• Friday, June 19, 2020

Progress Toward Reopening 2020-2021

Parent Input Vital for Planning

While we await guidance on the size of student cohort groups from public health officials, we recognize that these limits, plus existing distancing regulations and the space available at our facilities, could very well necessitate staggered and/or blended schedules for the opening of 2020-2021. It is critically important that families participate in the very quick surveys below according to the grade your student(s) will be in this fall. (Please fill out each survey applicable in the case of siblings in different divisions.) 

Survey for Preschool - Rising 1st Grade

Survey for Rising 2nd-5th Grade

Survey for Rising 6th-8th Grade 

In addition to these surveys, division directors and I are meeting with families via Zoom to answer questions about what school reopening will look like this August. We have met with current and incoming preschool and kindergarten families. Additional parent meetings are scheduled as follows:

• Rising 1st Grade Zoom with Jeff and Britta Pells: Tuesday, June 23, 4:00-5:00 p.m.
• Rising 2nd-3rd Grade Zoom with Jeff and Kim Kaz: Tuesday, June 23, 5:00:-6:00 p.m.
• Rising 4th-5th Grade Zoom with Jeff and Kim Kaz: Wednesday, June 24, 5:00-6:00 p.m.
• Rising 6th-8th Grade Zoom with Jeff and Joe Williamson: Thursday, June 25, 4:00-5:00 p.m.

Invitations with Zoom links to each event were emailed on Thursday, June 18. If you have questions about the Zoom link, please contact my assistant, Lucy Ngai-Saul. 

Teachable Moment

Yesterday I emailed current families, faculty, staff, and trustees about our first known confirmed COVID-19 case among our students and employees. I included the factual information to which we have visibility and that, in my judgment, our community needs to know in order to remain safe and healthy. It is also important that our community remains confident that our school will act swiftly, transparently, and with a high level of discipline when (and not if) other cases arise. All individuals involved are legally entitled to privacy, which CAIS will, of course, respect.

I am appealing to our community members—students, families, and staff—to focus on behaviors and attitudes that are useful for keeping all of us physically and emotionally healthy and safe. Blame, judgment, and unfounded speculation are not, in my view, useful. Our community possesses extraordinary energy and talent, and we need to direct it towards solutions, not pointing out problems and missteps. I doubt there is anyone among us who has been able to observe public health orders strictly, 100% of the time—I have tried, but I have no doubt fallen short on occasion. We are all just mortals. So please, let’s not throw stones. Now more than ever we need to be better than that.

I have often lauded the strength of our community as one of the X factors that makes CAIS such a great school. I have publicly stated on many occasions that ten years ago I came to CAIS for the program, but that what has kept me here is the people. Communities are difficult to build but easy to destroy, and in times like these, our community is one of our greatest assets—we need to stick together.  

Pragmatic Prognosis

As our Scenario Planning Task Force and our admin team prepares for the upcoming school year, there is a reality that we all need to begin acknowledging. I am relatively certain that beginning on August 26 and for the first several weeks of school, we will be facing a situation that will feel tumultuous for some of us. The school will, of course, do everything within our means to mitigate the risks associated with COVID-19 in school. But no matter what we do, there will be varying levels of comfort with being on campus among students, parents, and CAIS employees. In the initial weeks of school, I expect frequent and sporadic absences, high general levels of absenteeism, and infections that will require home isolation for individuals and cohorts of students. I anticipate anxiety driven parent complaints and demands aimed at teachers, administrators, and our board, resulting in high levels of stress and the risk of burnout among our teachers. And of course, we have all heard about the predicted surge in the fall which will amplify all of the above.

My intention in laying out the above scenario is not to paint a scenario of doom and gloom. To the contrary, if we prepare ourselves emotionally, then we will respond with greater strength and resilience. There is a fundamental difference between pain and suffering. Pain is unavoidable, but suffering is a choice. We can control the way in which we respond to the inevitable challenges we will face. I will frequently appeal to everyone to respond with as much grace as we can muster.

On a more concrete and practical level, our division directors and curriculum directors are working in earnest on a model for teaching and learning that can absorb the dynamics of our first several weeks of school, dealing with populations of students who are both on campus and at home—a model that is sustainable and will not burn out our teachers. I do not know what this solution is at present, though we are exploring several models. I do know that we will face a high level of unpredictable absenteeism, and we need to focus on addressing it. As decisions are made and viable alternatives are identified, I will report it to you in my weekly updates.

Prioritizing Our Youngest Learners’ On-Campus Time

One of the many lessons we have learned from distance learning is that it is more challenging for our younger students. For this reason, in our planning for the future we are prioritizing our youngest students’ time on campus. Regulations on allowable cohort size have not yet been issued by local public health officials, so we are at this point unsure of the staffing and space requirements for ensuring our youngest learners can be on campus. We are proceeding with some tentative assumptions in our planning and will report out to our community as soon as we have more clarity around requirements.

As perhaps portended by the survey we have asked everyone to complete above (please don’t forget!) restrictions on cohort size from local officials and the practical limits of space on our own campuses may necessarily require us to explore creative scheduling solutions. I wish that our space and staffing were unlimited, but that is simply not the case. We will update you as more concrete information becomes available.


“Reopening CAIS” Planning Document

Even as our students and teachers are enjoying (I hope) a well earned respite from the unique toils of distance learning, the CAIS admin team remains on the job planning for August. As reported last week and in the parent Zoom meetings we have already held, we will post the current version of our Reopening CAIS planning document a week from today. As we work on the myriad issues involved in reopening school, you will notice that we are proceeding with a bias toward caution and a conservate approach at the outset. We will learn a great deal once school has begun, no doubt, and we make course corrections as appropriate.

Adding Sinks to Facilitate Handwashing

We all know that distancing, face covering, and handwashing are among the most important things we can do to control transmission of COVID-19, both in school and out. We are working with NCIS to install additional sinks on all three campuses over the summer so that students and staff will be able to wash their hands frequently with soap and water. 

Pandemic Response Coordinator

In addition to the creation of the Scenario Planning Task Force, we have tapped our own multi-talented faculty member Adam Ross to take on the role of Pandemic Response Coordinator for CAIS. Visualizing this role akin to an air traffic controller, Adam immediately sprang to mind as the ideal staff member given his demonstrated organizational skills and adept handling of novel challenges. Since he joined CAIS in 2014, Adam has served in a variety of capacities ranging from piloting our remote learning in Chinese for high school students to integrating best practices in digital learning with our Middle School Chinese curriculum and chairing our accreditation self-study process. He has already dived into training on various operational matters and topics such as contact tracing. You will likely hear directly from him from time to time regarding school reopening and other related issues. 

I want to wish everyone a happy, healthy, and responsible weekend.

Happy Juneteenth,



  • Chinese American International School


    Early Childhood Division (Preschool) | Alice A. Carnes Center
    42/52 Waller Street 

    Early Childhood Division (K-1)
    and Lower School (2-5)
    150 Oak Street 

    Middle School (6-8)
    888 Turk Street 

    San Francisco, CA 94102