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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The Ebb and Flow of School Life

June 29, 2016 

I am just back from the annual California Association of Independent Schools (“CAIS”) Heads’ Conference in Santa Barbara, a nice reprieve from the modestly foggy summer we are having in San Francisco.  I found the bougainvillea-lined streets, the Spanish architecture, and the warm sandy beaches a wonderful blend of Mexico and Hawaii, two places dear to me. 

As soothing as the warm weather was, the time I spent with colleagues sharing stories and ideas, and the two keynote speakers, Dr. Jo Boaler ( and Dr. Dan Siegel (, were all inspiring and revitalizing.  I bookended the drive down and back with Angela Duckworth’s audiobook, “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.”

As I continue to sort through the ideas of these three accomplished authors, researchers, and neuroscientists, I am finding connections in their theories, even though one talks about the teaching of math, another about the importance of grit, and the third about finding fulfillment and a sense of purpose in our lives. I will be referencing their work during the school year, but if you have time this summer, I encourage you to familiarize yourself with their websites and books as their work will undoubtedly influence and inform our strategic directions and curricular framework. We are looking forward to Dr. Boaler’s (featured on the right) talk as part of the SPEAK SF series this fall.

Just as the waves lapping the shores of Santa Barbara express a natural rhythm, so too is there an ebb and flow to life in schools. We are happy to report that several of our co-teachers (Kayla Stoler, Michael Shin, Guillermo Cortez) launched their careers and found lead teacher roles in good schools, just as the program is designed to prepare them to do. As a result, there will be two new co-teachers next year. Ms. Michelle Leung has taught in Australia, Shanghai, and Taipei and will bring a bilingual presence into Ms. Lewis’s kindergarten classroom. Ms. Jamie Yuen Shore, who has an extensive background in theater and is a graduate of Lick-Wilmerding High School and Stanford University, will be the co-teacher in Ms. Graham’s fifth-grade class.  Ms. Dauer, the newly appointed Director of Co-Teachers Program at SFDS, will now be mentoring the co-teachers as Ms. Nye will be job-sharing in third grade with Ms. Tybinka, who is returning from maternity leave.

Several of the current co-teachers will “loop” (remain with students for more than one year) as a way of providing instructional continuity for the students while gaining experience in other grade levels.  In first grade, Ms. Roach will co-teach with Ms. Waskow, and Ms. Radravu will work with Ms. Green.  Ms. Rudolph, the LRP teacher, will also loop with the students and go to first grade, and Ms. Covington will cycle back to kindergarten.  Ms. Forbes will move to second and co-teach with Ms. Sturm.  Mr. Ongsiaco, who was an instructional aide in first grade last year, will be the co-teacher in Ms. Hale’s kindergarten class. Ms. Viridiana Priest, who worked with us last year in the library and as a substitute, will be the instructional aide in first grade.  Ms. Priest is bilingual (Spanish) and will be communicating with students in Spanish (as I do) as a way of developing and advancing their language acquisition.  

Ms. Hatem will start the year on maternity leave, returning in late November.  We are so grateful that Ms. Regan Pritzker, who taught in fifth grade last year, will work with Ms. Garcia, who co-taught with Ms. Hatem last year.

Ms. Keisha Williams will be joining us this year as the Lower School Counselor.  Ms. Williams has extensive clinical experience and most recently was in private practice in NYC.   

Ms. Jess Boyles, sixth-grade LRP, decided to pursue career opportunities closer to home, so we are pleased that Dr. Alyson Kaneshiro will return to the sixth grade LRP role she was in last year.  

The gatherings celebrating Ms. Paine’s retirement were expressions of the lives she influenced and inspired.  We are pleased to welcome Mr. Jake Sproull, a graduate of Dartmouth with over twenty years of independent school experience, to the seventh-grade team.  Mr. Sproull has taught in Breakthrough and The John Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, and was the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship.  In addition to leading international student travel, he has worked in high school placement in San Francisco. 

Ms. Erin Wright will be our new Director of Advancement.  Ms. Wright comes to us from Phillips Brooks School where she was the Director of Development, a role she also played at the Washington International School in D.C.   Ms. Wright also sits on the board of her alma mater, the Saint Andrew’s Episcopal School.  Ms. Jamieson Bunn has accepted a position at The Urban School, so we are currently conducting a search for the next Annual Fund Director.

Many of you have already met Mr. Rob Eifler, the Director of After-School Programs, who started with us last April.  We have all benefitted from his fresh perspective and entrepreneurial inclinations, and we are looking forward to growing the after-school and summer offerings under his leadership.

Several areas of the building are also undergoing transition. The lobby is being painted, brightened, and will be more spacious, and the hallways will be lined with new lockers, improving both the look and flow. Two of the science rooms are being renovated and incorporated into the Innovate & Create Spaces, forging a curricular connection between the sciences and the emergent design, maker, and innovation curricula. 

Wendy and I are looking forward to time with family and friends next month.  I have been invited by one of my professors to do some guest teaching in the University of Hawaii Ed.D. program, which I will enthusiastically engage in between the dawn and evening surf sessions. As much as I look forward to warm waves, the quiet waits between sets will provide time to reflect upon all I have learned and experienced this year.  As I reach my one-year mark at SFDS, I feel more in rhythm with the ebb and flow of the school. As I lift my sights to our collective instructional horizon, I am nothing but eager for and optimistic about all of the learning and opportunities ahead. 

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Screening at SFDS on May 18

May 10, 2016 

All families and upper school children (grades 5-8) are invited to a special screening of the recently released documentary “Screenagers: Growing up in the Digital Age.”  This film delves into the challenges families and children face today with respect to varying aspects of technology and their impacts on our lives: academics, social media, video games, and internet addiction.  The filmmaker, Delaney Ruston, shares stories and insights from authors, psychologists, and brain scientists to shed light on "how tech time impacts children's development and offers solutions on how adults can empower kids to best navigate the digital world and find balance." (
For a parent guidebook to help start and/or continue the conversation at home, please click here.
Date: Wednesday, May 18
Time: 6:00-7:30 p.m.
Location: SFDS Library
Please RSVP online: CLICK HERE.
Childcare for students currently enrolled at SFDS is available by AEP.  This event is brought to you by the SFDS Parents Association.

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