Remarks by Meredy Benson Rice, Head of School to parents at Back to School Night

Good evening and welcome…and thank you for coming out this evening.

As I think most of you know by now, my name is Meredy and as Head of School it has been my great pleasure in these first days of school to visit each class and meet over 200 children…Oak Grove Lizards big and small…some of the most delightful young people anyone would want under their care – so let me begin by thanking you, parents, for entrusting your children to us. I know we are all going to have a wonderful year.

Tonight you will have a chance to hear about upcoming events and ways that you can support Oak Grove School over the course of this next year and hopefully for years to come. You’ll also have an opportunity to check in with your child’s teachers in the classrooms. Our teachers, as I’m sure you know, are our greatest treasure here at Oak Grove and they are out there among you so I’d like to ask our faculty to please stand and identify yourselves.

I’d also like to draw your attention to some other important people you will want to be sure to recognize – our program directors: Adrienne Hoskins Muller, Director of Early Childhood Programs; Megan Bybee, Director of Elementary Programs, and Willem Zwart, Director of Secondary Programs – could you three please stand? These wonderful teacher/administrators are your go-to people should your questions reach beyond your child’s homeroom teacher or Class Advisor.

Finally, if you are parents of a child in K through 6, I’m sure you’ve heard the word that we have launched a wonderful After School Program this year that the kids are loving. Jeanette Berkovitz, Director of After School Program will be at the tables at the end to offer information and answer questions.

Continuing our commitment from last year to creating a caring community, once again, we ask all of you, as we also ask each other, and your children, to be mindful of the Communication Protocols outlined in the Parent/Student Handbook. And by the way, we really do ask that you read this!

It is truly a pleasure to be part of a community that has as one of its highest aims a commitment to open-minded communication. So as adults in the community, let us seek to be mindful in how we model communication for our children. How we speak, how we listen, how we attempt to reach understanding. Let’s ask questions, fact find, clarify when we “hear” things that concern or upset us. Let’s model our willingness to talk directly to one another when we have a concern or a problem. And let us encourage our children to do the same.

The language of our focus or theme this year is “connectedness” or “connections”. In the same way we explored last year questions around what it means to “care”… this year, we hope to explore questions around what it means to “connect”.

How are we connected to each other? How are we connected to this community of Oak Grove School? How is Oak Grove School connected to the larger community of Ojai? How are we connected to the world?

Already, this exploration, which began this summer with our faculty, has resulted in some wonderful new directions for the school. For example, in an effort to deepen our connections with the community of Ojai, we are reaching out to form mutually beneficial partnerships with other non-profits such as Ojai Foundation, Help of Ojai, Theater 150, and Ojai Youth Foundation.

We hope to broaden and deepen our community to “service” both on-campus and off-campus. Internally, we are working to strengthen the connections between grade levels. We are a small school, and as such, it is important that we get to know each other VERTICALLY as well as HORIZONTALLY.

So we are building on the tremendous success of last year’s All School Field Day to create more opportunities for vertical groupings – Lizard Groups – where all our students from Early Childhood to High School have an opportunity to interact and get to know one another. Some of you may have heard from your children today what fun we had dying our Lizard Group tee-shirts together this morning!

We plan to do more mini-groupings of grades; for example, during Peace Week (which you will hear more about from the teachers) our Secondary School – 7th through 12th – will be camping in the same vicinity so they can do some activities together. Our 4th, 5th, and 6th graders will be spending time together at the Ojai Foundation, and our Early Childhood through 3rd grade students will be participating in activities together here on campus.

We hope to group parent meetings together more frequently so you as parents get to know the parents on either side of your particular grade level. Tonight, for example, I encourage you to look around and see that this is OUR community…YOUR community…and in the spirit of connection, I hope you will reach out to parents both within the class of your child and also parents outside of that class. Another aspect of connection that I would like to speak to is our connection with our parent organization the Krishnamurti Foundation of America. At the end of my first year in this position, I am delighted to report that on both sides of the organization, we have made tremendous progress in “connecting” and by that I mean, working seamlessly together for the benefit of the whole. Please make sure you visit the table tonight that has information on KFA activities, Pine Cottage and The Pepper Tree Retreat. Troy Sumrall was appointed Chief Operations Officer at the end of last year and he has worked tirelessly to forge a strong working connection between the KFA and OGS. In addition, several new KFA trustees have been appointed, specifically with this strengthening toward the school in mind.

For example, Karen Hesli, former Director of OGS, as well as Leone Webster, parent of two OGS alums and long-standing supporter of OGS have been appointed to both the KFA Board and the OGS Board. Leone had hoped to be here tonight to speak but was unfortunately called away at the last minute. However, on her behalf, I would like to say that her presence as both a full KFA Trustee plus her new role as Chair of the Oak Grove School Board will create a “connection” at the governance level of the school that will truly make a difference.

Finally, in the spirit of “connections”, prior to beginning school we sat down together – Admissions, Development, Parent Forum, and Faculty – to see how we can connect and thereby leverage our school events for the benefit of the whole school and the outcome of these “connections” is very exciting…

Mark your calendars for Saturday November 7th when we will launch our first All School Showcase and Open House – where current students can showcase to their family and friends the wonderful work they do in the classroom, where we can invite our special friends and grandparents to share, and where we can open our doors to the public so prospective families can take a peek at who we are and why this is such a wonderful school to be part of.

We are a small school and as such we are challenged and stretched to meet our mission with limited resources. Personally, I think it is an exciting and wonderful challenge. Because it is not through the “bells and whistles” of plenty or excess that we thrive but through our connections and our commitment to each other that our school is sustained.

If it takes a village, we will be that village by connecting. We have the most wonderful school: what we jokingly refer to as “the best non-competitive school in the valley”. Primarily, its wonderfulness is derived from the beautiful children you entrust to our care – so thank you again for them.