Chapter One -- Margaret Remembers
by Margaret Preston, Sacramento Waldorf School former Administrator and teacher
The idea for a Waldorf school in Sacramento started in the 1950s, when Rudy and Gisela Binsch came to the Sacramento area from Germany. In 1957 the Binsches started a group called Friends of Waldorf Education. The group arranged for Dr. Hermann von Baravalle, who had been a teacher with Dr. Steiner in the original Waldorf school in Stuttgart, to give a lecture on Waldorf education at the YWCA.
Seated in that tiny audience was Bea Roberts who decided then and there that there would be a Waldorf school in Sacramento. She visited the Highland Hall Waldorf School in Los Angeles, and then began working with the Friends of Waldorf Education to find teachers, students, and a location for the school. Enter Georgana Elliott of Elliott’s Health Foods, who offered her living room as the school and her own son as the first student (kindergarten). Ilsa Krumbein (later Corbett-Grant) was the teacher. The school opened in the fall of 1959 with Granger Elliott and Wanda Beirl as its first students.
In the spring of 1960 Rudolf Binnewies joined the fledgling school as a teacher in its new quarters at the Church of Christ on Marconi Avenue. That summer they were told they couldn’t stay at the church. Enter the Henry Teichert family. They bought the property at 3600 Fair Oaks Boulevard (near Watt Avenue) and offered the School the use of the house, chicken coop, and greenhouse — for a rent of one dollar a year.
The School grew one grade at a time as more children came and people attended more lectures by Dr. von Baravalle. Renovation of the house, chicken coop, and greenhouse provided new classrooms. Eventually the Board borrowed enough to build two barracks-type classroom buildings. They were intended to be easily portable but very temporary.
In 1964 Board members paid to fly five teachers — Leslie Ahrens, Richard and Jean Atkinson, and Franklin and Betty Kane (now Staley) — from the Kimberton Waldorf School in Pennsylvania for interviews. All five were hired, and they took on the difficult job of moving the School forward. People worked incredibly hard cleaning up the School, painting, giving talks, doing story time in public libraries, meeting parents, etc.
By 1970 we were outgrowing 3600 Fair Oaks Boulevard. One of our teachers heard about property at the end of Bannister Road. The owner, Mr. Morse, did not want to sell to just anyone. He was invited to visit the School and came away full of excitement for Waldorf education and agreed to sell us the property.
The first thing we did was start a garden, transporting the students for their gardening classes. The property was inviting, but there was so much to do! So many motorcyclists to turn away at the top of the hill! How could we ever afford to move and build new classrooms?
In the summer of 1972 the Board decided to move. That summer the buildings were packed with furniture, equipment, and books and hauled out along Fair Oaks Boulevard and down the hill to the dirt pads waiting for them. Only after we had transported the buildings to the new location did we realize: we had forgotten to provide foundations! Can you imagine digging under those buildings with temperatures climbing to 110°? But many came to help, including Larry McClure, who later helped build our administration building/ library and Linden Hall. My boys, Jim and Tim Preston, also worked that summer.
It wasn’t possible to open the whole school in September, so we started with the seventh, eighth, and ninth grades. The students in those grades practiced their singing and recorder music for the Renaissance Faire, then they were put to work digging, pouring cement, laying tile, and roofing. Three weeks into September, school started for the rest of the grades.
What a bleak, horrid-looking place the School was at that time. No grass, no flowers or bushes, only a scattering of trees around the periphery of the playground. Everything was mud, dust, dirt. The classrooms were filthy. And of course there was much wind and rain. The male faculty members taught main lesson, then worked on the buildings while the women did the rest of the teaching. Most of our faculty meetings were spent doing physical labor. We were all ready to throw in the towel.
Those were hard years, where so much fell on the shoulders of the faculty: cleaning, yard-work, administration, ordering supplies, trying to build a high school.
The School grew and became stronger. We built the kindergartens, San Juan Hall, high school buildings, then the Dome Building — which was a real work of art with its neat shingles in swirls, its river rock wainscoting, its patio with beautiful wisteria flowers hanging down like bunches of grapes. And then disaster.
Only two days before school was to start in 1985, someone set fire to the Dome. The fire destroyed most of our administrative offices, with all their financial and student records, and left our library in ruins.
The secretaries set up a card table under a tree and began the tedious job of making class lists for the first day of school. The bookkeeper had to rely on the parents to tell her where they were in their payments.
A new administration building/library building rose from the ashes of the Dome. People came from all over to help. Public schools sent us books, many came to help clean up, others came with food and cool drinks for the workers. It was a wonderful outpouring of love and help.
At this point we decided to take a really hard look at our School. What did we need? What should we be doing? The College of Teachers held deep discussions about priorities. We wanted to look forward to the year 2000 and dream of what the School would be like. All this led to what we called the White Paper.
We called a meeting in San Juan Hall. I wondered whether people would come. As I came down the hill that evening I was overjoyed to see the parking lot (mostly gravel and pot holes at the time) full of cars. San Juan Hall was packed.
Dave Alsop presented the White Paper. Its main priorities were: a hall for whole-school and community gatherings, a retirement plan, new classrooms for the Lower School, more financial aid, and better teachers’ salaries. One parent stood up and said, “Let’s imagine what the year 2000 will be like. Let’s imagine 2000.” So that’s what we called the campaign: Imagine 2000.
We formed a study group around each priority and instructed the groups to report back in six weeks.
A festival hall was designated the number one priority. A Capital Campaign Committee was started and the fundraising began. A Building Committee began to work with architects — and met weekly for years.
On March 16, 1997 — almost 12 years after the destruction of the Dome — Linden Hall was dedicated. And what a day it was! Almost 1,000 people came for the fourfold dedication: by the children, faculty, Board, and a movement group. The Imagine 2000 campaign also resulted in higher teachers’ salaries, a retirement plan, and increased financial aid.
We looked to the future once again and began work toward a “Vision for 2020.” And the work went on, one season following another, laden with happiness and tears.
Chapter Two -- Liz Recalls and Looks Forward
by Liz Beaven, current Sacramento Waldorf School Administrator
By 2001, the School had begun an intensive charting of a course for the next 20 years of development and growth. It was appropriate that the term for this planning, Vision 20/20, had been suggested by Margaret Preston, who retired from her position of Administrator in 2001 after a remarkable span of service to the School. The next several years were marked by the 20/20 process and its results, which would impact every aspect of the School.
Through a series of community meetings, faculty work sessions, Board deliberations, and expert consultation, the School examined who we were and who we wished to become. Our process was hastened by the arrival in the High School of a large group of students and their parents – from our own Lower School and from area Waldorf schools – who sought a full K-12 education. Our High School had come of age in a new way. This provoked a number of immediate actions: double tracked main lesson classes; an increase in the size of our faculty; and an urgent need for more space. Several steps were initiated. We brought portable buildings on site to provide additional classroom space – our current Humanities Center. These rooms were ready for use as the 2003-04 school year began. Simultaneously, we recognized the need to provide specialized, top of the line facilities for our science, math, and technology programs. Our planning work acquired new urgency.
Gradually, a new master plan emerged: four phases of growth that would, in all likelihood, stretch beyond 2020 and would create a campus that provided dedicated space for our entire program yet retained the beautiful, natural “feel” of our site. Work for Phase I commenced immediately: an increase in our campus Use Permit from a maximum of 425 students (surely a barely-imaginable size when it was first granted in 1982!) to a new maximum of 525, granted in 2004.
Design work for our new buildings called on the very best principles of anthroposophical architecture and cutting edge, modern architecture through a collaboration between Bert Chase and Steve Guest. The entire School gathered for a groundbreaking ceremony on Opening Day 2006. We had once again called on the skills of Larry McClure, and under his watch, construction proceeded rapidly. Our first classes were conducted in our extraordinary buildings in November 2007, and our community gathered once more in January 2008 to celebrate their completion – ahead of schedule and under budget!
Our High School continues to grow and thrive. We are familiar with double-tracked classes, which are now the norm. Our students – and their teachers – are thriving in their new, expanded spaces. The new High School buildings freed up space for the Lower School, and we have continued to provide our vibrant, full Waldorf curriculum from kindergarten through eighth grades. With the addition of our Parent/Child program in the late 1990s, we are privileged to witness the growth of children almost from birth through young adulthood.
Without a doubt, planning and building have been dominant themes in recent years. However, they only tell part of the story – and, it could be argued, are far from the most significant part. Our buildings, old and new, have provided the setting for people to conduct the “ordinary extraordinary” life of our School. Along with plans for new buildings, our Master Plan asked what children of this new millennium would need. We also asked how we could better support our teachers and families. This question led, and continues to lead, to changes in program; increases in faculty and staff; improvements in salaries, benefits, and financial aid; and ongoing dialogue about volunteers, parent groups, and governance.
Our larger High School has allowed more choice through elective subjects, including philosophy, strategic studies, science, media literacy, and arts. We have built a more robust computer program that now includes web design. We continue to develop a social-emotional curriculum for grades six through twelve. Our larger numbers have allowed for an expansion of our music program, which now includes percussion, jazz, and beginning strings. Our High School drama program expanded to regularly include an annual musical and play. A middle school support teacher was established to provide support for teachers and to deepen our science and math program. Eighth graders may now study Algebra I, taught by a High School instructor. In support of our program, we modernized the Library, a process that was greatly assisted by parent generosity at our 2009 auction.
Our School has been supported throughout by generous donors who offered expertise and funding. We were grateful for the support of the Sacramento Waldorf School Foundation in the early years of the decade. The Foundation helped us lay the groundwork for future development work, including a successful capital campaign.
As part of our 20/20 process, the Board recognized the dedicated work and low salaries of our teachers. There has been a determined effort to improve base salaries. The Board also provided increased funding for professional development and training.
The early years of this new millennium have also seen two joint accreditation processes. Although the School had been accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) since 1983, it undertook a new joint accreditation process with WASC and with the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA). This process concluded in 2002 and again in 2009 with the awarding of a seven-year joint accreditation, affirming the School’s standing as an excellent Waldorf school. The recommendations of the accrediting team helped inform our ongoing planning.
The parent community has remained a vital part of the School’s life. Parent groups have remained a constant while they changed in form: the Michael Guild became the Parent Guild, and a Parent Association merged with the Guild. In 2007, the Guild closed the Second Wave Children’s and Thrift Store, a move that reflected a changing time and decrease in the availability of volunteers.
Challenging times have required changes in course, and the School has been responsive to these needs. Our fiftieth anniversary provided a marvelous moment to reflect on our early years, take stock of our present, and imagine what will be. The story continues!
Sacramento Waldorf School 3750 Bannister Road, Fair Oaks, California 95628 (916) 961-3900