Conferences already?!?

I really enjoyed dropping in on a few conferences yesterday. In addition to the positive tone and great conversations, I couldn’t help but notice the keen look on our parents faces. In a student-led conference, (which start at the 4th grade at McA), the parents seemed to radiate pride and joy as they listened to their son describe a math problem and the approach he took to achieve it.  In a first grade conference, it was fun to watch the parents reading their child’s work. Conferences are an amazing time and a wonderful opportunity to further the discussion of your child’s learning.

You are here each week and see aspects of what the kids are learning. You attend monthly parent meetings to hear about the month ahead, reflections of the past month, and learn about and discuss some of the developmental aspects of your child. You are an integral part of creating exemplary learning experiences for your child(ren) and all of our students. You see the fruits of your labor in the interaction with the students in class and around campus, and yet, when it comes time for teacher-parent conferences we often can run into a road block.

What do we ask? What do I need to know? How can I help?

Edutopia offers a range of resources for educators and parents and it’s a worthwhile site to visit. Each year they put out a list of questions for parents. I’m sharing a portion of it with you here. If you are at a loss for what to ask I would  recommend that you pick no more than 1 or 2 and be open to the conversation.  Last but not least, enjoy this time as an opportunity to get to know another side of your child and to share insight you have with their teacher.

5 Questions Your Child’s Teacher Would (Probably) Love to Answer

  1. What are the most important and complex (content-related) ideas my child needs to understand by the end of the year?
  2. How is critical thinking used on a daily basis in your classroom?
  3. What kinds of questions do you suggest that I ask my children on a daily basis about your class?
  4. How exactly is learning personalized in your classroom?
  5. What am I not asking but should be?

Abridged from Edutopia’s 19 Questions which you can find here

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Ask me anything…

I started “Ask Me Anything” two weeks ago in a class meeting, so wanted to also ask you to ask me anything. I may not be able to answer them right away but I can answer them soon or in my blog:

  • Status of lower grade kitchen cabinets?
    • New ones are up but locks aren’t yet in most places. Need to do that.
  • If we want to plan a social event the first Friday in November on the blacktop would there be any problem vis-à-vis the track?
    • We can probably work around it.
  • 2nd and 3rd grade teachers and having PE from 8:30-8:50— will this be implemented in other grades as well (because it is a great idea)?
    • Would need to check on this and get back to you. Jackie: For the 4/5s half the class does PE in the morning and half the class does math so that they have small math groups. Middle school we have our morning meeting first thing. Community is what we’re focused on this year and that’s a great community activity, but every class and grade level may be doing something different to meet those needs. Rick: there is a state mandate– two required subjects in public schools, K-12: PE and English language development, and it’s 200 minutes every 10 days so you could do it any way you want. Parent-led PE does not count under the state mandate. A teacher needs to supervise the activity for parent-led PE to count.
  • As a parent of a new high schooler, with regards to bringing back high school kids to talk to middle school kids about the transition, aside from the public part of it, it could be a good opportunity for faculty to ask them separately about how the transition was, what was difficult, what could have made it easier as a middle schooler?
    • There could be opportunities to do a better job on this. 
  • If you could ask Jambi (the genie from Pee Wee’s Playhouse) for two wishes for the school what would those be? I’ll get back to you on that.
  • Is there a firm date for track completion? Can we get the spec and drawings?
    • Yes and yes. Haven’t yet received the drawings but when it happens will send copies to the PFG Presidents.
  • Will the backstops go away or be retained?
    • We were going to get rid of them last year but there has been staff discussion lately suggesting we may hold on to one of the backstops. Before we make a decision we need to take a look at the drawings. They are only used for kickball and our emergency planning drill. We wouldn’t want to keep those backstops and sacrifice the football field and the soccer field. Once we get the schematics you’ll get a chance to look at that; if you want to keep one we can keep one. I don’t think we have a need for more than one.
    • UPDATE – Plans are available for viewing in the office.
  • Why is PFG paying for the track? The District agreed to take on the maintenance for it, but other parents might be curious about why the PFG is paying for it.
    • The track update was not part of our original bond measure.
    •  The track was something we’d been talking about for a while; we priced out options six years ago and found that it was very expensive to install and maintain a regular repair and replace schedule with a rubberized track.
    • In the last year, the faculty recommended to PFG that we should spend a portion of our funds to upgrade the track to reduce safety hazards and provide an ideal learning environment for our K-8 students. The PFG supported this move now, to benefit students directly, rather wait for the possibility that the district might include track replace/repair in a future bond.
  • The important thing is that the District agreed to take over maintenance of it as well.
    • Yes, the PFG is funding it, and it’s done hand in hand with the District.
  •  Melissa: If the District ended up doing a bond for tracks could we ask for something else?
    • We could advocate for something else.
  • I heard we were getting a shed on the playground somewhere. Update?
    • We haven’t made any decisions in that regard. The biggest concern is loss of play space for our students. We don’t want to add sheds/containers unless we really need to. We’ve increased our number of students by 40.
  • What would it take for McAuliffe to become K-12?
    • Great question! The challenge with that is that our District is only K-8. One alternative might be a charter school that would be in line with our philosophy for grades 9-12. They could go be run out of any number of districts in the area but it wouldn’t be on our campus.
  • Update on Science Lab? We have asked for an AppleTV projector to bring us into the 21stcentury with our math and science.
    • Ahh…I thought you were going to mention the eyewash. They took out the eyewash during modernization so that needs to be replaced. In terms of the AppleTV and overhead projector, I think we’re OK moving forward with that. The challenge was that there wasn’t, an immediately obvious, good spot to put it. If we can identify a good location then we can move forward.Don’t add any additional shelving or take any shelving down because those are considered hot (with asbestos).
  • Is the district preventing us from installing the projector?
    • No. The district is supportive of us installing and utilizing technology that enhances the learning experience for our students. The comment to the contrary at our last PFG meeting was incorrect. The reason for the delay in installation has been identifying the ideal location in the room.

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Ask me anything: Take 1

  • Do you ever go off roading in your Jeep?

Yes! I love the being out doors and traveling to places that aren’t necessarily easily accessible because of the journey and the destination… There is something wonderful and rewarding for me about going to a place that few have travelled or experienced.

I’ve taken my Jeep to Hollister a few times. On the way to Tahoe there are several spots near Nevada City that are just a bit off the main drag and so scenic.

And I once took it on the emergency flood evacuation route near Mendocino when a downed tree blocked Hwy 1…which I did not know existed…and that was an incredible experience!

I still have a lot to learn about off-roading! I was surprised to learn that most of the roads we travel, including many dirt roads, are best ventured with 2 wheel drive and not 4. It’s good to be able to let the air out of your tires when off road…and even to have the ability to fill them back up once you are back on the blacktop. Who knew that off roading was a dirty business? Sooo much dust every time we go…. It’s AWESOME!

Who will you root for at the 49er v. Packer game tonight?

Well that was last week and I can tell you that I rooted for both teams (though I’d hoped that the 9ers would have more to cheer for!).

Growing up here, I love my Bay Area sports teams so you may wonder why I also have a soft spot in my heart for the Packers. As an adult, I have long appreciated the work ethic that Brett Favre and his teammates conveyed with a no whining, “get out there and play for the love of the game” kind of attitude. Not everyone gets to work in a career that they absolutely love and so I consider myself fortunate to be love my work and I recognize it and respect it in others!

But that isn’t why I chose the Packers…as a kid, I rooted for every team with green jerseys…A’s…Packers…

And the old Atari hockey game had a team in green. I thought it was Edmonton, but it may have been the Minnesota North Stars.

  • When did I first become a Harry Potter fan?

I read a friends pre-released version of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s  Stone in early 97 and have been hooked ever since…Yes. I read the Cursed Child and yes it was mind blowing in terms of possibilities.

  • How do I magically show up at just the right time?

I’m not sure how to answer this one…Maybe its that there isn’t so much a “right time” at McAuliffe.  Good things tend to happen all over our school community, all the time. So if good things are happening all the time, then any time is the “right time”. I do what I can to catch some of the wonder and joy in learning both from kids and adults and love being able to share in it and share those experiences with others. The good news is that there really is a lot of incredible learning taking place on our campus and we are ALL responsible for and, an important part of, making that happen.
Look for the next edition in a few weeks.

Have a wonderful three day weekend!

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A brand new year!

Hi Everyone,

Welcome back to a new year at McAuliffe. It’s been wonderful seeing so many familiar faces and meeting our new families. Over the last two weeks, I’ve spent time in each classroom and visited several class meetings and I have to say that the classes look fantastic! There’s a tremendous amount of positive energy and we are already engaging in learning and our school-wide Community focused unit of study! This year promises to be filled with great experiences for all of us.

Last night, I went out on a limb and invited parents in several class meetings to ask me any question that came to mind. Here are a few that came up:

  • Do you ever go off roading in your Jeep?
  • Who will you root for at the 49er v. Packer game tonight?
  • When did I first become a Harry Potter fan?
  • How do I magically show up at just the right time?

I’ll be sharing those answers on my blog next week…and will periodically open up questions in a “Ask Any Question” to our parent and student community.

We still have some things to be done to wrap up this round of modernization and a few repairs of things that were installed last year and those are really par for the course. More updates on this to come…

At the start of each year, I visit each class to talk about our expectations for ensuring that all students have a safe and engaging learning experience.  We discuss the importance of being kind to oneself and to others, having fun, speaking kindly, being helpful and responsible, and helping one another learn. I’ve met with just over half of our classes so far and the conversations have been excellent!

Last but not least:

  • Enjoy the year ahead. Time always seems to speed up in August and again in May/June. Breathe.
  • Make time in your day to spend with your children. They grow up so fast and this is our time to celebrate them.
  • Ask questions. We are learning together at McAuliffe and asking questions accomplishes two things. One, we’re able to gain clarity on topics that are unclear to us, and we are modeling for our children that asking questions is not only okay, but completely appropriate in the world we live in.
  • Make McAuliffe a better place for everyone. All of your children will benefit from this.



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Welcome to McAuliffe School for the 2016-17 year!

“A minute goes by so fearfully quick.  You might as well try to stop a Bandersnatch!
– Lewis Carrol”

Hi Everyone!

I hope your summer was full of goodness and joy! Tomorrow is our first day of school. Welcome back to all our returning families. We’ve missed you! Welcome to families newly joining us! We look forward to getting to know you better! To all of you, we can’t wait to hear your stories of summer vacation and adventure!

I am intrigued by the road we will travel as parents this year. And I am equally excited for what lays ahead for our children. Who knows what the year will bring? What wonder and joy and learning? The start of a new year is always exhilarating!!

This morning as I woke my daughter, I was amazed at how much she has grown. It seems like just yesterday that I was taking her to the Los Gatos Parent Nursery School for the first time. Her eyes were wide with wonder at this new place and joy at meeting new people and new friends. Back then she wasn’t yet able to ride a bike, but she could dance and sing and laugh and explore like nobody’s business.

Her kindergarten experience brings similar memories to mind…eyes wide, excited, laughing. I remember the day she came home in tears because her teacher had a substitute and didn’t know what that meant and how happy she was to learn that the teacher would be back the next day.  That year she learned to ride a bicycle, to tie-dye, to play soccer and Rally Ball, and she remembers “eating banana peels as part of learning about the five senses” (her words not mine!). Yum?

Flash forward ten years…days away from starting her sophomore year of high school. She is a typical teen in so many ways, not the least of which is staying up and sleeping in, yet she spent the last week waking up at the crack of dawn for field hockey try-outs. She’s taller, more poised, and still as curious and insistent on exploring and trying new things as ever. These days she talks less about riding her bicycle than driving my Jeep…which while a bit unnerving for me that she’s growing up, promises to be a fun experience for both of us. West Valley parking lot here we come…! So many good things are in store for all of us this year and I am grateful to be both a parent and your child’s principal.

In the spirit of progressive education and exploratory learning, our faculty has decided to try something new this year. We will begin, as an entire school, by studying “Community”. It may look and feel wildly different from grade level to grade level and yet; there will be common threads among our learning experiences and yes, you will have a role in this, because you too are part of our community.

As we support our children’s learning, let’s spend the year asking questions and embracing the opportunities for us, as adults, to learn and grow as well. Give yourself permission to try new things and make mistakes. Allow yourself to step back from your children as they explore the world around them. At times they need a guiding hand and they also need the freedom to experience things on their own. If you are unsure, ask your child’s teacher, IA (instructional assistant), CC (class coordinator), or another veteran parent. We’re here to help one another.

For all of our students – Did you have fun this summer? We’re so glad your back!! Did you notice that our blacktop has been redone?  The climbing wall is up and our entire school is ready for action and for you!!  Errr… one small exception: the lower grade girl’s bathroom which needs a few finishing touches and won’t be ready until next week. We’re also putting in a new track sometime in October or November!! Most importantly, your teacher is energized and can’t wait to see you!

PARENTS – We strongly encourage you to come a bit early tomorrow to avoid the stress of rushing, traffic and to find a parking space.

Here’s to a wonderful new year for all of us! See you tomorrow!



Rick Yee
McAuliffe School
Saratoga, CA

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Learning beyond the walls of the classroom…

Hi Everyone,

Welcome back! I hope that your spring break was rewarding and relaxing. For the students in Mary’s and Fran’s classes it was a time to pack and prep for their upcoming Gold Country Trip.

On Wednesday I drove up to Sacramento and spent time with them. It was an amazing and full day in our state capitol! I caught up with them just as they were preparing to enter Sutter’s Fort. This was the first time our 4/5 classes have returned to the capitol in close to a decade.

It was an interesting blast from the past to find a 19th century building standing in the middle of downtown, 21st century Sacramento. Sutter’s Fort was built as a Mexican settlement by John Sutter. But did you know that he was originally from Germany, travelled around the world ending up in California, and became a Mexican citizen in 1840 to receive the land grant and build the fort?

After our engaging tour, the two classes travelled to the state capitol where we had lunch, and they were given a personal tour of the building by Fran’s brother who used to work there and the students met with Assemblymember Evan Low. Last but not least, they headed on to the Railroad Museum. Talk about a packed schedule!!

These overnight and daytime field trips are a vital part of our instructional program and research supports the tremendous value of these experiences for students.

According to a study from the University of Arkansas field trips, “contribute to the development of students into civilized young men and women… [who] have stronger critical-thinking skills, exhibit increased historical empathy, display higher levels of tolerance, and have a greater taste for consuming art and culture.” Another study from RAFT, found that “Teachers who conduct hands-on learning activities on a weekly basis out-perform their peers by more than 70% of a grade level in math and 40% of a grade level in science.”

It’s exciting that we continue to look for ways to deepen and explore our student experiences from year to year. This also presents a real challenge because there are so many powerful and engaging places right here in California for students to visit that connect to science, math, history, language arts, fine arts, and the lives of our students. We can’t see them all so our teachers take a thoughtful approach to seeing what best connects with their class at that time.

Welcome back!


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Spring Break newsletter for 2016!

Hi Everyone,

I’d like to start with a conversation that I had with one of our alumni parents and ongoing volunteer. Many of you know Howard as part of the dynamic Steve and Howard show. They have subbed in every grade and in  many of our classrooms over the years.

Howard stopped by today to share how impressed and special he felt our art education program is.  He felt that Andrew’s recent play is an example of excellence at our school. He cited an experience during the dress rehearsal. A student had a misstep during a dance number. She was upset and unable to continue that number. A short time after the actors left the stage, they returned for another routine and that actor was amazing!

It occurred to him, “What will she be like as an adult?” She demonstrated such resilience and strength of character and did it with flourish! Another student told Howard that they had helped her get over the prior incident. The fact that we provide students with the opportunity to raise one another up and support each other is an invaluable skill set that isn’t easily measured by test scores and yet is critical in the rapidly changing world in which we live. The idea that we honor students and adults where they are, presuming positive intent and looking for the best in one another is something that is hard to find in today’s society.

We all make mistakes. (As parents, it seems that we make more than most and many of us are amazed at the ability of our parents to deal with the challenges of child rearing.) We all fall down. And yet at McAuliffe we encourage everyone to lend a hand. We extend the presumption of positive intent to everyone. This is a subtle and powerful thing.

Here we provide children and adults with an opportunity to pursue their passion in a wide range of activities and projects and this experience is incredibly valuable.  Can we do better? Absolutely. We all can. Students and adults experience problem solving, conflict resolution, thinking outside the box, speaking one’s mind, critical thinking, interacting with one another in positive and supportive ways so that we all continue to grow and learn combined with engaging academics. We expect the students and adults in our community to make mistakes, to learn from them, and to help each other along the way.

Our students learn to question the world around them in a way that enables them to make sense of it for them. We expect this from them. We are not looking for compliant, rule followers, but curious individuals who look at the world in different ways who are empowered to ask “Why?”.  We expect individually and collectively our students will make this planet a better place now and in the future. It’s why we chose this school… this community… and we all, each and every one of us, chose to be here.  

As we move into the break, I encourage each of you to take time to reflect on your experience here at McAuliffe. Consider the good, the bad, and why you made the decision to join our community in the first place. What is one thing you might try or do to make our community a better place? Make it a family conversation. Each of us is an integral part of McAuliffe School. No one is more important than the other. Each of us makes this school an amazing place for children and for one another.

Have a wonderful time with family and friends. We’ll see you back on April 18th.



(Here’s the link to the article

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