2017

  • December

    The View From Here: Re-accreditation Self-Study Done!

    by Janet Durgin, Head of School
    This week we completed our yearlong self-study process required by the California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) and the Western Association of Schools & Colleges (WASC). Today's View from Here pic is Lily and Ellie, who led the process, high-fiving right after Lily hit submit!
     
    In order to maintain our accreditation status, every 6-7 years we must undergo a deep process of self-reflection in the form of the self-study. The self-study is a set of about 135 questions ranging from our approach to teaching and learning to our safety procedures, from our governance structure to our financial management processes, from our admissions policies and practices to our use of data, and everything in between. 
     
    For the past year, we—and by we, I mean the entire admin team, our whole faculty, our Board of Trustees, and various program directors (like our Director of Information Science, Director of Academic Services, Director of Student Support, and Director of Connections)—have been meeting in big and small groups to review the questions, brainstorm our responses, and draft and revise the narrative. In addition to creating a 135-page document, we also compiled seven years worth of data that spanned everything from website metrics to fundraising dollars to admissions stats, as well as dozens of supporting documents.
     
    While this process was a lot of work, it offered us a meaningful opportunity to reflect on the past seven years, as well as to articulate our ideas and plans for the future. We were reaffirmed in our strengths as a connected, collaborative community devoted to creative and innovative teaching and programs. Though much of what we identified in the self-study was not unknown to us, it is always valuable to articulate clearly areas of strength and improvement.
     
    The next step in our accreditation process is to host a visiting committee organized by CAIS. A group of four to seven independent school professionals will spend four days on campus in late February. They will be thoroughly reviewing our self-study, as well as meeting with and interviewing various constituents of the school, probably including a group of parents. Their visit will culminate in a report that they will read at Community Meeting.
     
    Our accreditation process is one of the ways that we open ourselves up to the evaluation and assessment of an outside organization—ensuring that we continually engage in reflection, as well as the process to always be delivering our best to you and our students.
     
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  • The View from Here: Building Community

    Janet Durgin, Head of School
    Last week, SAPA hosted health educator Charis Denison for a parent education night, preceded by a reception in the Commons. Charis has been working with the school for a very long time and sees our students several times a year; our students trust her and she is beloved. After chatting, we all loaded up our plates and headed to the library for an intimate and extremely worthwhile discussion on “Helping our Teens Through Difficulty: Where Do We Go From Here?” On our way upstairs, Charis pulled me aside to say, “You know, a lot of schools build something like the Commons hoping to have it positively shape their school culture. At SA, the Commons is an expression of the culture that is already there, one of community and connectedness.”
     
    Every day now, we see that culture in action in the Commons, and we have fresh opportunities to be keenly aware of our community and connection. We are nicely jammed in together, eating delicious food and chatting. Today, for example, I hopped tables, sitting with several different configurations of students and staffulty. We’ve smoothed out some of the wrinkles of the serving line so that there is now a luxurious sense of not only having time to eat but to truly visit with each other during our very busy days--a very delicious treat, indeed.
     
    Of course, the aftermath of the fires is still very much on our minds, and we know that some adults and children are finding it hard to focus at times. I think you know to be in touch with us so that we can accommodate such students’ needs as they change over the coming weeks and months.
     
    I believe this feeling of connection also flows from the many ways we were all there for each other during the fires. I heard from many families, including grandparents, that the daily bulletin from the school during the fires provided a steady and constant feeling of connection. One mom wrote to say that her family on the East Coast appreciated the updates, too. Even though they were so far away, they felt like they were “an extension of the network of caring that exists at SA.” The school is here for you as an anchor. But that’s only because of your ongoing support of us. We were really grateful to be able to be a hub of connection and a source of stability and continuity for our families; in fact, we hope to always be that.
     
    During the fires, we suspended all of the usual school activities, including the Annual Fund, which usually kicks off in October. And now that we are getting back to our normal day-to-day routine, it’s time for us to resume this activity as well. Because the Annual Fund really is the network of support from our wider community that keeps us going.
     
    We will be getting Annual Fund Appeal letters out to you between now and Thanksgiving, and we hope to hear from you soon. Your letters will include all remittance information and details. Please remember that a gift made before December 31, 2017 is tax-deductible on this year’s tax returns.
     
    I want to share an email I received one of our students during the fires:

    “While these last couple of days have been heartbreaking and disastrous, they have really forced me to put things into perspective, and also allowed me a lot of time to reflect on the things I am grateful for in greater depth. On Monday, I found myself telling my mom that I would rather lose our home to the fire than our school. I think I shocked myself by saying this a little bit, but I came to realize all the reasons that made it so true. SA is a home, not only to me but to so many other students....I felt like if I lost it, my life would feel so empty. With more reflection I became less sad, because as cheesy as it sounds, I realized SA's beauty lies not only in the campus, but in the community. And while SA is fortunate to have one of the most beautiful high school campuses I have ever seen, I am hopeful that even if our campus doesn't survive, our beautiful community will, and that makes me happy.”
     
    Well, Grace, we did survive! Thank you again for that beautiful email. And thank you all for your ongoing support.
     
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  • November

    The View from Here: The Commons

    by Janet Durgin, Head of School
    Well, it's been a little over a week since we returned to school and since we opened the Commons for daily lunch service. The return to school has felt good—though we are keenly aware that a good number of our parents and students continue to confront loss and change on daily basis and that is very difficult indeed. But, in general, we have slowly returned to a sense of normalcy, and the shape and pace of the school day is helpful in that regard. And how exciting and healing that the shape of the school now includes a daily lunch in the Commons! Just as people came together and found comfort and solace in each other's company and sharing meals together during the fires, we find gathering under one roof every day to be an ongoing source of that same kind of comfort.

    On the whole, it seems that the students are very happy with the food. There has been plenty for everyone (even those growing students who need seconds and thirds to feel full!), with enough options to suit our wide variety of tastes. Students and staffulty alike have been really enjoying the experience of lunching together and I feel certain that this new space is going to enhance our school culture in many positive ways—including encouraging us all to really take a break, savor our food and the good company, and relax together before finishing out the day. Additionally, the Commons is already providing a fantastic gathering shangout/work space. It's so nice to see students working, studying, playing cards, playing guitar, or chatting together, while faculty work alongside them. And we enjoyed holding our Faculty Meeting in the Commons this morning!
     
    There have, of course, been some things we've noticed that need improving. The main thing has been to address the long line and wait times as students queue up for the hot entree served each day. We have addressed this in the short term by allocating admin staff to serve, as well as creating two lines for the entree. Additionally, we decided to have some study halls during Exploratory meet in the Commons and get their lunch a bit before the main lunch crowd appears. These changes have resulted in the entire student and Staffulty (about 370 people!) getting through the lunch service line by 12:10 pm each day, leaving plenty of time to eat. We are in the process of implementing a more permanent solution (even though the admin team seems to be enjoying their new role as "lunch ladies") by reorganizing the line setup. This will allow there to be more serving stations, which will maintain the faster times. And of course, we will continue to monitor and assess the whole process to determine if additional tweaks are needed.
     
    And don't forget, there's a website and mobile app where you can view the daily menu and leave comments for the kitchen staff. Links to the app/site are below: 
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  • October

    The View from Here: Self-Study & Reaccreditation

    by Janet Durgin, Head of School
    When Sonoma Academy began, we were obviously not yet an accredited school, but we intended to become one as soon as possible. The California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) will only accredit a school in its sixth year. However, Sonoma Academy earned accreditation with the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) in record time—within two years of our opening. Then we received our CAIS accreditation in our sixth year. Ever since then we receive our reaccrediation from both organizations in a joint process. CAIS utilizes 12 Standards they established to "cover the range of key elements that most profoundly affect the quality of experience for students. CAIS continuously reviews not only the existing standards, but also the potential to add others as today’s schools evolve to meet the needs of 21st century learners." Their process of reaccreditation begins with an intensive and rigorous self-study that precedes a visit to the campus by a task force appointed by CAIS comprising other independent school administrators and teachers. 

    We are nearing the end of our self-study process and will soon be preparing for our campus visit in the late winter or early spring. The self-study required a more than yearlong sustained effort by faculty, administrators, and Trusteesworking collaboratively to answer the more than 125 questions posed in the self-study. The questions are designed to delve deeply into every aspect of the schoo—from mission to program, governance to fundraising, community and culture, to teaching and learning, facilities to human resources, and more.

    Over the past year, nearly the entire staffulty have  over 125 questions that delve deeply into every aspect of school life--from our mission, program, approach to teaching and learning, governance, health, wellness, and safety, administration, and much more. Today, a committee of faculty and staff (myself included) met off-site all day to review the first draft of the completed study and to answer some final summary questions. While the process is long, arduous, and time-intensive, it also provides us with a meaningful opportunity to reflect on all aspects of our work, identifying opportunities for development and growth, as well as taking stock of our strengths. 

    The image shows our group in the middle of our work session. We borrowed one of the large conference rooms at Sonoma Country Day School, an independent elementary and middle school in Santa Rosa that also happens to be undergoing their self-study and reaccreditation process. 

    Here's an example of one of the scores of questions we have been required to answer: "Taking into account the future world in which the school anticipates that its students will be living, describe how the curriculum is informed by that vision." How would you respond to this question?

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  • September

    The View from Here: Third Annual Picnic & Concert

    by Janet Durgin, Head of School
    Last Friday, we celebrated our return to school with our Third Annual SAPA Family Picnic & Concert. Though relatively new, this is fast becoming a cherished annual tradition. It's one of the few opportunities in the year we have to come together as an entire community—students, faculty and staff, parents, alumni, alumni parents, grandparents—to simply hang out and enjoy each other's company on our beautiful campus. This year, in addition to the great food and amazing music, we offered parents the opportunity to tour the inside of the Guild & Commons buildings. Though they aren't fully outfitted yet, it was fun to take parents around giving them a sneak peek of what's to come.... very, very soon! This year, we were graced with warm weather, which kept people lingering well into the evening. It was simply a joyful way to start the year and I hope that, if you weren't able to make it, you will try to come next year. There is nothing like good food, good music, and good weather to enhance our sense of community
     
    Special thanks to SAPA, Kathleen von Raesfeld, Kristi Miller, Irma & Brandon Spars, Chris and Renee Ziemer, Lee Anne & Jeff von Raesfeld, Nicole Abaté Ducarroz, Lani and Dave Gershik, Gayle Slade & Zaria Chamberlain, Steve and Nina von Raesfeld, Lynn Abaté , Jonas Ducarroz '17, Nikita Ducarroz, Julien Ducarroz '21, Jaime Murray, Mr. December, Steven Cano, Kendra Kolling/The Farmer's Wife, El Coronel Food Truck, and the SA Facilities, Administration and Advancement Departments for helping with and supporting this wonderful annual event. 
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  • Excerpt from Convocation

    by Janet Durgin, Head of School
    Well, Convocation seems as if it were ages ago already. Retreats are over, classes are in full swing, schedules are set (today was the last day of the Add/Drop period), and we are off to a great start to the 2017-18 school year. But, for those who may have missed it, I wanted to provide an excerpt from my Convocation, as I do try to set the tone for the year in these remarks.

    "As a school, we are often subject to the pressure of various trends and fads and we feel, so far, we have resisted jumping on any bandwagons. That said, we want to be fearless—unafraid to ask the hard questions and to put ourselves into new situations. And so we continually engage in a process of self-reflection and analysis, looking for ways to improve, to more fully live our mission.

    The Grange & Studios building is a result of that self-reflection and analysis about functions that were missing in our physical plant, but when we think about how the new spaces will change our campus, our community, and our curriculum, we do not see it as a “disruption to the established order.” It’s true that times are changing and we must prepare our students to meet, embrace, and even to create change. Our new spaces will create new opportunities--and you will see this in things like new course offerings, Exploratories and Intersessions, as well as in your teachers’ expanded ability to collaborate across disciplines, devise projects that can come to completion in the Studios, and so on. However, you will not see the buildings changing, fundamentally, who we are and how we believe human beings learn best.

    You see, we recognize that there are limitations to technology and that fads and gimmicks do not create students who are courageous, wise, creative, and awake. We believe that learning takes place in the context of connection--in relationship with great teachers, in community. And we believe that learning must be liberally seasoned with love, play, humor, and art because theses are the elements that make us human.

    Above anything else, we teach critical thinking because it is the foundation of true learning. We relish rigor and deep thought because a deep grasp of concepts, not an app, is what will help us navigate an ever-changing world. Of course, all of those elements of learning I just mentioned become possible in an environment of trust, respect, and a feeling of safety. In essence, this is what we do best at Sonoma Academy, confirmed by both parent and student feedback. This, then, is the established order that is not being disrupted and that you can look forward to enjoying this year. And to put a cherry on top, the good food and animated conversation in the Grange will sustain us through the inevitable moments when we get tired, hungry, or discouraged, and temporarily lose sight of the precious alchemy we create together on a daily basis here at Sonoma Academy.
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  • The View from Here: 325 Congratulations!

    by Janet Durgin, Head of School
    At this time of year, no matter where you go, everyone is aware of the advent of summer. But at a school, moment by moment, we are keenly aware of something momentous coming to a close; we are at a busy crossroads of comings and goings and change. Earlier today, teachers wrapped up classes and many snacks were consumed at the last advisory meeting of the year. Students have been working on and turning in final projects and are studying for finals. Diplomas have been signed. It's almost as though a plane was flying across the blue skies over campus trailing a fluttering sign reading, "The school year is over!". But, the buzz and hum of busy-ness will soon fall silent as we enter into the quieter, more relaxed (we hope!) months of summer. Meanwhile, we prepare to bid adieu to our senior class. Next Friday, at this time, they will have completed their commencement exercises and will officially be Sonoma Academy alumni!

    For those of you planning to attend graduation (all are invited and welcome!) to celebrate this fine class of 2017, we look forward to being with you as we take the afternoon to commemorate the accomplishments and contributions of this class to our community. At every graduation, our faculty read an individualized tribute for each senior as they stand on stage receiving their diploma. These tributes are collaboratively written and are our way of honoring the unique presence of each senior before they depart for the next phase of their life. It is my privilege as head of school to stand next to each one on the stage as the tributes are read. As I describe all of this to the seniors at rehearsal, I prepare them to really listen and try to take in what will be said about them. This is their moment and we want them to soak it up! (We do, however, send the tributes to the students and their family so they can be appreciated later as well).

    We are incredibly proud of our seniors and I invite you to click the image below to see the wonderful list of colleges to which our students have been accepted.

    PS: If you haven't been keeping up with the Senior Speeches, you may find an archive of them here!
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  • June

    The View From Here: Experiment, Assess, Reiterate

    by Janet Durgin, Head of School
    One of the things I miss most about being in the classroom every day is the ways in which the classroom is a perfect laboratory. You hypothesize about how your students learn best, you choose your content and your approaches, and you experiment. And you see almost immediately what works and what doesn’t. You see it on your student’s faces. You see it in the quality of the homework. And of course on tests and quizzes. And then you get to make changes, sometimes even within the same school day if you have another section of the same course. Teaching is a constant iterative process. And the feedback loop is short and quick.

    I find as Head of School that I’m planning and implementing programs, ideas, and approaches, and the feedback loop can be months or even years, depending on the nature of the project. One of the ways that we try to tighten up this feedback loop is asking for your input in our annual parent survey. I’m pleased that this year’s survey garnered the highest level of participation thus far.

    As soon as school lets out in June, I’ll be digging into the data, both quantitative and qualitiave, looking for themes and trends, both in areas you report we’re doing well and in areas where you may have let us know we need improvement.

    I will be following up with you about the insights gained and the actions we plan to take at Back to School Night on September 13 at 6 pm. Please do plan to attend.
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  • May

    The View From Here: Grandparent/Significant Elder Day

    by Janet Durgin, Head of School
    Every year we invite the grandparents and significant elders of our students to come spend a partial day on campus with us. They participate in activities or visit classes, have lunch with their grandchildren, and join us for community meeting.

    The relationship between grandparents (or grand-friends, as we heard many identify themselves) and grandkids is special Our families are diverse in so many ways--geographically, socio-economically, ethnically, and politically. But they have one thing clearly in common. They value education above all. Our students are at Sonoma Academy at least in part because their grandparents helped shape a commitment to learning and education.

    Grandparent/Significant Elder Day always feels especially sweet, an opportunity to witness the connections that span generations. Yesterday, we packed a full house, with our largest attendance of grandparents yet. Thanks to all the elders who came. It was an honor and a joy to share the day with you.

    Photo credits: Erin Wrightsman; Steven Gu '18 
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  • The View From Here: Big Night Out

    by Janet Durgin, Head of School
    I've got my date and I know what I'm going to wear. How about you?
     
    Did you see this wonderful little film made by parents Andrew Hathaway, Gayle Slade and a crew of others? Sonoma Academy parents are so creative, committed, and fun. That's what Big Night Out is all about. Fifteen years ago our first fundraising gala was in a parent's barn and I believe the extent of the auction was one large gift basket. The school has come a long way since then! One of the tensions we've tried to manage as we've grown is the appropriate balance between Big Night Out being a night to raise funds and BNO being a night to have a wonderful community party. We try to do it all in a way that serves the school and our students best.

    Below you will see a list of the many parents who have helped us this year, as well as links to buy tickets, to view the auction catalogs, a proxy bidding form if you can't make it, and more. If you've never been, please think about coming. It's fun, it's joyful, and anadults-only time to connect with the community. There are still a handful of tickets left, so we hope you'll snatch them up! We so look forward to kicking up our heels and celebrating our great school and community.
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  • March

    The View From Here: Grange & Studios Update

    by Janet Durgin, Head of School

    Some of you are no doubt wondering if the rain has delayed our project. Our contractors budgeted time for rain days; however, with this year's excessively rainy season (50+ inches and counting, compared to an average of 30 inches), we have fallen a little behind schedule. Fortunately, not all of the rain days have impacted the critical path to completion. We are behind by about six work days, though we hope to make those up sometime before the end of the summer. We've already made up three lost days by increasing crew sizes and adding a few hours of overtime. At this point, we are still on track to open the building in October.
     
    Currently, they are creating the deck and putting on the roof for the building. If we have a little more dry weather, they'll start pouring concrete for the first and second floors. Once the concrete is poured, they'll start framing interior walls and putting in window frames, and the building will really visibly take shape.
     
    We are beginning to feel the ways in which this new structure changes our experience of this space. Its angles point us to the horizon and frame the sunset. It reaches into the central plaza and we are already seeing how it will invite us in. And while the crews are busy building the structure, we are busy dreaming, planning, and preparing for the programming that will come alive inside the building.
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  • February

    The View From Here: Adulting?

    by Janet Durgin, Head of School
     
    Last year, we launched a new Connections program for second semester seniors that was focused on the transition from high school to college, teenager to young adult. This year, the program has continued to be refined, including a new name! Called "Adulting 101," students are spending their Wednesday afternoons learning about and practicing many of the skills required of adults. 
     
    This week, Captain Doug Dougherty, from SSU's campus police force, came to talk to the students about issues they will probably face in college--avoiding sexual assault, addressing underage drinking, and common pitfalls that young adults can fall into. Captain Dougherty addressed student questions and concerns with humor, understanding, and sound advice. Students had submitted questions to Connections leaders Cassidy Brown, STEM teacher, and Michele Martin, TITLE, and they started out with those, but pretty soon they were asking impromptu questions and showing genuine interest. 
     
    In this picture, Joey Johnson '17 is gamely doing a role play with Captain Dougherty in order to show our students what to expect and how to respond in the case of a traffic stop. [Side note: Joey also co-starred with Claire Lampson '17 in the play Gruesome Playground Injuries directed by Perry Parsons '17. They and their crew, the cast and crew for Don't Eat the Blue Snow, an original work by Connor Devlin '17, and other theater students are off to the Lenaea Festival this weekend. Both plays were great!].
     
    All parents (and we faculty and administrators too) worry just a bit as we send our kids off into the next stage of their lives. Have we taught them everything? Are they well-prepared? Not just for their academic lives in college, but their burgeoning adult lives? As a school, there is only so much we can do, of course. This Adulting 101 course represents our ongoing commitment to make sure we're doing our part to ensure that they are as well-prepared as they can be. The rest is up to them. And, watching these young people engage in their lives here at school, that makes me feel very hopeful.
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  • The View From Here: Communicating Across Cultures

    by Janet Durgin, Head of School
     
    The first view I saw on Monday morning was from the podium in the gym at PS. A sea of bright, excited faces—students happy to be back in school, happy to have returned from their Intersession adventures and be all together again. We're working on a photo album of Intersession photos to post on Facebook where you'll get a sense of how engaging these programs were in so many different ways for our students. Teachers return from Intersession with their own stories, of course, including running into two Sonoma Academy alumni at a tiny bodega on the isolated coast of Baja, Mexico; seeing the huge grin on a 9th grade boy's face as he caught an enormous fish during the Fly Fishing Intersession; being moved to tears by the impact of the assistive technology our students developed for the disabled students at Cook Middle School, and on and on. We'll send you the link to see and read more as soon as we have it ready.
     
    Good spirits and high energy continued through mid-week as we welcomed students from Shanghai Foreign Language Middle School, which you see in the photo above. Mandarin teacher Pam Vincent and her students organized a Sonoma Academy style Chinese New Year celebration with tea, calligraphy, badminton, and Go, to name a few. These young students from Shanghai blew us away at Community Meeting standing in front of the audience and introducing themselves in impeccable English. The students were confident, outgoing, and clearly delighted to be here. We are so glad to have had a strong connection with various communities in China since the very beginning of the school.
     
    As we close the week, today, Friday, we will have seen two student-produced plays; one entirely authored and scored by Connor Devlin '17 titled Don't Eat the Blue Snow, the other directed by Perry Parsons '17. To close on a theatrical note, you still have time to see Jen Coté in Stage Kiss at the 6th Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa. It's great fun and Jen is spectacular.
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  • January

    The View From Here: Traditions

    Janet Durgin, Head of School
    Every community has its traditions. They are things that occur year after year, giving the passing of a time a rhythm particular to that particular group. Your family has probably been enacting some of its winter and holiday traditions already, with many more to come. There is something about traditions that create a sense of continuity and cohesiveness. And our community is no different. We love our SA traditions... things that we have done or established over the years to mark the passage of the school year, to honor the ebbs and flows of our day-to-day life. One that I started some years ago (maybe I am regretting it just a little bit now) was the appearance of "Holiday Harriet" at our annual Holiday Assembly. We don't do a pagent or Winter Festival, but we do like to acknowledge the season and provide some light and levity to our students who have usually just completed their final exams for the first semester. This year, we did our holiday assembly a week early so as not to keep students late the day before Christmas Eve and, this year, the start of Hanukkah, and, while it didn't quite have the same feeling as years past, it was still festive and fun. My favorite part is figuring out how to surprise them with Harriet's arrival. This year, I dressed art teacher Hillary Younglove up with my jacket, glasses, and dog and then appeared from around the corner in the golf cart, tricked out with Christmas lights and the best helper in the world, Chris Ziemer. Harriet believes that all children should have sweet things and a new pair of socks at this time of year and Chris and I pelted the students with balled-up  socks and candy. Happy Holidays to All and to All a Good Night!!
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< 2017

Blog Archive

2017

  • December

    The View From Here: Re-accreditation Self-Study Done!

    by Janet Durgin, Head of School
    This week we completed our yearlong self-study process required by the California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) and the Western Association of Schools & Colleges (WASC). Today's View from Here pic is Lily and Ellie, who led the process, high-fiving right after Lily hit submit!
     
    In order to maintain our accreditation status, every 6-7 years we must undergo a deep process of self-reflection in the form of the self-study. The self-study is a set of about 135 questions ranging from our approach to teaching and learning to our safety procedures, from our governance structure to our financial management processes, from our admissions policies and practices to our use of data, and everything in between. 
     
    For the past year, we—and by we, I mean the entire admin team, our whole faculty, our Board of Trustees, and various program directors (like our Director of Information Science, Director of Academic Services, Director of Student Support, and Director of Connections)—have been meeting in big and small groups to review the questions, brainstorm our responses, and draft and revise the narrative. In addition to creating a 135-page document, we also compiled seven years worth of data that spanned everything from website metrics to fundraising dollars to admissions stats, as well as dozens of supporting documents.
     
    While this process was a lot of work, it offered us a meaningful opportunity to reflect on the past seven years, as well as to articulate our ideas and plans for the future. We were reaffirmed in our strengths as a connected, collaborative community devoted to creative and innovative teaching and programs. Though much of what we identified in the self-study was not unknown to us, it is always valuable to articulate clearly areas of strength and improvement.
     
    The next step in our accreditation process is to host a visiting committee organized by CAIS. A group of four to seven independent school professionals will spend four days on campus in late February. They will be thoroughly reviewing our self-study, as well as meeting with and interviewing various constituents of the school, probably including a group of parents. Their visit will culminate in a report that they will read at Community Meeting.
     
    Our accreditation process is one of the ways that we open ourselves up to the evaluation and assessment of an outside organization—ensuring that we continually engage in reflection, as well as the process to always be delivering our best to you and our students.
     
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  • The View from Here: Building Community

    Janet Durgin, Head of School
    Last week, SAPA hosted health educator Charis Denison for a parent education night, preceded by a reception in the Commons. Charis has been working with the school for a very long time and sees our students several times a year; our students trust her and she is beloved. After chatting, we all loaded up our plates and headed to the library for an intimate and extremely worthwhile discussion on “Helping our Teens Through Difficulty: Where Do We Go From Here?” On our way upstairs, Charis pulled me aside to say, “You know, a lot of schools build something like the Commons hoping to have it positively shape their school culture. At SA, the Commons is an expression of the culture that is already there, one of community and connectedness.”
     
    Every day now, we see that culture in action in the Commons, and we have fresh opportunities to be keenly aware of our community and connection. We are nicely jammed in together, eating delicious food and chatting. Today, for example, I hopped tables, sitting with several different configurations of students and staffulty. We’ve smoothed out some of the wrinkles of the serving line so that there is now a luxurious sense of not only having time to eat but to truly visit with each other during our very busy days--a very delicious treat, indeed.
     
    Of course, the aftermath of the fires is still very much on our minds, and we know that some adults and children are finding it hard to focus at times. I think you know to be in touch with us so that we can accommodate such students’ needs as they change over the coming weeks and months.
     
    I believe this feeling of connection also flows from the many ways we were all there for each other during the fires. I heard from many families, including grandparents, that the daily bulletin from the school during the fires provided a steady and constant feeling of connection. One mom wrote to say that her family on the East Coast appreciated the updates, too. Even though they were so far away, they felt like they were “an extension of the network of caring that exists at SA.” The school is here for you as an anchor. But that’s only because of your ongoing support of us. We were really grateful to be able to be a hub of connection and a source of stability and continuity for our families; in fact, we hope to always be that.
     
    During the fires, we suspended all of the usual school activities, including the Annual Fund, which usually kicks off in October. And now that we are getting back to our normal day-to-day routine, it’s time for us to resume this activity as well. Because the Annual Fund really is the network of support from our wider community that keeps us going.
     
    We will be getting Annual Fund Appeal letters out to you between now and Thanksgiving, and we hope to hear from you soon. Your letters will include all remittance information and details. Please remember that a gift made before December 31, 2017 is tax-deductible on this year’s tax returns.
     
    I want to share an email I received one of our students during the fires:

    “While these last couple of days have been heartbreaking and disastrous, they have really forced me to put things into perspective, and also allowed me a lot of time to reflect on the things I am grateful for in greater depth. On Monday, I found myself telling my mom that I would rather lose our home to the fire than our school. I think I shocked myself by saying this a little bit, but I came to realize all the reasons that made it so true. SA is a home, not only to me but to so many other students....I felt like if I lost it, my life would feel so empty. With more reflection I became less sad, because as cheesy as it sounds, I realized SA's beauty lies not only in the campus, but in the community. And while SA is fortunate to have one of the most beautiful high school campuses I have ever seen, I am hopeful that even if our campus doesn't survive, our beautiful community will, and that makes me happy.”
     
    Well, Grace, we did survive! Thank you again for that beautiful email. And thank you all for your ongoing support.
     
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  • November

    The View from Here: The Commons

    by Janet Durgin, Head of School
    Well, it's been a little over a week since we returned to school and since we opened the Commons for daily lunch service. The return to school has felt good—though we are keenly aware that a good number of our parents and students continue to confront loss and change on daily basis and that is very difficult indeed. But, in general, we have slowly returned to a sense of normalcy, and the shape and pace of the school day is helpful in that regard. And how exciting and healing that the shape of the school now includes a daily lunch in the Commons! Just as people came together and found comfort and solace in each other's company and sharing meals together during the fires, we find gathering under one roof every day to be an ongoing source of that same kind of comfort.

    On the whole, it seems that the students are very happy with the food. There has been plenty for everyone (even those growing students who need seconds and thirds to feel full!), with enough options to suit our wide variety of tastes. Students and staffulty alike have been really enjoying the experience of lunching together and I feel certain that this new space is going to enhance our school culture in many positive ways—including encouraging us all to really take a break, savor our food and the good company, and relax together before finishing out the day. Additionally, the Commons is already providing a fantastic gathering shangout/work space. It's so nice to see students working, studying, playing cards, playing guitar, or chatting together, while faculty work alongside them. And we enjoyed holding our Faculty Meeting in the Commons this morning!
     
    There have, of course, been some things we've noticed that need improving. The main thing has been to address the long line and wait times as students queue up for the hot entree served each day. We have addressed this in the short term by allocating admin staff to serve, as well as creating two lines for the entree. Additionally, we decided to have some study halls during Exploratory meet in the Commons and get their lunch a bit before the main lunch crowd appears. These changes have resulted in the entire student and Staffulty (about 370 people!) getting through the lunch service line by 12:10 pm each day, leaving plenty of time to eat. We are in the process of implementing a more permanent solution (even though the admin team seems to be enjoying their new role as "lunch ladies") by reorganizing the line setup. This will allow there to be more serving stations, which will maintain the faster times. And of course, we will continue to monitor and assess the whole process to determine if additional tweaks are needed.
     
    And don't forget, there's a website and mobile app where you can view the daily menu and leave comments for the kitchen staff. Links to the app/site are below: 
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  • October

    The View from Here: Self-Study & Reaccreditation

    by Janet Durgin, Head of School
    When Sonoma Academy began, we were obviously not yet an accredited school, but we intended to become one as soon as possible. The California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) will only accredit a school in its sixth year. However, Sonoma Academy earned accreditation with the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) in record time—within two years of our opening. Then we received our CAIS accreditation in our sixth year. Ever since then we receive our reaccrediation from both organizations in a joint process. CAIS utilizes 12 Standards they established to "cover the range of key elements that most profoundly affect the quality of experience for students. CAIS continuously reviews not only the existing standards, but also the potential to add others as today’s schools evolve to meet the needs of 21st century learners." Their process of reaccreditation begins with an intensive and rigorous self-study that precedes a visit to the campus by a task force appointed by CAIS comprising other independent school administrators and teachers. 

    We are nearing the end of our self-study process and will soon be preparing for our campus visit in the late winter or early spring. The self-study required a more than yearlong sustained effort by faculty, administrators, and Trusteesworking collaboratively to answer the more than 125 questions posed in the self-study. The questions are designed to delve deeply into every aspect of the schoo—from mission to program, governance to fundraising, community and culture, to teaching and learning, facilities to human resources, and more.

    Over the past year, nearly the entire staffulty have  over 125 questions that delve deeply into every aspect of school life--from our mission, program, approach to teaching and learning, governance, health, wellness, and safety, administration, and much more. Today, a committee of faculty and staff (myself included) met off-site all day to review the first draft of the completed study and to answer some final summary questions. While the process is long, arduous, and time-intensive, it also provides us with a meaningful opportunity to reflect on all aspects of our work, identifying opportunities for development and growth, as well as taking stock of our strengths. 

    The image shows our group in the middle of our work session. We borrowed one of the large conference rooms at Sonoma Country Day School, an independent elementary and middle school in Santa Rosa that also happens to be undergoing their self-study and reaccreditation process. 

    Here's an example of one of the scores of questions we have been required to answer: "Taking into account the future world in which the school anticipates that its students will be living, describe how the curriculum is informed by that vision." How would you respond to this question?

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  • September

    The View from Here: Third Annual Picnic & Concert

    by Janet Durgin, Head of School
    Last Friday, we celebrated our return to school with our Third Annual SAPA Family Picnic & Concert. Though relatively new, this is fast becoming a cherished annual tradition. It's one of the few opportunities in the year we have to come together as an entire community—students, faculty and staff, parents, alumni, alumni parents, grandparents—to simply hang out and enjoy each other's company on our beautiful campus. This year, in addition to the great food and amazing music, we offered parents the opportunity to tour the inside of the Guild & Commons buildings. Though they aren't fully outfitted yet, it was fun to take parents around giving them a sneak peek of what's to come.... very, very soon! This year, we were graced with warm weather, which kept people lingering well into the evening. It was simply a joyful way to start the year and I hope that, if you weren't able to make it, you will try to come next year. There is nothing like good food, good music, and good weather to enhance our sense of community
     
    Special thanks to SAPA, Kathleen von Raesfeld, Kristi Miller, Irma & Brandon Spars, Chris and Renee Ziemer, Lee Anne & Jeff von Raesfeld, Nicole Abaté Ducarroz, Lani and Dave Gershik, Gayle Slade & Zaria Chamberlain, Steve and Nina von Raesfeld, Lynn Abaté , Jonas Ducarroz '17, Nikita Ducarroz, Julien Ducarroz '21, Jaime Murray, Mr. December, Steven Cano, Kendra Kolling/The Farmer's Wife, El Coronel Food Truck, and the SA Facilities, Administration and Advancement Departments for helping with and supporting this wonderful annual event. 
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  • Excerpt from Convocation

    by Janet Durgin, Head of School
    Well, Convocation seems as if it were ages ago already. Retreats are over, classes are in full swing, schedules are set (today was the last day of the Add/Drop period), and we are off to a great start to the 2017-18 school year. But, for those who may have missed it, I wanted to provide an excerpt from my Convocation, as I do try to set the tone for the year in these remarks.

    "As a school, we are often subject to the pressure of various trends and fads and we feel, so far, we have resisted jumping on any bandwagons. That said, we want to be fearless—unafraid to ask the hard questions and to put ourselves into new situations. And so we continually engage in a process of self-reflection and analysis, looking for ways to improve, to more fully live our mission.

    The Grange & Studios building is a result of that self-reflection and analysis about functions that were missing in our physical plant, but when we think about how the new spaces will change our campus, our community, and our curriculum, we do not see it as a “disruption to the established order.” It’s true that times are changing and we must prepare our students to meet, embrace, and even to create change. Our new spaces will create new opportunities--and you will see this in things like new course offerings, Exploratories and Intersessions, as well as in your teachers’ expanded ability to collaborate across disciplines, devise projects that can come to completion in the Studios, and so on. However, you will not see the buildings changing, fundamentally, who we are and how we believe human beings learn best.

    You see, we recognize that there are limitations to technology and that fads and gimmicks do not create students who are courageous, wise, creative, and awake. We believe that learning takes place in the context of connection--in relationship with great teachers, in community. And we believe that learning must be liberally seasoned with love, play, humor, and art because theses are the elements that make us human.

    Above anything else, we teach critical thinking because it is the foundation of true learning. We relish rigor and deep thought because a deep grasp of concepts, not an app, is what will help us navigate an ever-changing world. Of course, all of those elements of learning I just mentioned become possible in an environment of trust, respect, and a feeling of safety. In essence, this is what we do best at Sonoma Academy, confirmed by both parent and student feedback. This, then, is the established order that is not being disrupted and that you can look forward to enjoying this year. And to put a cherry on top, the good food and animated conversation in the Grange will sustain us through the inevitable moments when we get tired, hungry, or discouraged, and temporarily lose sight of the precious alchemy we create together on a daily basis here at Sonoma Academy.
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  • The View from Here: 325 Congratulations!

    by Janet Durgin, Head of School
    At this time of year, no matter where you go, everyone is aware of the advent of summer. But at a school, moment by moment, we are keenly aware of something momentous coming to a close; we are at a busy crossroads of comings and goings and change. Earlier today, teachers wrapped up classes and many snacks were consumed at the last advisory meeting of the year. Students have been working on and turning in final projects and are studying for finals. Diplomas have been signed. It's almost as though a plane was flying across the blue skies over campus trailing a fluttering sign reading, "The school year is over!". But, the buzz and hum of busy-ness will soon fall silent as we enter into the quieter, more relaxed (we hope!) months of summer. Meanwhile, we prepare to bid adieu to our senior class. Next Friday, at this time, they will have completed their commencement exercises and will officially be Sonoma Academy alumni!

    For those of you planning to attend graduation (all are invited and welcome!) to celebrate this fine class of 2017, we look forward to being with you as we take the afternoon to commemorate the accomplishments and contributions of this class to our community. At every graduation, our faculty read an individualized tribute for each senior as they stand on stage receiving their diploma. These tributes are collaboratively written and are our way of honoring the unique presence of each senior before they depart for the next phase of their life. It is my privilege as head of school to stand next to each one on the stage as the tributes are read. As I describe all of this to the seniors at rehearsal, I prepare them to really listen and try to take in what will be said about them. This is their moment and we want them to soak it up! (We do, however, send the tributes to the students and their family so they can be appreciated later as well).

    We are incredibly proud of our seniors and I invite you to click the image below to see the wonderful list of colleges to which our students have been accepted.

    PS: If you haven't been keeping up with the Senior Speeches, you may find an archive of them here!
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  • June

    The View From Here: Experiment, Assess, Reiterate

    by Janet Durgin, Head of School
    One of the things I miss most about being in the classroom every day is the ways in which the classroom is a perfect laboratory. You hypothesize about how your students learn best, you choose your content and your approaches, and you experiment. And you see almost immediately what works and what doesn’t. You see it on your student’s faces. You see it in the quality of the homework. And of course on tests and quizzes. And then you get to make changes, sometimes even within the same school day if you have another section of the same course. Teaching is a constant iterative process. And the feedback loop is short and quick.

    I find as Head of School that I’m planning and implementing programs, ideas, and approaches, and the feedback loop can be months or even years, depending on the nature of the project. One of the ways that we try to tighten up this feedback loop is asking for your input in our annual parent survey. I’m pleased that this year’s survey garnered the highest level of participation thus far.

    As soon as school lets out in June, I’ll be digging into the data, both quantitative and qualitiave, looking for themes and trends, both in areas you report we’re doing well and in areas where you may have let us know we need improvement.

    I will be following up with you about the insights gained and the actions we plan to take at Back to School Night on September 13 at 6 pm. Please do plan to attend.
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  • May

    The View From Here: Grandparent/Significant Elder Day

    by Janet Durgin, Head of School
    Every year we invite the grandparents and significant elders of our students to come spend a partial day on campus with us. They participate in activities or visit classes, have lunch with their grandchildren, and join us for community meeting.

    The relationship between grandparents (or grand-friends, as we heard many identify themselves) and grandkids is special Our families are diverse in so many ways--geographically, socio-economically, ethnically, and politically. But they have one thing clearly in common. They value education above all. Our students are at Sonoma Academy at least in part because their grandparents helped shape a commitment to learning and education.

    Grandparent/Significant Elder Day always feels especially sweet, an opportunity to witness the connections that span generations. Yesterday, we packed a full house, with our largest attendance of grandparents yet. Thanks to all the elders who came. It was an honor and a joy to share the day with you.

    Photo credits: Erin Wrightsman; Steven Gu '18 
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  • The View From Here: Big Night Out

    by Janet Durgin, Head of School
    I've got my date and I know what I'm going to wear. How about you?
     
    Did you see this wonderful little film made by parents Andrew Hathaway, Gayle Slade and a crew of others? Sonoma Academy parents are so creative, committed, and fun. That's what Big Night Out is all about. Fifteen years ago our first fundraising gala was in a parent's barn and I believe the extent of the auction was one large gift basket. The school has come a long way since then! One of the tensions we've tried to manage as we've grown is the appropriate balance between Big Night Out being a night to raise funds and BNO being a night to have a wonderful community party. We try to do it all in a way that serves the school and our students best.

    Below you will see a list of the many parents who have helped us this year, as well as links to buy tickets, to view the auction catalogs, a proxy bidding form if you can't make it, and more. If you've never been, please think about coming. It's fun, it's joyful, and anadults-only time to connect with the community. There are still a handful of tickets left, so we hope you'll snatch them up! We so look forward to kicking up our heels and celebrating our great school and community.
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  • March

    The View From Here: Grange & Studios Update

    by Janet Durgin, Head of School

    Some of you are no doubt wondering if the rain has delayed our project. Our contractors budgeted time for rain days; however, with this year's excessively rainy season (50+ inches and counting, compared to an average of 30 inches), we have fallen a little behind schedule. Fortunately, not all of the rain days have impacted the critical path to completion. We are behind by about six work days, though we hope to make those up sometime before the end of the summer. We've already made up three lost days by increasing crew sizes and adding a few hours of overtime. At this point, we are still on track to open the building in October.
     
    Currently, they are creating the deck and putting on the roof for the building. If we have a little more dry weather, they'll start pouring concrete for the first and second floors. Once the concrete is poured, they'll start framing interior walls and putting in window frames, and the building will really visibly take shape.
     
    We are beginning to feel the ways in which this new structure changes our experience of this space. Its angles point us to the horizon and frame the sunset. It reaches into the central plaza and we are already seeing how it will invite us in. And while the crews are busy building the structure, we are busy dreaming, planning, and preparing for the programming that will come alive inside the building.
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  • February

    The View From Here: Adulting?

    by Janet Durgin, Head of School
     
    Last year, we launched a new Connections program for second semester seniors that was focused on the transition from high school to college, teenager to young adult. This year, the program has continued to be refined, including a new name! Called "Adulting 101," students are spending their Wednesday afternoons learning about and practicing many of the skills required of adults. 
     
    This week, Captain Doug Dougherty, from SSU's campus police force, came to talk to the students about issues they will probably face in college--avoiding sexual assault, addressing underage drinking, and common pitfalls that young adults can fall into. Captain Dougherty addressed student questions and concerns with humor, understanding, and sound advice. Students had submitted questions to Connections leaders Cassidy Brown, STEM teacher, and Michele Martin, TITLE, and they started out with those, but pretty soon they were asking impromptu questions and showing genuine interest. 
     
    In this picture, Joey Johnson '17 is gamely doing a role play with Captain Dougherty in order to show our students what to expect and how to respond in the case of a traffic stop. [Side note: Joey also co-starred with Claire Lampson '17 in the play Gruesome Playground Injuries directed by Perry Parsons '17. They and their crew, the cast and crew for Don't Eat the Blue Snow, an original work by Connor Devlin '17, and other theater students are off to the Lenaea Festival this weekend. Both plays were great!].
     
    All parents (and we faculty and administrators too) worry just a bit as we send our kids off into the next stage of their lives. Have we taught them everything? Are they well-prepared? Not just for their academic lives in college, but their burgeoning adult lives? As a school, there is only so much we can do, of course. This Adulting 101 course represents our ongoing commitment to make sure we're doing our part to ensure that they are as well-prepared as they can be. The rest is up to them. And, watching these young people engage in their lives here at school, that makes me feel very hopeful.
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  • The View From Here: Communicating Across Cultures

    by Janet Durgin, Head of School
     
    The first view I saw on Monday morning was from the podium in the gym at PS. A sea of bright, excited faces—students happy to be back in school, happy to have returned from their Intersession adventures and be all together again. We're working on a photo album of Intersession photos to post on Facebook where you'll get a sense of how engaging these programs were in so many different ways for our students. Teachers return from Intersession with their own stories, of course, including running into two Sonoma Academy alumni at a tiny bodega on the isolated coast of Baja, Mexico; seeing the huge grin on a 9th grade boy's face as he caught an enormous fish during the Fly Fishing Intersession; being moved to tears by the impact of the assistive technology our students developed for the disabled students at Cook Middle School, and on and on. We'll send you the link to see and read more as soon as we have it ready.
     
    Good spirits and high energy continued through mid-week as we welcomed students from Shanghai Foreign Language Middle School, which you see in the photo above. Mandarin teacher Pam Vincent and her students organized a Sonoma Academy style Chinese New Year celebration with tea, calligraphy, badminton, and Go, to name a few. These young students from Shanghai blew us away at Community Meeting standing in front of the audience and introducing themselves in impeccable English. The students were confident, outgoing, and clearly delighted to be here. We are so glad to have had a strong connection with various communities in China since the very beginning of the school.
     
    As we close the week, today, Friday, we will have seen two student-produced plays; one entirely authored and scored by Connor Devlin '17 titled Don't Eat the Blue Snow, the other directed by Perry Parsons '17. To close on a theatrical note, you still have time to see Jen Coté in Stage Kiss at the 6th Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa. It's great fun and Jen is spectacular.
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  • January

    The View From Here: Traditions

    Janet Durgin, Head of School
    Every community has its traditions. They are things that occur year after year, giving the passing of a time a rhythm particular to that particular group. Your family has probably been enacting some of its winter and holiday traditions already, with many more to come. There is something about traditions that create a sense of continuity and cohesiveness. And our community is no different. We love our SA traditions... things that we have done or established over the years to mark the passage of the school year, to honor the ebbs and flows of our day-to-day life. One that I started some years ago (maybe I am regretting it just a little bit now) was the appearance of "Holiday Harriet" at our annual Holiday Assembly. We don't do a pagent or Winter Festival, but we do like to acknowledge the season and provide some light and levity to our students who have usually just completed their final exams for the first semester. This year, we did our holiday assembly a week early so as not to keep students late the day before Christmas Eve and, this year, the start of Hanukkah, and, while it didn't quite have the same feeling as years past, it was still festive and fun. My favorite part is figuring out how to surprise them with Harriet's arrival. This year, I dressed art teacher Hillary Younglove up with my jacket, glasses, and dog and then appeared from around the corner in the golf cart, tricked out with Christmas lights and the best helper in the world, Chris Ziemer. Harriet believes that all children should have sweet things and a new pair of socks at this time of year and Chris and I pelted the students with balled-up  socks and candy. Happy Holidays to All and to All a Good Night!!
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< 2017

Sonoma Academy is...

The only 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.