In Full Bloom

May 11, 2017 

Just as the longer days, sunnier skies, and warmer spring air awakens the greenery of San Francisco, these final months also bring the learning that has been germinating throughout the school year to full bloom.  

This is expressed most vividly during the soirees, art shows, and assemblies that are a wonderful part of life at San Francisco Day School.  Our recent 3rd and 4th-grade soiree left me in awe of the beauty and intricacy of our solar system as a result of the remarkably integrated display of science and music.  The soiree exemplified what can happen when teachers from seemingly different disciplines of learning co-create masterpieces of integrated curriculum. Not only did the students make scaled models of the planets, but through dance and song, they showcased the inter-relatedness of the solar system.  I also have a deeper understanding of lunar cycles after watching our students demonstrate the interaction between light and shadow with hand drums, a spotlight, and song. 

A similarly magnificent exhibition of light and shadow illuminating student learning was the 8th-grade light box project. Another example of the integration of art and science, our students leveraged their new knowledge about protons and neutrons, used tools in the Science and Innovation Labs, and put to work the skills they acquired in their art classes to make silhouettes that showed limitless student imagination.

A few days later, I witnessed the inventiveness of the 4th graders blossoming with expressions of ingenuity in their circuit projects.  Integrating art and science, the students created electrical currents using switches and motors to cool, race, wag, spin, light, lift, and transport their handmade machines and games.  Batteries supplied the power for their projects, but the energy of the students was fueled by their imagination and curiosity.

The 8th graders’ Celebr8 projects felt like the harvest of a thoughtful approach to learning that our soon-to-graduate students have cultivated through their years at SF Day.  Using design thinking to pursue a deeper understanding of a passion of their choosing, the students used their inquisitiveness and academic skills to advance a cause, raise awareness of social issues, create artistic expressions, or address institutional needs. The ability of our students to stand in front of an audience of their peers and adults and express a complex idea with such poise, skill, and knowledge is a distinguishing outcome of an SF Day education. 

Our job as a school is to send forth young people who have the conviction, confidence, and skills to not only contribute to their communities - but to change the world. As I watched our 8th graders share their Celebr8 projects, I knew that these future engineers, activists, artists, policy makers, and entrepreneurs were ready for more than just the next step in their education. The manner in which they combined their academic knowledge and skills with their creative inclinations to find imaginative solutions to issues of importance to them and others fills me, as does the spring sun, with the warm glow of optimism. 

Looking In and Looking Out

March 09, 2017 

Design thinkers look both within and outside of their organizations as a source of insight and inspiration.  Similarly, schools can better understand their own practices and culture through gathering information from their own constituencies, while also looking outside of their school for perspective and context.
The messaging work we have engaged in with Mission Minded is an example of SFDS looking both “in and outside” of the school.  Thank you to everyone who took the time to respond to the survey sent out by Mission Minded last month. The feedback you provided will help us better understand what we value and how we experience the school.  We also reached out to individuals “outside” of SFDS to help provide perspective.  These two sources of information will shape how we frame and communicate the impact that SFDS is having on the lives of not only the children, but everyone associated with the school.
The California Association of Independent School (‘CAIS’) accreditation process, which we are preparing for now, is another internally-focused process designed to help us reflect upon who we are and how we are doing as a school. As a way of familiarizing myself with the new CAIS criteria and instrument, I served on an accreditation team for another Bay Area school last month. This intensive three-day experience was a deep dive into the curriculum, finances, governance structures, and culture of another school. While this is a significant commitment during the course of a busy school year, it is done as a service to other schools. As focused as I was on another school, working on the accreditation team helped me better understand, and appreciate, the dynamics, structures, and culture of SFDS.
I thought my days of "red-eyes" were over when I left Hawaii, nevertheless, after the day-long session with Mission Minded, I took the late flight to Baltimore to attend the National Association of Independent School ('NAIS') annual conference. NAIS provided several opportunities to “look out” and gather valuable insight through workshops and presentations.  For example, I spent the first afternoon with representatives from the national Breakthrough Collaborative.  I learned a tremendous amount about the program, partnerships, finance, and governance structures of other schools involved in similar outreach.  While Breakthrough SF is a single site, the national network we are a part of is a source of support and information.
Several speakers furthered my “outside” looking. The opening NAIS keynote was a riveting performance by Onaje X.O. Woodbine, the author of Black Gods of the Asphalt: Religion, Hip-Hop, and Street Basketball.  A teacher of philosophy and religious studies at Phillips Academy, his life experiences shaped his message about self-determination and culture, which brought the five thousand attendees to their feet.
Later that day I attended a challenging workshop on “Organizational Change” led by Dr. Todd Jick from the Columbia School of Business. The seminar was centered around a case study of a school undergoing dramatic change. We focused on how to frame communication strategies for school constituencies impacting or experiencing change within our organizations.  I left with a renewed commitment for the imperative of continual institutional growth, and a better understanding of what it takes to sustain it.
Charles Fadel, the author of Four Dimensions of Education, was another featured speaker.  His session not only added to my reading list, but his work provides a framework for redesigning curriculum in order to better prepare our students for a world that continues to change at a dramatic pace. A futurist and technologist, Dr. Fadel started the Center for Curricular Design at the Harvard School of Graduate Education as a source of information and inspiration for schools. His writing will inform the work we are doing to create learning spaces that are inviting, flexible, reconfigurable, and support collaborative, project-based learning. You will learn more about these learning spaces in upcoming "raise the paddle" communications next week.
Many of you are likely to be familiar with the work of Sir Ken Robinson.  If not, this Ted Talk encapsulates his genius and is worth a few minutes of your time. Always engaging, I have followed Sir Ken for years.  His message of the importance of creativity in the educational process resonates with the ethos of SFDS, is an example of how we want to transform the instructional spaces, and will be a significant part of the messaging Mission Minded is helping us develop.

What I love the most about schools is how everyone, children and adults alike, is engaged in and impacted by the energy of learning. What happens in our classrooms on a daily basis is part of and related to the learning taking place in regional, national, and global organizations. Design thinkers know the importance of looking both within an organization while also keeping an eye outwards in order to benefit from all of the thinking and learning surrounding us. At SFDS, we are making a conscientious effort to do both.

Celebrating Democracy and the Values Upon Which It Is Built

January 18, 2017 

As I sat quietly on the morning of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, my reflections were influenced by the Friday afternoon Buddy Day activities at school.  The children, in mixed age groups (which is, in my opinion, SFDS at its best), spent the afternoon learning about this extraordinary man, his message, and the social movement that transformed a nation.  


The students then discussed their own “values,” and turned their ideas into visuals by making signs expressing what is important to them.  Their touching comments about family, honesty, and integrity inspired nothing but confidence in how grounded in goodness they are.  Moved by music, the entire school paraded through the hallways and convened in the gym for more singing and learning about how our country was changed by the courage and conviction of a man who raised up a set of values. 

For the past few months, the faculty has been planning for how MLK Day might frame and inform the inauguration as our country prepares for another period of transition. Typically, inauguration days are used to teach about the democratic process.  The tone and tenor that became the norm during this election has been an opportunity to reinforce how we want our community to interact, which differs from what the children have been seeing through the media. 

As if on cue, President Obama provided the basis of our lesson plan in his farewell address last week.  For those of you who have not heard or read his remarks, in addition to his moving expression of love and gratitude to his wife and daughters, the President outlined what it means, and takes, to be a democracy.


“Understand, democracy does not require uniformity.  Our founders quarreled and compromised, and expected us to do the same. But they knew that democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity – the idea that for all our outward differences, we are all in this together; that we rise or fall as one.”

This statement can be a model for how we educate children at SFDS. We invite  differences and an array of well-considered and informed opinions and we discuss them with the understanding that we share common goals and embrace that we are “all in this together.” 

The President went on to provide us with a primer for critical thinking, another hallmark of the SFDS curriculum.

“Politics is a battle of ideas; in the course of a healthy debate, we’ll prioritize different goals and the different means of reaching them.  But without some common baseline of facts; without a willingness to admit new information, and concede that your opponent is making a fair point, and that science and reason matter, we’ll keep talking past each other, making common ground and compromise impossible.”


The President’s call to finding common ground, while acknowledging and honoring differences, is a lesson for us all.  I appreciated, was moved by, and will take my cues from the President’s clarity about race. 

“There’s a second threat to our democracy – one as old as our nation itself.  After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America.  Such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic.  For race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society.  I’ve lived long enough to know that race relations are better than they were 10, or 20, or 30 years ago – you can see it not just in statistics, but in the attitudes of young Americans across the political spectrum. But we’re not where we need to be.  All of us have more work to do.”

At SFDS we acknowledge and embrace that there is indeed more work to do - that is our purpose and the reason we exist as a school.  As the nation makes a transition this week, our primary goal at SFDS is for the students to feel safe.  We want SFDS to be a sanctuary of civility.  We are going to use the inauguration as an opportunity to better understand what it means to be a democracy and to celebrate our freedoms, to respect our differences, and embrace the work and common goals ahead of us. 


As I have shared with the faculty during our preparation for the inauguration, there has never been a more important time to be an educator. Our responsibility is to shape a generation that cares for each other and our world in a manner that expresses the values the students rallied around last Friday.  Witnessing our students’ enthusiasm and actions on Buddy Day filled me with inspiration and confidence in your children, and this sense of optimism was also expressed by President Obama during his farewell remarks.  

“That’s why I leave this stage tonight even more optimistic about this country than I was when we started.  Because I know our work has not only helped so many Americans; it has inspired so many Americans – especially so many young people out there – to believe you can make a difference; to hitch your wagon to something bigger than yourselves.  This generation coming up – unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic – I’ve seen you in every corner of the country.  You believe in a fair, just, inclusive America; you know that constant change has been America’s hallmark, something not to fear but to embrace, and you are willing to carry this hard work of democracy forward.  You’ll soon outnumber any of us, and I believe as a result that the future is in good hands.”

As educators and parents, the role we play in the lives of the next generation is our call to action.

2017-18 School Year Key Dates

January 06, 2017 

Each year SFDS carefully considers the design of the school calendar, which includes the placement of professional development days, parent conferences, and special events such as holiday concerts, graduation, and grandparent and special friends day.  We reconsider these dates every year based on shifting holidays and the needs of the community.  The school calendar meets the California Association of Independent Schools criteria.  A more detailed calendar with additional conference, special events, AEP coverage, and coffee dates will be shared later in the year, but we wanted to release this overview of the master calendar. Thank you!

Tuesday, August 29:  First Day of School

Monday, September 4:  No School (Labor Day)

Monday, October 9:  No School (Fall Holiday)
October 30-31:  Parent/Teacher Conferences (No School)

Friday, November 17: Half Day - Noon Dismissal
November 20-21:  No School (Faculty Work Days)
November 22-24: No School (Thanksgiving Break)

Friday, December 15:  Half Day - Noon Dismissal
December 18-January 2: No School (Winter Break)

Monday, January 15:  No School (MLK Jr. Day) 

Friday, February 16:  Grandparent & Special Friends Day/Half Day
February 19-23: No School (Mid-Winter Break)


Friday, April 6:  No School (Faculty Work Day)
April 9-13:  No School (Spring Break)

Monday, May 28:  No School (Memorial Day)

Friday, June 8:  Last Day of School/Noon Dismissal
Monday, June 11:  8th Grade Graduation

Ushering in the Holiday Season with Gratitude and Collaboration

December 06, 2016 

The musical expression of children is always such a moving way to usher in the holiday season. Their joyful voices lift our spirits and the look on their faces as they sing and perform warms us to the core of our being. 

Inspired by the music teachers’ masterful orchestration, after the Thanksgiving concert, the faculty spent Friday afternoon and the following Monday and Tuesday engaged in a series of equally considered professional development activities.  These invaluable sessions advance the strategic initiatives for the year and their outcomes directly impact our students’ instructional experience.

Moved by the morning music, Loren Moyé and Betsy Brody guided the faculty into candid discussions about what it means to be a diverse and inclusive community.  The activity that framed the discussion centered on an exploration of the “self's” by which we define ourselves. We transitioned from these highly personal reflections into discussions with our core teams about which “self’s” we bring to school, and how that influences and shapes our relationships and interactions. As we wrapped up the day, a pause settled across the room, perhaps an expression of having just explored a deeper part of our connection to each other.

We reconvened Monday morning to work on the K-8 curricular alignment, one of the major strategic initiatives for the year.  Each grade level is framing the curriculum around an instructional theme, essential questions, and enduring understandings.  This inquiry-based and integrated approach will result in an overview that will enable us to better understand and monitor the K-8 progression of the curriculum.  As we complete this K-8 overview, grade levels are outlining the major units of study, enabling us to highlight the progression of content areas and skill progressions.

The faculty core team leading the Universal Design for Learning ("UDL") work spent lunch engaged in a webinar with the UDL consultants we have contracted with for the year. The highly interactive session focused on the specifics of lesson design. We are increasingly using a UDL lens to design lessons that enable children to express their learning in a manner that better reflects their interests, dispositions, capacities, and areas of growth.

After the webinar, the core team led the faculty in a series of small group workshops looking more specifically at lesson design, specifically focusing on math, the writing process, social studies, and assessments. 

On Tuesday morning the faculty was introduced to FolioCollaborative, a collaboration of over 125 schools from around the world who have created a tool designed to support faculty in their professional growth through a systematic process of reflection, goal setting, and regular feedback. The network represents some of the best independent schools in the country, and our involvement in this collaborative will strengthen our collective professional growth and performance.

Teachers then had time in their grade level teams to focus on specific areas of the curriculum, which included but were not limited to looking at the writing curriculum across grade levels, preparing service learning activities, planning for upcoming Outdoor Ed experiences, and prepping for upcoming school-wide performances and activities.

Before faculty left for their well-deserved break, we reconvened in the gym for an activity led by Jackie Richards, the upper school counselor.  Ever mindful of our group’s emotional and dispositional well-being, Jackie had us assemble in circles. We expressed personal appreciations for our colleagues as we passed a ball of yarn back and forth, which produced a tangible web of gratitude demonstrating how we are all interconnected as a result of our collective work with your children.  Just as the holiday concerts touch our most gentle selves, so too did this activity.  As we stood shoulder-to-shoulder with our colleagues, connected by our words of gratitude, we felt how united we are as a professional community guiding and shaping the lives of children.

Giving Thanks and Giving Back

November 28, 2016 

On Thanksgiving morning, SFDS families packaged and delivered over 300 meals to our neighbors at Zygmunt Arendt House and Mercy Terrace. Thank you to Amie Nenninger for coordinating and to Darioush Epicurus for their donations.  We are grateful to be part of a caring and generous community.

Achieving "Swing" as a School...Let's Rally!

October 26, 2016 

The traditional SFDS Halloween Parade is just days away...and I am sorry to say I won’t be there, at least, not in person.  I am currently traveling to the Annual INDEX (Independent School Data Exchange) meeting in Chicago, IL.  Rest assured I will certainly be at SFDS in spirit (pun intended) and look forward to seeing photos of our creative students and teachers enjoying the holiday festivities together.  Before the community is enveloped in candy, costumes, tricks, and treats, I wanted to touch on the recent Town Hall meetings and thank all of you who were able to participate.  
I hope all of you who were able to attend one of the three Town Hall Meetings left feeling more informed and connected to SFDS’s strategic thinking and initiatives.  The references to the book “Boys in the Boat” express our aspirations of rallying all of the school’s constituencies around our collective efforts to improve and advance the learning and growth of the students.  
This link takes you an overview of the initiatives, including a bibliography that I have been referring to in both the Town Halls and during the admissions tours because it provides a research-based context to our interpretation of the mission statement.  The discussion, questions, and feedback I received during and after the Town Hall Meetings have been very helpful. Reflecting elements of design thinking, this is an iterative process. As we move forward with the initiatives, we will be evaluating and modifying our goals as we assimilate what we are learning from the process.
As discussed in the Town Halls, the main initiative this year is to engage the community in a process that will enable us to embrace a common language that expresses who we are and where we want to go as a school. Our community will be strengthened when we all have a common language that expresses the core values and instructional ethos of SFDS. The outcomes of this process will streamline our communications to both the internal and external communities, and clarify our philosophical and strategic directions. We will be reaching out to the entire community during the research phase of the process, and we will be providing updates as our work progresses.

An example of what we hope to accomplish through this process is to affirm and reinvigorate SFDS’s commitment to diversity.  In addition to being a part of the mission statement, it was evident during the search process and became clearer during my first year that this is both a precious and sensitive topic. The goal, as an expression of "swing," is to engage every constituency (students, faculty, administration, parents, the board) in deeper discussions about what it means and takes to be a more diverse and inclusive community.  Using techniques we recently learned at the Future of Diversity Symposium hosted by Georgetown Day School, this initiative is already under way.  In addition to what is taking place in the classrooms, hallways, and play yards, the first PGD meeting of the year and the Community Meeting last week have been exceptional examples of the adults in the community leaning into substantive discussions about issues that impact us personally and as a community.  The faculty will engage in similar discussions during the November in-service days.
The Town Hall Meetings enabled me to, in greater detail, elaborate on the curricular alignment we are working on this year.  I set the context by briefly explaining that SFDS is an independent school because it chooses to be curricularly independent - it is a philosophical, instructional, and financial choice.  As an independent school we are free of the mandated curriculums, and in my opinion, overly standardized assessment models more typical of the public system.  
That being the case, there was a strong element of irony in that I spent a portion of the Town Hall Meetings talking about the ERBs.  I chose to do so because, based on my experience last year, there was a need to clarify what the ERBs are, and are not, and share how we use the summary data to benchmark curricular progressions, which are quite encouraging - particularly in relation to math.  As we proceed with further aligning the K-8 curriculum, we will continue to monitor various sources of data.  We are going to ask parents to complete a brief survey during parent conferences to provide additional data points.
The Town Halls were also an opportunity for me to provide more background about Universal Design for Learning (UDL). UDL is a framework based on neuroscience that understands and embraces learner variability as a starting point in curriculum design and implementation.  The UDL framework helps us apply this approach directly in the classroom environment.  In addition to our diversity work, we are significantly resourcing this professional development initiative.  Over the course of the past three years, we have sent twelve faculty/administrators to the Harvard Institute, and this year we are engaging the full faculty.  As our practice develops and the curriculum evolves, we will be sharing additional examples of how instruction is being modified to benefit all students.
During the August UDL sessions, the facilitators walked the classrooms looking for how the learning environment itself might impose barriers to learning.  As we have learned from the Innovate & Create spaces, creating learning spaces that are flexible and reconfigurable enables a plethora of learning opportunities.  As we plan for the future of SFDS, understanding how the physical space itself impacts and enables learning will be a major area of focus. I have spent the past twenty years of my career designing and modifying learning environments, and I have seen firsthand how physical space not only enhances learning but can in and of itself become an essential curricular element.
Just as students benefit from regular feedback, so do professional educators. During the search process, the faculty expressed this as an area of need and we have initiated the work of designing a system that will support the continued professional growth of the faculty.
I provided a brief overview of the school’s financial model during the discussion about what it means to be an independent school.  As an independent institution, tuition is the primary source of revenue. Additionally, our school’s deep history of philanthropy and healthy endowment benefits every currently enrolled student, every day. That, in addition to the Annual Fund and Culturefest, enables the school to offer a broad curricular experience that includes the visual arts, music, outdoor education, athletics, innovation, professional development, and discounted tuition.
As an example of  inter-generational “swing”,  the generous philanthropy of families over the past 35 years has not only enabled SFDS to become the exceptional school it is, but it also inspires us to contemplate and plan for how the school can continue to evolve and impact the lives of students and families for generations to come.  To that end, the board of trustees is engaged in a robust study of how to position SFDS so that it is affordable and accessible while continuing to offer an outstanding educational program that enables every student to discover and develop their interests, passions, and aptitudes within a joyful learning community.
My infatuation with “Boys in the Boat” expresses the beauty I find in a story that demonstrates how a community made up of diverse backgrounds and talents can rally together for a noble cause, and in doing so, achieve a dream.  SFDS exists today because a community, over time, rallied to provide children an educational experience that enables them to pursue their dreams.  Enabling children to pursue their dreams...what could be nobler? 

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An Unprecedented Election

September 19, 2016 

Last Thursday I participated in a NAIS webinar entitled, “Conversational Leadership: Convening Difference, Asking Questions That Matter, and Turning Toward One Another in Complex, Charged, and Uncertain Times.”  A lengthy title indeed, but what compelled over one hundred school heads from across the country to join this conversation was the desire to help their schools frame discussions around the unprecedented dynamic surrounding the upcoming election. The impressive and robust technology we used enabled us to interact with national leaders in the field, then break into smaller discussion groups to explore the issue in depth.
If there was a prevailing sentiment, it was that the tone of this election, more so than any other in our collective experience, runs counter to how we teach children to interact and engage in dialogue.  Election years are typically an opportunity to teach students about the democratic process and engage them in substantive curricular explorations of important and relevant issues. This, according to John Dewey, is essential for perpetuating our democratic process.
Recognizing third person pronoun usage was different in 1899, Dewey in "School and Society" explained that every school must become "an embryonic community life, active with types of occupations that reflect the life of the larger society and permeated throughout with the spirit of art, history, and science. When the school introduces and trains each child of society into membership within such a little community, saturating him with the spirit of service, and providing him with instruments of effective self-direction, we shall have the deepest and best guarantee of a larger society which is worthy, lovely and harmonious."
The dilemma for educators this year is that the tone, language, dialogue, and interactions of the candidates contradict how we teach, or for that matter, even allow students to interact.  During the webinar, regardless of geographic region, my colleagues expressed their concern that what the students are seeing and hearing this election is a democratic process that has digressed into name-calling and loud condemnations of character.  Character is an important qualification for leadership. We want children to understand that the observations we make about someone else's character are often a reflection of our own character.
Before the start of school, the SFDS faculty spent time discussing this election in preparation for the school year. While the social, economic, environmental, and political issues facing our country are compelling and crucial, we recognized that focusing on group norms and teaching students how to engage in civil dialogue, in spite of what they might be seeing in the media, should be our first priority.
This did not require us to rewrite how we teach students to interact. Rather, we are embracing this election as an opportunity to reinforce that we want SFDS students to be good listeners, to be kind, to respect and embrace a diversity of viewpoints, to be effective critical thinkers, ask thoughtful questions, be analytical, check facts, validate sources of information, and be creative problem solvers. We want our students, in age appropriate ways, to research, discuss, and understand the complex issues facing our country - which should be the focus of an election.
In order to experience the importance of voting, we will be conducting a mock election as asimulation of the democratic process. The upper school Student Congress will engage in an election to select class representatives.  As they do, they will be models of the agreed upon group norms as they publically state their agendas.
Over the course of the next few months, as the dialogue in the country escalates, we want to stay in discussion with you.  The resources we are using to guide our curricular planning are listed below.  The first Parent Group on Diversity meeting this Tuesday (6:15 p.m. in the Library) will be an opportunity for parents to discuss how the dynamics of this election are playing out in your households.
Online Resources:
Each of us, in our own way, is looking for meaning in our lives. The adults working with your children know that how they teach these students to interact and relate to each other will, in significant ways, influence the kind of people they grow up to be and the impact they will have on their communities. As I get to know these children and see the experience they are having at SFDS, I am nothing but optimistic about the future of our democracy and country.

We Are Off and Running

September 06, 2016 

In my experience, there are few events as exciting and invigorating as the beginning of a new school year.  I have, of course, chosen a life in schools, which influences these sentiments.

Nevertheless, all of the sights and sounds of school–the faces of children and parents as they enter school, find their way to new classrooms, are greeted by teachers, reacquainted with friends, and begin new friendships–collectively trigger and fulfill the fundamental human need to learn, to explore, and to be connected with others. 

I feel so grateful, and am myself rejuvenated, to be encompassed by this energy on a daily basis.  By its very nature, learning is a social, collaborative act. How a school comes together as a community, supporting and celebrating learning, is indeed the essential element that enables a child to thrive as a learner and evolve as a person.

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Welcome Back to School

August 11, 2016 

As consuming as the move to San Francisco was last summer, it felt great to come back here, exit SFO, and step into the fresh, cool air to head "home."  These last two months have indeed provided time for reflection, learning, and rejuvenation, which is why I am looking forward to the incredible energy that our students, faculty, and families will soon bring with them to campus.

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