Bissell's Blog

Start, Stop, Reset: CAIS Strategic Vision

It was the week of Lunar New Year in 2020 that we released Reimagining CAIS: Our Strategic Vision for 2020-2025. The document included input from CAIS trustees, faculty, parents and students as well as area high school leaders. It reflected the collective ambitions of the CAIS community around immersion, learning culture, social emotional learning (SEL), community, and facilities as we looked forward with optimism and ambition.

What we did not know at the time was that just a few weeks later, on March 13, 2020, a virus called COVID-19 would be declared a pandemic, and San Franciscans would begin sheltering in place. CAIS closed its doors to in-person learning for over six months. We all know what followed: distance learning, social distancing, masking, symptom screening, testing, economic dislocation, uncertainty, and fear. And Zoom. Strategy and vision took a back seat as we focused on getting through the week safely and continuing to provide a solid education amidst constantly shifting risks and public health regulations. We “pivoted” a lot.

With the worst behind us, the CAIS Board of Trustees and school leadership team has reassessed our 2020 strategic vision in this new, changed world and in light of what we learned during the years of the pandemic. So, what did we learn that is helpful and can inform us as we look to the future?

  • By far the biggest takeaway is the importance and power of our community in providing strength, support and hope for one another in challenging times. In many ways this has been a silver lining in the pandemic—we realize how much we need other people and that when we need them, they are there. This is true of our faculty, families, and students. Think of how much it meant to your children to be able to come to school and be with their friends and teachers when we opened school again for in-person K-8 learning in October 2020. (Preschoolers had been able to return in-person beginning that August.)
  • Social and emotional learning (SEL) is an important foundation for academic learning. Only when our kids feel safe, supported, included, and connected can they focus on their school subjects. Moreover, during distance learning (which some children in the US endured for over a year), basic social skills were not reinforced. The fundamentals of getting along with others don’t just happen; they are learned through the socialization that occurs in a classroom setting. This includes deliberate teaching and practice. Anyone who has ever watched a CAIS morning meeting at ECD or Lower School or an advisory meeting at Middle School knows what I mean.
  • We are now much more clear about the benefits of educational technology as well as its limits.
  • We have a tough, resilient, adaptive, and super creative faculty and staff. They are stress tested. Our employee turnover rate during the pandemic was an all-time low for CAIS; this was not the experience of many schools who lost teachers and staff during the so-called “great resignation.” Our people hung tough, and now as I look around I realize that we do not have a weak link. We can do anything.

The result of these insights is a revised strategic vision with a stronger emphasis on intentional community building and social emotional learning. I welcome you to view CAIS’s strategic vision, Reimagining CAIS, in both Chinese and English, here.

And by the way, while the pandemic did sidetrack us for a while, we did manage not only to secure our reaccreditation for the full seven years, bring our Preschool to full immersion, and add a two-year-old class, we also acquired 5.4 acres and 120,000 sq feet of program space on 19th Avenue. Our new campus will enable us to take our academic program even higher, while serving as a community hub to build healthy, supportive relationships between and among CAIS students, faculty, families, and the greater Bay Area community…