St. Margaret’s professional community engaged in its unique innovation strategy, specifically planning for upcoming ethnographic research to advance schoolwide priorities during Monday’s busy and productive in-service day. Each division also spent time in professional development around specific curricular and programmatic areas.

The Innovation Strategy is St. Margaret’s strategic approach to continually designing and realizing the future of the school. Monday’s in-service day was a continuance of October’s in-service day, when professional community members met in self-selected teams to have in-depth conversations and revisit action steps in seven priority areas of schoolwide focus:

  • Curriculum & Pedagogy
  • Health & Well-Being
  • Professional Development
  • Technology
  • Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
  • Experiential & Service Learning
  • Methods for Student Feedback
On Monday, the same teams reconvened to continue their work by preparing for ethnographic interviews specific to each area of focus.

Over the next several weeks, each member of the professional community will conduct an interview with an “end user” in the St. Margaret’s community—a student, a parent, or a fellow faculty or staff member—to better understand needs in their area of focus and define priorities for the future.

“Our professional community has been extraordinary over the past two years, rapidly innovating to meet the immediacy of the pandemic,” said Ryan Dahlem, assistant head of school for strategic initiatives. “It is exciting to be engaging in a new round of ethnographic research to inform our plans and priorities as we chart our course forward in these strategic areas.”

You can read more about St. Margaret’s use of ethnographic research in the upcoming Winter 2022 Highlander.

Division-Specific Professional Development

In addition to the innovation strategy work, Monday’s in-service day had time for each division to further its professional development. It included:

Early Childhood School: St. Margaret’s Early School welcomed Beth Van Meeteren to campus for a week as scholar-in-residence. Ms. Van Meeteren met with Early School faculty to discuss constructivist teaching practices, part of a full week of learning and engagement.

Lower School: Teachers met in grade-level teams for articulation in math, as the division adopts a new math edition of Everyday Math. Specialists, meanwhile, continued collaborative planning to incorporate the United Nations Sustainable Goals, discuss upcoming events and brainstormed enhancements to next year’s progress reports.

Middle School: Middle School teachers took time to reflect on programmatic decisions made over the past two years as a response to pandemic guidelines, and make decisions to move forward with some of those learning strategies that could continue to help students. Examples include continuing to post instructional video content on mySMES, and continuing to use platforms such as Flipgrid for instructional purposes and informative assessments.

Upper School: The Upper School also assessed its teaching strategies over the past two years, as well as discussed policies going forward as Every Tartan, Every Day health and safety guidelines continue to evolve.

Affinity Groups

St. Margaret’s also held optional professional community affinity group meetings to wrap up the in-service day.



St. Margaret’s professional community engaged in another valuable in-service day on Tuesday, as faculty and staff from all corners of the school came together to have valuable conversations around the school’s strategic initiatives.

The day served as an opportunity for the professional community to connect across divisions and offices, providing diverse perspectives and a cross-pollination of ideas. While work on the school’s Innovation Strategy is continuous at St. Margaret’s —allowing for wide-scale and fast implementation of initiatives like the Every Tartan, Every Day pandemic response and other strategic priorities—Tuesday’s in-service day was a chance to have in-depth conversations on several different areas of short- and long-term focus that will be vital to the future of the school.

The professional community divided into seven self-selected areas of strategic focus on Tuesday:

  • Curriculum & Pedagogy
  • Health & Well-Being
  • Professional Development
  • Technology
  • Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
  • Experiential & Service Learning
  • Methods for Student Feedback
Each area of focus had between 25 and 40 members of the professional community involved, as groups first met by division and offices before coming together for a larger combined conversation outdoors on St. Margaret’s campus. Faculty and staff discussed their strategic area and the progress made over the last several years, revisited action steps and language around their priority, and addressed new needs.

True to the design-thinking methodology at the root of St. Margaret’s Innovation Strategy, members of the professional community will next reach out to students (St. Margaret’s primary “end user”) as well as colleagues and parents to conduct ethnographic interviews around these topics. Future in-service days in January and March will bring the professional community back together to share end-user input and further define the school’s direction in these priorities.

“It was so exciting to spend the day engaged in our Innovation Strategy work,” said Assistant Head of School for Strategic Initiatives Ryan Dahlem. “These important discussions foster a culture of innovation and capacity for change, both of which have been invaluable throughout the pandemic and will continue to be leveraged with our strategic priorities moving forward. I am grateful for the creative energy and commitment of our professional community members who bring this work to life on behalf of our students and entire school community.”

The in-service day also included optional professional community affinity group discussions and a tour of the new Ortega Administrative Offices building now occupied by several departments recently relocated from Wallace Hall.



The 2020-2021 school year displayed a deep capacity for innovation throughout the entire St. Margaret’s community. The school’s primary strategic initiative, unpredicted yet perhaps the most significant after its opening 41 years ago, was to run a full-time, on-campus program for every student during a once-in-a-century global health crisis. The vision for this endeavor was articulated in the Every Tartan, Every Day Campus Reopening Plan and executed by the professional community so all students had the opportunity to be on campus for vital connections with teachers and peers that were missing during the pandemic lockdown last spring.

Mindsets and skillsets developed through the school’s Innovation Strategy and tested during the shift to Remote Learning were leveraged to deliver St. Margaret’s mission, in-person, amidst a dynamic pandemic environment. The Innovation Strategy approach is driven by mission and core values, is student-centered, relies on the educational expertise of the professional community and embraces piloting and iteration for constant improvement. These layers foster a culture of innovation that empowers professional community members to adapt in real time and meet student needs.

The following is a list of accomplishments for the Every Tartan, Every Day plan as well as a summary of ongoing strategic initiatives pursued in conjunction with this primary strategic focus of the year.

Every Tartan, Every Day Campus Reopening Plan
  • Continuous Learning Plan designed and implemented, including Campus Flex model with capacity to serve all students daily on campus and Concurrent Learning model serving students needing to remain at home.
  • New daily schedule launched to provide optimal academic daily cadence while following all health and safety protocols.
  • Significant technology enhancements included advanced videoconferencing systems in every classroom, upgraded network and increased campus bandwidth.
  • Thermal camera technology systems installed at four health screening stations for campus entry.
  • Extensive campus analysis led to reimagined campus usage and flow by customizing existing classrooms and renovating additional campus areas into new classrooms and flexible learning spaces.
  • Expanded state-of-the-art Health Center more than doubled existing square footage and added new negative pressure isolation room to separate sick visitors.
  • Nursing staff expanded to three full-time Registered Nurses.
  • Comprehensive virus testing program implemented to monitor the health of the school community through baseline and ongoing surveillance testing.
  • Customized online Health Check app developed internally to monitor daily health of the community and control campus access through QR code check-in process.
  • Parent surveys demonstrated very strong support and agreement rates for campus safety (99%), technology support (98%), communication during COVID (98%), mission delivery (96%) and academic support (94%). The recommendation rating on a scale of 0 to 10 scored a mean of 8.8 and median of 10.
Elevating Curriculum and Pedagogy
  • The professional community creatively designed learning and community experiences within health and safety protocols that included new approaches to classroom activities, labs, assessments, discussions, advisories, convocations, Chapel services, tutorials, guest speakers, recess, arts performances, athletic workouts and competitions, awards ceremonies and end of year celebrations.
  • New course offerings included Architecture, an Economics elective and Advanced Dance and Composition.
  • The pandemic itself became part of the curriculum, with Middle School history students documenting and archiving news and experiences, Upper School science students simulating COVID-19 antibody testing and dance students expressing the emotional hardship of the pandemic through their artform.
  • Classroom cameras and Zoom allowed for a variety of guest speakers and interactions, including with numerous alumni.
  • The Artist in Residence program continued, virtually, with visual artist Alexandra Grant.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
  • The Board of Trustees approved final language for the newest Core Value of Equity and Inclusion (We embrace and celebrate the identity of every human being, and advocate for equity, inclusion and justice), and updated language for the other four Core Values.
  • A full-day DEI Symposium was held for the Professional Community, including workshops and panels led by the 52-member Equity Team and Director of Equity and Inclusion.
  • Equity Team initiatives included culturally responsive teaching, incorporation of the Teaching Tolerance anti-bias framework, interpretation services for language justice, updates to the school’s hiring process and designing for equity in a COVID-19 environment.
  • A DEI survey was administered to Upper School students to better understand experiences and perceptions and to identity differences among demographic groups.
  • Affinity groups launched for the professional community and were piloted with Upper School students.
  • Discussions continued with ISC (International School Consulting) regarding a St. Margaret's international partnership or campus.
Health and Wellness
  • Campus health and safety protocols prevented transmission of COVID-19 on campus.
  • Counseling personnel increased to provide additional resources and support for student social and emotional wellbeing.
  • A support team was formed to address needs of Concurrent Learners.
  • Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) programming was implemented in Lower School.
  • PTF Speaker Series focused on Community Wellness and Connection, featuring inspiring experts and authors Dolly Chugh, Steve Pemberton and Wendy Mogel.
Technology and STEAM
  • St. Margaret’s continued its partnership with The Social Institute to expand social media education. Two Upper School students served as an intern and ambassador with the organization to further the work at a national level.
  • Girls in STEAM Symposium was hosted virtually and included engaging female speakers from industry and universities as well as hands-on experiences for participants.
  • St. Margaret’s received the AP Computer Science Female Diversity Award, recognized as one of only 288 schools in the nation to have 50 percent or higher female exam takers in the challenging AP Computer Science A course.
  • A female sophomore student earned the Pritzker Engineering Early Distinction Award from The University of Chicago.
  • Another female sophomore student was awarded first place in the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship World Series of Innovation for her app enabling better financial access for unbanked people.
  • The FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) robotics team practiced and competed throughout the pandemic and qualified for the Southern California/Greater Los Angeles Championship.
  • The Upper School eSports Team posted a 10-6 record with one student ranking 3rd out of 754 students for the season on an in-game measure of success.
  • Lower School Family STEAM night was shifted to a virtual platform with engaging activities for students and families to participate in from home.
  • A Digital Events Manager was hired to support the numerous virtual events added to the calendar.
  • A full assessment of St. Margaret’s Technology Department was engaged in collaboration with a consultant who conducted 75 virtual interviews across all St. Margaret’s constituencies.
Experiential and Service Learning
  • Community partnerships were sustained through the pandemic to meet authentic local needs.
  • Service Learning activities were adjusted for physical distancing including food drives to support homeless and food-insecure populations, letter-writing drives for frontline medical workers and firefighters, support for special needs populations navigating the pandemic, and materials to assist a local elementary school with physical distancing for students.
  • Imaginative virtual technology lessons were created by students and shared with senior assisted-living residents.
  • 1,000 paper cranes for healing were made and delivered to a local hospital.
  • Many service activities were designed to increase community connection om campus, including Middle School students writing letters and making videos for Lower and Early School students, Lower School students making gratitude bags for St. Margaret’s behind-the-scenes heroes, and Upper School students creating personalized Valentine’s for Lower School students.
  • Three seniors were awarded a $5,000 community service grant through the Dragon Kim Foundation and completed a project installing new LED lighting on the San Juan Elementary School campus.
  • The All-School Service Learning Project supported the Ecology Center’s Nourishing Neighbors program and raised over $15,000 in cash and household item donations.
  • The Service Learning Leadership Team presented an overview of the Service Learning Program to the Board of Trustees.
  • Field trips resumed with new health and safety protocols including Marine Science students to the Dana Point tide pools, Lower School students to the Carlsbad Flower Fields and Ecology Center, Middle School students to the beach and a variety of Independent Senior Projects including outdoors experiences to Idyllwild, Mt. Whitney and Colorado.
Professional Development
  • All faculty participated in a required Continuous Learning summer professional development course focused on online navigability, student engagement and assessment.
  • Two additional days of meetings were held in August to support professional community preparation for the opening of the school year.
  • Becca Stevens’ virtual visit inspired the professional community at the start of an ambitious and uncertain year.
  • Four Flex Days were added to the school calendar and utilized for additional planning and professional community health and wellness.
  • Dr. Jacqueline Brooks, a constructivist expert, conducted virtual training in the Early Childhood School.
  • St. Margaret’s joined the California Teacher Development Collaborative to foster dynamic collaborations among independent school educators.
  • Professional community members presented and led sessions at virtual conferences across the country, including the NAES Biennial Conference and NAIS Annual Conference.
  • A professional community survey revealed themes of 1) time needed for personal wellness and self-care; 2) increased opportunities for connection with each other; and 3) increased opportunities to provide input for next year’s planning. Actions in response included a health and wellness personal day in March, opportunities for planning input including eight open meetings with an ongoing digital platform for input, and in-person closing meetings and morning social gatherings.
Looking Ahead

St. Margaret’s will continue to navigate the next chapter of the pandemic utilizing the Innovation Strategy approach. The following initiatives are already in place:
  • The Concurrent Learning Program will transition to the Home Learning Accommodation for the 2021-2022 school year.
  • A new schedule was developed for the 2021-2022 school year with student and professional community input for increased community connection, tutorial support and experiential learning opportunities.
  • New course offerings include Advanced Acting and Cinematic Arts, Race and Racism in United States History, and Solving STEM Problems with Computer Science.
  • The PTF Parent Up Speaker Series will feature a health and wellness theme and include experts with clinical and academic expertise.
  • The Upper School Service Learning Program with return with community engagement during the school day.
  • Faculty are designing new curricula through the school’s Innovation Summer Grant program.
St. Margaret’s will also move forward with focus areas from the current Strategic Plan, with input from the last CAIS/WASC accreditation visit, and generate a progress report due in October 2022. This work will be approached with a fresh perspective by pulling forward the new skills developed and needs identified during the pandemic.



St. Margaret’s Episcopal School Board of Trustees concluded a year-long review of the school’s guiding principles last week at its October 2020 meeting when the school’s governing body finalized and unanimously approved updated language to the school’s Core Values:  

Character - We emphasize integrity, spirituality, empathy, perseverance and responsibility.

Community - We champion mutual respect, engagement, collaboration, service learning and a commitment to the common good.

Balance and Breadth - We believe personal growth, balance and well-being are fostered through a broad range of academic, artistic, athletic and co-curricular opportunities.

High Expectations - We prepare and empower our students to discover and develop their unique gifts and talents to achieve their full potential.

Equity and Inclusion - We embrace and celebrate the identity of every human being, and advocate for equity, inclusion and justice.

An institution’s core values work alongside its mission as shared, fundamental beliefs that guide and nurture school culture and the manner in which the community lives and works together. Noteworthy changes to the St. Margaret’s Core Values language include the full articulation of the Equity and Inclusion Core Value, adopted in October 2019, and incorporating the focus of well-being, service learning, empathy, perseverance and empowerment.

“An integral part of the role of the Board of Trustees is to safeguard the Mission and institutional long-term planning. This includes periodic review and affirming the Core Values that guide our actions and strategic vision for the institution,” Board of Trustees President Paul Westhead said. “The Board of Trustees is proud to recognize the tremendous effort and progress made over the last several years in the area of equity and inclusion, and we believe establishing it as one of our Core Values is a statement to our families and the broader community about who we are today and what we aspire to be in the years to come.”

The Board’s initial review of the Core Values by the Long-Range Strategic Planning Committee last year revealed the need to elevate and emphasize an important priority and focus of the school, and they proposed and approved the new Equity and Inclusion Core Value in the fall of 2019.

“We recognized that our deepening and long-term commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, cultural competency and justice over the past decade had surpassed the position of a strategic priority for our institution. Rather it is a foundational touchstone, as our other Core Values along with our Episcopal identity, that should guide everything we do and our outlook for the future,” Head of School Will Moseley said. “We will lean on our Equity and Inclusion Core Value to inform and guide us as we educate our students and care for our community, especially as we work toward becoming an increasingly antiracist institution. This is the most impactful work we will do as a school community and with our young people, and cementing it into the bedrock of our institution as a Core Value was vitally important.”

The fifth core value was approved at the October 2019 Board of Trustees meeting and expanded the existing values of Character, Community, Balance and Breadth, and High Expectations. 

To conduct the review, Trustees divided into self-selected teams dedicated to each Core Value to review the descriptions and provide feedback and any recommended changes or additions based on the institution as it is today and the Board’s vision and aspirations for its future. The Board asked the professional community to conduct the same review process, which also occurred by self-selected Core Values teams across the entire school at the January 2020 professional development day. The process allowed for meaningful reflection and discussion on each statement to validate the institution’s values and beliefs, as well as to support shared understanding and purpose.

The long-range strategic planning committee reviewed all feedback and made final decisions on updated language, which was approved at the October 2020 Board of Trustees meeting and has been updated in guiding documents for the school.



By Victor Cota, Director of Equity and Inclusion

My grandparents met each other while working in the farm fields of San Juan Capistrano. My grandfather attended Mission SJC for grade school. My grandmother, speaking limited English and working multiple jobs to make ends meet, raised four children effectively as a single mother. Three generations later, my children—and their great-grandchildren—attend the premier educational institution in Orange County.

We all have a story. Every member of the St. Margaret’s community, including and especially you, has a story. When we weave these stories together, we create a beautiful fabric that honors those who came before us, celebrates those with whom we share community, and prepares future generations to thrive in a multicultural world.

St. Margaret’s also has a story. When we, as an institution, look in the mirror, we can do two things at the same time: celebrate the journey that has brought us to today, and be honest with ourselves about the places where we can still grow. In the wake of celebrating our school’s 40th anniversary, we look back and fondly remember the stories, traditions and people who shaped our school’s path. Just as we do with ourselves and our own stories, we look back and smile at all that has led us to today, and we get excited about how we can use that history as a foundation for our future.

And, if we are being fully honest with ourselves, we also acknowledge the harder truths about St. Margaret’s: the “white flight” narrative of independent schools in the United States, the cultural realities of who, historically, has versus has not felt a sense of belonging at St. Margaret’s, and the painful stories of alumni, students, and professional community members from underrepresented identities and how those people might still be healing. Just as we do with ourselves and our own stories, we look back at these harder truths, reflect upon their impact, and commit unapologetically to doing better.

Last fall 2019, our Board of Trustees approved the adoption of a fifth core value: Equity and Inclusion. At successful institutions, mission-aligned core values set the foundation for strategy and shape daily culture. Equity and Inclusion joins our other four core values—Character, Community, Balance and Breadth, and High Expectations—to act as a guidepost for the future of our school. By Equity and Inclusion, we mean an institutional commitment to the just and fair treatment and equal access to opportunity for every person, embracing their unique identities so that they can thrive in our community and in the world beyond St. Margaret’s.
Head of School Will Moseley said, “St. Margaret’s Core Values coupled with our Episcopal identity comprise the foundational touchstone that guide all Tartans at St. Margaret’s and everywhere we venture into the world. As we have deepened our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion work over the past decade, as well as our own cultural competency, we recognized that something as central to who we are—equity, inclusion, justice and our recent proclamation to becoming an increasingly antiracist institution—could not be implied, rather must be explicitly articulated. I have shared many times, that this is the most impactful work we will do as a school community and with our young people, and cementing it into the bedrock of our institution as a Core Value was vitally important.”

“For me personally, I have learned the value of equity and inclusion from my time here and St. Margaret’s and from my experience with TIDE. Equity and Inclusion are crucial to the success of a school and helps the school function and helps for all members of the school to feel accepted and brings the community together.” — Josh

What do we mean by Inclusion? By inclusion, we mean our ability to honor and respect the dignity of every human being. Inclusion means that when you and I walk onto campus, we can bring our full selves each and every day. Our backgrounds, life experiences, thoughts, countries of origin, cultures, faiths, languages, foods, music and social identifiers belong here. Fully and without exception. When we engage in inclusion work, we ask ourselves, “Is every member of our community able to co-create the culture of our school? Whose voices and experiences are included? Whose are not?”

What do we mean by Equity? Whenever and wherever we find that certain voices and experiences are less represented than others, that is when equity work kicks in. Here is an important and potentially uncomfortable truth for us all to understand: ours is a world of imbalanced access to opportunities and resources. As a result, people in the same community will have very different experiences. When we engage in equity work, we ask ourselves, “Who is favored? Who is not? Who has privilege in this situation? Who does not?” Then, as we become more comfortable and informed in this dialogue, we immediately ask, “What will we do about it?” Sometimes this means reflecting on individual behaviors and sometimes it means examining entire systems. What matters is that we ask the questions, move through any subsequent discomfort, and then act.

“In my experience, equity has been much more meaningful and impactful than equality because it focuses on the real needs of different communities rather than the perceived needs. Justice is not about making everything equal and the same—individuals and communities are beautifully unique with unique needs.” — Angela


“Equity and inclusion, in its ideal form, means everyone, no matter their socio-economic or ethnic background, is given an opportunity to succeed along with a sense of belonging and importance.  It is integral St. Margaret's prioritizes equity and inclusion because this school must optimize the potential of young students and provide them with an environment in which they can thrive and positively motivate, inspire, and positively change their respective communities.” —Shea

I believe that we have a moral imperative to graduate culturally competent leaders from St. Margaret’s. It is no secret that Tartan alumni go on to serve as leaders and influencers in the world. We would expect nothing less from our school; in fact, I have this same expectation for my own two children. The key, from the perspective of Equity and Inclusion, is that these future leaders go on to behave in a manner that fights against inequity and promotes justice in the world. For that reason, we continue to engage in purposeful efforts to develop cultural competency in our professional community and students, and we are doing so from Early Childhood through Grade 12. Efforts have included:

Early Childhood: Reggio Emilia as experiential education in action, with a specific focus on identity formation. Equity and Inclusion connection: Cultural competency for students begins with developing a sense of self, so that they understand who they are and how they exist in the world.

Lower School: Rethinking San Juan Capistrano Day to honor the many identities represented in this historical narrative—Native American, Mexican, Chinese, and pioneer. Equity and Inclusion connection: Sometimes equity work requires us to examine current practices and build upon them, especially when we consider demographic trends and cultural needs.

Middle School and Upper School: Cultural competency workshops in advance of service learning experiences, so that students can practice concrete skills such as meeting real needs instead of perceived needs, systems-level thinking about poverty in Orange County, and engaging with community members from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Equity and Inclusion connection: As students get older, they should start to grapple with systems level thinking in their communities, i.e. Why does poverty exist in Orange County? What factors contribute to the need for service organizations to exist? This level of thinking will carry with them as they move beyond St. Margaret’s and into adulthood.

Admission: Screening for a growth mindset with regard to Equity and Inclusion, including a cultural competency question on the Parent/Guardian statement. More broadly, working to broaden our understanding of diversity in Orange County and in the local community. Equity and Inclusion connection: We have put a stake in the ground. We expect that students and families who want to attend St. Margaret’s will be active contributors to an inclusive and equitable school community.

Hiring: Broadening our understanding of hiring to span from recruitment, through interviewing, and into onboarding, so that new professional community members from diverse backgrounds can see themselves working at St. Margaret’s for the long-term future. Equity and Inclusion connection: We understand that our professional community, especially our teaching faculty, is not fully representative of our student population. It is better for us to embrace this truth, so that we can act on it consciously, strategically, and urgently.

“Personally, I think that equity and inclusion are vital in building trust in others and learning more about aspects of others’ lives that may feel foreign to me. Focusing on equity and inclusion at SMES means creating an environment where students can feel safe when it comes to expressing their identities. Most importantly, students should not feel as if they are being discriminated against for aspects of their identities that they can’t control, and instead should feel proud to express everything that makes them unique.” — Sarah

For more on current school efforts, watch our June 25 webinar “The Journey of DEI Work at St. Margaret’s” by clicking here, or view the PDF by clicking here. Hear from Head of School Will Moseley, President of the Alumni Council Mattingly Messina, Chaplain Mother KC Robertson, and me, on topics that include:
  • The DEI journey of St. Margaret’s over the years
  • The Episcopal identity connection
  • Admission data and efforts
  • Hiring diversity efforts
  • Service learning and cultural competency
  • The Equity Team
  • Early School through Grade 12 cultural competency framework
  • Culturally responsive teaching
  • Affinity groups
  • Language justice
  • Ongoing professional development
  • Tartans for Inclusion and Diversity Education (TIDE)
  • More on immediate next steps
The spring and summer of 2020 have reminded us that Equity and Inclusion needs persist. Educating children in a COVID-19 environment means thinking and planning for an experience that considers the academic, social, and emotional needs of all community members. Educating children in an election year that promises to be polarizing means designing a school environment that is inclusive of the voices of all community members and actively combats against contempt, xenophobia, sexism, and more. And, educating children in an environment where social justice is at the forefront of a national conversation on racism means explicitly designing for a school that acts as increasingly antiracist.

That is our story. That is our journey. We are committed to it, and we are excited to be on it.

“Equity and Inclusion play to the fundamental goodness of humanity: being tolerant of others, accepting and supporting their differences, and keeping everyone in mind. It is with Equity and Inclusion that we can peacefully coexist, and prosper while doing so. Because St. Margaret's prioritizes Equity and Inclusion as a core value, not only does St. Margaret's uplift its own community--including people who stand out, like me--but St. Margaret's automatically contributes to the worldwide journey towards increasing tolerance and encouraged diversity.” -- Kaelyn



Head of School Will Moseley often reminds that an educational institution standing still is falling behind. In this spirit of ongoing innovation, St. Margaret’s professional community rang in 2020 on Monday’s In-Service Day with strategic planning work to continually advance the student academic experience.


Revisiting the innovation process that the school has been utilizing since 2016, all members of the professional community were asked to choose a planning team by one of the school’s core values. On Monday, the core value teams further broke out by division focus to review and discuss their chosen core value, and develop open-ended, probing questions in preparation for ethnographic interviews with students about their student experience through the lens of that core value.


Allowing choice of where to focus their efforts has been a successful approach to engage all members of the professional community in ongoing strategic planning.


“When you care about something, your work is that much more purposeful. Our professional community is committed to the school’s mission, core values and our continual process of innovation,” said Mr. Moseley. “Choice allows them to dedicate their time in areas that are of high importance to them, and work alongside and build relationships with colleagues who share their interest and passion. This only makes the outcomes for our students more rewarding and meaningful. I am very grateful and inspired by the creativity and dedication of our professional community.”


St. Margaret’s has also used the design-thinking methodology that puts students and their needs at the center of the innovation process through empathy.


“The design thinking process is a human-centered approach to innovation requiring a deep understanding of the experience of those you are designing for. In design thinking you often hear, ‘fall in love with your end-user.’ In our work serving students and our approach to knowing and loving them, it deepens our understanding and relationships and has proven to be a perfect fit,” said Assistant Head of School for Strategic Initiatives Ryan Dahlem. “The ethnographic interviews are an important part of how we embark on meaningful change to continually enhance the learning experience for our students at St. Margaret’s.”


The design-thinking methodology has driven St. Margaret’s strategic plan work for the past several years, and has led to such strategic initiatives as the school schedule redesign, implementation of the Upper School innovation block, revamping of the school’s service-learning program and introduction of virtual reality courses and learning experiences. The approach has gathered attention in the broader education community, including the National Association of Independent Schools, which invited St. Margaret’s to consult on the next iteration of NAIS’s Strategy Lab program.


In the next month, every member of the professional community will conduct one-on-one ethnographic interviews, a proven type of qualitative research that fosters empathy, with students to understand and hear feedback on their St. Margaret’s experience within the context of the core value to identify areas for improvement in the school program. The teams will reconvene on the February 24 In-Service Day to analyze their findings and identify common themes around which to ideate and design prototypes as a next step in the innovation process.



St. Margaret’s aspirational Strategic Plan continued to guide innovation across all areas of campus in the 2018-2019 school year. The professional community executed action steps created through the Design Thinking process to achieve larger Strategic Plan goals identified by the Board of Trustees. Now in its third full year of implementation, the Strategic Plan remains alive as ever and is driven by the engagement and creativity of the professional community.


The following is a summary of achievements on strategic initiatives during 2018-2019 and a preview of next steps in each of these important areas.



Health and Wellness

  • The redesigned school schedule launched with overwhelmingly positive feedback and measurable improvements in student sleep habits and perception about the schedule’s impact on academic and co-curricular pursuits.
  • Parent education was aligned with the health and wellness initiative. The PTF Parent Up Speaker Series presented visiting experts in sleep, technology use and mental health.
  • The Social Institute was brought to campus to engage students and parents in positive uses of technology, particularly social media
  • The Physical Education program expanded to Personal Fitness and Wellness.
  • A nutrition education pilot was conducted featuring healthy advisory snacks and nutritionist presentations to Upper School students
  • Red Ribbon Week was expanded to include mental health challenges
  • The Assessment, Intervention and Care Committee (AICC) was formed to identify and support students with significant social and emotional needs
  • The Magnus Health System data was used to identify student health trends
  • Next Steps: student engagement survey selected through Stanford University’s Challenge Success program to better understand daily experience of students and measure progress in health and wellness initiatives; formal partnership entered with Social Institute to expand social media education; homework analysis conducted to assess volume and relevancy; programming developed in purpose, meaning and goal setting to help students pursue larger intentions around purposeful lives and their impact on the world.


Elevating Curriculum and Pedagogy

  • Innovation Block mini-courses launched in grades 11 and 12 based on student interest and choice
  • Reading and Writing Workshop expanded to the Middle School program in grade 6
  • Lower School STEAM Block expanded to grade 4
  • Reggio Emilia implementation deepened in the Preschool
  • WOW Night debuted in the Preschool to showcase student learning
  • Innovation Grants 2.0 featured development of new interdisciplinary learning experiences
  • Artist in Residence Ken Horii visited from Rhode Island School of Design
  • Next Steps: New courses approved for 2019-2020 in architecture, artificial intelligence, advanced engineering and research methods in American studies and social movements; Innovation Grants 3.0 expanded to include funding for creation of interdisciplinary, cross-divisional and experiential curriculum; Innovation Block mini-classes expanded to grades 9 and 10.


STEAM and Entrepreneurship

  • Girls in STEAM Symposium expanded to a full-day event with more than 100 students attending from throughout Southern California
  • St. Margaret’s earned Common Sense Media School designation and hosted the Digital Citizenship Symposium for local educators
  • Virtual reality experiences expanded through acquisition of a Google Expeditions set of viewers and devices
  • Tartan Tank Incubator Pilot provided guidance and support for students interested in taking next steps with innovative solutions beyond class requirements
  • Innovation Block mini-courses were offered on start-ups and personal finance
  • Next Steps: VR programming class offered in grade 7, robotics programs expanded and supported through dedicated robotics space in Library, STEAM curriculum developed for Lower School Outdoor Classroom, mySMES implemented to consolidate and enhance student user experience with learning management systems.


Cultural Competency and Global Education

  • Director of Equity and Inclusion Victor Cota concluded a highly successful first year in new position
  • The Equity Team was formed with focused subcommittees on a PK-12 cultural-competency framework, professional development, culturally responsive teaching, hiring and retention, and data and measurement
  • A survey was administered to the professional community to assess areas of strength and pathways for growth
  • Language and Culture Day was expanded to include opportunities for celebrating all cultures including and beyond Spanish, Chinese and Latin in the world languages department
  • World Leadership School educator pilot will run in Costa Rica in summer 2019
  • Initial discussions held regarding St. Margaret's international partnership or campus
  • Next Steps: Develop and implement action plans from Equity Team subcommittees; Spanish III course in Salamanca, Spain planned for summer 2020.

Experiential and Service Learning

  • New Upper School service-learning model based on consistent relationships expanded to Grade 10
  • All-School California Wildfire Relief Initiative raised more than $8,000 for L.A. and Northern California Dioceses wildfire relief efforts
  • Celebration of WE event hosted at St. Margaret’s
  • Professional Development engaged with Independent Schools Experiential Education Network (ISEEN)
  • 21 seniors participated in the outdoors Independent Senior Project (ISP), a Colorado River canoe experience
  • “A Revolutionary Experience” was created in grade 5
  • Next Steps: Upper School service-learning model expands to grades 11 and 12; annual all-school service-learning project formalized with culmination at spring Eucharist; many Innovation Grants funded to support development of experiential lessons and activities where students are learning by doing.


Professional Development

  • Professional Development funding was aligned with Strategic Plan goals
  • In-service days were split between all-school and divisions based on feedback from the professional community
  • Professional community office colleagues were included during in-service days
  • The professional development budget increased a sustainable 3.2 percent
  • Feedback trajectory regarding relevance and application of content is positive across the two divisional in-service days
  • Next Steps: On-site professional development through Stanley H. King Institute for Middle and Upper School advisors; enhanced professional development resources.


Institutional Advancement

  • Campus Master Plan 2018-2019 Achievements 2018-2019 Achievements
    • Second phase of Upper School renovation completed fall 2018
    • Construction of new Upper School science lab completed fall 2018
    • Creation of Lower School STEAM Center including remodeled science classroom, ICE Lab and CUBE completed fall 2018
    • Construction of new Lower School Outdoor Classroom completed fall 2018
  • Significant endowment growth to $12.6 million
  • Communications strategy prioritized on strategic initiatives
  • Next Steps: Renovation of Early Childhood Development Center (ECDC); relocation of Wee Tartan Center to ECDC; remodel of Library space including construction of dedicated robotics lab; construction of front entrance monument; construction of maintenance and transportation center.


Additional Highlights:



St. Margaret’s faculty and staff gathered Monday to review and assess the accomplishments of the school’s aspirational Strategic Plan after two years of dynamic implementation, and to engage in the iteration phase of the design thinking innovation process revisiting and continuing to prioritize the key goals of the plan.

Faculty and staff split into their self-selected teams each focused on a goal in the plan to iterate and update initiatives and recommendations for moving each goal forward from this point in implementation. These teams had originally formed in the 2016-2017 school year to make recommendations and prototypes based on student feedback and school needs.

“It was easy to see there is still tremendous passion, synergy and interconnectedness for the innovation process and the strategic plan goals to continue to improve the learning experience for our students,” said Ryan Dahlem, assistant head of school for strategic initiatives.

The high-energy session was also a chance to reflect and celebrate on the faculty and staff’s commitment to this work, which has led to the implementation of important strategic priorities such as the school schedule redesign, interdisciplinary studies, the Upper School Innovation Block, a revamped service-learning model, cultural-competency development, and student health and wellness initiatives.

The faculty and staff also provided current feedback to school leaders on what action steps are of highest priority next for the school. “The Board of Trustees entrusted our professional community to carry out action steps and realize the vision they put forth in this ambitious Strategic Plan,” Mr. Dahlem said. “Iterating within our original teams was the next step in carrying out that responsibility.”

The school is implementing the plan’s priorities and goals using the design-thinking process, an innovative methodology created by Stanford University’s Design Institute (the that draws inspiration from the fields of engineering, design and social science to tackle complex problems.

Additional information on the implementation of St. Margaret’s Strategic Plan will be provided at the State of the School address next Thursday, Jan. 17 at 6:30 p.m. in the McGregor Family Theater.



As one of Head of School Will Moseley’s major school-wide strategic priorities for the 2018-2019 school year, St. Margaret’s has been implementing a host of coordinated initiatives to support the health and wellness of students. These new programs are already improving the quality of the educational experience for students and garnering high levels of student endorsement.

“When we assess our student programs, it is important to recognize and leverage the connections and overlaps intrinsic to the complexities of student health and wellness,” said Athletic Director Patrick Bendzick, who is leading health and wellness initiatives school-wide. “This year, as we are tackling student sleep, time management, substance abuse, healthy relationship with technology and nutrition, and we do so with the intentionality of how together they influence a young person’s health. Research proves all of these factors can contribute positively to or worsen a student’s health and wellness. Our efforts in these areas converge to optimize the healthiest, most productive learning environment so our students can be happy and well as they grow and learn.”

This year, St. Margaret’s has launched several health and wellness efforts that work in tandem, with the new school schedule as a foundation supporting everything that follows.

St. Margaret’s All-School Counselors Janice Avalone and Jeremy Dailey expanded last month’s annual Red Ribbon Week to include conversations between students and outside health experts about mental health and how stress increases the risk of substance use in young people.

In November, St. Margaret’s welcomed The Social Institute, an organization out of Duke University that empowers students to navigate social media positively. St. Margaret’s partnered with The Social Institute to educate students on digital citizenship and healthy relationships with technology. The Social Institute spent two days at St. Margaret’s in workshops with Upper School and Middle School students as well as presenting to faculty, staff and parents.

“We are developing student programs that educate and model healthy living to encourage personal ownership and thoughtful choices to support their own health as they grow today and into adulthood. We are also bringing a parent education component to these efforts to nurture our important home-school partnership with our families,” Mr. Bendzick said.

The 2018-2019 Parent Up Speakers Series kicked off its focus on health and wellness with renowned psychologist and researcher Jean Twenge last month. Dr. Twenge presented the compelling portrait of our children’s rising use of technology and its negative connection to their decline of happiness and steep rise in anxiety and depression rates. Dr. Twenge also showed one of the biggest sacrifices in the name of technology—sleep-deprived teens.

Next, the PTF welcomes Parent Up speaker Michael J. Breus on December 7 who will address the importance of sleep in the healthy development of young people. In January, independent school psychologist Michael Thompson will discuss today’s social and emotional pressures on children to achieve in school.

As a part of the new schedule, an Innovation Block launched for juniors and seniors this year dedicated to learning experiences that are relevant and develop important life skills helping them to engage in their learning over their time at St. Margaret’s. The hour-and-45-minute Innovation Block occurs nine times a year and provides rich opportunities for students to delve into topics and activities that are of interest to them outside the normal structure of class.

Additionally, St. Margaret’s is piloting student coursework focused on mindfulness and nutrition to further develop into the curriculum. In one Innovation Block mini-course on mindfulness, St. Margaret’s is partnering with UCI Environmental Health and Safety psychologist Jessica Drew de Paz who is guest teaching. Through the course, students are developing an understanding of mindfulness, learning its benefits and developing their own practices.

Upper School students were treated by school leaders to healthy advisory snacks for the month of October. The healthy snacks from Nekter and other vendors reinforce a Convocation dedicated to how nutritional choices affect a student’s cognitive function, growth and development, as well as athletic performance.

“These efforts reflect the significant feedback we received, in particular, from students and alumni as well as the Board of Trustees through the strategic planning process to prioritize the health and wellness of our students and to create a more meaningful, balanced and healthy learning environment in which our students can grow and thrive. In the end, meeting the health needs of our students and nurturing their interests does not lower academic standards, rather it optimizes their performance,” Assistant Head of School for Strategic Initiatives Ryan Dahlem said.



St. Margaret’s implemented an innovative new school schedule this year that focuses on nurturing student health and wellness. The new schedule serves a multitude of student health benefits and optimizes the learning environment, taking into account important factors of sleep, time management, balance and nutrition. It increases daily and weekly predictability and productivity, including a reduction of classes per day, consistent class lengths, more breaks and a later start time every day. The schedule also prioritizes time for service learning and innovative new student programs in the school day.

Based on a substantial body of research around the importance of quality sleep and childhood sleep patterns, particularly in middle and high school students, St. Margaret’s moved the start time of school to 8:15 a.m. to allow students to sleep later. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, delaying school start times is an effective countermeasure to chronic sleep debt in teens and has wide-ranging benefits to physical and mental healthy, safety and academic achievement.

“As we think about our mission, establishing healthy habits for lifelong wellness is an important aspect of our work with students. The benefits derived from the new schedule support this development and position our students for enhanced performance in their academic and co-curricular pursuits,” said Assistant Head of School for Strategic Initiatives Ryan Dahlem.

Students are telling the school already of the myriad benefits they are experiencing. To measure the impact of the change, last month Upper School students completed a survey about their feedback on the new schedule. St. Margaret’s is comparing the results to baseline data collected through the same survey administered exactly one year earlier in September 2017. Comparison results show significant improvements in student perception of the school schedule and its impact on their health and academic needs.

Student Survey Key Findings:

  • 96% of students agree the new schedule is an improvement over the previous schedule
  • 90% of students agree the new schedule supports their health and wellness needs. (2017 comparison: 21%)
  • 95% of students agree the new schedule supports their academic needs. (2017 comparison: 77%)
  • 82% of students agree the new schedule supports their ability to participate in activities outside the classroom. (2017 comparison: 54%)
  • 91% of students agree the new start time (8:15 AM) works well for them. (2017 comparison at 7:45 a.m. start: 25%)
  • Students are sleeping later each morning as expected with the later start time, an average of 33 minutes.
  • Students are also going to bed earlier by an average of 39 minutes, for a total net sleep gain of over an hour a night.

What Student Are Saying:

“It’s been great. I love having fewer classes [per day]. I like the consistent schedule. School is a much more manageable, enjoyable experience.”
– Grade 12 Student

“I feel much more prepared for each class, and am able to learn more each class.”
– Grade 11 Student

“I love the schedule. As a new student I had my fears about being able to make it to classes on time, being at school on time, and having enough time for after school activities. I have found that the schedule provides enough time for all of these things. I also have enough time to finish my homework each night after practice and I have enough time during the day with tutorials and study blocks.”
– Grade 9 Student

“I am now having less homework and stress at night. I am able to study for the ACT and other classes with my free blocks and break. I am able to go to sleep earlier than last year.”
– Grade 12 Student

“Super effective in creating a positive learning experience and having a good sleep schedule”
– Grade 10 Student

“The new schedule had made daily life for me at school a lot more manageable and stress free.”
– Grade 11 Student

School leaders are continuing to analyze the impact of the new schedule, including collecting data from Middle School students, faculty and staff. Parents interested in providing input should contact Mr. Dahlem at



St. Margaret’s continued the excitement and momentum of implementing its aspirational Strategic Plan during the 2017-2018 school year. The school made significant progress across several initiatives with a continual focus on understanding students and placing their needs at the center of the design process.

The faculty and staff remain fully committed to fulfilling the vision set by the Board of Trustees for the future of St. Margaret’s. By fostering a culture of innovation on campus, the school has established the confidence to pilot new ideas, scale up successes and move forward with larger institutional changes guided by our love and care for students.

The following is a summary of achievements around the school’s priorities for 2017-2018 and a preview of next steps in each of these exciting areas:

Schedule Redesign:

  • Project anchored in improving student health and wellness based on feedback from the Design Thinking process. Full community engaged in redesign including input from students, faculty, staff and parents.
  • Independent School Management consultant visited campus for four days, conducted 30-plus meetings and interviews across constituencies, led four hours of professional development for faculty and staff, and created draft schedule designs.
  • Draft designs reviewed with all constituencies and input reflected in subsequent iterations.
  • Final schedule rolled out to faculty, staff and parents in early December in advance of contract renewal and re-enrollment processes (see announcement and explainer video).
  • October and April Professional Development days committed to schedule redesign and implementation planning.
  • Next Steps: Implement redesigned schedule in 2018-2019 with ongoing feedback loops. Health and wellness initiatives broadened to include relationship with technology, sleep education, mindfulness, nutrition and analysis of homework load. Retooled Upper School advisory program and Innovation Blocks utilized for health and wellness programming.

Interdisciplinary Studies:

  • Nearly 40 faculty members across all four divisions received Innovation Summer Grants to create and implement interdisciplinary lesson and units.
  • Results shared with colleagues during a professional development morning.
  • Survey results showed 100 percent of participants felt they created a more relevant learning experience for students by connecting content across academic disciplines. Ninety-seven percent plan to participate in the program again.
  • Next steps: Innovation Summer Grants 2.0 launched and will be funded for 2018-2019 implementation. Seek feedback from students and identify areas for anchor grade level interdisciplinary experiences and development of interdisciplinary courses.

Virtual Reality:

  • PTF Grants funded three additional HTC VIVE VR stations (bringing total to five) and a classroom set of 25 handheld devices to use with Google Cardboard VR headsets.
  • VR Instructional Coach contracted to source content and support faculty early adopters in utilizing VR as a learning tool.
  • 16 new pilot lessons tested in Lower, Middle and Upper School classrooms in Spring 2018.
  • Survey results showed 92 percent of students enjoyed the learning experience and nearly 90 percent want to participate in another VR learning activity.
  • Next Steps: Continued integration through VR Instructional Coach model. PTF Grants approved to fund VR Empathy Project in Middle and Upper School as well as VR applications in Athletics Department for 2018-2019.

Service Learning:

  • New service learning model launched in grade 9 with six half-days devoted to service learning throughout the school year.
  • Advisory groups served local community organizations with a focus on establishing ongoing relationships. Strong anecdotal feedback from students desiring more time to serve.
  • Community-wide response to Gulf Coast hurricanes resulting in $6,300 raised and donated to Episcopal Relief and Development for hurricane relief efforts.
  • Team of 17 Upper School students flew to Houston to assist with hurricane relief.
  • All-school “Walk in My Shoes” service learning activities as part of Literacy Day including shoe drive benefitting Family Assistant Ministries.
  • College Board AP with WE service learning courses piloted in AP Environmental Science and AP Spanish Language.
  • Family service opportunities communicated in Friday This Week at SMES emails.
  • Next Steps: New Upper School service learning model scales up to grade 10. Other priorities for 2018-2019 include closer partnership with St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church service efforts and increased professional development for divisional Directors of Community Life on leading service learning initiatives and coaching faculty on service learning integration.

Cultural Competency, Equity and Inclusion:

  • Director of Equity and Inclusion senior leadership position created. National search yielded nearly 50 interested candidates. Five candidates participated in all-day campus interviews. Victor Cota appointed Director of Equity and Inclusion effect August 1, 2018.
  • Return visit from Rosetta Lee to consult on Director of Equity and Inclusion position and cultural competency framework.
  • Curriculum development included new Upper School English electives: The Color Line (focusing on African American literature and culture) and Native American Poetry. Pilot lessons designed through Innovation Summer Grants included the Ethnic Heritage Project and units on racial housing segregation, the institution of slavery and Chinese cultural literary context.
  • Cultural Competency Workshop conducted for Grade 9 students as part of new service learning model.
  • 18 faculty and staff members attended the NAIS People of Color Conference and five students attended the NAIS Student Diversity Leadership Conference. Two Middle School faculty members presented at PoCC on integrating cultural competency skills into the classroom.
  • Diversity recruitment efforts extended to Carney Sandoe Diversity Recruitment event in Philadelphia and International School Services event in New York.
  • Next Steps: Focus on successful transition of Director of Equity and Inclusion, diversifying the faculty, development of cultural competency framework and prioritization of cultural competency initiatives.

STEAM and Entrepreneurship:

  • Dr. Jen Ross Viola completed first year as STEAM Fellow. Introduced after-school AppJam+ coding program for Grades 5-8, expanded Lower School Family STEAM Night, brought STEAM night to Marco Forester Middle School through Breakthrough San Juan Capistrano, resurrected FTC Robotics Team in Middle and Upper School, brought UCI GradSlam speakers to campus for Girls in STEAM Night and expanded STEAM programming for Lower School conference weeks.
  • STEAM block piloted in Grade 5 with water conservation challenge and Imaginology projects.
  • Launched Upper School entrepreneurial studies semester course. Included two experiential case studies with Rise Bar (founded by St. Margaret’s alumnus Peter Spenuzza ‘00) and EON Reality. Students then developed their own business models using design thinking, received coaching from alumni and community entrepreneurs, and pitched to venture capitalists.
  • Middle School Tartan Tank expanded in Grade 8 to include student Demo Fair and evening Demo Night for finalists who pitched to panel of entrepreneurship experts.
  • Relationship with UCI Applied Innovation expanded to include visit from Grade 8 Tartan Tank students, GradSlam speakers at Girls in STEM Night and entry into Wayfinder incubator program for Tartan Tank winners.
  • Next Steps: Expand Girls in STEAM Night to one-day symposium, expand Lower School STEAM Block to Grade 4, explore expanding Tartan Tank to regional Middle Schools, create prototype of US Incubator Program, introduce eSports Team, utilize Innovation Block for design sprint challenge.

Professional Development:

  • Professional development budget increased by 35 percent.
  • Faculty participated in individual professional development experiences across the country.
  • Experts brought to campus for divisional and departmental professional development in STEAM early childhood education, Readers and Writers Workshop implementation and English Department literature workshop.
  • All-school professional development included schedule redesign and partnering with independent school parents.
  • Preschool director and faculty participated in Reggio Emilia International Summer School at the Loris Malaguzzi International Centre in Reggio Emilia, Italy through generous donor funding.
  • Next Steps: Professional development overseen by Assistant Head of School for Strategic Initiatives with focus on alignment with Strategic Plan goals and providing additional professional development experiences at the division level per faculty and staff feedback from the design thinking process.

Campus Master Plan:

  • Johnson Wallis Visual Arts Center completed and opened fall 2017.
  • New student parking lot completed and opened fall 2017.
  • Upper School renovation phase I completed fall 2017.
  • Next Steps: Second phase of Upper School renovation including new student furniture, classroom display screens and remodeled Upper School science labs; construction of new Upper School Science lab; creation of Lower School STEAM Center including remodeled science classroom, ICE Lab and CUBE; construction of new Kindergarten Outdoor Classroom; and relocation of Wee Tartan Center to the Early Childhood Development Center.

Additional Highlights:

  • Artist in Residence Jesse Colin Jackson from UCI spent a week in the Visual Arts Center, continuing the “In Residence” model of Scholar in Residence Rosetta Lee from the 2016-2017 school year.
  • 10 students participated in outdoors Independent Senior Project backpacking trip to Jennie Lakes in High Sierras.
  • Strategic Plan information communicated through regular updates at Board of Trustees meetings, all-school faculty and staff meetings, PTF meetings, Fireside Chat, student convocations, website and Highlander Magazine.
  • Leadership team including Board President and Head of School presented at CASE-NAIS Independent Schools Conference on “Setting Your Institutional Compass: Values-Based Strategic Planning.” 
  • Article by Assistant Head of School for Strategic Initiatives published by NAIS Independent School Magazine online: “Using Student Shadow Days for Ethnographic Research."



Today, St. Margaret’s Episcopal School provides an important update on the year-long school schedule redesign process, a priority of the Strategic Plan, and announces the new school times for next year.


Head of School Will Moseley says, “Very intentionally, we placed our students, their feedback and needs at the center of this important work. The resulting new schedule clearly demonstrates our commitment to student health and wellness and their needs for optimal development and learning, as well prioritizes our values and strategic vision for St. Margaret’s.”


Please watch the overview film, and then read the full Schedule Redesign Update & Start of School Announcement update here.



St. Margaret’s is wrapping up a successful year one of Strategic Plan implementation centered on deep understanding of student needs, and looks ahead to another year of innovative growth. “Our faculty and staff are highly engaged in this work, fully investing in understanding the needs of our students and leveraging their professional expertise and creativity in designing the future of St. Margaret’s,” said Assistant Head of School for Strategic Initiatives Ryan Dahlem. “We are excited to iterate on the early success of several pilot programs and move forward with our priorities for next year, always with an eye and ear toward understanding the needs of our students.”


Update on Priorities for 2017-2018:


Redesign the school schedule for implementation in 2018-2019

After conducting ethnographic interviews with students as part of the design thinking process, a team of faculty and staff focused on health and wellness identified redesigning the schedule as a priority, and the team tested a prototype schedule with students to address their needs around sleep, nutrition and community time. The school will build on this work with an all-school schedule redesign anchored in student health and wellness, facilitating other strategic initiatives and ongoing innovation. Students, faculty and staff have already provided preliminary input for the redesign and parent forums will be held in the fall. St. Margaret’s hired a scheduling specialist from Independent School Management to consult on the project. The specialist will visit campus for a week in September to conduct interviews with all campus constituencies and consult on schedule redesign options.


Increase Interdisciplinary Connections

Illuminating connections of academic content across disciplines is a strategy to deepen understanding and make learning more relevant, addressing the feedback provided in ethnographic student interviews. Building on the success of a pilot collaboration between grade 9 math and science teachers, St. Margaret’s launched an Innovation Summer Grant program for faculty to collaborate and create interdisciplinary curricula to be piloted and analyzed next fall. Faculty from every division and department submitted grant proposals that will be funded this summer.


Develop a PK-12 Cultural Competency Framework

Diversity and inclusion thought leader Rosetta Lee provided the entire St. Margaret’s community with tangible guidance and applications of cultural competency skills during her week on campus as Scholar in Residence. The next step is to create a framework that outlines the intentional development of these important skills throughout the entire St. Margaret’s student experience. The effort will be organically driven from within our faculty and staff with continued consultation from national experts including Ms. Lee.


Revamped Service Learning Graduation Requirement

A team of faculty and staff working on experiential learning prototyped a new service learning graduation requirement focused on consistent partnership with a service organization, developing empathy and relationships, and engaging in service learning during school hours. A small team of Upper School students piloted this model during the 2017 spring semester. The pilot will be scaled up to the freshman class next year in an ongoing shift from a required number of service hours to a model based on long-term transformational experiences.


Entrepreneurial Studies Program

Building on positive student feedback from a four-week entrepreneurship pilot in the Upper School, a semester-long Entrepreneurial Studies course will be launched next year. The school also will explore expanding the highly successful Middle School Tartan Tank program and developing partnerships with universities and industry.


Virtual Reality Applications

Through a generous grant from the PTF, the school piloted two HTC VIVE virtual reality stations on campus this year. Student feedback and engagement with the technology was overwhelmingly positive, with students logging over 450 hours on the Google Tilt Brush app alone. A semester-long virtual reality coding class will be launched in the Upper School next year, and the PTF provided another grant to expand the number of VR stations on campus so each division maker space on campus has a station as well as dedicated stations in the computer science classroom and new Visual Arts Center. 


Enhanced Professional Development Program

Our faculty is the most crucial element in providing an extraordinary experience for our students. The Professional Development budget will be significantly increased for the 2017-2018 school year, supporting and nurturing the talent and expertise of our educators. 


Continued Execution of the Campus Master Plan

The incredible new Visual Arts Center is scheduled to open in the fall of 2017 on the second story of the Gateway Building. Additional planned campus projects include classroom redesigns on the Upper School campus and increased student parking in the Ortega Village Center.



As was announced in the fall, St. Margaret’s has been utilizing a student-centered design thinking process to implement the Strategic Plan, generating innovative action steps to achieve the larger strategic goals established by the Board of Trustees. An essential aspect of this approach was to deepen empathy with students, listen to their needs, present potential solutions and then listen to their feedback. 

Over the past three months, academic leaders, under the direction of Assistant Head of School for Strategic Initiatives Ryan Dahlem, have been analyzing the prototype ideas and the invaluable student feedback.

“Intentionally listening to our students, welcoming their input and involving them in the process unearthed compelling insights and underlying needs that are directly informing the tactical direction of our Strategic Plan implementation,” said Mr. Dahlem.

Three particular themes emerged from the student feedback: 1. making learning experiences relevant; 2. allowing students to connect with one another and with others outside the school community; and 3. reevaluating the use of time.

As the school considers introducing new programs, enhancing existing ones and discontinuing others, this backdrop of student needs – relevance, connection and time – will be instrumental in achieving strategic goals in a way that most resonates with students.

“If you zoom out and weave these three themes together, our sense is that students are calling for us to help them find meaning in their lives,” added Mr. Dahlem. “In the end, we want to provide a long-term experience that doesn’t simply prepare students for each successive grade level and eventually college and life, but allows them to find personal meaning throughout the journey as they reflect on who they are becoming along the way.”

As the needs of students emerged around relevance, connection and time, so did ideas and prototypes on these themes from across the Strategic Plan teams.

Ideas and prototypes around relevance include increasing student choice in curriculum, requirements and program; introducing interdisciplinary experiences that connect content across disciplines; revisiting the school’s homework policy and philosophy; and creating more experiential learning opportunities where the relevance is immediately visible.

Increasing connections for students generated prototypes including service learning opportunities that foster relationships and empathy; expanding peer mentoring/buddy programs and cross-divisional activities; using technologies such as virtual reality to connect with others beyond the school community; and applying cultural competency skills to effectively navigate differences.

Finally, the impact of time is being considered through the design of a new schedule to incorporate sleep research and service learning during the school day, as well as targeted development of non-cognitive skills like conscientiousness that allow student to have time work for, rather than against, them.

This work now moves into divisions and departments for faculty and staff to put their expertise to work defining next steps in moving these priorities forward.

The following are the priority areas that the school is committing resources to in the coming year:

  • Increased interdisciplinary connections
  • Revamped service learning graduation requirement
  • Developing a cultural competency PK-12 curriculum
  • Design of a new school schedule
  • Entrepreneurial studies program
  • Virtual reality applications
  • Enhanced professional development program
  • Continued campus master plan execution beginning with improvements to increase student parking


Testing prototypes and ideas is an important aspect of the design process to gain immediate feedback and adjust plans in real-time and before they become final programs. “In the spirit of design thinking, we are taking a bias toward action by piloting ideas with students, gathering their feedback early, then iterating and scaling where we find success,” said Mr. Dahlem.

The following are pilot programs currently running this school year.

  • Grade 9 math and science collaboration
  • Virtual reality immersion stations
  • Entrepreneurship course in Upper School
  • Service learning pilot with service during the school day in Upper School
  • Scholar in Residence: national cultural competency thought leader Rosetta Lee
  • Outdoor independent senior project: NOLS expedition to Canyonlands, Utah



St. Margaret’s dedicated the entire October faculty/staff in-service day on Tuesday to implementing the next phase of the Strategic Plan. All faculty and staff members worked within 16 self-selected goal teams to review their ethnographic interview data from meetings with end users including students, parents and employees, then brainstormed and prototyped actionable solutions and tested them on students and other members of the St. Margaret’s community.


The faculty and staff workshop on Tuesday was led by Assistant Head of School for Strategic Initiatives Ryan Dahlem and a team of design thinking experts from Lime Design, a Bay Area firm. Lime Design previously visitedSt. Margaret’s in August to introduce faculty and staff to the design thinking process in a kick-off day-long workshop.

In September, faculty and staff met within their teams for the first time, each tasked with a different goal within the Strategic Plan. Over the past several weeks, faculty and staff conducted ethnographic interviews with students to establish deeper understanding and empathy. In addition, academic administrators spent time shadowing students to fully immerse in a typical day at school.

With those interviews completed, faculty and staff gathered Tuesday to review the insights they gained. They created “user need statements” and ideated possible solutions to meet the needs of the end user as it relates to each particular strategic plan goal. More than 50 St. Margaret’s students and parents came to campus on Tuesday afternoon to review and provide immediate feedback to the prototypes that were presented. This early testing step with the end user allows for direct input, reinforces empathy, and is a critical component of the design process. 

“Empathy is at the heart of the design thinking process,” noted Mr. Dahlem, “and that was clearly evident at the beginning of the day as faculty and staff shared input from their ethnographic interviews and at the end of the day when feedback on new ideas was received in person from students, parents and employees. We are excited about the next step of moving ideas forward to test in the real world and continuing to refine them through ongoing feedback and iteration.”



St. Margaret’s took the next step in implementing its Strategic Plan last week, when all faculty and staff met for the first time into their 16 teams that each focuses on a different goal within the plan.


The teams, which were self-selected by team members based on their expertise, passion and interest, discussed their specific goal, defined their “end user” and strategized on how to best conduct ethnographic interviews designed to develop empathy with that end user. This approach is part of the “design thinking” methodology to innovation that is being used to guide the implementation of the Strategic Plan.


Each team had diverse representation within St. Margaret’s, consisting of a mixture of faculty and staff from divisions and departments across the school. The teams were familiar with the design thinking approach after practicing the methodology at a workshop in August. 


In addition to the faculty and staff team meetings, Ryan Dahlem, assistant head of school for strategic initiatives, recently presented about the Strategic Plan to students in the Lower, Middle and Upper schools and invited students to participate in the process. 


"Design thinking begins with establishing empathy with your end user, in our case, our students," Mr. Dahlem said. "This process is an incredible opportunity for adults on campus to deepen their understanding of our students through interviews about their perspective and shadow days where we experience St. Margaret’s from their vantage point. We’ll then leverage that empathy in designing action steps to accomplish the goals of our Strategic Plan. Students enthusiastically volunteered to be interviewed and shadowed because they care about St. Margaret’s and want to be involved in designing the future of our school.”


Faculty and staff will begin conducting ethnographic interviews with students immediately to better understand their individual experiences and needs in the goal area. Another part of the process involves school academic administrators spending time shadowing students to fully immerse in a typical day at school. Head of School William Moseley was one of the first to participate, recently shadowing a middle school student throughout her entire school day.


“My shadow day in Middle School was an amazing experience to get to know the everyday of our students more personally. To walk in their footsteps and to experience their challenging course material and full schedules, with the balance of community in the courtyards with their classmates and in reflection in Chapel seated within advisory groups,” said Mr. Moseley. “There was so much to learn and take away from this day spent as a student, and the empathy derived from these experiences will be invaluable input for implementing our strategic plan. Without a doubt, a few standouts would be the love, care and positivity of our faculty in their interactions with our students, the healthy and sophisticated dialogue in the classrooms, the high level of student engagement in their subjects and the technology around them, and the genuine sense of community—the respect, care and happiness I witnessed in our students was extraordinary."


Once interviews and shadow days are completed, the faculty and staff will gather on Oct. 25 to discuss the findings and develop a better understanding of student needs. They will also move to the next phase, ideating solutions and creating prototypes of viable ideas to test with students and refine based on their feedback.


In January, St. Margaret’s Episcopal School presented the 2016 Strategic Plan -- an aspirational, forward-thinking plan that focuses on the school’s mission and core values and entrusts the expertise of the faculty and staff to create and implement action steps to meet the overall goals.



In a first major step to implement the strategic plan, Assistant Head of School for Strategic Initiatives Ryan Dahlem unveiled a fresh approach for the school to embark on this crucial work. “St. Margaret’s faculty and staff will engage in the human-centered, design thinking process to conceptualize the programmatic tactics that will achieve the goals of the plan,” said Mr. Dahlem. “Our approach will focus on deepening our empathy for students and clarifying our understanding of their needs. We will then ideate solutions and prototype them with students to produce creative, and possibly unexpected new programmatic directions,” said Mr. Dahlem. 

Design thinking is an innovation methodology created by Stanford University’s Design Institute (the that draws inspiration from the fields of engineering, design and social science as well as insights from the business world to tackle complex problems. The approach has led to countless creative innovations at places like IDEO where business leaders passionately explore and define the needs and challenges of their end user with few constraints. Design thinking is often associated with technology and product design fields yet it has been successfully applied by creative teams in any arena where innovation is a critical goal.

“This is a perfect approach for implementing our unique, aspirational strategic plan that the Board of Trustees presented earlier this calendar year and entrusted the tactical development to the faculty and staff. This work also aligns with Mr. Moseley’s school-wide goal of fostering a culture of innovation that he announced at the All School Opening Ceremony. It is a bold plan, and we want to continue to approach this work with an eye toward innovation,” said Mr. Dahlem.

To kick off the process, all faculty and staff engaged in a high-energy, hands-on professional development daylong workshop dedicated to learning the design thinking process at the start of the school year. 

The workshop was facilitated by a team of innovators from Lime Design, a Bay Area firm with deep experience and understanding of design thinking and a creative approach to teaching the process to others. Dr. Maureen Carroll, Lime Design founder and lecturer at Stanford’s and the Stanford University Graduate School of Education, led the session, and has also partnered with industry leaders, including Microsoft, Adobe, Yahoo and Southwest Airlines. 

In the workshop, St. Margaret’s faculty and staff were divided into small innovation teams that engaged in a needs-based design challenge following the steps of the design thinking process: 1) establishing empathy and understanding the end user through ethnographic interviewing, 2) identifying and defining a need or problem, 3) ‘ideating,’ working together to generate possible solutions, 4) prototyping viable ideas, and 5) reviewing and testing those ideas with the end user.

“One of the main themes of the design thinking process of particular interest to me in our work at St. Margaret’s is to ‘fall in love with the end user,’ which of course is our students. The design thinking process is a powerful tool in the hands of our exceptional faculty and staff,” Mr. Dahlem added. “They will be leveraging their professional expertise, as well as their care and love for students, to affect creative change in our program as we realize the vision set forth by the Board.”

The workshop provided an experiential opportunity for faculty and staff to immerse themselves in the design thinking methodology. Participants were engaged and energized, setting the stage for the next step of strategic plan implementation. In September, faculty and staff will gather in self-selected Strategic Plan goal teams to plan their empathy gathering phase through ethnographic interviews and student shadow days.

During the October professional development in-service day, teams will advance the process by crafting needs statements, ideating action steps and creating prototypes to test with students. “The design process is ongoing and will involve continual iteration as new programs and initiatives are tested and refined,” explained Mr. Dahlem. 

“This will allow us to move the school forward in compelling ways because, from the beginning, we’ve intentionally placed the needs of the student at the center of the innovation process.”

In January, St. Margaret’s Episcopal School presented the 2016 Strategic Plan -- an aspirational, forward-thinking plan that focuses on the school’s mission and core values and entrusts the expertise of the faculty and staff to create and implement action steps to meet the overall goals.

St. Margaret's Episcopal School
31641 La Novia
San Juan Capsitrano
California, 92675

Phone: 949.661.0108