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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 3 news stories.

  • 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

    *[INTERMISSION]*

    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 
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Sonoma Academy Is...

...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.