Latest Head of School Posts

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

January 06, 2012

"Embedding" in China: CAIS-SYA Beijing Academy

Dear CAIS Community,

On Wednesday evening, December 14, 2011 CAIS launched a major initiative to our Middle School families: CAIS-SYA Beijing Academy.  It is with a great deal of excitement and a genuine sense of pride that I announce this program to the entire CAIS community.
Program Overview
The CAIS-SYA Beijing Academy is a structured, three week academic program for all CAIS 7th grade students that will run in the spring, in partnership with School Year Abroad (SYA) and Beijing Normal University Sanfan Middle School.  During this inaugural year, students will receive three hours of intensive Chinese language instruction in small classes that are organized by proficiency level.  On Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday afternoons, students will engage in field projects outside of the classroom that will require them to use the language they have learned in the classroom, but in authentic contexts.  On Wednesdays and Saturdays students will participate on excursions in and around Beijing to places of cultural significance such as the Guangji Temple, the 798 Arts District or the Xing Zhi School for the Children of Migrant Workers.  Sundays will be spent with Chinese host families with whom students will live for the duration of the program.
Mission Consistent Program Objectives
The... » read more
November 30, 2011

CAIS's Mission: Walking the Walk

Dear CAIS Families,
On October 20, 2011, I sent a communication to the CAIS community entitled CAIS 2014—An Overview, in which I provided a broad outline of our school improvement process.  I identified five “Areas of Focus,” and promised to follow-up on each one.  I’d like to expand on one of these areas, “School Identity and Culture.”   One of our goals within this area was to adopt a new Mission Statement.  On November 22, the CAIS Board of trustees sent a communication to the community that explained the process by which we reviewed and adopted the Mission Statement below:
Embrace Chinese
Become your best self
Create your place in the world
I have re-posted the Board’s communication on my blog; you can read it by clicking on “Announcing CAIS’s Revised Mission Statement.”
Two other goals for the current school year that fall under “School Identity and Culture” are to: 
  • Develop a program to insure the community understands the new Mission
  • Unpack the Mission to determine program implications


I’d like to explain to you the process by which we will achieve these two goals.   I want to answer the questions: “What is ‘Mission’ and why does it matter?”  and “How can we ensure that daily life at CAIS is... » read more
October 20, 2011

CAIS 2014--An Overview

Dear Members of the CAIS Community,
This letter is the first in a series of communications in which I will share with you the integrated and strategic school improvement initiatives that CAIS is undertaking.
Our efforts began last year to create and maintain a culture of continuous school improvement that remains true to the spirit of our school’s visionary founders while preparing our children for the future that they will face.
Over a year ago I sent a letter to the community outlining a process for evaluating CAIS and improving the school program.  Subsequent communications from me have included the following diagram, which is a visual representation of the school improvement process at CAIS:
The initial stage of “Observation, Listening and Learning” was based on several sources, which include:
  • 2009-2010 Faculty survey;
  • 2009-2010 Parent Association survey:
  • 2008 Accreditation report;
  • 2009-2010 Chinese and English Program Review;
  • Individual “stakeholder meetings” with members of the faculty and staff;
  • Individual “stakeholder meetings ”with CAIS parents;
  • An array of various group meetings and observations;
  • Research and writing on best practices.


At the end of the first semester, I met with the faculty to discuss the things that I thought we had learned in the first half-year. Based on faculty feedback, I then hosted a community meeting at which I outlined the following five Areas of Focus where I believed the school needed to place its efforts and resources over the next three to... » read more
October 06, 2011

On Confucius, Character and Carp

In early June of 2009 I had the good fortune of being asked to speak at the high school graduation ceremony of the senior class of Western Academy of Beijing, a large international school where I served as board chair.  For me this was a special opportunity for a number of reasons.  One reason was that the ceremony was held at the Confucius Temple in central Beijing.  It also happened to be the first day of the  gāo kǎo 高考 that year–the national university entrance exam.  As I formulated my remarks to the class of 2009, I thought that the venue and the timing could not have been more fortuitous.

Just inside the entrance to the Confucius temple in Beijing there are rows and rows of enormous stone tablets, dating back to the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368).  The tablets are inscribed with the names and home towns of all the successful candidates on the kējǔ 科举—the highest level of exam in China’s imperial civil service examination system.  Those who succeeded on the kējǔ achieved the lifelong goal of all scholars in the Yuan, Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties—service in the imperial court.  The hard work, focus, dedication and perseverance displayed by these scholar officials have not been lost on modern day students preparing for the university entrance exam in China.  Each year before the exam, countless families make the pilgrimage to Confucius temples all over China and pray for good luck on the exam.  As I prepared my remarks for the the class of 2009 at the Confucius Temple, I drew my inspiration from the imperial scholars whose names were inscribed on the stone tablets just inside the temple’s gates, as well as from the Chinese high school seniors whose years of hard work and dedication were to be put to the test that day on the national university entrance exam.
Recently much... » read more

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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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