From Roots to Branches

April 21, 2016 

Wendy and I had visitors over spring break. Fifty-six years ago my parents got married in Michigan, drove their Chevy to San Francisco, loaded it and their meager possessions on a boat, and sailed off to Australia. They returned to the U.S.A. with a family a few years later, but last week was their first visit back to San Francisco since the 1950’s.  It was fascinating and exciting to help them rediscover a much-changed city, and revealing to hear their reflections on that significant transition in their now mature lives.
In the midst of a transition myself, I appreciated that the week offered me moments of reflection as well, something I crave as the school year accelerates towards its finale.  The transition plan I presented at the beginning of the year called for a mid-year check-in/reflection that was shared with the faculty, the board, and with parents during February’s Town Hall meeting.  These sessions were opportunities for me to synthesize the themes which surfaced out of hundreds of formal and thousands of impromptu conversations I have now had with  parents, trustees, faculty, alumni, and friends of the school.
Just as I am getting to know the school, the community is getting to know  me and has  likely recognized that I think in images and communicate in metaphors.  As such, I framed the “Six Month Synthesis” around the image of a tree as a way to encourage us all to think about the school as a system - an interconnected and interdependent set of variables that shapes and sustains a complex whole.
The tree metaphor affirms the importance of the school mission as the philosophical roots and as a guiding structure for decision-making and strategic planning.  This year, I have listened carefully for how well the school mission is known, understood, and embraced.  I was also fortunate to meet with and listen to the original authors of our mission, who established that our school founders were inspired to create a school that “educates, nurtures, and inspires girls and boys of diverse backgrounds…”.  Organizations benefit from a periodic reconsideration of their mission statements in order to clarify, reaffirm, or if need be, rejuvenate their purpose, something we should consider prior to our reaccreditation in four years.
Just as branches deliver the nutrients of a tree, so do the people, program, and place/spaces that support a school. The talks with faculty, trustees, and parents allowed me to more extensively elaborate on the impressions I have gathered and my recommendations going forward. I have emphasized that our collective focus needs to be on how to best know, understand, and meet the needs of our learners.  Similarly, how we inspire, support, and sustain the caliber of all of the individuals teaching and interacting with the students every day is a vital priority for SFDS’s future. To better meet the needs of the students we will continue to strategically resource the professional growth and development of the faculty and staff, something we look forward to reporting on in the fall after our summer’s work.
Programmatically, we increasingly need to think like and plan as a K-8 institution. We have already begun the work of reviewing the curriculum. The goal is to organize content thematically and to sequence the core competencies accordingly. As we review and revitalize the curriculum, we will organize grade levels around interdisciplinary themes so what the students learn in one content area is connected to and reinforced by their other learning, an approach supported by neurological research.
The excitement around the creation of an “Innovation, Design, and Maker Lab” affirms the importance of the spaces in which children learn, and is a strong endorsement for increasingly strengthening, expanding, and promoting this part of the curriculum.  I used the metaphor of the Golden Gate Bridge at CultureFest to talk about this initiative because I do strongly believe that providing students more opportunities to design and innovate will be the bridge that enables them to apply what they are learning in the sciences and math.  It is how we can operationalize the stated goals of giving the students opportunities to be “critical thinkers and creative problem solvers.”
The reference to resources in the tree diagram acknowledges the challenge of all that it takes to provide this quality of educational experience.  As we review this year's budget,  build next year’s, and plan for the future, fiscal stewardship remains our highest priority.  We recognize what families commit in order for their child or children to attend SFDS, and we greatly appreciate, benefit from, and depend on those families who give their time, talent, and resources beyond tuition.
Of course, my parents wanted to see San Francisco Day School during their visit last week.  While the school was eerily quiet during the break, it was easy for me to talk about all of the amazing learning I see and the interesting people I interact with on a daily basis. As I enthusiastically described for them what your children do at SFDS, it was an example of how “messaging” plays a vital role in the tree metaphor because ultimately, how we communicate about SFDS in many ways defines us, for ourselves and others.  If there has been a highlight of my year, it is the personal interactions I’ve had with what I am finding to be a very close community.  I am thoroughly enjoying these children, I am inspired by the work I see our teachers do every day, and I am invigorated by the energy and commitment our parents bring to the school.

Mike Walker, Ed.D.
Head of School

Dancing to NAIS

March 01, 2016 

The National Association of Independent School (NAIS) conference hosted in San Francisco last week was a rare and important opportunity for our teachers to access some of the best thinking and research in education. The efforts parents made last Friday to arrange for childcare enabled the SFDS faculty to participate in this important national dialogue.
Every conference of this magnitude has highlights, and this year's standout was the words and inspirational message of Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy, A Story of Justice and Redemption, which was awarded a 2015 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction.  The TED talk, “We Need to Talk About An Injustice,” launched Mr. Stevenson to national prominence and raised over $1 million to advance his work reforming the juvenile justice system.  I downloaded his book during his talk, and started reading it that night.  His compelling keynote brought the audience to tears and to their feet as his oratory skills, conviction, passion, and call to action deeply moved the five thousand people gathered to hear him.
After the opening plenary session, we went on to workshops covering topics ranging from "Design Thinking as a Catalyst for Meaningful Learning," to "Ethical Choices, Developing 21st Century Leaders," to "Independent School Leadership: Heads, Boards, and Strategic Thinking." It was wonderful to see our faculty, administrators, and trustees participating, connecting with colleagues, enjoying each other’s company, and contributing to the thinking that will shape how we educate children.
Our day concluded with another emotionally uplifting and intellectually challenging keynote by Jaime Casap, the Global Education Evangelist at Google, Inc.  In his spirited, humorous, and animated way, he summarized where education has been, and most importantly, raised our sights about where we need to go.  He explained how the entire process, purpose, and structure of education has changed because information “is no longer a commodity.”  Mr. Casap provided compelling examples of how children’s learning is not limited to the content we can provide. Depending on their curiosity and motivation, children can learn anything they put their minds to as a result of the tools to which they now have access.
As a result, our role as educators has forever changed.  It was his reframing of a common question that most stirred me. As he described the changing environment our kids will encounter as they enter adulthood (which he is keenly attuned to as a parent himself, as am I), the question is less about “What do you want to be when you grow up,” and has become more about “What problems do you want to solve?” The next question then becomes, “What do you need to learn in order to solve that problem?”  Our role as parents and educators is to inspire and equip a generation of learners with the tools and skills to learn anything so that they are prepared to solve the problems of their generation.  
Mr. Casap concluded his talk by emphasizing that, in his informed opinion, the future of education is about “iteration and innovation.”  Using Google as an example, he revealed that it is the frequency of the iterative process that results in the continued viability of Google's tools and products; a practice not unique to them, but a habit of organizations that thrive and survive.  This is a point of view that we need to consider as we look ahead at the instructional, curricular, and facility needs of SFDS.
The speakers, collectively and individually, gave us much to think about. However, it was watching the SFDS jazz band play for an audience of that magnitude that was perhaps the highlight of the entire conference. Our students were slated to play during the “walk in” session before the Thursday afternoon keynote.  As I watched them tune and sound check, they appeared a bit concerned when the hall was only about a third full when they started their first number.  Knowing educators at conferences as I do, I was confident that in the span of ten minutes the room would fill, and it did. I went to the back of the room to hear how they sounded playing in such an expansive space.  Seeing the students on that stage, with the bright lights reflecting off their instruments, so confident, poised, and together, made me so happy for them.  What the students couldn’t see because of the lights and the size of the room was that as they unleashed the upbeat tempo of “Superstition,” the educators entering the room, perhaps a bit lethargic after lunch, perked up and in several cases started dancing as they walked down the aisles.  Having been around independent school educators my entire career, I know this is unusual and atypical behavior.
Just as the music of our SFDS jazz band moved the audience to dance, the speakers, presenters, and educators we had access to last week inspires and informs our “educational” dance. Our students set the tone for the afternoon sessions on Thursday in the same way that the NAIS annual conference will inform the agenda for the instructional experiences we craft and create for your children.
Mike Walker, Ed.D.
Head of School

Lunch Lessons

February 10, 2016 

Over the course of the past few weeks, I enjoyed several lunches that nourished my body, stimulated my mind, and stirred my soul.  In every case the food was excellent, but it was the people gathered at the table, and what they brought to the conversation, that turned what might have been an ordinary meal into a banquet.

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AMPlifying Collaboration at SFDS

January 13, 2016 

AMP: Bringing together art, music, and poetry, the "Day School" way.


We are pleased to present AMP, an exciting and valuable addition to the distinguished arts program at SFDS. Teachers, Meghan Adler and Karen Richards, were inspired by a professional development workshop on music (with Eugene Friesen and Jamey Haddad) and poetry (with Marie Howe and Coleman Barks) this summer and worked with their Day School colleagues to design a yearlong unit bridging art, music, and poetry in a unique and engaging way.


Given that art, music, and poetry are each powerful forms of expression, they were the perfect tools for our students to use while developing their skill sets. The purpose of AMP is to "enable students to experience the benefits inherent in thoughtful collaboration and to discover how music and visual imagery heighten the experience of hearing a poem."  For the inaugural AMP unit, teachers selected excerpts from Maya Angelou's poem, "On the Pulse of Morning" (click here for a video of Ms. Angelou's reading for the 1993 presidential inauguration).

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Support California Gold with an Online Auction Donation!

January 11, 2016 


We are asking each family to donate or solicit at least one item for the CultureFest online auction by February 12. We love and need all donations. Do you have any unused gift cards? Have a favorite mani/pedi spot? Itching to put your cooking or baking skills to work?  Let us know! Ask local businesses you frequent to donate - asking is free (finally something is!), businesses love the exposure to our audience, and it is a tax deduction for them. You can give them a hard copy donation form or share this link.


Here are just a few donation ideas and hot sellers:

  • Host themed dinner gatherings, cocktail parties, or other fun social activities for the community
  • Help underwrite an end-of-year party for your class: movie or ice cream party, ropes course for the kids...
  • Restaurant gift certificates
  • Event tickets: sports, concerts, the arts
  • Homemade cooking gifts/parties: soup of the month, holiday cookie dough, dim sum making...
  • Summer camps for kids
  • Handmade items: pottery, art, jewelry...and...

SFDS Finds is back...and with your help, better than ever!

Last year's online auction demonstrated that our community loves to score exclusive, hard-to-get items and collectibles!  Once again, our CF volunteers will be curating a special collection of previously owned goods donated by our community. Give your designer handbag a new life, pass on a rarely worn vintage watch, or donate that beautiful Persian rug that doesn't quite "go" with your home decor anymore. We would love to include handsome home furnishings and designer goods/clothing...if you're not sure about a potential item, reach out and we'll help! Let's expand this year's number of items to make this year an even bigger success -- all proceeds will benefit CultureFest. To contribute or for more information about SFDS Finds, please contact Mary Kay Melvin at or 415-235-2121.

Important Dates:

Donation Deadline: February 12
Wine Drive: February 9-11
Online Auction: March 25-April 4
Live Auction Preview Night for All Grades: March 22
California Gold Party Time with Live Auction: April 2 at Terra Gallery

Why do we do this?

It is our mission as a school community to attract and retain a vibrant, thoughtful, talented group of students from diverse socio-economic backgrounds, and CultureFest is the single biggest fundraiser for our Discounted Tuition program, with 100% of auction net proceeds going to the program.

As always, we rely on our generous parent community to make this event a success. Whether it’s your time, donations, or underwriting, your contributions are critical and make our school’s Discounted Tuition program possible. So, thank you!

Please contact us with any questions or if you need help developing an idea for an item.  Check out our Facebook page for ideas and costume inspiration!  

We are so grateful for your support.  Stay GOLD!

Your California Gold CultureFest Chairs,
Matt Murray
Lael Sturm
Chris Weltzien

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SFDS Featured in Hoodline News

January 11, 2016 

One of the cornerstones of the San Francisco Day School mission is "active involvement with the City."  Our students are fortunate to experience this in a number of ways throughout their careers at SFDS, one of which is as a volunteer with the Panhandle Park Stewards.  For years, SFDS has partnered with the Panhandle Park Stewards to focus on protecting and beautifying the area in Panhandle Park. Our sixth graders' service learning work often takes place in the Panhandle. Under the leadership of the park's gardener, Guillermo Vasquez, our students learn about vegetation in the park and how to identify tree species.  Additionally, SFDS community outreach co-chairs and parents, Amie Nenninger and Jenni Derringer, help our school partner with the city by promoting family and community "clean-up" days, which are actually about much more than picking up trash. recently featured the Panhandle Park Stewards online and interviewed Amie Nenninger on behalf of SFDS.  Click here to read the article on

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SFDS Hour of Code is Here!

December 07, 2015 

The Hour of Code is a global movement reaching millions of students across the world in 180+ countries. It's a  one-hour introduction to computer science, designed to demystify code and demonstrate that anyone and everyone can learn the basics.  This year's Hour of Code actually takes place all week, December 7-13. SFDS students will be participating throughout the week, and we look forward to sharing their learnings with our community.

"Every student should have the opportunity to learn computer science. It helps nurture problem-solving skills, logic, and creativity. By starting early, students will have a foundation for success in any 21st century career path."  -

The Song of Our School

December 04, 2015 

Recently, a colleague of mine who is the head of another Bay Area school, came by the SFDS campus to visit and tour our school. Together we walked the halls, dropped into classrooms, visited the library, saw a P.E. class in full motion, and watched an enchanting moment unfold before us as we entered the lower school music room. As we discreetly stepped in, we were greeted with the mystical sounds of handchimes, and were ourselves captivated by the serene looks of intense concentration on the students’ faces as they intently watched and listened to each other for musical cues.  Simultaneously, this created an aura of both stillness and aliveness. The room felt like a magical place of childhood innocence, expressed through the gentle melody of a song. 

Later in the week, as I experienced my first Thanksgiving Assembly, I realized that what I had serendipitously encountered in the music room was but one thread of a beautiful artistic tapestry that engaged and touched our entire community.  Whether you were there in person, or watched via Livestream, you witnessed a panoramic expression of student creativity as they recited, sang, played, and painted, thereby setting the tone for a season of thanksgiving and gratitude.

Just as a handchime's vibration extends and lingers, I wanted to prolong the emotional glow from the assembly into the following faculty professional development days.  I actually started meetings using the handchimes.   I asked pairs, and then quartets, to sound a chime and play the next note when they heard or felt the vibration from the previous note cease.  This required deep listening and concentration; the exact disposition I wanted to carry into the meetings. 

We spent the following three days reflecting on the SFDS mission, learning more about Universal Design for Learning, reviewing specific curricular sequences, and delving deeper into our discussions on diversity. As we did, I wanted us to remain as focused and connected to each other as the students were when they played the handchimes.  While we each have a voice in each of these discussions, how well we pay attention, listen to, and coordinate with each other determines how well we as a school create the curricular music that orchestrates the learning of the students.

Part of my adjustment to San Francisco is accepting the shorter daylight hours and cooler weather, both of which mark the passing of time and serve as a reminder that we are approaching the midpoint of the school year.  The upcoming winter break will be a time for family, and a time for me to reflect upon all that I have seen, learned, heard, and listened for during this first half of the school year. Each new relationship and every conversation offers insight into the culture, needs, and aspirations of the School.  The Thanksgiving Assembly was an inspirational gathering of the school as a community, an expression of our culture and values, a showcase of student talent and cohesiveness, and a reminder of the special places schools are, and especially SFDS.  That is as clear to me as the C note of a handchime.


Dr. Mike Walker
Head of School 

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Digital Dolphins Awarded 'Core Values' Prize

November 23, 2015 

SFDS is proud to announce that the Digital Dolphins Robotics Team did very well in their first competitive tournament on Saturday, November 21 at Google Headquarters.  Our students have worked hard all semester programming a robot to complete missions and came up with a creative solution to solve a real world problem of trash and waste reduction. The team's hard work and collaboration paid off; they took home the award for "Core Values" in addition to qualifying for the upcoming regional competition.  This is a great accomplishment for our "rookie" team.  Congratulations to our Digital Dolphins and good luck as they advance to the next stage of competition.  Stay tuned!  View a video of clips and photographs from the qualifying tournament.  Contact Ms. Costello for more information.

Congratulations to the JV Girls Volleyball Team!

November 05, 2015 

Three cheers for the 2015 JV Volleyball League Champions!  On Wednesday November 4, SFDS JV girls volleyball played Convent for the BAIAL championship.  Our students worked hard together to secure a win in two sets: 25-20, 25-23.  Be sure to give our players and Coach Crosby a high-five for a terrific season!