How We Support and Advance the Learning of Our Students

February 07, 2018 

In a moment of public vulnerability at the Room Parents meeting last week, I disclosed my newfound infatuation with the accreditation process organized by the California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS).

I confessed that in the previous ten accreditations I have been involved with as a teacher, administrator, accreditation team member, and team chair, I always approached the process professionally and dutifully, but not with the same level of enthusiastic appreciation I now feel for how this highly reflective process can rejuvenate and focus a school. As San Francisco Day School continues to prepare for our own accreditation, I wanted to share with you more detail regarding our own process and progress.

While an accreditation serves to validate the proficiency of a school based on a set of standards, in 2013-14 CAIS revamped their criteria and launched a portal in order to guide schools through a deeply thoughtful process designed to shape and inform strategic directions. Their tool captures the systemic complexity of schools, which I find fascinating, and emphasizes the importance of mission alignment and ongoing improvement of practice, which is the hallmark of a highly effective school. 

The CAIS accreditation instrument is organized into six sections:

  • School Mission: This section examines the mission statement as an expression of institutional purpose and core values.
  • Educational Program: This section focuses on teaching and learning with an emphasis on the curricular program, the student learning experience, faculty and pedagogy, and climate and community.
  • Financial Sustainability: This section analyzes data and information pertaining to enrollment, budgets, and advancement.
  • Operations: This section studies our school’s human resource considerations, the upkeep and management of the facility, and issues associated with health, safety, and wellness.
  • Institutional Stewardship and Leadership: This section examines governance, highlighting the role and work of the board and administration, focusing on how the school assesses, plans, and innovates.  Of note is the fact that the accreditation criteria presumes that schools are consistently innovating.
  • Institutional Improvement and Sustainability: This final section reviews how a school gathers and analyzes information to inform decision making, institutional initiatives, and strategic change. As part of our self-study report, we will also compile a data dashboard which synthesizes the financial and demographic profile of the school. In all, the self-study highlights all of the things we do to support and advance the learning of our students.

At SF Day, we are fortunate to have a truly engaged community, including a committed and dedicated faculty. Our faculty has already devoted many hours to our self-study and I would like to take a moment to thank all those who have taken on leadership roles throughout this process. Dr. Sokolov is chairing the steering committee coordinating the work. Thanks also go to Lauren Becker, Michael Duryee-Browner, Sylvia Rodriguez Douglass, Amanda Elliston, Andrea Green, Megan Buttery Green, and Loren Moye for stepping forward and helping to lead. In addition, Marcella Anwandter, Cathy Aragon, Melissa Brown, Homa Hanjani, Michelle Phillips, Steve Roberts, Leah Shoaff, Jason Tognetti, Susan Wayland, Christine Wong (board member), and Erin Wright are guiding the information gathering that will inform the various chapters of the report. 

We will be engaging parents and guardians in the self-study during upcoming class coffees and parent/guardian meetings. Please monitor The Week Ahead email for announcements of those dates. We are looking forward to your input and insights.

This year, we have focused the professional development days and faculty meetings on the self-study. We will be writing the initial draft of the complete report over the summer, and editing the final report during the fall. A visiting team of peer educators will be on campus for three days this time next year. They will submit a report to CAIS, which will be reviewed during the summer of 2019.

CAIS Heads of School are expected to chair or serve on accreditation teams two out of every three years. Susan Wayland and Ruth Bissell have just returned from accreditation visits themselves. I have, as they did, thoroughly enjoyed the work and learned a tremendous amount from the experience. In addition to improving our familiarity with the tool and the process, there is nothing like looking closely at other schools to broaden your understanding of all schools, which is an excellent way to know and appreciate your own school.

Tickets on sale now for Breakthrough Event!

January 05, 2018 

Tickets are now available for the Breakthrough event on Tuesday, February 13, 2018.  This year, Breakthrough's annual fundraiser will feature keynote speaker, Jim Shelton.  Jim Shelton is a parent at San Francisco Day School and oversees education strategy for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. He previously served as Deputy Secretary of Education under President Obama; President and Chief Impact Officer at 2U, Inc.; and Program Director for Education at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Jim holds a bachelor's degree in computer science from Morehouse College, and master's degrees in business administration and education from Stanford University. Learn more and find tickets here. Thank you for your support of our work!

Gateway to the Holiday Season

December 13, 2017 

The joyful music, song, and voices of our students in the holiday assemblies have become the gateway to the season for me. Our spirits are lifted and the tone is set as we prepare gatherings with family and friends. As we head into a well-deserved winter vacation after this Friday, I want to update you on all that has taken place since the Thanksgiving break.

As ready as our faculty and staff were for their Thanksgiving dinners, we spent three days engaged in meaningful and productive professional development before heading out. Time was allocated to continuing the work of aligning the curriculum along a K-8 continuum. The faculty participated in a highly interactive webinar with the Universal Design for Learning consultants. Together, they reviewed and refined their lesson designs to incorporate more variability and choice into our students’ learning experiences. Loren Moye and Betsy Brody led deep discussions helping us explore what it means to be a diverse and inclusive community and advanced the integration of a social justice curriculum from kindergarten to eighth grade.

The CAIS self-study was a major focus of the professional development days. Dr. Sokolov, along with the accreditation steering committee and a host of faculty facilitators, engaged our entire faculty and staff in a series of reflective activities. Faculty began gathering data for the various self-study chapters, including School Mission, Educational Program, Student Learning Experience, Faculty and Pedagogy, Climate and Community, Health, and Safety and Wellness.

We also took advantage of the students being out of the building to conduct a “shelter in place” drill, part of the review we are doing of all our safety procedures. In the upcoming months, we will provide an update on the modifications we are making to our fire, earthquake, and security procedures.  Before we headed off to the break, Wendy and I hosted a “pau hana” for everyone at our house, a casual Hawaiian-style gathering at the end of a productive workday

After Thanksgiving break, SF Day hosted meetings for parents and neighbors to provide updates on our campus master planning. The architects from Studio Bondy were with us as we shared an overview of the programmatic aspirations outlined in the October Town Hall meetings. We could not have been more pleased with the tone and outcome of the meetings. Attendees appreciated our gesture of inviting them in for this preparatory meeting and responded well to our planning and openness.  In addition to displaying preliminary design concepts showing the potential scope and scale of the facility, we discussed our plans to submit an update to our Conditional Use Permit (CUP) in January.  Our CUP is regulated by the City of San Francisco, and it governs campus use, including the maximum number of students we are able to enroll. We intend to apply for a modest increase to the enrollment cap of 10-20% to allow for flexibility in the number of students on campus as we look towards the future. This does not necessarily mean that we will increase the student body by this number, but recognizing that schools submit these applications once every thirty years or so, we are positioning SF Day for the unforeseeable future.  Assuming we receive permit approval, any changes in enrollment would not be actionable until 2020. Should we proceed, changes to enrollment would be incremental and focus on the upper grades where we could add students with current staffing levels.

This week, we will host the final admissions tour of the year. We have received very positive and compelling feedback on the theme of “Intellect and Imagination Intertwined.” Last Thursday evening, we hosted a successful “Windows and Mirrors” reception for prospective families. Once again, our faculty and parent body were our best ambassadors, speaking to and exemplifying the school's commitment to creating an environment that is diverse and inclusive.  The format of the evening invited all present to share in the tough and ever important conversations our students, faculty, parents, and board lean into every day as we explore what it takes and means to be a diverse and inclusive community. It was clear by the high level of engagement that we all value the individual and collective growth that occurs when we are part of a diverse community. 

As we wrap up this year and head to the next, I want to thank our parents for all the ways you continue to support our school. We will be hosting a coffee cart this Friday morning before the Holiday Assembly as a small token of appreciation for your support of our Annual Fund. Our community’s incredible generosity enables our students to delight in the discovery of connection: in their academic and creative pursuits, in their relationships, and in all that they experience at SF Day.  I am looking forward to the song and music this Friday, and I wish you all a safe, serene, and joyful holiday season. 


SF Day Shopping Day at Sports Basement is December 10

December 04, 2017 

On Sunday, December 10mention your Basementeer account at the register and you will receive 20% off your purchase all day long at any of SB's Bay Area stores (online too!).  If you are not yet signed up as a "Basementeer", you will be able to sign up free of charge to receive this discount and going forward you will receive 10% off and SF Day Parents Association will receive 10% back on all your SB purchases any day of the year.  


With Gratitude

November 17, 2017 

A sign of a vibrant school is when every constituency, from the students to the adults, is vigorously engaged in learning.  That is clearly the case at San Francisco Day School. Every day I see the looks of concentration on the faces of students, along with their animated engagement and joyful participation in all that they experience at SF Day.  This happens when they lean into a complicated math problem, play an instrument in an ensemble, or as they head out the front doors of the school on their way to another outdoor education adventure.

The adults, in their own way, are similarly engaged. The level of parent eagerness to learn is evident by their strong attendance and participation at Back-to-School Nights, Grade-Level Coffees, Town Halls, Tech Talks, and Community Meetings.

I spent two Saturdays this November with trustees in seminars: one was a California Association of Independent Schools ('CAIS') session on trusteeship; the other helped us outline strategies for how to further advance our aspirations and commitments to become a more diverse and inclusive community. Our trustees see the value of a budget that supports our faculty’s keen interest to learn and continue their professional growth, recognizing that the allocation of these resources directly impacts and enhances the learning of our students. 

As you learned in Back-to-School Nights, Coffees, and Town Halls, SF Day made the commitment two years ago to scale Universal Design for Learning to every grade level.  This is an ambitious endeavor, fueled by the faculty’s recognition that this commitment to our collective professional growth significantly enhances our ability to know, understand, and meet the learning needs of every child.

Over the past three years, twelve faculty members have attended Universal Design for Learning Institutes at Harvard University, and this past summer we sent a team of nine to the P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School at the University of Florida for further training.  For the second year, we have engaged CAST (The Center for Applied Special Technology), an educational research organization that works with schools to advance the principles of Universal Design for Learning, to lead the on-site training that every faculty member has been involved in on a regular basis throughout the school year.

As our faculty has gained experience and knowledge from experts beyond the walls of SF Day, they have also embraced the opportunity to learn from one another internally as well.  Teachers at every grade level have been working closely with Cathy Aragon and Sylvia Douglass, our Instructional Coaches.  To advance our learning and refine our instructional practice, Cathy and Sylvia have been “embedded” in classrooms, facilitating grade level planning meetings, leading webinars, working with teachers individually, and planning our professional development. They have been collecting, highlighting, and sharing examples of teachers using Universal Design for Learning practices in a weekly faculty blog, “Notes from the Field.” This work has elevated our professional discourse and practice and improved the learning of every child in the school. We invite you to take a look at a snapshot of Universal Design for Learning at work through this video.

As the holiday season inches closer, I am ever grateful to be part of this thriving learning community.  We have seen countless examples of our community’s desire to support the learning of our students and teachers - Universal Design for Learning and our professional development program being just one.  However, I see these examples everywhere, all over campus.  I am reminded of our successful campaign to refresh the fourth grade and upper school math classrooms, where our students now benefit from flexible furniture and collaborative learning spaces each day.  In fact, I witness our students’ enthusiastic learning in the library, the design spaces, and in all of their classrooms.  Thank you, to all members of our community, for your deep engagement and heartfelt support of our school and our students. I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.

Lower School Tech Talk on October 27

October 20, 2017 

Our SF Day Parents Association is hosting informal conversations to discuss parenting and technology.  Dr. Christopher Sokolov, our Director of Technology & Innovation, will be leading the discussion on best practices around screen time, age-appropriate app and device choices, and ways to interact with our children around the ways they are using digital tools at school.  A similar talk for upper school (grades 5-8) will be held on November 3 at 8:00 a.m.

Click here to sign up for the LS Tech Talk!

Intellects and Imaginations Intertwined

September 20, 2017 

I was standing in the doorway of my office the other morning as students flooded upstairs at the beginning of another new school day.  It gave me great delight to watch a cluster of children slow down to examine the curricular murals along the main hallway.  I loved the way they playfully interacted with the boards, spinning the wheel on one of the murals.  I watched them talk, chatter, inquire, probe, point, and speculate about what they were seeing, reading, and questioning. Their engagement was exactly what we had hoped for when we decided to take the rather novel approach of articulating San Francisco Day School's K-8 curriculum as a visual display.

The idea to do so was an outgrowth of the messaging work we did last year with Mission Minded.  As some of you will recall, we engaged the entire community in a reflective exercise to help us better understand and articulate who we are as a school.  Under the guidance of Mission Minded, an organization that helps non-profit organizations "communicate the importance of their work," we enlisted a team of faculty, parents and guardians, board members, and alumni.  We surveyed all of our current families and faculty and conducted a series of in-depth interviews with individuals with both internal and external associations with the school.

The synthesis of these perspectives helped us distill the essence of SF Day, which is what I saw on display that morning in the hallway. Our students were exploring and anticipating the learning that awaits them not only this year but throughout their entire learning experience at SF Day. Their sharp intellects and limitless imaginations were fully engaged. Just as they were connected by their collective curiosity while exploring the murals, they also saw the connection in everything they will learn and experience at our school. 

As we continue our work with Mission Minded and think more deeply and plan intentionally about how we communicate the philosophical and pedagogical approach of SF Day, the notion of "intellect and imagination intertwined" is the lens through which I am seeing how our students learn and our teachers teach. This year's admission viewbook, Engaging Curious Learners, offers prospective families a peek at what the SF Day experience entails.  I invite you to take a look to understand how we have begun to share the story of our school. 

Last Friday afternoon, a full fifteen minutes before the Fall Festival was set to begin, one of our kindergarteners burst through the front door, tucked a big book under his small arm, and repeatedly asked if he could start reading it right then.  Later, I watched a second-grade student standing still in the midst of all of the movement in the lobby, slowly and gracefully flip the pages of a book and quietly mouth the words she was reading.  I spoke with a mom, who was clearly satisfied sitting on a couch designed for three but occupied by four, and all were fully engrossed in the books spread across their laps. I asked a grandmother on the other couch if she had read the book to the child cuddled next to her, and she replied with animated pleasure, "No, I sang it to her."

These are all examples of intellects and imaginations ignited, something I see all day long.  It is our students holding papers up to the light of a window so they can trace the repetitive pattern of a fractal unfolded before them.  Or students manipulating planks of wood precariously propped on tables at various angles so they can predict and calculate velocity. It is on display in the writing of students as they wrestle their ideas through words onto a blank page.  It is the brilliance of a soiree that expresses the intricacies of the solar system through song and dance. It is the creativity of a P.E. teacher who entices students to stretch and exercise every muscle in their little bodies by calling out different animals for the students to mimic. And, it is in the way our teachers use their intellects to intricately design a learning unit, then unleash their imaginations to determine how to best engage every student in the class.

As I shared during our Back-to-School Nights, I am thoroughly invigorated and moved by the act of a child captivated by learning. The school year has only just begun and yet we are already deep into the development of each student's growth. Our teachers continue to design learning experiences that bridgeintellect and imagination, and in doing so, capture the hearts and minds of every student at SF Day. As I witness these instances and connections every day, I know we are fulfilling our purpose as educators, parents, and as a school. 

A Joyful, Vibrant First Day of School

August 29, 2017 

One of life’s pure pleasures is the uplifting energy of children filling a school at the beginning of a new year.  Much like the paths of the sun and the moon aligning during the eclipse, the way our children sought out and found friends, teachers, and classrooms during the first morning of the school was of equal celestial quality.

Preparing for our students’ return is a summer-long endeavor that intensifies the week before school begins with the return of the faculty.  We started the week thinking deeply and creatively about the curriculum, highlighting instructional themes and essential questions which are now expressed visually through “murals” posted in the main hallway.  


We reviewed our instructional practices using the lens of Universal Design for Learning, increasingly approaching curriculum as a malleable progression of content and skills responsive to the needs and interests of students. This highly reflective process sets the stage for the California Association of IndependentSchools (CAIS) accreditation self-study we will begin this year. We also prepared classrooms, coordinated schedules, planned trips and activities, reviewed safety procedures, and painted and cleaned up the building, along with everything else that goes into getting ready for a new school year.

Led by Loren Moyé and Betsy Brody, the faculty also very intentionally engaged in open and honest conversations regarding the expressions of racism and violence that were recently demonstrated by the events in Charlottesville. We discussed how to best support our students and each other in the midst of challenging times in our nation.

As a school community, our unwavering resolve is to foster an environment that is safe, civil, and hopeful. We want to model for our students by demonstrating how we treat each other, lean into, talk about, and not only embrace but celebrate our differences. As we saw in gatherings across the Bay Area this weekend, one positive outcome of these times is the mobilization of various educational and civil organizations. We are tapping into these resources and using them to guide our curricular planning. We will lead our students to engage in these explorations in ways that are sensitive to age, readiness, and individual differences. For those who would like to continue or introduce the conversation at home, I have included a link to two resources below that offer insights and tips for speaking with your children. 

LA Times article:

Interview with Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith:

The tone that our students set on the first day of the school year is a strong statement about the SF Day community. After the students greeted each other and were welcomed and embraced by their teachers, we all gathered in the gym for an opening assembly.  

An ensemble of students and teachers set a joyful mood by performing a jazzy rendition of Chuck Berry’s “School Days,” including adapted lyrics for SF Day. Ms. Collentine and Dr. Bissell demonstrated that “collaboration makes it happen” and together we sang our school song for the first time this year.  In a stealth move by faculty and staff, the adults at SF Day managed to surprise our students with a flashmob dance.  Led by the unbridled enthusiasm of Mary O'Brien, Mark Ongsiaco, Andrew Maynard, Nora Roach, and Jamie Yuen-Shore, among other teachers, we danced together in the spirit of fun and togetherness. With smiles on our faces and music in our hearts, we then all set off to begin a new year together. To watch the entire assembly, click here.  I continue to be grateful for and inspired by the vitality of SF Day students and the vibrancy of our community.  Welcome back!

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.