September 28, 2017

A New Head of School for Friends

Honor Taft, our Head-Elect
By now, you have heard the news that Friends School’s Community Board has named Honor Taft as our next head of school, to begin on July 1, 2018.  If you missed the announcement, you can read it here.

I am tremendously excited by this news.  I am confident that Honor is the best person to take the helm at Friends and I look forward to working with her to assure the best transition of leadership possible. 

Honor’s background at both Bank Street College of Education and The Klingenstein Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College, both in New York City, give her the finest education and training for headship in a progressive, child-centered school like ours.  She has extensive leadership experience in multiple roles in independent schools and she has already told me how thrilled she is to have been selected as our next head of school.

Honor, as well as other finalist candidates, spent two full days at our school.  Over those days, she met with the Community Board and with a number of search support committees, our teachers and staff, parents, students, and alumni.  Many members of our community, myself included, spent a brief amount of time with her.

However, our Search Committee has been working diligently since last spring preparing for this moment.  They have put in countless hours in reading applications and resumes, holding interviews, reflecting, conducting research, debating, making reference calls, and making sure that Friends left no stoned unturned in finding the best new head.

On behalf of the entire Friends School community, I would like to extend my deep appreciation for the unseen and dedicated work of our search committee, ably led by Board Chair Elizabeth Henna.  They are Maureen Espinoza, Diane Hullet, Anne Hunter, Mindy Mullins, Howard Rubin, Chris Wirth, Liz Richards, Jessie Vanden Hogen, Erika Norman, Meg Hansen, and our Founder Trustees Bev Cole, Larry Gold, and Hope Morrissett.

We also owe gratitude to our search consultants from the firm Carney Sandoe & Associates who guided our process to this excellent conclusion: Jake Dresden and Ben Bolté. Many groups and individuals deserve thanks for their participation in this process, and Elizabeth Henna expresses those thanks in her earlier letter to the community.

While the search committee did the bulk of the heavy lifting, it is ultimately our Community Board who had the final vote on selecting the new head of school.  The fact that the vote was unanimous speaks volumes for our community’s faith that Honor is indeed the best person for the job.

Now that we know the identity of our next head, it becomes our collective responsibility to make sure Honor is successful in her new role.  I am very much looking forward to connecting frequently with Honor in the coming months to pass on my knowledge and understanding of Friends School, and I will remain available to her even after formally passing the torch.  We have already been in touch.

Trustee Jenefer Donovan will lead the school’s Head Transition Committee.  Jenny has rich experience in independent school governance and will lead a fantastic team in planning and achieving as smooth a transition as possible.  Working alongside Jenny and her team, I will do all that I can to create a seamless handoff.

In the meantime, there is still plenty to do, and many months ahead, for me to work with the staff, teachers and trustees, and of course our students, to ensure our school remains a happy and connected place of learning, moving forward, and fulfilling our goals for the year ahead.

The future of Friends School is in great hands. 

September 21, 2017

Science, Bike Racing, Photography, Massage – He’s Done It All!

Kevin Nugent, in a 7th grade science lab class this week
One of the unique aspects of my job is that I get to spend part of most days on each of our campuses. Perhaps more than most of my colleagues, I am lucky enough to witness first hand all of the amazing learning happening at Friends in all four of our programs: preschool, elementary, middle school, and teacher preparation.

Many of you on our South Campus do not yet know Kevin Nugent, one of our middle school teachers.  His is a fascinating story to tell. Very few of our teachers have the following on their resumés: 

  • professional bike racer
  • massage therapist
  • professional photographer
  • HTML coder/web page designer
  • dermatology research assistant
  • science teacher
  • and stay-at-home dad!
All that, and last year Kevin won the Outstanding Teacher Award at the 2016 Front Range Regional Science Fair.

He presents annual workshops at GESTEM (Girls Exploring Science Technology Engineering and Math). One of his projects involves harvesting DNA from cheek cells, isolating it and creating DNA necklaces from pipettes! He has run botany/ecology-based camps for low income elementary and middle school students at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal wildlife refuge and has enjoyed being a Big Brother mentor to the same person for the last 23 years!

In addition to his full-time teaching work, Kevin has also taught at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science where he created a professional development program for elementary teachers (funded by the Colorado School of Mines) on the neurologic benefits of integrating movement-based learning to improve classroom outcomes.

And now, for the second year, he is our middle school science and homeroom teacher.

With a resumé like his, Kevin came to teaching relatively late, in his late thirties.  An eleven-year veteran now, he is thrilled to be part of the pioneer teaching team at Friends middle school.

Every day, I see him with our middle school students and I appreciate how much he truly loves teaching this age group. He simply ‘gets’ their energy, thinking, humor, and individuality. He helps each of his students explore their passions while preparing them for the academic, social and emotional opportunities that lie ahead as they continue their journey beyond our classrooms. As their teacher, he sees each student, not only academically, but as a dynamic, perpetually changing and evolving person.

Kevin graduated from Colorado State University with a Bachelor of Arts in Speech Communication. Since then he has followed what you might say is a non-linear vocational and personal path.

As an eager bike racer, Kevin endured being teased in middle and high school about his shaved legs and irregular tan lines! He went to the mountain biking world championships in Mammoth Mountain, California before switching to racing road bikes in college.  He did not turn professional initially in the hopes of competing at the Olympic trials.  He also fell in love with track racing.  Kevin still commutes on his bike to our north Boulder campus from his home in central Denver.  While he often combines his bike ride with the bus, he has been known to ride all the way home.  Just last school year alone, Kevin clocked 3,600 commuter miles getting to Friends middle school! No small feat!

Kevin’s students experience him as passionate, knowledgeable teacher who has boundless energy.  Kevin is dedicated to Friends, telling me that he is proud to be part of the team that originated our
new middle school program last year and he is thrilled to be continuing to help grow it this year. He is in love with our school philosophy of knowing and teaching to the whole child and he appreciates being given the flexibility to use his diverse background and expertise to cultivate individual relationships with each learner.

As well as an obviously keen cyclist, Kevin loves high altitude mountaineering, snowboarding, camping, chess, all things technology, learning to play the guitar, in-line skate racing, and photography (he still maintains his professional studio in Denver). 

He is an all-go kind of guy, and we’re fortunate to have his energy on our middle school team. 

September 14, 2017

Friends is a Leader in Technological Learning

5th grade students build racing chariots from Sphero robots. 6th graders create security systems for their lockers from Little Bits components. 3rd grade students use a design process to identify problems and innovate solutions using Google SketchUp. 

7th graders construct rubber-band powered cars utilizing the 3D printer in the Maker Space at our North Campus. 1st graders develop and test solutions on Kodable and during their Hour of Code.  Middle schoolers research the origins of the minerals used in computer parts and study the impact on the local communities, as well as designing and building their own electronic circuits.

In both our middle and elementary schools, students have been pushing the bounds of their learning in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math.)

Our talented technology teachers, Librarian deana harragarra waters in the elementary school and Director of Technology Stephen Butler in the middle school, inspire our students every day with an ever-evolving curriculum that stays current with the times.  Through PLNs (Personal Learning Networks) and keeping up with latest research, our teachers ensure that Friends School’s technology curriculum is ahead of the curve.

The goals of our technology courses are broad and deep, preparing students for high school, college and professional careers that await them, careers that may not yet exist. We want our students to be informed global and digital citizens, creative problem solvers, constructors of knowledge and meaning, design solution innovators, outstanding communicators, and thoughtful collaborators.

“Over the past 100 years, literally thousands of studies have shown benefits from the use of technology, while others report higher achievement with classroom instruction, and even more result in “no significant difference.” I, like others, believe that such mixed results reveal that the design of instruction makes the difference in learning, not the medium used to deliver the instruction. The question is no longer if technology
enhances learning, but rather how do we improve our use of technology to enhance learning?”
- Atsusi Hirumi, PhD
Associate Professor, University of Central Florida

That final question drives our instruction.  How do we at Friends improve our use of technology to improve learning? Meeting or exceeding ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) standards, Stephen and deana support their students in leveraging technology in choosing, achieving and demonstrating competency in STEM.

With enough iPads and laptops in the middle school for every student and, in the elementary building our iPad cart of 20 devices, enough for every class, and 12 computers in our library-based computer
deana harragarra waters
lab, as well as a growing arsenal of robotics kits and coding tools, Friends School is well equipped to remain on the cutting edge of technological learning.

Resources used in our technology classrooms include, but are not limited to:
Stephen Butler
Kahoot, Sumdog, Brain Pop, NoREDInk, Starfall, Follett Destiny Discover, Biblionasium, Google Classroom, Kid Blog, Google Be Internet Awesome, ReadWriteThink, Internet Library for Kids, Google SketchUp, Scratch, Hour of Code, Kodable, Google CS First, Keynote, iBook, Doogle Draw, Android Yourself, Storybird, Canva, Padlet, AutoDraw, Lego WeDo, Sphero, Cubelets, and more…..

Our students are challenged to create, to make, to invent and to problem solve in a wide range of modalities that spark their creativity and interest. Thank you to deana and Stephen for their expertise, passion and leadership for our school. 

September 7, 2017

Meet Fe – Welcome Home!

We have a new face at the front door of the elementary school.  New, but not really.

All of our elementary families, and many of our other families, have now met Fe (pronounced “Fay”) Baran who began last month as our front desk coordinator.  And if you haven’t connected with Fe yet, please stop by the elementary building and introduce yourself.

This is not Fe’s first tour of duty with Friends School. Her two children have now flown the nest as college students.  Lucy started at Friends as a Kindergartner and is now a junior at Mills College in Oakland.   Brewer, who went through Friends School from preschool to 5th grade, is a freshman at Columbia College in Chicago, Fe’s hometown.  Fe is also the aunt of current Friends 7th grader Tanner.

As a parent, Fe was a volunteer-supreme for our community.  At various moments, she was the Parent Council co-Chair, she co-chaired the school’s annual auction, she produced the yearbook, chaired and helped organize Parent Work Day, volunteered in the classroom, and drove on countless field trips.  This was a time Fe likes to call the ‘unpaid years’!  Now she is back, on the payroll, and extremely happy to serve as the face and voice of Friends School.

Brewer, Lucy and Fe during their early years at Friends
Fe and her husband Mark chose Friends for their children for many reasons.  As they toured our
school for the very first time, they were struck by how aesthetically pleasing the campus was, how much art they saw everywhere, and the celebration of childhood that was evident throughout. It felt like home.

Fifteen years after that first impression, Fe is back helping to create the same warm welcoming atmosphere for today’s families and visitors.

Fe says that Friends has been and continues to be a second family for her.  The teachers, parents and staff who were here when Brewer and Lucy attended Friends (many of whom are still here!) were her village who helped her and Mark raise their kids.

Fe was born and raised in Chicago, under the shadows of Wrigley Field, home to her beloved Cubbies.  Last year, of course, was a huge one for a lifelong Cubs fan when the team finally won the World Series after 108 years!  She followed her two older siblings to CU as an undergraduate studying biology, and never left Boulder. It is Chief Niwot’s curse, she reminds me.

Mark and Fe's company 'Distinctive Threads' donated
our 30th Anniversary shirts to the whole staff!
After her children graduated to middle school, Fe began volunteering at Platt and soon was hired on as a part-time registrar, and then as a health room and school support assistant. She also worked for Starfall Education Foundation, a resource created to help children learn to read.

Now back at Friends School, she has returned home and is having so much fun! She notices the same core values at the school that were here fifteen years ago: the small class sizes, the importance of teachers knowing children deeply, the focus on social and emotional learning, the great feeling of community.  In addition to all of that, she also remarks that, over the years, Friends has developed into even more of a streamlined and professional operation.

The supportive and inspiring teachers and staff at Friends helped Fe and Mark raise their children.  Fe is excited and honored to be back so that she can return that favor to our children and families today.

We are excited and honored that she is back. Welcome home, Fe!