Nearly seven years ago, I walked through the gates at 250 10th Street for the first time with Christine and our daughter, Maile. A little nervous, mostly excited, our PKS journey was beginning.
I have been reflecting on those early days as my six years as Chair of the PKS Board of Trustees come to an end. A few days after first dropping Maile off, I ran into founder Wendy Xa and she asked if I’d be interested in joining a strategic planning committee. I had been looking for a way to get involved at the school and agreed.
I remember our first meeting - the topic at hand was deciding how much milk and fruit to buy for a school that now had seven classrooms. It was straight out of an MBA operations class assignment (although I bet our 5th graders could sort it now!) and after some problem-solving we hit on a strategy. I walked away happy to help and looking forward to what might pop up next as our school continued to grow.
Well, the opportunity did pop up, and sooner than we might have expected! A week later, the path of Presidio Knolls was altered, and my involvement would quickly go beyond figuring out how many apples we needed to buy.
We were given the opportunity to exercise our right of first refusal on leasing the full property at 250 10th Street. Our original lease was for just the “L” Building that currently houses the preschool - but another party was interested in the entire property, and we had 30 days to decide whether to expand our occupation to include the full campus - including what is now Pioneer Hall and the Elementary Building.
A group of parents and staff began to work out what it would mean to expand Presidio Knolls to a full preschool through 8th grade program. We considered every angle - education, finance, market, operations, etc.
When the dust settled on our spreadsheets and powerpoints, we had a clear answer - and it was one that aligned with the passion that was building inside all of us: to build this place for our children, so they could continue to experience the magic that had started in preschool. And more than that, we felt a spark that there was an opportunity here to create something of permanence for San Francisco, and a model for educators everywhere about how to combine Mandarin immersion and progressive education in a joyful learning environment.
I remember at one of our first board meetings we went around and everyone answered the question “why are you doing this?” I honestly couldn’t tell you what I said that night - but I do remember what one of my fellow trustees said. He talked about wanting to be able to show his children what was possible when a group of people set their mind to creating something new. That just because something didn’t exist yet, it did not mean it couldn’t with some hard work and teamwork.
In those early days, I was the organizer. I didn’t bring any particular expertise on education or finance or marketing. But as I looked around the room at the other volunteers gathered, it reminded me a lot of the various startups I had been a part of - smart, passionate team members bringing their own expertise to the table. I worked to manage this group and get the best out of everyone.
One of the first things we did was establish bylaws. It was important to us that we “do this right” and so we based our bylaws on the best practices established by organizations like NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools). One of those best practices was term limits, and thus my time has come….but I do not step down from my passion or commitment to our community, and helping out where I’m needed. I’ve got two daughters here now, Lauren joined Maile a few years later, and that many more field trips to chaperone...
It has been a great honor of my life to watch this school come together. I couldn’t possibly thank everyone who has played a role in building our school over the past six years, but I want to highlight two other trustees whose terms will be ending along with mine this year: Kevin Wong and Jeremy Liew. Amongst many, many other things, Kevin worked on the original lease that led to the fact that we have a permanent home for Presidio Knolls. Jeremy has been a true leader for our school in every facet possible, and has done it with passion and humility and style!
I remember in those early days driving down 10th Street and seeing the church come into view on the corner and saying to myself “I think this is really going to be special one day.” At the time, you had to squint a little to see it, but you don’t anymore. It’s special today. Yes, it helps that the church itself has turned into a beautiful landmark. More important is the school we’ve built around it. I couldn’t be prouder of our community - our teachers, staff, parents, board and students.
I’ve had the privilege over the past year of working closely with our new Head of School, Chris Livaccari and new Board Chair, Ranee Lan. I’m confident in their leadership and excited for where their passion and vision will take us next. The next phase of our campus growth is literally one week away - demolition begins on June 18 and then we start construction on a brand-new 30,500 square foot front entrance building.
Our impact goes beyond this corner on 10th Street. I’ve seen it in our children year-after-year - their language progressing from songs to sentences to conversations to writing to reading to projects and beyond, while their interests and skills expand and deepen. I’ve seen it in our teachers who put their heart into each and every child - when you see their interactions with your own you forget sometimes that there are 20 other kids getting the same thing. I’ve seen it in the herculean efforts our staff puts into their work day in and day out to run everything you see and don’t see that makes our school run smoothly. I’ve seen it in our community coming together for fun, to support each other, and to build this incredible place with their passion, time and resources.
Our children and future generations will go all over the world from here, true global citizens, but Presidio Knolls will always be their home. They’ll know that it was purpose built to allow them and our innovative model to blossom. And that hard work and teamwork will get you quite far.
Thank you for the opportunity to play my part these past six years.
Chair of the Board of Trustees, 2012-2018