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.


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,