Category Archives: The Mane Idea

Students Participate in the National School Walkout

On March 14, Hamlin students walked in silence for 17 minutes, joining a nation of young people from around the United States.

The nationwide protest was both a memorial and protest action. Students and teachers across the United States walked out of their schools and universities to honor the lives of the 17 people killed at Stoneman Douglas and pressed lawmakers to pass stricter gun control laws, according to EMPOWER, the group organizing the action. -CNN

The idea to join the National School Walkout came directly from Hamlin students who received the call to act from their peers around the country. Older students were given the option to join the walkout and or write letters to students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School or government politicians.

A Hamlin student shares:

This walkout shows that we are not afraid to stand up for something that is important to us, gun control is important to us. This is a student-led movement. The fact my friends and I had to do this shows that our country needs our help and leadership.

Below is a letter written by the Head of The Hamlin School regarding the National School Walkout.

“The ‘Mane’ Idea”
Reflections by Head of School Wanda M. Holland Greene
Walk the Talk

I have a powerful letter from the Hamlin archives in my school office, written by Kate Hamlin, and it tells the story of the day her audacious older sister Sarah walked out of school because she was outraged by injustice. Sarah Dix Hamlin was about 10 years old at the time, and she had heard that there was a man in Westford, MA who was abusing his wife in drunken rages. Sarah’s young mind had made the connection between alcohol consumption and domestic violence, and she saw herself as an active part of the Temperance Movement. Instead of going home as usual, Sarah walked out of school and went directly to the house where the couple lived and banged on the door. Kate writes in the letter that Sarah was not successful in her attempt to seek justice, and she scared their parents half to death when she was late arriving home.

This childhood story reminds me of the feisty DNA of our founder and the lofty mission of our school: “The Hamlin School educates girls to meet the challenges of their time, and inspires them to become extraordinary thinkers and innovators, courageous leaders, and women of integrity.” Our mission guides all of our decisions, both large and small, and it is critically important to be wise and deliberate as we address the significant challenges of our time.

As Head of School, I want to share two thoughts with the entire community before I describe our K-8 plan for the Day of Action and National School Walkout on Wednesday, March 14. My dual purpose in writing is to place our K-8 plan into a larger context and to invite us to use this national response to gun violence as a way to reinforce Hamlin’s mission and core values.

First, I want to say that there are numerous causes for which we could walk out of school for 17 minutes or perhaps longer. You may remember that I began the 2017-18 school year singing “Make it Rain” and reflecting on the deep-seated racism we saw in Charlottesville as well as the painful sting of bias my family and I sometimes experience as African-Americans living in Pacific Heights. Gender inequality and sexual harassment have grabbed national attention with #MeToo and #TimesUp, and the Women’s Marches have drawn thousands of feminists out of their homes and into the streets. The Black Lives Matter movement, fueled by youth who are demanding an end to police brutality, is doing its work in cities across the nation. Attorney and author Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative continue their quest to end mass incarceration and to reform the criminal justice system. People defending DACA continue to bring pressure to bear on the government to reform immigration policy. Another large group of Nigerian girls were abducted from their school several days ago by Boko Haram, thereby re-energizing the #BringBackOurGirls movement. Given the recent tragedy in Yountville, I am quite certain that California residents will be discussing mental illness and care for veterans in the coming weeks and months. Indeed, the challenges of our time are significant and numerous.

So, the question should be asked, “Why is Hamlin responding to the issues of gun violence and school safety and not other atrocities?” The answer is this: the school shooting in Parkland, Florida captured the attention and collective conscience of many of our girls, and they appealed with clarity and purpose to their school leaders and teachers for permission to do something. Given our mission to develop courageous leaders and women of integrity, the mission-appropriate response to the girls has been to say yes to their request and to work with them to develop safe, age-appropriate options for girls who would like to engage in some form of activism. Moreover, from an educational and psychological perspective, we know that a sense of purpose can be the perfect antidote to the anxiety and stress that arise when natural and human-made disasters occur.

The second thought I want to share is about Hamlin’s Creed — our bold statement of ethical values — and the decisions that we make every day. While the teachers and I are fully supportive of civic action on March 14th, we are more deeply committed to civility and kindness every day. How will the girls rise to the occasion and become better versions of themselves today on March 12, on March 13, on March 15 and the days hence? Will we allow our girls to walk out for 17 minutes on March 14 to honor the lives of strangers whom they have never met and say nothing about how they treat their own Hamlin sisters whom they see every day? Will we allow the girls to write letters to politicians about the danger of guns without also asking them to place a ban on unkindness and exclusive behavior? Hurtful words and actions, cliques and nonverbal exclusion, and deliberate misuse of social media platforms are weapons used daily in schools across our country, and building healthy school cultures must also be a part of our school safety plans. While the majority of the behavior that I see at Hamlin is “Creedful” and praiseworthy, I also know that there is always room for growth. Therefore, I am asking all parents to join us in reminding their daughter(s) that Compassion, Courage, Honesty, Respect, and Responsibility are not mere suggestions at Hamlin. These values are necessary guidelines as we work together to create a psychologically safe community where all members feel seen, known, and loved.

In what may be a pivotal moment for our country, I want to inspire all of us to live more consciously. Let’s walk the talk. If there is any good that will come out of the Parkland tragedy, may it be that all schools become more closely-knit, inclusive communities. As my father often said, “Charity begins at home and then spreads abroad.” Please see the next page for a description of the K-8 plan for Wednesday, March 14. May we all be well.

A New School Year, Wisdom from Wanda M. Holland Greene

I was born in Brooklyn, New York in January 1968. I love New York City. For me, NYC is both a geographical and a spiritual home; it is a place that I navigate easily, where my loud voice, brown skin, and heavy footsteps fall right into place, and where I feel completely in my element. One of the things that native New Yorkers will admit hesitantly is that NYC is not a clean city. Vibrant, yes. Busy, of course. Multicultural and multilingual, certainly. But clean? Not so much. That’s why native New Yorkers secretly love heavy rainfall. Rest assured that it will be nearly impossible to hail a yellow taxi when it rains, but when the cloudy heavens open, the grey concrete streets begin to glisten like hematite crystals. Randomly scattered trash will find its way to the cross-hatch gutters on the street corners, and for a moment NYC will be as clean as Chicago or Seattle.

For the past few years, and more intensely in the last few weeks, I have been hoping and praying that our cities and the entire country be washed clean of the filth of bigotry and intimidation, the toxicity of police brutality, and the pollution of indifference. My fervent prayer has been “Make it rain, down Lord. May justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream, as the purest of Kings once said. Make it rain down a fire that will purify our hearts and refine the American dream so that there is truly liberty and justice for all.” I thought about the song “Make it Rain,” written by Foy Vance, a Northern Irish musician, and I thought about the robust conversations that I’ve had in the past with Hamlin girls about diversity and democracy. I then thought about our sacred mission:

“The Hamlin School educates girls to meet the challenges of their time, and inspires them to become extraordinary thinkers and innovators, courageous leaders, and women of integrity.”

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Hamlin Reflects on the 2016 Election

Dear Hamlin Community,
I am now back in my office after an inspiring and engaging all-school assembly. Several weeks ago, I reached out to Hamlin teachers and planned a gathering for our community because I knew that we would need and want to be together this morning to process the outcome of the Presidential election and senate races. I am writing to let you know that your daughters, our amazing students, are just where they need to be — in the company of compassionate and respectful adults who love them, who listen to them, and who see their incredible potential. We have a great responsibility, today and always, to help them process their thoughts and feelings, to create pathways for civil discourse and critical thinking, and to prepare them to meet the challenges of their time.
During our assembly, we used words, music, and dance to affirm our values as a school and as a country. I acknowledged the fact that some girls and their families may feel excited and satisfied with the outcome of the presidential election, and other girls and families are feeling sad, confused, and scared. I reminded the girls that disagreement is perfectly normal, even if difficult. I asked the girls and the faculty and staff, “What does the Pledge of Allegiance mean on a day when many feel betrayed by their country?” “How can one sing ‘America the Beautiful’ on a day when many people feel that the ugliness of disrespect has been rewarded?” I alone recited the Pledge of Allegiance and asked the girls to think about “liberty and justice for all.” Some of us sang “America the Beautiful,” while others opted to think rather than sing. That, too, is perfectly normal.
Girls in Grades 5 through 8 stood proudly and made the air fragrant with hope and determination by speaking the names of their “famous” (influential) women in history from the Grade 4 social studies curriculum. Sarah Dix Hamlin made a guest appearance to share her life story and her feelings about the outcome of the election; she affirmed Hamlin girls’ courage and reminded them of their responsibility to make the world a more just and equitable place. (Sarah Dix Hamlin was portrayed by our very own Ms. Quackenbush, who was dressed in period costume.) We ended our assembly with vibrant Grade 8 dancers, led by our incredible dance teacher Ms. Williams, and we all danced to Beyonce’s “Run the World.” Our mission is more relevant than ever:
“The Hamlin School educates girls to meet the challenges of their time, and inspires them to become extraordinary thinkers and innovators, courageous leaders, and women of integrity.”
I dismissed the girls from assembly, grade by grade, and asked them to walk through a queue of loving faculty and staff. Girls high-fived and hugged their teachers and leaders, receiving our love and comfort as they returned to class. In turn, we received their love and comfort. They are our inspiration.
Here is a group poem, written by third graders this morning, as well as a Huffington Post articlethat I believe provides a framework for conversation with our children.
As always, we are grateful for your partnership. Please do not hesitate to be in touch with your daughter’s teacher or advisor if you need further guidance or support.
Rise and Shine,
Wanda M. Holland Greene
Head of School

They Said Yes


All the members of my immediate family are male, and I love the way that my life at home complements my life at Hamlin. My husband Robert, an educator and consultant, is a powerful writer and deep thinker (which is why we get along so well), and we are united in our effort to raise joyful, respectful, culturally competent sons. This fall, Robert shared an exquisite piece of writing with the world. It reveals our values as parents and educators. Please enjoy.

Wanda M. Holland Greene

Head of School

Almost anyone who has ever asked another to spend the rest of their life with them can likely still feel that interminable pause between the question and the answer. The fact of the matter is that any significant “ask” often carries with it the fear of waiting on an expected yet unrequited confirmation that our fears were in vain, that moment when my mother often said that her mind didn’t fool her.

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What Does it Mean to Be A Hamlin Girl?

January is a recent memory, February is now here, and the primary question on my mind during this month of admissions and high school placement is, “What Does it Mean to Be A Hamlin Girl?” The Admissions Committee has numerous admissions applications to read carefully, each profile telling the story of a young girl who is beloved by her parents and teachers. With so many wonderful girls to choose from, who emerges as a Hamlin girl? How do we know her when we see her?
There is an intellectual vitality in Hamlin girls, even at a young age. They are curious and quirky, funny and spunky, kind and inclusive. These qualities can be found in girls who range in demeanor from shy and observant to audacious and assertive, and I love the wide range of personalities! We select girls who see the world as a giant classroom and who want to try new things; we also look for a diverse group of girls who are proud of their own unique stories yet intrigued by the lives of others. Of course, there are always more “lion cubs” out there than we can invite into our lair, but it is a blessing to be able to welcome many new girls and their families to Hamlin each fall.
At the other end of the grade level spectrum, I am in the close company of the Grade 8 students during the months of January and February. The Class of 2015 is an amazing group of energetic and confident leaders, and they have supported each other and led the school very capably thus far. To celebrate the fact that their high school applications are complete, each Grade 8 advisory group is invited to my office for an ice cream party. An intriguing conversation always ensues when I ask the Grade 8 girls, “What Does it Mean to Be A Hamlin Girl?” I tell them that I will use their words during admissions events with prospective parents, and they are always proud to share their thoughts. This year, I added a twist to the dialogue and asked the Grade 8 advisors to tell me what being a Hamlin teacher means to them. I now share these heartfelt sentiments with you:
What Does It Mean To Be A Hamlin Girl?
(An Excerpt of the Unedited Words of The Class of 2015)
  • Being a Hamlin girl means challenging what is expected of girls and finding new ways to surprise others. Yes, we go for the powerful positions—we are polite, kind, and loving, so some might not expect ambition to come in that same package
  • Being a Hamlin girl means that we all have the courage and ambition to do something great in life
  • Being a Hamlin girl means being open-minded and going forward even if you are scared and don’t know how things will turn out
  • Being a Hamlin girl means having a lot of power, and with great power comes great responsibility. Our power and confidence come from the tools we have learned in the classroom
  • Being a Hamlin girl means defying the stereotypes of all-girls schools; I am proud to be a student here, and I am not ashamed, I am not boy-crazy, and I am not catty
  • Being a Hamlin girl does mean accepting challenges head on, but being a Hamlin girl also means being able to step back from a challenge, really look at it, and understand what approach will work best for you
  • Being a Hamlin girl means perseverance—when work is overwhelming, a Hamlin girl categorizes and prioritizes. Hamlin girls don’t freak out, and they don’t retreat.
  • Being a Hamlin girl means that you always speak your opinions
  • Being a Hamlin girl means that you don’t take everything too seriously, but you take the things that NEED to be taken seriously, seriously
  • Being a Hamlin girl means balancing being super smart and super determined
  • Being a Hamlin girl means being excited to go to school and not dreading Monday
  • Being a Hamlin girl means that you will be pushed to try your hardest in everything you do
  • Being a Hamlin girl means experiencing comfort and a “homey” feeling that is hard to describe. Hamlin is a web that weaves children in, and I am part of a network that feels strong, large, and connected.
  • Being a Hamlin girl means being willing to question authority and ask hard questions, not in a rude way, but digging down to a deeper place
  • Being a Hamlin girl means continuing to follow the Creed even when you are not in school
  • Being a Hamlin girl means thinking of learning as an adventure, not as an obligation
  • Being a Hamlin girl means continuously learning and obtaining the tools you need to change the world. The tools are not just laid in front of you, you have to work for them
  • Being a Hamlin girl means being willing to change your mind and to be influenced by others—but for the right reasons
  • Being a Hamlin girl means not being afraid of change and not being afraid to make change or break tradition
  • Being a Hamlin girl means being a girl of integrity. Hamlin girls stand up for what is right. We are ready to face the challenges of our time.
  • Being a Hamlin girl means trying your best in everything and putting a lot of effort into every endeavor
  • Being a Hamlin girl means being socially confident; we are good at making friendships
  • Being a Hamlin girl means striving to do one’s best; we are both competitive and supportive of each other. We want to achieve, and we want to help our peers achieve.
  • Being a Hamlin girl means living by the Creed to help other people; Hamlin girls believe in the power of compassion
  • Being a Hamlin girl means gaining independence; because I think that is the whole theme of a Hamlin education. You grow up here over the years, and you see yourself grow and become more independent.  By the end, you know who you are as a learner, and you know how to advocate for your needs.
  • Being a Hamlin girl means being curious, looking for your own answers, finding all the sides to a story, and then forming your own opinion about it.
  • Being a Hamlin girl means that you don’t shy away from hard work; you love accepting challenges
  • Being a Hamlin girl means being vulnerable and taking chances and leaps of faith
  • Being a Hamlin girl means knowing how to win with grace and also how to fail epically
  • Being Hamlin girl means being competitive to reach a own goal, but a Hamlin girl doesn’t need to push others down to do it.
  • Being Hamlin girl means never doing anything half-heartedly, setting your mind to something, being driven, and putting your whole self into whatever endeavor
  • Being a Hamlin girl means being a creative thinker. I can look at a single picture in so many different ways.
  • Being Hamlin girl means being knowing how to find the beauty in life and have fun
  • Being a Hamlin girl means not being afraid to be yourself and also connecting with others who are different
  • Being a Hamlin girl means carrying your own weight and helping others along the journey
  • Being a Hamlin girl means confident but not conceited
  • Being a Hamlin girl means knowing how to stand tall even if you have to stand alone
  • Being a Hamlin girl means taking an inside class conversation outside
  • Being a Hamlin girl means knowing the difference between something that is risky and something that is courageous
What Does it Mean to Be A Hamlin Teacher?
  • Being a Hamlin teacher means continuing to be a student because we do a lot of things in real time—we are organized but flexible to meet the challenges of the time. We seek the counsel of our class to see what will work better
  • Being a Hamlin teacher means to lead by example and to embody the values one expects to see in your students; being a Hamlin teacher means to work collaboratively and to be an active part of a team in everything one does.
  • Being a Hamlin teacher is about discovery—discovering who each student is, and who they want to be, learning where they want to go and taking on the role as guide to get them there
  • Being a Hamlin teacher means continuing to learn as much as my students; it means part of an incredibly smart, committed, and talented group of colleagues. Being a Hamlin teacher means valuing community as much as intellect.
  • Being a Hamlin teacher means digging in and pushing, growing, and innovating to deliver the most extraordinary curriculum possible

Out of the Mouths of Babes

I have just returned home from the fall board meeting of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), which is held each November in Washington D.C. It has been a joy and a privilege to serve as a trustee for the past five years and to work alongside many distinguished heads of independent schools, college presidents, entrepreneurs, and other talented leaders who have dedicated themselves to the four core principles of NAIS:
Excellence: Achieving Extraordinary Quality
Equity: Serving All Students Equally Well
Efficiency: Ensuring Every Dollar Provides Maximum Benefit to Students
Emotion: Exhibiting Passion and Commitment
As an NAIS trustee, I have been able to contribute to the national conversation about the current status and future of independent schools, to serve as a member of the Schools of the Future, Governance, Finance, and Audit Committees, and to learn at the cutting edge of educational research and innovation. NAIS trusteeship and being a member of the core faculty of the NAIS Aspiring Heads Program have been deeply impactful professional development experiences for me as a head of school, and I am grateful to Hamlin’s board of trustees for its steadfast commitment to my growth and learning. When I return home, my mind is always teeming with new ideas, comparative data, and reflections about the path ahead for Hamlin.
During Friday’s meeting, the board listened to an intriguing presentation from Donna Orem, the Chief Operating Officer for NAIS. As part of her presentation, she looked to the year 2030 and shared some interesting insights and information about where futurists believe our world is headed. I thought you might be intrigued by some of the emerging job titles that Hamlin girls might hold in 2030:
  • Alternative Vehicle Developer
  • Avatar Manager / Devotee
  • Body Part Maker
  • Climate Change Reversal Specialist
  • Memory Augmentation Surgeon
  • Old Age Wellness Manager / Consultant Specialist
  • Quarantine Enforcer
  • Social ‘Networking’ Officer
  • Virtual Lawyer
  • Virtual Teacher
I’m not sure that I love the idea of teachers being virtual rather than in the close company of children, but it may be the case that some K-8 schools of the future will have work forces that are a hybrid of the traditional model and newer ones. In January 2015, Rose Helm, Marisa Bellingrath, and I will be head to Los Angeles to be a part of a one-day Think Tank sponsored by the Online School for Girls; we will spend time with colleagues discussing Blended and Online Learning for Middle School children. Currently, many public and independent high school students are taking course loads of traditional and online classes.
The part of the presentation that still has my mind spinning is the reflection from children about what they hope schools in the year 2050 will be. Here, out of the mouths of babes, are their four hopes, which I believe are directly connected to Hamlin’s current strategic plan and the vision for the physical transformation of our urban campus:
  • “Schools in the year 2050 will be far more colorful than they are today.” 
Aesthetics matter to children. Light, ventilation, color, noise abatement, elbow room– these are the elements that are conducive to learning and achievement, particularly for girls. Some may not easily understand the exciting plan for the redesign of our Lower School classrooms. “I don’t see anything wrong with the current classrooms in McKinne,” one might hear. The reality is that our Lower School classrooms are less than ideal spaces for teaching and learning; our commitment to creative, project-based teaching and our efforts to differentiate instruction for a range of learners are compromised by the current size of the classrooms, and the rooms which face the interior of the building have been called “caves” by our girls. We can and should provide optimal learning environments for the girls and inspiring teaching spaces that attract and retain our talented teachers. 
  • “As far as reading is concerned, there will be a book that reads itself to you, helping you to memorize all the facts that you need to know.”
Students are craving technology integration to help them to do their work more efficiently, and I have been so excited to see the deft and thoughtful integration of technology tools in the girls’ daily lives at school. Stay tuned for announcements from Director of Educational Technology and Innovation Mark Picketts about the Hour of Code, and ask your daughter about how technology allows her to be more creative, more collaborative, and more organized.
  • “Teachers will only need to be there in case of emergency.”
I continue to believe in the primacy of the student-teacher relationship, and I do not believe that this statement is a cry from students to dispose of the adults who care about them. What I hear in this statement is a call for increased independence—for the teacher to become a coach, a consultant, a facilitator, a “guide on the side” rather than a “sage on the stage.” Student-centered teaching honors and respects the fact that each child brings knowledge, skills, and history with her to school. We do not view the girls as empty vessels in need of filling. We view Hamlin girls as active, engaged investigators who are directly involved in (and responsible for) their learning. The last thing children need are adults who hover over them constantly; in order to maximize student growth and achievement, adults have to walk the delicate line between stifling and supervising children.
  • “Most of the schools will be free, but for well-known schools people will have to pay.”
This was the statement that tugged at my heart most deeply. The 10-year olds that were interviewed for this research were keenly aware of the educational inequalities that persist in America and in the world at large. In this sentence, I hear children grappling with solutions about access and affordability, two key issues that the NAIS board and heads of independent schools everywhere are talking about. Many independent schools in California and across the United States are struggling to meet their enrollment requirements, and even those like Hamlin that are blessed with high demand for enrollment are seeking ways to mitigate the rising costs of a quality education. Building our endowment through capital fundraising will be a priority for me and the Hamlin Board of Trustees in the months and years ahead; we want Hamlin to continue to serve girls from all walks of life, and a larger endowment will relieve some of our reliance upon tuition revenue. I long for the day when a quality K-12 education will be seen as a public good, not as a privilege which only a limited number of children enjoy.
It’s always good to return home with fresh perspectives, provocative ideas, and renewed passion. Follow me on Twitter @whollandgreene, and add your voice to this dialogue when you have a moment.

Wordsmiths in June

Wordsmiths in June

One of the things that I love to do during the month of June is read commencement speeches and think about the words of wisdom offered by prominent leaders, celebrities, and graduating students.  I enjoy the poignant and humorous stories that are shared, and I am always drawn to the unexpected or audacious pieces of advice.  Of course, I am especially deliberate about writing my own speech for Hamlin’s graduating class, and I think carefully about the specific message that makes sense for the group of girls on stage.  I look forward to saluting the Class of 2014 and their families next Friday morning.  In addition to three student speakers, the keynote speech will be given by consultant and innovation catalyst Courtney Ferrell.  (Check out her TED Talk to get a sense of her vivacity!)

I also know that June is a popular month for class reunions and returning to the institutions where we spent significant time as young people.  I have just returned home from my 25th reunion at Columbia University, and I was blessed with the opportunity to address my classmates during our class dinner on Saturday night.  I thought I would share with you the text of my speech, with the hope that some part might inspire you.  — WMHG

Saturday, May 31, 2014
The Rotunda of Low Library

Sing:  “Sans Souci”

What if tomorrow bring
Sorrow or anything
Other than joy?
What if’t be wintry chill
Rain, storm or summer’s thrill?

It is May 1989, and I am standing in my silvery blue cap and gown, singing the Columbia College song, “Sans Souci” with vigor.  You are there too, standing with me in the gymnasium on Class Day.  You and I– young and proud idealists with a grand sense of our own efficacy—after all, did we not force our university to divest its funds from South Africa?  Yes, we did.  Did you camp out on the steps of this extraordinarily beautiful library until justice came?  Oh yes, we were full-grown adults on Class Day, singing together in tune, yet dare I say we had little idea what the song meant.

The first stanza of “Sans Souci” poses a fundamental question: “What if tomorrow bring sorrow or anything other than joy? Did we truly grasp the fact that the days after our 1989 graduation could be filled with anything other than success and contentment?  I’ll answer that for myself.  No, I did not have a firm or full grasp of life’s complexities.  I did not pay close attention to the questions and answers in the music.  I was, and perhaps you were too, a bit naïve and sans souci– without worry.

Here’s what I thought the song meant.  If tomorrow brings you anything other than joy, so what.  Don’t worry about it.  Buy a 99-cent Whopper on Tuesday night, get yourself some Bazooka bubble gum from Furnald grocery, watch the oreos and almonds get mixed into your coffee ice-cream at Steve’s, or get your groove on at the Plex.  Be carefree. Choose your get-happy-quick scheme and move on.  You’ll be fine.  In fact, I thought it was awesome that a modern-day version of “Sans Souci” was popular during our senior year.  Bobby McFerrin sang, “Here’s a little song I wrote/Might want to sing it note for note/Don’t worry, be happy.”  Give limited thought to tomorrow.  Live today, and live without worry. That is what I understood.

Then life handed me “a box of darkness,” as poet Mary Oliver wrote.  My beloved father had a massive heart attack and died instantly in 1998; he was only 55 when I lost him, and the shock and sorrow are always with me.  I began to understand then that burgers, ice cream, and sweaty dancing with fine men did not have the power to heal or even close a wound in the soul.  What saved me then, you ask?  What saves me now?  The answer is simple: schools and the people of all ages whom I encounter there.

When my father died, my work as a Middle School division head at The Park School in Brookline, MA was like an oxygen mask.  When my mother died on Christmas morning in 2010, I carried my sorrow and anything other than joy with the community at The Hamlin School in San Francisco, where I have been Head of School for the past six years.  When everything seemed to be falling apart in my life, the daily enterprise of returning to a school—a place of vision, purpose, and learning– gave me a reason to be present and live fully.  Perhaps that is the reason we reunite our class every five years—to be reminded not only of the richness of the past but also the fullness of the present.  There is something incredibly uplifting about returning to a school you love.  I love Columbia College, I am proud of the work I accomplished here, and I am inspired by the people I met here.  The human connections you find in a school community can glue your brokenness, rebuild your strength, compel action, and inspire generosity.  The very best schools reveal your strengths and invest in your potential.  The very best schools hold themselves accountable for equity and excellence and are relentlessly focused on effecting change through critical thinking and innovation, collaboration, and ethical decision-making.  We are blessed to have attended one of the very best schools; it was a time when it was actually possible to be admitted.

Speaking of the 80’s, perhaps I was not as naïve in 1989 as I suggested earlier.  I graduated from Columbia with a bachelors degree in English and a provisional NY state teaching license, so I was wise enough to know then that schools were an ideal platform for the transformation of our world.  I realized that our country is filled with children from all walks of life who need and deserve an excellent education, and I knew that it was my calling in life to contribute to the field with energy and distinction.

With that realization in mind, I return now to the fundamental question posed in “Sans Souci”: What if tomorrow bring sorrow or anything other than joy? And because I am an educator, I’ll add another question:  What if you find yourself at a crossroads, wondering where you can use your resources to make a lasting difference? The answer to both questions is simple: Connect with a school you love, reconnect with Columbia, and I promise that it will feel like oxygen filling your lungs.  And as that air supports the breaths you take, you will be reminded of your strength and potential.  Your soul will sing.

The truth that I have come to know in the 25 years since our college graduation, the message I wish to leave with you, is that life is not sans souci—without care– it is actually filled with care, not the least of which is that our K-12 educational system is in desperate need of repair.  I’m doing my part every day by leveling the playing field for a group of 400 magnificent girls; I want them to camp out on steps for the causes they believe in.  I want them to thrive and lead—to take a seat at the table.  As one of my colleagues said to me recently, “If a woman is not at the table, she will surely be on the menu.” I implore you to use the tools you have at your disposal to repair K-12 education, thereby strengthening the caliber and diversity of Columbia’s future students.  Please don’t delay.  As poet Julia de Bourgos said, we are “made of nows.”  Yes, we pause to reminisce on a momentous occasion such as this one, but we cannot walk backward to yesterday, and tomorrow is the future still.

Sing:  “Sans Souci”

Tomorrow’s the future still,
This is today!
Tomorrow’s the future still,
This is today!

Thank you.

The Good Earth

The Good Earth

Today is Earth Day, the day my father James David Holland died suddenly at the age of 55. He was a fiercely proud Southern man who wore his love for God, music, and poetry like a crown on his head, and his powerful oratory skills as a minister captivated large congregations across the United States. I am his second daughter, born only sixteen months after his first daughter Donna. My mother let it slip one day that she and my father were so fascinated by the mystery and joy of creating new life that they decided to have another child rather quickly—just to see what the next baby would look like. (Oh, the innocence of young married love.) It doesn’t surprise me at all that my younger sister Cecelia was born nine years later.

The Good Earth gave me an incredible father who had a deep appreciation for the beauty and bounty of the natural world. One of his favorite hymns to sing in church on a Sunday morning was “How Great Thou Art,” because the song’s lyrics extolled the wonders of the stars, the thunder, and the whole universe. I believed for a long time that my father’s legacy in my life is the spiritual values, music, and poetry that define my core identity. However, I have also come to understand that one of the many gifts I received from my father was the inspiration to become a faithful environmental steward. He tended the numerous hanging plants in our home in Flatbush, he composted before anyone else in Brooklyn understood what he was doing with eggshells and food scraps, he relished the sight and taste of fresh legumes and vegetables, and he could pick the perfect guava or cantaloupe. As a boy from Orlando, Florida with ancestral roots in Georgia, his favorite harvests were citrus fruits and sweet pecans. Though my mother won the argument over where they would raise their family (New York City), my father achieved many small victories by taking his car off the road and riding the subway Monday through Friday, chopping fresh turnips and snapping green beans in the kitchen, and filling our window sills with voluptuous green leaves. Though I did not enjoy the excruciatingly long car rides to visit family and friends in the South, I remember the way my father’s breathing slowed and deepened as he drove out of the clustered and cluttered city and the expanse of open land appeared.

After six years of living and leading in Northern California, I understand even more deeply how important it is to teach our children that our planet’s natural resources are not infinite and that conserving and regenerating energy are essential to our survival as a people. We are blessed to reside in a part of the country where cities are not long car rides away from groves of trees, mountains, hiking trails, small and large bodies of water, and organic farms. Here in San Francisco, there is no good excuse for living in ignorance or detachment from the Good Earth; therefore, Hamlin has made a real commitment to building environmental sustainability and stewardship into the program and our daily practices as a school community. Our work is not driven by a fiery political agenda—rather, we are compelled by a moral and educational imperative to teach children gratitude for what they have been given and to ensure that they develop respect and responsibility for our local and global environments.

Hamlin’s Eco-Council, founded in the fall of 2007 by Interim Head of School Priscilla Winn Barlow and a group of dedicated Hamlin parents and employees, has been the inspiring force behind and in front of this work. The group created the following statement of purpose that continues to guide Hamlin’s efforts today:

The mission of The Hamlin School Eco-Council is to develop responsible stewards for our planet by educating our entire community about sustainable living practices. As a group, we will identify, initiate, and implement appropriate projects, programs, and curricula to promote the greening of our campus and to expand environmental awareness.

Walk-to-School Wednesdays, waste-free snacks, recycling, composting, Middle School Green Team meetings, making a bench of garbage-stuffed “bottle-bricks” during Earth Week, guest speakers addressing water quality and plastic waste, Grade 6 science classes in the Presidio, and an improved lunch program are giving rise to even bigger ideas and program initiatives that I will be eager to share with you as the 2014-15 school year gets underway. In the meantime, please ask your daughter about today’s Sister-Family activity, her group walk to the newly renovated Lafayette Park, and the fun Earth Day activities at the park. Special thanks to Amy Conger for her impeccable organization and passionate leadership and to the entire Eco-Council for its positive energy and dedication throughout the years. We have exciting work ahead and a very strong foundation to build upon.

My father was green. It makes perfect sense to me that he returned to the earth and sky on Earth Day. Let us all remember to teach our children well and model for them a strong commitment to environmental sustainability. The Good Earth is depending on us.

A Valentine for Sarah Dix Hamlin

2/14/2014 (From Wanda Holland Greene)

During each year’s admission season, I interview the best tour guides in the world—the members of the 8th grade.  If you are wondering what they “know for sure” as they begin to contemplate their graduation from Hamlin, please take some time to read their answers to the question, “What Does It Mean to Be A Hamlin Girl?”  This is our special valentine for our founder, the great Sarah Dix Hamlin.

• Being a Hamlin girl means that you are a strong, smart person who knows how to stand up for herself and others

• Being a Hamlin girl means that you don’t put other people down to make yourself feel better

• Being a Hamlin girl means that you can step out of your comfort zone, and when you do, you have the amazing support of friends and adults to help you

• Being a Hamlin girl means that you have your own beliefs and opinions; you don’t just believe what other people say; you ask questions

• Being a Hamlin girl means contributing positively to your community

• Being a Hamlin girl means being unique in your own special way

• Being a Hamlin girl means being a leader and not just following someone else’s directions

• Being a Hamlin girl means being comfortable with who you and not being worried about what other people think of you

• Being a Hamlin girl means not being afraid to stick up for what you believe in, no matter what it is

• Being a Hamlin girl means making everyone feel welcome, no matter who she is

• Being a Hamlin girl means being excited about the work in front of you, excited about the possibilities ahead of you, being passionate; caring about something deeply; being a Hamlin girl means that you have dreams

• Being a Hamlin girl means not being afraid of challenges and embracing the opportunity to grow as a person

• Being a Hamlin girl means being the best person you can be—no matter what—and being kind always

• Being a Hamlin girl means giving everyone the benefit of the doubt and not falling back into old patterns which turn into hurtful words or hurtful actions

• Being a Hamlin girl means that there is no challenge that is too much of a stretch for you to reach—a Hamlin girl is always up for the challenge

• Being a Hamlin girl means having pride in your school and embodying school spirit

• Being a Hamlin girl means being able to advocate for yourself and get help when you need it

• Being a Hamlin girl means learning to love yourself and the people around you

• Being a Hamlin girl means having opportunities to learn at your leisure

• Being a Hamlin girl means having  resources, being grateful for them, and being able to use them

• Being a Hamlin girl means having over 40 sisters and a lot of parents

• Being a Hamlin girl means learning how to be independent and mature and also knowing that there are people around you to help

• Being a Hamlin girl means that you are setting your own expectations and are self-motivated

• Being a Hamlin girl means appreciating yourself and not being afraid
to appreciate yourself

• Being a Hamlin girl means being able to speak up for yourself and talk about things you believe in and being exactly who you want to be

• Being a Hamlin girl means knowing what’s expected of you, doing what’s expected of you, and then exceeding those expectations

• Being a Hamlin girl means knowing that you have to work hard in school and in friendships, and knowing that you are capable of success in both

• Being a Hamlin girl means not being afraid of who you are or who you will become

• Being a Hamlin girl means changing over time and being patient; please tell the parents that they shouldn’t expect everything to happen in a single year—it takes time to turn into a Hamlin girl

• Being a Hamlin girl means that you have a special bond with all of the other girls in your grade; I have one older sister at home and many “same-age” sisters at school

• Being a Hamlin girl means that we have all had crazy experiences and have been able to try new things and given opportunities to find out who we are; we know what it means to wonder; we know what it means to want to know

• Being a Hamlin girl means being equipped with necessary skills and then taking them to a new level to meet the challenges of our time.

• Being a Hamlin girl means being a part of a family and having a support system of friends and teachers—a big family

• Being a Hamlin girl means facing challenges with enthusiasm and curiosity

• Being a Hamlin girl means you wear your uniform with pride; it makes me happy and proud to be outside in my uniform

• Being a Hamlin girl means being willing to take risks—also being a part of a family where you see what’s right and you see what’s wrong.  At Hamlin, you learn how to fix what’s wrong, not to just stare at it or talk about it

• Being a Hamlin girl means not being discouraged by failure—social or academic—using failure as an opportunity to grow and to get back up

• Being a Hamlin girl means being a part of a community and being curious and wanting to learn about new things and about the world

• Being a Hamlin girl means facing challenges and knowing that you can overcome them eventually

• Being a Hamlin girl means being a part of Pacific Heights—the neighborhood where our school is

• Being a Hamlin girl means gaining strength from the community

• Being a Hamlin girl means being home

• Being a Hamlin girl means that this is where our childhood has taken place.  We have grown together and changed here.  With that comes a lot of pride. This is where my memories are….

• Being a Hamlin girl means gaining skills for life

• Being a Hamlin girl means being confident; being able to compete in a positive way.  We push ourselves forward without fear….

• Being a Hamlin girl means that you are responsible for upholding the school’s reputation

• Being a Hamlin girl means being able to juggle a rigorous academic program with the arts and athletics

• Being a Hamlin girl means being confident and comfortable in your own skin

• Being a Hamlin girl means being a self-advocate

• Being a Hamlin girl means growing up and becoming a confident leader

• Being a Hamlin girl means wanting to try your best and helping others to do so as well

• Being a Hamlin girl means doing the right thing

• Being a Hamlin girl means being part of an inclusive and supportive environment

• Being a Hamlin girl means being comfortable and relaxed at school

• Being a Hamlin girl being honest even when it’s hard

• Being a Hamlin girl means knowing that you have a whole community of girls who are a part of your family; you have sisters

• Being a Hamlin girl means being a loyal friend

• Being a Hamlin girl means that you are a person that cares.  We take that care to a new level; we take action on what we care about

• Being a Hamlin girl means that we create success; we have an appetite for greatness.  My peers push me to be better; we all want to do well.  I constantly want to improve

• Being a Hamlin girl means that we are all striving to change the world; yes, this is a school, but we are learning how to be when you leave it.  I can recognize the traits of a Hamlin girl.

Free-Range for the Holidays


When my friends and family from the East Coast read this edition of “The ‘Mane’ Idea,” they might officially revoke my Native New Yorker card. As a San Francisco resident for the past five and a half years, I have been accused of losing my New York edge and slowing my Brooklyn swagger because I have adopted several Northern Californian tendencies:

a) complaining about “cold weather” (48 degrees and foggy)
b) buying a cup of cold-pressed green juice for $11
c) rising in the dark for morning boot camp classes on the beach
d) fixating on any sandwich layered with sliced avocado
e) relishing my time with a private yoga instructor
f) ordering a “massaged” kale salad without laughing

Yes, I’ve gone soft. 🙂 However, the behavior that proves that I have truly crossed over to the dark side (or at least to the west side) is this:

g) buying my annual Thanksgiving turkey from A TURKEY CONCIERGE

Did I mention that I’ve that gone soft? 🙂

Upon arrival in San Francisco in 2008, I soon discovered that all cows, chickens, and turkeys are NOT created equal, and it is very important to purchase and eat meat and poultry from free-range, organic farms. Specifically, I learned that free-range turkeys have continuous access to the outdoors during the daytime. The range is largely covered in vegetation and allows wide-open space to roam; this unrestricted access to fresh air and daylight means better respiratory health and a better quality of life. The turkeys are able to exercise freely and exhibit their natural “turkey behavior,” which ultimately results in stronger, healthier legs—and better tasting turkey on your dining room table. The moment that I knew the facts of farm life, I headed straight to Whole Foods, spoke to the friendly turkey concierge there, ordered my medium-sized, almost-cooked bird, and I haven’t looked back. If you order your Thanksgiving turkey from Whole Foods like I do, you know that it is quite possibly the most expensive yet most delicious turkey you’ve ever eaten.

I was reminded recently that turkeys aren’t the only things that should be free-range. Exactly one week ago, a vibrant and caffeine-happy group of Hamlin parents joined Parents Association President Jane Gaito and me in welcoming “America’s Worst Mom” to Hamlin. Lenore Skenazy, a columnist and mother living in New York City, became an international symbol (not the positive kind) when she allowed her 9 year-old son to take the subway all by himself. Her sense was that fostering his independence and allowing him “free range” were important to his social-emotional development, and the pride and confidence he would gain from the adventure were inestimable. She did not allow her fear of danger to prevent her from raising a sturdy, capable, and self-reliant child. Well, her actions unleashed the kind of discord, venom, and widespread hysteria seen previously only on The Jerry Springer Show.   Talk show hosts wondered aloud if she loved her children, parents accused her of abuse and neglect, and Law & Order SVU writers ripped the story from the headlines and ripped Lenore to shreds. Like most New Yorkers, Lenore responded by reclaiming her dignity, and she used the power of the pen to fight “the belief that our children are in constant danger from creeps, kidnapping, germs, grades, flashers, frustration, failure, baby snatchers, bugs, bullies, men, sleepovers and/or the perils of a non-organic grape.” With side-splitting humor, Lenore engaged Hamlin parents in a thoughtful conversation about how our parental fears hold our children back from developing independence and confidence. She gently chided us about carpool guidelines (“drop-off” and “pick-up” are words used for children, as if they were fragile packages) and showed us gadgets designed for infant and child safety. (If you weren’t there, just ask someone about the rubber duck with the heat sensor or the kneepads for crawling babies.) Lenore explained to us why parents are consumed with worry, and she offered us advice and practical strategies to help us “lean out” (of our children’s lives) and let go just a little. Are you a parent who hardly lets your child(ren) out of your sight? Do you refuse to allow your daughter to walk the dog, walk to the store, or walk to school on Wednesdays? Look at what happens when I substitute “child(ren)” for “turkeys” in the previous paragraph:

I learned that free-range children have continuous access to the outdoors during the daytime. The range is largely covered in vegetation and allows wide-open space to roam; this unrestricted access to fresh air and daylight means better respiratory health and a better quality of life. The children are able to exercise freely and exhibit their natural “child behavior,” which ultimately results in stronger, healthier legs….”

Children need to stand on their strong legs—physically and emotionally. We will unintentionally stunt their growth if we carry them around everywhere and never let them roam on their own.

During the upcoming holiday season, I want us to try out the Free Range philosophy. (Do whatever you like with your turkey—this philosophy is about children.) If you have a Lower School daughter, give her permission to enjoy Winterfest without you for 20, 30, or 60 minutes. Do you really have to be there when she goes to the carnival or plays on the rooftop, or can she enjoy those activities with a friend while you eat and browse on your own? If you have a Middle School daughter, you can discuss the rules for acceptable behavior and appropriate spending, and then allow her to enjoy Winterfest with her peers.(By the way, you may want to pause your reading and sign up right now for our fun Winterfest activities. Sign-ups are live TODAY!) Winterfest is the perfect place and time to try being a Free-Range parent. Hamlin is safe and familiar…why not try loosening our protective grasp there? After Winterfest, you may decide to sign the Middle School form for “walking privileges” and allow your daughter and a friend to go enjoy frozen yogurt, or to take the bus or walk to meet you somewhere after school. Maybe you will give her the task of walking the dog alone or buying a few items at a nearby Walgreen’s, and you won’t follow her with your eyes or your feet! Lenore gave us much to think about at the Parents Association meeting and during the post-meeting roundtable discussion in my office; essentially, we all have to ask ourselves, “When and how does our love for our precious children morph into something harmful rather than good, and what will we do to pull ourselves back from the edge of paranoia?” Parents need to help each other as we strike the right balance between setting limits and encouraging freedom.

My sister Donna and I rode the New York City subway by ourselves when we were in elementary school; it was the most efficient way to get to Queens after we moved to our new house in Flatbush. We did the grocery shopping at Pathmark for the entire family every Saturday morning and went to the laundromat regularly to wash sheets, towels, and clothes. We took the bus to choir rehearsals. Every day felt like a free-range day. I admit that I used to think that my mother and father had children for the free labor, but I now realize that they were preparing my sister and me for life. Now that my parents are deceased, I truly realize the blessing of having loving parents who did not hover. I am now working on quelling my own parental fears so that David and Jonathan thrive. I was a happy and successful free-range kid, and I now want to be a happy and successful free-range parent.

Please peruse Lenore’s website (, watch her show on the Discovery Channel (when you are traveling outside of the USA—it does not air here), or read her book, and let’s talk turkey. Free-range, of course. See you at Winterfest. 🙂