August 25, 2016

A New Journey

Ribbon cutting on the very first day of Friends' Middle School
Welcome back to school.  We are so glad you are here for our 2016-17 school year! 

We have many new families at Friends’ this year, in every grade from our youngest three year old classes, to our very first middle school class, and we warmly welcome you all to this very special community. We are thrilled to have our elementary and middle school students on each campus and we look forward to having our preschoolers begin next week.

Each week, in this space, I share with you this blog.  It will contain stories of what is going on around school, reflections on general trends in education, anecdotes about different people in our school community, or news of school developments.  My intention is to make it a useful and informative resource for you, occasionally amusing, and perhaps even poignant sometimes.  I hope you enjoy.

As wonderful as the start of the school year has been, we were not expecting the delayed start of school that happened on Wednesday with police activity in the neighborhood. Thank you all for your understanding and flexibility as we made the best decision for the safety of our students and community.

Friends’ School always puts the safety of our people first.  Our staff undergoes rigorous safety training twice a year and we invest annually in safety upgrades to our campuses.  In a September blog, I will update you on all that we do to make our campuses as safe as possible and the latest changes.  In the meantime, if you have any questions about school safety, please do not hesitate to connect with me or your program director.

First day of Kindergarten
We have a new administrative structure this year as we evolve to support each program in our growing community in the best way we can.  Caroline Holland is our new Director of Preschool, Associate Head Mandy Stepanovsky takes on an additional role as Director of Elementary School, and Shelby Pawlina, in her 22nd year at Friends’, is our Director of Middle School. Each of them work closely with me, and with each other, to support the students, parents and teachers in their respective programs.  You will hear more from each of them at your program’s Back To School Night that are all coming up in early September.

As I look back on these first three days of school, I have loved hearing the laughter in the buildings, seeing children greeting old friends, and witnessing the warmth and smiles as new friends are made.

In a letter that Kindergarten teacher Beth Huennekens sent out to her parents this week, she wrote; the random acts of kindness, communication skills, boundless energy, and contagious curiosity has set this group apart.”

At our brand new North Campus, Shelby let 6th grade parents know: “I witnessed a conversation about cell phone use at middle school. Through their discussion, students came to the same conclusions that are in our family handbook without ever mentioning any preexisting “rules”. Voice, choice, and respectful listening…I wish I had this one on video. I’m sure it won’t be the last time! In the gaga pit today, students negotiated rule changes, and demonstrated honest sportsmanship. This class really cares about one another. You would be hard pressed to know who the new students are in the group. Kudos to all these great people! Already, what I have been dreaming about is coming to fruition! We are in for a great year!”
Language Arts teacher Diane Bramble and music
teacher Maria Burbano at our elementary
school gathering this week

And in a letter to our teachers and staff from Friends’ Community Board Chair Elizabeth Henna, I read: “At the new family picnic for elementary families last night, I visited with a dad who was setting foot on Friends’ campus for the first time the night before his oldest child starts kindergarten today. It was wonderful to see his excitement and hear how impressed he already is with our welcoming campus and people. I know that while the kids and their parents are beginning their school year now, each of you has been working hard over the past weeks and months to prepare for this time. I want you to know that I and other trustees deeply appreciate all the behind-the-scenes work required to launch a new school year, especially when that year includes a new program, new facilities, new staff, and new responsibilities.”

I get the fortunate privilege of working with all of these individuals, and all of you, each and every day as we team together to educate and raise the most important people in the world: the next generation. 

Thank you for entrusting us with the journey.

May 19, 2016


Graduation season is upon us.  It is the time for transitions, for saying goodbye to the school year we are finishing, and saying hello to the next adventure, the next grade that awaits.

During this busy time, Friends’ School received some excellent news this week.  We have been officially re-accredited by the Association of Colorado Independent Schools (ACIS).

Following unanimous votes by ACIS’ Accreditation Committee and full Board of Trustees, Friends’ remains one of only thirty-two schools in our state, and one of only three in Boulder, to hold such an honor.
It has been quite a process to get here.  Our staff immersed themselves in intense work for over a year examining our programs and practices, and preparing a 64-page self-study. 

Back in February this year, a team of school leaders and experienced educators from across the state spent four days at Friends’, interviewing all staff, as well as a number of parents, students, alumni, and trustees, learning all they could about our school. That team produced its own 45-page report about our school which was filled, not only with commendations about what we do well, but also suggestions and recommendations for how we can continue to improve.

Over the next year, we will be taking those recommendations to heart, and putting plans into place to make our school an even better place for all of us – for the students, of course, and also for the parents, teachers, staff, and volunteers who all make this school great.

In the concluding paragraph of the visiting team’s report, the ACIS representatives wrote: During our three-and-a-half days on campus, we immersed ourselves in the school’s culture and daily rhythm, reaching three important conclusions:

1) Every aspect of the program and student experience reflects the school mission and philosophy of educating the whole child, head, hand, and heart.

2) High aspirations pervade the mission and culture of Friends’ School, which provides an unusually rich preschool to 5th grade program, including a Teacher Preparation Program.

3) Friends’ School is poised for growth, with recent plans to acquire a second campus and launch a middle school.”

In addition, the team presented us with five major commendations for the work that we do here at Friends.

FACULTY AND STAFF COMMITMENT: Faculty and staff are committed to the school and one another, making the atmosphere professional, inspirational, and joyful for adults and children alike.

STUDENT FOCUS: Students at Friends’ School clearly have a love of learning and are highly engaged at school. This is a direct result of how well the teachers know the social emotional development and learning profiles of all the students. The way that teachers interact with and speak about the students is warm, respectful and authentic.  It is obvious that they honor each student and value their roles as social and emotional educators.

FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY: The sound and fiscally conservative management style of the school is outstanding.  Friends’ School benefits from a strong Business Office staff and an involved and experienced Finance Committee and evidences a responsible, consistent, and fiscally conservative approach toward its financial management.

USE OF SPACE: It is amazing what is achieved in such tight space.  Everyone is adaptable, flexible, and efficient and this enables the faculty and staff to get the most out of the current facilities.  Friends’ School’s facilities offer a warm, bright, and inviting learning environment for its students. The school’s hallways reflect its mission, both literally and figuratively. 

MIDDLE SCHOOL: Excitement about the middle school initiative is palpable among the leadership of the school. Both the board and administration have dedicated enormous time and energy to the research, planning, and new learning required by this ambitious strategic project.

We couldn’t agree more! This is fabulous news on which to end the school year. 

Thank you for being part of the journey with us.  Wherever your travels take you this summer, and whichever adventures await you, I wish you a restful and wonderful summer vacation. 

May 12, 2016

When you have your health, you have everything

TPP Director Ed Walent thinking through the concept
of differentiation with teacher candidates
We have a lot to be grateful for. And sometimes it takes outside events to remind us of this.

As many of you know, Friends’ is the home to a highly successful, nationally-known, Teacher Preparation Program. Not only do we have our six teacher candidates working in classrooms at Friends’, we partner with nine other schools – independent, charter and public schools – to provide outstanding teacher training to more than thirty new educators every year.

Friends’ is an agency designated by the State of Colorado to confer Colorado Initial Teaching Licenses to our program’s graduates in either Elementary Education or Early Childhood Education. Participants in the Program may also choose to complete a Master’s degree in Education and Human Development through Friends’ partnership with the University of Colorado Denver.

The parents and students of Friends’ School know the teacher candidates in their classrooms well.  They often know some of the other teachers-in-training who are placed in other classrooms in the school, but they don’t get to meet teacher candidates who are placed in other schools, and they don’t know our Teacher Preparation Program (TPP) staff very well.

The TPP is extremely ably run by Director Ed, Walent and Program Manager, Julie Hart.  You may see them waving at you in the parking lot some Tuesday mornings. Ed has been at Friends’ for five years, and Julie has served in various teaching roles, and now this position, at Friends’ for many of the past twelve years.

In mid-April, Ed received some bad news.  After he noticed some unusual symptoms, Ed’s doctor discovered that he needed to undergo quadruple bypass heart surgery.  Through some family contacts, Ed was able to be admitted to the Mayo Hospital in Phoenix, and underwent surgery on April 20.

Ed is now back home, recovering slowly but surely.  We miss seeing him, learning from him and laughing with him every day around Friends’, but we know he is at home taking care of the most important work of all, which is to return to full health.

Last weekend, Ed’s former co-director of the TPP, Shelby Pawlina, who is now director of our brand new middle school, went to visit Ed.  This was no easy task, as Shelby heself had just returned from the doctor where she learned she had ruptured her Achilles heel.  Shelby injured it playing in our annual staff vs. fifth grade soccer game!  Shelby is currently on crutches and will find out soon about potential surgery.

While at Ed’s house, Shelby had the task of informing Ed about another major injury in our Friends’ community.  Tayler Bledsoe, a Friends’ School alumna student, and daughter of our administrative assistant and Alumni Association coordinator Jana Bledsoe, was involved in a serious scooter accident last week, resulting in severe injuries.

Needless to say, this has not been a good few weeks for several members of our community.

The good news is that all three are expected to make full and complete recoveries.  All will be well.

In a recent email communication with Ed, he reminded me of the well-known adage: “When you have your health, you have everything.”  For those whose health is suddenly, or even not
Ed Walent
so suddenly, taken away from them, this is such a truism. 

For those of us who are lucky enough to be in good health, it is sometimes easy to forget how fortunate we have things.

As the parent of two teenage daughters, and as the leader of a school, it is a rare day when something challenging doesn’t occur, or someone doesn't approach me with a complaint, or an issue that must be solved.  Some of these problems are major and genuine, and need my immediate attention. Something is wrong and it needs to be fixed.

More often than not however, when put into real perspective, some of these problems might not be considered real problems at all. Rather, they are inconveniences, or a bother, that can often be solved by taking some time to put them into perspective.

Not as important as being knocked to the ground from a scooter, or having your chest sawn open.  Not as important as serious illness or the potential loss of life.

As a leader, it’s good to remember this perspective from time to time.  Perhaps even always.

All of us at Friends’ wish Tayler, Shelby and Ed a speedy recovery – and to anyone in your family who may be unwell or suffering at this time.

Enjoy the sunshine. 

May 5, 2016

In the News

At our new campus celebration:
Admissions Director Melanie Leggett, Director of Finance
Jen Cope, and board member Carol Hampf
This week the calendar turned to May.  All parents and teachers know that the really busy season is upon us. This week at Friends’ has been no exception.

Many students are wrapping up and presenting their AOE projects (Area of Expertise). So much learning happening in the building.  The fifth grade students soundly beat the teachers and staff in our annual soccer game (the score was 4-3) which was a lot of fun for participants and spectators alike.  The preschoolers are loving the water play that is happening outside now that the weather has warmed up.  They also enjoyed a magical pajama day in the dark!

Our parent council organized a lovely family potluck dinner on Wednesday evening, which was a wonderful event for preschool and elementary parents and kids to mingle and meet staff informally. The fifth graders and their parents host a spectacular spring fling carnival this afternoon on the elementary playground.

Channel 7 sent a news crew out to Friends' to interview fourth grade Cameron K., who is soon to travel to Washington D.C. to participate in the National Spelling Bee. Librarian deana harragarra waters also got on camera.  We will let you know when that story airs.

Lance & Maegan McCardle with Friends'
board chair Elizabeth Henna
Our fourth grade class is deep in rehearsal for their upcoming performances of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors here at Friends’ and also on the campus of the University of Colorado. Our fifth grade class is gearing up to leave on Monday for a week-long trip to the four corners area, Mesa Verde National Park, and Crow Canyon Archaeological Center.

Our teacher candidates are putting the final touches on their last papers of the semester and are ready to graduate and claim their Colorado alternative teaching license.

Showing campus plans to Howard Rubin

Through it all, we celebrated the purchase of our second campus on Kalmia Avenue, a story that hit the press:  both the Daily Camera and Biz West. You can click through to those stories here.

Thank you to those who came and celebrated with us on Wednesday morning. Parents and lots of questions about the progress of our middle school program and all the architectural drawings we had on display.  We take possession on June 1, and we are ready to roll.

April 28, 2016

OWNERS! Join our celebration!

Artist's rendering of what our new front door may look like
(credit: Mike Folwell of Folwell Studios)
Friends’ School is now the proud owner of a second 2.4 acre campus at 3800 Kalmia Avenue. Although this real estate deal has been in the works for several months, I officially signed the paperwork on Friday.  We take possession of the property on June 1st.

The new campus will house our first ever 6th grade class this fall, and then the 7th and 8th grades as they are added in 2017 and 2018.  We also plan to have brand new spaces for our Teacher Preparation Program and several of our administrative offices. It has enough space to accommodate a middle school of 140 students, complete with a maker space, gym, music room, art room, collaboration space, art gallery, bike shop, and more!

Please join us in celebrating this bold new step for Friends’ next Wednesday morning outside the elementary building, right before the start of school.  We will have refreshments for all and plans for the middle school for you to view. Our recently hired 6th grade teacher Kevin Nugent will be on hand to meet everyone. Dacia is baking especially yummy things for the occasion!

We have grand plans underway to renovate the buildings at our Kalmia campus and we are working with an architect and contractors, as well as the County, to get those plans solidified.

As you may be aware, buying commercial property in Boulder is not always a straightforward process.  There are many hoops to jump through.  We have had an incredible team putting in thousands of hours behind the scenes to bring this dream to reality.

I am so very grateful to everyone who has been involved with this enormous project. Everyone on our administrative team, our Community Board and its various committees, and our legal and real estate teams, has had a hand in this process.  There are too many to mention everyone.  But a grand shout-out must go to our Board chair, Elizabeth Henna, long-time trustees Carol Hampf, Amy Carpenter and Jen Greene, director of finance Jen Cope, and middle school director Shelby Pawlina for their passion and tireless efforts on behalf of the school. As Shelby told the staff: “It turns out it is so much more complicated than buying a house! I couldn’t begin to explain
View across the playing  field at our Kalmia campus
it to you, but suffice it to say that we have the right people in the right seats to have made this possible.”

This summer, we will see the emergence of this north Boulder campus that feels like Friends’ School.  Just as our existing Pennsylvania campus has been transformed over the years by the attention and love of hundreds of staff, parents, and students who are here now, or who have come before us, so too will the Kalmia campus receive the same attention and love.

Our first class of sixth graders and their families, ably led by Kevin and Shelby, and a host of specialist teachers are pioneers. They are at the inception of a bold new venture. We are excited to see them take these first steps.

Friends' Kalmia campus will be home to hundreds of middle schoolers and teachers in training for years to come!

April 21, 2016

The Importance of Community

Preschool Parent Day Celebration 
Whew!  What a week around Friends’ School! It seemed like every time we turned around, something really important was happening.

Mandy Stepanovsky’s baby Wilder arrived on Sunday, a couple of weeks earlier than expected.  Mom and baby are both doing well.  I can’t help myself but keep showing photos proudly around campus to anyone who asks! (Just ask!)

Baby Wilder
Our director of the Teacher Preparation Program, Ed Walent, is at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix where he has just undergone open heart surgery.  All the news is positive and everything is going great.  As an entire community, we send Ed and his family all our love and good wishes.

Jene Foland, our teacher candidate in 2nd grade, is getting married next week. We are so excited for Jene and her fiancé Abe and wish them all the very best in their new life together.

Eric Rhoda, the teacher candidate in 5th grade, dealt with a scare this week as his wife Julie underwent surgery on Monday.  The great news is that all is well and Julie is recovering exceptionally.

Throughout all of these twists of fate, we have had people in our community creating cards and sending well wishes, lining up to bring meals, or offering to help in other ways. This is a community

that rallies around our own.

It was therefore fitting this week that 1st grade teacher Laurie Nakauchi and P.E. teacher and Friends’ parent Lindsey Hilliard gave a presentation this week on our yearlong theme, The Impact of Giving Back.  They discussed the many ways that our classrooms and community have been involved in helping others all year long, and parents were presented with a list of great ideas for how families can continue to give back all summer long.

Our elementary classes spent an hour yesterday cleaning the Wellman Ditch that runs along the north side of our campus. Our preschool classes invited parents in this week for a Parent Day Celebration and each child presented their

parents with a beautiful card and flower pot, filled with the delights of spring.

To help celebrate our community, you are all invited to our All Family Potluck one evening after school – on Wednesday May 4th.  More details in the Happenings.

I hope you enjoy these photos of some of the great things happening around school this week.

And through it all, we still manage to have fun while learning.  This is a picture of a certain head of school, dressed as King George III, taxing 4th and 5th grade colonists and loyalists alike.  Ooh, were they mad at royalty!