As we continue to march through the summer months toward the inevitable start of school, many public and private schools are faced with deciding whether to reopen, stay closed or, if lucky, offer a robust online solution.  This situation hit me head on last week.  As some of you know, I am the board chair of Durham Nativity School (DNS), located in Durham North Carolina.  At DNS, we provide a tuition-free environment for male students that are socially and economically underserved from grades 5-8.  All of our funds are from private donations, and we receive no help from any local, state, federal agency, or government. We have operated for 16 years, and many of our middle school graduates have gone on to private high schools and eventually to college where they earned their degree and continued on to be productive members of society. Our motto, “Dare to Dream Big,” is an example of our “can do” attitude.  Most of our students enter the school two grade levels below where they should be, and in four short years, all of them are at grade level and ready to move to the next level. It’s a tremendous amount of work, and it requires commitment from the students, educators, and families. 

Last week we called a meeting with our parents and educators to discuss the two plans of going back to school. We hoped to seek input and eventually approval to come back in a modified way in late August. As our Head of School was delivering the plans on our zoom meeting, I quickly realized that our parents and educators had no desire to return to school at this time. Having done a successful online program in March, the majority of our parents wanted to continue the online program in the fall. We presented medical data from Duke Children’s Hospital about whether it was safe to be in school or learn from home.  Duke along with other trustworthy data we provided all pointed to the students being safer in school, provided the school adhered to the CDC guidelines of social distancing, hand washing, mask wearing, etc.  We felt strongly we had the data and the facility to hold in-house learning in a very safe way.  Unfortunately, no matter how much objective data we produced, we simply couldn’t overcome the fear of parents sending their kids back to school. They were convinced that Coronavirus could and would devastate their black and brown communities and therefore, had very little trust for medical or political decision makers.  We did recognize their fears and acknowledged the data; however, most affected by the Coronavirus have less to do with ethnicity and more about personal health, age, living conditions, etc. Are we doing everything we can to mitigate our vulnerability to coronavirus? 

As leaders, we thought we could overcome their fears by presenting logical data from a trusted source. Unfortunately, our “can do” spirit turned into ”we can’t” do it from our parents and educators.  We tried to understand their fears and realized that if we open, we will lose half of our student body who will simply go back to the public school system to be educated in some capacity through an online platform.

Having read much about our current state of affairs in the US, I can’t help but wonder where the “can do” spirit of America has gone. Whether it’s Coronavirus, peaceful or violent protests, or the election, every solution is to shut down, tear down, or criticize the other party. Simply put, there is very little “can do”. 

Reflecting back on our clients, are they can do’s or can’t do’s?  In our case, most of our clients can do! However, is your business a can do or can’t do?  In your personal life are you trying to grow and do, or are you going through the motions by not doing?  In essence are you growing or dying?  

As for DNS, we decided with parent and educator acceptance that we would go online for the first 30 days and then begin a phased approach to in person learning.  Although some of us think this is worse for the students long term, it was our only option to satisfy all sides at this time. I applaud the school for “doing” and hopefully over time many of us nationwide will start doing instead of accepting the status quo.  Be safe, be happy, and please let me know if I can help in any way.

Jim Baker

Jim Baker

Sumus was founded by Jim Baker, an entrepreneur with 27 years’ experience bootstrapping and growing his business organically and through acquisition, to share his experience by providing advisory services around Board representation, Organization and Branding Strategy, Mergers & Acquisitions, Value enhancement and Exit strategy.