Parent Newsletter by Franny Shuker-Haines
Dear Buxton Families,
We are doing all of our last-minute preparations to get us ready to welcome students back to campus this September. I’m sure you all are doing the same! I am so grateful that our school is located in the Berkshires, where COVID cases have been extremely low, and our beautiful rural campus is ideally suited for us to recommence in-person learning this fall. While Buxton will definitely be different this fall—with mandatory masking, walk-through meals, dorm rooms with fewer people, and no town time—when you compare it to learning from home through a Zoom screen and cell phones, I think we can all agree that it’s going to be a new kind of great.
I have lots of news to share, so let’s get going:
As we have been facing the challenges that COVID has brought us, we have started to think about how best to operate the school and help it thrive during this crucial moment, but also on into the future. Although Buxton has always been—and will always be—a school that puts the kids’ experience first, we have started to realize that the administration of the school needs to combine that commitment with more outward-facing attention and initiatives. In order to accommodate that broadening of our focus, my job will be shifting so that I can focus most of my time and energy on institutional advancement and external affairs. I will still be the director of the school, but where and how I spend my time will be changing.
Luckily, the internal affairs of the school will be in the excellent hands of Peter Beck, who will now have the title of Head of School. Peter will be more focused on the teaching/students/learning aspects of the school, and will take primary responsibility for the day-to-day life of the educational project of Buxton. He has the passion and the vision, and our board of trustees and I feel that the school is in excellent hands with Peter at the head.
To support both Peter and Franny in their work, we are excited to announce that Ben Ripley will be our new Associate Director. Ben is uniquely well suited for this position and for this moment. As a former student and long-time teacher, Ben knows Buxton from every angle. He is an inventive and versatile teacher, a bedrock believer in the progressive mandate of the school, and someone who has helped integrate creativity into the curriculum throughout his time here. Ben will also bring his visual and verbal acumen to our outreach efforts, helping to marry Buxton’s values and visions with its external expression to the larger community.
We’re excited to head into this unprecedented year with this strong leadership team!
COVID news and updates
You all have been receiving frequent updates from our COVID Task Force (here’s a link to the latest); we have also had parent meetings to explain how we will be approaching the school year. But if you have further questions or concerns, please feel free to reach out to anyone on faculty or staff and we will either answer your questions directly or steer you toward the right person.
I want to pause right here to take a moment to introduce and thank the Buxton COVID Task Force team to you. They have been working incredibly hard all spring and summer to make sure we can reopen safely and responsibly, and I am so amazed and so grateful for their hard work. Linda Burlak, who takes both science and Buxton equally to heart, has taken the lead on the task force, bringing her typical tireless energy, keen intelligence, and deep knowledge (all the things that make her a great teacher) to this crucially important task. Thank you, Linda. Joining her in this effort is the linchpin of the campus, Lindsey Wyatt, whose medical background and capacity for managing details of every size have made her an invaluable asset in every way. David Bluestein and Micah Manary brought their science, medical, and research backgrounds to the task, keeping us all updated and in the loop as the information and science surrounding this pandemic has emerged and changed. Greg Roach, our chef extraordinaire, was and still is our first and best on-the-ground, how can-we-make-this-work go-to guy, but never letting his dedication to finding solutions eclipse his deep knowledge of and commitment to keeping people safe. Mike St. Pierre and his team have dedicated countless hours this summer to thinking through and implementing adjustments to the campus to prepare for re-opening. And Peter Beck has been, unsurprisingly, able to keep both the micro and the macro issues balanced and in view throughout the process, while helping to manage and facilitate every aspect of our preparations.
We were also so fortunate to have three board members with medical background and knowledge that have been not just relevant but utterly on-target for this moment. Walter Kernan, M.D., a physician, professor, and research scientist at Yale University; Graeme Fincke, M.D., a recently retired physician, professor, and research scientist who specializes in epidemiology and public health (and who taught and worked at a number of prominent Boston hospitals and universities); and Cami Lennett, R.N., a nurse manager at a major San Francisco teaching hospital, have been invaluable resources to us—and will continue to be as long as we are dealing with this unprecedented medical crisis.
Please join me in thanking them all!
We also have some changes in our faculty to tell you about. As some of you may know, we said good-bye to Nick Aro after two years as our French teacher. Nick was such a great addition to the Buxton family, but changes in enrollment and curriculum caused us to phase out the French program at Buxton. Please join me in wishing Nick all the best in his future endeavors!
We are also very sad to say good-by to Matt and Chiara. They have been beloved members of our community for many years, and we will miss them enormously. They love this place, and they love all the students and families they have come to know over their time here. They have decided to move on for now for family reasons, but they will always be a part of the school.
Speaking of the Buxton family and people moving on … about nine years ago, a truly gifted and beloved Buxton English teacher named Kevin Reilly left the school to pursue further education and other interests. A Williams graduate before coming to Buxton, he then went on to earn two master’s degrees after leaving the school. But, guess what? He never forgot us, and we never forgot him … and now he’s back! I am so pleased to welcome Kevin back to Buxton, where he will be living in the Gatehouse, teaching English to the freshpeople, and teaching half of senior English. He will also be bringing his artistic skills to the studio (one of his advanced degrees is in cartooning and graphic art). I can’t wait for a new cohort of Buxton kids to get to know Kevin!
(P.S. Kevin just had his first cartoon accepted by The New Yorker.)
I am also thrilled to announce our new music teacher, Stuart McKenzie! Stuart grew up in Jamaica, went to boarding school in Texas, and then went on to study music and composition at Amherst College. Stuart is so excited to bring his performance, arranging, composition, teaching, and coaching skills to Buxton, and we are so glad we found him. Stuart will be living in the third floor of the Main House.
Okay families, that’s probably enough to digest for now. I will send more news next week. In the meantime, I hope everyone’s quarantine is going well—especially now that the toilet-paper panic is behind us!—and that you are savoring these last moments of summer. Are you, like me, eating corn on the cob almost every night?
I’ll be back in touch soon!
All the best,