— In the News: Sea Crest School dives into new year

Sea Crest School staff, students and their families dived into the first day of school with a lively assembly on Wednesday. By Sara Hayden. Published in the Half Moon Bay Review on August 30th, 2017.

“It’s really a day of excitement for everybody,” Head of School Tekakwitha M. Pernambuco-Wise said, recalling her own love of the occasion as a child. “My heart was just bursting with joy this morning. It reminded me of how excited I was to start school.”

Welcome Back to School CommunityIn some ways, the back-to-school festivities started before the first bell. Residents of the Half Moon Bay senior community dropped by at 6:30 a.m. to decorate with colorful handmade paper flowers and signs for the students.

New Student Council President Olivia Cevasco greeted members of the community dressed as a seal, the school’s mascot, ensured posters welcomed the community in the school’s halls and left every student a handwritten welcome note in their cubbies and lockers. The eighth-grader penned them herself, inspired by similar gestures by last year’s student council members.

“It really touched me when every person had a couple encouraging words for the day,” said Cevasco.

She said she felt compelled to continue fostering that sense of community.

Olivia Cevasco Student Council President“Sea Crest is more than just a school. We’re here to learn, but we’re also here to be friends and support each other,” Cevasco said.

Since Pernambuco-Wise came on board at Sea Crest in 2013, the staff has challenged itself to think about how to take the “school from good to great, from infancy to maturity.” Much of that focus has been on innovation.

“It’s about the mindset. It’s about how we approach solving problems … really engaging the pupils’ ownership in their learning,” Pernambuco-Wise said.

Driving that forward into the 2017-2018 school year is a central theme.

“(This is) ‘Our Year to Thrive. We’re taking on less so we can go deeper,” said Pernambuco-Wise, adding that school leaders will focus on the most effective ways to assess students, cultivate a sense of inclusion and how to take care of oneself.

As faculty, staff and students hit the books, they’ll also hit the yoga mats, a quiet moment to meditate or reflect, or another activity that takes them out of their headspace in the coming weeks.

“We’re now saying, ‘What do we need to do to thrive as human beings, and how can we translate that to the children?’” Pernambuco-Wise said.


 

— Mid-Year Address: The bright future of our school

Thanks to the parents and friends who attended our Mid-Year Address this year!  We celebrated the present with dynamic teacher presentations and launched the strategic plan that will guide our community of innovation.

Tekakwitha Head of School Mid-Year AddressBy Dr. Tekakwitha M. Pernambuco-Wise, Head of School & Amy Ramsey, Chair of Board

Our mission grounds us in what we most value about a Sea Crest education. Comprised of four major sections: Cultivate Community, Program Innovation, Strengthen the Institution and Infrastructure Development, our Strategic Plan is our guide for the next five years and helps us to focus on how to best fulfill this mission.

Designed as a visionary document, our Strategic Plan was formulated during our 20th anniversary year, with input from our constituents – pupils, faculty, staff, administration, trustees, parents and alumni/ae, as part of our re-accreditation process. This truly collaborative document was finalized by our Strategic Planning Committee, comprising faculty, staff, administrators and trustees, and ratified by the Board.

Sea Crest has seen significant growth, especially in our Middle School. From our humble beginnings of 24 pupils, we now stand at almost 300, the highest enrollment in our history. This is in large part due to the high caliber of our faculty and staff, deeply committed trustee volunteers, supportive parents, combined with a vigorous curriculum and engaged pupils. It is indeed an exhilarating time to be part of the Sea Crest community!

Developing authentic relationships is important to us. As we reach towards the goals of our Strategic Plan, we recognize that we can accomplish them only if we continue to work together, never becoming complacent or resting on our laurels and always keeping our sights on achieving greatness in all that we undertake.

Celebrating the present and looking forward to the future…

 

— Permission to pause

Dr. Tekakwitha M. Pernambuco-Wise, Head of School

There is a fine balance between the traditions that we wish to keep in our independent schools and the push of innovation that encourages us to seek new heights. New technologies, methodologies of teaching and fierce competition from other educational establishments urge us to ever more rapid pacing to accomplish our goals – to do more with less and do it faster. Very few within our institutions are unaffected by these changes and as a result, we see increased signs of stress from our constituents, which must be addressed at all levels.

Entering Sea Crest School as its new Head four years ago, with the vision of moving our school from good to great, we set five major strategic initiatives, which included new curricula in mathematics, character education, health & wellness, innovation lab and technology. Additionally, we introduced an employee professional development and performance evaluation system and underwent our re-accreditation. The faculty, staff, administration and trustees rose to the challenge and the school thrived. There was an important thing to note, however. For all the goodwill, professionalism and sheer joy that was present within the school, the pace was unsustainable.

My personal realization came one summer morning when my husband said to me that whilst he would continue to support me fully, we could not go through another year of my being all consumed with my job. From the time I rose in the pre-dawn mornings to the time I went to bed, school had become the only topic of conversation and thought. He called me an iDrone, permanently welded to e-mail. The board expressed concern about my burnout and I became aware that if this was happening to me, it was most likely occurring with the administrators, faculty and staff. Ironic though it was, Sea Crest needed another initiative.

Beach WalkThe Sea Crest Faculty/Staff Health & Wellness Programme grew from conversations and discussions with faculty/staff regarding ways that we could mitigate the stress of the fast pace without losing the momentum and quality we had gained. We changed our 7-day pre-service schedule from being packed with workshops and meetings to incorporate time for mindfulness moments (e.g. yoga class, mindfulness through art, beach walking, playing a pick-up game) and extended periods of classroom preparation time that were free of administrator-scheduled meetings.

Mindfulness moments have been woven into the fabric of our school – whether in the invocations that open each of our faculty/staff and board meetings or the centering breathing of our pupils at the start of all-school assemblies. Teachers begin various portions of their day – first thing in the morning, following recess, after lunch, etc. – with these moments such as mindful breathing, yoga, reflection and meditation. These activities can be as short as two minutes long and rarely take more than 15. The teachers spearheaded their own initiative and instituted monthly faculty/staff lunch potlucks. We also agreed that during the school year, whilst we endeavor to respond to e-mails within 24 hours of receipt, we are not compelled to answer them after 5pm on a weekday or during the weekends. My holiday e-mail responses begin with a statement that Sea Crest is encouraging our faculty/staff to enjoy time with our loved ones. This gives the expectation that messages may not be responded to as quickly as when school is in session.

Fifth Grade Yoga Health & WellnessAt Sea Crest, we found that communicating the benefits of our health & wellness major strategic initiative to our parent constituency was essential. At our Mid-Year Address, we began with having the parents participate in a 5-minute chair yoga exercise that was led by a teacher. The health & wellness program was then presented as a curricular evolution similar to the innovations we were instituting in our mathematics, character education, technology and innovation lab. The school-wide emphasis on health & wellness is beneficial at all levels. Pupils are responding well; we observe this in their calmer behavior and many parents have mentioned that their children are taking these practices home.

On a personal note, getting an entire day of “me time” remains a struggle. A Head’s position is not one that easily affords significant lengths of relaxation time. I do, however, set aside a daily hour for meditation, prayer and exercise and a weekly afternoon of indulgence. What works well for me is a glass of bubbly, the occasional massage, a good book, walk in the woods, supper with my family, or pretty much any form of great chocolate. The importance is not on the activity; rather, it is that we give ourselves permission to take the time to pause. We must normalize daily, weekly, monthly routines of self-care and resist the pressure to be always bound to our over-filled schedules. We must realize that we cannot be on top of our game – knowledgeable, professional, empathetic and composed – if we are not ourselves centered. We must stop seeing de-stressing time as an indulgence and rather, see it as a necessity for the long-term health of each other and our institutions.


 

— Supporting Heads: Sustaining a Flourishing Leadership Partnership

The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) published an article — “Supporting Heads: Sustaining a Flourishing Leadership Partnership”— written by Dr. Tekakwitha M. Pernambuco-Wise and Dr. Olaf Jorgenson of Almaden Country School in San Jose, California.

When identifying their main responsibilities, most independent school trustees recite familiar priorities, such as preserving the school’s mission, providing financial oversight, and strategic planning. “Supporting the head” typically falls somewhere toward the end of the list.

Given that the heads of school we know either treasure the support they get from their boards or would like more support — or support of a different kind—it strikes us that boards would be wise to rethink where support for the head falls on their list of priorities and to consider what “support” means to heads.

In his 2002 Independent School article, “How to Keep Your Head: Great Schools and Long-Term Headship,” veteran school leader Al Adams urges boards to make the retention of heads a top priority (Albert M. Adams, “How to Keep Your Head: Great Schools and Long-term Headship,” Independent School, Fall, 2002.) Indeed, Adams makes a compelling case for board members to understand the phases of headship and to support the needs of leaders over time so that their schools thrive under the stable, competent leadership of long-term heads.

But what exactly does “supporting the head of school” mean? Does it have the same implications for heads as it does for trustees? What types of support do heads most appreciate? Should trustees’ support change as heads advance through the phases of their career? Do the needs of male and female heads differ?

These questions, in addition to our own conversations about our respective challenges and needs as school heads, led us to reach out to colleagues and trustees across the membership of the California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) and the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), inviting feedback and collective wisdom about “head support.”

We sought to gather a sizable set of perceptions from both school leaders and board members, identify any consistent themes that we could share, and inform boards seeking to nourish and sustain their heads by better understanding what school leaders most need — thus fostering a deeper partnership between trustees and heads.

What follows is a summary of our research, surveying 207 school heads and 59 trustees, with core advice for boards on how they can improve their support for their heads.

What Do Heads Need and Value Most?

Heads and trustees shared nearly identical five top responses to this question, though in different order, with trustees identifying an additional priority.

For heads, the list reads:

  1. Moral Support
  2. Respect for Expertise
  3. Advice and Guidance
  4. Less Operational Involvement
  5. Open Communication

For trustees, the list reads:

  1. Advice and Guidance
  2. Strategic Support
  3. Respect for Expertise
  4. Moral Support
  5. Open Communication
  6. (tie) Public Appreciation

What is most striking about the two lists is that heads put “moral support” at the top while trustees see “advice and guidance” as their lead priority — dropping moral support to the fourth position.

Head of school respondents place less value on trustee advice and express greater need for moral support, empathy, and respect for their expertise — or as one respondent put it, “understanding the pressures of the job and respect for the difficult decisions I have to make.”

Another head summarized what many respondents stated: It would be beneficial for trustees to “understand that their ideas may or may not benefit the school, and that trying to get the school to do things differently before they understand current process or needs is often a point of agitation… Admin[istrators] feel like they are being told to change by board members who don’t fully understand the whole picture.”

Tekakwitha NAIS Article ChartSurvey data also suggest, encouragingly, that both head and trustee respondents understand the need to separate day-to-day operational matters from board-level strategic issues. Numerous heads shared their appreciation when trustees commit to “digging into the work and bringing value through their own engagement,” pursuing board-level professional development about nonprofit school governance, ruminating “about big ideas together,” and dealing with “the rogue trustee who [strays into operational matters], understanding that such behavior is intolerable, destructive, and needs clear action.” Heads report feeling affirmed when trustees acknowledge that school leaders “know more than they do and have handled things well, given all constraints.”

Intriguingly, heads commented repeatedly that they appreciate being recognized, yet did not rank public recognition for their efforts as a top priority. However, trustees felt public recognition of heads was important. We’re including it in this report because it tied for number five for trustees. (Number six for heads was improvement in compensation and benefits.) Perhaps the heads downplayed recognition because, as one head observed, in a strong board-head relationship, the head and board should share recognition for the school’s accomplishments.

In the narrative comments, “trustee leadership in development efforts” appeared as one of the most common priorities from head respondents. Heads overwhelmingly urged trustees to undertake more leadership in fundraising, understanding, as one head put it “that all board members need to be engaged in development even if they don’t serve on the development committee.” This could include a range of trustee involvement, from personal giving to identification of potential donors to direct solicitations.

Furthermore, heads commented that they welcome advice from board members in their areas of expertise such as finance, law, marketing, local politics, and communication.

The article also examines how the needs of male and female heads differ, what types of support are most valued at the different stages of the headship, and concludes with recommendations for board members to help them better meet the needs of school leaders. Click here to read the entire article on the NAIS website.

— The Power of Role Models: Share Everything

Kindergarten Lunch with the Head of School Tekakwitha

Kindergarten Lunch with the Head of School Tekakwitha Gratitude Role ModelsKindergarten Lunch with the Head of School Tekakwitha Role ModelsKindergarten Lunch with the Head of School Tekakwitha Role ModelsThe first message in Robert Fulghum’s bestseller, All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten is “share everything”. I experienced this lesson first-hand last Friday whilst eating lunch with our Kindergartners.

I arrived in Mrs. Ortiz’s class as the pupils were readying themselves for lunch. I sat on the chair that was placed for me in the middle of the rug and picked up Beyond the Pond to read to the pupils as they ate. Before I could open it, one of them approached me and gave me a fortune cookie, saying, “My mum told me to give this to you for lunch.” “What a sweet gesture,” I said, to squeals from the children of “open it!” My fortune elicited an immediate grin, “You will receive wealth and jewellery.” I could buy into that fortune.

I opened the book; however, before I could begin to read, without a word, another pupil gave me a green grape, then another gave me half of a strawberry and then one by one each child gave me something for lunch. I feasted on carrots, a cucumber slice, a chocolate wafer and a slightly chewed piece of pita bread. “I have received my wealth,” I thought, “the fortune cookie’s prediction is already coming true!”

Our programmatic strategic initiative this year is Assessments and the faculty/staff are focussing on The Power of Role Models as an institutional goal. As I walked back to my office for a meeting, I recalled that when I was growing up, the role models in my life were adults; yet, what the Kindergarteners made me appreciate is that adults too can learn life lessons from children.

That evening, as I regaled my husband with the events of my day at school, I recounted that my favourite experience all week was eating lunch with Ms Travis’ Kindergarten class on Monday and Mrs. Ortiz’s class on Friday. The pupils’ kindness was gentle, pure and done without the expectation of anything in return. I wonder though, if I was too subtle in my hints to my husband that the last part of the fortune cookie’s message is still awaiting fulfilment.

With Gratitude,

Dr. Tekakwitha M. Pernambuco-Wise
Head of School

 


 

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