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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apr 282017
 

As a school, we have a long commitment to creating and nurturing a culture of reflection. We seek input and feedback and strive to work in partnership with families to meet our mission each and every day. We have always recognized the importance of gathering feedback from our community and using that feedback to help us both appreciate and affirm our strengths and also identify areas for growth and improvement.

This past year, we partnered with an outside firm, Pacific Consulting Group (PCG), to create, administer, and analyze a family survey. We sent out the survey to the community in November and invited all current families (representing 255 households) to respond. A total of 175 households completed the survey, representing an impressive 69 percent response rate. PCG shared the results with the school and then created a presentation for us to deliver to our community. The PCG presentation was shared at the HSPC meeting in April.

The survey was separated into ten areas – Educational Skills, Lower School Educational Program, Middle School Educational Program, School Programs, Teachers, School Leadership, School Culture and Community, Communications and Parent/Guardian Involvement, Facilities and Transportation. Parents also rated their overall satisfaction with Hillbrook. The results were strongly affirming for the school, with high satisfaction ratings in every category, including an overall satisfaction rate of 91 percent. 97 percent of families would recommend Hillbrook to a friend or relative, an incredibly high percentage.

One of the appeals of hiring PCG to administer the survey was that they conducted a leverage analysis of the results. The leverage analysis identified the school’s strengths to focus communications and highlight those areas where we are doing well and that are important to families. The leverage analysis also identified areas where improvement will create the most impact. These are areas where people are relatively dissatisfied and/or the area is very important to people. As PCG noted, improvement in these areas creates the biggest “bang for the buck.”

The survey reaffirmed our strengths, encouraging the school and community to highlight these areas when discussing the school :

  • Strong leadership that includes school leaders who treat people with respect and who provide a clear and compelling vision for the school
  • Exceptional teachers who combine a deep knowledge of their subject with a deep understanding of each child and responsiveness to parental communication
  • An extraordinary campus, that includes excellent facilities

On the other side, the survey suggested three areas that we should focus our improvement efforts. First, family’s are very interested in seeing us do even more to meet each child’s individual learning needs. PCG included a few quotes to help show how families respond when we do this well, as well as what families suggest for improvement. As an example of what it looks like when done well, one family wrote, “We have been thrilled at how much Hillbrook has seen our kids as individual learners with a lot to say and offer the world. Our kids have gained confidence and are more engaged in learning than ever before.” On the other side, families suggested that we might find more effective ways to challenge students. As one family wrote, “I think Hillbrook has a good program but needs to get a little more educationally intensive. For students who are academically ahead it appears that they don’t feel as challenged.”

The second and third areas were closely related, with families offering suggestions about how we can better help each child reach their highest individual potential and communicate student progress in ways that makes sense to both students and parents. As an example of what it looks like when done well, one family wrote, “I am so happy that Hillbrook and their teachers are willing to differentiate learning for kids. Some are advanced and some are not and I feel like they do a good job of adjusting the curriculum based on the child.”

On the other side, one family encouraged us to reconsider our homework, writing, “I think overall homework can cater to each child more. I find that it could be more challenging. This doesn’t necessarily mean traditional homework, but more project-based, integrated learning that truly engages.” Another family suggested we reconsider parent/teacher conferences writing, “20 minutes feels quite rushed to cover a child’s academic progress, social & emotional status, and allow for questions. Our teachers know our children so well, they have such rich feedback to share with us, and I come away from conferences feeling like an incremental 10-25 minutes would be so very helpful.”

In addition to the leverage analysis, PCG included survey results that addressed some general areas. For example, the survey affirmed that both “The Week Ahead” and “Hillbrook Happenings” are used by the vast majority of families, with 88 percent using the former and 85 percent using the latter. When asked, “How would you rate Hillbrook’s level of initiative in identifying opportunities for parent/guardian involvement?” 90 percent of families said “about right,” a strong endorsement of the HSPC and the school and how we structure volunteer opportunities. Additionally, 80 percent of families felt that our level of initiative in soliciting financial support was “about right.” Eighty-seven percent of families are satisfied with our transportation programs, with 77 percent of families using our transportation services.

The survey also affirmed the school’s success in creating an inclusive community, with 98 percent of families saying that both their child and their family felt included at Hillbrook. When asked about our vision and mission, 80 percent of families felt like Hillbrook was successful in achieving it. As one family wrote, “Our kids love waking up to go to Hillbrook and are excited to share what they are learning, and are learning a great deal on all fronts. Their confidence, knowledge, and life trajectory is far beyond mine at the same ages and it’s very impressive. I believe Hillbrook’s mission contributes to these traits in our kids.” As another family wrote, “Every child deserves a school like Hillbrook and we have seen our child blossom and thrive and grow by leaps and bounds in so many areas—academically, in her confidence, in her ability to become more responsible and self reliant. Her overall happiness with school has grown tenfold, and that is priceless.”

Overall, we feel that the survey reaffirms the focus of Vision 2020, and it has us well-positioned to build on our strengths, while addressing key issues identified in the survey. In particular, we believe that the school’s focus on reimagining the student experience, with particular attention on how we use time, how we challenge each child, and how we strengthen our assessment system, will ensure we are able to make meaningful progress in our efforts to meet the needs of each child and help each child reach their highest individual potential.

This was the first time that we have conducted a survey with PCG, and we plan on bringing them back every two years to measure our progress and help us continue to identify our strengths and areas where we can improve. We are excited that this new process offers us a meaningful and effective way to gather feedback for the school, something that we know is essential to ensure we continue to grow and thrive as a school.

Mar 172017
 

gratitudeI had the opportunity to hear Brené Brown at the recent NAIS National Conference in Baltimore. Author of several books, including bestsellers Daring Greatly and Rising Strong, Brown has garnered a great deal of attention by speaking to the powerful role that shame and vulnerability play in our lives, and how we need to understand and lean into those feelings if we are ever going to be able to be courageous and do great things.

Brown is a gifted and humorous speaker, and she managed to be simultaneously disarming, funny, and thought-provoking, as she challenged each of us to think about how our fear of being vulnerable leads to misunderstanding. It takes courage to speak our truth, particularly to those closest to us, she noted. She told a story of a morning swim with her husband that quickly devolved into a fight when the two of them failed to understand what the other was thinking. She encouraged us to develop facility with the phrase, “The story I am telling in my head…,” as a way to open conversation with another person and help them understand what you are thinking and, in the process, often help to reveal the misunderstanding at the core of the conflict.

I quickly thought of the many misunderstandings I had with people, especially my own family members, as I leapt up the ladder of inference and became frustrated, judgmental, and angry instead of opening myself up to a real conversation and a search for understanding. I thought of a recent situation in which one of my children came to me to ask if we could get a subscription to Adobe Photoshop. I looked up from my computer, and immediately, angrily, and, let’s be clear, irrationally launched into a mini-tirade about how all my children ever do is ask for things and want more. I was tired of their sense of entitlement and their never-ending need for things. I then turned back to what I was doing, shutting the conversation down.

Later, with the benefit of time and perspective, I went back to said child and asked them to tell me more. It turns out, that this child had already figured out a way to pay for this service by canceling another service we had, and was not simply asking for something more. I sheepishly listened and we worked out an arrangement that, in the end, actually highlighted the importance of financial management and this child’s growing awareness that “money does not grow on trees.”

It was definitely a low point as a parent, and one that I’m not proud of in the least. I could make a number of excuses, but if I’m being brutally honest (ie, fully vulnerable) and if I play out “the story in my head”, the question triggered complex feelings from my own childhood about money, an underlying fear that careless expenditures of money would have long-term consequences, coupled with shame about any type of conspicuous consumption. The latter undoubtedly traces all the way back to a purchase in 7th grade of an expensive pair of Vuarnet sunglasses with money I had earned through yard work and babysitting, a purchase that my parents viewed with a combination of disgust and disappointment. In retrospect, I now recognize their feeling – it was discomfort with the privilege I had (the ability to purchase a pair of Vuarnet sunglasses) combined with a larger fear that I would not recognize my privilege and would simply become entitled.

Brené Brown beautifully addressed this concept when she talked about her own efforts to ensure her children were not entitled. She distinguished between privilege – unearned access to resources  – and entitlement – expectations of access to resources. The key to keeping the one – privilege – from becoming the other – entitlement? Understanding and gratitude.

As a parent, how do we do this? I think it is important to explicitly name the privileges your children have, as well as helping them see how privilege varies across different communities. It is important for children to recognize, for example, that within the Hillbrook community, different families have different types of privilege, whether due to differences in socioeconomic status, race, or ethnicity. At the same time, even with those differences, it is helpful for our children to recognize the privilege that all Hillbrook children have simply by being students at the school, namely, access to an educational experience that the vast majority of children throughout the Bay Area and around the world do not have.

And how do we teach gratitude? To my mind, the best way to teach that is by modeling it for your own children and by showing your own gratitude for the things and experiences you find valuable. I regularly tell my children about how grateful I am to be part of this community, how grateful I am to live in such an extraordinarily beautiful area, and how grateful I am to have the freedom and the opportunities that I have had throughout my life.

For additional exploration  you might check out the following:

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.