Head of School COVID-19 Update

“The job of an online teacher is the job of an offline teacher is the job of a teacher. Connect to people and help them to feel connected to you and to the dimension of the world you are leading them to experience. Connect your students to one another in a way that enables them not only to learn content from one another but also to catch life experiences from one another—to shape one another in the way that only peers can. It’s that simple… and it’s that complex.”

A Letter to Educators Teaching Online for the Very First Time – Ed Surge

Dear Saklan Community,

As we work through week three of our distance learning at Saklan, the quote above struck me. At Saklan, we brag about the importance placed on being connected with students and families. Yet making those connections work through online learning has its challenges. In the first two weeks, we tried to nail down the academics. This week we have incorporated live sessions with the specialist teachers. By next week, we will begin incorporating more ways for kids to connect with teachers as well as each other.

Teaching through a pandemic has had its challenges. We appreciate your support and patience as we have built up (and continue to improve) our program. While we have had feedback from parents, I would like to take this opportunity to collect it in one place. Please take a moment to share with us your thoughts on how things have gone so far, what we have done well, what we could do better and how we can better support your family. Email me at feedback@saklan.org.

In other news:

  • We will be holding our first Virtual Friday Flag on Friday, April 17th, at 9 am. Please have the whole family join, it will be fun. We will be sending a Zoom invite early next week.
  • The 50th anniversary of Earth Day is around the corner on April 22nd and Ms. O. has lots of plans! Keep your eye out for more information to come.
  • Our first Virtual Family Groups is planned for May 1st at 1:30 pm. Family Groups is for students in 1st – 8th grades. This month’s theme is Compassion. Parents are welcome to join. More information to come.
  • Most of you must be aware of the Zoombombing issues that are happening within Zoom. We have instituted the correct protocols, and Zoom has updated its software. We are continuing to monitor this situation.
  • Our hot lunch vendor, Food for Thought, is offering meal delivery on Tuesday and Friday afternoons. The menu is more “adult” than their student meals. As a bonus, they are selling toilet paper and rice in bulk! Using them is a great way to support local businesses in this time of need. Pick up will be at Perpetua School. Click here for more information.
  • Do you have a favorite local business that could use our community’s support? If so, share with me a few details, and we will promote them within our community.
  • Saklan will be hosting a Virtual Town Hall towards the end of next week. Details will follow in the next couple of days regarding time and date.
  • Next week, the Business Office will begin processing credit memos for unused bus and extracurricular fees.

Lastly (and sadly), on Tuesday, the Contra Costa Office of Education announced that school campuses must remain closed until the end of the school year. Although this announcement was expected, it is not the news we were all hoping for. While I had wished they would have waited to make the decision, I understand why they wanted to make the decision earlier than later. That said, it is starting to look like the sacrifice of social distancing may be paying off. While I would never claim to be a math guy (or a doctor), the curve does seem to be flattening. As a community, we have accomplished much over the past few weeks, but it has been a heavy lift. While it has been hard, I hope that it may begin to feel that we are finding our way out (as in out of the house).

Stay well,



A Common Struggle

Today, we had about 15 parents show up at our Parents Association Virtual Coffee centered around the topic of ‘Sharing Our Home Solutions to Distance Learning.’ You know how these things can go sometimes, the session was more an opportunity for people to share what they were struggling with when it comes to distance learning. And while there were many positives that came out of the conversation, reading the struggles brought a weird sense of comfort. We are not in this alone. 

Here are a few of the more common things our families are grappling with: 

  • It’s been hard to keep the kids focused, sometimes bribing the kids with treats or whatnot is what parents have resorted to.
  • Parents are having guilt regarding large amounts of screen time (not necessarily regarding school work but in general, i.e. video games etc.)
  • Having to keep in mind that some kids love distance learning and do well at it, and others are having more of a challenge and strive on the physical connection/physical learning.
  • Some parents find themselves losing temper and finding it hard to not have “me time” in which they can take a deep breath and gather their thoughts. They are in survival mode and some kids are feeling the stress they are under.
  • Each week is very different. Each load of stress (whether on parents or students, whether from life in general or from classes) is different throughout the weeks.
  • This whole world event is taking a toll on mental health. People are really struggling with not being able to go to coffee with a friend or have hangouts. Virtual ones just aren’t the same.
  • There’s no time for parents to process emotions anymore.

I am not sure if sharing this list solves any of the issues, but I do hope that it makes us feel maybe just a touch closer to those we used to see so often. 

Warm regards,



Saklan Closure / Distance Learning

Dear Saklan Community,

In my letter on Wednesday of this week I mentioned that while the closing of the campus was a remote possibility, it was less remote than the week before. I did not foresee that I would be writing this particular letter two days later, but here I am.

dist lear

As of Monday, March 16th, the campus will be closed in order to keep our students safe as well as help slow the spread of Coronavirus. On Monday and Tuesday, teachers and staff will be training and working to get ready to use distance learning tools. By Wednesday we will begin to deliver our curriculum remotely. While it will look different at each grade level, we will be holding classes remotely and will be expecting students to engage and participate in classes online. We are planning on returning to campus on April 6th after Spring Break.

I realize that keeping students home during the school year is disruptive and can be difficult for families. As a community, I am hoping we can help each other. If you find yourself in a situation regarding child care or anything else, please use our PA Facebook page to reach out for help.

More information from teachers about distance learning will be sent out by Monday. If you have any questions or concerns please contact me.

Warm regards,



Head’s Corner

T-Minus 684.5 Hours

Saklan Presents Banner sm

684.5 hours is the amount of time between the minute this blog post lands in your email box to the start of the Saklan Speakeasy Auction. There are a few things I want to mention about our fundraiser that I think are important to know:

  • Even if you do not feel you are the bidding or “auction type”, please join us. The event will be more fun than last year (and that would be pretty hard to top). You do not need to be a bidder to attend. The event is about community as much as it is about helping the school financially.
  • What do I mean by fun? D.J.and dancing, psychic reader, 1920’s photo booth, wine toss and open bar, good friends and families. Need I say more?
  • What are some of the Auction Prizes? An evening stargazing an observatory, Pixar tour with lunch and a secret bonus,  Tennis Match/Lesson with Rajeev Ram, Doubles Champion at the Australian Ope
  • Only one parent can come – should I still go? Are you kidding me? This is the perfect opportunity to live it up!
  • Do you need volunteers for the Auction? Yes, we could use help on the day of the auction. If you are interested in working the morning of the event, afternoon, evening or clean up. Please email me at doconnell@saklan.org

Speaking of volunteers, a huge shoutout to Brian and Darla Lovrin, Dabney Lawless, Daisy Coby and Audrey Collec for driving this event. It truly would not have come together without their efforts. If you need another reason to go, it would be to honor the hours they have put into this project.

Warm regards,



Head’s Corner

Saklan Speakeasy / Fund-A-Need

Each year, the Saklan community hosts an auction to help raise funds to do some of those extra things that make Saklan a special place. The event itself serves another purpose, and that is to bring us together as a group and get to know each other better. Last year’s auction was more fun than I imagined it could be, and we are topping ourselves this year. This year, we will have tarot card reading, swing dance lessons, and a DJ to end the evening in style. Our live auction prizes include a Pixar Tour as well as a night in an observatory with an astronomer.

In the past, we have raised money to renovate our Science Lab and give students increased exposure to STEM education. A couple of years ago, the community raised enough money to “amplify” our arts program; renovating our music and art spaces, purchasing African Drums and a Kiln among other things.

The “BEFORE” Picture

This year, our Fund-A-Need will go towards creating a multi-use space out of our current Pavilion. We are currently working with an architect to design a space that will allow us to enclose the space during cold or wet weather, and to open it up during the warmer months. Besides lunch, we would use the space for assemblies, meetings, PE classes, and special projects. Design images coming soon.

I hope you can join on the 14th of March for our Saklan Speakeasy; it promises to be a great time for a great cause.


Head’s Corner

Sometimes the Answer is Right in Front of You.

At Wednesday night’s vaping discussion, the one question we could not answer very well was, “how do you tell your child not to do something risky, and have it stick?” The answers varied from “when I was growing up, my father said he would disown me if I smoke” to “my father told me which risky behaviors I could and could not partake in.” None of our answers were very satisfying or seemingly useful.

So what is the answer? How do we keep our kids from engaging in risky behavior? According to Kent Pekel, the CEO of Search Institute, relationships are the key. “A gigantic body of research shows that the relationships in a kid’s life are like the roots of a tree. When kids have strong roots, they can grow, they can thrive, they can withstand the storms life throws at them.”


The storms life throws at kids are things like drug use, a bad breakup, or peer pressure to vape. Pekel’s research suggests that the roots of relationships thrive in a healthy soil base that contains these five elements.

  • Express Care – Be someone I can trust
  • Challenge Growth – Expect me to live up to my potential
  • Provide Support – Guide me but also set limits
  • Share Power – Take me seriously and involve me in decisions
  • Expand Possibilities – Inspire me to see possibilities for my future

If these look familiar, they should. These elements are also the basic tenets of how Saklan operates with students every day. We know that we are most successful when we connect, we challenge, and we inspire. As a parent, I can tell my child not to do something, or they will be in trouble, as a teacher I can say to a student to study hard or they will get a poor grade. This approach is straightforward, but in the long run, it does not work well.

Whether I want a child to understand the causes behind WWI or I want them to make wise decisions when it comes to life’s storms, it’s the roots that count.

Check out Kent Pekel’s Ted Talk here.


Head’s Corner

How to Stress Your Kids the Right Way


Every now and then I come across an article or podcast that is ideal for sharing with the community. Do you worry about being overprotective, overindulgent or overscheduling your child? Is there a right way to let your child struggle and fail? When should you help, and when should you chill out?

This short 25 minute “How To” podcast has some great advice from the author Wendy Mogel (The Blessing of a Skinned Knee) on building self-reliant children. Worth your time.

Warm regards,



Head’s Corner

A Change Is A Chance 2020

Sometimes Saklan kids do some pretty cool things that we want to take all the credit for, but can’t. A prime example of that would be the podcast A Change is a Chance by 6th grade Saklan student Ryan Lo. In Ryan’s inaugural podcast, he interviews Ms. Obenchain about an array of scientific issues. Some of the topics Ryan will cover in the coming months are global pollution, systemic racism, and gender equality.


What I like about the podcast (besides the fact that one of our students created such a professional sounding production) is that it emphasizes what real-world learning is. Ryan describes how discovering one thing led to a more profound interest in other topics and a thirst to know more. That curiosity led him to develop deep probing questions that he could not answer without the help of an outside expert. Hence, the interview with Ms.Obenchain.

This is what Saklan and learning are about. I would love for us to take all the credit for Ryan’s podcast, but many factors went into Ryan’s journey of creating it.

Definitely worth your 15 minutes.

Warm regards,



Head’s Corner

In my humble opinion, Giving Tuesday should be placed one week earlier, before Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. It would make more sense that an idea that is now a global movement of giving and generosity should precede anything else and propel us forward with gratitude for Thanksgiving and the holidays.

It’s too late to change this order this year, but it is my hope that as a community we can make a statement and give boldly on this Giving Tuesday – spreading hope and inspiration to each other. More importantly, we will be helping create a generation that will put empathy and compassion before shopping. IMG_6597

The core of what we do every day at Saklan is to help students develop the mindset and tools to be bold world changers. Our ability to do that relies on the fact that you trust us with your children and support us in this endeavor by sacrificing significant financial resources to make it all possible.

Much of the deeper, real-world work we do with students comes from your generosity during our Annual Giving Campaign. 100% of our Board of Trustees and Faculty and Staff have participated in our campaign. To date, 35% of our parent body has participated. Of the remaining 65%, if you are anything like me, the AGF Pledge Form is on the kitchen counter, just waiting to be sent in (go look, it is under the Target bill).

So take a moment to help us create the bold world changers of the future.

With Gratitude,

To give online – click here
To download a pledge form – click here


Head’s Corner


Guest Experts – Lighting The Fire 

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” – William Butler Yeats

One of the touchstones of a Saklan education is making experiential learning the center of getting students engaged in academics. While we all can learn from a book, a lecture or a video, it is the in-person experience that lights the fire.

Experiential learning can be as big as swimming with turtles in the Galapagos (as many of our students did this past summer) or as simple as visiting the Moraga Gardens Farm to learn about plant life. Each is an example of getting outside of the box and into the real world and getting your hands dirty.

But there is another type of experiential learning that is as powerful, the Guest Expert.  We practice taking our students outside our four walls – but bringing the outside world into Saklan can have just as powerful of an impact.

This is where you come in…

We have begun to assemble a list of guest experts that we would love to have in our classrooms and we are reaching out for help. Maybe you are the expert, or maybe you know someone. If you or someone you know has knowledge in one of the fields or areas attached, please contact me at doconnell@saklan.org. We can start a conversation about how you can help us light some fires.

Warm regards,


P.S. We use the word expert lightly; one does not need to have a PhD to be an expert, just some experience and a willingness to share knowledge.