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.

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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.


Head’s Corner

Another Great Saklan Concert

Once again, Saklan put together another fantastic whole school concert at the Lesher Theater. There were so many pieces that made the evening memorable, it is hard to know where to start. The theme of Lionhearts and courage, syncing nicely with our mission. The individual performances by so many students who dared for the first time to be center stage in front of hundreds of people. The energy that our students drew from the audience to pull the show together. All of these things and more made the evening a bright success.

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I want to thank so many people for their efforts. It starts with Grace and the hours of time and love she has put into the show. The many students that stepped up to take on parts that took them outside their comfort zones and gave them new experiences. The Owlets and Hoot Owls for just being themselves. The teachers and staff who across the board pitched in, volunteering time and talent and adjusting their schedules to accommodate rehearsals. Javier for technical assistance in making it all come together. Parents for all the support and transportation of instruments and students. The PA for organizing the dinner at Skipolini’s. And lastly, Emoke and Kim Anderson for photographing and videotaping the event ( photos and video will be available next week).

Thank you to all,



Head’s Corner

Who Cares?

This past week, I have been thinking about the college admissions scandal and what it says about the disconnect between what we say our values are and the messages we send through our actions. If I assume the best about the parents involved, I would like to think that on some level they purport to, and most likely believe in, the values of integrity, fairness, and honesty. But they also struggle with what they consider the real world of college admissions and what makes for a meaningful life of the child they love. It’s complicated, right?

In thinking about this internal struggle, I came across an article written by Richard Weissbourd (who also happens to be the author of The Parents We Mean To Be).  In the piece, Weissbourd addresses the gap between what parents and teachers say we value, and the messages children are receiving. Research suggests that most parents and teachers value caring over achievement. The problem is, that is not the message students are hearing.


80 percent of students reported that their parents prioritized achievement (57%) or happiness (27%) over everything else. Only 19 percent of students reported that being a caring individual was highly important to their parents. Teachers did not fare much better. While promoting caring is a top priority of a majority of teachers, students believe academic achievement is by far the main thing teachers are concerned about.

The research shows that parents and teachers want caring to be a top priority (above achievement)  for their children but our messaging is not in sync with that desire. A majority of teacher conversations with students is around academics and parents often want to know how their child did on a project before they ask about how they cared for a classmate. It is not that students don’t think we value caring, they do, just significantly less than achievement.

Our fears are that the real world of high schools and universities care more about the transcript than the person. But our inner selves know that a caring individual leads a rich life beyond measure. It’s complicated, right?

It is not as if there is a right or wrong answer here. Academics are important, caring is important and striking the balance between the two is an ongoing conversation.  If you would like to be part of that conversation, please join us in reading The Parents We Mean To Be.

Warm regards,



Head’s Corner

Why Do We Have a GPSF Day?

Many of you know that I am the father of a 14-month-old toddler who goes by the name Finn. She came to my wife and me by what we like to call a “spontaneous pregnancy.” Children were never part of our life plan and we had absolutely no clue what an impact a child would have on us (emotionally, physically and financially). Furthermore, we had no idea of the support one needs when raising a little human.


I bring this up not because I like to talk about Finn (although I do), but because I never understood the importance of a support network when it comes to raising a family.  I have come to learn that extended families serve at least two crucial roles in my family’s well being. The first of course is the emotional and hands-on support they give. The second, and just as important, is as a role model. I have lost count of the number of times I have thought about how my siblings or parents did their child rearing to help guide me in my efforts .

I bring this up because having a child has made me see Grandparents and Special Friends Day in a new light.  As educators, we spend over seven hours a day with your sons and daughters. We work to partner with you and keep you up-to-date and support you in this complicated world of child raising. But sometimes we are unfamiliar with a key component of the equation – the grandparent or special friend. I have always enjoyed Grandparents and Special Friends Day because our visitors are such neat people, and they are always interested in what is going on at school. But, to be honest, I had not really viewed them as a critical cog in the work of creating a good person.

Hence the importance of Grandparents and Special Friends Day. They are an integral part of your child’s journey (and sometimes the key to your sanity). On the 29th of this month, we look forward to connecting, sharing and honoring those “others” who are so essential to your child’s life. #SaklanConnected