Abby’s Corner

February 14, 2019

Building Community

It is common for parents to periodically ask me how the year is going. Depending on when you ask me, I might say incredible, busy, or exciting! Recently when asked this question, I shared my amazement at the ways that years of thoughtful work were helping us continue to lead by example in the larger educational landscape, doing what we believe to be best for students while also continuing to reflect, refine, and make changes that will ensure all students thrive.

This kind of thoughtful leadership has taken shape in many different ways this year. Our community of teachers, administrators, and board members worked together to envision our new transitional kindergarten program, for example. We’re also taking steps to build summer opportunities on both campuses for our students, families, and the larger El Cerrito community. Every time I walk into our library and colab spaces, I’m struck by the effectiveness of our summer renovations, led not by outside consultants but by a team of Prospect Sierra employees committed to a new vision and space. And as I walked around campus this week, seeing our native plants beautifully labeled thanks to our All Together Now day of service, and hearing from Melody that our school was recently selected to join the Bring Back the Natives Garden Tour this spring, I had to pause and ask, How do we manage to do all this?

I think the answer is community. It is this community we nurture at Prospect Sierra that allows us to walk our talk, a joint effort that involves our passionate teachers, our engaged students, our committed parents, and a shared vision for what it can and should look like to learn together. I want to thank each and every one of you for the numerous ways you help make us who we are, and for sharing your time, talent, and treasure with us. I remain grateful, daily, for the community I am honored to be a part of.

A Peek Into Program

Last week I interviewed a teacher visiting from the East Coast. While giving her a tour around campus, I was struck with pride and a sense of awe in both our teachers and our students. It was impossible not to see how deeply the kids were engaged, how incredibly authentic the learning was, and how passionate the teachers were about what they were working on with students.

Throughout the tour, the visitor shared that she could see and hear the joyfulness in our spaces. We were bombarded by the fourth grade “welcome wagon,” the kids who have the job to welcome visitors who walk in. They shared about their book groups, bounding with enthusiasm and genuine interest in the books they were reading. In music the kids were watching themselves on video for the first time, getting to see how they looked and sounded in the winter performance. Their excitement and pride was evident as they recalled moments they had forgotten about and remarked on other students and how well they did. The art studio was zen-like, as we walked in to see students deep into their ceramic self portraits, and hear Remi talk about how she and Emily helped them move from 2D to 3D portraits, where they are challenged with a different medium and new techniques to support the creation of hair, realistic looking faces, and more. Next we moved into the library, where students greeted us enthusiastically, sharing that Thomas had created a scavenger hunt. Again, this visiting teacher remarked at just how focused students were in every space and that it was so calm. Next stop was the bustle and noise of kindergarten, where kindergarteners and their third grade buddies were finishing up their learning about Dr. Martin Luther King’s principles of non-violence. It was certainly not quiet, yet the joy and engagement was palpable.  

Equally impressive on our tour were the teachers. As we walked into our Spanish classroom, Maria told us about her successful morning Skype talk with Vivian, a past teacher of ours, and her current class of first graders in Mexico. Our students and Vivian’s had been able to not just say hello to one another but had been able to sing together too!. In our colab space, Kathleen shared some of the iterating that had gone on over the past five years of our program as we worked to figure out what this program really needed. She pointed out the outdoor space and the garage door that in nice weather allows us to have an indoor – outdoor classroom. The visitor asked if we’d taken pictures and documented our process, suggesting that other educators should learn about the work we are doing at our school!

Just like the question of how the year is going, sometimes parents ask me about the “most important times in the year” for students in terms of program and learning, trying to anticipate when to schedule less or avoid missing school, for example. While I truly believe that all points in the year are important, the teacher in me would answer that there is a sweet spot that occurs sometime between the return to school in January and the end of April. During these months, students hit a stride and gain a level of confidence that you can almost see. It’s truly exciting! Kids are more willing to take risks they were not emotionally capable of at the start of the year, and come later spring their stamina and focus wane considerably as they anticipate the fun that summer naturally invites.

Last week on my tour, I was able to see this sweet spot in action. I encourage you to take some time to stop and notice the incredible growth your children have made this year. It is not without considerable effort, and it’s definitely worth noticing and letting them know that you see their hard work and inspiring growth!  

Helpful Parent Information and Resources

It is officially hiring season, which is the time of year when schools begin to post position openings, interview candidates, and also welcome finalists onto campus. At Tapscott, we have posted openings for an elementary librarian, a new colab teacher, and our first ever transitional kindergarten teacher. It is always tough to say goodbye to beloved faculty, and the dynamic duo of Diane in our library and Kathleen in our colab will certainly be missed. Fortunately, both are leaving us to pursue new adventures, as Diane is retiring and Kathleen will be entering a PhD program, and we wish them both the best.

We’re also pleased to announce a new position for us, a full-time, year round Extended Program Director to manage both Tapscott and Avis extended programs, in addition to our transitional kindergarten students after school. We think that this new role will help us best serve our families by allowing us to expand our extended program offerings and develop summer camp opportunities at Prospect Sierra. As a result of this strategic change to our extended program,  our veteran director and teacher Kirk Cooper, who has been holding down the after school fort for 20 years, has decided to focus his energies on his own thriving summer camp, Sees the Day. There’s no doubt that Kirk will be missed, and we hope he visits often!

At Prospect Sierra we are in the fortunate position of often having too many great candidates and too few positions! We do national searches for our positions, using list serves that communicate widely with all independent schools in the NAIS and CAIS networks. Additionally, we have several places we post that draw in a diverse and talented pool of candidates not necessarily linked to independent schools. It is not unusual for us to fly East Coast candidates out to teach on campus or to conduct Skype interviews with international candidates who have heard about Prospect Sierra. One of our highest priorities is to attract and retain the best teachers who share the PS mission and vision. While our process is one that draws national and international candidates, it is also important to note that we appreciate word of mouth through our families, as you know us best and therefore may know teachers who would love to be a part of our community. Some of our most long-term and well-loved faculty have made their way to us through Prospect Sierra parents, so please do not be shy about sending interested candidates our way! Many thanks for all of the ways you promote Prospect Sierra. Please keep an eye on our website, and send interesting candidates our way as we begin to fill positions for next year! 

Worth Reading

I just finished Becoming, by Michelle Obama. It is an interesting peek into her incredible journey, and I loved it from beginning to end. I highly recommend it!

I hope that you all have a great February break. We’ll see you back on campus on the 25th!

Abby