As we begin another school year, I feel a sense of excitement mixed with gratitude and a little melancholy. I’ll be moving on to a new position at the Marin County Office of Education in January so this will be my last school opening in Lagunitas as either a parent or staff member. I love it here so my feelings are mixed.
I moved to the San Geronimo Valley 26 years ago when my landlord sold the house I was sharing in Fairfax. Much to my amazement, I was able to buy a house in Lagunitas on a teacher’s salary; I spent my entire savings on it. It needed a new roof. There was no heat. The “creative” plumbing system included an interesting outdoor shower set-up and a washer that drained into what looked like a forgotten vegetable garden. My first year was kind of like camping.
But I was delighted to be in The Valley, the place that had been the setting for so many family outings when I was a child, that offered endless mountain bike rides, coyotes howling at night and migrating salmon in the back yard… literally. There were friendly (sometimes eccentric) neighbors, a vibrant community ethos and the promise of adventures to come.
A few years later (with a growing family) we experienced the adventure of sending our two children to Lagunitas School. We were skeptical at first but the campus and the programs proved to be an ideal fit for our kids. The school exuded a feeling of acceptance and a reverence for the natural world. It was unlike the schools where I had been working, less pavement, more trees, open space, a dedicated nature preserve with a seasonal creek. This was not a place that followed a tight script, obsessed on standardized testing or insisted on one way of doing things. The teachers met each student where they were and did what it took to encourage curiosity, learning, teamwork and emotional growth. The school was also the place where our community grew stronger, where families gathered, developed friendships and worked together to build a learning environment that extended beyond the school campus and schedule.
I am happy to see that what makes our school community great is still here and I am excited for the students who will be returning to this beautiful campus in a few days. Summer maintenance is nearly complete and the grounds look better than they have in years. Our amazing natural space, home to countless plants and animals is as peaceful and welcoming as ever. (Just this week from my office window I watched a Blue Heron slowly, silently hunting for her breakfast on the field. A few minutes later a red-tailed hawk was loudly swooping over the same ground. Our campus is surprisingly active in late summer when few people are present.)
After a challenging spring, and a well-deserved rest, our staff is coming back strong with some new teachers and the return of Open Classroom veterans Larry Nigro and Marlene Maiello. This will certainly be a year of transition and evolution and it is exciting to see important values… embracing student curiosity, independent problem solving and choice guiding updated curricula and instructional strategies. Certainly, we’ve suffered some blows with the pandemic and declining enrollment, but The Valley response is predictable; we’ll do what’s best for all our students, embrace their uniqueness and make sure their school experience is wonderful.
We can feel it in the air; morale is high. When our teachers gathered for the first time this morning, I could see it. Their words were inspiring. We are ready for our students, ready to fuel their curiosity, ensure their mastery of important skills and give them the care and attention they need to thrive. It actually feels normal for the first time in a while. We can hardly wait to get started.