After disruptions due to COVID-19, administration refocuses on writing, implementing three-year plan on social-emotional learning, equity, inclusion

Rhea Acharya

Principal Tom Harmas smiles under his mask and stands in the hallway as students in the Carmel Cohort leave at the end of the school day. He said he is glad to have students back in the building and proud of his staff members that worked hard to make it happen.

According to Principal Tom Harmas, administration decided back in February that for the next three school years, CHS would focus on developing the areas of social-emotional learning and equity and inclusion throughout the school. This goal-setting process happens every three years: in 2017, CHS created the Culture of Care as a result of a three-year focus on improving mental health. However, Harmas said this year instead of writing the specific implementation plan in the spring, the committee—composed of administration, teachers and staff members and headed by Assistant Principal Valerie Piehl—had to push the writing process back to this fall following the school’s shutdown due to COVID-19.

Harmas said, “Even though we’re writing the three-year plan now, there are still things we will be implementing first semester and second semester, so this will be the first year (of the plan). It’s a process. We want to make systemic change or get better systemically. And to do that, it’s a process, and it takes time. We write our goals in three-year processes because we don’t want to be jumping from one thing to another thing to another. We want to make sure we continue and build and build so hopefully by the end of the third year, we will really have a foothold in what we’re doing, and we can continue to move forward.”

In addition to writing the three-year plan in the coming weeks, Harmas said he and other members of the staff are continually fine-tuning the process of conducting school during a pandemic and looking for ways to improve.

Harmas said, “Our teachers have done a wonderful job keeping up with everything. Not everything is perfect, but they’re really learning everything on the fly. And every teacher will tell you too that kids have been very compliant with the masks… But nobody’s written a book on this, and nobody has experience with this. It’s a lot of trial and error. But as I’ve told our teachers and told the whole staff, we have to be willing to say this isn’t working, and we need to change.”

Student body president Julia Heath said she agrees with Harmas in that students and staff should be prepared for changes. For her, one of the major changes is the way Homecoming will be run this year.

Student body president Julia Heath talks with a friend about the upcoming Homecoming festivities. Heath said she is excited for Homecoming, although it will look different this year.

Heath said although neither the club booths nor the pep rally will be happening this year, the parade, spirit days and the scooter races are still scheduled to happen although in a modified fashion. For example, she said that the scooter races will not be happening during school but rather afterschool so that all hybrid and virtual students can attend.

Overall, Harmas said he thinks the changes and the hard work it took to reopen the school are worth it.

He said, “My stress (level) from March to the first day you guys came back was really high. But the day you guys came back, my stress level went (down). Because we had done it. You guys were back, and we were doing the right thing. That felt good.”