Head’s Corner

COVID-19 Travel Guidance

Dear Saklan Community, 

On Monday, we enter our third week of having all grades on campus. It has been a heavy lift with many moving parts, but it has been absolutely worth it. Your children are engaged in their learning, their spirits are high, and our teachers walk with a purpose. 

Overall your children have been fantastic in understanding the importance of wearing their masks and are cooperative beyond our wildest expectations. As parents, you have done a fantastic job with the screening, have kept your children home when they are not feeling well, gotten tested when asked, and been incredibly supportive of our teachers.  

As I am sure you know, COVID infection rates are on the rise across the nation. While California has done well comparatively speaking, there is a concerning rise state-wide and in Contra Costa County. We continue to be vigilant on campus. While knowing we will not be able to 100% stop the virus from coming to campus, we feel our safety protocols significantly mitigate its spread.  

But this system is only as good as its weakest link. It is up to our entire community to be dedicated to reducing the possibility of COVID-19 from entering campus. Rising numbers and the holidays will only lead to increased cases across the state. I know of schools that have had to close because their community members let down their guard, attended get-togethers, or joined small parties. I am sure they all felt they were being safe enough. 

For those of you planning travel, the California State Government has issued a travel advisory asking those who travel outside of California to self-quarantine for two weeks upon return. Saklan will apply this policy to our community. If you have to travel outside the state, we request that you quarantine for two weeks upon your return. We will work to keep your child caught up with their school work through distance learning and/or assignments. The advisory also recommends that Californians refrain from all non-essential travel during this period; therefore, we encourage families not to travel until the advisory has been lifted. 

Educating your children in person is our number one priority. If you have to travel, we understand, but please help us stay in person by quarantining. Help us give your students the education they deserve by remaining vigilant. If we have our priorities straight, we can have a pandemic and school at the same time.

Stay well,



Head’s Corner

Lately, we have all had a lot on our plates. The ramifications of COVID-19 impacting our day-to-day lives. Family dynamics that have been stretched. Forest fires and smoke, causing us to stay indoors and cancel school. And now, an election that seems to emphasize our differences and pits us against others. Daily, we have to navigate our own emotions, fears and anxieties, as well as those of others. Many days it feels beyond our capacity. 

A head of school colleague shared this piece with me last week, and it just seems to fit so well with where we are today, and what we need. 


Turning to One Another

There is no greater power than a community discovering what it cares about.

Ask “What is possible?” not “What’s wrong?” Keep asking.

Notice what you care about.

Assume that many others share your dreams.

Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.

Talk to people you know.

Talk to people you don’t know.

Talk to people you never talk to.

Be intrigued by the differences you hear.

Expect to be surprised.

Treasure curiosity more than certainty.

Invite in everybody who cares to work on what’s possible.

Acknowledge that everyone is an expert about something.

Know that creative solutions come from new connections.

Remember, you don’t fear people whose story you know.

Real listening always brings people closer together.

Trust that meaningful conversations can change your world.

Rely on human goodness. Stay together.

Margaret J. Wheatley


Head’s Corner

The Power of Our Words

When I was in grad school, I had a professor pose the question, “What do you teach?” The class was composed of teachers working towards a master’s degree in education, so we had students. At first glance, to many, the answer was easy. I teach science or third grade were their common answers. But the “correct answer” was “I teach children.” Once you see it, it changes how you think about the purpose of education.  

When we teach children instead of math or science, we spend as much time thinking about the character traits we are modeling as we do academic content. We become deliberate about the words we choose and their power. Language permeates everything we do here at Saklan; it shapes how students think of themselves and others. There is a subtle but powerful difference between saying “good morning students” and “good morning scientists.”

What we say to students helps them build a positive identity and gain a sense of who they are and who they want to become. Our job is to build them up and help them envision themselves in the future. It is to convey the idea that impossible

is just a word and they can grow themselves.

When choosing our language, we think about building trust. We use words and phrases like “I’m not sure, what do you think” or “I never thought of it that way.” Both of these phrases show vulnerability and empower students to push their thinking. Those phrases also build trust, which in turn increases academic confidence. 

By working with students in this way, we are modeling how they should be interacting with each other. How they should be supporting each other and how they can play a role in others’ growth. We do teach children, but hopefully, we are teaching them how to teach others.


Head’s Corner

COVID-19 Waiver Update

Dear Saklan Community,

I want to start with gratitude and acknowledgments. Saklan received its Waiver from the county with relative ease due to many people’s hard work and dedication. While the COVID-19 Task Force drove the waiver/reopening process, many others stepped up to make it possible. Moreover, I would be remiss not to mention all the hard work that went into making the distance learning program successful and robust, although no replacement for face-to-face learning. While not acknowledging individuals, I will say those on the COVID-19 Task Force, the Admin Team, and so many teachers and parents pitched in to make the start of the year, and the Waiver possible. 

The Process

In July, Saklan was getting close to having systems in place that followed state-wide mandates when Governor Newsom announced that many counties would not open schools in August. A waiver process was put into place, but each county developed its timeline. Contra Costa County released their process in late August, and Saklan submitted its plan in the first week of September. Part of the process included conversations with officials at the County Health Department who went through each step of our Waiver and added helpful but intricate procedures. 

Once the Waiver was approved, it went back to the Task Force for consideration. From there, the Task Force made a recommendation to the Board, and the Board then considered the recommendations and had a conversation about how they envisioned reopening the school for in-person learning. From those conversations came two additions to our reopening plan.  

  1. We will require each student to be tested for COVID-19 before returning to campus for in-person learning. (All teachers/staff will be regularly tested.)
  2. We will stagger our reopening. We will start with K-2nd grades on campus first, following with 3rd-5th (possibly 6th) a couple of weeks later.

* Details regarding both of these will be communicated next week.

I understand that both of these additions create a burden on families. Unfortunately, the county added new restrictions that increased the level of complexity to our reopening. It is essential to get it right and for us to go slow before we go fast. 

The Plan

We will reopen for K-2nd as an in-person class on Wednesday, September 30th. The 28th and 29th will be days where the students may have some work to do for class, but online classes will not be held. Teachers will be using those days to transition back to in-person learning, preparing classrooms, going over safety procedures, etc. The exact schedule will be emailed out early next week. 

On Wednesday, October 14th, we will open grades 3rd-5th (and possibly 6th, our planning is still taking place). Like K-2nd, teachers in 3rd-5th will use October 13th (and our Professional Development day on the 9th) to prepare their classrooms for the students’ return. There will be no online classes for students in grades 3rd-5th on October 13th. 

We do hope that towards the end of October, the county will be in the “red zone” and will be able to bring our 7th and 8th grade students to campus. 

Other Reopening / COVID-19 Related Information

More Improvements – If you have been following our facility improvements over the summer, you know that we have added outdoor learning spaces, improved our ventilation system with hospital grade filter systems, installed sinks, sanitizers and non-touch faucets throughout the campus. We have now purchased for every classroom an air purifier with ultraviolet lights to kill germs. We will also be adding 1200 sq. ft. of outdoor learning space, giving us over 3000 sq. ft of outdoor classroom space. 

Being Responsible – While infection rates continue to improve, it is also easy to get comfortable and relax, leading to another jump in rates. Once the school is open, we can stay open even if infection rates increase county wide. But, if we have even a small outbreak at school, the county may close the school. As a community, it is our responsibility to keep our students and teachers healthy and in school. 

Flu Shots – This year, more than most, getting a flu shot is extremely important. The symptoms of COVID-19 present much like the common flu. We have had to send students home from the ECE for something as simple as a runny nose. The better job we do avoiding any illness, the more likely we will be successful in having a good year.

Survey – Next week, we will be sending a survey to parents regarding their intention to send their students back to school or keep them home. Our online options will be limited once we are in session. We will be setting aside time towards the end of the school day to connect with those at home and help them with their academics. We will do our best but will be limited by how much “live-teaching” we can do during the school day. 

Bus – Next week, we will be sharing information regarding the school bus. The seating will be limited due to COVID-19 restrictions, and the fees will increase significantly. 

Extended Day – While we are in cohorts and under COVID-19 restrictions, we do not see a way to open extended day for K-8 that is safe and cost-effective. The school day will end between 2:00 and 2:20 pm for students. 

As always, thank you for your patience and support. If you have any questions or concerns, please email me. More information will be coming early next week. 




Head’s Corner

Why We Connect

“You just can’t fathom it.” Truer words were never spoken. Having your children back on campus, even for short visits, has been pure joy. I know, as parents, you understand the value of these visits to your child, but you have no idea how energizing it is to us. They are the lifeblood of the school. They are the reason we show up every morning. They give us purpose. 

When we received word from Governor Newsom in July that we would not be able to do in-person learning, it was a severe disappointment. Not just because all the work we had done to have students back on campus felt wasted, but also because we knew that they needed to be here for their emotional health. They needed to be connected to each other and to us. When we received permission from the county to bring kids on campus in small groups for short periods, it felt like a blessing. 

Connection is one of our core values at Saklan; it is in our DNA. And it has never been so important as now. These are anxious times for students. Each of you has a story to share about how the pandemic has impacted your child and your family. You are not alone. In a survey done by YouthTruth this summer, 50% of students reported feelings of depression, anxiety, or stress. These Saklan Connect visits – as brief as they are – are vital to the health of our students.  

There is an old notion in schools that they are mostly about academics. Even at Saklan, we (or at least I) have framed the importance of connection to students as something that can often be in service to higher academic achievement. A student will never achieve their full academic potential unless they are connected with others and are thriving socially emotionally.  And while it is true that connection and emotional stability are a prerequisite to strong academics, I am convinced now that they are an end unto themselves.

When we have your child here for a Saklan Connect visit, it is because this is what they need right now (and maybe what we need too). We know having them “connect” will help them in their academic endeavors, but that is not why they are invited to join us. They are here because it is what we all need – full stop.


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.