Each year, we learn that we will be saying goodbye to colleagues who are moving on or retiring from their positions at SFFS. As we encourage risk-taking, lifelong learning, and growth in both our students and ourselves, we celebrate our Friends as they continue their adventures and journeys outside of 250 Valencia, and we thank them for their contributions to our community. This year, I reached out to colleagues for some insight about our departures. The quotes you will read below are from unnamed faculty members who have years and decades of collaborative experience with our departing colleagues. I hope their words help convey a fraction of the debt we owe them as instructional leaders and community members. We encourage you to help us honor and celebrate those who are departing, while also welcoming those who will soon be joining this special community of learners and Friends.
MIDDLE SCHOOL GOODBYES:
by Clarke Weatherspoon
Christopher departs Friends after two years of teaching in the Middle School Humanities Department and acting as an advisor in both the 6th and 7th Grades. Christopher is a thought leader who cares deeply about people and justice. One colleague notes that “Christopher is passionate about advocating for kids.” Another peer expressed a similar sentiment: “Christopher can be an advocate for the underdog, reaching out to help a student who is troubled or struggling with an issue.” He is currently completing a term as a member of our Steering Committee on Equity and Inclusion, and he has continually pushed the group to thoughtfully consider the details that will allow us to be most effective in reaching our goals.
Christopher is also known for his critical and incisive academic work. He is deeply committed to creating meaningful content. A fellow faculty member noted that: “Christopher always seeks out resources that help me expand my curriculum—he's always leaving books in my room that support what I am teaching.” His capacity to partner with and lead others is born out of his “intellectual curiosity and passion about language and history. His sensitivity comes across so clearly and engagingly in class and in morning meetings.” Christopher’s presence and dry sense of humor are also notable and appreciated; he is never afraid to speak up, and his contributions are always from the heart.
On Christopher’s leaving, one Friend put it simply: “I got to say, I love the guy and will really miss him.”
by Clarke Weatherspoon
We also say goodbye to David Louis, who came to Friends as a founding member of the Middle School and has played a key role in shaping the math program and overall school culture at SFFS, in addition to being a lead 8th Grade advisor. David is a community leader, SFFS parent and meticulous communicator. He is also a baseball fanatic and master teacher.
David's capacity for leadership seemingly comes from his quiet confidence and understanding of what matters most. A Math Department colleague said of him: “David always brought me back to reality and reminded me that teaching was one of the most challenging and respectable professions out there.” Another collaborator noted that “David is the epitome of the Quaker catchphrase, ‘love and trust.’ With students you can witness this as he crafts class discussions and draws on individuals' strengths in order to create a rich and elegant flow.” “David is generous with his time and heart—always willing to give more time to students and colleagues and offer real praise or tough feedback in a loving way, whichever is needed.” Through years of developing classes, teaching teachers, and supporting students, David has remained humble. “He's willing to help with everything—moving furniture, writing reports, solving math problems—and he is constantly working to make his own practice better.”
The departure of a teacher like David is an important and pivotal moment in the life of a school. “David’s high standards, coupled with his warmth are part of what makes him such an incredible educator, role model, and friend. David is authentic with students and colleagues alike. He is creative, kind, and trustworthy as they come.” We are all grateful for the time, energy, presence, and wisdom that David has brought to our school. He has inspired a generation of students and teachers (including many SFFS alumni who have decided they wanted to pursue teaching because of David’s influence), and he has helped to make Friends an educational leader in our city. We wish him luck and rest as he moves into retirement.
MIDDLE SCHOOL WELCOMES:
Elissa “Lissie” McAlvey
Lissie will join the SFFS faculty as the 8th Grade math teacher in August. Lissie joins Friends after five years at the Nueva School. A native of Michigan, she brings a host of skills and experiences to Friends. Among her previous responsibilities at Nueva, Lissie served as a grade level dean, scheduler, and equity and inclusion leader. She was also an official Equity and Inclusion Representative for the middle school and the leader of Girls Adventure in Math, which helps young women get more involved in the realm of mathematics and leadership. Lissie is fluent in Spanish and brings experience as a collegiate basketball player to 250 Valencia. We are excited to bring in a curious, mathematical thinker to help us in the next chapter of designing meaningful learning experiences at Friends. We look forward to Lissie joining us in the fall.
Gabby returns for a second tenure as the interim middle school art teacher. Gabby was last with us in the 2014–2015 school year and returns to rekindle and deepen meaningful bonds with the community. Gabby holds a MFA from UC Irvine and has extensive experience in youth arts education, advocacy, and engagement. Gabby has taught at UC Irvine, the Oxbow School, and Millennium School, and has served as a Board member of Dhamma Dena Mediation Center since 2018. In addition, Gabby served as a Board member and as Program and Outreach Coordinator for Bay Area Girls Rock Camp. Gabby brings experience as an independent artist, lecturer, published author, and inspiring leader back(!) to SFFS. Welcome home, Gabby!
To be a private school that serves a public purpose is a principled aspiration shared by the vast majority of independent schools. At SFFS our established commitments to Horizons, adjustable tuition, service learning, and the Friends Community Scholars exemplify that principle in practice and contribute to our role as a school community not only in but of our neighborhood, the Mission. – Mike Hanas, Head of San Francisco Friends School
SFFS enrolled its first Friends Community Scholars in 2013, after the Board and administration determined that instituting this program was essential to continuing our community’s commitment to diversity. Established for “high-achieving, economically disadvantaged middle school students from neighborhoods surrounding the school,” the Friends Community Scholars program (or FCS) is funded through the $2 million raised to begin the program during the Building Friends capital campaign, and underwrites all that goes into a well-rounded Friends experience, lasting the duration of middle school. Beyond tuition, SFFS covers the costs of everything from laptops to field trips to tutoring to hot lunches to extracurricular activities to music lessons to athletic gear and uniforms. Supporting the breadth of our scholars’ experience promotes the ideology of inclusivity that FCS was founded on and encourages students to get involved in numerous facets of life here. Former trustee Shannon Cogen reflects: “SFFS’s founders conceived of a program like FCS from the beginning. It advanced the mission in so many ways: providing diverse voices and perspectives that are so essential to education, deepening our ties to our neighborhood, and addressing, even in a relatively small way, educational inequities.”
The FCS program was first inspired by Germantown Friends School’s Community Scholars program, and the ways in which the program showed Germantown Friends’ commitment to its surrounding Philadelphia community. As SFFS stated in its initial case for support to launch the program in 2012, “Friends Community Scholars… will add to the diversity of voices and talents at Friends School.” Today, 21 students have matriculated at SFFS through the Friends Community Scholars program (with nine already graduating). Not only have these students made a profound impact at Friends, but their contributions and development has notably continued into their high school careers. Says Kristen Daniel, SFFS director of middle school and high school transition: “From my perspective, the Friends Community Scholars include some of the hardest working students we've had in our middle school. When I hear about them succeeding in high school on a robotics team, on the volleyball court, or as a leader of an affinity group, I hope that Friends had a small part in helping them discover their voice and talent and pursue it with passion and commitment.”
For Friends alumni who went through the program, the tools and relationships they garnered during their time here have proven invaluable: “All my teachers and all the SFFS staff have played big parts in the development of who I am today… I brought my determination, my culture, my grit to learn, and my voice [to my high school]—all of which I learned, and which people helped me realize about myself, at SFFS,” says Gaby Garcia (SFFS ‘18). Fellow FCS and Friends alum Sassy Mosely-Wise (SFFS ‘16) agrees: “A large part of my personality and moral ethics are shaped around the values I learned at Friends School. When there were conflicts or problems within my community, we were taught to solve them keeping these values in mind. These approaches have shaped the way I handle issues today, and I am forever grateful for the ethics lesson in and outside of the classroom.”
Perhaps as important is the sense of belonging that graduates feel during their time at SFFS. “Even though I only spent three years at Friends School, compared to the majority of my grade that spent nine years attending Friends, I felt welcomed into the school. Students and faculty made me feel included,” says Sassy. Gaby echoes this sentiment: “Friends' allowed me to share a piece of who I am, my culture and my soul, with the school. This was, and still is, very meaningful to me, because before I was very timid and Friends gave me the support.. to find my powerful voice. What I love about Friends is that the community is eager to see that powerful voice in its students, and [to watch students grow].”
|• 2013: First class of Friends Community Scholars was enrolled in the SFFS Middle School
• $2M: Initial total of funds raised to create the FCS program
• 21: Number of students who have now matriculated at the SFFS Middle School as Friends Community Scholars
• Nine: Current total of alumni of the Friends Community Scholars program