Jun 042013

The following are my remarks from this morning’s Class of 2013 graduation: Good morning students, faculty, parents, grandparents, and friends and welcome to the Hillbrook Graduation Ceremony for the Class of 2013. I want to extend a special welcome this morning to our guests on stage with me, including Los Gatos Town Council Member Joe Pirzynski, Chair of the Board of Trustees Steve Benjamin, Chair-elect for the BOT Chuck Hammers, Head of Middle School Joe Connolly, and Chloe Borenstein-Lawee, graduate from the Class of 2009. Most importantly, it is my honor to welcome the multi-talented, ever enthusiastic, and soon to be graduated members of the Class of 2013.

Today marks a significant transition for the 36 dynamic young men and women seated beside me on the stage. Yet they are not the only ones who are undergoing change. In front of me sit their proud parents and in many cases proud grandparents, uncles, aunts, and siblings.  For the parents, today also marks a major milestone. I hope that your sons and daughters have thanked you for all of the love and support you have provided through their years at Hillbrook, but if, by chance, they have not, let me, on their behalf, thank you. You have given them the gift of an extraordinary educational foundation, a gift that will stay with them throughout their lives.

So what can we say about the Class of 2013? Well, as a starting place, we know that six of them came 10 years ago in JK, 14 came nine years ago in Kindergarten, three in 1st grade, two in 3rd grade, three in 4th grade, two in 5th grade, two in 6th grade, three in 7th grade, and one outstanding young woman joined them in 8th grade. By my calculations, these 36 students have more than 250 years of Hillbrook education between them.

I also know that if you talk to teachers, they will describe this class as kind, thoughtful, engaging, and a joy to teach. As many of you heard last night at the Recognition Ceremony, this is a dynamic group of young people who have been impressive both as individuals and as a group. We have dancers, singers, drummers, actors, photographers, future rock stars, and aspiring filmmakers. Athletes who excel in a whole range of sports, including football, volleyball, lacrosse, basketball, soccer, track and field, baseball, softball, and gymnastics. We have aspiring scientists and extraordinary mathematicians, talented writers, linguists, and historians. We even have passionate San Francisco Giants fans, car aficionados, and champion spellers. This class has it all.

For better or worse, this class also has an association with the number 13. As we all know, 13 has traditionally been considered an unlucky number. In fact, there is actually a term for fear of the number 13—Triskaidekaphobia. According to various reports, our economy loses nearly $1 billion each Friday the 13th, as people chose not to leave their home out of fear that something bad will happen to them. Some hotels choose to skip 13 when numbering floors jumping straight from 12 to 14, and apparently in many airports there is no gate 13.

 So is this class doomed to be unlucky? Well, as luck would have it, I came across an article called “The Luck Factor,” by a man named Richard Wiseman. Dr. Wiseman is a psychologist who has conducted experiments about luck. Specifically, he has tried to study why some people are consistently lucky while others seem to always encounter ill fortune. Dr. Wiseman studied 400 people, ranging in age from 18 to 84. The people self-identified either as exceedingly lucky or unlucky and then agreed to participate in interviews, write diaries, complete personality questionnaires, and take intelligence tests.

 According to Dr. Wiseman, his research suggests that luck is not “a magical ability or the result of random chance,” but rather the result of a few basic characteristics common to lucky people. In particular:

·    Lucky people are skilled at noticing opportunities. They were more observant than unlucky people. For example, he did a simple experiment where he asked people to count the number of photos in a newspaper. The unlucky people typically took about 2 minutes to complete the task. The lucky people took mere seconds. Why? Because the lucky people noticed on page 2 in big type the following phrase: “Stop counting—there are 43 photographs in this newspaper.”

·    Lucky people were not only better at noticing opportunities they were also better at creating opportunities. He found that lucky people tended to intentionally vary their routines, and to take actions that would increase their opportunity to be exposed to new things. He gave an example of a person who would try to increase the number of people he met at social events by creating seemingly random challenges for himself—I’ll talk to as many people as I can today who are wearing red, for example. While it sounds strange, the result was that it kept him from simply hanging out with the people he already knew.

·    Lucky people were more resilient. Put simply, lucky people tend to see the glass as half full, instead of half empty. For example, take the following scenario. You and your friend are walking down the street when a man comes up from behind you, knocks you over, and steals your wallet. Are you lucky or unlucky? Unlucky people tended to see this as a negative situation—why do things like this always happen to me? Lucky people, on the other hand, tended to be thankful that nothing worse happened. The person could have taken money from both me and my friend or, even worse, we could have been hurt.

 So where does that leave you—the members of the Class of 2013? I think the answer is pretty clear. Your class, and each of you individually, will be as lucky or unlucky as you think you will be over the next four years and beyond. The more you hone your skills of observation, the more you consciously seek out new opportunities, and the more you choose to respond to difficult situations by finding the silver lining in the clouds, the more likely you are to see yourself as lucky and, in the end, the more successful you are likely to be.

 Still not quite sure of the point? Let me share a short story called “The Farmer’s Luck.” Many of you may remember this from 3rd grade, as I know that it has long been one of Ms. Long’s favorite stories.

There was once an old farmer. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit and said, “Such bad luck.” The farmer said, “Maybe.”

The next day, the horse returned bringing with it two wild horses. “Such good luck,” his neighbors replied. “Maybe,” the farmer said.

 The following day his son tried to ride one of the wild horses and was thrown off and broke his leg. “Such bad luck,” the neighbors replied. “Maybe,” said the farmer.

 The day after that military officials came to the town and drafted all of the young men into the army to fight a war. Seeing the son with the broken leg, they passed him by. “Such good luck,” the neighbors replied. “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

I know that while many things are out of your control, there is one thing you can always control—how you respond to the situation in which you find yourself. Don’t be too quick to judge if something is good luck or bad luck, be resilient, and recognize that even the worst situation will almost always turn out better than you originally thought. Good luck, class of 2013. Not that you’ll need it.

Jun 012012

Several years back, Anna Quindlen published one of the more memorable essays on parenting I’ve read. Written after all three of her children had left home, she reflected upon the anxiety and worry that had accompanied so much of the journey of raising children, as she kept trying to figure things out. To make matters even more complicated, each child responded differently to different things.

So what did she learn? All the child-rearing advice in the world was not as important as learning from each child what he or she needed. Indeed, in spite of differences in approach, each child in the end learned to talk, walk, “go to the bathroom, zip up their jackets and move food from plate to mouth all by themselves.” Put another way, even the fussiest toddler sleeper eventually ends up as a teenager who wants to sleep until noon on the weekend.

So what was her biggest regret?

“The biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make while doing this. I did not live in the moment enough…. I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.”

In just a few days, we will celebrate the graduation of the Class of 2012. These 28 talented young 8th graders will walk across the outdoor stage and head off into the next exciting chapter of their lives. Some of them have spent 9 or 10 years at Hillbrook, the longest tenure they are likely to spend at any school during their lives.  All of them are impressive and each has their own unique gifts. They are thoughtful, articulate, interesting young people, quick to ask questions, poised around adults, and, for the most part, comfortable and confident in their own skins.

Clearly, they all still have a lot of growing up to do, physically, intellectually and emotionally. Indeed, one of my favorite moments at graduation is listening to the speech from the high school senior who won the Hillbrook Award four years earlier. Seeing these soon-to-be-college students – only four years removed from their Hillbrook experience – reminds me of how much change still lies ahead for our graduates.

For parents, I know there is a bit of a paradox. Major milestones – whether it be the first day of school, the first lost tooth, crossing the bridge to 5th grade, or graduation all seem to sneak up on us, occurring long before we expect them. At the same time the day-to-day process of raising children can seem at times overwhelming, exhausting, and, sometimes even endless. I suspect there is not a parent who hasn’t had nights where they have felt at wits end, clueless about what to do, whether it involved trying to resolve the bed-time trials of a young child, the social turmoil of a 3rd or 4th grader, or the homework angst of a middle schooler.

I think the simple wisdom that Anna Quindlen tapped into in her short article is worth remembering. Raising children is unpredictable, often complicated, and occasionally destabilizing. There are no right answers and, ultimately, we can only do the best we can do, providing our children with a variety of opportunities, unconditional love and as much patience as we can muster on any given day.

Amidst the ups and downs, the daily grind, we don’t want to become so obsessed with getting it done that we lose sight of the process. As a school, we constantly remind students that it is the process – not just the final product – that is at the heart of real learning. Parenting is the same way.

In the middle of her essay, Anna Quindlen noted, “Raising children is presented at first as a true-false test, then becomes multiple choice, until finally, far along, you realize that it is an endless essay.” She also adds, “When they were very small, I suppose I thought someday they would become who they were because of what I’d done. Now I suspect they simply grew into their true selves because they demanded in a thousands ways that I back off and let them be.”

Ultimately, the essay is being written by our children, not by us. We get to be the editors, but we need to use our red pens wisely.

I wish everyone a restful and restorative summer. Savor these moments.

Aug 262011

The night before school starts I almost never sleep.

Excitement at seeing all the students back on campus, anticipation about the extraordinary experiences that await us in the year ahead, and a small – but healthy – dose of anxiety conspire to keep me up late into the night.

You might think after experiencing 35 first days of school in my life – both as a student and then as a teacher and administrator – that the opening day would lose some of its luster. But year after year I find myself in the wee hours of the night staring at the ceiling, picturing the students and families that I will see, and going through mental checklists in the hopes that nothing has been forgotten.

The first day butterflies usually don’t fully subside until I’m standing in front of the school at the start of our first Flag. Looking out at the students, teachers, and parents, a sense of calm comes over me right before I speak. At that moment, there is nothing more I can do – the year is starting whether I’m ready or not – and I can start being and doing – and stop planning. It is one of my favorite moments of the year.

As I write this, however, we are not quite there.

We have just completed a dynamic week of faculty meetings, and faculty and staff are putting the final touches on their classrooms. During the meetings, we looked at the important pieces of Vision 2015 that we will be focusing upon this year, including the development of JK-8 learning outcomes, the implementation of a one-to-one iPad program in grades 5-8, the building of a better Middle School by applying to modify our conditional use permit and increase our enrollment, and the development of the Center for Teaching Excellence, an innovative teacher training and professional development program to be launched in Fall 2012.

We also reflected a bit upon our shared summer reading, The Element by Sir Ken Robinson, and were inspired and challenged by a presentation from nationally renowned psychologist and educator Rob Evans. Dr. Evans challenged us to think about how we can create a culture that allows the difficult conversations necessary for genuine collaboration and growth. I will share more details about each of these topics in the months ahead.

We have added a number of talented and dynamic members to our faculty and staff this year. New members of the administration include Lower School Head Stephanie Deitz and Technology Director Don Orth. New faculty members include MS English teacher Julia Rubin, MS math teacher Shushan Sadjadi, science teacher Christa Flores, 4th grade teacher Kate Hammond, Kindergarten teacher Katie Florio, JK/K PE teacher Michele Richards, and librarian Kelly Scholten. New staff members include Receptionist Lina Saleski and Staff Accountant Holly Earlywine. See the separate article below for more detailed biographies of each of our new hires.

While we have been hard at work preparing for the year, I hope that you have completed the back-to-school tasks that we shared with you in early August – filling out emergency forms through Magnus Health, buying uniforms, ordering lunches, signing-up for extended care, and coordinating transportation among other things.

This year, I would ask that you once again work with us to be good neighbors and to mitigate the impact of traffic in our neighborhood. We urge all families to either carpool or use one of our two shuttles, limiting the number of cars that travel on and off campus in the morning and the afternoon.

In addition, we ask you to carefully monitor your driving in the neighborhood. Please remember to:

  • drive 15 mph on Upper Marchmont
  • come to a complete stop at all stop signs
  • avoid using cell phones when driving through the pick-up/drop-off
  • follow the directions of our on- and off-campus traffic monitors who are working to ensure traffic flows smoothly and that safety remains our top priority


Parents driving on campus will notice we have repaved a section of the parking lot, and have added an extra stacking lane as well as an additional drop off/pick-up spot in front of the Administrative Building. These changes are part of our continuing efforts to keep traffic from backing up onto Marchmont Road.

I suspect that Tuesday night I will not be the only one who has difficulty going to sleep. My own children have been chomping at the bit to get back to school since mid-August, and I have heard similar things from Hillbrook parents and students as our paths have crossed around campus and in Los Gatos during the past few weeks.

All of us – parents included – feel that mix of excitement, anticipation, and, yes, some anxiety that will likely peak as we struggle to get to sleep Tuesday night and then as we make our way onto campus on Wednesday morning. New students and parents of our JK and K students, of course, will feel it somewhat more intensely, but even our veteran 8th graders and their seasoned parents undoubtedly are feeling a little bit of unease.

Like any transition, the beginning of school will have its share of ups and downs for each of us. We all need to remember that it takes time to adjust and that the first few weeks are never without their hitches. Patience, good will and a sense of humor will help us all ease through any slippery patches in the weeks ahead.

Last year, my oldest daughter, Lily, moved across the campus from 2nd to 3rd grade. At the time, the transition did not strike me as particularly significant. After the third day of school, I asked her how it was going. She looked at me in all earnestness and said, “It’s going okay, but I’m still trying to figure out the 3/4 playground. I just don’t quite know how to play on it yet.”

The comment reminded me that every year is a transition – and that the challenges are not always what we expect as parents or teachers.

After 35 years in schools, I know enough to know that I can’t predict exactly what will happen on the first day of school let alone throughout the year. That, of course, is what makes education such a rewarding profession. Children and schools are predictably unpredictably, which is part of the magic. I know I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Sweet dreams, Tuesday night. I’ll see you at Flag.

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.