Welcoming Back with a Look Back - Strategic Vision Part 1 of 3

September 07, 2018

Dear CAIS Community,

The new Oak Playground is a great mirror for the start of school swirlMany thanks for a successful start to the 2018-19 school year at CAIS! In these exciting early days, the focus necessarily skews toward the nuts and bolts of transitioning back into school. Your kids need to become comfortable with the swirl of teachers, classmates, and routines. You need to navigate drop off and pick up in Hayes Valley traffic (perhaps adding a second campus to your daily mix), determine how to best communicate with your children’s teachers, and master the new morning and evening moods and routines at home. I am confident that before long you will feel the new year’s logistics are old hat. If something remains confusing, though, please always feel free to ask the faculty and staff.

Of course school is not all nuts and bolts. There are the hopes and dreams we all have for our children’s education. Each time they cross the thresholds into the Waller, Oak, or 888 campuses, we envision the communities of which they are a part; the things they will know, understand, and be able to do; the attitudes they are developing; and the people they will become. The daily details are all in service of those greater aspirations that we envision for our kids and, in turn, for the world that they will inhabit and one day shape. 

Back in January of 2014, CAIS unveiled a strategic vision that focused on our aspirations for our children. The culmination of an inclusive, months-long process, the strategic vision has guided decision making for close to five years. In 2014, as with now, we cared more about the future than we did about the past—more about where CAIS was going than where we had been. Now, almost five years later, I feel a mixture of pride and determination. I am proud of the things we have accomplished and the impact it has had on our kids. I also feel determined to accomplish more over the next five years.

In this letter I want to focus on how far we have come. In two subsequent communications I will address the creation of a new vision for where we want to go and the process by which we might create that vision. But first let’s take a look at some of the things we’ve managed to accomplish. 

Learning

In recent years we have revamped our approach to English literacy, adopting the reading and writing workshop model. We have seen a marked increase in the volume of reading our students do as well as the agency they have with their own writing in multiple genres. This has correlated with observable improvement in assessment results in every grade with sustained exposure to the workshop models. In Chinese we have adapted workshop practices to reading and writing, and we have seen similar correlation with improved assessment results. CAIS has the most thorough system of Chinese assessment in the US, and our students perform approximately two grade levels above their peers at other Chinese immersion schools. 

Teachers

Teacher quality is the most important non-school factor in student achievement. Accordingly, we have dedicated substantial resources and energy to attracting, developing, rewarding and retaining outstanding educators at CAIS. Teacher compensation and benefits have been brought in line with our peer schools. In faculty searches over the past five years we have hired our first choice candidate 82% of the time. We have a robust professional development program that feeds our teachers desire for professional growth—the beneficiaries are our students. We have sent over twenty educators to China and Taiwan for education and enrichment on China Faculty Institute grants, a program generously funded by CAIS parents. Not surprisingly, our annually administered work climate assessment teachers report an average composite satisfaction score of 4.3 on a scale of 5.0. I am proud of our teachers and consider them to be the most dedicated and competent cohort with whom I have ever worked. 

Learning Environments

In recent years we have undertaken phased facilities improvements at Oak and Waller, creating environments that are more conducive to student learning and well-being. In 2015 we completed the largest capital campaign in CAIS history and opened the new middle school campus at 888 Turk. The opportunities created by the 888 campus design, under the leadership of middle school director Joe Williamson and his outstanding middle school faculty, has transformed the middle school experience for CAIS students. We have seen positive changes across the board—student leadership and independence, school culture and community, curriculum innovation, technology integration, academic achievement, and high school admissions.

Authentic International Learning

In 2018, 120 students spent 2-3 weeks in Taiwan and Mainland China on CAIS programs in grades five, seven and eight. This is up from around 30 students when I arrived at CAIS. Our signature international learning programs are integrated with the CAIS classroom curriculum and the experiences differentiate your children from graduates of peer schools.

Educational Technology

The past five years has seen a healthy increase in the appropriate application of technology to enhance learning and teaching. CAIS students and teachers have ready access to up-to-date technology and opportunities to use it responsibly to learn and express themselves; in the lower school devices are in each classroom, while the middle school CAIS has a 1:1 program where all students are responsible for their own individual laptops. In all subjects, CAIS students use technology as a research tool and to create projects that demonstrate learning in all subjects. Upper elementary students now study coding. At our middle school the Phanachet Design Lab serves as a hub of design, making, coding, and robotics as part of the middle school curriculum during the school day and afterschool in enrichment programs and clubs. In middle school teachers, students and parents communicate and collaborate around school work via the PowerSchool learning management system which is being rolled out in the lower grades this year.

Supporting Diverse Learners

CAIS has long been recognized as an intellectually challenging school, and as part of our current strategic vision we have endeavored to focus on improving support for a wide variety of learners. In recent years we have grown our student support team to three English speaking learning specialists, two Chinese language support specialists and two counselors, providing more support for more kids. The reading and writing workshop model mentioned above allows for a level of differentiation, meeting individual students where they are and providing them with what they need. These changes have correlated with a drop in the number of students who withdraw from the school from 8.3% to a five year average of 5.93% (that’s a 29% reduction). As a frame of reference, the median attrition rate for Independent K-8 schools in California over the same five year period is 8%.

The above is some of the progress our school has made that was guided by our strategic vision. I am grateful to the leadership of our board of trustees for their leadership and support in helping us to achieve so much. I am grateful for our faculty and staff who have been on the front lines, implementing changes on behalf of our students. I am grateful to you, our parents, for placing your confidence in us and supporting our endeavors on behalf of your children. And I am gratified to see the impact of our work on student learning and well-being. 

In my next communication, I look forward to addressing some of the questions that I think we will need to face in the next five years.

See you around the campus,   

Jeff