March 18, 2020

Dear Friends,

One of the benefits of community is that we may be there for each other in challenging times. Clearly this is one of those moments. As Board Members and stewards of the school, we applaud and respect our administration’s commitment to the health and safety of students and staff while maintaining focus upon providing students with quality education. Teachers have been working diligently to create content and provide distance learning experiences which will continue to meet grade-appropriate learning objectives. The administration has been actively monitoring updates from CAIS, NAIS, WHO, CDC, and with fellow schools in our educational community to ensure that Oak Grove is making thoughtful and responsible decisions often based upon ever-shifting information and an uncertain future. The Board of Trustees stands with them in their efforts with every appreciation for the challenging decisions and Herculean efforts necessary to adapt to challenge and change.

Please be assured that the Board will continue to remain in close communication with the Head of School, Jodi Grass, to monitor the situation as it evolves. As always, all decisions will continue to be made based upon the best interests of our students and the greater community. Being quite aware that distance learning, particularly in younger grades, depends on the role of parent as teacher, we acknowledge that families are an important partner in our work and we send out every appreciation and blessing to each of you who are working together and with the school to support, foster, and enhance learning. In this way we model for our children how a caring community adapts to adversity while reinforcing that great lessons often come in times of great challenge.

We hope that this finds you and your loved ones well and thank you for your understanding and cooperation as this situation unfolds.

Yours in Community,
Oak Grove School Board

Today, we welcome five administrators from other California independent schools, including Lick-Wilmerding High School, Presidio Knolls School, Westridge School for Girls, Village Christian School, and Trinity School. They are our Accreditation Visiting Committee, and they will be with us through Wednesday.

Oak Grove has a dual accreditation through the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) as well as the California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS). If you don’t already know how this works, an independent school, through an in-depth review process, is granted one-, three-, or seven-year accreditation status. The process begins with a 12-month self-study, which is broken into 16 chapters covering all aspects of the school, including curriculum, climate, finances, physical plant, human resources, administration, safety, and so much more. 

This is an amazing opportunity. This process assists us in reviewing what we say we do against what we actually do. Talk about mirrors! Even though seven years is the longest accreditation stretch offered through WASC/CAIS, Oak Grove is currently in our eighth year. We were supposed to be reviewed last year. However, on a glorious Saturday morning in 2018, I was sitting at my kitchen island replying to emails, and in popped a message from CAIS Accreditation Director, Mariana Robles. She explained that there were twice as many schools up for accreditation than usual and, since Oak Grove was in good standing, questioned if we would be open to pushing our self-study one more year. 

This was the quickest email I have ever written; I couldn’t reply fast enough! Within a couple of moments, Mariana replied back with, “Wow! That was a quick response! Thank you, Jodi, for being willing to help.” Ha! 

Beginning in January 2019, we began working intensely on our self-study, which included 93 committee members and a 12-month timeline. The self-study itself included 85 questions to be answered, along with oodles of “evidence” like financial data, enrollment and retention numbers, proof of best practices, curriculum scope and sequence, parent handbook, emergency procedures, teacher guidelines, on and on. 

One of the questions in the Education Program section asks, “Taking into account the future world in which the school anticipates that its students will be living, describe how the curriculum is informed by that vision.” This one is particularly interesting to me. Here’s why. Research strongly suggests that current employers and world leaders are looking for people who can solve complex problems with an ability to negotiate on a global level, often through conflicting cultural, social, and political ideology. People must have the ability to synthesize discordant ideas because the world’s interdependence is rapidly narrowing and these are skills that cannot be performed by a computer.  

Oak Grove’s academic program emphasizes critical and creative thinking to solve complex problems; the ability to collaborate with others, which requires clear communication, flexibility, cultural sensitivity, and deep listening skills. Throughout Oak Grove’s curricular and co-curricular programs, which are outlined in the Arts of Living and Learning, we incorporate a climate of inquiry, self-reflection, understanding through relationship, aesthetics, attention, metacognition, citizenship, and environmental stewardship.

The truth is, however, that Oak Grove is not focused on simply preparing our students for the world they will someday inhabit. We are honoring them as they are today in the world in which they live now. Yet perhaps most importantly, we are preparing our students to change that world for the better – not just for humans, but for all the world’s inhabitants. We already see this with our alums, like the ones highlighted in our many publications and the ones who are now Oak Grove parents and members of the faculty.

Krishnamurti once said, “A school, through its students, should bring a blessing to the world.”  This is a radical idea, and at its core, Oak Grove is a radical school. Aristotle talks about living a eudaimonic life, which is living a life of virtue and excellence, living our highest self. This might be similar to what Krishnamurti referred to as “flowering in goodness.” 

What is most significant about this concept isn’t the benefit to oneself, but how living this way is a benefit to others and therefore initiates an endless cycle of reciprocity. In many ways, in living life in this way, one is bringing a blessing to the world and therefore receiving this blessing.

Let’s enjoy this opportunity to share the vibrant learning of both student and teacher here at Oak Grove against the backdrop of beauty and serenity on our campus. 

Oak Grove alumni are just as much a part of our community now as they were when they attended Oak Grove School. Each month we focus on one, keeping up to date with their current adventures in life.

Here is a growing list of our recently formed Alum Focus pages, listed in order of date posted.

 

Mary Eliza Gilden began her schooling at Oak Grove in 1989 and graduated in 1996. She then went on to obtain a BA in Dance, Performance, and Choreography from San Francisco State University. Later she pursued an MA in Clinical Psychology at Antioch University. Mary lives in Durango, Colorado, with her husband and two beautiful daughters. Besides being a mom, Mary is an Early Childhood Mental Health Specialist. Her passions are varied, including dance, travel, reading, gardening, cooking, and anything involving being outside.

Of her Oak Grove education, Mary says:

I reflect often on my time at Oak Grove and am reminded of the importance of relationship and how our relationships (to others, to ourselves and our lives) have a rippling effect into our community and our world. I am grateful that through the teachings of Oak Grove my relationships are founded and nurtured through kindness, respect, and compassion.”

View the list of Alum Focus posts.

Each Kindergarten student is taking a turn sharing a word that sums up their inward feeling. We are seated on meditation pillows on the floor of the Reflective Classroom. Some students have difficulty choosing just one word, “Happy, calm, and silly… well, just happy!” Another shares decisively without hesitation, “Sad.” My heart sinks a little. As we make our way around the circle, one child puts her hands on her heart, looks to the sky, and gently proclaims, “Wind.” Remarkable.

As I make my way through each classroom setting, I am sometimes invited to participate in a lesson, but for the most part, my role is to observe without engagement. I silently sit or move about the room as if hidden. The students indulge this intrusion and often seem happy to see me arrive. After a few moments, however, the students and teachers quickly settle back into the work at hand.

A few months ago, a particularly skilled host in the first grade brought me his chair and a book about sea life. He explained, “I actually like to stand at my desk. You will really enjoy this book.”

This past Friday morning, I watched as the High School Geometry class participated in an applied math lesson on indirect measure. Students fanned out across the east side of the campus to calculate the height of objects too high to measure by hand. Sitting back to enjoy the students’ soft laughter and active engagement was the perfect way to begin the day.

Watching second graders using manipulatives and working in pairs to count by 2s, 5s, and 10s, I witness firsthand the complex integration of academic learning and social development — the negotiation of taking turns, practicing listening, not being included, and not including.

To witness the vibrant learning of both student and teacher against the backdrop of beauty and serenity on our campus never seems ordinary to me.

I want him to be good at academics, otherwise present society will see that he’s destroyed. Right? So, please give me that first. Right? Then, I say to you, make him more… You follow? something much more than becoming a BA, PhD, and all that nonsense. He must have all that nonsense, but make him something much more. Can you? That’s all my question. Help him to become a holistic human being.”

— Krishnamurti
“First Dialogue with Teachers at Rishi Valley”
1985

Jay Jayanetti joined Oak Grove School in 3rd grade back in 1988 and graduated in 1998. He went on to obtain his B.S. in Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior (NPB) with a minor in Studio Art from University of California, Davis. Jay subsequently obtained his Doctorate of Dental Surgery (DDS) and Specialty Certificate in Prosthodontics from UC San Francisco. Heading east, he then obtained a Specialty Certificate in Maxillofacial Prosthetics from University of Alabama, Birmingham. (Maxillofacial prosthodontists treat patients who have acquired defects in the head and neck region usually due to cancer, surgery, trauma, and/or birth defects.)

Jay spent five years working as a Clinical Assistant Professor of Prosthodontics, first at UCSF School of Dentistry and the University of the Pacific School of Dentistry before joining Louisiana State University in the same capacity. At LSU School of Dentistry, Jay was awarded the “Golden Apple” Excellence in Teaching Award in 2014.

Last year Jay was thrilled to return to California. He is currently the UCLA Associate Program Director of Maxillofacial Prosthetics and Clinical Assistant Professor in the Division of Advanced Prosthodontics.

Asked if or how his Oak Grove education remains important to him, Jay responded:

I don’t subscribe to supernatural powers. Instead, I am a naturalist in my thinking. Therefore I know that I am a product of my genetic material and my upbringing, the latter of which was to a great degree influenced by the faculty and staff and friends that are the fabric of the Oak Grove School community. To that end I know that I am fond of my time in Ojai and at OGS. I love reminiscing about these past chapters in my life, and when I’m in Ojai, I’m drawn to the campus for a quiet stroll through the wood chip paths. I usually take a moment to sit on a boulder under an oak tree, and without trying I hear the voices of those that shared with me a piece of themselves: Karen, Vicky, Darcy, Theresa, Don, Jake, Issa, Karen, Jeff, Jeff O., Liz, Posy, Gabe, Larry, Laura, Irmgard, Christy, Meredy…”

View the list of Alum Focus posts.

Seven and a half years ago, I started my first day of teaching at Oak Grove School. I had spent the summer lesson planning, figuring out how to adjust from teaching 40 students a class to teaching 12 to 16. As 8:00am approached, I put on my game face, ready to show the kids that I was a force that should not be trifled with.

As the students filed in, I said in my most stentorian voice, “My name is Mister umm Will, and I am going to start with my expectations for the class, which are EXTENSIVE. I began rattling off my policies on tardiness, food in the classroom, punctuality, ad nauseam. Had I looked up from my notes, I might have noticed a bemused expression on the students’ faces. However, my lecture was interrupted by a student who burst through the door with a haggard expression on his face. He announced, “I am so sorry. I ran over a squirrel on my way to school and I had to stop and think about that for a while.”

This stopped me in my tracks. I paused to consider how to proceed. My professional instincts and training urged me to continue with my lecture, knowing that one can only fit so much curriculum into my 181 days of instruction. However, another part of my brain started prodding me in another direction. This inquiring, curious part of my brain had atrophied in recent years, and it begged for some exercise. So I turned to the student. A small smile started to crack the facade of my game face and I asked: “So after you hit that squirrel, what did you think about?” So, we spent the first day of US history class engaged in a free-ranging discussion on death, random chance, moral agency, and ethics. 

Krishnamurti writes: Education in our schools is not only the acquisition of knowledge, but what is far more important, the awakening of intelligence, which will then utilize knowledge. It is never the other way around. 

Something awakened in me that day; I suppose I could call it intelligence, and it profoundly changed the way I approach teaching and my relationship with my students. The culture of this school has a way of changing those who come into its orbit. However, we sometimes forget that this change is not limited to students. While our focus remains on the students, the magical thing about this place is its ability to awaken intelligence and to promote a culture of self-inquiry in the community of teachers, parents, alumni, and community members.

So I wish to challenge you with this question: How has this school, this wonderful institution of learning, led you to consider and question your own ways of thinking? 

 

-Will Hornblower, High School History Teacher

Adapted from a speech written for the Tea Fundraiser

 

It is the end of the semester and a time when our students share what they have been working on in class. In core academic subjects, learning might be expressed through presentations, reports, fairs, project engagements, and tests. In the arts, learning is shared through performances and exhibitions.

At Oak Grove, performing, presenting, or displaying art are simply aspects of the process of learning, not the end purpose. Beginning in preschool, art and music are fundamental aspects of every school day. The art curriculum is focused on functional knowledge, engagement, and personal creative expression. Understanding music is focused on genres like euro-classical, jazz, contemporary, rock, funk, etcetera, while practicing tempo, rhythm, beat, pitch, movement, and the principles of composition. Students explore the many fields of art including crafts, ceramics, fine art, and photography.

Students don’t take required prerequisites or compete to participate in music and art. Regardless of skill or experience, students are stretched beyond their natural inclination and given the opportunity to participate in all art forms. This gives students the chance to more fully express themselves and become more integrated.

Self-understanding is at the core of the school’s philosophy. Art and music are a fundamental way to deepen self-reflection and offer new forms of creative expression. Communicating through the paintbrush, song lyric, or somatically can add to one’s agency.

When it is time to share what has been learned in the arts, we watch in awe. Dancers, who have never taken a single dance class before this past September, amaze us with their vulnerability and graceful synchronistic choreography. Artists, using many media forms, display Hatch/Hanson/Rosulek-inspired delicate ceramics, abstracted landscape photography, and color scale paintings. Woodworkers, having just learned how to use power and hand tools, showcase live-edge wooden tables, sculpture, skate ramp, and park benches. Journalists, some with English as a second language, fill an eight-page newspaper with deeply personal reflections and relevant investigative reporting. Every student has the opportunity to be a musician, an athlete, an artist, a scholar, while not being limited by any or all of these narrow concepts of identity.

— Jodi Grass, Head of School

“To me, the true artist is one who lives completely, harmoniously, who does not divide his art from living, whose very life is that expression, whether it be a picture, music, or his behavior; who has not divorced his expression on a canvas or in music or in stone from his daily conduct, daily living. That demands the highest intelligence, highest harmony. To me the true artist is the man who has that harmony. He may express it on canvas, or he may talk, or he may paint; or he may not express it at all, he may feel it. But all this demands that exquisite poise, that intensity of awareness, and therefore his expression is not divorced from the daily continuity of living.”

— J. Krishnamurti

The nature of the conversation was argumentative, but there was a sense of affection between us. The vibrant voice on the other end of the phone was persistently posing questions, “What is the self?” “How are the students going to ask these questions?” “What is the point of understanding a self that doesn’t, in fact, exist?”

This particular conversation went on for 90 minutes or so. I held the phone to my ear as I paced around the lobby of the Georgia World Congress Center during the National Association of Independent Schools conference in Atlanta. It was March of 2018. I didn’t know it at the time, but this would be the last conversation I had with Steve Worden, long-time donor and friend to Oak Grove School, friend to me.

In May of 2018, we received a certified letter from Steve’s lawyer, notifying us of his death.

I first spoke with Steve in 2011. He called to inquire about purchasing books through our publishing company. For the next several years, we spoke regularly (every five weeks or so). Most of our conversations would go on for more than an hour, sometimes more than two hours. Our conversations were heated and intense. He received the KFA and OGS printed publications and would share many criticisms and questions about what he read. Steve was an incredibly intelligent man and had deep concerns about humanity. Krishnamurti and David Bohm each had a profound impact on Steve’s understanding of things, and he wanted to make sure the school was integrating these teachings within the program.

Steve had no digital footprint, and we never met in person. Early on in our conversations, he began referring to me as “sir.” He explained that this would ensure a sense of depersonalization to our communications. In cooperation, I too referred to Steve as “sir” – when I could remember.

We would talk, and often disagree, about something he read or a Krishnamurti talk he heard. Most notably, Steve expressed concern that Oak Grove was not providing enough time or space for students, parents, and staff to ask the deepest questions. He expressed frustration about that in nearly every phone call.  

Although he worked to depersonalize our connection, the humanness came through. Often our phone conversations would begin or end with Steve saying something like, “Did your husband stay safe during that recent fire?” or “Take care of your daughters,” or “Be careful when you drive up north.”

When Steve died, he bequeathed Oak Grove the sum total of his estate, which included his ashes. To honor Steve, we built the Reflective Classroom in his memory. This classroom will serve all members of the community as a place for reflective practices, including dialogue, meditation, journal writing, mindfulness, and silence.

This past week, the Oak Grove School Board held a modest dedication of the completed classroom. Afterward, each class, one at a time, had an opportunity to visit. As they waited to enter, Jacqueline Valle shared how students and adults will enter the classroom — in silence, shoeless, and without electronics, food, or drinks. Once inside, I had the opportunity to sit with the students and explain the intention of the space, answer their questions, and share my gratitude for Steve and the other people who made the space possible. 

Students from preschool through 12th grade expressed a feeling of peacefulness and calmness as they sat in the room. Some asked if they could visit when they feel sad or overwhelmed. One high school student even asked if he could do his homework in the classroom. There were also questions about why we chose that location or how the windows were installed. There was an overwhelming shared feeling of happiness and gratitude. 

Thank you, Sir. 

— Jodi Grass, Head of School

The Journalism class produced an in-depth audio report on China-US trade relations.

Listen here: