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State of the School 4/1/21: Fall 2021, new Academic Director and more!

March 31, 2021 | Thomas Postema

Head of School Tom Postema updates the community on plans for fall 2021 and bringing more students on campus this spring. He introduces a new Academic Director, Shakeh Tashjian.  Reports on the Change Makers Benefit. And shows what’s happening around school. 



Hello Mustard Seed Community.

On my walks home, I am thoroughly enjoying the flowers springing up from the ground and the sunlit evening sky. No more coming to school in the dark and going home in the dark. I’m grateful that we’ve made it to this point in the year. Your support and care has made this possible.

Here’s what’s happening:

First, as I mentioned in an email last week, our plan is to offer in-person school five days a week next fall. The health and safety of our students, families, and staff continue to be our priority. However, as with this year, we will remain prepared for multiple scenarios. I’m overjoyed to report that by the end of spring break, over 88% of our staff will be fully vaccinated. And the more we learn about transmission, the more we’re learning that in-person school is not a main vector for the spread of the disease, especially with all of the safety measures that we have in place. There has not been a single transmission of the virus at Mustard Seed this year. This gives me great hope.

Also on the subject of next year, I’m pleased to announce we have hired Shakeh Tashjian to be the Program Director for Grades Two to Eight. Beginning July 1, she will replace Abby Hall Choi when Ms. Hall Choi takes on the role as Head of School and Shanna Pargellis, who will take a year of sabbatical. We had many highly qualified candidates apply for the position. I’m excited about the experience, leadership, and energy that Ms. Tashjian will bring to Mustard Seed.

Over the last 25 years, Ms. Tashjian has devoted her career to independent school education. She has served as a Head of School, a Dean, and a High School and Middle School math and science teacher. She has worked at the Solomon Schechter Day School, Hovnanian School, Dwight-Englewood School, and NJ Seeds. In 2018, she was a Klingenstein Fellow at Columbia University Teachers College.

You can learn more about Ms. Tashjian on the Mustard Seed blog. 

Today is the official start of Easter break! As always, I urge you to remain careful and take COVID safety precautions seriously. If you do plan to travel, please adhere to quarantine requirements as outlined in our school newsletter This Week @ Mustard Seed. Reach out to me if you have any questions. Thank you so much for continuing to care for our students, teachers, and community. 

Also, after the break, we are moving toward bringing sixth and seventh grade students on campus for four days of the week. Middle school parents, you’ve been hearing from Ms. Choi about this and we’ll keep you updated. It is taking some time to set up the schedules in a way that maintains safety and continuity. We are also keeping in mind the dates by which each of our faculty members will be fully vaccinated so that we can carefully broaden the number of adults in contact with each group of students. 

If you attended the Change Makers Benefit last Friday, then you know what a great evening it was. What a glorious celebration of our students and teachers! What a moment to reflect on your incredible generosity and the generosity of so many who make this education possible. And I felt thoroughly celebrated as I turn the corner toward my retirement! Thank you! So far, you’ve given in excess of $200,000 for need-based financial aid for students, professional development for teachers, and technology for classrooms. I’m deeply grateful. 

I want to take a moment to highlight some academic work that’s happening around school. Second and third grade students have completed their notable American study. We have a new blog up with a video of third grade students in character, interviewing in character as their notable American. You don’t want to miss it! It’s charming! We also have a blog about how the study is a part of a thematic, integrated curriculum and what that means. We’ve also started a blog series of video interviews with the Middle School faculty so that you can get to know them better.

While making observations of the city, the Trees Class preschool students became interested in the statues they found in Church Square Park.  They’ve learned about some famous statues like the Statue of Liberty and also had an impromptu chat with a Hoboken neighbor whose front stoop had many statues. They’re considering the difference between statues and decorations. Students have made statues in drawing, paint, and clay and learned about building a strong pedestal in blocks. 

As the Kindergarten Earth Class transitions from learning about themselves and their community to looking out to learn about some faraway places in the world, they pause to learn more about maps.  This social studies unit introduces the students to geographic vocabulary and also increases symbolic thinking and spatial understanding. After the break, they’ll begin a study of South Africa.

First grade has been studying space and making spacecraft and space stations out of found objects. They’ve also been growing in their ability to read and write. It’s an exciting time of year!

Seventh grade students completed their science exhibitions this week. They’ve focused on scientific inquiry using the scientific method. Students researched topics that led them to ask questions and then form a hypothesis to test. Some of the theories students tested included subjects like the absorbency of paper towels, the effect of music on the health of plants, how Mentos erupt using different kinds of soda, and the magnetism of different kinds of pepper. Students collected data to support their findings and presented a poster session on Wednesday.

The staff will have another professional development day on April 12. In the morning, Tania Oro-Hahn, our Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion will lead us in a session. Teachers will be sharing how they have been reflecting on their teaching and practices with an equity lens. And in the afternoon, the teaching staff will have a session with CAST, as they continue to learn about Universal Design for Learning or UDL and how to implement it into our classrooms. The focus of the session will be on creating expert learners.

There are so many wonderful things happening at school. I encourage you to go to the stories section of our website. You’ll find blogs about UDL, seventh and eighth grade exhibitions and more. And of course, you’ll learn more about what’s happening in your child’s classroom in the classroom blogs. 

I hope that you have a wonderful Easter break and revel in the new life that God gives us!

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.

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