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Coming out of lockdown... carefully.

Neal Bresler
May 19, 2020
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I must admit to being conflicted about "coming out of lockdown". Personally I have a teenage son who is super keen to get back to school and out of the house. I'm not so sure. I am worried for his health and safety. On the other hand I receive regular messages from parents that correlate to what I see in the news, which is a desperate need to get back to work. Simplistically this plays out as striving for a balance between the safety of staying at home versus the need to get back to work.

However, the reality is more complicated than that. There is the safety of all my staff to consider, the indirect safety of the family members linked to our children. There is the complexity of my staff needing to return to work while their own children possibly still needing to stay at home. The fact that I have staff that are high risk yet love what they do. Parents that have been co-opted into teaching with rising levels of frustrations. The anxiety associated with needing to go back to work but wanting to ensure that your children remain safe. Children wanting to get back to the familiarity of school and seeing friends. The indispensable need to prepare to defend our physical environment against the Coronavirus while trying keep the budget afloat. Then there is the logistics of ordering our schooling environment to maintain social distancing within the constraints of the space that we have available.  I am also keenly aware of both the emotional and psychological stress this is already impacting everyone involved.

EduExcellence has 51 staff and almost 180 learners in its family.

Assuming a direct connection of 2.5 related parties that is 577.5 people that are directly affected by the decisions made at EduExcellence. I realise that it is highly unlikely that any decision I make will please all 577.5 people. My motivation is also not to please people but rather to 'do the right thing'. To be able to do that I needed to be still and remind myself what is important. I spent time reflecting on my own situation, what was in my own heart. I looked at our values as a company and re-affirmed for myself the principles that guided me when this pandemic first reared its ugly head. And these three principles still guide me:

  1. Ensure the longevity of EduExcellence. That there is a school for our learners to come back to and a business for our staff to live their passion.
  2. Prioritize the continued employment of all my staff over any one individual.
  3. Do whatever was in our power to assist families so that the long-term educational benefit to our children are not sacrificed at the cost of short-term financial difficulty.

Coronavirus Concessions & Staff Sacrifices

EduExcellence has stepped into the gap and processed 17 applications for financial relief. Each application was expediently processed and over R185 000 worth of tuition fee relief has been granted for the April, May & June invoice periods. To further assist families who have shown that their financial difficulty has stemmed as a direct consequence of the impact of the Coronavirus on our economy I have taken the decision to write off the bulk (almost 80%) of that relief for the April, May and June periods. Our approach towards relief measures will be re-evaluated from July onward.

The impact of such a huge loss of income on EduExcellence has taken its toll. Here I want to publicly thank my staff for supporting an across the board pay cut to help make up for the loss of income. No EduExcellence staff have been retrenched. I would also like to thank those parents that heeded my call to "pre-pay" their account to assist with cashflow. Your help is greatly appreciated. Finally, I want to thank my senior leadership team for their ongoing support and hard work to cut our expenses to the bone!

This hard and painful process will, much like exercise, bear fruit in the long term. Together we have come so far and together we will see this through!

Safety First & Look and Learn

Experience is learning from our own mistakes, wisdom is learning from the mistakes of others.

We note the Minister of Basic Education’s recent statement with regard to the earliest date at which schools can open. However, as an Independent Private School and under the guidance of ISASA, we are also entitled to open after the proposed date, just not before.

It must also be noted that EduExcellence had the privilege of following a full 10 week term which was in line with our original year planning.

As such, EduExcellence will hold to our original call and will only open for the start of the third term - at the EARLIEST and possibly only for some learners. We will close as planned on the 12th June and we plan to re-open on Tuesday 7th July. The details related to a return to campus will be communicated at a later date.

These are the factors that influenced this decision, in no specific order:

  • Our learners, staff and family's safety. There can be no argument that it is safer to be at home than in a crowd.
  • We all function better with certainty and consistency - specially our learners. I did not want to put us all through a now we are open, now we are not roller-coaster.
  • We do have a viable online educational programme
  • The additional time that we remain closed we will use to observe what works and doesn't work for other school
  • This in turn will allow us to procure PPE and safety equipment that is shown to work and not waste money on fads and ineffective equipment
  • We will use this time to better plan our return including which learners come back to campus and by when considering all physical (social distancing) constraints.
  • While the whole thing is weird - our staff and learners have been working hard. Maybe even more than 'physical' school. And we will all need a break in July.

The above dates are subject to both National and Provincial Education Departments ratifying when schools may reopen.

I completely understand that there are many families who will find the above approach arduous and some even unacceptable. I can only ask that you see my intention, keep open communication with us and grit our teeth together to get through this.

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