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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 d.school) 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 ryan.dahlem@smes.org.



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 d.school) 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 d.school 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