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Hilltop's Annual Report


Table of Contents

Letter from the Board Chair
Emergent Curriculum: In-depth Projects, Kindergarten
Learning in Relationship: Faculty Retention, Sarah Felstiner Celebration
Leadership in Community: Step Up Projects, Hilltop Educator Institute
Organizational Integrity: Budget, Fish Wish

Letter from Jim Armstrong, Board Chair


This past year was an exciting one, as we focused on our value of Emergent Curriculum throughout the year, entered into the first year of our strategic plan, and continued to build systems to support exceptional early childhood education for children.

Emergent Curriculum

An essential component of Emergent Curriculum is inquiry and reflection. Not only were educators focused on developing the interests, passions, and challenges of the children in their classrooms through a lens of inquiry, but administrators were also reflecting on the structures of connection and support for children, families, and teaching teams. This focus has laid the groundwork for a more intentional look at Organizational Integrity in FY17.

For the first time, Hilltop had two full-time mentor teachers who supported curriculum development, educators' progress toward their professional goals, family partnerships, and all-faculty professional development.

Strategic Plan

We made important steps forward in all four of the strategic objectives approved last year. Parent participation in the organization was high: 42 current parents and 8 alumni parents participated in committees and initiatives. Because of the dedication and commitment of parents, we were able to move a number of strategic goals forward, including:
  • Launch a Diversity Committee to examine issues of access, equity, and social justice for children in our classrooms, current families, prospective families, organizational systems, and our connection to communities around Seattle
  • Create a new long-term wage scale that moves Hilltop from the 75th to the 90th percentile in early childhood educator wages in Seattle, offers educators predictability, and supports recruitment and retention
  • Analyze Hilltop's tuition positioning in the market, for the board to make informed decisions around tuition rates
  • Develop a budget with a 4 year forecast for increases in wages, tuition, financial aid, and minimum wage
  • Increase board stability, engagement, organization, and shared leadership
  • Build community partnerships, increase opportunities for career pathways for educators, and begin diversifying funding through the Hilltop Educator Institute
All of us on the board of directors look forward to continuing to strengthen and develop Hilltop over the next few years, in collaboration with our larger community. 

Emergent Curriculum

We evoke new perspective by noticing, inquiring about, and reflecting on moments of curiosity or passion and make that discovery visible through documentation and expressive media. We believe learning is constructed through experiences, inquiry, and reflection. 

Emergent Curriculum was the value we focused on this year as an organization. In our professional development gatherings, we practiced reflecting on and developing moments of curiosity and passion that we were noticing from the children in our classrooms. To enhance our communication with parents, we created a blog for each classroom that shares photos, stories, and documentation from the week. We shored up our skills in taking on different perspectives than our own, whether they be children's, families', or fellow educators'.

We consider curriculum to be everything that happens throughout the day. Based on children's curiosities, focused play, and challenges, we choose certain threads to focus on, to challenge children to deepen their thinking, further build their skills, and explore their understanding of the world through in-depth projects, which might last anywhere from 2-6 months. This year, children dove into a number of topics with their friends.
Nature Group, Yoga, Cozy Architects

Canal Exploration

Community Fundraising, Entrepreneurship, Newspaper

Heroes & Villains
Animal Group, Dinosaur Group, Big Body Group


Connections, Risk-Takers, Map Group

Movie Group, Science Club, Partner Dancing
Where did Hilltop children go to kindergarten this year?

Learning in Relationship

We seek and cultivate a wide breadth of thoughts and ideas as the foundation for meaningful connections with and intentional commitments to each other, which promotes social responsibility, interest in the unfamiliar, and respect for nature. We believe in reciprocal influence. 


One of the core pillars of Learning in Relationship is faculty retention. The connections between educators, children, and families over multiple years facilitate deep learning for children in their classrooms, support ongoing educator professional growth, and are key indicators for the quality of education the children experience. For the field of early childhood education, the annual average retention rate for educators and administrators is 70% and 60% respectively. Hilltop, on the other hand, has had an average 87% educator and 89% administrator retention rate over the past 4 years. 

Hilltop focuses on strong faculty retention through professional levels of compensation, internal growth and leadership opportunities, such as the Step Up Program and the Hilltop Educator Institute, year-round individualized and all-school professional development, and multiple layers of organizational systems and structures to support our work with children. 

When Sarah Felstiner arrived at Hilltop in 1995 as a teacher in the Sunlight Room, the school was on the top of a hill (!) in a church. We were a well-loved neighborhood program, exploring a variety of curricula in our work with children.

20 years later, Sarah has taken on the many roles that Hilltop has come up with for her, including lead teacher, registrar, bookkeeper, curriculum specialist, and now curriculum director. Hilltop has moved to the bottom of Queen Anne Hill, in an office building along the canal. Our curriculum is deeply Reggio-inspired and we are known internationally for our work with children. We are still a well-loved school, now serving both Queen Anne and surrounding neighborhoods. Although 20 years have passed since Sarah's arrival, Hilltop continues to build upon the wonders of childhood. 

The photos below are from a celebration for Sarah we had this summer that included Hilltop alumni, families, and educators from the past 20 years!

Leadership in Community

We foster courageous leadership and serve as a model of innovative, reflective early childhood education practices. We believe that collective contributions lead to bold action. 



Not only do our faculty have many talents that they bring to the classroom, but they also have various skills that apply beyond their teaching work. Thanks to the Step Up Leadership Program, faculty members can participate on committees, organize events, and develop their own projects to better the school and community.

Launched in 2013, the Hilltop Educator Institute offers reflective, collaborative, play-based, and child-centered professional development for early childhood professionals in Seattle, across the US, and internationally.

In 2016 we:
  • Launched a faculty blog with posts from educators and administrators that offer insight into our thinking about our work with children
  • Developed Communities of Practice in presentations, publications, pedagogical lunches, and coaching/consulting to support and facilitate Hilltop educator involvement in opportunities for professional growth
  • Worked with over 400 early childhood education professionals from 57 organizations; 40% serving low to middle income families.
How does the work of the Institute benefit children and families at Hilltop? Since the inception of the Hilltop Educator Institute, we have seen Hilltop faculty who have participated in the Institute: 
  • Take a deeper approach to curriculum development in classrooms. This shift comes from extended opportunities to reflect on children's play through different lenses and points of view
  • Use further-developed presentation skills to craft and present meaningful family gatherings
  • Show improved adult facilitation skills in parent meetings
  • Have a clearer understanding of where Hilltop connects with the larger field
  • Experience a broadening of skill and perspective through dialogue with educators around Seattle, across the country, and internationally
  • Have much greater access to experts in the field and high caliber trainings. The learning from these opportunities is applied, often the next day, to their work with children

This year, Hilltop received two grants to support the work of the Educator Institute: one from the Umpqua Bank Charitable Foundation and another from the Tulalip Tribes Charitable Fund. Because of this support, we were able to work with Solid Ground to make their early education classroom environments better support learning for children experiencing homelessness. As a result, children are more engaged and focused in their space. And, we also received support from Educa for our Educator Discussion Series. We are so grateful for the generosity of our community partners!

Organizational Integrity

We commit to transparent and responsible organizational practices that uphold our mission, sustain Hilltop, and bring playful joy to our work. We believe that root tending creates stability and intentional growth. 



Fish Wish is our annual fundraiser that helps close the gap between tuition revenue and the actual cost of running the organization. Money raised through Fish Wish supports scholarships, educator professional development, and programs that enhance children's learning in the classroom. This year, we raised $83,000 with 93% participation from families and 43 gifts from friends and family.
$30,000 raised through Fish Wish supports the Mentor Teacher Program, in which mentor teachers facilitate the development of curriculum responsive to the children in each classroom, guide the growth of parent partnerships, and increase the quality of every child's and family's experience at Hilltop.

"My mentor teacher has been such an incredible source of support, ideas, cheerleading, and guidance. I am so grateful to have her ear and her mind available. I am a stronger teacher because of how she challenges me and how she supports me." 

-Preschool Educator
$13,000 raised through Fish Wish supports educators' professional development to increase their effectiveness in the classroom, and includes attending conferences and workshops and bringing experts and trainers to Hilltop.

"Through my experience in professional development as a Hilltop educator I've gained critical knowledge of brain development and the ways it impacts behavior. This has helped me to grow in my knowledge of children as well as helped me to communicate with parents as to the 'why's' of their children's behavior."

-Toddler Educator
$40,000 raised through Fish Wish supports scholarships for children who otherwise could not afford to attend Hilltop. Eight percent of families received financial aid in 2015-2016.

"When my daughter turned old enough to start preschool my wish was for her to benefit from an enlightened education and enriching childcare center. Having access to a high quality early childhood education program such as Hilltop allowed my family to be more included in an intentional and thoughtful community. In my mind, it is this acceptance and intimacy that makes Hilltop a truly exceptional place for all children."

-Siri Mayo Scholarship Fund Recipient
How has the money raised in Fish Wish been used over the past 3 years?
We are so very grateful to our in-kind donors who helped make this fundraiser a success!
Part of Fish Wish is about coming together as a community to make Hilltop an even better place. Throughout Fish Wish, children shared their wishes for Hilltop, for their families, and for themselves. 
I wish for happiness for my teachers and parents
I wish we had more candies, that we knew everybody, even the strangers
I want everybody to be friends and don't call each other block head
I want 100 toys
I wish in Hilltop be more flowers and lamps
I wish my family will be happy
I wish there were more books and more fabrics
I wish for a slide in the playground
My wish is that the octopus stays forever
I wish there were more drawings on the wall
I wish for swings in the play ground
For Hilltop: a tent! For me: an Elsa backpack. For my family: a little boat to play with. For my teachers: a golden star
More jewels and more paper and more drawings
I wish a bow and arrow for myself. I wish a new lamp for Hilltop.
I wish for a pet turtle for Hilltop. I wish for a pet turtle for our family
I wish I had an octopus on my roof
Money for more dump trucks and blue sparkly mats
I hope for a play date soon
I wish I had a toy sail boat
I wish the world was nicer and didn't have any bad guys
I wish for nothing. Life at Hilltop is good
I wish I had all the skylanders
More lanterns
I wish there were more plants and I was sparkly everywhere
I wish there more books, more stuffies
Bike with bike behind it
I wish that papa would be happy if we brought him a surprise some night
I wish there were more clipboards
I wish my teachers would have a better life
I hope I get $1000000000000000
I wish that people would STOP cutting down trees, killing animals & that kind of stuff
I wish my class has new stuffies
Wish for Mountain to have a very good classroom
I wish I had this octopus at my home
I wish the school has a mustache
A unicorn
I wish that Hilltop will go on till the end of time
Thank you for a wonderful year!
Copyright © 2017 Hilltop Children's Center, All rights reserved.

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