Head’s Corner

A Great School…

In my previous blog post I wrote about using the Y-Chart to delve into gaining a participant’s voice in shaping a culture. I then asked for parents to use the Y-Chart to share with me their thoughts on what makes a great school. I received some thoughtful input that we will use to help shape our path forward. Thank you to those who took the time to share your thoughts.

Below is a sampling of your thoughts.

A great school looks like…

  • sunshine and shade under a tree.
  • busy, lively, diverse, inclusive.
  • smiling, engaged people with faces full of curiosity and wonder.
  • a welcoming and vibrant place with lots of stimulating activities and areas.
  • a united community of students, parents, and teachers dedicated to cultivating a culture of learning.

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A great school sounds like…

  • a song.
  • laughter, ideas, acceptance, help, openness.
  • kids laughing and enjoying learning through hard work, experience, and fun.
  • quiet, soothing, drums, singing, questions, comments, advice, Spanish, Mandarin, laughing.
  • positive.

A great school feels like…

  • home, warm, caring, safe, an adventure, fresh, expansive, supportive.
  • a place with a vision to create and nurture world changers, from all disciplines.
  • home when you walk in the gate.
  • a good workout – some sweat, some strain, and healthy challenges.
  • a safe place where mistakes are okay and people cheer each other on to do their personal best.

Your participation helps us shape the future of Saklan. For a full list of the survey results, click here. There are some interesting trends to note.

Have a wonderful weekend,


Head’s Corner

Culture vs. Rules

Looks Like, Sounds Like, Feels Like

The “Looks Like, Sounds Like, Feels Like” Y-chart is one of the greatest tools I have ever seen that incorporates students’ voices to establish a desired classroom culture. It is simple to set-up and can be used beyond the classroom. Simply make a Y on a large piece of paper and ask your participants to describe what a great classroom, loving family, or productive workplace looks like, sounds like, and feels like. This Y-chart can be used in a variety of situations where you are looking for stakeholder participation and voice.


What I like most about the Y-chart is it establishes a culture. It focuses on our senses- what one might hear in a great classroom or how one might feel being in that classroom. It does not try to create a culture by external forces, such as rules and policies. What’s better is that it speaks to our internal motivations, building those ethical judgement “muscles.” Instead of a student thinking I should not do that because of rule “x,” they begin to think about things they need to do to create the classroom they described.


A class that created the Y-chart pictured above would have very little need for many, if any, rules. Take a close look at the chart, this time thinking of issues that might arise in a classroom. Are any of them not addressed? I would venture to guess there are very few.

Could this classroom run without any rules? Would it be a more creative place? Would those students understand how to self-regulate, how to be independent? What other behaviors would it generate?

What about Saklan? Tell me what does a great school look like, sound like, and feel like? I would love to hear your thoughts. Follow this link and share your ideas. I will share them back with you in two weeks.

With gratitude,


P.S. Rosie is the classroom’s Skinny Pig.

Head’s Corner


Culture: From the Latin cultus, which means care

Over the summer, I had asked each teacher and staff member to meet with me individually. One of the things I wanted to learn was what made Saklan special to them. Overwhelmingly, a message of the power of relationships came through in these conversations. Here are a few of their responses:

  • We are lucky to have each other.
  • I feel like we are family.
  • We know how to pull together.
  • We look out for each other.
  • Saklan has helped me grow as a person.
  • We connect through personal relationships.

All of the values above are about connection to each other. As educators, we spent our first day back to school discussing the power of our culture at Saklan. We wondered what is the foundation of a culture that promotes connection? How is it created, maintained, and grown?

We connect by sending belonging cues to each other that signal “we are close, we are safe, and we share a future.” Science backs this up. The amygdala is mostly known as the part of the brain that is responsible for the “flight or fight response.” We now know that it also lights up when receiving belonging cues. It seeks connection, searching for others who are on “our team.” But it can’t do both at the same time. If it is worried about safety, it cannot seek connections. Only in an atmosphere where it feels safe and is receiving “belonging cues” does it make a connection.

This week our middle school students and their teachers are away at our annual Advance. They are building positive interpersonal connection and preparing for the upcoming school year. One of their activities, the Trust Walk (pictured above) is very powerful. The “guide” is  constantly signaling, “You are safe.” And more powerfully, the blind-folded individual is signaling, “I am vulnerable. I am seeking connection and trust.” Vulnerability is one of the strongest belonging cues one can send to  build trust. Trust does not lead to us sharing our vulnerabilities, it is the other way around.  When we make ourselves vulnerable, we build trust.

Harvard recently did a ten-year study of two companies that were similar in every way except when it came to having a culture of connection. The difference in performance between the two companies, is that the one that had the strong culture of trust and belonging had 756% higher productivity over the ten years versus the other that did not embrace a sharing culture. Connection is not just one of the many things we need to build a strong community – it is the most important thing.

We need to continually send belonging cues to students to foster connection and safety. But we also need to be sure to do it between each other. Without it, we will struggle to reach Saklan’s full potential. So what belonging cues will you send?

Warm regards,


Head’s Corner

Dear Saklan Community,

Today was our last flag of the school year. It is amazing how fast this year has gone by, but equally amazing how many wonderful things have happened at Saklan. Our flag was hosted by three Hoot Owl students, Sean, Caleb and Elyse, who showed the confidence and courage to speak in public, which is a trademark of Saklan.


At flag, we also recognized our entire student council for their work and efforts this school year and gave out appreciation awards. A big thank you to Kim Parks and Lisa Rokas for advising the student council and helping to develop the skills of leadership, community service and collaboration, which we have seen grow stronger in our student body.


Today, we also held a Thanks-A-Latte event to thank and appreciate the many parents that have supported the school during the year through their volunteering efforts. In the spirit of acknowledging our volunteers, at Flag we recognized Hillary Conlon and Miranda Heerah for their many years of service and support of the school.

Next week is our last week of school, and on Monday our students will have fun participating in the Family Group Field Day. This is the last event in our Family Group program and is one that highlights the sense of community and “being at home,” which our students feel while they are at school

While this will be the last blog of the year, you will receive more communications from the school during the course of the summer. Please look for updates on staffing, transportation, and events planned for the next year.

It has again been a great pleasure and honor to be part of the Saklan community this past year and I look forward to an exciting last week of school.

Enjoy your weekend!


Head’s Corner

Dear Saklan Community,

Unfortunately, Flag was cancelled today due to rain. The last Flag of the year will be next Friday and thus not to be missed.


I hope you had a chance to see the middle school musical last weekend. Mrs. Chaffey’s production of The Addams Family was another stellar production with outstanding performances by our middle school students. This smash hit was a great way to end the year’s performing arts program, which included a memorable lower school production of The Lion King and an outstanding Annual Concert at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek. The 2017-18 school year will certainly go down in Saklan history as a year of stellar events. Many thanks to all of you who have supported the Saklan performing and visual arts programs through your generous donations at the auction and your volunteering efforts. Look for a link to the video of The Addams Family in the Blog on June 7th.  

Our Book Fair, organized in collaboration with Orinda Books, has been running these past few days. This Wednesday was author visit day and we had two dynamic Bay Area authors come on campus. Mr. Steve Goetz, author of Old MacDonald Had a Boat, met with our PreK – 2nd graders and Mr. Armand Balthazar met with our 3 – 6th graders. Armand’s new book is called Timeless and is the first book in a six part series. The rights to this series have already been bought up and will soon be made into a movie. Our students were fascinated by Armand’s description of how the ideas for his book originated and by his drawing, which are included in the book. Available copies of Timeless sold out immediately and had to be urgently restocked.

All parents are invited to our Graduation Ceremony on Thursday, June 7th at 10:00AM at the Holy Trinity Cultural Center. Come and hear what our graduates say about their experience at Saklan and share their goals for the future. This is a great opportunity for our community to see what is in store for their children and celebrate the students that have graduated with a Saklan diploma.

Have a good long weekend!

Head’s Corner

Dear Saklan Community,img_8636.jpg

In this past week, there has been a full calendar of activities and events at Saklan. It started last Friday with the very excellent Spring Arts Festival. Hundreds of works of art were put on display throughout the Saklan campus and included work from every student in the school. The diversity, creativity and quality of the art produced this year has been highly impressive and a testament to the work of our art teacher, Natalie Palms. Many thanks to Miss Palms for organizing the Art Festival, and more importantly for inspiring the students to produce such great works of art. Also, thanks to Mrs. C and Miss Amanda for contributing art from the PreK. Please look for an ongoing display of the art on our video monitor in the entrance way. Part of the events surrounding the Art Festival was a scavenger hunt, which resulted in a whirlwind of student movement and engagement in finding the various details contained in the art pieces. This morning we had a drawing for students that completed the scavenger hunt with winners receiving prizes of art supplies.

The Art Festival was immediately followed by the Family Fun Night. This event, which has now become a Saklan tradition, lived up to its name as there were lots of families and it was FUN. With our new sound system, a great movie, warm summer weather and a wonderful BBQ, this was a great way for Saklan families to spend a Friday evening on campus. Many thanks to the Student Council for organizing some fun games and to the Parents Association for organizing the movies and the BBQ. A special shout once again to Jenny and Mike Choi for providing the delicious barbecued pork.

This morning, our Parents Association organized a talk by Vickie Obenchain and Kim Parks. Vickie shared her field experience in working at a school in Senegal. This was the culminating activity in her program with Teachers for Global Classrooms. Vickie’s presentation was followed by Kim Parks, who summarized the work done this year by our curriculum review committee in reviewing and revising our reading program.

All week long, our middle school students have been feverishly rehearsing for their production of The Addams Family at the Town Hall Theatre in Lafayette. This morning at Flag, 8th grade student, Skylar Wolff, gave us a little taste of the show by singing one of the songs called “Death is Just Around the Corner.” This was indeed a tasty morsel and everyone is now eagerly looking forward to seeing the show which goes on stage both tonight and tomorrow night.

This coming week, we look forward to our Book Fair which runs from May 23rd to 25th. In collaboration with Orinda Books, we will have two author visits to Saklan. Grades 3 to 6 will get to meet Mr. Armand Baltazar. Mr. Baltazar is the author of a new epic fantasy adventure book called Timeless: Diego & The Rangers of the Vastlantic. He has been an art director with both Pixar and Disney. Director Ridley Scott recently purchased the movie rights for this book series. Mr. Steve Goetz will speak to our students in Pre-K to grade 2. Steve will read aloud his newest book, Old MacDonald Had a Boat, as well as his original book Old MacDonald Had a Truck that garnered a starred review which stated, “The MacDonalds and their farm-animal crew return in a rollicking new adventure to transform an old fishing boat into a slick speedboat. Large, colorful spreads provide lots to look at, inviting readers to slow the song down, building suspense. A delightful way to reinforce cooperation in getting a job done while having fun.”

 Next Friday we will be holding a morning coffee for parents in Pre-K to 1st grade to discuss the staffing transitions planned for the upcoming school year. This coffee is open for anyone interested in participating.

Have a great weekend.


Head’s Corner

Dear Saklan Community,


As we rapidly approach the end of this school year, I would like to share some important staffing news with you for the next year. First of all, I must announce the retirement of Carol Schofield after teaching 2nd grade at Saklan for these past 20 years. Retirement is naturally a great achievement and just reward after a long and successful career of teaching, and thus an event of joy and celebration. For Saklan, however, it represents the loss of one of its most accomplished and respected teachers. Having spent countless hours in the 2nd grade class, I can truly say that Carol is one of the most competent and creative teachers that I have worked with in my career. Saklan has been very fortunate to have had her services for these past 20 years.

There is, however, a silver lining to this announcement in that moving into 2nd grade for next year will be Yette Prizeman, who has been our Kindergarten teacher these past two years and whose previous experience was in the lower elementary grades. Having Yette take over 2nd grade will ensure for a smooth and seamless transition for next year. The open Kindergarten position will be taken over by Karen Catanzarite, our Hoot Owl teacher and Early Childhood Director. Prior to her work in the pre-kindergarten, Karen taught Kindergarten for 10 years and thus is more than qualified for this role.

SASTA-AshleyJenningsWe will also be saying goodbye to Ashley Jennings who has been with us for two years as an assistant teacher in the preschool and Kindergarten, and teacher in the extended program. Ashley will leave Saklan to finish her teaching credential. In light of the outstanding work and talent that Ashley has shown at Saklan, I would not be surprised to see her back in the near future in a teaching role.

SASTA-ChristineKuckukAlso leaving Saklan, after being in our community for many years, will be Christine Kuckuk, our Director of Marketing. Christine’s efforts in crafting, refining and promoting the Saklan image has helped establish the outstanding reputation and visibility that Saklan has today in the Lamorinda and surrounding areas. Our congratulations, mixed with a bit of envy, to Christine and her family on their move to the ever beautiful Lake Tahoe region.

This Saturday, May 12th is the date of the Moraga Community Faire and Car Show. Saklan will again have a booth at this fun event. Please drop by and say hello!

Have a great weekend!


Head’s Corner

Dear Saklan Community,

This past week has been one of the best weeks of school this year for all faculty and staff. All week long, we have been thrilled and pampered by the wonderful messages of appreciation, meals and gifts organized by our parents. All of the faculty and staff feel gratitude and thankful for the wonderful community that supports our efforts and inspires us to do our best in our work at Saklan.


On the theme of Teacher Appreciation Week, I would like to share with you a video clip by poet Taylor Mali titled, “What Teachers Make.” I shared this a few years ago but it is still relevant and very much sums up the complexity, passion and importance that the job of teaching entails. Please enjoy and share.

Next Friday, on May 11th, we will be holding our Saklan Arts Festival from 3:00-7:00PM. Please come and be astounded by the wealth of creativity that has come from our student body during their Art program this year. On the same evening, we will have our Family Fun Night with a movie and BBQ which makes this an event not to be missed.

Next Wednesday, May 9th, all students in Grades 3-5 are invited to participate in the annual Rotary Field Day. This event involves all schools in Moraga and is a fun event for our students. The event takes place starting at 3:30PM at the Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School. Mr. Crabtree and I will accompany our students, and everyone is invited to come out and cheer for the Saklan team.

Have a great weekend!


Head’s Corner

Dear Saklan Community,

We recently received a letter from an organization called Guide Dogs for the Blind thanking our 2nd graders for a donation of $343.00. This is a community service project that our 2nd grade class has been doing for many years. The money, raised through a bake sale, was used to buy and train a guide dog that would be given to a blind person. Congratulations to Mrs. Schofield and our 2nd graders for making a difference.

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Community service is an important aspect of the educational program at Saklan and is an essential part preparing our students to take responsibility as open-minded, principled citizens in the local and global community. Moreover, it teaches students about people of all backgrounds, about issues and problems in our society, and promotes compassion and understanding. All of our middle school students engage in some form of community service. Activities range from coaching younger children baseball and taekwondo, helping animals at ARF, bagging food at the Alameda County Food Bank, or building backdrops and sets for school musicals and concerts.

Some classes, like the 2nd grade, do additional projects, which range from 4th grade doing book drives to 3rd and 6th grades helping with EBMUD to weed out non-native plants. Larger school-wide projects have included participating in the Monument Crisis Center Food Drive, helping at the Moraga Garden Farm, and last year raising funds to donate to the Moraga All-Access Playground Project.

This year, our 7th graders are participating in the World Citizen Essay Contest sponsored by the World Affairs Council. The goal is to promote discussion among students about the ways that individuals can effect positive change in the global community. This is great way for our students to learn about the 17 United Nations Development Goals and think about ways to address the global challenges that they will be facing in the future. I am happy to hear that this project will be presented at Flag next Friday morning. I encourage all parents to come out for Flag on May 4th and hear what our students have written about before the world contest winners are announced on May 10th.

Have a good weekend,


Head’s Corner

Dear Saklan Community,

Today we had a very interesting Flag. Of course they all are. What stood out was the depth and variety of learning that occurs at Saklan on a daily basis. The spectrum of this was wonderfully shown by Kindergarten students presenting an analysis of the structure of the fairy tale, and then 8th grade students presenting an analysis of the algebraic function. Equally impressive as the depth of our curriculum, was the creativity of the presentations and confidence that the students demonstrated in speaking before the entire school community.


Thanks to our parents, their families and friends, The Saklan School has a long-standing history of being voted BEST OF in the annual contest put on by both the Bay Area Parent magazine and the Parents Press magazine. Please take a moment to vote for your favorite school.  Please note that there are separate categories for:

  1. Preschool
  2. Elementary School
  3. Middle School
  4. Summer Camp

Tomorrow night is our Annual Auction and I look forward to seeing everyone at the Lafayette Park Hotel. This is not only an important fundraiser for Saklan but a fun event that brings our community together. Please remember our fund-a-need project, which is in support of the Creative, Performing and Visual Arts.

Have a good weekend,