction at that time. In early October I will notify you of our plans. As we return to our building, families will have the option to continue with home-based learning as dictated by their personal circumstances.

We did not reach this determination lightly. While some families have indicated that they would prefer to remain in home-based instruction, I know that others will be deeply disappointed that we are not reopening the building in September. As educators, we share a strong sense of urgency to bring our students together with their peers and their teachers. In that sense, we share in the loss.

Supported by our new McLean School Educational Continuity Plan, we are prepared and determined to both begin the year with a strong home-based program, and to reopen our building for school-based hybrid instruction as soon as the public health context allows. The plan has evolved greatly over the summer months. Our experiences in the spring, lessons learned from our virtual and hybrid SummerEdge programs, feedback from parents, as well as input from teachers and other professionals in our community, inform our plans for both modes of instruction.

As noted in my last letter, our updated home-based learning program incorporates important new features such as more direct, synchronous instruction, and student schedules that parallel the traditional building-based school day, as well as new tools and techniques researched over the summer. These enhancements will provide additional structure and will facilitate fluid movement from home-based instruction to school-based hybrid learning once we are able to make that switch.

In addition to reviewing the plan, please monitor the divisional newsletters as they will provide important operational details. Please know also that we have been firming up plans to hold small group gatherings such as in-person orientation programs, fitness, and community-building activities, all out-of-doors at the school, with appropriate safety measures. We are also exploring opportunities to gather on weekends, for those who would face transportation challenges during the week.

We have continued to develop approaches for extra social-emotional and organizational support that we know students will need, just as we have continued to plan support for parents and guardians as you balance support for your children with doing your own jobs and handling other responsibilities. This will include enhanced virtual programming related to parenting and home-based education, including through our Community Education Series, our Cecily’s Advocacy Conference, and our Mindfulness Program. We will also make a special effort this fall to help you connect with fellow parents and guardians, teachers, and administrators.

Finally, I know that for many families, supervision of children at home can interfere with work requirements. In addition to our normal need-based financial assistance program, we have established a Covid-19 Relief Fund. I encourage those under financial duress to contact our Director of Financial Assistance to explore eligibility.

Please let us know if there are other ways in which we can help. We’d like to hear from you.

With gratitude for your patience and understanding,

Michael Saxenian
Head of School

August 1: Update to Fall Plans

Yesterday evening the Montgomery County Health Department prohibited the opening of private schools, including independent schools like McLean, for in-person instruction during the month of September. McLean School will therefore begin the school year with a home-based (distance learning) instructional program.

We know how vitally important it is for students to be physically in school, interacting with their teachers and peers, and how disappointing and disruptive this news will be for many students and parents, as it is for us as educators. While we look forward to having students and teachers back, I am confident that we have developed an approach to home-based instruction that will work well–one that incorporates learning from last spring, and that takes advantage of McLean’s intrinsic strengths, including our favorable teacher-to-student ratios, our one-to-one technology program, and our expert teachers, counselors, and specialists. Building upon our spring program, our approach in September will provide more direct, synchronous instruction, and will feature schedules that parallel the traditional building-based school day. In the younger grades, we are planning for very small student groupings for teaching fundamentals such as reading, writing, and math.

Where possible, we will keep in place all scheduled activities–from new student welcoming events, to admission open houses, to standardized testing, to student clubs and parent events, even if the form of the activity must be different due to health and safety requirements. We are evaluating whether we can hold small group gatherings, such as fitness and community-building activities, out-of-doors at the school, or at satellite locations, with appropriate safety measures.

We know that students will need extra social-emotional and organizational support, and we are prepared to serve them. We also know that home-based instruction takes a toll on many of you, as parents and guardians, who need to balance support to your children with doing your own jobs and handling other responsibilities. We will be providing enhanced virtual programming related to parenting and home-based education, including through our Community Education Series, our Cecily’s Advocacy Conference, and our Mindfulness Program. We’d like to hear from you if there are other ways in which we can help. We will also make a special effort this fall to help you, as parents and guardians, to connect with fellow parents and guardians, teachers, and administrators.

The directive to avoid in-person instruction came from the Montgomery County Health Officer, Dr. Travis A. Gayles. It is explained in this press release, which indicates that the county will reevaluate the order by the end of September to determine if it should be extended, terminated, or amended. Earlier in the week Dr. Gayles had recommended against private schools reopening, but did not prohibit it.

In explaining his decision, Dr. Gayles cited the safety of students, teachers, and county residents:

“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have based our decisions on science and data. At this point, the data does not suggest that in-person instruction is safe for students or teachers. We have seen increases in transmission rates for COVID-19 in the State of Maryland, the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Virginia, particularly in younger age groups, and this step is necessary to protect the health and safety of Montgomery County residents.”

We have been working diligently to prepare for our return to the building, and we will continue those preparations so that we can move quickly when it is safe and permitted to do so. We know that most parents share that goal. According to your survey responses last week, roughly 6 in 10 parents would prefer that we reopen with school-based and hybrid learning, and 8 in 10 would send their child to school if we did.

We look forward to that day. When it comes, we will continue to provide an option for home-based instruction for those unable to come to school.

Please look for further details on our reopening plans by Monday, August 10. We look forward to welcoming your children back to school virtually in September, and back on campus as soon as the public health context and regulatory frameworks allow.

I thank you for your understanding, flexibility, and support.

With tremendous appreciation,

Michael Saxenian
Head of School

July 27: Update to McLean School Reopening Plans

I hope this letter finds you well as we pass through the mid-point of this challenging summer. The context for the next school year continues to evolve in ways that may cause us to adjust our school reopening plans, so I wanted to reach out with an update and timeline for further information.
If health and safety considerations permit, we will reopen our building with an in-person and hybrid approach, as described in my last letter. That approach has students K-5 in the building every day, and grades 6-12 alternating time in the building, in a hybrid instruction mode through which students will interact with teachers and classmates five days a week, even when working from home.

  • If safety concerns prevent reopening our building in September, or if we do reopen the building but circumstances force us to close it again, we will conduct school through an updated approach to distance learning, and return to our building as soon as we safely can.

We will communicate our final decision regarding the opening of school the week of August 10. That decision will be guided, most importantly, by considerations of safety and well-being of our students and our community, including the teachers and staff who serve them, and family members. It will also be guided by our deep commitment to providing students with an environment in which they can thrive academically, socially, and emotionally. While this is a commitment that I know we all share, I also understand that with all the change in the world around us, additional uncertainty about our opening approach may be unwelcome for you, as it is for those of us developing plans at the school.

I’d like to provide a bit more context for our latest thinking. Last week we received conflicting guidance from sources at the county, state, and national levels, as well as new scientific understanding of the effects of COVID-19 in children. On the policy side, the Montgomery County Health Officer, Dr. Travis Gayles, recommended against “in-person instruction for students inside school buildings,” while Maryland Governor Hogan delegated responsibility to individual school districts, and the CDC issued new guidance that encourages opening schools. Rising infection rates in parts of DC, Maryland, and Virginia have prompted concerns of some epidemiologists.

Our understanding of the disease continues to evolve as well. A well-regarded study from South Korea determined that “children younger than 10 transmit [the coronavirus] to others much less often than adults do, but the risk is not zero. And those between the ages of 10 and 19 can spread the virus at least as well as adults do.” And, recent data indicate higher infection rates among children under 10 than previously known: “California and Mississippi, for instance, are recording rates nearing 10% of overall cases. Florida has found that about a third of all children tested there are infected.”

We are committed to providing the best-possible education through whatever means are available. My last letter, referenced above, described a multi-layered approach to student safety that we will take when we can reopen our building, whether that is in September, or later in the school year. That approach allows parents to select home-based instruction if their circumstances so dictate.

If safety concerns prevent reopening our building in September, or if we do reopen the building but circumstances force us to close it again, we will implement our updated distance learning program. That program has been adjusted in response to observations from teachers, students, parents, and guardians gathered throughout the spring and through the June parent survey. Changes will include more direct, synchronous instruction and schedules that parallel the building-based school day, with additional executive functioning support for students who would benefit. In the younger grades, we are also planning for very small student groupings for teaching fundamentals such as reading, writing, and math.

Our planning continues for both scenarios. Both take full advantage of our favorable teacher-to-student ratios, our one-to-one technology program, and, most importantly, our expert teachers who are so adept at teaching the way students learn.

I am grateful to our School Continuity Task Force, our facilities, health, and IT teams, and our Administrative Team, for their hard work in recent months to develop plans for both of these modalities. We will continue to refine those plans in accordance with emerging guidance from public health authorities, and we look forward to welcoming your children back to school–whether in the building or virtually–as the public health context allows.

I thank our talented faculty and staff for their incredible focus and dedication, and you, our parents and guardians, for your understanding, flexibility, and support to the school as you continue to rise to the challenges of parenting under these difficult circumstances. We’d like to hear your thoughts. Please take a moment to complete this four-question survey.

With tremendous appreciation,

Michael Saxenian
Head of School

July 15: McLean School Reopening Plans for Fall 2020

I hope this note finds you, your children, and your loved ones safe and well.

In late May I wrote to you indicating our intention to resume school-based instruction as soon as we safely can, with an expectation that we would begin this fall. I am writing now to let you know that this is still our plan, and to share a broad outline of our approach. We will provide additional information by August 7, at which point we will schedule Zoom meetings to answer your questions.

A number of authorities, including Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and others, have stressed the importance to the health and welfare of students of resuming in-person instruction when it is safe to do so, so that they can take full advantage of their teachers, their classmates, and their community for learning, social development, and emotional well-being. In order to ensure that we operate safely, we will rely on guidance from, and follow the directives of, state and local authorities, as well as the CDC and the World Health Organization.

The CDC’s six-foot physical distancing recommendation prevents us from bringing all of our students to campus at once, so we have developed the following approaches by grade to allow all students–some joining virtually from home–to participate in live classes led by their teachers five days per week, largely following our regular 8:15 am-3:15 pm daily schedule.

  • Recognizing that our youngest students are most in need of direct instruction and classroom interactions, students in Kindergarten through Grade 5 will come to school every school day for classroom-based instruction, typically with six students or fewer, and one teacher in a dedicated classroom. Lower School students will stay in their classrooms for academic instruction. The reading and math specialists will be available to support all students. Teachers for “encore” subjects like music, art, and STEM, will “push into” the classrooms. Speech and occupational therapists will continue to serve individual students out of the classrooms. PE and recess will be held outdoors or in the gym. Grade 5 students will change rooms, as they normally would so that we can meet their individual needs.

  • In Grades 6-8 and 9-12, teachers will provide classroom-based instruction, following a schedule similar to a regular year, but with half of the students in their classrooms, and half participating at the same time from home. To accomplish this, each grade will be split into two teams. Each team will be in school two days per week–either Tuesday and Thursday or Wednesday and Friday, plus alternating Mondays, for a total of five days over a two week period. All classrooms will be equipped with Poly Studio technology installed over the summer, allowing students to see and communicate with their teacher and classmates from home over a Zoom link. Because students will be getting instruction both in school and at home, we refer to this as hybrid instruction. The new technology is simple to operate, and teachers will receive training before the start of school. In order to ease family logistics, we plan to place siblings on the same teams. Please expect team placements by mid-August.

  • Students unable to attend school due to health concerns will receive virtual home-based instruction and will not be required to come to school. Please contact your child’s division head by Friday, July 31, if you think this may be the case for your child.

We understand that COVID-19 cases have been increasing rapidly in parts of the country. We are concerned about the people living in those areas and send our best wishes. Aware of the possibility of a resurgence here, we are closely monitoring local and national developments. In the event that public health deteriorates locally, we may decide it is necessary to close our building, or authorities may instruct schools to close. In that case, we will return to home-based instruction, updating our methodology from last school year.

Our approach to reopening is grounded in the following principles:

  1. The health, safety, and well-being of our students and our community are always our most important priorities.

  2. We will continue to deliver the best possible education through whatever means are available.

  3. We are deeply committed to, and guided by, our Core Values, which include creativity, innovation, intellectual curiosity, inclusivity, flexibility, respect, wellness, and a welcoming community.

Our plan to reopen safely is multi-layered. Among other health and safety measures, we will employ:

  • Reduced number of students in each classroom

  • Physical distancing

  • Required use of personal protective equipment such as masks by everyone in the building

  • Daily confidential health screening methodology for everyone who enters the building

  • Enhanced and regular sanitizing of the building

  • Education and training for everyone in our community on best practices for mitigating the spread of the virus.

We understand that, while most area independent schools will be following a path similar to McLean’s, some public school systems, including Montgomery County’s, will begin the school year with distance learning. Larger public systems have more students per teacher and less classroom space per student. They may lack McLean’s tradition of flexibility in delivering education, as guided by our Abilities Model®. They may also lack a one-device-per-student technology platform in all grades that provides important foundations for learning at McLean.

In part because much about school will feel different, we have worked to maintain our normal academic approach and schedule, and the full roster of extra-curricular offerings. Where possible, we will keep in place all scheduled activities–from new student welcoming events, to admission open houses, to college testing and student clubs, and parent events, like our Community Education Series, even if the form of the activity must be different due to health and safety requirements. We will also make a special effort this fall to help you, as parents, connect with fellow parents, teachers, and administrators.

Because of distancing requirements on buses, our approach will be different this year. Bus stops near the School will be eliminated and students can be dropped at, and picked up from, the School. This will allow us to provide additional buses–and additional spacing between students on buses–on longer routes to Virginia, Maryland, and the District. Information on routes and how to sign up will be provided later this month.

Last spring our entire community–students, teachers, parents, and staff–rallied to continue educating our students through distance learning, rapidly readjusting our educational approach. I am grateful for the many ways in which you, our parents, rose to support our students and our School even as you responded to the challenges of your own personal circumstances in the pandemic. This fall presents us with another opportunity to innovate and serve our students well.

Finally, I apologize for confusion caused by yesterday’s “Let’s Get Going” email, which included important information related to summer activities and preparations for the school year. That email should have come to you after the overview provided in this letter.

With deep gratitude for your support and understanding,

Michael Saxenian
Head of School

May 26: Fall School Reopening Message from Head of School, Michael Saxenian

Next week we will celebrate our students as they complete the school year and prepare to move up in grades. Few anticipated the extraordinary challenges of recent weeks, and I am so grateful for the way our whole community of parents, students, teachers and staff pulled together. Next Friday we will be honoring our seniors for their accomplishments at McLean, and sending them off to an extraordinary array of colleges. Commander Alvin Drew, an astronaut who twice visited the International Space Station and walked in space, will deliver their commencement address drive-in style! While the ceremony at school will be confined to immediate family members of graduating seniors, the greater-McLean community will be invited to view it through Facebook Live. Watch for the link in coming days.

As we look to next year, our approach will be grounded in the following principles:

  1. The health, safety, and well-being of our students and our community are always our most important priorities
  2. We will continue to deliver the best possible education through whatever means are available.
  3. As always, we are deeply committed to, and guided by, our Core Values, which include creativity, innovation, intellectual curiosity, inclusivity, flexibility, respect, wellness, and a welcoming community.

We will reopen our building as soon as we safely can, so that our students can take full advantage of their teachers, their classmates, and their community. We will rely on guidance from state and local authorities, as well as the CDC and the World Health Organization, to evaluate and respond to health risks and to implement protocols.

We are preparing to conduct school in the following formats, and to shift between them as needed:

  • We are planning for a return to our building for the start of school with protocols for physical distancing, hygiene, and monitoring. We know that not all students or teachers will be able to join us at first, so we are prepared to engage synchronous distance learning for those who are off campus.
  • We are further refining our distance learning program for the possibility that we cannot return to campus right away. Changes will include more direct, synchronous instruction and schedules that parallel the building-based school day. In the younger grades, we are also planning for very small student groupings for teaching fundamentals such as reading, writing, and math. We want to continue to capture your insights about our distance learning program while they are fresh, so please look for another survey in the coming days.
  • We are also preparing blended approaches, with both on and off campus components, to optimize for learning and community in case some elements prove to be more practical in one mode or the other.

We will offer a robust set of activities and events, whether in-person or at distance, so that students can get to know their teachers and their peers, and receive orientation for new grade levels or advancement into a new academic division.  We will also help parents connect with fellow parents, teachers and administrators.  Additionally this summer, we are making our online SummerEdge program available at half price to newly enrolled and returning McLean students.

We know that some in our community have been experiencing emotional difficulties due to social distancing. Please let us know if your child is struggling. Our counselors and other teachers and staff familiar to them are available to provide support.

We are fortunate that our Board of Trustees includes experts in a number of fields related to operating our School. These experts include an organizational efficiency manager at a national disaster restoration and decontamination firm, a hospital medicine physician and researcher in infectious diseases, and the director of operations management at a private investment and business development firm focused on life sciences and emerging technologies. We also have a clinical psychologist who is a board-certified psychoanalyst, as well as a number of educators with deep experience in independent schools and higher education.

As challenging as this time has been, I take heart in the knowledge that we will emerge with new tools for learning and an even greater sense of our connection and resilience as a community.

Thank you for entrusting your child’s education to McLean. I will continue to update you as our understanding of circumstances surrounding our fall opening evolves, and with a definitive plan in the first week of August.

With gratitude,

Michael Saxenian

April 16: A Video Message from Head of School, Michael Saxenian

With gratitude,

Michael Saxenian
April 30: Distance Learning Plans and Reflections
I write to share important news about our school calendar, observations of our distance learning program, and reflections on the future. As parents we have all experienced tremendous loss, each in our own ways, and I am grateful for your patience and understanding. We have, however, learned a great deal, and there is good news to report at McLean.

Distance Learning Schedule This Year
Distance learning began 6 weeks ago. For many of us, it feels like months, and uncertainty about the future amplifies our concerns. After carefully considering information provided by government agencies such as the CDC and the governments of Maryland, Virginia, and DC, and after consultation with the Executive Committee of our Board of Trustees, I am announcing that Distance Learning continues until the end of the school year, the first week of June. Commencement 2020 will be held on June 5 at 10:00 am. While portions of our national economy are beginning to reopen, social distancing at schools poses unique challenges to our top priority of safeguarding our students, and adequate measures will likely not be available by June. Even if Maryland Public Schools were to reopen after the announced shutdown through May 15, McLean would have only two instructional weeks left in the school year, and learning would be undermined by the activity of reopening.

Of course, we want to get our students back into the building as soon as we safely can, so we will re-evaluate if circumstances allow. Meanwhile, we are making plans for our usual wide range of year end activities so that we can recognize and celebrate our students virtually if it is not possible for us to meet at the school. Please look for communications on this in the weekly newsletters.

How We Succeed in Distance Learning
While many schools are hunkering down to wait out the pandemic, McLean has embraced the challenges of this new and more complex learning environment, just as we have always embraced the challenges of complex learning needs. To be sure, we feel the loss of our building and the ability to gather. But, in a moment of imperfect schooling solutions, our distance learning program is working well, and I believe it is the best solution available in the greater Washington DC area for bright, college-bound students with qualities that render traditional classrooms (and now traditional online instruction) less effective. This sentiment was reinforced by parents participating in our divisional coffees last week, some of whom have students at other area schools, and in emails we receive. We thank parents for their comments and suggestions, many of which we are working to incorporate.

Of course, there are things that we cannot do through distance teaching, such as supervising young children, and we know that this can be a huge burden for working parents. We also know that some students are at McLean precisely because they have organizational or other challenges not easily addressed outside of the classroom. In cases where those challenges exceed the capacity of our classroom teachers working at a distance, we are assigning other professionals in the building to help meet individual needs. Please let us know if your child needs additional support.

I believe that our success in distance learning relates to the same attributes that have always powered McLean:

  • We are forward-looking. We began exploring the possible impacts of COVID-19 with McLean administrators as early as February 11, and with our Board of Trustees on February 21. This enabled an early start in developing our distance learning approaches and the preparation of our faculty and students for a distance learning launch prior to Spring Break.
  • Our experts teach the way students learn. Our teachers are the best in the industry. They selected McLean because they have the creativity, drive, experience, and training to serve a richer mix of students, differentiating instruction and adjusting their approaches on the fly to meet student needs. This expertise and agility developed in the classroom enables the quality distance education that we deliver to students at home.
  • We have small classes. While area public schools often have classes of 30 or more students, and other independent and parochial schools may average 16 to 20, our average class size is below 10. This is a huge advantage in a distance learning framework, where understanding and responding to student needs is a greater challenge and a greater opportunity.
  • We know each student well, and how they learn. Our teachers make the time to connect with students one-on-one, adapting approaches to the needs of each individual, and helping them understand themselves as learners. Even with the challenges of distance learning, our students continue to get the tailored support they need.
  • We have great educational technology. Seven years ago we rethought and rebuilt our entire educational technology platform, from servers to the classroom to the home, with a one device per student approach — iPads K-6, Chromebooks 7-8, and the developmentally appropriate students’ choice of laptop (“Bring Your Own Device”) 9-12. Most importantly, we invested in the knowledge and skills of our teachers and our students. For years we have been learning from and strengthening approaches such as “flipped classrooms” where the lecture is delivered at home so class time can focus on questions, discussion, or project work. From Seesaw in the lower grades to the Mustang Portal and Google Classroom in the middle and upper grades, students and teachers entered distance learning with skills in many of the technologies they continue to use at home.
  • We have an amazing community. Our fundamentally embracing approach to students, grounded in our Abilities Model®, enables students to support one-another, and to be supported by their teachers and their parents. Our mindfulness, wellness, and service programs reinforce an environment in which each students can feel good about themselves and be open to learning. Our focus on cyber-citizenship develops our students into safe, respectful, and discerning users of social media. And, importantly, our parent community supports their children, our teachers, and our school in so many ways.
  • We maximize every opportunity for learning and connection. McLean students are not just doing academics online. They are meeting for Lunch Bunch and advisories, with counselors for social emotional support, and with the college counseling team to prepare for next steps. They are doing music and studio arts, PE, STEM, and meeting with their clubs, such as the Equity and Social Justice Forum.
  • We are a learning community. McLean’s effectiveness is grounded in our continual search to improve our educational approaches. We entered distance learning with a well-articulated educational philosophy, a culture, and a set of learning systems to support education that is effective both in the building and at distance, and we have been rapidly evolving our approach in response to what we learn from teachers, students, and parents. Last week we held coffees for feedback from parents in all grades. The Middle School surveyed its parents and will be announcing program adjustments shortly. Lower and Upper School parents will see similar surveys this week.
    These are central elements of our program, our culture, and our community. McLean is relying on its fundamental strengths to maximize student welfare and learning in whatever context we find ourselves. And we are succeeding.

Summer Plans
As strong as our delivery has been, we know that students and parents are anxious about their education, and that other summer opportunities may have been cancelled due to social distancing. We are pleased to announce, therefore, that we are revamping our SummerEdge academic offerings to meet the needs of McLean families.

To keep our campers safe, SummerEdge will offer a four-week online session beginning after the July 4 weekend. While we won’t have sports on the field or service trips, we will offer a remarkable range of academic programs taught largely by our McLean teachers for students in kindergarten through grade 11. It won’t be all work though, as each day of camp will incorporate music, art, and PE. It’s all under development now, and so details will be online shortly.

Next School Year
Like you, we don’t know what social distancing requirements we will encounter the next school year. What we do know is that whether we are teaching in-person or at a distance, or some combination, we will be offering the best available education for our students. Recognizing the central importance of the personal connection at McLean, we will plan orientation and culture-creating activities for both new and returning students, teachers, and families so that we enter the next school year with the same strong Mustang community that we enjoy and rely on today. Interest from prospective families remains strong, and our community continues to grow despite the challenges of social distancing. We are grateful for the referrals that you as parents make.

I thank our talented faculty, staff, and administrators for their incredible focus and dedication. Like all of us, they experience loss and have other responsibilities, but they show up powerfully for our students, every day. And I thank you, our parents, for your continued support and understanding. Raising a family is a tough job under normal circumstances. It is hugely more difficult today.

With tremendous appreciation,

Michael Saxenian

April 16: A Video Message from Head of School, Michael Saxenian

With gratitude,

Michael Saxenian
April 10: Educating our Children in Uncertain Times

As we wrap up our third week of distance learning, I know that many in our McLean School community–and, indeed, many around the world–feel exhausted. We are stretched by the unknown course of the pandemic, social distancing, close living quarters, financial uncertainty, and the possibility that someone close to us may have already suffered medical consequences, or will soon. This is difficult for everyone, and I am keeping all of you in my thoughts.

It is natural to worry that our children are losing time and losing learning. We wonder, will they fall behind, or will their college prospects be weakened. These are real and serious concerns, but our most important job, as parents and as educators, is not to teach specific content or skills on a pre-set timeline, but rather to enable our students to continue their progress towards becoming effective, well-adjusted adults. That means focusing on social-emotional wellness first, while maintaining structure and forward movement in academics.

It is important for us, as educators and as parents, to model calm and confidence in the future, paying less attention to every grade, and more to how our children–our students–are feeling about their learning, about themselves, and about their futures. We don’t know what shape the infection curves will take, or what the new normal will look like a few months from now, but we do know that we are resilient, and just as our country recovered from the 1918 influenza pandemic and from the Great Depression last century, and from 9/11 and the Great Recession in this one, we will come back from COVID-19.

In McLean we have a caring and connected community, with expert educators working hard to support each student, as well as each other. All of us are on a rapid learning curve. Top administrators at the school meet daily to discuss our approaches and our results, making adjustments as needed. Counselors and specialists are providing additional student support. And we have taken steps to address security concerns related to Zoom and Google Hangouts.

Our approaches are tuned to the developmental needs of students and vary by division and grade level. Feedback from students and parents has been helpful. We do sometimes hear concerns, such as that students are getting too much (or too little), synchronous instruction. We take that feedback seriously and look carefully at those situations. But the vast majority of parent feedback suggests that the creativity and flexibility of our teachers–and our educational and community cultures–have enabled effective approaches for distance learning. Our McLean culture is also foundational in another way. Our students report the importance of their connection with fellow students and with teachers.

While distance learning is new, McLean has been able to leverage a long tradition of thoughtfully deploying technology to meet individual student needs. This includes not only technologies for creativity, output, reading, and organization, but also importantly our “one-to-one” approach to iPads, Chromebooks, and, in the Upper School, BYOD, (“Bring Your Own Device”), ensuring that each student is equipped for home study, with backing from our talented team of information technologists. Students also come to distance learning with the benefit of McLean’s deep focus on cyber citizenship, which develops safe, respectful and discerning use of digital resources. Many of our parents with students in other independent or public schools remark on the effectiveness of McLean’s approaches compared to what they are seeing elsewhere.

As always, our commitment is to continuous learning and improvement, not only for our students but also for our School. Our gifted and committed teachers, and the administrators behind them, are working incredibly hard to develop and deploy approaches that serve our students. Like our parents, many of these educators have their own children or aging parents at home. They have my deepest admiration and gratitude. If you find an opportunity to say “thank you,” I know they will appreciate it.

Please see this week’s divisional newsletters and the Mustang Portal for information on free parent support groups and other resources ranging from service opportunities such as making and distributing face masks, to fun and self-care. Next week we will let you know how to join virtual coffees for parents in each division, so that we can connect directly with you, and all of you with each other. We look forward to hearing about your experiences.

We are deeply grateful for your support and cooperation, and send our best wishes in this trying time. For those who celebrate Easter and Passover, I wish you happy and meaningful holidays.


Michael Saxenian

March 30: Reconnecting After Spring Break

I hope this email finds you and your family as well as can be under these difficult and fast-changing conditions. The stay-at-home-orders issued this afternoon by the governors of both Maryland and Virginia, and apparently pending in DC, underscore the critical nature of our health emergency. I know that many of you may be caring not only for your own children, but often for parents or other family members, and that most of us who are fortunate enough to be employed are working at home, adding additional complexity to student supervision.

As we prepare to return from Spring Break tomorrow, I wanted to let you know that our teachers, administrators, and staff worked throughout the break, and all day today, to digest learning from the first couple of days of distance education, to get additional training, and to further refine our approaches. This morning they were briefed by Dr. Mary Wright, a leading hospital medicine and research physician and the Secretary of our Board of Trustees. We have been fortunate to have Dr. Wright’s guidance as we’ve navigated the pandemic.

I also wanted to remind parents and guardians that our Mustang Portal provides a variety of resources for families. We recognize that the pandemic has strained the finances of many. Please feel free to reach out to our Chief Financial and Operating Officer, Jeff Berman, if you would like to discuss altering your schedule of payments, or if there are any other ways in which we can be helpful.

While the pandemic has been challenging for all of us, it has also revealed our strengths as a school and as a part of our broader community. Last week the School donated N95 masks, gloves, and cleaning supplies to area hospitals. With commendable foresight, our Facilities Department stockpiled these items in advance of the pandemic in order to safeguard our school community.

I’d like to close with a shout-out to 9th grader Wes Price and his brother, Ricky. In true Mustang spirit, every Wednesday since school moved to distance learning Wes and Ricky have made sandwiches and donated them to Martha’s Table for distribution to homeless people via McKenna’s Wagon. The first week they made about 50 sandwiches. Last week friends joined to help make 100 sandwiches. Wes and RIcky are now competing to collect 100 sandwiches each – 200 total – every Wednesday. McLean would like to support this effort. We have been developing plans to establish a sandwich drop-off point at the school for those who would like to contribute. Please check back to the Mustang Portal for details, as we will need to ensure that we do not run afoul of new stay-at-home mandates.

Congratulations to Wes and Ricky for inspiring all of us. I am so proud of the way the whole community has stepped up in so many ways. And, I know that our teachers will continue to deliver the best possible education, providing continuity through our distance learning program.  Experts teaching the way students learn. 

Wishing you comfort and health,

Michael Saxenian

March 20: A Few Thoughts As We Begin Spring Break

As we adjourn for Spring Break, I have been taking stock of what we have accomplished over the last couple of weeks. I want to express my deep gratitude to you, our parents and guardians, for your support to your children, our teachers, and the School, during this time of unprecedented challenge. I also want to thank our teachers, administrators, and staff for all that they have done. Launching our distance learning program has been a herculean effort by all involved, and the quality of execution reflects the talent and commitment of our teachers.

While we will not be holding classes next week, our faculty is working where possible to provide enrichment activities for students. Our teachers will be using the break to consolidate learning from the last three days, to modify their approaches, and to develop distance teaching materials for the coming weeks. The faculty and administration will reconvene for additional professional development related to distance learning on Monday, March 30, and we look forward to resuming distance learning instruction on Tuesday, March 31.

We are off to a very good start–a tribute to our families and our faculty alike–but this is just the beginning of a long road. Together we will find our path forward. Thank you for your support and for being part of our McLean community.

I’m pleased to close with a message from our students.

The Upper School Student Government Association wishes everyone a fun and safe Spring Break. Make sure to stay positive and healthy, so we may all get through this together. Especially because this is new to all of us, and if you are having trouble with anything (academics or technology), the SGA is here to help! Let’s spread positivity, and not this virus.

With gratitude and wishes for a healthy Spring Break,

Michael Saxenian

March 18: Distance Learning Off to a Good Start

Distance Learning is off to a good start.

While experiences varied, often in developmentally predictable ways, most reports were positive, and reflected the creativity and resilience of our faculty and students. Throughout our K-12 program, technologies used in the classroom provided a familiar bridge to distance learning. I wanted to take a moment to share with you a few anecdotes and additional resources.

Lower School

  • The Lower School continued its use of Seesaw as the primary platform for sharing work, as in this example from Kindergarten, practicing the word “luck.”

  • Our Coordinator of Learning Services, who has access to all Seesaw pages, wrote to Lower School teachers: “I have been moved to tears today. The academic lessons are, of course and unsurprisingly, creative, engaging, and effective. And then on top of all that:

    • Your morning message videos allow kids to see your faces and hear your voices

    • Kids recorded vlog book reviews, one child created an analog clock out of bottle caps, and another constructed and then tested out a bridge he made from bricks and boards in his yard, while a third followed a recipe to make pizza

    • All of the kids who are creating workspaces at home that they are proud enough to post for their teachers to see . . . it’s just all so awesome and inspiring and it’s what this is all about. You guys continue to think outside the box and keep families focused on making this time fun and meaningful.”

Middle School

  • A Grade 5 Teacher reported that “Since we usually have lunch in classrooms on Wednesdays, I hosted an optional “Zoom lunch” for my class. Almost everyone joined and they were so happy to be together, and they all begged to do it again tomorrow. Maybe this will be a daily thing for us.”

  • A Grade 6 Teacher wrote “It was smoother than I expected. Most of the students have tried the online assignments. Many completed them well.”

  • This from a Middle School parent: “As one small data point, my wife and I were very impressed with how our daughter’s day went today. The teachers were focused, helpful, and on top of their game.”

  • And finally: “I wanted to report that the PE and Athletic Department have heard nothing but positive feedback from the parents about the workout plans and the community building activity. The students are also responding to the questions we sent out today which is great to see!”

Upper School

  • From among the dozens of message on an Upper School email chain:

    • “My first Zoom class went fantastic!”

    • “The Seniors were all there on time, they were collaborative and cooperative and we had a great class.”

    • “All my students were present and awake! All are in good spirits too!”

    • “My students didn’t want to get off the call. Seriously.”

One Upper School Math Teacher reported that a student set up a gaming app so that his class could continue online the practice of partner quizzes, which they did not want to give up!

A couple of parents have asked whether we would consider holding school next week during our scheduled Spring Break. While the continuity of instruction would have benefits, our teachers need down-time to recover from an extraordinary effort to move instruction online, to consolidate new learning from this week, and to plan for the next phase of distance instruction. Even under normal conditions, our faculty members give 100% and depend upon scheduled breaks to recharge so they can be there for your students during the next leg.

To further assist families, we have created a new Distance Learning Resources page within our Mustang Portal. We are also continuing our parent support with tonight’s Community Education Series presentation by Jen Cort: It’s Not Your Imagination, Kids Really Are Different Today!, which has moved to a Facebook Live format on McLean School’s Facebook Page at 7:00 pm.

I am grateful to you, parents and guardians, for supporting your child and the School through this unprecedented period. McLean has an extraordinary team of educators and an extraordinary culture of collaboration. You are a big part of the magic sauce!

With warm regards,

Michael Saxenian

March 17: Distance Learning Starts Tomorrow - Wednesday, March 18

I hope this email finds you and your loved ones as well as can be under these challenging circumstances. I know that the loss of structure from the school day and the need for social distancing present challenges for students and families. I also know that many of you have family members who may be at greater risk for complications from COVID-19, and that the economic slowdown has introduced new financial challenges. My thoughts are with you.

I am writing to provide you with an update on school operations prior to the start of distance learning tomorrow. You can find my last letter and related resources on our COVID-19 webpage. 

As you may recall from the schedule I provided last week, distance learning begins tomorrow morning, March 18, at 8:15 am. Our school days will run to 3:15 pm for the next two days. On Friday, March 20, we end at noon for Spring Break, as previously scheduled. The faculty will reconvene for additional professional development on March 30, and our distance learning program will resume on Tuesday, March 31.

While this will be new for everyone, our faculty are highly trained and well equipped to deliver distance education. They have been working very hard to fine tune their approaches over the past few weeks and are looking forward to continuing to work with your children. We are grateful for their efforts. Your patience and understanding will be appreciated as we work to quickly address any issues that arise.

We are not looking to you, as parents and guardians, to teach the material, but rather to ensure, as far as you are able, that your child has an appropriate place to work and is available for learning. Please review any communications from your child’s division head or teachers regarding specific requirements and feel free to reach out with any questions.

McLean has a terrific team of IT professionals, learning specialists (including our Coordinators of Learning Services), and counselors who are all available to support our students. Our IT Office can be reached at it.support@mcleanschool.org or by calling 802.962.0854. Please find contact information for our other support professionals in the Faculty Directory on the McLean Website.

As a reminder, you can download McLean’s Distance Learning Plan here. The Distance Learning Plan provides a comprehensive educational continuity approach geared to the particular strengths and needs of our students in each division. It answers many questions that parents and students may have going into and during a period of campus closure, including methods for delivering educational content, responsibilities of McLean educators, and the roles and responsibilities of students and their parents and guardians. The Plan has been under development for some time and incorporates technologies and approaches already in use by McLean teachers. If you have not already done so, I encourage you to review this material with your children.

The building is now closed and is being disinfected. We have arranged for continuity of business operations, including processing of mail and phone calls to our campus numbers, and handling of admissions inquiries. Like our teachers, all staff and administrators are continuing their work from home, so please feel free to reach out with questions or concerns. Please be reminded that the policies and expectations for behavior articulated in our Parent and Student Handbook remain in effect.

Thankfully, to our knowledge there are still no confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 in our School community. Please let us know if you learn of any.

I want to again thank all members of our community for their wisdom, patience, and dedication as we navigate the challenging and fast-evolving COVID-19 pandemic, which has disrupted the lives of our families and created uncertainty about health risks for our loved ones. I also want to shine a light on our teachers, specialists, and academic administrators for their heroic efforts in preparing for our period of distance education. I am deeply grateful for their enormous dedication, as I am for the cohesiveness and mutual support that our families and educators provide one another.

With gratitude and respect,

Michael Saxenian

March 12: Distance Learning Plan from Head of School, Michael Saxenian

I want first to thank all members of our community for their wisdom, patience, and dedication as we navigate the challenging and fast-evolving COVID-19 situation, which has disrupted the lives of our families and created uncertainty about health risks for our loved ones. I have watched our community pull together, and I am grateful for the cohesiveness and mutual support that our families and educators provide one another.

I am writing now to announce that next week McLean School will move to distance learning. As we do so, our foundation of community support, and our tradition of partnership, will be more important than ever as students, teachers, staff, and administrators begin to work from home.

We reached the decision to employ distance learning after carefully considering our commitment to continuity of education and the imperative to safeguard our community, as well as to support societal efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19. We are taking this step proactively, following extensive consultation with health experts, trustees, and administrators. To our knowledge there are no confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 in our School community. Our approach is informed by advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Maryland Department of Health, and other local health authorities, as well as practices emerging in the school and business communities.

Distance Learning Approach
McLean’s Distance Learning Plan provides a comprehensive educational continuity approach geared to the particular strengths and needs of our students in each division. It answers many questions that parents and students may have going into and during a period of school closure, including methods for delivering educational content, responsibilities of McLean educators, and the roles and responsibilities of students and their parents and guardians. The Plan has been under development for some time and incorporates technologies and approaches already in use by McLean teachers—approaches which teachers have been practicing with their students, and which will be reinforced over the course of three days of additional professional development this month. I encourage you to download, print, and review this material with your children. Please note that, although we will not be meeting in the building, the policies and expectations for behavior articulated in our Parent and Student Handbooks remain in effect.

Roll-Out Schedule for Distance Learning
Our last regular day of school in the building will be tomorrow, Friday, March 13. All regular activities, including after school ones, will take place as normal on that day. Monday and Tuesday of next week will be professional development days for faculty. As indicated in the Distance Learning Plan, students and families should use that time to catch up on work and to prepare their study space and technology for distance learning. Distance instruction and learning will begin on Wednesday, March 18, and will continue at least through Thursday, April 9 (with a pause for Spring Break, as previously scheduled). As during normal operations, the school day will run from 8:15 am to 3:15 pm. We recognize that our end date is later than the one recently announced for Montgomery County Public Schools, which does not seem to offer as fully articulated a distance learning approach as McLean’s.

Please expect an update on Monday, April 6 regarding our plans to reopen. At that time we will notify the community whether the building will reopen on Monday, April 13, as currently anticipated, or whether distance learning will continue further into the school year.

Tomorrow, Friday, March 13, students will need to bring home all of their study materials and personal belongingsPlease provide them with a container, such as a duffle or fabric shopping bag, that they can use in addition to their backpacks. Parents may pick up medication from the Health Room tomorrow, or if necessary Monday of next week.

Here is a detailed schedule for the next four weeks:

Friday, March 13:
·   Regular instruction and after-school programming
·   Students take home all materials at the end of the day
·   Medication can be picked up from the Health Room

Monday, March 16 & Tuesday, March 17:
·   No classes
·   Professional training for faculty and staff
·   Students should use these days to catch up on work and to prepare work space and technology for distance learning

Wednesday, March 18 – Noon Friday March 20:
·   Teachers and students pilot distance learning

Monday, March 23 – Friday, March 27:
·   Spring Break–No Classes
·   No academic or co-curricular programs
·   Spring Break Camp and trips are cancelled
·   Deep clean of facility

Monday, March 30:
·   Faculty Professional Development Day
·   No Classes for Students

Tuesday, March 31:
·   Distance learning for all students resumes and runs through at least Friday, April 24

 Monday, April 6:
·   Depending upon developments in public health and other relevant considerations, McLean will announce whether we will return to school on Monday, April 13 or whether we will extend distance learning beyond April 9.

Friday, April 10:
·   School is closed for Passover and Good Friday

Monday, April 13:
·   School reopens, unless notified otherwise on April 6

Compliance with the Spirit of This Approach
We recognize the importance for students to remain connected with their friends. The benefits of distance learning, however, may be undermined if students socialize in close quarters during our campus closure and we thus ask that they rely upon virtual interaction whenever possible. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has recommended the practice of social distancing to contain COVID-19. Proper hand washing continues to be another important mechanism to reduce spread of the virus. The health of our community depends upon such strategies. If you or someone in your family shows symptoms that you suspect may have been caused by coronavirus, we recommend that you contact your healthcare provider.

Caring and Flexibility
We recognize that this message may bring a sense of relief to some and disappointment to others. We recognize, further, that a shift to distance learning will place a burden on our community. Students and teachers will be working together in new and different ways. Families may struggle to find appropriate spaces for learning and adequate Internet connectivity, while working parents may be challenged to arrange supervision for younger children. We are a strong and caring community. Both the School itself and our Parents Association are available to help problem-solve and facilitate family-to-family support. Please feel free to contact any administrator, or Director of Community Inclusion and External Relations, Bobby Edwards, or Parent Liaison and Events Manager, Jen Jedrinic, if you are in need of, or in a position to offer, support.

I thank you, our parents and guardians, and our students, for understanding that we are working to further the best interests of both our school and the greater community. We would welcome your thoughts on how we might improve our approach. I am grateful to the trustees on our Board Executive Committee for their collaborative leadership and support, to the Administrative Team for their extraordinary collegiality and hard work, and to the faculty and staff for their dedication and professionalism.

Our Risk Management Team and Administrative Team will continue to review the situation a daily basis. We will stay in touch and keep you informed. Thank you for your support and understanding. You can find all of our communications and other resources on our COVID-19 webpage. We hope that you will find it helpful.

With gratitude and deep appreciation,

Michael Saxenian