Head’s Corner

Why Do We Have An Annual Fund?

As you may know, for many independent schools, fundraising can account for up to ten percent of the school’s annual budget. While Saklan’s reliance on fundraising is lower than the average independent school, we still count on the generous support of our community. It is with this in mind that I ask you to participate in the Saklan Annual Giving Fund.


As I mentioned during back to school night, Saklan could make our budget work without our fundraising efforts. But it would be a very different school. Your generosity has changed who we are. Just last year, we have used the funds raised during the AGF and Auction to support many initiatives. To name a few:

  • We have substantially buttressed our financial assistance budget to help families afford a Saklan education.
  • We have increased the number of professional development opportunities available to teachers, helping them bring best practices back to the classroom.
  • There have been a substantial increase in the amount of fieldwork and real-world learning opportunities, giving students authentic learning experiences.

We have received 100% AGF participation from our faculty, staff, and Board of Trustees. My hope is to see 100% participation from our parent community. Our goal is to raise $100,000 from the parent community between now and the end of December. We will realize both those “100s” through your generosity and participation.

I realize that all our families give much to Saklan. Between tuition, time, and trusting us with your children – you make significant sacrifices for Saklan. I know you do it for your children and the work we do with them each day. As importantly though, your generosity is changing the conversation of what education should be for all children.

With gratitude,



Head’s Corner

What Does Society Value? 

In my last blog post, I wrote about Family Groups and the critical work they do in reinforcing essential character traits. Likewise, a few months ago, I posted a piece that shared research stating that there is often a disconnect between the character traits we want our children to develop and what our children think we want them to possess. In that post, I talked about the fact that most parents want their children to be honest, compassionate people, but most children believe the adults in their lives want them to get good grades. Well, the people over at Gallup just released a study that demonstrates that this “values disconnect” is pervasive in our society.


In Gallup’s Success Index study, they show how Americans’ definitions of success are different from perceptions of how society defines success. Moreover, we often underestimate how inline our definition of success is with the rest of American society.

Some examples of this “values disconnect”:

  • 97% percent of respondents said, “pursuing one’s interest and talents” meets their definition of what leads to a successful life. Conversely, 92% of the same respondents believe society values fame and fortune over all else.
  • 96% of us personally believe that success is not comparative, that we can be successful regardless of what others do, but we believe only 14% of the rest of society thinks like this.
  • Out of 76 attributes, individuals ranked trustworthiness as number 3 but thought society ranked it at number 30.
  • We believe being a parent and having a strong family connection is essential to a successful life, but think society places that value towards the bottom of the scale.

According to the study, there is a significant variance between what we believe society values and what we value. But a deeper dive into data seems to reveal that what we value as individuals and what society values are more closely aligned than we think. More importantly, though, sometimes we feel like we are fighting societal tides when we talk to kids about the values that are important to society. Maybe those tides are not as strong as we think.


Head’s Corner

Family Groups are Our Superpower

To be more exact, Family Groups are one of our many superpowers at Saklan. For those of you who are new to Saklan, Family Groups are a long practiced tradition that helps our students build positive character traits. While working on character may not be something unique to Saklan, I believe it is how we do it that is powerful.

Late into each spring, as a faculty, we start a conversation about the character traits we want to help students develop the following year. Traits like gratitude, compassion, honesty are among some of the characteristics we picked for this year. While the classroom teacher focuses on the monthly trait, our Family Groups are where the deep work happens. Each family group is made up of students from different grade levels, with the older ones taking a lead role. Every month, we set aside time for the older students to teach the younger ones about a particular trait.


This student to student approach serves many goals. To start with, our younger students truly enjoy being taught by older students. The activities feel more authentic when an older peer is leading a discussion on character than when an adult is facilitating. More importantly though, is the impact the Family Groups have on our older students. To teach something, one needs to understand it. Our older students need to think deeply about what a trait like gratitude means not just to them but to a six-year-old. Working with younger students helps them develop another superpower, empathy. Adolescents struggle with seeing the world through the eyes of others, but working with younger kids helps build that empathy muscle.

Lastly, as adults, we can reinforce the trait by following three simple steps. We model the character trait we are working on not only by setting the example but by owning our shortcomings. Secondly, we celebrate when students exhibit the behaviors we are seeking. Not by just saying “good job” but by letting them know we admire how they have behaved, or how we are proud of them. Thirdly and crucially, we put students in situations where they can practice the behavior. For instance, if we want them to show gratitude by writing thank-you notes, we set aside the time and materials for students to do this.

This month’s character trait is friendly, with our Family Groups meeting on the 25th. Help us help them by discussing what they did during Family Groups that day – and seeing how you can model, celebrate, and enable friendliness at home.

Warm regards,



Head’s Corner

Thank You and Well Wishes!

Dear Parents,

In the busyness of the end of the year and the start of summer camp last June, I neglected to honor two employees who have left the Saklan fold – Carol Goldman and Joy Alvarado. My deepest apologies to both.


Carol Goldman is an alumni parent, served for years on the Board of Trustees, and was our Director of Development for the past three years. For those of you who know Carol, you knew that she worked tirelessly for Saklan for many years. She drove our Annual Giving Fund for the past several years as well as the Auction. Without her leadership many of the things that we have on campus today – from the Science Lab and Music Room to the kiln and updated play areas – may not have come to fruition. Moreover, if you know Carol, you know that she does not hesitate to pitch in a helping hand wherever it is needed. Saklan is not the same place without her, and we wish her well as she seeks new ventures.


Joy Alvarado was with us as a Preschool Aide for over three years. If you know Joy you know that she is never without a smile or a can-do spirit. To call her an optimist would be an understatement. Joy worked with both the Hoot Owls and Owlets over the three years, sharing her love for discovery and learning. Moreover, as Joy worked full time, she also went to school to earn a teaching degree and is now working as a Head Teacher. We can not think but how lucky those kids and that school are.

Warm regards,



Head’s Corner


Saving Childhood

A few weeks ago, the New York Times published an opinion piece by Kim Brooks titled We Have Ruined Childhood. It is one of those articles that you can read and walk away feeling defeated, but in this case, it made me proud of the work we do here at Saklan. In many ways, as I read the article, I saw the Saklan approach as an antidote to what ails children and adolescents these days.

Brooks talks about the fact that “kids today have fewer opportunities to practice social-emotional skills… they don’t learn how to start a friendship, how to start a relationship, what to do when someone’s bothering you, how to solve a problem.” Which I find can be true in our overprotective culture. Yet here at Saklan, a focus of our approach is to get students to learn those vital social skills. We work hard through our Responsive Classroom approach, Middle School Advisory, and SOS classes to give kids the tools they need to grow as humans, deal with adversity and persist.

The article references the fact that an overabundance of testing, and all the “drilling” that goes with it, have taken away time from recess, lunch, Art and Music. This regimented approach to school increases stress and decreases learning (not to mention kills any love for learning). Taking a look at the Saklan curriculum, you will find that students are not shortchanged of Music, Art or some recess. And while we do use standardized testing, we limit it to focus on the individual growth of a student.

The fact is that less testing and more emphasis on the Arts, Social Emotional Learning, and giving kids some time and space leads to not only happier kids, but stronger academics. Does that seem counterintuitive? Probably. Does the research bear it out? Yes. Is Saklan saving childhood? I think so.


Head’s Corner

Words Matter

As a person who went through teacher training, I was taught to set classroom goals with the language of “students will know.” We also framed our conversations about what we were doing in class that day using the “Today I am teaching…” phrase. Both emphasize the role of the teacher when it comes to education.


I bring this up because over the summer our teachers started reading a book called Leaders of Their Own Learning. The emphasis of the book is to help students own, assess and grow from their learning. This starts with how we talk about the process of education. There is a difference in how one thinks about the process when we ask ourselves  “What am I teaching today?” versus “What will students learn today?” One is something I do to students, the other is something they do.

You will start to hear us talking about learning targets and using “I Can” statements. When a teacher writes goals using “students will know…”, it sends a very different message than when we use the language “I can” followed by a specific target. The “I can” gives ownership to the learner. It allows the student (with help from the teacher) to learn how to self-assess their progress and set a new learning target.

And that is the goal of a true learner, is it not? One who can look at what they are doing, assess where they are, and figure out where they need to go next. Interestingly enough, the book points out that the root meaning of the word assess is “to sit beside.” Traditionally, assessment is something educators have done to students. Leaders of Their Own Learning gives us the opportunity to do it in partnership, with the goal that they will soon guide their own learning.


Head’s Corner


“Impossible is just a word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”  ~Muhammad Ali

If you have the chance to join us for the Middle School Musical, West Side Story, take the time to read the director’s notes by Ms. Chaffey. In her notes, she speaks about the fact that she never felt she would be able to have middle school-aged students perform a musical as complicated as West Side Story. In a word, she thought it was impossible. When I read her notes, it made me think of Muhammad Ali’s quote and how it relates to Saklan.

West Side Story Ticket PosterJPEG-1 (2)

For Ms. Chaffey, she writes about the “impossibility” of adolescents pulling off intricate dance scenes designed to be performed by professionals. Of them connecting to a musical that is 70 years old and based on a 500 year old play. She worried about how they would handle the romantic scenes in front of their peers. While in her director notes she uses the word “never,” she probably thought it was impossible. And yet, here we are opening night – impossible is just a word.

At Saklan, I feel every day we do what others consider impossible. Take relationships for example. At Saklan, we believe that strong relationships between teachers and students are critical for academic success. Those students and teachers are partners in the journey of learning. This is a paradigm shift for most educators and takes an immense reallocation of resources. Smaller class sizes, taking time to know a student inside and out, making the effort to connect at a meaningful level. Conventional wisdom says that  it is impossible to increase learning by spending time on things other than academics. The opposite is actually true. Warm relationships between teachers and students lead to increased academic achievement and  improved social development.

As a teacher, Ms. Chaffey knew she could do the impossible because she has strong relationships with her students and their families. Because Saklan has a culture of compassion and courage where kids will take chances, knowing we are there to support them. From Owlet on up, we use our relationships to build confidence. That confidence helps our students overcome the pessimism of “small men” and to change our world. Our graduates see that  “impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

Warm regards,



Head’s Corner – Special Edition


Happy Friday!

First of all, I just want to thank you all for singing my favorite song “Boom Chicka Boom” at Flag this morning. What a great way to start the day!

Also thank you to the Kindergarten class for singing a beautiful Mother’s Day song. Happy Mother’s Day to all the hard working moms out there!

And thank you to the 1st grade for sharing all the pretty homes you made from around the world.

And thank you 3rd grade for telling us all about your field experiences at the One-Room Schoolhouse and Moraga Historical Society. We sure learned a lot!

We missed the 8th graders today but they are having fun learning about roller coasters at California’s Great America in Santa Clara. Next year, I declare that the whole school goes together!

Thank you for reading this and have a nice day.


Your Head of School, Lilia Ghassemi


Head’s Corner

Bouncing Forward

I was recently meeting with a couple of teachers and parents to discuss a student’s progress. The student had come to Saklan from a more traditional school and was struggling with how we approach learning.* What emerged from the conversation was just how difficult it is for a student to move from an educational system that feeds a student information to one that asks a student to synthesize what they previously learned into questions that lead to new understandings. In my former life as a teacher, students would often say “Just tell me what I need to know for the test” or for an essay “Tell me what to write about.” For students, the quickest way to “learn” something is to be “told” it. But this only leads to a shallow understanding of the material.


The easy way out for all of us, is to show the students exactly what to do, to tell them what they need to know, or to accept mediocre work. But in the long run, we are not setting them up for a truly successful and fulfilling life. Our 8th graders will be going off to high schools that will have a different culture than Saklan. Those 8th graders will one day graduate from high school and go on to a university that will require another culture shift. And on and on.

What that meeting reminded me of was just how difficult it is to switch cultures. In the case of the student above it was about moving into a culture that places a high value on student questioning and discovery. A culture that is reluctant to tell you what you “need” to know. To do a “culture switch” takes a large measure of perseverance and resilience. Both those characteristics are difficult to teach. As a matter of fact, they can’t be taught but have to be nurtured and learned.

At Saklan, we work behind the scenes to build  those inner muscles of resilience and perseverance. Kids fail and struggle and sometimes do not get it. We are there, like a family member, to support and help, but not to give them the answer. In the words of Rob Evans, we want to prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child. So when they do meet with failure, defeat and ambiguity, they do not just bounce back – they bounce forward.

*  I intentionally chose the word “learning” instead of “teaching” as teaching feels like something that is done to us by others while learning tends to be both collaborative and self-directed.


Head’s Corner


Sometimes there are weeks in the Saklan calendar where things like the Auction, Annual Spring Concert, Grandparents and Special Friends Day, and a week-long visit by 15 international students collide. It is during those times, that instead of trying to churn out a thoughtful blog post, I cheat.

I thought I would share with you a short article on kindness that reflects how we think at Saklan.