Often in the past six months, it has felt like we are living in “times that try mens’ souls,” as Thomas Paine wrote inDecember 1776 about the American Revolution.It’s not easy to operate a school and support a far-flung community of Woodberry Forest Schoolstudents, alumni, parents, and friends amidsta global pandemic, a national reckoning aboutracism, and a poisonous political environmentthat threatens to separate us one from another.
And yet as I write this message in lateSeptember, Woodberry is in excellent shape.We began the year fully enrolled with a studentbody of 405 students; nearly all of them chose tostudy on campus. We are adjusting to life withmasks and social distancing. But as I bike fromThe Residence to the newly renovated WalkerBuilding each morning, passing classes that areoften meeting outside to help protect everyone’shealth, I’m reminded that our core principles ofintellectual thoroughness and moral integrityare ones that see us through difficult times,both as individuals and as a larger community.Our philosophy of teaching and learning, witha focus on how to think rather than what tothink, works just as well under a tree as it doesin Anderson Hall.
We reopened the school and welcomedstudents back to campus because we knowthe boys need the school and need each otherto reach their full potential. The joy in theirongoing interactions and the way new boys havequickly settled into the routines of Woodberryare a reminder of the enduring power of an all-boys, all-boarding education conducted on ourwonderful campus. Saturday night ultimateFrisbee on Grainger Field and cookouts aroundfire pits are the new norm on campus, but thevalues and ideals that shape those interactionsare as timeless as the school’s history.
Our reopening of campus was possible onlybecause of the incredible determination anddedication of the faculty and staff, as well asthe legacy of emotional connection that eachof you has contributed to over many decades.The tuition assistance budget is up 10 percent,with much of that growth attributable tochanges in families’ financial situations becauseof COVID- 19. We’ve invested more than $1.3million to reopen, a figure that includes salariesfor additional staff in housekeeping, foodservice, and the infirmary; safety training andeducation; COVID testing for students andemployees; facilities upgrades; and more.
This spring and summer, we also investednearly $1 million in salaries and benefits tosupport faculty and staff who were not fullyemployed when we were learning online andwere unable to hold our usual summer camps.Our commitment to paying full salaries to allemployees meant many of them could remainat home during the statewide lockdown andnot suffer from furloughs and layoffs due to adecreased workload. I use the word “invested”deliberately. On a budget spreadsheet, thatdecision shows up as an expense, yet keepingour faculty and staff whole was an investmentin our eventual reopening and a commitment tothe long-term culture of the school.
Again, all of this is only possible because weentered the pandemic in a strong position, bothfinancially and culturally. The investment andfinance committees have worked to managethe school’s resources and ensure we are goodstewards of the money we receive from bothphilanthropy and tuition. Before adding staffto specifically address extra work related toCOVID, we’d reduced headcount in recent yearsas employees retired or left for other jobs. Thatmove has helped us moderate tuition increaseswhile still increasing tuition assistance andfaculty compensation. Without generationsof generous gifts to the endowment, as well asyour gifts last year to the Amici Fund, we wouldnot be in a position to make these investmentsin our community and preserve the on-campusexperience for our boys. Each of you has playeda role in sustaining this community, and I amvery grateful to you for all you have done.
This is certain to be a trying school year. Wedo not know what lies ahead of us as individuals,as a school community, or as a nation. But aswe move forward, I draw strength from theknowledge that around the world there arethousands of Tigers who care deeply aboutWoodberry Forest and draw strength fromvalues forged here. Your care and support inturn give us on this campus the strength toensure each boy at Woodberry this year isknown, challenged, and loved in a communityrooted in the values of intellectual thoroughnessand moral integrity.
Relying on Our Values
Byron C. Hulsey ’86