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Read the latest thoughts and musings from our Head of School, Janet Durgin. Each week, she takes a picture of life on campus, and shares insights into the current state of affairs. Occasionally, Assistant Head of School Ellie Dwight or Dean of Student Life Jason Gregory weigh in with thoughts and perspectives.

This Week's View From Here

List of 1 news stories.

  • Endings and Beginnings

    These last days are packed with traditions, rituals, celebrations, and recognitions: athletic teams, speech and debate, and robotics all had their end of year ceremonies. We wrapped up two unforgettable productions: our spring play, Elektra, and our first spring music concert under the incredible leadership of our new Music Director Amanda McFadden. We heard six intelligent and compelling concentration presentations (which you can read a bit more about below), an  evening that provided a powerful demonstration of the intrinsically motivated learning and service-minded nature of our students. We’ve heard our final senior speech, had our last exploratory classes, and we are busily writing tributes that acknowledge each of our graduates.

    There’s not a moment that goes by that we are not keenly aware that we’re enjoying our last days on campus with our seniors, who were just inducted into the Alumni Association yesterday. Maybe they’ve had a bit of help from the unseasonably cool weather, but this class, more than any other class in recent history, is demonstrating their commitment to finishing well, with nary a trace of senioritis (ok, maybe a smidge!)  It’s a joy to see how settled and satisfied they are with their hard work, and it’s moving to see how they are celebrating the collaborative journey that they’ve taken together as a class.

    Above all, I think they are very pleased with their plans for next year. At our school, we don’t name class valedictorians or saluditorians, instead seeking to celebrate the unique  accomplishments of all of our students. We deliberately work to create a cooperative culture of excellence, which drives the kind of self-motivated accomplishment I reference above. That said, we want to acknowledge all of the hard-work and self-searching that has gone into each of our graduate’s plans for next year.

    Below is the list of colleges and gap year plans for the class of 2019.

    Baylor UniversitySt. Olaf College
    Boston UniversitySanta Rosa Junior College (2)
    Brown UniversitySeattle University (3)
    California Polytechnic State University,Smith College
    San Luis Obispo (3)Stanford University
    Chapman University (5)Tufts University
    Colorado CollegeTulane University (2)
    Colorado Mesa UniversityUniversity of California, Davis
    Dickinson College (3)University of California, Los Angeles (2)
    Dominican University of CaliforniaUniversity of California, Santa Barbara (2)
    Drexel UniversityUniversity of California, Santa Cruz (6)
    Emerson CollegeUniversity of Colorado at Boulder (3)
    Franklin University SwitzerlandUniversity of Notre Dame
    The George Washington UniversityUniversity of Oregon
    Humboldt State UniversityUniversity of Redlands (3)
    Lehigh University (2)University of Rhode Island
    Lewis & Clark College (2)University of San Diego (2)
    Macalester CollegeUniversity of Vermont
    Marymount California UniversityUniversity of Virginia
    New York University (3)University of Washington
    Northwestern UniversityUniversity of Wisconsin, Madison
    Oberlin College of Arts and SciencesWarren Wilson College
    Occidental CollegeWhittier College (2)
    Pitzer College (2)Williams College
    Roosevelt UniversityGap Year - 8

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Recent Posts

Read some of the most recent posts, or view the Blog Archive to peruse posts from months past.

List of 2 news stories.

  • A Lasting Legacy

    Janet Durgin, Head of School
    Almost 20 years ago, Sam’ Horton's wife Martha saw an article in the Press Democrat about a new high school that would open the following year in Santa Rosa. Martha showed it to Sam, who at the time was commuting from their home in Forestville to University High School in the city and she said, “Sam, this is the school for you.” Sam knew it was a good idea to listen to Martha, as she was a woman of strong will and good common sense. 

    So, because of Martha, this blue-eyed wizard was sitting across from me in the little corporate office that had been lent to us in the Airport Business Park. It was one of many early signs that magic, serendipity, and good fortune would shine on our school. I couldn’t believe that this amazing educator, who had been a founding teacher at UHS, with expertise in Biology, Chemistry, Environmental Science, and California Natural History, was willing to leave his prestigious, stable job for something uncertain. Over the course of the next year, Sam joined Ellie, Jamie, Hillary, and me for a series of meetings in Hillary’s San Francisco apartment and Ellie’s barn to begin to dream our school into being.

    The party we had last weekend for Sam made his retirement a little more real than I have allowed it to be in my mind to date. But the time has come to recognize Sam’s almost half century of teaching, during which he has reached generations of students (literally -- several of the children of Sam’s first students at UHS showed up as students at Sonoma Academy, to both their parents’ and Sam’s surprise and delight). 

    Back at the barn in the year before we opened, Sam jumped right into creating our interdisciplinary curriculum. Well before STEM became “a thing,” Sam had a vision of how a high school program could inspire reverence and care for our planet by teaching students to see the relationships and interdependence of biological, physical, social, and cultural phenomena--the great "web of life,” all of which, by the way, is abundantly displayed in Sam’s classroom: snakes, turtles, fish, and fish eggs, and at the other end of the life cycle, taxidermy, lovingly preserved by Sam himself.

    Sam founded our Vision Quest program, where the natural world becomes a mirror for the inner, helping our seniors see who they are in ways that allow them to go forth with greater direction and clarity.

    When the school moved from our first home, in the Luther Burbank Center, to the new campus at Taylor Mountain, Sam turned towards the mountain and made it into his textbook and syllabus, cajoling scores of sleepy teens out of their seats and onto the mountain, amongst the flora and fauna.
    Earlier this year, Humanities teacher Colin McNamara was unexpectedly asked to teach a science class at Kawana Elementary, one of our neighborhood partner schools. He sent an email, asking if Sam just might have a microscope and maybe a couple of animal or plant slides. Sam replied, “the bacteria are not so interesting visually, but I have both microscopic and dissection scopes of plants, animals, and fungi. I will be glad to set up a 'to go' kit. How many are needed?”

    Right up to the end, Sam keeps showing up with this same kind of “Samlam-ness.” You won’t be surprised to hear that he was one of the first to sign up to bring food to his retirement party. When we wrote back and told him he wasn't supposed to bring food to his own party, he responded as follows: “I wish to honor all of those incredible educators and friends I have been inspired by and have worked with from one to 18 years. I just don't want to receive without giving back (my world view). Happy to be a contributor to a community, a shared potluck, and a celebration of what we share in our collective histories...signed, SamIam.”

    It's hard to imagine walking across campus and not meeting Sam's twinkly eyes, believing that he sees me, and that no matter what kind of day he has had, he will have time for me. I know am not alone feeling this way. The school’s heartbeat is synchronized with Sam's great heart, and we will have to strengthen ourselves very deliberately to manage without him. He reminds us why we’re here: love. And this we must not forget.

    I’d like to finish with words from one of our students who did a profile of Sam in the school paper: “Every day, this community can count on Sam to be present with a great big smile and a gleam in his eyes. He is one of the people who has shaped SA into what it is today, and for that, Sonoma Academy is incredibly grateful.”

    We are honoring Sam in a simple way that I hope will serve as some measure of our gratitude. Every year, the school applies almost $1 million in financial aid to approximately 40 STEM scholars. From now on, this will be known as the Horton Stem Scholarship Fund and they will be the Horton STEM Scholars. Thank you, Sam.
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  • Back to School

    Back to School

    by Janet Durgin, Head of School

    This week, we are all in a “back to school” frame of mind. Whether we were participating in Intersession trips to exotic locales like Bali, Patagonia, or Ireland, visiting colleges, enjoying a mellow “staycation” closer to home, or working away on an almost eerily quiet campus, we were all afforded a chance to step away from the daily grind for a bit...only to return to a school gearing up for the end-of-the-year crush. We are shaken out of our spring break stupor, aware that the busiest part of the year is right on the horizon.
    I’ve been going “back to school” a bit, myself, lately. Twice a week, I walk away from my desk and head to Amanda’s Choir Exploratory. Among a growing number of students and staffulty members, I lift my voice in song and feel the chaos of the day fade away. For that magic 45 minutes, I am a student again.
    Since she arrived this fall, Amanda -- a real pedagogical pied piper -- has revolutionized our music program. The choir has quadrupled in size, and students and staffulty alike are drawn to it, including our Oona, Irma, Summar, Dan and Rebecca from the admin corridor and teachers like Dan and Marco. I first heard the choir sing when I dropped into Amanda’s class last quarter. The beautiful music brought me to tears, but I was also struck by the unbridled joy evident on the students’ faces as they watched their conductor, who wore the biggest smile of all. I was inspired to talk about the choir in my Big Night Out remarks and then decided it was time for me to overcome my fear of singing in public and join the choir.
    I love singing in the choir because it challenges me in so many ways. It  engages body, brain, and soul. It’s both a personal endeavor -- I must read and learn the music and train my own voice-- but it’s also a deeply communal experience. There are studies that show that singing in a choir is associated with greater joy and empathy for others. To be a part of a choir, you have to really learn to listen: to your close neighbors, to the whole ensemble, to the soloists, even to the silences when a song ends.
    We work hard, but we have so much fun. Sometimes, as part of practice, we turn to one another, making eye contact and singing “how are you doing today?” It’s such a joyful and meaningful exercise, one that never fails to make me break out in a huge grin. I can feel barriers breaking down; I am making new friends as I make music, and I am making progress as I develop my vocal skills.
    I asked the choir to perform at Big Night Out last month, not only because the music they make is is moving and memorable, but because the choir seems to me to be a metaphor for what we are trying to do here. We want to engage our students head, hand, and heart. We want them to have the confidence to stand on stage without fear. We want them to learn when to lend their voices to the group and when to take the microphone and shine on their own. And the choir is a community made up of many different kinds of people -- students, teachers, administrators -- all working toward a common goal, supporting one another and listening to one another, an oasis in a busy, sometimes stressful world.
    Part of the end-of-the-year craziness this spring includes preparations for our new performing arts center. I’m having conversations with architects, engineers, our facilities team, and with our Performing Arts teachers, Jen and Amanda. We brainstorm about what this new building will be like and the amazing impact it will have on our students. As we look ahead to this exciting development, I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to be a Performing Arts student myself, feeling firsthand the benefits of this kind of education with these gifted teachers.
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2500 Farmers Lane
Santa Rosa, CA 95404

Sonoma Academy is...

The only private, independent, college preparatory high school in Sonoma County. On its beautiful 34-acre campus nestled at the base of picturesque Taylor Mountain in South Santa Rosa, Sonoma Academy students are able to explore their interests and passions in a challenging environment that prepares them for college and life beyond.