Administrators reflect at State of the School Address


Will Sherwood/Chronicle

President Rick Commons presents in front of parents in the Saperstein Theater, beside a slideshow image of upper school students on the Quad.

Will Sherwood

The school ushered in the 2021-2022 school year with a presentation for parents at the State of the School address in one of the first in-person events since the pandemic began.

Head of Harvard-Westlake Parents Association Jill Carmel, Associate Head of School Laura Ross and Head of School Rick Commons spoke in front of a crowd in Saperstein Theater and to an audience watching virtually.

Carmel urged parents to volunteer for the school, enroll in one of the seven parent-specific clubs offered or take part in one of the growing affinity groups. She also advertised what she regards as the biggest event of the year, homecoming, which is set to take place in person on Oct. 2.

In her remarks, Ross talked about her position, where she said she focuses on the development of faculty and adults on campus. After a year apart, she presented this years’ theme for the school, “HW Together,” which emphasizes how much stronger the school is in person.

“It felt great to have casual and warm conversations at the beginning and the end [of the Event] and to meet parents in person I’d only seen on Zoom,” Ross said. “However, I was also glad that it was also live-streamed so that parents could watch the event without having to fight Los Angeles traffic to get to the middle school campus.”

As Commons addressed the school, he acknowledged the effort involved in starting a school year during the pandemic. He then turned to the hack of Naviance, the online college database the school used from 2012 to 2020. Commons said there was no news regarding the investigation into the breach, but he would keep parents updated.

His main focus was the school’s goals as an institution. Commons noted the progress the school has made over the past five years in areas like athletic excellence and diversity. He asked the community to help create visions for the next five years by filling out an online survey.

Junior Prefect Aiko Offner ’22 said the school’s leaders have provided valuable input on more short-term goals, like solving the long lines that form at the cafeteria during lunch.

“When we met with the administration over the summer to discuss our goals for the year it was really cool because it felt like our visions for the upcoming school year were aligned,” Offner said. “I appreciate how they have tried to support as many of our initiatives as they can, and hear and help problem-solve issues regarding student life.”

Commons also highlighted the importance of courageous conversations, where more than one opinion is shared. Upper School Dean Chris Jones said he agrees with the school’s plans to promote safe spaces and thinks that it can be damaging to students to only see one viewpoint.

“Learning seems enhanced when the sharing of multiple perspectives is encouraged,” Jones said. “When presented with ideas different from your own, you’re provided an opportunity to test what you believe, and what results could be a reaffirmation of your current belief; complete adoption of that new idea which then becomes your belief; or something in between, meaning amending or enhancing your belief by incorporating elements of that new idea.”