The View From Here

A snapshot into life at Sonoma Academy taken from many angles, The View From Here is our bi-monthly blog featuring reflections from the Head of School, and other staffulty members. 

The View From Here: Current Article

List of 15 news stories.

  • A Big Night In

    Last year, at this time, we were putting the finishing touches on what was to be another legendary Big Night Out. The theme last year was “out of this world” and our cadre of dedicated parents had gone all out in putting together a spectacular evening--complete with otherworldly decor and delicious food and wine. It’s hard to believe that less than a week after last year’s Big Night Out, we closed our campus as a result of the county Shelter in Place orders. Now, for many of us, a Big Night Out is a trip to the grocery store. But that legendary BNO team has come through yet again, envisioning a way that we can all celebrate together in support of our school (from the comfort of our own homes!) 

    Big Night In on Saturday, April 24 will give us all a much-needed opportunity to laugh, connect, and raise money for our school. Even though we can’t all gather together in person, that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun and revel in the amazing work of our teachers and students. There will be performances, surprises, and hilarity—stay tuned for more details soon. 

    The funds raised through Big Night In will support the salaries of our amazing teachers, faculty professional development, in-classroom technology such as Neat Bars and other technology that will outfit our classrooms for the years ahead.

    We may not be noshing on fine cuisine or cutting a rug in the transformed gym together. But as the plans take shape, we know that this evening will generate the same feelings of community, generosity, and SA spirit that has always been the hallmark of Big Night Out. We are so excited to celebrate with you all!
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  • The View From Here: Our School-Wide Commitment to Equity and Belonging

    Our School-Wide Commitment to Equity and Belonging

    Last spring, we announced a half-time, interim Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) position, which has been exceptionally led by Dot Kowal as she has also continued in her Director of College Counseling role. Even before our national racial justice reckoning took hold this past summer, we recognized the critical importance of expanding our leadership and commitment to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives throughout the SA community. As the Transition Committee noted on the first day I started in my position, the new Head of School “will continue the forward movement of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives in collaboration with the Board, staffulty, and SAPA, including identifying blocks and barriers to equity and inclusion at SA, better supporting underrepresented groups on campus, and looking at policies and procedures across all aspects of the school through a lens of equity and inclusion.” It is a charge that has, in part, led to this exciting moment for our school.

    As I began my first year at SA, we embarked on a national search to find our first-ever, full-time DEI Director. We knew this hire would position SA to be a leader of equity and inclusion work throughout the country. We received almost 100 applications for this position from qualified candidates throughout the region and our country. Over the past two weeks, we invited three finalists, including our very own Dot Kowal, to meet with our staffulty and students as we took on the vital task of determining the best person to lead this important work for our entire community moving forward. 

    I am thrilled to announce that, starting July 1, 2021, Dot Kowal will be our first ever full-time DEI Director at Sonoma Academy. Dot impressed our search committee throughout the multiple stages of our search process, and it was clear to me that she is the right person to lead our DEI efforts across our many constituencies at this critical moment. As one feedback respondent mentioned, "Dot has done exceptional work in her role as a part-time, interim Director" and she will "continue to bring tremendous heart and expertise to DEI work at SA moving forward." It is also not easy being an internal candidate and, as one person captured it, "Dot handled this process with such grace and dignity, which speaks volumes about her character, while also continuing to move the necessary work forward." It should be noted that we are moving quickly to launch a national search to fill the Director of College Counseling position, and we have a plan in place to support our current juniors as they head into the college application process.

    Over the past six months, we have built a solid foundation for our DEI work which includes the creation of this full-time position as well as a DEI Committee of our Board. We have engaged in meaningful antiracist professional development in partnership with some of our recent alumni and regional DEI consultants, launched student and staffuty affinity groups, evaluated our hiring practices, and our Board just participated in an Implicit Bias training with a leading practitioner in the field. Most recently, Dot conducted a workshop for our staffulty on affinity group spaces, facilitated a SAPA Book Club discussion of How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, and participated in a DEI dashboard training that we will utilize at SA. 

    Please join me in congratulating Dot as we “welcome” her to SA in this exciting new role. Dot and I look forward to partnering with you as we take on these initiatives in earnest and strive to make SA a leader of equity and belonging throughout the region. Collectively, we have enormous potential to work together to build the most equitable and inclusive community possible, one that benefits everyone who is a part of it. 

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  • The View From Here: Where Do We Go From Here?

    Next Wednesday will be an historic inauguration day in American history for a number of reasons. First, the transfer of presidential power occurs exactly two weeks after the US Capitol was attacked by violent extremists who were intent on destroying the Capitol and the democratic principles it represents. Secondly, there are only three other instances of an outgoing President boycotting the inauguration of their successor, the most recent incident dating back over 150 years ago following the Civil War and Andrew Johnson’s own impeachment by the House of Representatives. And, perhaps most distressing, we witnessed an abhorrent and shocking attack that defaced our democracy with symbols of hate and white supremacy. 

    In his fourth and final book before his assassination in 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s title asked the fundamental question guiding and haunting the late stages of the Civil Rights Movement: “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?” King wrote the manuscript in a rented home in Jamaica, the only true moment in his adult life when he removed himself from the Movement, without a phone or any communication with the outside world. King’s book was written at a moment of confusion and debate about the future direction of the Civil Rights Movement. Much of King’s book discusses the pressing issues of poverty in the US, the war in Vietnam, and the pernicious racism eating at the soul of the nation. Yet, the central theme is one of hope and the central question is “who are we and where do we go from here?”

    Ironically, I usually reflect on, and discuss, the contributions of other less-known civil rights leaders as the nation celebrates the life and legacy of Dr. King. People like Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hammer, and the thousands and thousands of people who, as the late, great John Lewis posthumously reminded us, are simply “ordinary people with extraordinary vision.” While I encourage everyone to think about those who fought for racial and social justice beyond King, and certainly those who struggled alongside him, I find myself immersed in King’s words and his legacy at this particularly perilous moment for our democracy. In the most challenging moments of his life—even in his final Mountaintop sermon, with tears streaming down his face, when he knew he might not live much longer—King still professed a profound hope and belief in a democracy and a nation that had not always believed in him. 

    Our Director of Information Science, Michele Martin, recently circulated an email to our entire staffulty and student body, with a registration link to Stanford University’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute, which is presenting a free, online documentary film festival, using the same title and pressing question that Dr. King asked in his final book. It opens tonight with over twenty films, talks, and performances that will take place over the next four days, each day organized around the central questions in King’s book. I hope some of you will register for the festival and/or find a moment to reflect on the questions that King asked in his own isolated moment of reflection: “Where are we? Who are we? Where do we go from here?”  

    While we as educators cannot claim to have all the answers, it is our fundamental work to support our students in their own process of reflection, to empower them as they engage with complex and challenging topics, and to recognize their own roles and purposes in tackling our nation’s and our world’s most pressing issues and challenges. 
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  • The View From Here: Community

    The end of the calendar year always inspires reflection and a look back at all that has unfolded throughout the year. And, clearly, 2020 will always be imprinted in our minds! As I approach the end of my first semester at SA, I find myself thinking about being a new member of this amazing community in a time when it has been difficult—at times, almost impossible—for us to experience the deep connections and positive energy that makes SA so special. This strong sense of community was one of the many things that drew me to SA, and while it has been difficult for all of us to connect while sheltering in place, evidence of our caring, thoughtful, and inclusive school culture is all around us, especially at this time of year. 

    This week, SAPA coordinated a massive effort to deliver joy (in the form of delicious treats, gift cards, soaps, journals, and even bacon!) to every member of our staffulty, and to every single student at our school. Parent volunteers brought holiday gift bags to over 400 hundred community members throughout the North Bay, from Mill Valley to the far reaches of Napa County. What a massive and amazing undertaking! These gifts made our staffulty feel so appreciated at this most hectic time of year, and they reminded our students how much we value them as the beating heart of our community. Huge thanks to those who donated such wonderful gifts, assembled bags, and/or delivered this holiday cheer to so many doorsteps.  

    I have also heard a lot about the generosity and kindness showing up in our (virtual) classrooms as well. Many of our teachers report that our students worked together to surprise them: they would start class with their videos off, and then slowly turn their cameras on one by one to reveal handwritten notes of thanks and encouragement. (Take a look at this slideshow created by Pam's 4th year Mandarin students for an even more elaborate thank you surprise.) At the close of one of the most challenging semesters ever, these touching expressions of gratitude were such wonderful surprises for our teachers. 

    I felt the strength of our community spirit in our virtual holiday assembly. The musical performances and festive decorations and backgrounds evoked a perfect seasonal cheer, with a dash of the goofy good humor that has been part of our school’s holiday traditions for years. As I mentioned to our students, next year’s holiday assembly will be an epic celebration for our community and our new holiday tradition will be unveiled!

    As we prepare for the final days of 2020, many of us are anticipating what next year will bring and that new beginnings will offer hope for a better year ahead. As we plan for more in-person activities and campus connections after our return from winter break, we are grateful for all the positive news about vaccines and the signs that we can see some light at the end of this never ending tunnel. The creativity, gratitude, and heart I have witnessed in our community over the past six months inspires me every day, and we are so thankful to call SA our home. I hope you all have a restful and peaceful holiday break—I look forward to seeing you all in 2021!
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  • The View From Here: Gratitude

    Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. There is the delicious food (and leftovers!), the time-honored football rivalries, the full feel of fall, and the fact that people of all backgrounds bring their family traditions to the metaphorical (and literal) table. But above all, I appreciate Thanksgiving for giving us all a dedicated time and space to focus our attention on gratitude. 

    In moments of challenge and obstacle—and no one would dispute the fact that we have all become well versed in addressing hardship over the last eight months—cultivating gratitude is one of the most beneficial things for perseverance and strength. Celebrating the silver linings, the unexpected joy, and the beauty in the everyday helps us all to be more resilient in difficult situations and more attuned to our mental health and the wellness of those around us. 

    There is so much to be thankful for, even amidst these trying times, as we think about how fortunate we are to be a part of this wonderful school. I am so deeply grateful to be at SA -- I still wake up each morning so thankful to work in a school that feels so much like home to me. I am grateful for our creative, dedicated, and brilliant staffulty and our passionate, empathetic, and hardworking students. I am grateful for the way in which my family has embraced our new adventure in Sonoma County. And I am grateful for our parents and families who put their trust in us to work with, guide, and inspire their teenagers at such a critical moment of their life.  

    Thanksgiving celebrations will look different for many of us this year. Many of us will be closer to home, with fewer people around our dinner table. The post-dinner game of Scrabble might become a game played over Zoom. The roar of the crowds in the background of the football games will be virtual and our turkey trots and runs to feed the hungry will be socially distanced and masked. All of these changes are opportunities to welcome new traditions to our holiday, and I’m also grateful for the nudge to try something novel. At SA, for our new tradition, we are thrilled to welcome the inaugural SA5K, a race for our whole community (there’s still time to register here) that already has over 200 participants. You can run, walk, bike, swim, row, and we may even have a unicyclist in the field. There are many prizes—including the most creative route, most SA gear and Coyote spirit and, for the competitive among us, fastest time. 

    Finally, I am grateful for the hard choices and sacrifices so many of us are making this holiday season for the health, safety, and the greater good of our larger community. I am grateful for all of our essential workers, healthcare professionals, and scientists working so incredibly hard to see us through this struggle and find a path to move forward. And it is hard to describe just how grateful I felt last Friday, and over the past week, as we welcomed groups of students on our campus for the first time this year. I was filled with optimism, excitement and, most importantly, hope. And gratitude inevitably leads to hope. 

    That is what I wish for all of our community throughout the Thanksgiving break—big helpings of both gratitude and hope as we usher in the holiday season. And big helpings of pie and stuffing, too. Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!
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  • The View From Here: Welcome Back

    This has been such a long week, filled with the endless cycle of political commentary about election returns and the undetermined outcome of multiple states. It feels as though the election and ballot counting have been going on for months now; there is so much anxious anticipation swirling as we await the final outcome. That feeling of nervous excitement (and a bit of exhaustion) is nothing new for the members of our Health and Safety Task Force. Like the intrepid ballot counters, our team of staffulty members has worked methodically and carefully to ensure that everything goes smoothly as we welcome small groups of students back to our campus. For months, they have been preparing protocols and procedures, procuring supplies and planning for all of the uncertainties, and working overtime to bring our students and staffulty back to SA as safely as possible.

    Sonoma County is still classified in the Purple Tier under the state’s color-coded reopening system, and this precludes us from being able to open our campus to in-person instruction. However, we are allowed to bring small groups of students back for extracurricular activities and learning support. Starting next Friday, November 13, 9th grader students will be invited to campus to meet with their Health and Wellness TA groups, some even visiting SA for the first time,  and extracurricular groups will be scheduled to meet in person in the coming weeks. 

    We have put countless hours into developing safety guidelines, establishing a Covid-19 testing process, and working through the logistics involved with bringing our students back. Please refer to the email that was sent to all students and families last night and to our detailed Return to Campus Guidebook for more information about our plans to keep our community safe. 

    We cannot overstate our excitement about this initial phase of our reopening. Our 9th graders, who have not been together as Coyotes, will have an invaluable opportunity to connect and experience time together during our asynchronous day next Friday. The cast of our Fall Theater Production, A Midwinter Night’s Dream, will finally be able to conduct in-person rehearsals. Our Fall athletes will be able to reunite with their teammates for drills and skills practice. It will also be my first moments as Head of School with students on campus, and I am anxiously awaiting our return next week. 

    This week has clearly been a lesson in patience. We are all waiting and watching as we anticipate the outcome of the presidential election. Fortunately, patience is a skill we have been sharpening for many months now. These small cohort meetings will be a reward for our patience as we continue to prepare for a broader reopening with more cohorts and grade-levels on campus following our Thanksgiving break. I cannot think of a better reward than to have time on campus as we reconnect and reimagine our community together. 
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  • The View From Here: Brave Spaces

    Like every other week in the year 2020, the last few days have provided ample opportunities for challenging discussions, disagreements, and debates. Even in a small and tight-knit community like ours, it can be hard to talk about controversial topics in a productive and equitable manner. Emotions are running high, and the stakes are even higher. 

    This year more than ever, it feels important to equip our students to handle this type of conversation with confidence and maturity. With that in mind, this week, our students engaged in an activity intended to promote the concept of Brave Spaces in Advisory. As a group, they created agreements to guide them through the difficult conversations that may come up at school and out in the world. These agreements will be tools to use as we talk about current events, particularly the November election. 

    This summer, a team of our staffulty members (Interim Director of Diversity, Equity Inclusion Dot Kowal, Director of Technology Sean Freese, and Experiential Curriculum Coordinator Kiska Kosakowski) attended a workshop entitled “Can We Talk About Politics?” Run by Allison Park of Blink Consulting, a nonprofit exploring diversity in education, the workshop was designed to help educators facilitate challenging conversations in an equitable way. This week’s Advisory activity was inspired by this workshop and by other DEI-related professional development our staffulty has participated in over the past year. 

    Creating a Brave Space for students to speak and to listen is crucially important to successfully navigating challenging conversations. Different from a “safe space” (originally an affinity group/space for marginalized people to gather and share, now often misunderstood and politicized as a place where any discomfort or challenge is not allowed) a Brave Space is an environment where people can discuss complicated issues respectfully. 

    The guiding principles of Brave Spaces include engaging controversy with civility, owning both intention and impact, and allowing students to choose when to step in and out of the conversation. In a Brave Space, students are expected to truly listen to others and to offer their opinions without attacking. (It is important to acknowledge that for students who are from marginalized groups, every space is a Brave Space, as in many situations, minorities must be brave simply to exist.)

    To build our own Brave Spaces in Advisory, each group was tasked with collaboratively creating a set of agreements for discussion. Examples included “listen with the intent to listen, not talk next,” “remember that feeling UNCOMFORTABLE is not the same as feeling UNSAFE,” “be brave: try to say the things that are hard, and stretch yourself,” and “remember everyone has the right to start somewhere and grow.” Each Advisory group’s list is unique, and these lists will be referenced whenever we discuss a potentially controversial topic together.

    This process of brainstorming and talking through ideas together was not only helpful for building community in our Advisory groups, but it was also an exercise in creating policy together. Writing equitable and fair guidelines that all have agreed to is a way to practice and understand the importance of equitable and fair policy in our larger communities and institutions. 

    We look forward to putting these Brave Space agreements to work in Advisory in the coming weeks. Parents may find these agreement examples useful, themselves, as they engage in challenging discussions with others. If there is one thing 2020 has taught us, it’s the importance of navigating hard conversations with grace and respect. Let’s all be brave together!
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  • The View From Here: Re-viewing Advancement

    This is the start of my third year heading up the Advancement Department at SA, and my, how my view has changed! Instead of looking out my office window and seeing students reading and chatting in the Jackson Banke Amphitheatre, I’m sitting here in my garage office—a space that I converted to my home office over the summer. As the days have passed inside this new workspace, I’ve found myself asking a lot of questions related to my work and role at Sonoma Academy. Much as our teachers spent the summer reimagining and reinventing how they would teach in a remote format, I have been wondering how we could reinvent and reimagine fundraising at SA. Amidst this global pandemic, without the ability to gather, to get to know each other, to celebrate our school in the typical ways we have done for the past 20 years, what is the core essence of our fundraising efforts?

    All of these questions bounce around my mind at a sub-four-minute mile pace. But then there is a calm, and a feeling of opportunity. When I first arrived here, I realized that I had found a special school. From day one, I wanted to run our fundraising efforts in a way that was just as innovative as this amazing school. We are entrepreneurial, bold, and creative in our approach to education, from the way we teach biology using case studies to our new Impact projects that allow students to learn through meaningful service. Why shouldn’t our fundraising efforts be as unique as our programs are? Independent schools across the country tend to raise funds in the same exact way; we have the chance to make our approach as unique as our SA experience.

    This year—when it is becoming ever more apparent that we may not be able to have Big Night Out in the same way that we have had in the past, we will not be able to have Coyote Tales at the Green Music Center, and we will not be able to welcome Tucker and his family to our community in the way that we had all hoped we would—is the perfect year to rethink everything and to look for our “that’s so SA” way of realigning our approach to fundraising.

    Philanthropy and the spirit of giving is central to the Sonoma Academy story since our earliest days. Our thirteen amazing founders, all seeing a need for a rigorous college preparatory school in Sonoma County, dug deep into their own pockets to make this school a reality. We have weathered financial storms through the generosity of our community. From the downturn of 2008 when the commitment to financial aid never wavered to the ways our families opened up their homes to members of our community during the wildfires of 2017 to earlier this year when we launched our Community Support Fund to support our families experiencing hardship due to the global pandemic, giving is inherent to who we are as a school and as a community.

    Each year we raise approximately $1.5 million, between our annual gala (Big Night Out) and our Annual Fund efforts. For a school of our size, that is highly impressive. But true philanthropy goes beyond the annual. We want to rethink our fundraising approach and bring it from annual to perennial. 

    With the goal of creating a culture of giving that will sustain our school next year and for many years beyond, we are renaming the Annual Fund. Known now as the Sonoma Academy Fund, this effort is a new way to view giving that is “so SA.” The money raised by the Sonoma Academy Fund will support our school’s drive to innovate, reframe, and inspire, guided by our steadfast vision and deeply held values. 

    This year, we have had to embrace change, but that is nothing new for our school. While the Sonoma Academy Fund name and approach to fundraising will be a bit different going forward, our goals are the same. We seek to create a place that is familiar, safe, and warmly welcoming to parents, alumni, and new students alike. We strive to question our assumptions and create unique, meaningful programs that will captivate and challenge our students. We hope to establish exciting new initiatives that will connect us with the greater community and the world beyond the North Bay. We will keep evolving, imagining, and working together. We will focus on meaningful engagement and we invite you all to be involved in the Sonoma Academy Fund and our advancement efforts. 

    We have some fun in store for you this year. We look forward to sharing more details with you soon! 
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  • The View From Here: The Strangest of Times

    When I walked out from my office on Tuesday afternoon, I felt as if I was walking into a science fiction movie. The sky was turning an eerie amber color, and although I couldn’t smell smoke, I knew that it was a particulate matter that was veiling the late afternoon sun and plunging us into an early dusk. 

    These are the strangest of times. We are now wearing masks and staying at home more than we did before, even beyond the initial magnitude of the global pandemic that changed our world roughly six months ago. Now we need different masks to go outdoors to protect us from the smoke from the fires that are burning all over the West Coast. We now regularly check websites for Covid-19 numbers, evacuation zones, and air quality meters as we start our days. 

    Working with teenagers is perhaps the best antidote for feeling defeated by the scary and challenging things going on in our world. Teenagers are imbued with an enthusiasm, optimism, and an unyielding belief that things can, and must, be better than what they have inherited. In so many historical instances, young people have instigated and demanded change, from the historic movement for civil rights and equality to the struggle for a more peaceful and environmentally conscious world. Young activists see that the future belongs to them, and they call on us as adults to wake up, to work together, and to consider the consequences of our inaction and meager expectations of what is possible. 

    Under the uncertain and challenging circumstances of this current moment, our students (in partnership with our new Student Activities Coordinator, Jasmine Wingard) are infusing a sense of normalcy and taking action around important issues by launching a virtual Club Fair. While they acknowledge that nothing is normal right now, many of these clubs are convening to address the great issues of our time. They are working hard to reverse the devastating impacts of climate change, creating safe and connected communities, and striving toward an equal and just society that embraces and empowers people of all races, genders, and orientations. They are also making art, building their creative capacities, and having fun: singing, sewing, speaking, reading, writing and supporting one another through shared experience. 

    Scrolling through these club options fills me with an emotion that can be elusive for all of us these days: hope. Our students are confident about the change they will make in the world, and they are the leaders we need to imagine a better tomorrow. They are creative, thoughtful, determined, and filled with positive energy. They understand that their voices and actions have meaning and power, and they believe that uniting together is the path to better art, stronger community, and a more just and healthy world. 

    We adults often talk about how we are being confronted with a “new normal,” and how we will have to adjust to the changes around us to survive. For teenagers, everything is new, and nothing is “normal”; and that is one of their greatest superpowers and precious gifts to our society. They are ready to take on the challenges of the future with resilience, passion, and optimism. That is a certainly a club I always want to be a part of.
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  • The View From Here: Connected Community

    We pride ourselves on our connected school community. In a normal year, that community is reinforced throughout the day, every day, in a hundred large and small ways. We gather as a whole school each day for lunch in the Commons, and once a week in the gym for Community Meeting. We meet in small multi-grade groups for Advisory, creating opportunities for students to develop friendships and mentoring relationships across grade levels. We wave and smile at one another as we cross campus between classes, and each wave and smile weaves that net of community bond just a bit tighter. 
    One of the great challenges in distance learning is maintaining and cultivating the sense of connection that is so unique to our school. Just as our teachers are reimagining their curricula and their pedagogy, our Student Life and Experiential Education staffulty are coming up with creative ways to build community even as we must be apart. 
    A cornerstone of our community is Advisory. These small, mixed grade-level groups are a kind of “home base” for our students; each student generally keeps the same advisor all four years, and Advisory is a place where younger students are mentored by older ones. Since we aren’t on campus yet, Advisory groups are meeting up over Zoom at least once a week to check in and discuss what’s on their minds. This week, some of our Advisory groups chose theme songs or made playlists; they have also been playing icebreaker games and getting to know one another. 
    Another crucial community-building activity is freshman Health and Wellness, where our ninth graders meet both as a class and in small groups with their senior TAs. In these groups, freshman have many important conversations about topics like mental and physical wellness, substance use and abuse, relationships, and more. Since the beginning of school, our TAs have facilitated discussions on our Honor Code and school rules and digital citizenship (especially important in our current circumstances). Next week, they will dive into a new curriculum called Belonging, which explores how we find a sense of belonging in the world as individuals. 
    Clubs and student activities are already underway, with many returning clubs convening over Zoom this week and new clubs in the works getting ready to launch. Based on the interest survey we sent out to students, we have a lot of student bakers out there...perhaps we will get some clubs going so students can test out those newly acquired quarantine bread-baking skills!
    And of course, the beating heart of our community is our weekly Community Meeting. Although we aren’t all packed into the bleachers hoping no one’s phone drops noisily, we are still gathering once weekly in front of screens to come together as a school. So far this year, we have heard moving Senior Speeches and an inspiring Moment of Reflection on finding happiness from STEM teacher Dan Karbousky, and this week saw the awarding of our very first Coyote Cup points in a fun live vote for best photo collage (the freshmen came away victorious in a strong start to their year!) 

    In many ways, large and small, we are keeping those connections made in person, and building new ones even from a distance. When we are able to be together again, it’s certain we will pick up where we left off, even more grateful for the many opportunities to connect every day.
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  • The View From Here: Reinventing Ourselves

    In our mission statement, we promise to “nurture inspiring faculty.” That is always true, but especially this year as we find ourselves having to rethink everything from class projects to student life. Our teachers have been going “back to school” all summer, preparing for a school year like no other with a sense of adventure and even excitement.

    As last school year ended, we were all confronting the threat of a global pandemic, the challenge of creating safe and effective pathways back into the classroom while also preparing for possible distance learning, and a long-overdue national conversation about race and justice. At the start of the summer, a staffulty task force convened to help teachers identify professional development opportunities that would equip them for teaching during this unprecedented time. 

    Our teachers used their “time off” to take online courses, read broadly, and attend zoom conferences. Here are just a few examples of their areas of study:

    • Maitane Elorza, Danielle Delario, Alissa Coenen, and Florence Rink studied methods for teaching world languages in a distance learning setting 
    • Ramsey Musallam, Dan Karbousky, and Eric Moes took courses on adapting STEM curricula for a variety of learning situations (distance learning, classroom, and hybrid) and for a variety of learning styles
    • Lisa Zavieh (STEM) and Pam Vincent (Mandarin) participated in a workshop on project based learning 
    • Teachers and administrators from every department dove into workshops and study groups discussing anti-racist classrooms and communities; every staffulty member was given copies of How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, and A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History by Jeanne Theoharis for summer reading

    In the weeks leading up to the start of classes, teachers met and debriefed to share and discuss what they learned across disciplines and departments. Now that school is back in session, we are seeing the effects of these weeks of study and reflection in reading lists, assignments, and classroom activities.

    Our teachers are always driven by their own creativity, inspired by their students’ passion, and motivated by a desire to make their curricula relevant and responsive to our always-changing world. But they also rely on gleaning knowledge from experts in their fields to keep things fresh and exciting. We are fortunate to have teachers who love being students as much as they love the art of teaching, and a school culture devoted to the idea that we are all lifelong learners.
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  • The View From Here: A New View

    Each new school year always offers a fresh start that brims with hope and optimism. This year, even without the momentous change demanded by our shift to remote learning, feels even more like a new beginning. A literal clean slate as I begin my first year at SA. In that spirit, when I thought about writing these weekly reflections to our community, I considered whether it made sense to change the name of this column, to reinvent it in some way.

    But now, more than ever, a “View From Here” seems necessary. The physical “here” will vary over the course of the year. Today, I am writing from my family’s new home in Santa Rosa;  hopefully later this year, I’ll watch students pass by in the plaza on their way to class while I write from my office. I will not feel fully moved into my office until I see our campus brimming with student laughter and the warmth that comes from us all being together. The real “here,” though, transcends our campus. The heart of Sonoma Academy is more than a physical place. While we are all experiencing SA from different geographic locations throughout the North Bay, the real place of our school is the community and commitment that binds us all together. 

    As we end our first week of school, I am filled with so many emotions about the start of our year and the many challenges we face as a school and as a community. There is excitement about the possibilities of the year ahead; pride in the inventiveness of our faculty as they reimagine their pedagogy to fit the constraints of distance learning; solemn consideration of the fact that wildfire season has started so early, against the backdrop of the pandemic and the resulting economic strain. These are not easy times, and our resiliency and resolve is being tested each day as we courageously move forward.

    But there is also joy. In my advisory meetings this week, my advisees were not too focused on the stress and anxiety brought about by the fires and unhealthy air quality. Instead, they wanted to talk about their inspiring new teachers and classes, the happiness and excitement of connecting with classmates, and the positive energy and sense of possibility they have for the new school year. Our students are fully prepared to embrace the challenges of this year, and I am already so impressed with their ability to find optimism and opportunity in the face of unprecedented obstacles and challenges.

    As I mentioned in my Convocation speech on Tuesday, I was drawn to SA by the creativity, sense of adventure, and spirit of connectedness that characterizes the heart of our school. This year will give us all many chances to put those qualities on display, to learn together, and to grow as a community. The view from here may be a bit smokey at the moment, and it is certainly different from the view we envisioned at this time last year. But just like the strikingly colorful sunsets we have seen lately, this view has a particular charm and glow to it. Despite the challenges it represents, our community has the vision to see through to what is really important. 
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  • The View From Here: The Last View

    As I sat down to write this last View of the year, I struggled with the way to contain and encapsulate the wide range of experiences and feelings we are living with as a community this week. It is the last week of school, a time to celebrate and in particular to acknowledge our seniors and we are eager to share with you here the view of our triumphant seniors as they processed through the courtyard garden these past two days as they were awarded their diplomas. And it is also a time of upheaval in our community and our nation, and I feel compelled to tell you of the conversations and work we’ve been doing this week sparked by the police killing of George Floyd and the ensuing national protests. Because each of these is important and deserve their moment, I will break this View into two parts, as we did for Community Meeting this week.

    Dot Kowal, our Interim Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, has met with groups of students and staffulty--both general groups and groups specifically for our students of color and staffulty of color. Staffulty members Cassidy Brown, Laila McClay, and Lin Yeu helped support and facilitate. In the “rooms,” we heard deep sadness, grief, and frustration. We also heard resolve. Resolve to deepen these conversations, to look closely at ourselves and our school, to create more robust professional development on white privilege and racism at every level in our school. We heard the wish for all of our students to experience our Race, Class, and Gender curriculum, where students read, reflect, and challenge themselves and each other.

    In order to address the tension inherent in this week of finals, national and community distress, and end-of-year celebrations, we divided Wednesday’s final community meeting of the year into two parts. Lani Frazier invited us to join her in a moment of silence after sharing her personal story of activism and Lauren Anderson, ‘20, read the powerful Op-Ed piece that she wrote for the Race, Class and Gender Newsletter. 

    We stand in solidarity with BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color). Systemic racism must be dismantled and we encourage everyone—students, staffulty, families, alumni—to speak up and take action against injustice and white supremacy. There are many ways to be an ally in the struggle against racism, inequality, and injustice. To support our community members in fighting for change, we will be sharing resources for anti-racist action and education in the Courier, our DEI Resource Board, and on our social media accounts (please follow us on Facebook or Instagram). This google doc provides information on protest safety, anti-racist nonprofits, recommended reading, and more. Stay safe, stand up, and speak out. #blacklivesmatter


    The last three days have also been very full of love and gratitude. On Wednesday, during our final Community Meeting of the year, we were treated to slideshows for the 9th, 10th, and 11th grades and heard about the rousting by the 9th grade of all other classes in this year’s Coyote Cup. The hardworking Yearbook editors, Sophie Weil ‘20, Addy Flanagan ‘20, Emma Hartley ‘20, named their successors, thanked their unflagging staffulty advisors, Florence Rink and Pam Vincent, and revealed this year’s theme (Postcards) and dedication. While, to be honest, I wasn’t totally surprised that the yearbook was dedicated to their departing founding Head of School, I was blown away by the beauty of the dedication and the love I felt, to which I say, right back at ya. Later that evening, we revelled in the Senior See Ya Soon tour de force our graduates produced, and we find hope in their talent, energy, ebullience, and passion. 

    And then there was the awarding of the diplomas which took place over 9 hours each day on Thursday and today. Ellie Dwight and I received each senior, one at a time, along with their families. We met in the Guild & Commons gardens, which Nancy Metzger-Carter and our facilities team brought to its peak of summer gorgeousness. The arrival circle and path through the garden were lined with the traditional flags, and the tributes, as always, were beautiful, personal, and heartfelt. It wasn’t a graduation, exactly, but a more intimate celebration of each student’s journey through their high school years. Although it was certainly different from every other commencement ceremony I have attended in the past, it held its own particular beauty and joy. 

    I want to dedicate this last View to you, the class of 2020. I cried pretty much all the way your Senior See Ya Soon. It was brilliant. We’ve marched through this final strange year together and I’m so grateful to have had a moment of connection with each of you and your families yesterday and today. You have taken everything that SA had to offer and, in return, you’ve offered SA so much of yourselves. We are so proud of you: you are creative, ethical, and committed to learning; you are engaged with your communities. You are the leaders this world needs. I salute you and thank you. And I will miss you. Congratulations, Class of 2020.
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  • The View From Here: Class-zoom Confidential

    What don’t I love about Classroom Confidential?

    A time-honored tradition hosted by SAPA as a companion to their final meeting of the year, it is also one of my favorite events of the year. SAPA gathers to celebrate their year of hard work together and to elect next year’s slate of officers. I get to sit down and spend an hour just talking with my colleagues. We are so busy on a daily basis that this is an extraordinary treat and every time I do it I learn more about our fascinating, eclectic, and brilliant teachers. 

    We started doing this because parents were hearing so much from their children about their teachers--not just about the excellence of their pedagogy or the scope of their erudition, but who they were in the classroom and how they presented their authentic selves. For the adolescent it is the intersection of their journey of becoming with a teacher’s passion and sense of self that lights the way. It was this that parents wanted to know more about and so we created Classroom Confidential as an opportunity for parents to experience our teachers in a more relaxed way.

    In recent years, to add to the pleasure, Classroom Confidential was set up in the GAC. We created a kind of TV set with lounge chairs, plants, and cups filled with…whatever you want. After the SAPA business, Classroom Confidential would begin with that extraordinary sunset on the west horizon, visible from the windows and patio of the GAC. Of course this year, we gathered around our screens, instead, and I wondered if Classroom Confidential on Zoom could in any way resemble that feeling of connection and surprise and joy.

    My fears began to dissipate when we started the evening by pulling off a slick “passing of the check” from Big Night Out between Renata Belash, President of SAPA, and myself. We thanked Renata for her extraordinary service to the school in so many ways, and elected new officers for next year.

    Instead of being in the GAC, I was sitting in our family Eurovan (which I’ve now named “The East Office”) and were in their “offices” (sometimes a kitchen table or living room couch), where many of them have been doing home school in addition to teaching our students. Yes, it absolutely resembled Classroom Confidentials of the past, and, to answer my own question at the top, there is nothing I do not like about Classroom Confidential.

    Even after all these years working with these gifted educators, I learned new things that I didn’t know, and I was struck by their ability to be excited and enthusiastic about their own growth and learning during this time of quarantine. Each one of them offered examples of things they had learned in adapting to distance teaching that they will incorporate into their classroom teaching. Our teachers love teaching and our students, and they are inspired by anything that enables them to grow and become even more skillful in what they do. I know of many school cultures where teachers might not react to a challenging circumstance with that same kind of enthusiasm, creativity, and openness to growth and change.

    I could have lingered for quite a bit longer in the conversation. Especially these days, moments of authentic connection and intimacy, even via Zoom, are treasures that break up the odd monotony of sheltering in place at home. If you didn’t have a chance to join us, please take some time to watch it over the weekend. I think you’ll find it heartening and engaging: https://youtu.be/04mlxrMHVyA
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  • The View From Here: Zeigler Point

    All of our current students know the view from Zeigler Point—across the amphitheater to the admin building and Ziemer Field, the foothills of Taylor Mountain that hug our campus to the southwest, and the long view out to the coastal range—in short, almost the full scope of the Sonoma Academy campus. 

    The eponymous Kirt Zeigler similarly spanned the entire history of Sonoma Academy and I was so sad this morning to wake up to see his obituary in today’s Press Democrat. Kirt had been ill for some time and John and I had visited with him shortly before Big Night Out earlier this spring. He was refusing much treatment because, as everyone who knew him knows, Kirt always did it his own way, usually the hard way—including cutting his own wood, growing his own grapes, and founding one of the most prestigious law firms in Santa Rosa, Anderson, Zeigler, Disharoon, Gallagher & Gray, as well helping to found Sonoma Academy.

    Kirt had tremendous faith in the potential and capacities of teens. He was also inspired by the culture of Sonoma County as a region that coalesces the most compelling elements of rural and agricultural life with entrepreneurial and innovative ideas. These two things came together in the compelling vision that led he and his wife Bev to lead a group of ten other entrepreneurial and adventurous souls in the founding  of Sonoma Academy. Greg French, one of the initial twelve founders, recently reminisced that when the original group set out to imagine our school, Kirt often stood up at their meetings and said, "It's going to be the best damn high school ever. That's all we need to talk about.” 

    The first time I met Kirt was in December of 1999, when he and his wife Bev came to pick me up from the hotel in Santa Rosa where I was staying for my multiple-day interview with the founding trustees of SA. As soon as I saw them pull up in their old red pickup truck, and they invited me to climb into the tiny back seat, I knew I was dealing with a very different kind of trustee than I’d ever encountered before. They were warm, intelligent, kind, and engaging, and I immediately felt at home with them. Kirt was the chair of the search committee that hired me and for the next six months after I was hired, while my family and I were still in Massachusetts, Kirt and I would speak almost every morning about a school that was still only an idea. His calls came at 6:00 am PST/9:00 am EST, with Kirt already in his law office and me in my home office on the campus of Northfield Mount Hermon School. He listened at length while I told him about my ideas, my conversations with the great educators I was consulting with the articles I was reading. He always had time for me and was there for every important milestone of the school’s history, including this ribbon cutting moment on our current campus.

    Our early morning conversations continued throughout his years on the board of trustees, requiring me to be at my desk early. I asked his advice on almost everything--our finances, board meetings, hiring decisions. Kirt and Bev joined John and me and our family for some very special Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. He brought his old vine Zin and homegrown, home cooked chard with olives… his olives. It wasn’t easy harvesting and preserving the little black olives that continued to fruit on their old farm on Olivet Road. But, like Kirt, the olives and the old vines were never given any special treatment—no fertilizer, pesticides, nor fungicides. They were expected to work hard in order to thrive. Kirt explained to me that that was where the flavor came from. 

    I think we can say that a good deal of the flavor, the seasoning of our school, was sprinkled in liberally by Kirt Zeigler. During the last downturn, in 2008, when the school struggled, Kirt urged us not to give up, not to retreat or retract in any way. He was unflagging in his support and vision of this school as one that reflects the practical and experiential wisdom of his agricultural roots and the higher-minded intellectual pursuits he himself maintained to the end of his life. He saw the school in the broadest possible context, impacting our immediate community and the larger Bay Area community for the better and for generations to come. To me, he was a mentor, a guide, a collaborator, a boss, a friend, and an integral and deeply important member of our Sonoma Academy family. He will be so missed. And his legacy will live on. We will always think of Kirt’s heart and vision when we take in that expansive view at Zeigler Point.

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2500 Farmers Lane 
Santa Rosa, CA 95404 
(707) 545-1770 

Sonoma Academy Is...

...the only private, independent, college preparatory high school in Sonoma County. On our beautiful campus nestled at the base of Taylor Mountain in Southeastern Santa Rosa, our students are able to explore their interests and passions in a rigorous and inspiring environment that develops a lifelong love of learning and prepares them for college and beyond.

Sonoma Academy admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school. We do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other school-administered programs.