A Message from the Principal

by Lucia Sullivan on 04/19/2017

Dear Canyon families,

As you know the bridge to Moraga has been closed indefinitely due to concerns about its seismic stability. We know this creates a great inconvenience for many people and we will make an effort to share short cut tips that are successful for others navigating the same detours. Rachel Berger and Jenn Lynn have some ideas about getting kids over the bridge. Please contact them directly if you’d like to collaborate with them on this. Also, Sarah Keller had some alternate route information which I will paste at the bottom of this email.

The Informational Technology committee met yesterday and began work on the development of a new district technology plan, with tasks including but not limited to migrating from a server to cloud storage, developing a district vision around educational technology use, creating an equipment replacement cycle and the development of a curriculum trajectory related to technology skills.

Yesterday we also began our CAASPP testing. Students in grades 3-8 complete computer adaptive tests (this means the problems get easier or harder based on their answers) and performance tasks in Math and English Language Arts. Students in grades 5 and 8 are also tested in Science.

On thing parents have been asking for is a more robust google calendar on our website. A huge thank you to Sarah Keller who has volunteered to do this for us. Let’s work together collaboratively to ensure that she gets field trips, performances, camping trips and any major events that should be on a public school-wide calendar.

Speaking of which, Ken Pitts, will be having the students offer a Capoeira sharing performance at our school assembly Wednesday, May 31st at 1 pm. For anyone who has wondered about what happens in Capoeira, this will be a wonderful opportunity to observe the students’ progress.

The walkathon is this Saturday!! This is our biggest (and only) fundraiser. For those who may be new to the event, it is also a lovely social event, and a great opportunity to get some exercise. Remember to bring $9 for the taco truck lunch. I look forward to seeing you all there!

The Science Fair will be May 25th. Students in K12 will continue the tradition of the Invention Convention. Students in 3-8 will work with Sequoia and staff at school to create a showcase of their learning in Science throughout the year. So, parents of older kids will have the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of our Science Curriculum. Further information will be forthcoming.

Finally, as we begin to develop a hiring process to look for a middle school teacher after Esperanza retires, I would love parent volunteers who would like to participate. Please contact me if you are interested.


A Message from Esperanza

by Esperanza Surls on 02/23/2017

“To everything, turn, turn, turn, there is a season, turn, turn,
and a time to every purpose under heaven,” 
– Pete Seeger via Ecclesiastes

Dear Canyon School Community,

As you may have heard, I have decided to retire next year. As the news has spread, I have received many questions about my reasons for leaving. The short answer is that so many things are going so well. Now that our beloved school has such a competent and visionary leader and staff, I feel comfortable leaving the bulk of the work in their capable hands.

As I pass into the winter of life, I find I have to work hard to maintain the stamina for all the things that I want and need to do. I am very fortunate to have both my parents nearby, but they are at an age where they will need more of my time and energy. I have a high school student at home, three grandchildren, and the promise of more to come. I find that I need more time to devote to my practices of visual art, music, and writing. I am also looking forward to having more time to travel, garden, and to simply roam the hills.

Despite the many things I am looking forward to after my retirement, I have no intention of severing my ties to Canyon School. It has been an important part of my life, and the life of my extended family since I arrived here at age 11 and truly loved school for the first time. I was a student rep to the school board as an 8th grader. I was employed here as a teacher’s aide in 1975-76, a cook in 1979, a teaching assistant in 1989, and as a teacher since 1990. My brothers and sisters, three of my children, and several of my nieces and nephews have attended our beloved school. I plan to continue as the Wednesday art teacher, to be a backup sub, and to serve on various committees. I will leave templates, examples, and curriculum guides for the middle school and art programs.

I am grateful to be part of this wonderful institution which has provided me with so many decades of joy and purpose.


A Message from the Principal

by Lucia Sullivan on 02/16/2017

Hi Folks,

We had a lovely assembly yesterday. Buddy groups are continuing to get to know each other better. We are reviving the tradition of singing at assembly and are developing a cache of known songs. We discussed being gracious recipients of a gift (or valentine). And we talked about intent vs. impact when we laugh and make jokes. Our intent may just be silliness, stress release or attention, but we are responsible for the impact (is our joke or laughing going to hurt someone’s feelings?). I look forward to seeing many of you at the CATSS meeting tonight.

A few key reminders or updates:
Thank you to all who came out for the workday, and those who volunteered outside that day as well (washing dish towels, shoveling mud, etc)!

From here on out we are a Pokemon card-free school. PLEASE DO NOT LET KIDS BRING POKEMON CARDS to school. They have become too much of a distraction and create too much conflict as their ownership is often in question. Thanks!

Please do not park in front of the small pedestrian back gate by the playground (on the far left side if you are looking at the playground from the street). The recycling guy could not get the barrels through the gate on Tuesday morning because there was a car blocking the gate.

There is no sanctioned use of personal technology at Canyon School for students. If your child has a phone or other personal technology, they MAY NOT USE IT at school. ALL devices will be confiscated if seen, and will be held until a parent picks them up. This includes aftercare. Thanks.

The email list permissions have been changed so that we will no longer use the list as a free flowing forum. School will send announcements (and you are welcome to reply to us personally). Room parents and CATSS also have capacity to send emails. If you would like to send an email to the whole community please forward it to Ramona.

I am thrilled to announce that Peggy Lynch has joined our staff as an instructional technology teacher. She will be working in classrooms on Monday afternoons bringing her expertise as a tech teacher in Moraga and assuring that our students have the technology skills they need to effectively use our hardware and software.

It is with very mixed emotions that I share that Esperanza has formally decided that next year will be her last as 678 classroom teacher. She assures us that she will not retire until we have excellent staff hired and trained and will stay on after as the art teacher. Details to follow as they are ironed out.
Regarding field trips, first of all, thank you all for driving. We want to reiterate our policy that we will not leave school until all drivers have arrived. Please be here on time!

Friday we have an author’s visit (http://www.keirgraff.com). Keir Graff will be here at school speaking about his new book Matchbook castle. There is an order form that was sent home if you would like to purchase a signed copy of the book for your child.

Our new Intervention program is up and running and we are implementing initial math assessments. In a previous email I shared about the Response to Intervention model (RtI). Sometimes students have academic knowledge gaps, and moving the class along while also helping a small group catch up is a perennial challenge for all teachers. This web-based program conducts a diagnostic assessment which targets precise learning gaps (and areas of advanced attainment) and creates a sequential, explicit learning path with lessons, practice and assessments to fill in knowledge gaps. We are eager to get the program fully implemented for all kids with identified needs and hope that it will “work its way out of use” by filling in the gaps and making itself obsolete. This is part of the general education program and is not specialized instruction or part of special education. I will reach out to parents whose children will be using the intervention program regularly so that you are able to use it at home if you would like.

As always, I am always available to speak with you about any concerns or hopes and wishes you my have.

A Message from the Principal

by Lucia Sullivan on 01/25/2017

Greetings Canyon Families,

I came across a wonderful article that articulates why Number Sense is a key component of modern math instruction. It can be challenging to succinctly explain mathematical pedagogy and this article does a great job of outlining how and why mathematics instruction has changed over time. I think it is a great read!

This Saturday, January 28th will be a workday from 10-12. Please join us (especially if you have not yet had an opportunity to volunteer). There is a sign up below– please sign up if you are coming. Thanks!

Also, I took my kids (ages 8 & 11) to see the new film Hidden Figures a few weeks ago and was really struck by its power. Both in the ways it highlighted the contributions of black women (who were not mentioned in the Right Stuff, a movie about the same events, but with a focus on the astronauts) and makes explicit the function of mathematics in “real” life. In fact, during a particularly climactic scene, my 8 year old gasped, “this is why math matters!” Apparently, it was well researched and sources say it was quite accurate. The film is set in 1967 and the systemic racism is everywhere (separate bathrooms, etc), but the contributions these women made was incontrovertible, and like any good story some people change as a result of encountering them. I would highly recommend it for kids 8 and up– And thinking about lesser known stories has inspired us as a staff to use this use this year’s Women’s History Night to explore the stories of these and other “hidden figures”. Our youngest kids often keep their focus on family members, and that is wonderful and appropriate. At the same time, we will be encouraging the older students to find a woman to study whose story may be lesser known. We want to make sure that our students understand that in large part the history we learn is the history that gets talked about and we can broaden that conversation by making intentionally inclusive choices.

Upcoming Events:
1/26 Lunar Feast (lunch for all:)
1/28 Parent workday
1/30-2/3 Sex Education in grades 5-8 (Parents of these students were given an opt out permission slip. We assume you are in unless you opt out)
2/10 345 Field Trip
2/14 Board Meeting
2/15 K12 Field Trip
2/20 No School (President’s day)
3/01 read Across America
3/02 Pi Day
3/06 No school
3/14 Board Meeting

Hope you are all staying warm and dry!

A Message from the Principal

by Lucia Sullivan on 12/08/2016

December 2016

It is hard to believe that 2016 is coming to an end already. As we prepare for the new calendar year, I’d like to reflect on the fall and look forward to the remainder of the year. These last days are very busy.

This fall I shared with the community that our goals this year were focused on the math program and social climate. I gave a brief survey and many of you responded. I have pasted pictures of the responses below. I asked on a scale of 1-5, how well do you think we are meeting the needs of your child as a math learner? And, on a scale of 1-5, how well are we doing at establishing a friendly and respectful school climate? The average scores were 4.06 and 4.4 respectively. On the math scale three respondents gave scores indicating they are not satisfied with the math instruction their children are receiving and because the survey was anonymous, I can only encourage you to contact me so that we can discuss your concerns.

As a school, we are working hard to assess students accurately so that we understand what they know and are able to do and then are able to place them in a math course that will best challenge or support them. In the older grades we are currently offering accelerated math instruction. In the younger grades we aim to differentiate instruction so that they are challenged with their peers. We also use an approach called RtI (Response to Intervention) to address knowledge gaps. Often students who have switched schools may have missed instruction in a key area that can hamper their later achievement. RtI is a regular education intervention, where we identify a need and provide extra instruction in key skills with the goal being that students are able to successfully resume grade level work with their peers. Typically an intervention lasts 6-8 weeks.

The January 12th CATSS meeting will be a parent discussion of a book or article related to Bullying. I am reading Bully Nation by Susan Eva Porter.

A few reminders:
1. Please do your best not to schedule routine appointments or high school visits/tours in the two weeks prior to a production. The teachers work incredibly hard to get robust productions completed in a very short window of time so as not to disrupt the regular academic program. Absences during performance rehearsals can cause significant stress for the whole group. If 8th graders are visiting potential future high schools, please let us know in advance.
2. We REALLY need your help with keeping your child paid up for lunch. Last year our Auditor was concerned about the number of unpaid lunches we had on the books. Currently more than 15% of the community owes money to the lunch program. I would strongly encourage you to purchase lunch cards in sets of two or three. When the lunch program runs a deficit this causes financial problems universally. One pattern I have observed is that a child will owe 5-10 lunches and then purchase a new lunch card. What is challenging is that the new lunch card winds up only being good for 10-15 lunches (since part of it absorbed a debt) and fills quickly… Lunch cards do carry over from year to year, so please, do everyone a favor and buy lunch cards in bulk.
3. Canyon is a small school community and relies on parents to volunteer. We are in the process of creating a more comprehensive sign up of all the many needs we have around the school. If you work full time and are unable to to volunteer during the school day, there are still lots of ways to help out. There will be a winter work day Saturday, January 28th. If you can’t do that, we can always find something for you (take the blankets in the office home and launder them, take a run to the dump or the goodwill, we could go on and on…). We will also need a group of parents Friday, February 17th who can help move furniture from classrooms to the multipurpose room so that the floors can be stripped and waxed.
4. Whenever possible, please do not send snacks that are individually wrapped. Children do their best to handle waste responsibly, but wrappers inevitably wind up in the grove and creek and this is not okay. The best way to reduce litter is to prevent so many wrappers from entering the campus.
5. Forts are ephemeral. They just don’t last. Of course we want to treat each other’s creations with respect. But please do frequently remind your child that forts are like sandcastles: fun to build and amazing when they last a while.
All classes are doing some sort of gift exchange before the holiday. As a parent, I never feel like I have enough reminders– so you are all reminded.

2016 has not been my favorite year and I welcome the change of the calendar. At the same time, I am truly shocked by the rate at which it has been moving along. I hope things slow down a bit over the next few months. Today at assembly the children talked about what they were looking forward to over break. You will be heartened to know that far and away the most common thing that kids were excited about was time with family. Whatever your winter break includes, time with friends and family; flurried activities; religious observance; travel; crafts, art and music… I wish you and your family a restful, peaceful time that refreshes you all.

And as always, I welcome your feedback. Please make a time to speak to me by phone or in person if you have thoughts to share.


A Message from State Schools Chief, Tom Torlakson

News Release

CONTACT: Robert Oakes
PHONE: 916-319-0818
November 10, 2016
E-MAIL: communications@cde.ca.gov

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Assures California Public School Students That They are Safe From Discrimination and Bullying

SACRAMENTO— State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today issued a statement reassuring California public school students from kindergarten through grade twelve that they are all safe from discrimination and bullying:
“I know that the outcome of the recent Presidential election has caused deep concern among many students and their families. The nation maintains a strong tradition for the peaceful transition of power. And I want to let all of California’s 6.2 million public school students know that keeping them safe from discrimination and bullying at our great state’s 11,000 public schools is a top priority.
“In California, diversity is strength. Our students come from all kinds of backgrounds, cultures, languages, and religions, and they all come together to learn on their way to success in 21st century careers and college. California already has, and will always maintain, strong legal and state Constitutional protections against any and all kinds of discrimination, regardless of a student’s race, ethnicity, faith, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
“And I want to tell young women and girls that they will always be safe, be respected, and be protected at school. As the proud father of two daughters, I know that girls can achieve anything, succeed at anything they choose, and earn the respect that they deserve every day at school, in the workplace, and in our communities. California moves forward, not back.”

Talking About the Election Results

by Lucia Sullivan on 11/09/2016
This article is from Common Sense Media. Thanks Sierra!

A Message from the Principal

by Lucia Sullivan on 11/08/2016

Hi Folks,

I hope you have all voted!

We had the opportunity to create a polling station at school today and conduct a mock election. Several students ran the polling station, checking in voters, fielding questions and counting the votes. The kids were very engaged and excited to participate (with the exception of Kindergarten which was mostly confused, but we wanted to include them). The results were overwhelmingly conclusive. Kids voted for Hillary Clinton, Jill Stein and Gloria Estela La Riva for President. Interestingly no votes were cast for president for men by any member of the Canyon community. It was less decisive for Senate and Representative… There are pictures on the Canyon Facebook page.

I have heard from CATSS that they would like to do a parent book group and start with Bully Nation by Susan Eva Porter. I ordered my copy this morning and look forward to the discussion (date TBD)! CATSS will be meeting Thursday night after the K12 Lantern Walk.

There is no school this Friday. Next week is minimum days all week. Aftercare is available to all members of the school community during this week on a drop in basis. Please make sure you schedule your conference time.

Would you be interested in serving on our STEAM committee this year? I know Therese Peffer and Nils Kauffman are interested. Who else would like to join? This year we need to review our technology plan. As teachers are working to implement more technology in their classrooms, it would be great to see what sort of expertise we have in our community that could support their efforts.

Please remember to reclaim your possessions. We have a lot of serve ware from snack and outerwear kids have left about. Your home items want to reconnect with you!

I enjoy hearing from you and your feedback is always helpful. So please email, call, schedule a meeting or grab me when you see me if there is anything you would like to discuss.


Upcoming Dates:
11/10 school pictures
11/10 K12 Lantern Walk
11/10 CATSS meeting
11/11 Veteran’s day no school
11/14-11/18 minimum days
11/15 Opera a la carte
11/21-11/25 Thanksgiving vacation
12/02 K12 Field Trip Buddhist Monastery
12/04 Art Faire
12/14 Daytime Dress Rehearsal Winter Performance
12/15 Evening Winter performance
12/16 minimum day
12/19-1/02 Winter Break

Welcome Back from the Principal

by Lucia Sullivan on 08/31/2016

Dear Canyon Families,

Welcome back! What a wonderful first day we had! I love back to school! It was such a thrill to see the students’ faces full of anticipation, excitement and wonder as they were reaquainted with teachers and friends. I was so proud to watch our returning students warmly greet the new students, introducing themselves and inviting them to play.

It is important to note that K12 will have their back to school night tomorrow (this Thursday) at 6 PM because Judy will need to be at a family funeral next week. Back to school night for 345 and 678 will be next Thursday, September 8th at 7 PM.

We have had a busy end of summer getting ready for all of you! The teachers and staff had a professional learning workshop to support the implementation of our new Social Emotional Learning Curriculum, The Caring School Community from the Center for the Collaborative Classroom. https://www.collaborativeclassroom.org/caring-school-community
They also had professional learning about the Standards for Mathematical Practices. http://www.corestandards.org/Math/Practice/ We are all eager to share our new learning with the students and continue to to enrich and improve their learning experience.

We have been working on the building too! David Lascurettes (Misty’s husband) has refinished the hardwood floors in the multipurpose room. He even stained a four square court on the floor to make the space more useful for indoor activity on rainy days. The floors look beautiful; make sure to wipe your feet! Brian Coyle, our school board member, resurfaced the bathrooms floors in an effort to improve both their appearance and their functionality. We are grateful to both of them! There are always other projects to do, but these were both important and we are so glad they were able to be completed before the start of school.

Another exciting change is that we will be moving recess to before lunch. There is quite a bit of research to suggest that kids are better served nutritionally, academically and socially by making this switch. https://peacefulplaygrounds.com/recess-before-lunch/ We recognize that there may be bumps in the road as we change some longstanding routines (like moving morning recess 15 minutes earlier), but we are confident that in the long run children will have a better, more positive and effective school day for making the switch.

Recently there has been a lot of research about the usefulness of homework in the elementary grades. Much of the research suggests that homework in the elementary grades does not contribute to academic achievement and may in fact extinguish the love of learning and enthusiasm for school that most young children naturally exhibit. As a result, Canyon school will be emphasizing reading as a valuable nightly activity, along with quality time with caring adults (playing a game, having a lively discussion or doing something active together) and some projects that are intended to be fun and exciting for children to work on at home. We will also continue to offer optional activities like IXL (and may occasionally ask children to complete work not finished in school that is important for their academic progress).

If you are interested in reading more about reducing/eliminating homework:

Should Schools Be Done With Homework?


I am excited for a wonderful year of learning with you and your children. I look forward to seeing you at back to school night either this Thursday (for K12) or next Thursday (345 and 678).


Summer Reading

by Lucia Sullivan on 06/14/2016

Dear Canyon Families,

I hope you are enjoying your first days of summer vacation. As an educator, a reader and a parent myself, I LOVE summer reading! I try to read one or two professional books that will guide my thinking in the coming school year, but I will confess that I also love beach reads. Liane Moriarty has a new book coming out soon and I can’t wait for it to magically appear on my kindle. I have already started Terry McMillan’s new book, I Almost Forgot About You, and am finding it immediately absorbing in the way that summer reading should be.

If you are wondering what your kids should be reading this summer, my personal belief is follow their interests and go for volume. They should have books to read that they are dying to get to. Books that will eat up a whole day are the best! I have “borrowed” some summer reading suggestions from Berkeley and former colleagues if you would like suggestions. My advice is to find a great children’s librarian in your neighborhood, sign up for their summer reading program (they often have great prizes!) and have your child tell the librarian the last book they read that they loved. The librarian will know where to go from there.

Some kids love informational text in short form. Consider a subscription to National Geographic for kids, Cobblestone, Cricket, Ranger Rick, Popular mechanics… your librarian will have more ideas and copies available to borrow.

A lot of guides suggest having kids read one or two books in the summer– I am suggesting a novel a week as a baseline for my boys, but we aren’t doing much camp and they will have the time. There is a lot to be said for volume… You know your family best!

Common Sense Media has a fabulous searchable database by age

Also, from Common Sense Media (Thank you Sierra and your colleagues!)– a punch list of 50 titles your kid should read before age 12– I particularly loved reviewing the early readers and remembering reading them together…


This is the Berkeley Public Schools Website with Summer Reading by grade level

American Library Association 6-8 reading list– GREAT recommendations for middle school aged kids


a librarian blog to inspire you!

Contra Costa Summer Reading Program

Oakland Library Summer Reading Program

Alameda County Library programs

Barnes & Nobles Summer Reading Program

Scholastic Summer Reading Program

Happy Reading!