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Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Four Smalls and Why We're Different

In Santa Cruz County we have four small, single school districts.  Bonny Doon Union Elementary School District has one school, Bonny Doon School.  The word "union" refers to the fact that Bonny Doon used to have a district with four tiny schools which, in 1947, joined together to create one larger school. The other "smalls" are Happy Valley, Mountain, and Pacific. Each of the smalls is led by a superintendent/principal.

The superintendent/principals at each school have multiple responsibilities including: being a instructional leader and observing and evaluating staff, interacting with and supporting students, and running the school on a day to day basis; acting as Chief Business Officer (CBO) and managing the district budget: managing all facilities and ensuring they are in good condition at all times; working as the special education director to manage the school's special education program; working with the school board; and, taking care of other student, personnel, facilities, and other issues that arise.  The down side of this is that we can be pulled in many different directions at once, potentially taking time away from the things we feel are more important.  Also, we don't have the personnel that bigger districts have to provide help with things like curriculum and tech support, for instance.  This is a "jack-of-all-trades" position, and although it can be very challenging at times, it's an amazing, unique opportunity to affect positive change.

As single school districts, we have a great amount of autonomy to make the decisions that we know are best for kids.  At Bonny Doon School, this means that we have the freedom to include science, life lab, music, art, and performing arts in the curriculum in order to provide a well rounded education for students and one that values creativity as well as challenge.  Our teachers are devoted to their students and committed to continuing their own professional development. Our other staff members love getting to know all of the students in the school.  We are lucky to have a large number of involved and supportive parents and guardians who volunteer their valuable time on a regular basis. And best of all, we have students who come to school ready to learn and are a joy to teach.

In my opinion, working for a small, single school district is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and a great privilege.  I am grateful for the opportunity to serve the students at Bonny Doon School.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

Kitchen wall with stove 
Corner area with sink
Some great things have been happening this summer.  Our brand new science lab is almost complete!!!  This room is amazing.  Frauke's design is perfect in every way.  The skylights bring a beautiful light into the room at every hour of the day, which will save a significant amount of electricity.  The counters and cabinet faces are all made with green, recycled materials, and they look fantastic.  The floor is also made from recycled materials. The furniture is ordered and will be set up by the time our students come back from the summer.  

This project has been in the works for years.  School and community representatives began talking about creating a science lab in 2007, and a committee was formed to discuss the possibility.  Over the next two years, a study was completed which determined the school's developer's fees, which can only be used for certain types of school construction, could be used to fund the project.  Planning commenced, and blueprints were created by Frauke Zajak, a former parent, building designer, and committed community member.  Frauke led us through the beaurocracy of getting our plans approved by the Department of State Architects, a long and daunting process which tried our patience significantly.  When the plans were approved and the contractor selected, we were finally able to begin the project.

This lab will enhance the science learning at our school.  Teachers will have everything they need to make their science lessons relevant, challenging, and hands-on.  This month we will hire a science specialist to assist in planning lessons and supporting students during the science fair, among other duties.  We are also extremely excited about our upcoming Bonny Doon School Science Speaker Series (schedule to be posted later).  Once every one to two months, a prominent local scientist will come to our school to present in their field of expertise.  These special events will be help in the evenings, and the local community will be invited. 

Thank you to all of the people who contributed along the way and made this project possible for us.  Our students will benefit for years to come!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Inspirational Learning at the CUE Conference

Killing time at the airport by
perusing conference seminars
On March 14th, four Bonny Doon School teachers and I flew out of SFO to the CUE conference in Palm Springs.  Although our flight was delayed for three and a half hours, we were excited about attending this national conference on educational technology.  Having the opportunity to take a few days off to become immersed in learning, especially in a place like Palm Springs, is not something teachers normally get to do, but a grant from the Santa Cruz County Office of Education made this trip possible.

For those of us who are not "digital natives" and who don't have a career in the field of technology, keeping up with what's new and exciting in the field while working full time can be a daunting task.
Fortunately, due to this grant, we were able to spend three whole days attending workshops and seminars, and sharing and collaborating with other educators.  This felt like an incredible luxury for all of us, and we are so appreciative to have had this opportunity.

We arrived late the first night due to the pouring rain in Northern California.  What a relief to arrive at the hotel!  Still, we got up bright and early, had breakfast by the pool, and made our way to the Palm Springs Conference Center.
Breakfast at the hotel

There we stayed all day, except for a nice walk downtown for lunch.  Attending a conference like this can be intense, as the learning never stops; our brains were stretching and growing at such a fast pace that we were all overwhelmed with excitement and inspiration at the end of the first day, and mentally and physically exhausted.  Then, of course, the evening was spent at dinner sharing everything we had learned, what would work for our school, how we could implement the strategies we were excited about, what we needed to do to follow up, and even which particular students would benefit most from those strategies.

Days two and three were more of the same, and just as good.  This particular conference is very well attended each year and full of thousands of educator from across the country, with some coming from other countries as well.  Some of the attendees are extremely proficient and up-to-date on recent advances in educational technology, and others and still learning how to become comfortable with a laptop.  There  were plenty of sessions for those folks as well as all of us in between. We decided to split up into groups for the sessions in order to get the most from the conference as we could.  Among many others, we attended sessions on cross-grade level collaboration, 50 of the best apps for iPad, integrating choice into the curriculum, digital image manipulation, Discovery Education, use of Smart board technology in the classroom, iBook publishing and interactive textbooks, using iMovie with special education students, and use of technology to support students in language arts, social studies, science, and math.  The teachers were particularly excited about programs in mathematics and writing that mesh completely with what we use currently, and will provide interest and extended opportunities for students at every academic level of proficiency.  They were also inspired by the resources available through Discovery Education and how those resources can bring the curriculum alive for students and support learning at every level.

Teaching can be an isolating profession.  In these days of budget cuts, having opportunities for professional learning off campus are few and far between, but so necessary in order to continue improving.  I feel lucky to work with a staff who is willing to step out of their comfort zone to grow and learn and who understand that in order to improve, sometimes we must change how we do things.  And, although change can be exciting, it can also be scary.  The trick now will be to keep the excitement and momentum going.  We have already discussed how to share what we have learned with our colleagues.  Each teacher is committed to taking at least one thing they learned to the next level and to using the programs/ideas in their classrooms.

Technology changes so fast it makes one's head spin.  When computers first made their way into classrooms, they were mostly used for word processing and math and reading games.  It's a whole new world out there. Technology is a resource that, when used well, can be a powerful tool for engaging students, supporting more effective differentiation for students at different academic levels, making learning current and relevant, and connecting to students in a way that they understand.  Times have changed, and we must change with the times.  Sometimes good, old fashioned paper, pencil and a chalkboard are the best tools for learning, but we need to become proficient with all of the tools at our disposal in order to choose what's best for each lesson we present and for each student we teach.  Once we get past the fear of the unfamiliar, whole new doors of possibility open up for us.

I am grateful that we had the opportunity to spend this time together as colleagues and as professionals.  We will work hard to pass on what we have learned to the rest of the staff and to integrate that learning into our classrooms. We are already talking about how we can find the funds to attend the conference next year!  Thanks again to the Santa Cruz County Office of Education for making this trip possible for us.  It was worth it!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

News and Updates from the Little School on the Mountain

It was a crisp, overcast day here on the mountain.  Last night's rain cleared out the sky and washed the trees clean.  We have some truly incredible redwoods here at Bonny Doon School (see above-those are ours!).  Most days, the students prefer to run around in the trees instead of playing on the play structure.  Their play is so imaginative, and they are constantly running around, keeping active.   The children that attend school here truly appreciate the beautiful environment in which they live.

On that note, for those of you who don't already know, Bonny Doon has been selected by the Monterey Bay Fund and the Offset Project as a model, proof-of-concept school and to be the first school to receive support and funding from these nonprofits to go solar.  We are putting the finishing touches on a financing package right now, and we hope to have solar panels installed by the end of the summer, if not sooner.  We are already a Waste Free School, and next year we will begin work to become a Certified Green Business.  Our students learn how important it is to be good stewards of their environment, and it's wonderful to see how well they take care of their school.

 So, how about some updates.  
Budget:  The Governor is poised to sign SB 81, a bill that restores the transportation cut for this year and implements an across-the-board cut of $42 per pupil.  This means that instead of being cut $21,000 for this year, we will only be cut about $5,000.  It's a dark day when you find yourself cheering over a $5,000 cut, but that's what we're reduced to these days!  The full, permanent cut to transportation beginning next school year is still expected to go through, resulting in a yearly loss of $42,000 for our district.  If you have feelings about this, please email the Governor.  It is due to the outpouring from the public that restored this year's cut, so we all can make a difference!

Technology:  A few months ago, I wrote a grant to the Santa Cruz County Office of Education for funds to take four teachers to the Computer Using Educators (CUE) conference this year.  This is an amazing conference with hundreds of workshops to choose from over three days in March.  We are very lucky to have teachers here that are willing to step out of their comfort zone and continue to learn and grow in this area.  I know that we will come back inspired and ready to try some new ideas that will benefit all of our students. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Money, money, money, going, going, gone...

I am guessing that everyone reading this is aware of the troubles facing California's schools these days.  Budgets have been slashed in response to the draconian cuts imposed by the state.  Schools have lost valuable programs and personnel over the last few years, and even more cuts are on the way.  In addition to a cut of $370 per pupil for the next school year (about $44,000 for our school), Governor Brown's proposed budget includes the complete elimination of transportation funding for schools for next year and forever after.  Small, rural schools like Bonny Doon (our cut will be over $41,000) will take a completely inequitable hit with this proposal (you can read more about this in an article recently published by California Watch.  Our school is one of the schools featured, with a wonderful picture of our bus driver, Petra! Here is the link:  Our students, along with many students in other rural areas, cannot walk or ride their bikes to school; the distance is too great, and the roads are not safe.  David Walrath, school finance guru and THE expert on small school district finance, in particular, calls the Governor's proposal, "A war on rural school districts."  In a webinar after the budget proposal was announced, he emphasized that this cut will disproportionately hurt rural school districts, poor school districts, and districts with large numbers of special education students (districts are required to provide transportation for some special education students).

Bonny Doon School strives to be environmentally conscious in many different ways.  We are a Waste Free school, we recycle and reuse, and we are going solar.  When our bus was purchased, we chose a propane bus in order to reduce emissions.  If we are forced to eliminate our bus service, all of those families will need to drive to school.  In addition to increasing traffic on the roads (who knows what the parking lot will be like every day), at least 25-35 more cars will be driving up and down the mountain, spewing pollution into the air.

So, that's the bad news.  The good news is, the budget has not yet passed.  We still have time to write Governor Brown and our state legislators and let them know how the transportation cut will hurt our school.  They need to hear personal stories that really give them an idea of the impact this cut will have on real families.  Honestly, I don't think they actually have any idea of all the ramifications of this cut.  I hope some of you will take the time to email Governor Brown and your area's legislators. They need to hear from you how the elimination of transportation will affect your family.  Perhaps if there is an uproar from the communities around the state, this cut will be taken out of the budget.  We can only hope!

In the meantime, all of us who work at Bonny Doon School will continue to dedicate ourselves to our students.  We will continue to provide a rich and meaningful education for each and every one of them.  I love my job as superintendent/principal.  It can be an enormous challenge, but it also brings such joy to my life.  Whatever happens with the budget, we will persevere, as we always do.  We will be forced to make some changes, but we will do so with our students at the forefront of our minds at all times. I am completely confident that we will make it through these times if we keep our focus on what is most important.  Putting our students first; this is our moral imperative.  Please join me in encouraging the leaders of our state to do the same.

Sunday, January 8, 2012


This is my first post, so welcome and thanks for logging on!  As you may have read in my profile, I am the Superintendent/Principal of Bonny Doon Union Elementary School District, a small, one school district in the Santa Cruz mountains.  Since I started here almost three years ago, I have said that this is the best job I have ever had.  Being a superintendent/principal is challenging, all-consuming work, but the children and adults at Bonny Doon School make it all worthwhile.  The gorgeous setting in the redwoods also makes it easy to come to work each day.

We have so many exciting things going on here, and I hope to share some of them with you as the school year goes on.  One very exciting development is the beginning of our science lab remodel.  We have received approval to remodel one of our classrooms into a science lab.  This new science classroom will be used regularly by our classroom teachers for their science lessons.  They will have easy access to everything they need to make science engaging and meaningful for their students.  The science room will also be used for our Life Lab program, and because we are installing kitchen facilities, our students will be able to cook and eat what they grow in the garden!  Our science committee is also making plans to invite local scientists to host monthly or bimonthly presentations in their areas of expertise.  These sessions will be held in our new science room and we plan to invite our families as well as Bonny Doon community members to join us in learning about new and interesting areas in science!

                                                     Raccoons are our Bonny Doon School mascots.
                                                     This is Rascal the raccoon.