Jan 202012

Visions of Hillbrook’s past and future merged on campus this week.

Walking down the hill Thursday, people were greeted by a newly installed replica of the original sign for The Children’s Country School (Hillbrook’s name until 1960). The inspired idea of unofficial school historian and teacher Paul DiMarco, the sign was created by 93-year-old local San Jose artist, Rey Giese. The sign will hang at the entrance of the Village of Friendly Relations and provides a beautiful and playful connection with the school’s early history.

The sign was unveiled as part of of our second annual Founder’s Day celebration. Hillbrook’s first student and graduate of the Class of 1946, Richerd Cancilla, joined Paul in front of a student assembly on Thursday to share the story of the Village of Friendly Relations. Built by the students in the late 1930s, the Village was a living community complete with a tea house, a newspaper, a general store, and a bank. Through the Village, the students learned invaluable life lessons that, in the vision of founder Mary Orem, would help prepare the children to create a better world.

Following Richerd and Paul’s presentation, the students had an opportunity in buddy groups to build models of a 21st Century Village of Friendly Relations. Computer stores, a water slide, castles, a variety of general stores, a full-length football field (not a Village “house”, per se, but something a group if 2nd and 8th grade boys really hope to see at the school!) and even a thinking house emerged from recycled boxes and assorted odds and ends. The tinkering masterpieces will be on display at Flag on Monday and will provide a vivid image of how much things have changed – and, in some cases remained the same – since the late 1930s.

While the students and faculty ventured into our past, as a school we took a significant step in the process of laying the foundation for our future. On Wednesday evening, we met with our neighbors to share our plans for building a better middle school. The meeting represented one of the final steps in the process before we formally submit an application to the Town of Los Gatos to grow our enrollment from 315 students to 414.

A key component of Vision 2015, the effort to grow the Middle School is an important step in helping us remain a leading JK-8 school in the Bay Area. Our plans call for increasing grades 6-8 from two sections to three sections of 18 students, which will increase our overall enrollment in grades 6-8 from just under 100 students today to 162 students within 3-5 years. There will be no change in the Lower School enrollment model.

A larger Middle School will benefit our program in several key areas, including:

  • Stronger academic departments that allow more academic flexibility, including the potential for tracking in math and foreign language
  • More opportunities for co-curricular activities, including dance, band, and drama
  • Increased participation in existing athletic programs, including lacrosse, softball, and track & field, as well as opening up new sports, such as swim team or golf
  • More social opportunities for our middle school students during this critical stage of growth and development
  • More flexibility to balance grade size and gender balance in the upper grades while simultaneously bringing in new students and new families who add an exciting new energy to our community

As a community, we will be asking you in the months ahead to work with us to help this important application get passed. In the next week or two we plan on submitting our application to modify our conditional use permit to the Town of Los Gatos. We then expect our application to be placed before the Planning Commission in 60-90 days. Following approval by the Planning Commission, the application could be appealed to the Town Council in which case we would appear before the Town Council most likely at some point during the summer or perhaps early Fall.

How can you help?

The most important thing our families can do is to continue to be good neighbors. We remind you again to:

  • carpool or use the shuttle, minimizing the number of cars coming on and off our campus.
  • drive slowly through the neighborhoods, 15 mph on Upper Marchmont and 25 mph on Lower Marchmont

I also encourage you to visit our Building a Better Middle School page on the website to educate yourself about our proposal. On this page, you can see the traffic study that was completed as part of our pre-application process and a copy of the presentation we gave to the neighbors on Wednesday night. We will be sharing more information with you in the months ahead as we shepherd our application through the planning process.

Standing with Richerd Cancilla today and reflecting with him upon his time at the school more than 70 years ago, I was struck by the depth of his connection to TCCS/Hillbrook. While the school has changed in dramatic ways since he was here, he returns because the essence of the school – a life preparatory school – remains the same. Whenever I speak with Richerd, he is clearly proud of the extraordinary school that we have become today.

I was also reminded that our generation – like every generation in the school’s history – has an obligation to do things to ensure that our school is thriving 75 years from today and beyond. We need to continue focusing on making the school ever better, while preserving the core values that have guided us since our founding. The effort to build a better Middle School is another important step in our school’s journey.

Talking to Richerd, I also couldn’t help but look at our JK/K students and try to imagine which of them will be standing in front of a group of children 75 years from today. I am confident they will proudly share stories of 2012 and how the work we did today helped ensure that Hillbrook would provide an extraordinary educational experience for generations to come.

Jun 032011
More than once this week, I’ve had people ask me, “How are you doing?” and then pause, giving me that that I know the end-of-the-year is near look. Each time I’ve answered honestly, “I’m feeling a little tired.”
To be clear, it’s a happy tired, the feeling you have when you know you are near the end of something that has been really worthwhile, something that has required commitment, energy, and perseverance; something satisfying because it has had moments of difficulty and setback, as well as of great joy; something rewarding because it has required real effort.
As I reach the end of my second year at the school, I know that we have accomplished some significant work as a community in the last two years – revised our mission and philosophy to more clearly articulate who we are and what we do, adopted a new strategic plan – Vision 2015, implemented new math and social emotional learning programs, successfully completed our first programmatic audit – English/Language Arts – and started to implement changes including the creation of a Writing Coordinator position, piloted iPads in the 7th grade with plans to start a full, take-home program across the Middle School next year, launched an effort to build a better middle school by expanding our enrollment.
Looking at the list, I am proud of what we have accomplished but also mindful that it is only the beginning of the exciting work we hope to do as we more fully implement Vision 2015 in the years ahead. As a school we are a dynamic and evolving organization, always striving to be the best we can be, never content to rest on our laurels.
Spending time on campus this week, I was struck that the same dynamic is at play with our students. Several times this week I saw students almost sink into their seats as I helped them into the car at the end of the day. Many were lugging bags of items – treasures from the classroom that they were taking home to share with their family. As they sat down, it was clear that they were tired.
Evidence of why they are tired was in full display this week on campus.
Touring the Art Show, for example, I marveled at the exceptional work that our students had produced. Looking at the various pieces – from the ceramic penguins created by our Kindergartners to the exquisite busts, photographs, drawings, chairs, and ceramic pieces of our middle schoolers – there was ample evidence of craftsmanship. Touring the work of our oldest students, I marveled at the attention to detail and the hours of meticulous work that had to be done in order to produce such high quality artistic pieces.
Wednesday’s Author’s Walkabout provided a remarkable showcase for the writers and readers in our 1st and 2nd grades. Despite the weather, the enthusiastic and unflappable students read their stories to an eager audience of adults. Students – some that had not even been fluent readers in September – proudly shared the product of several months of hard work and effort.
Across the campus similar scenes have played out over the last month, some big, some small. For each student, there is undoubtedly a moment they can look back on over the course of the last few months when they recognized that they have grown and changed. Take a few minutes this weekend and ask your child. What was the biggest challenge he or she faced this year? A moment of accomplishment? A time they took a risk? Perhaps a failure….what did he or she learn from it?
As a school, we strive to challenge students and provide them opportunities that will allow them to reach their highest individual potential in school and in life. All of that hard work however is, in the end, tiring, which takes us back to where I started today’s column.
Look at any great athlete’s training schedule. You will notice that there is a balance between intensive workouts and focused practice, on one hand, and significant time for rest and rejuvenation, on the other hand. All of us – students, faculty, and parents – need to make sure we maintain that same balance.
In just a few days, we will say good-bye to the fabulous Class of 2011, put students in the car for the last time for the summer, and then take a few days to hold end-of-year meetings, clean-up classrooms, and close out gradebooks. By the end of next week, the faculty will have started scattering for their summer adventures. Some of these adventures involve intensive work – a significant number of our faculty are engaged in meaningful summer fellowships – but the rhythm, the pace, and the intensity of summertime will be different from what we experience during the school year. This shift is a good thing.
It is important to work hard and it is also important to disconnect, to relax, and to provide time for reflection and rejuvenation. I hope that everyone has an opportunity this summer to take some time to disconnect with your family. I’m looking to take advantage of the slightly slower pace of summer to get out of the office a little earlier on many days, spend more time playing outside with my family, read books that are not connected to school, and maybe even take a risk and try something new.

It has been a fantastic 2010-2011 school year. I wish everyone much rest, relaxation, and renewal this summer.