This Is Harder. And We Are Doing It.

Story by Darry Madden | Pictures from Fall 2020 Trimester

“This is harder. And we are doing it.”

From Kate Knopp, dean of faculty, September 7, 2020: My moods today have swung wide — from fear and frustration to faith and hope, and I just want to share my love and gratitude to y’all for making school go. Launching school is always hard work; this is harder. And we are doing it.

Reopening the campus after its closure in March required a delicate, coordinated effort from every corner of the school.

From an operations standpoint, a simple dictate—everyone must remain six feet apart at all times—was a deceptively complicated problem. It meant that dorms, classrooms, and the KDU could no longer operate as they normally do.

We had to create space by adding square footage, as well as time in the day.”

— Randy Smith, chief financial officer and assistant head of school

Four tents and a portable classroom were erected. Excess classroom furniture was stored to add usable space. One-way traffic patterns were established. One dorm—Old Girls—was taken entirely offline to act as a quarantine space in the event of an outbreak.

The school also nearly doubled the staff in the health center and the KDU to maximize the chances of staying open.

The infirmary managed random community COVID-19 testing every week throughout the fall, also testing the entire community twice after a case was detected in a staff member. (No other cases were reported). The additional staff also added coverage to reduce overwork in the event of an outbreak or if someone in the infirmary tested positive.

The KDU went from a self-serve system to one where staff served each individual, which required two additional staff per meal serving food in the dining room and two in the kitchen. Students were not permitted to work in the KDU, a major change in both kitchen operations and the student experience. The increase in staffing also created two separate crews, in the case of a positive test in the KDU staff. (The one case detected on campus in the fall did happen to be in the KDU).

All told, pandemic-related operational expenses will total more than $650,000 for the academic year.

How the community would experience these and other changes was even harder to anticipate.

“There was a loss of natural bonding rituals in the community,” said Head of School Emily Jones, citing no more meals crowded around the table together, assemblies in the Currier Center, dorm meetings in the commons rooms and, perhaps most sorely missed, Sing.

“We needed to find other ways to gather and provide that sense of belonging to something larger than yourself,” said Jones.

Another hurdle for the community at large was a loss of autonomy. Where once faculty and staff (and students to a large degree) were trusted to do their work as best they saw fit, they were now all subject to a long list of policies and procedures.

The one piece of this complicated puzzle that was effortless, however, was the weather. A seemingly endless string of warm, blue-sky autumn days allowed for classes to be held outside for nearly the entire trimester. Faculty made the most of our expansive, open campus and any given day one could see students learning on the lawn and under trees.

Students will return to campus in shifts in early February. While much of the work of transforming the campus for the COVID reality is complete, much work remains to be done, and we trust that this community will once again meet the challenge.


FALL 2020




attending classes fully online (some of Putney’s international students were not able to get to Vermont this fall.) 


repurposed for portable classroom space


performed (students and staff)








KDU, Classrooms and Reconfiguration


Airflow Improvement








Total projected expenses for 2020-2021 school year