Apply Now

State of the School 2/26/21: UDL, Academic Exhibitions, Spring Break, and Remembering Lynne Connell

February 25, 2021 | Thomas Postema

Head of School Tom Postema covers Universal Design for Learning, Academic Exhibitions, Spring Break plans, NJAIS accreditation check-in visit, and remembers Lynne Connell



Hello Mustard Seed School Community!

As we come to the end of February, we’ve had four times as much snow this year as we did last year! It’s been fun for students to play in the park. You may be eager to see it all melt, if only to park more easily in Hoboken!

This month has been a celebration of the contributions of Black Americans to a wide variety of studies–science, music, literature, and politics. I had a delightful time in the Trees class hearing and seeing Louis Armstrong sing and play his trumpet. The children were delighted by his telling of the Night Before Christmas and danced to his rendition of Wonderful World. 

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

I’ve mentioned a few times that our teachers are engaged in a year-long professional development process in Universal Design for Learning or UDL. Based in neuroscience, UDL says that teachers should expect differences in how students learn and should plan for them. The curriculum should be set up in such a way that strengths can be amplified and barriers to learning removed. 

UDL says that all students should receive equitable opportunities to reach high standards.

It takes a number of years to fully implement UDL in a school. What does this look like? We’ve created a blog to show you.  I recommend that you go to the stories section of and read What is Universal Design for Learning and how will it help your Mustard Seed student? In it, there is a lot more information about UDL, including short videos from Ms. Kuperus, Ms. Jang, and Ms. Buckley with examples of how they’ve implemented UDL principles into their teaching practices.

You’ll see that already UDL is making a difference for students. It is the future of education and it dovetails with our mission to inspire minds, cultivate hearts, and remove barriers. It is part of building an equitable, inclusive, and supportive learning community where every student feels a sense of belonging. And it’s a part of teaching students to be expert learners who are ready for the world.

New! Video About Academic Exhibitions

If you would like a deeper dive into UDL or you’re curious about our academic exhibition program in the Middle School, I’d like to point you to a new video, also in the “Stories” section of the website called What is an Academic Exhibition and why are eight exhibitions part of the graduation requirement at MSS? In the video, Ms. Hall Choi and Dr. Smith cover the benefits of the academic exhibition program, what students learn, and how these skills serve them in high school and college. Dr. Smith also explains how this year’s music exhibition used the principles of UDL so the project was meaningful to students with less musical experience as well as those with a great deal of musical experience. 

Both UDL and the academic exhibition program are examples of how the Program Directors and our teachers are incorporating what we’re learning from cutting edge educational research and neuroscience into the classroom right now. This work is all in service of your children.

Spring Break: In person learning resumes immediately after on April 13

Many of you have been asking about whether we plan to implement distance learning after spring break like we did after Christmas break. The answer is no. School will open after spring break. Our staff are sacrificing their ability to travel during this time so that we can open school for in-person learning immediately following the break on April 13. 

As with Thanksgiving Break, we ask that you refrain from travel during Spring Break. If you do travel, we ask that you quarantine for two weeks upon your return. If you need to quarantine, and your child needs to distance-learn, please speak with your child’s teacher or academic director to make a plan. Thank you for continuing to work with us to maintain a safe learning environment for everyone.


Now a reminder: we’re past the re-enrollment deadline. If you haven’t re-enrolled, please do so right away. We make staffing decisions based on our enrollment numbers. We also admit new students based on available seats. If you have other plans for next year, or if you need additional assistance, please reach out to Imaani Sanders. If you are having technical difficulties, please contact Jen Gautier. Thanks.

And thank you for your patience with our new Blackbaud System. I know that there have been some glitches with our implementation. We’re working to fix the issues that have come up and improve your experience. Ultimately, the new system is going to serve all of us better. 

Accreditation Visit

We’re now at the halfway point of our ten-year accreditation. On March 18th, we will have a virtual visit from a team of NJAIS representatives. They will meet with us, review the recommendations from the accreditation process 5 years ago, consider how far we’ve come, and our plans moving forward. As I’ve written the five-year report for the committee, I’m encouraged by all of the work that we’ve done so far including creating and implementing a strategic plan. 

Change Makers Benefit March 26 @ 8 PM

Invitations to the virtual Change Makers Benefit went out this week, so you might have received yours in the mail already. The benefit is on March 26 at 8 PM. It’s going to be a fun evening–and you can attend in your pajamas! The event is free to attend, but you need to RSVP so that we can send you the Zoom link. In addition to raising money to support Mustard Seed students, we’re also going to celebrate my time at Mustard Seed School as I look toward retirement at the end of June. So I hope that you’ll be there!

Remembering Lynne Connell

Finally, I have sad news. Many of you may have heard that Lynne Connell passed away last week after a long battle with cancer. Ms. Connell worked at the school for ten years, mostly as a paraprofessional in the Middle School. She also filled in for the main office and helped with our basketball program. If you’ve ever called the school and spoken with a kind woman with a beautiful New Zealand accent, then you’ve spoken to Ms. Connell.

She was a calming and lovely presence in the classroom. Thoughtful and caring. She took the time to know her students well, support them, and advocate for their needs. Because of her attention and support, her students excelled and surprised themselves with what they could do. Her students adored her, lighting up when they saw her, and often came to her for a grandmotherly hug. 

She was a bright person on the hardest of days. A singer. A fan of her rugby team, the New Zealand All Blacks. A woman of deep faith, she showed all of us what it means to be like Christ. She made all of us her family and we are going to miss her. 

We extend our deepest condolences to Ms. Connell’s husband of 61 years, Patrick, and their children. 

Thank you for taking the time to watch this State of the School. You are now caught up on what’s happening here at Mustard Seed. Bye for now. 


Thomas Postema

Head of School

Mr. Postema was the Head of School from Fall 2011 to Spring 2021, when he retired.

An educator for over 35 years, Mr. Postema taught math and was a school administrator at international schools in Japan and South Korea, as well as schools in the USA (New Jersey and Alaska). He taught at Mustard Seed from 1989-1991 when Mr. Cuervo and Mr. Johnson were MSS students!

As Head of School, Mr. Postema successfully led the school through the NJAIS accreditation process and the Together for Tomorrow endowment campaign, which raised over $3M to benefit MSS students. Mr. Postema loves to tell the Mustard Seed story and continues to be passionate about the mission even in his retirement.

Related Stories

August 18, 2021

State of the School 8/18/21: What you need to know for Back to School

Learn More
June 22, 2021

New Endowed Chairs Focus on Worship and Faith; Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Learn More
May 13, 2021

State of the School May 14, 2021: A preview of the end of the school year

Learn More