Latest Head of School Posts

January 30, 2017

Education and Politics: Citizenship, Not Partisanship

On Friday, January 27, not long after all our kids had been picked up from the Mass Greeting celebration, President Trump signed an executive order that indefinitely barred Syrian refugees from entering the United States, suspended all refugee admissions for 120 days and blocked citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, refugees or otherwise, from entering the United States for 90 days. Since that time protests have broken out at airports around the country, and a legal challenge to parts of the executive order has been sustained. This morning, Sunday, I find myself wondering, “what is our role, as parents and educators, in the face of all this?” I’d like to share some of my thoughts.

Over a year ago, in December of 2015, I read a piece in The Washington Post comparing the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to then candidate Donald Trump’s call for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States. Is this a valid comparison? In 1882 the United States Congress passed, and the President of the United States signed into law, the Chinese Exclusion Act, prohibiting Chinese laborers from immigrating to the United States. Successive federal laws made Chinese immigration to the US increasingly exclusive until its repeal some 61 years later in 1943 when China became an ally to the US in its fight against Japan in WWII. However, Chinese immigrants still faced restrictive quotas for more than two more decades. It was not until 2012 that both houses of the US legislature passed a resolution expressing regret, “for the passage of laws that adversely affected the Chinese in the United States, including the Chinese Exclusion Act.”

Here at ... » read more

January 26, 2017

Bringing Us All Together

Mass Greeting knits together the CAIS CommunityWe are approaching the biggest holiday of the year in China and in many other parts of Asia—the Lunar New Year or Spring Festival, as it is sometimes called. This holiday is steeped in traditions, some hundreds—perhaps thousands—of years old and some more recent.  Many Lunar New Year traditions are tied to different geographical and cultural regions. China is massive and has at times throughout history been divided into separate states and kingdoms, with separate governments, separate languages (sometimes called dialects) and wildly different cultures. In fact, to speak of “Chinese culture”, “Chinese food” or “Chinese language” is a massive oversimplification. China has at times in its history been as varied and diverse as Europe, which also was considered to be a single, unified empire at various times.

If you ever have the chance to converse with two or more CAIS parents who immigrated from different regions of China, ask them to say something in their local dialect, or talk about the differences in food or the way they celebrated holidays in their different regions. You’ll be surprised at the diversity of experiences. Aren’t we lucky, as a school, to have all these different traditions represented among our parent and grandparent body? Thank goodness for immigration; it is one of the things that makes our country strong!

At CAIS, our local tradition for celebrating the Lunar New Year is Mass Greeting or tuánbài 团拜.  I lived in China for 15 years and never once heard of anyone celebrating tuánbài. When I first heard about it at CAIS, I... » read more

September 28, 2016

The Best Way to Honor Confucius and Teachers' Day

Today, September 28, is supposedly Confucius’s birthday (his 2,567th, according to historical accounts). September 28 is also celebrated as teachers’ day in Taiwan, the native place of many of our CAIS employees and families. The connection between the two occasions makes sense, as Confucius was first and foremost a teacher. Over the years, I have written a lot about Confucius and Confucianism to the CAIS community (some would say ad nauseum). For those of you who are interested, many of these writings are archived here (you’ll need to scroll through the titles).

This year, in celebration of the birthday of China’s first sage, I want to reflect on a passage from the Analects of Confucius that is among my favorites:




Sān rén xíng bì yŏu wŭ shī yān;

zé qí shàn zhĕ ér cóng zhī;

qí bù shàn zhĕ ér găi zhī.

When walking with others I am bound to learn from them as my teachers;

I will select their good qualities and follow them;

Their bad qualities and correct them in myself.

I like this passage, as it reminds me that whomever I am with, I can always learn something new and valuable from them—just so long as I keep an open mind. This is particularly true (perhaps exclusively true) when I am with others whose points of view are new to me or differ from my own. On the flip side, if I am walking with others whose experiences and thinking are similar to mine, then I probably won’t be pushed to learn much. In other words, I can become cognitively lazy.

I’m guessing Confucius would have... » read more

September 15, 2016

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival

I would like to begin my almost annual missive about the Mid-Autumn Festival (Zhōng qiū jié 中秋节) with a shout out to our beloved, veteran FSA Co-chair Rose Valencia-Tow. Wednesday morning, Rose and I were discussing the FSA sponsored Back to School Potluck/Mid-Autumn Moon Festival extravaganza coming up this Saturday. I was saying to Rose that over the years, I had written just about everything I could think of about the Mid-Autumn Festival, and I was out of ideas. Rose said she thought there was still a desire and need for information about the meaning of the holiday. I thought: Rose is right, I probably shouldn’t assume that simply because I sent an email blast in 2012 talking about the harvest and mooncakes that it had somehow become part of our shared body of knowledge. Duh, Jeff! This is what I sometimes call a BFO—a blinding flash of the obvious. So thanks, Rose, for setting me on the best course. It isn’t the first time and (I hope) it won’t be the last.

Most everyone likes recycling. Reuse is even better. So I am going to indulge my inner lazy person and recycle some of the things I’ve written over the past years that best explains my understanding of the Mid-Autumn Festival. I would also suggest, as I often do, that one of the best and most heartfelt sources of information about this and other cultural traditions is our own community; we have hundreds (literally) of families and staff members at CAIS who have personal memories of celebrating the festival with their families and friends. Consult a local expert! If you are a local expert, then share stories with someone who isn’t, or even with someone who is—everyone’s experience is unique. Our community is an awesome resource.... » read more

September 02, 2016

Spoiler Alert: Smooth Start to School

Checking in on the first day of school at ECDEvery year, at the end of the first day of school I am asked repeatedly by teachers and parents, “So, did the first day go smoothly?” There are two short answers to this question. The first is, “Smoothly.” I’ll get to the second answer in a minute.

I suspected things would run smoothly Wednesday when I walked to school that morning. There are nine traffic lights between my home and the Oak campus, and I didn’t have to stop and wait at a single light; they were all green. Smooth! I’ve walked this route hundreds of times, and I can’t remember ever hitting nine green lights in a row before. And then this happened: as I walked between our campuses on Oak, Waller, and Turk on Wednesday morning, my luck continued. I swear on a stack of the Analects of Confucius that all the lights were green when I reached them, every last one. I went onto Google Maps and counted the intersections. I crossed 27 intersections with traffic lights, and I did not hit a single red light. Twenty seven! What are the odds? I have told a few people about this, and most of them have remarked, “You should have bought lottery tickets!” Indeed, why didn’t I think of that?

As I shuffled, obstacle-less, between Waller, Oak, and Turk, my experience of ease and convenience was, in fact, pretty much mirrored by everything I encountered on the three campuses; everything was running smoothly, very smoothly in fact. Happy kids. Happy teachers. Happy parents. Middle School Director Joe Williamson said this was his 28th first day of school, and it was the smoothest one yet. This did not really surprised me. Think about it: every family in our community wants... » read more

February 04, 2016

A Happy...Authentic...Lunar New Year

These days, when someone mentions Coldplay and Beyonce, most of us think about this Sunday’s Super Bowl halftime show, just down the road at Levi’s Stadium. But the other day, I heard a piece on NPR’s Morning Edition about the most recent Coldplay and Beyonce music video for the tune “Hymn for the Weekend” filmed in India. The video is aesthetically stunning, but the NPR piece drew attention to the gratuitous caricature of Indian culture; it contains every cliche you could imagine, all completely out of context. This is what the late Edward Said caustically termed “orientalism,” the West’s sometimes shallow, romanticized perceptions and fictional depictions of “The East.”

Fifth grader Lauren K.’s artwork featured on the Mass Greeting programAs a school that is dedicated to embracing a foreign language and culture, we need to not fall into this trap. Uncontextualized and constructed representations of Chinese (or any) culture have a limited shelf life. Deep dives into kite-making, qipao dresses, dragons or Peking opera masks, for instance, are potentially interesting and enlightening if taken in the broader context of Chinese culture. But more often than not, in isolation they just become... » read more

September 24, 2015

Happy Mid Autumn Festival, Confucius's Birthday, and Teachers' Day

In many cultures there are lucky numbers. By now most of us know that in Chinese culture,eight (bā 八) is lucky (think: “888 middle school campus”). In English, the number three frequently has a positive association. Good things come in threes. Three’s the charm. The triple crown. Trifecta. “ABC, easy as 1-2-3.” And so on. So let’s, for a moment, embrace the American in Chinese American and run with the number three.

We are coming up on the celebration of not one, not two, but three celebrations at CAIS. This Saturday, September 27 is the Chinese Mid Autumn Festival (zhōng qiū jié 中秋节), sometimes called the Moon Festival in the west. Monday, September 28 marks the 2566th birthday of the Chinese humanist philosopher Confucius. Because of Confucius’s reputation as a great teacher and advocate of education as a necessary ingredient in world peace, September 28 is also celebrated as Teachers’ Day in Taiwan—a tradition that we have followed for many years at CAIS. We will celebrate it this year on Monday, September 28 as well.

This trifecta of important observances has not been lost on the CAIS parents who make up our Family School Alliance (FSA) board. Accordingly, they are living their community-building mission by holding the annual Back-to-School Picnic to coincide with the Mid Autumn Festival, Confucius’s Birthday, and Teachers Day. I urge you to join your friends from the CAIS community in this great school tradition. Click... » read more

April 05, 2015

Eighth Graders on the Tibetan Plateau

As part of CAIS’s “Authentic International Learning” strategic initiative, each year we send around 100 students to China and Taiwan for intensive, language-and-culture-focused educational experiences. One such experience is the 8th grade journey to the Tibetan plateau. This year, for two-weeks in April, CAIS International Programs Director Jonas Crimm led 19 8th grade students to areas of Qinghai and Gansu provinces where Jonas lived and worked for three years with local Tibetan populations. He was assisted by trip leaders Alice Woodman-Russell (7th/8th grade social studies teacher) and Debbie Talbot (PE teacher and athletic director). My words cannot begin to capture the richness of this trip for our students, so I am re-posting all the trip blog entries from Jonas, Alice and Debbie. This is a long read, and absolutely worth the time. Enjoy!
8th Grade Trip 2015: Arrival in Xining!
April 05, 2015
Nineteen CAIS 8th graders arrived in Xining yesterday after a multi-day journey from San Francisco. Despite the exhausting duration of the travel, the students were in great spirits and energy upon arrival, immediately venturing forth from the hostel to visit nearby small shops in search of various snacks and drinks.... » read more
October 10, 2012

Creating a Vision for the Future

Dear CAIS Community,

On September 7, 2012, CAIS Board Chair Susan Cheng wrote to the community stating that,
Last year, the board led the community through a re-examination of the mission of the school which led to our revised mission statement. This year, the board will work with the faculty, administration and other stakeholder groups to set forth a vision of CAIS for the next five to 10 years—no longer asking “why we exist” but “how we deliver our mission” and “what we will look like” in the process. 
Standing on thirty years of history, we can look forward with confidence and pride.  We have a renewed mission, a supportive and cohesive community, and a strong and committed faculty and staff.  Our financial position is strong, enrollment is high, and admissions numbers are robust.  Our profile in the Bay Area and nationally is on the rise. 
We are in an excellent position to look forward with confidence and think strategically about the most important issues facing the school over the next five years.  What are our challenges, what are our opportunities, and what should our “best self” look like five years from now?  Should enrollment continue to grow?  What facilities requirements must we meet in order to support our educational program?  What will our Chinese English dual language immersion curriculum look like?  How do we integrate technology to improve teaching and learning?  Are there additional opportunities with Chinese partner schools that we should pursue?  How do we define success for our students and for our programs?  How can we maximize the chance for student success?  How do we continue to attract, develop and retain great teachers?
September 10, 2012

SEL: Free the Heart and the Mind Will Follow

All students bring their feelings to the classroom, and smart teachers have always acknowledged the social and emotional lives of their students, knowing that when students feel good in their hearts and bodies, their minds will naturally follow.
(From Education Nation: Seven Leading Edges of Innovation in Our Schools, by Dr Milton Chen, Senior Fellow at the George Lucas Education Foundation)

Dear CAIS Community,

We are excited to be introducing into the Lower School this year a formal social-emotional learning (SEL) program called THE TOOLBOX PROJECT. The Lower School faculty student welfare committee, under the guidance of our counselor Linda Mackay, chose this particular curriculum after much research and review first, because it allows for skill building in the core SEL competency areas: self awareness and self management, social awareness and relationship skills, responsible decision making. Second, because of the simplicity and elegance of this curriculum, it will allow us to develop a common SEL language throughout the Lower School—in English and Chinese classes, in specialist classes, at lunch and recess—to guide our students in understanding themselves and in empathizing and getting along with others. These are skills that have been identified as being as important to success in life as academic skills and are in line with the CAIS mission to “...
» read more

More recent posts

The new Oak Playground is a great mirror for the start of school swirl September 07, 2018

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

Dear CAIS Community, Many 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,... » read more
Mass Greeting Lion Dance February 14, 2018

Chinese New Year Memories: Here’s Mine, Please Share Yours

I’ve frequently said that I came to CAIS for the program, and I’ve stayed because of the community. What makes any community special is the relationships, and strong relationships are, I believe, based on understanding each other’s stories. In that spirit, and on this week’s special occasion, I... » read more
October 04, 2017

Happy Mid Autumn Festival

I am an early riser, and, on the morning of September 18, looking from the City toward the East Bay, the spectacular astronomical phenomenon known as the star and crescent* was visible from my dining room window. Tonight if you look at the moon, it will be full. It’s the 15th day of the... » read more
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