As I sat in my office chair at home on Sunday to review paperwork ready for the start of the final week of term, I was in a cheerful mood. I’d made myself a strong cup of tea and an early round of golf that morning produced a back 9 score of 45. Not my best, but some nice pars and my 9 iron is ‘dialled in’ at the moment. Then I looked at my phone.
Three schools to be closed on Monday after links established with COVID cases. We had come close ourselves the previous week when City Campus closed after a parent tested positive. We had spent much of the remainder of that week cauterising all known links with our colleagues across town. A brutal but necessary exercise to preserve the safety of the Riverside campus.
The SHR Executive Whatsapp group roared into life. Close and trusted colleagues exchanging thoughts and guidance. Google docs followed swiftly after with a well thought through and collaboratively written letter to the school community acknowledging the concerns that all will have and detailing our actions to come - a major review of the week ahead!
The Leadership Meeting on the following morning scrutinised all the events of the week to come through a new yet familiar lens. What should we do? What reduces risk? What must we cancel? Clarity of thought and another carefully crafted letter written. We hadn’t done much to advance the educational mission of the school in that hour, but another crisis averted - so we thought.
The remainder of the day was lost in hypothetical conversations about all the ‘what ifs’ of that week and the Marketing team established plans ‘a’ to ‘f’ for two major concerts and a speech day. So far so good.
In the closing stages of an interview with a UK based and very promising prospective colleague that evening, my phone started it’s usual attention seeking activities. A case in one of the towers of a local condo. I looked out of the window of the apartment across at the Watermark where four colleagues and their families reside along with a number of Shrewsbury students and their parents. Oh no, that’s all we need. More cuartertising, and a couple of hours later we were confident with an opening on Tuesday. To sleep.
On Tuesday morning I exited a perfectly lovely shower to find my nemesis, the iPhone 11 doing its thing. We have a case! A father of a Y12 and a Y4 student is positive. Half damp from the shower and the other half damp from the exertion from getting to school as quickly as I could, I slumped in my chair in the Riverside Principal’s office. Surrounded by those erstwhile and brilliant colleagues already mentioned, we set to work. The school closed within the hour, wonderfully supportive parents taking home brilliantly compliant children. Letters posted. Done.
This week has been a flashback to March 2020. I still recall being halfway through my groceries in a rather plush food court when my phone disrupted my choice of tea bag. Phone call after phone call about cases involving famous actresses, school closures and the prospect of the MOE stepping in. The relentless build up of pressure a little like the creaking that occurs in submarines at extreme depth - when will it break? A parent I worked with some years ago described fathering his youngest son as ‘death by a thousand cuts’. He retracted his comment quickly as he knew it wasn’t the right way to describe a much loved son, but I knew what he meant. All schools in this pandemic have either been the submarine on the bottom or the victim of those thousand cuts - it just keeps coming.
Now that we are closed there is a terrible mixture of emotion. Deep sadness at sitting in an empty school. Enormous relief that thankfully the infections across our community seem to be very limited indeed. Huge frustration that a series of brilliantly conceived events are cancelled or postponed. Closure may bring operational clarity but it brings an emotional turmoil.
We hope sincerely that we will be open again after the Songkran break, and we also hope this cycle of events will stop soon. I used to like my iPhone...