Nov 172017

Walking on campus this week, I have found myself pausing to look. The dramatic color of the leaves in combination with the changing light of late Fall make for a tableaux that is consistently stunning. It is a period of time that I anticipate each year, a campus experience that I never take for granted.

Friday afternoon our students will gather together on the amphitheater stage, underneath the colorful canopy of trees, to sing a series of songs as part of Grandparents & Special Friends Day. It is essentially the same set of songs that we have sung for as long as most people can remember. I have several favorites – “Simple Gifts,” “Turkey Trot,” “The Leaves Turn Gold in the Fall,” but there is one – “Home is the Place” – that always strikes a particularly resonant chord.

“Home is the place where somebody loves you, I’m going there,

Home is the same old streets and people, yet I know they care,

I’ve traveled far, and I will travel more,

But my heart longs for my own front door.”

The words, to me, beautifully capture the place that Hillbrook holds in the lives of our children, employees, and families. There is a palpable sense of calm that I feel each day that I step on campus, a sense of coming home to a place where each person is known and valued for who they are. It’s a sense of the familiar and the predictable, of knowing that you’ll know the routines, that you will understand what is happening. It’s the feeling that comes from traditions, from having songs, shared values, and experiences that continue across generations.  It is the feeling of childhood joy and memories. It’s the feeling that draws alumni of all ages back to campus throughout the year.

At the same time, we are a school that is known for being innovative, for asking big questions and challenging ourselves to rethink the possible. We are not, typically, a school that does the same thing every year, that pulls out last year’s notes and repeats lessons from generations ago. We take risks, try new things, and continually strive to better meet our vision and mission as a school.

This past Monday, CFO Margaret Randazzo, Finance Committee Chair Vlado Herman, and I shared highlights of the initiatives that have emerged from Vision 2020 at the State of the School address. We highlighted how we are striving to reimagine the student experience, make Hillbrook a destination workplace for educators, create an increasingly diverse and inclusive community, and ensure the school’s long-term financial health. Initiatives shared included:

  • The creation of a new schedule for the 2018-19 school year that will enhance our ability to individualize the student experience and reach beyond campus to make a difference in the world.
  • Programs designed to extend learning beyond our campus, including Reach Beyond Week for all 6th-8th graders this Spring, and the newly launched Scott Center for Social Entrepreneurship, the only JK-8 center of its kind in the world.
  • The launch of our Flexible Tuition Model, which has allowed us to broaden the support we are able to provide to students and ensured we are accessible to families from diverse economic backgrounds.
  • Tangible evidence of our commitment to provide competitive compensation and benefits for our employees, as well as a dynamic and innovative environment, that ensures we remain able to attract and retain top educators to our community.
  • The launch of the community phase of the “Be Your Best” Capital Campaign and the incredible momentum that is developing to ensure we can complete the campaign and build the Hub

Clearly, we are not a school that is resting on our laurels.

So how do these two things coexist? How can we be both a place where children and adults feel a grounded sense of belonging AND a place where they are challenged to ask big questions and dream? How do you balance the tension between tradition and innovation?

The answer ties directly back to our history. The Village of Friendly Relations sits at the heart of our campus, an exemplar of the Hillbrook Way since the mid-1930s. The Village represented a leading edge innovative educational model, something that garnered us attention in a national magazine. It was an innovation that placed student choice and engagement at the center. It was an innovation that reflected our deep understanding of children and learning. It was an innovation that preserved and honored childhood. At Hillbrook, tradition and innovation are not in tension, they are forever intertwined.

In “As the Twig is Bent,” the school’s award-winning 75th anniversary video created by Paul DiMarco and alumni parent Felice Leeds, Richerd Cancilla, Hillbrook’s first graduate, describes the school this way, “Coming back to Hillbrook is like coming home. It feels so good to me that sometimes I just like to stay here and take it all in and just pretend that I never left.” Whether you are in your first year at Hillbrook or have been here for generations, I suspect you recognize that sentiment.

At this time of year of thanksgiving, I am grateful that my family and I are privileged enough to be part of this community, a place where innovation and tradition strengthen each other and where our vision – to inspire children to achieve their dreams and reach beyond themselves to make a difference in the world – remains as compelling today as it did in the 1930s.

Enjoy these videos:















Jan 122017

kindjarTen years ago this week, Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone to the world. As a school, the iPhone – and its many subsequent iterations and offshoots – has challenged us to rethink the meaning of education. What exactly do students need to know if they have near instantaneous access to information in their pocket?

The iPhone, of course, is just one example of the transformative changes that are happening at an ever more rapid pace. Artificial Intelligence may represent an even greater disruption to our lives. In 10, 20 or 50 years, what exactly will we be able to do more effectively than computers in an age of ever “smarter” technology?

Amidst this ever-accelerating rate of change, we as educators and parents are continually challenged to answer the question: How do we prepare children for a future we cannot imagine today? Some schools answer by playing to fear, creating programs that emphasize rote learning at ever younger ages and arguing, indirectly, that stressful, homework-intensive environments are the best way to prepare children for the world of tomorrow. The message seems to be that visible evidence of “accomplishment” represents learning.

At Hillbrook, we offer what I believe is a more optimistic, child-focused answer. We focus on nurturing the growth of each child, and we understand that authentic learning and understanding happens for different children, at different times. The classic one-size fits all approach to education simply does not work in today’s dynamic environment, in which we are looking to equip students with skills – critical thinking, writing, scientific reasoning, creativity, empathy, cultural competency – that are not taught or measurable through traditional, more rote avenues.

At the heart of Vision 2020 is a challenge to us as a school and a community to reimagine the student experience and create ever-more opportunities for students to engage in authentic problem solving activities. In addition, we have challenged ourselves to push beyond our campus and create opportunities for students to reach beyond themselves and make a difference in the world.

With that as a backdrop, I am excited to announce the launch of a program that we believe will help us transform the educational program at Hillbrook and beyond – the Scott Center for Social Entrepreneurship. Social entrepreneurship – the application of an intentional and entrepreneurial approach to prototyping innovative solutions to social problems – lies at the intersection of several key strands of Vision 2020 – project-based learning, design thinking, making, and service learning – and will be a major driver in helping us to reach beyond our own campus to make a difference in the world. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus, for example, has been described as an early social entrepreneur, with his groundbreaking work in micro-financing that enabled philanthropists around the world to loan small sums of money – typically less than $100 – to provide the necessary capital to change someone’s life.

The Scott Center for Social Entrepreneurship would build upon the Maker Movement, design thinking, and problem-based learning, challenging students to design products, concepts and processes that aim to make a difference in the world. While many schools across the country have focused on pieces of this puzzle – creating centers for design thinking, for example, or building MakerSpaces – few, if any, schools have created integrated programs that prepare children to be the future leaders and problem-solvers that will make our world a better place.

Like other innovative initiatives in the past five years – our 1-to-1 iPad program, our reimagination of learning spaces, the creation of the Resident Teacher program – we believe that the Scott Center for Social Entrepreneurship will open the door for us to build connections and partnerships with organizations and schools locally, nationally and internationally.

Our first step is to hire a founding Director for the program. The founding Director has the exciting and unique opportunity to co-create with our community a program that will extend the work we are already doing in service learning, making, and project-based learning. The founding director will join us as we near completion of the design phase and embark on the building of the Hub (projected launch date, January 2019), the new state-of-the-art MakerSpace that will serve as the epicenter of hands-on, project-based learning on campus. The founding director will be charged with designing a social entrepreneurship program that serves our own students and faculty and also creates opportunities to engage the broader community outside of our campus. The founding director will also seek and develop partnerships with community organizations, and will help us explore satellite campus facilities and spaces in the community, and will develop both on-campus and off-campus programming for school year and summer sessions. The full position description is posted on our website.

The Scott Center for Social Entrepreneurship is being funded by the largest philanthropic gift in the history of the school – a $2.5 million pledge by Shannon and Kevin Scott, which includes seed funding and an endowment that will fund the center in perpetuity. We are so grateful for their extraordinary generosity, and for their understanding that the future of education requires all of us to create opportunities for students to engage in real-world problem solving. With their support, we will be able to build a program that helps our community to reach beyond our campus and truly make a difference in the world.

Steve Jobs said he wanted to make a dent in the universe. The Scott Center for Social Entrepreneurship is one way in which we at Hillbrook are trying to impact the world for the better.

Jan 062016


The beginning of January is a period ripe with possibility. While it may be cold and rainy outside, there is a palpable feeling of optimism and energy on campus. Walking through classrooms and interacting with students, I’m struck by how much our students have grown physically, socially, and intellectually during the first few months of the year, and how eager they are to engage in increasingly challenging and exciting work as we enter the second half of the year. Routines are in place, relationships established. The opportunities seem limitless.

Amidst this moment of possibility, I find myself reflecting on where the school is and where we are going. The strategic planning process has surfaced much to think about, both in terms of the school’s many strengths and our opportunities for growth and improvement.

In the classroom, teachers often employ visible thinking routines, practices that help students structure, share, deepen, and extend their thoughts in a way that is public. I thought I would borrow one of the more commonly used routines, “I like, I wish, What if?” to structure my own, quick thoughts on Hillbrook today.

I like….

  • that each child is known, valued, and celebrated as an individual
  • our broad and integrated educational program, that engages children as writers, mathematicians, scientists, historians, artists, musicians, athletes, thinkers, problem solvers, and doers from the earliest ages
  • that we value questions as much as we value answers
  • the strong sense of community that connects us as adults and children in pursuit of a common vision – to inspire children to achieve their dreams and reach beyond themselves to make a difference in the world
  • that we have such a talented and dedicated faculty and staff, each committed to helping children thrive
  • that children from our youngest grades to our oldest grades run across campus to get to their next class, embodying the joy that can be seen and felt throughout the day on campus
  • that children and adults are encouraged to take risks and tell jokes

I wish….

  • we had better ways to measure children’s growth and learning. As Einstein wrote, “Not everything that counts can be counted.”
  • we were better able to support balance in the lives of children and adults in our community and beyond
  • we were able to find even more ways to reach beyond ourselves to make a difference in the world.
  • more people throughout the Bay Area heard and understood our story – that Hillbrook’s approach to learning – an educational program which is relevant, challenging, and places children in charge of their own learning – is the most effective way to raise successful young adults. The evidence speaks for itself.
  • there were more high school options for our graduates that felt aligned with Hillbrook’s approach and mission

What if….

  • our daily schedule allowed us to even better individualize the program for each child?
  • we had better assessment tools and structures that provided quick, meaningful and transparent feedback to students, teachers, and parents?
  • we were able to attract and retain families who were a philosophical match for Hillbrook regardless of their ability to pay?
  • we were able to find new and creative ways to help support and retain our extraordinary faculty and staff as the cost of living in Silicon Valley continues to rise?
  • all 8th grade students participated in a capstone project that reflected the qualities of a Hillbrook learner – we ask questions, we talk and we listen, we work together, we solve problems, we make things better?
  • our program served students beyond 8th grade?
  • we had more partnerships with local companies and non-profit organizations, further strengthening our ties to Silicon Valley?
  • we had extended project-based experiences both on and off-campus?

These are just a few of the things that spring to mind at this moment, and I’m excited to see how our community’s thinking about the school’s future continues to evolve in the months ahead. I invite you to share your thoughts – how would you answer these questions?

Oct 072015

I’m writing to invite you to join a conversation that will lay the foundation for Hillbrook School in the next five years and beyond. We have launched a strategic planning process that will set a direction for Hillbrook that will guide us past 2020 and toward our 100th anniversary in 2035. A Strategic Planning Committee, made up of members from all constituent groups – parents, faculty, staff, Board members – has been convened to lead the process, with a goal of having the Board approve a new strategic plan by the start of the 2016-17 school year.

DSC_0263A key part of the process will be a series of community conversations held in the coming weeks in people’s homes, where parents and other members of our community will have an opportunity to talk about the school’s strengths and areas of concern, and also help us understand how different people prioritize the needs of the school in the years ahead. It will be an exciting and engaging evening.

Five years ago we created an ambitious strategic plan, Vision 2015, that promised to deepen our connections to our past while charting an ambitious path toward the future. The goals focused on four areas – program, operations, community, innovation – and challenged us to take a good school and make it even better.

Five years later, visible signs of the impact of Vision 2015 are everywhere. Program audits have led to dramatic improvements in our core programs – a full restructuring of Middle School English and math, consistent implementation of Readers & Writers Workshop across the Lower School, engineering and making integrated in both Lower and Middle school science, and a revised Social Studies program centered around essential questions. Perhaps just as importantly, our professional development program has never been stronger. Led by Aimee Giles, our Director of Teaching & Learning, with strong support from a program admin team that includes both division heads, the director of technology, and a group of coaches and teacher leaders, we are approaching professional development in a way that is collaborative, integrated, and inspiring. The Resident Teacher Program provides the foundation for our co-teaching model, a model that has significantly improved our ability to individualize our program and meet each child where they are. In addition, it has established us as a leader in elementary education, a school where early career educators and experienced professionals work together to create an extraordinary educational experience for all children.

newplaygroundAcross campus, the results of our campus master plan are increasingly visible. Nearly every classroom on campus has been reimagined, with flexible classroom furniture and expansive white board space creating an environment that supports choice, engagement, and purposeful learning. Remodeled science classrooms provide an inspiring space for children to engage in a broad range of problem-based scientific experiences, while also creating a highly collaborative space for the science teachers. The outdoor stage is nearly complete, and it will soon be the central space on campus for community gatherings and celebrations. Soon after, we will be breaking ground on the new JK-2 playground, a space that supports a range of play – dramatic, physical, creative, exploratory – for our youngest students. As a school, we are increasingly creating learning spaces and environments that support and shape teaching and learning in profound ways.

Supporting these efforts has been a transformed advancement program. Over the past six years, we have seen our annual fund increase from just over $400,000 to more than $1 million. Philanthropy has not only allowed us to strengthen and expand our programs, but it has also served as a catalyst for innovation, allowing us to initiate things like one of the first iPad programs in the world, our Resident Teacher program, and a campus-full of reimagined classrooms across campus. Capital fundraising has enabled us to initiate our campus renovation projects, as well as pushing our endowment above $1 million.

Today, we have the opportunity to create the next plan for Hillbrook’s future. As we have shown the past five years, the creation of our vision leads to real and tangible change that impacts each child’s experience, each day at school.

I invite you to join us for one of our community conversations. For 80 years, we have been committed to a central idea – to inspire students to achieve their dreams and reach beyond themselves to make a difference in the world. As we look toward the next 80 years and beyond, we are excited about how we can continue to strengthen our connection to our roots while creating a school that is at the leading edge of education in the Bay Area and beyond.

To R.S.V.P. for a strategic plan conversation, check out the links in the latest Hillbrook Happenings. Space is limited to 25 attendees per evening, so sign up today! Each session happens from 6:30-8:30 PM.