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From the Headmaster’s Desk: A 2020 Year in Review

By: Jim McKenzie

TRS Families & Friends,

As much as we despised 2020, I can still look back and find much to be thankful for and much to be hopeful about as we step in to 2021. So take a look back with me as we remember some of the major events of 2020 at The Rock School and celebrate God’s goodness at work in TRS, even in this pandemic year.

JANUARY 2020: “J-Term Continues to Grow” – J-Term is our two-week mini-semester for high school students that begins when students return from the Christmas break. J-Term offers students opportunities to go on an international missions trip, take half-day experiential courses on campus or in our community, or complete service learning projects or internships. In 2020, we sent our largest group yet, nearly two dozen students and adults, on a 7-day trip to serve in Guatemala. Each year, so many seniors cite the J-Term Missions Trip as the most significant experience of their high school careers. I’m grateful that TRS provides this kind of defining moment for so many of its graduates.

FEBRUARY 2020: “An Emerging New Academic Vision” – after several months of reading and research, I took my instructional leadership team away in February for a two-day visioning retreat. We brought in one of our favorite consultants on teaching & learning in Christian education to facilitate our two days together. What emerged from that retreat was a commitment to the most ambitious academic vision in our school’s 28-year history. But then COVID happened and the planning was placed on hold as we transitioned our efforts to our online program. Then, the focus turned to our COVID re-opening plan. But in the midst of all of this, our leadership continued to work behind the scenes on the academic planning. We are very excited to share this news with parents at our Vision Gatherings in a few weeks.

MARCH 2020: “A Unified Campus… Again” – after housing our middle school campus at Westside Baptist for five years, we were able to return to a unified K-12 campus again in March. With the completion of our new Modular Building for grades 3-5 and the renovation of those elementary classrooms for grades 6-8, we said goodbye to Westside’s Family Life Center on February 28. After a week of transition, grades 3-5 moved into the Modular and middle school moved into their new classrooms on March 9. We enjoyed exactly five days in our new spaces before we closed due to COVID. Our brand-new building would sit vacant for five months before students returned in mid-August.

APRIL/MAY 2020: “On Campus or Online, We Are The Rock” – on a week’s notice, and with a strong suspicion that the lockdown would last longer than the two weeks of early projections, our leadership and teachers planned, coordinated, and implemented a highly-successful transition to online learning that lasted for nine weeks. Teachers turned kitchen counters and dining room tables into classrooms and connected with students over Zoom. Art, music, band, and PE teachers provided live instruction on Facebook with classes often receiving more than 1000 views. I became a cruise ship director of sorts, organizing community activities online to keep families connected to each other and to the school. Talent Shows, Pet Contests, & Trivia Nights among other activities helped fill the void during those two months of isolation. We held an outdoor Dance Party for high school students and pulled off a Graduation ceremony for the Class of 2020, though unfortunately, guests were unable to attend and could only watch online from home. All in all, I believe TRS made the absolute best of a bad situation.

SUMMER 2020: “Navigating the Pandemic Spectrum” – The uncertainty of COVID made for a challenging admissions season as we prepared for the 2020-2021 school year. We knew that our protocols would be too much for some families and not enough for others. We knew our decision not to offer an online alternative, while the right decision for us, would likely cause us to lose more students. In fact, more than 65 students withdrew due to COVID between May 25 and August 10, including nearly 40 students in the two weeks before school started. (Many do hope to return next year.) Thankfully, between waiting lists and new families attracted to our school because of our commitment to re-open and a confidence in our re-opening plan, we filled every vacancy and then some. In spite of a global pandemic and all of the related fall-out, we opened on August 12 with 444 students enrolled for K-12, marking the 13th consecutive year of enrollment growth for the school and setting a new record. I need to pause and commend Arica Heise, principal, who managed all of the admissions appointments online via Zoom and email, and Kayla Pollard, communications director, who coordinated all of the last-minute enrollment changes on the backend. Both worked tirelessly during a pandemic to provide the same excellent customer service that people have come to expect from TRS.

FALL 2020: “Together, We Are The Rock” – with an unwavering commitment to offer in-person, on-campus instruction for 2020-2021, our school leadership spent the summer months preparing common sense COVID protocols that would keep students and staff safe while still providing a school experience as close to “normal” as possible. Aside from masks, life at TRS during the fall looked quite normal for students. Behind the scenes, our teachers, support staff, maintenance crew, and custodial team worked tirelessly to mitigate the risk of COVID spread. Thanks to our school community’s commitment to our protocols and to its willingness to be open and honest about their families’ relevant health information, we were able to keep our school operational the entire semester. Beyond that, we successfully completed the fall segment of our volleyball, soccer, and basketball seasons. We produced a middle & high school drama production that was performed in front of live audiences. And we were able to recreate a virtual Elementary Christmas Concert as a substitute for what is typically the most-attended event on our campus each fall.

2021: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer” – As we said this summer, our approach to this school year would be inspired by these words from Romans 12:12. So as we enter 2021, we will continue to rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, and persevere in prayer as we pursue the vision that God has given us in discipling through education all those who have been entrusted to our care. Please continue to pray for TRS, its leaders, and its teachers. The best is yet to come.

Happy New Year!

Together, We Are The Rock,

Jim McKenzie, Headmaster

The Rock School