Leading through the Pandemic

“You never fall in love completely with your plan.”

In 2020, no lesson from his past military career could have been more instructive to Peter Chapla, Principal at Father Judge High School and a 2020 Neubauer Fellow. As Chapla discussed the first semester of this academic year, this mantra has driven his leadership noting, “It demanded that my team be adaptive, quick on their feet, and able to build redundancy.”

And that’s exactly what he’s done in overseeing in-person/hybrid instruction, since September.

“We were open for business the first day of school and we were committed to remaining open. As I shared with every member of our faculty and staff – from President to Maintenance – in planning our reopening, ‘This is a whole different Judge.’ In the COVID environment, everyone needed to learn the jobs one to two up from them and one to two down from them. We all needed to be able to move laterally at a moment’s notice.”

Central to that approach was Chapla’s laser focus on maintaining high expectations for all students, including students in the Career and Technical and Crusaders programs, the latter of which provides critical academic supports.

“In the spring, we were learning on the fly. How do we make a science experiment interesting via video? How do you replicate a welding experience when you don’t have a torch? But we took note of what worked. We integrated new technology platforms like PowerSchool/Schoology, Nearpod and Ed Puzzle. We did student surveys to help us identify the proverbial ‘bells and whistles’ we needed to keep students engaged. The rigor we’ve maintained is rooted in drawing the boys into discussions in both the classroom and from home.  Breakout rooms are critical, just as they’ve been in the Neubauer Fellowship. And while I still did my walkthroughs in the school this fall, I also made time to join breakout rooms and talk to the boys. When someone different is in the classroom, whether in-person or virtually, it makes a difference.”

Chapla oversaw in-person/hybrid instruction at Father Judge from September through November 20, when the City of Philadelphia mandated that high school instruction become remote. As he sat in an empty classroom, preparing to distribute Senior Class rings in a drive-thru ceremony, Chapla reflected on what he has learned about his 740 students through this unprecedented time.

“Our boys became fast learners – much faster than we expected. We taught them the COVID system of how Judge would operate, and they stepped up to it. They’ve boldly unmuted just as we learned to do in our Neubauer Fellowship cohort. I‘m proud of that – and of the faculty and staff who helped make it happen.”