A Day in the Life of Michael Gary: COVID Edition


Michael Gary, Head of School

Michael loves the beginning of his day; it is the only thing that has remained the same before and during COVID-19. Michael has a strict routine in the morning. “I wake up every morning at 6am. I get myself ready, put my headphones in and take a relaxing walk from Fairmont to school,” Michael said. “I make sure to get to school at 7:45 so I have time to greet the middle school and lower school students as they enter the building.” 

As Head of School, Michael Gary has had many obstacles to navigate in the 2020-21 school year other than getting his bike stolen the first week of school. The obstacles have drastically affected his daily work routine and lifestyle. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the virus’s impact on Philadelphia has caused schools to be forced to open late or not open at all. As private and public schools in Philadelphia begin to open again, strict guidelines and protocols are being established and will need to be followed closely in order to have a successful school year and return to normality. Michael Gary and FSS have been working hard to make sure that the Friends Select community remains safe. 

Michael’s interaction with the student body has been limited, but he does everything he can to stay connected with the community. Greeting the children as they enter the building is a moment that Michael looks forward to every morning. “The kids at FSS are what get me up in the morning.” By greeting the students, Michael tries to brighten everyone’s day as he knows that the pandemic “is tough on a lot of students and teachers” and “can cause stress to the FSS community.” In the past, Michael took a hands-on approach in his interaction with the FSS community. He attended athletic events, participated in upper school plays, and joined classes. He explained that because of COVID-19 “[He has] not been able to regain a satisfactory level of engagement with the students on the same level as Pre-Covid, which is something [He’s]working on, but it’s hard because [he] likes to be hands-on with the students, but of course we cannot do that now.” Michael has attempted to adapt to these new conditions by attending online zoom classes as frequently as he can. Although it has taken more effort, he is grateful for the opportunity to see the students’ faces.

Michael’s workday has drastically changed since last year, now flooded with work around COVID-19. Because of the pandemic, Michael has been forced to spend more time in his office. Once he gets to his office from greeting the students into the building, he responds to as many emails as he can, “As Head of School, you can imagine how many emails I get,” he says. After answering his emails, he attends meetings over Zoom. A large portion of these meetings transitioned to meetings regarding COVID-19. “It’s become a significant part of my time now to ensure safety to everyone.” Michael meets every day at 4:00 p.m with the administrative council to discuss the school’s Coronavirus guidelines and progression. The group is constantly revising and changing plans for the school as we learn more as the school year progresses. Michael said, “Because it has become such a large part of our lives, it has been a little stressful to manage all of the new meetings with all of my other work.” Although the added work has caused Michael stress, it is worth it to keep the Friends Select community safe. “We have to do it…and we have to do it well to make sure everyone is safe while also enjoying their time at FSS.”

Michael cannot wait until we can all have some normality at FSS but does not want to move quickly and risk the health of our community members. He frequently spends time on Zoom meetings with the heads of other schools and the Association of Independent Schools. During these meetings, he tries to learn what other schools are doing and what works — seeing if he can incorporate these methods into the FSS approach. Although he is constantly working with other schools to figure out how to move forward, Michael does not think we will be moving very fast, “Once the experts say that we can move forward, we will probably begin to. I think we will move a little slowly though.” Michael said. “You can imagine how nervous all of the teachers are. But I don’t see us returning to normal until there is a vaccine.”

When he gets home, he makes sure to watch an hour and a half of news — half local, half national. After watching the news, he will return to answering emails and occasionally attending meetings. Although this year, work has taken over a larger proportion of Michael’s home life, he still finds ways to relax and enjoy his favorite hobbies when not working. His favorite things to do are biking and golfing. “They help me kind of get away from all of the work I do at FSS and at home.” 

Michael knew before he became Head of School that it would require the sacrifice of family time and home time. “I waited until my kids were out of college to take a head job. I knew being the head of school required a lot of sacrifice and I didn’t want to lose any family time because of my work.” Now, because of the pandemic, work is requiring Michael to sacrifice more time out of his life which is something he never expected. “It was definitely unexpected … to have to sacrifice this much time. Who would’ve ever thought we’d be in a pandemic, but you know I have to in order to get my work done. I don’t have to sacrifice all of my time but with the pandemic, it has been harder to choose how much work I do out of school.”