Meeting the Moment

Nicole Vitale

How the Behind-the-Scenes Heroes of Windward Set the Stage for Learning 

All the classrooms are a stage, and all the teachers and students are the players. But what happens behind the curtains, so that the spotlight can shine brightly on the students? Backstage at Windward, there are more than 120 staff members who serve as the behind-the-scenes crew to ensure that the show goes on.  

The tremendous amount of work produced by these staff offices may not be showcased front and center each day, yet Windward’s non-academic teams are incredibly deserving of top billing for their meaningful contributions to the School’s operations, from safeguarding the health and safety of our community to transforming classroom technology to become a HyFlex academic model and much more.  

Faculty and staff across all campuses continue to work in harmony to meet the moment of this pandemic, so each division can do what it does best: teachers can focus on supporting students’ academic and social-emotional needs in the classroom, while non-academic teams can concentrate on fulfilling Windward’s mission through their industrious efforts outside of the classroom. 

The vignettes below are a brief glimpse into the highlights reel of some of Windward’s staff offices to unveil how they have pivoted to adapt to the unique circumstances of the 2020-21 school year and how they have managed to perform behind the scenes with grace. Bravo! 


HEALTH AND SAFETY TEAM 

It is impossible to overstate the degree to which the health office has stretched to meet the current moment for Windward. Not only has the COVID-19 crisis tasked them with developing all-new health protocols from the ground up, but it has also created an unprecedented need for ongoing, close collaboration with the Joffe Emergency Response Team, epidemiologist David Calfee, the senior administrative team, the communications office, and facilities department. 

Along with the massive undertaking of developing COVID-19 health protocols, tracking cases, contact tracing, and record keeping, some of the new responsibilities have included facilitating the Magnus health screenings, ordering and distributing PPE for all campuses, installing safety signage for all buildings, ensuring proper distancing mandates for all classrooms, and reporting to the state and local department of health. The Health Office has remained informed and proactive concerning the ever-changing challenges associated with the pandemic and, with the help of professionals within Windward and external consultants, the team has been dedicated to ensuring safety at all four campuses.  

Marilyn Hunt, Director of Health, Physical Education, & Athletics, noted, “We’ve always felt that safety was of the utmost importance. During the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring the safety of our community has been the priority. The safety aspects that are within our control, Windward has tackled head on.” Part of that effort has been shifting roles within the department. Colleen Iodice, Assistant Director of Health and Safety, stepped up from part-time, working two days per week to be available seven days per week in her new role. “Colleen has been invaluable in her current role and goes above and beyond the call of duty,” shared Ms. Hunt. She also credits the entire health and safety team for expanding their duties in order to care for the Windward community. Head of School Jamie Williamson and Associate Head of School Jon Rosenshine have played a crucial part in overseeing, leading, and supporting all efforts to keep students, faculty, and staff safe and informed during this unprecedented time. 

FACILITIES  

It has been all hands on deck for the Facilities department since March, with the team working tirelessly seven days per week to prepare Windward’s campuses for in-person instruction. The need for additional instructional space this year meant an expansion from three locations to five, and every facility required updates. One critical addition was the installation of Needlepoint Bipolar Ionization technology in the HVAC systems, which are best-on-market for neutralizing airborne germs. Each campus received this upgrade, with the exception of the 1275 Mamaroneck Avenue location; instead, it utilizes UV lighting to purify the air. The facilities team has also faced the Herculean tasks of obtaining new furniture, rearranging classrooms, moving into the new buildings, installing sanitizing stations and hands-free soap dispensers throughout every building, bringing the Upper West Side location’s electrical and plumbing up to date, and intensifying all cleaning and disinfection schedules. The facilities team worked closely with the health office and the technology department, coordinating efforts to ensure that disinfection supplies and processes met guidelines from the CDC and Department of Health and that classrooms were outfitted with the technology they required.   

All these new responsibilities had to be combined with the typical prep work that the Facilities team handles prior to the start of the school year, such as painting internal and external walls, deep cleaning, buffing and waxing floors, lawn care, and landscaping. It was a huge workload, but Facilities Director Jimmy Sniffen said, “Not one person complained the entire time. It was a tough job and it took a lot out of us, but we knew the job had to be done to make sure the school was safe for everybody, not just the children, but everybody. Everyone on the facilities team gave their share and more.” 

COMMUNICATIONS  

The small but mighty communications office has worked relentlessly to keep the Windward community informed as the School adapts to the ever-changing demands of the pandemic. As managers of the myWindward Family Portal, the team rapidly built the Learning Hub for remote academic engagement, produced more than 125 pod schedules with embedded teacher Zoom links, published all reopening announcements such as the State-of-the-School webinars and safety protocols, and introduced the COVID-19 case tracker. The communications team constantly monitors the latest updates on guidelines and procedures from Windward, local departments of health, and the Governor’s office to ensure students, families, faculty, and staff were provided with timely and accurate information.  

There was no template for emergency COVID-19 alerts (from notifying contacts that needed to quarantine to keeping all campuses informed about positive cases), but the Communications Office was on call every weeknight and weekend to send timely updates regarding any new developments. Together with the health office and Head of School, the communications team was a key partner in delivering transparent messages to the community during an unprecedented time when clarity has provided a sense of security.  

The communications office also worked closely with the health office with the launch of the daily wellness screening questionnaire through the Magnus app. Families, faculty, and staff all turned to the communications team for reliable customer support during the setup phase of the new school-wide health protocol. The communications team also continued to support many other branches of the School as well, including The Windward Institute, development, technology, summer program, and the board of trustees. Thanks to the communications office, the Windward community was able to view informative and entertaining videos, such as the back-to-school health and safety video and Head of School Mr. Williamson’s Read Aloud series, as well as stay abreast of the many virtual community-building events during the school year.   

THE WINDWARD INSTITUTE  

Due to the pandemic, The Windward Institute has had to shift its course offerings to a virtual platform, which enabled the WI to rethink how it presents educational content. As ever, WI’s commitment is providing high-level research-based professional development to as many educators as possible. “[We took] what was a seed of an idea of a speaker series and immediately realized the opportunity we had to offer it as a webinar series, which could reach such a wider audience. We were then able to include and engage with more researchers and educators from around the world to contribute, which would have been more difficult if we had not gone remote or utilized a virtual platform,” shared Annie Stutzman, Associate Director of The Windward Institute.  

With much thought and care toward adjusting presentations to a remote setting while maintaining the same standards of excellence, the WI has been able to offer courses, workshops, parent seminars, and community lectures virtually, to an even larger audience. Ms. Stutzman added, “We’re so proud of how the entire team pivoted and adapted new skill sets when we had to go virtual.”  

DRAMA 

The students and teachers involved in the drama program are committed not only to each other (they meet every afternoon for three hours after school) but also to their desire to make the world a better place through art. As the pandemic interrupted production of a musical, the department was challenged to think of new remote projects to keep creative and community spirit alive.    

“It takes a creative team be enthusiastic about starting from scratch,” said Betsy Hooper, Performing Arts Chairperson. “But when we start from nothing, there is nothing but possibility. Our job was to determine how a remote after-school drama program can be still offer meaningful creative opportunities and build an environment where our children can say something valuable in the work they create.”  

The drama program pivoted by expanding its scope of projects to include Good News Windward, an episodic news show; The Understudy, an episodic podcast; and a series of dance videos. The episodic nature of the work provides the opportunity for many children to participate, with students from both middle school campuses collaborating for the first time. 

Despite these changes, the important elements of the Drama program have remained in place. Actors record their scenes at home, but the drama teachers are live on Zoom, directing them in real time. “The supportive, inclusive community, the laughter, and the inspiration of making creative work are still at the heart of our program,” noted Ms. Hooper. “We are enjoying these new projects so much that they may be permanent additions to the drama program.” 

DINING 

As any chef would attest, social distancing presents a unique challenge in the kitchen, demanding creative solutions for cooking together as a team while far apart. Windward’s dining partners at Flik have risen to this challenge and more. The 2020-21 school year also brought with it a new online ordering app, Nutrislice, and as is true with any new program, there has been a learning curve. To ease the transition, Chef Jim Erdman spent countless hours speaking with parents/guardians and Windward faculty and staff, walking them through the ordering process. The shift from in-house personal dining to delivering prepackaged lunches required an adjustment, as well, as the new process is more labor intensive and adds a quality control step of individually checking all the components for each lunch. Despite missing out on personal interactions with students, faculty, and staff each day and having to navigate all-new procedures, the Dining team has remained committed to their primary goal of producing quality product with care. Chef Jim noted, “We feel Windward is our family. We take every precaution possible to make sure this community is fed nutritious food, safely, and in a friendly manner.” 

WINDWARD TEACHER TRAINING PROGRAM 

In the face of unprecedented circumstances, the Windward Teacher Training program has been both adaptable and resilient. The team has had to transition and adapt a very comprehensive program to a model that, although delivered remotely, had to encompass all the elements that make the WTTP an outstanding program. 

That meant quick yet thoughtful and deliberate decisions about required courses, mentoring, seminar work, and time for communication among assistants, mentors, and staff developers. Turning to research on distance training and the expertise of the Technology Office, a program was developed to seamlessly support new faculty in acquiring the knowledge needed to become outstanding teachers.  

Assistant teachers, unable to meet in person for seminar trainings, viewed recorded presentations independently. Required courses were also viewed independently with assignments and discussion provided by course instructors. Participants embraced the new format, which created opportunity for them to have a great sense of responsibility for their learning while still having the opportunity to interact with instructors. To ensure that each assistant teacher is learning Windward culture and feeling comfortable in their role, time for Assistant Teacher Staff Developers to meet with each assistant teacher and mentor continues to be a priority. 

“Being resilient, flexible, and focused on delivering all the aspects of the Windward Teacher Training Program that make the program a national model has been the focus of the TTP each day. Every aspect was looked at from a COVID-altered view and reformulated to provide the best vehicle for disseminating information and providing open and ongoing communication,” shared Sandy Schwarz, Director of Windward Teacher Training Program. 

ADMISSIONS 

Despite the current health crisis, the admissions office has achieved its highest enrollment year to date for the 2020-2021 school year with 941 students. Their biggest adjustment was moving everything to a virtual platform, not only for information sessions, but also for screening students and conducting post-conference meetings with parents. Director of Admissions ToniAnn Hutchison noted, “I am incredibly proud of the fact that we have not had to compromise the integrity of our process in order to admit the students that are best suited for our program. Our fear at the beginning of the pandemic was that in the evaluation of each applicant, we would lose a piece to the puzzle. However, while aspects of our admissions process had to change, we feel confident that we have been able to offer seats to students that will benefit from our program and truly need us.” 

CSE

The CSE team at Windward plays two critical roles: providing support to parents and facilitating IEP meetings with teachers. The overarching goal is to assist with the IEP process and ensure that students have the supports they need when they leave Windward. One major adjustment this past year has been accommodating the increased workload of Windward’s faculty due to assimilating to remote learning. Therefore, the CSE department elected to conduct IEP meetings solo, using input from teachers, in order to allow teachers to primarily focus on classroom instruction. CSE liaison Peter Beardsley shared, “Our role as professionals is to help teachers grow and help our parent community understand what we’re doing and how what we’re doing can help them, in terms of their role as parents of students with disabilities and as Windward parents. All of those things are incredibly significant to us.” 

OUTPLACEMENT 

This year, the school is slated to outplace 215 families. It is a monumental task that is complicated by the fact that touring other campuses and sitting in on classes is not possible for outgoing Windward students. Instead, families are relying wholly on information shared by the Outplacement team. Tanya Ehrlich, Co-Director of Outplacement, noted, “Our families found it really valuable to have information sessions and alumni panels. It’s been so important to give families the sense that we are here, we are present.” Support includes answering email queries, being available for Zoom mock interviews, and assisting students with essays, as well as reaching out to admissions directors. The outplacement team has also been referring alumni families to current eighth and ninth grade families so they have another point of contact for questions. “It’s been incredible to see the generosity of our alumni,” shared Diane Kissner, Co-Director of Outplacement. Always attentive to Windward parents, Outplacement has found ways to stretch that effort even more this year.  

DEVELOPMENT 

Windward’s development office has displayed some formidable improvisational skills as they adjust to a virtual fundraising environment. Working in concert with the WPA, their focus has been on connecting with new parents while maintaining strong ties to current Windward families. From exploring exciting ways to show faculty and staff appreciation to hosting a virtual pumpkin carving contest for Halloween to making posters celebrating the opening of the 1275 Mamaroneck Avenue Westchester location, the WPA and Development staff have worked hard to keep our community close. “We have worked to create an environment of collaboration where we’re all coming to be creative and think of new ways to connect with community and have every voice heard at the table. It has been a real crowd-sourcing effort. We keep adding to each other’s ideas, which is energizing for all of us,” shared Angel Francis, Director of Development.  

Overall, the focus of the Development team has been looking toward the future and partnering with the community to support growth of the School and expanding Windward’s impact beyond its walls.  

AFTER-SCHOOL ACTIVITIES & ATHLETICS 

One of the major changes brought on by the pandemic has been the cancellation of in-person sports and activities. However, the after-school activities and athletics team has not allowed that to hold them back. With her trademark positivity and drive, Director of Health, Physical Education, & Athletics Marilyn Hunt asserted, “It’s different, but it can still be great.”  

This agile approach has created new possibilities for continuing to promote a sense of community and socialization while keeping everyone safe. Offering Windward students opportunities to have fun with their teachers and classmates after school has been important, especially during this stressful time. With competitive athletic teams not being an option, the focus shifted to providing virtual sports and clubs that both enrich the student experience and minimize any health risks related to COVID-19. Windward has been able to offer soccer and basketball virtually this year, with a focus on students honing their individual skills while staying connected to one another. After-school clubs transformed into a crossover model, joining together Westchester and Manhattan campuses, affording students who normally would not interact the chance to build rapport and a sense of community across Windward campuses. Virtual clubs for the 2020-21 school year include photography, game night, computer science, fitness fanatics, vocal fun, sports fan clubs, rainbow club, cheering, Model United Nations, film & cinema, chess club, sports & games, and jewelry & beading.  

HUMAN RESOURCES  

Human Resources has faced the unusual challenges this year with grit, compassion, and flexibility. One key effort has been working in tandem with the Director of WTTP to hire and onboard non-instructional part-time aides for the classrooms, to assist teachers and provide additional coverage. Their chief focus, however, has been to recognize faculty and staff and ensure that they feel valued. Some of the events to build morale include a food truck for Windward WOW in November, acknowledgments of birthdays and work anniversaries, and planning a health fair for the spring.  

Above all, Jada Jones, Director of Human Resources, strives to “always be an employee advocate. I want to make sure every single person feels comfortable to come to work every day, with the same excitement for Windward that they had prior to COVID-19.” This means that her team is prioritizing in-office hours for faculty and staff in order to answer the many questions that arise. Being a resource for employees is critical now more than ever, and they are proud to be an approachable space for all of Windward’s employee concerns.  

FRONT DESK

Front Desk Staff Kathryn Kitt and Joellen Finnie serve as go-to resources for Westchester Middle School students each day.

Known as the heart of the Manhattan Middle School campus, Laura Monardo greets every student, faculty, and staff member cheerily from the front desk.

Elisabeth Seocanac and Regan Nikol have been instrumental in assisting families during the transition to the new Westchester Lower School campus as front desk staff.

Sue Theilheimer joined the Manhattan Lower School team to manage front desk requests at the temporary Upper West Side location.

BUSINESS OFFICE

One term commonly heard across all departments at The Windward School during the COVID-19 health crisis has been pivot. The Business Office was no exception, and they rose to the challenge of transitioning to remote work with their trademark meticulousness, flexibility, and ingenuity.  

When the School’s physical offices closed due to New York state health mandates, the Business Office encountered an interesting challenge: With a number of transactions still occurring on paper, how could they safely conduct, and in some cases, adjust, day-to-day operations? As bills still needed to be paid and checks still needed to be deposited, it required some creative thinking. Windward’s Controller Diana Glogau noted that, in the beginning, “there was a lot of meeting in parking lots to exchange mail.” As needed, members of the Business Office also hand-delivered paperwork requiring signatures from members of the leadership team. The key driving factor was maintaining a level of continuity and ensuring that all critical tasks were handled in a timely fashion. 

Ms. Glogau continued, “The fact that we were able to do a quick 180 helped immensely during this transition. We were so quickly able to pivot.” The Business Office outlined Plans A, B, C, and D, as well as instituting weekly meetings to review and tweak the game plan when necessary. These meetings served not only as useful status updates for the team but also as valuable check-ins on each member's mental and physical health.  

In addition, due to the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the global pandemic, the team approached Windward families’ needs with compassion and flexibility, extending payment plans, eliminating late fees, and processing refunds for events and programs that had been cancelled. Ms. Glogau concluded that, as ever, the Business Office’s guiding principle is “a commitment to support students, faculty, staff, and the board of trustees in every way possible.”