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Hilltop's Annual Report

Table of Contents
Letter from the Chair of the Board
Emergent Curriculum

In-depth projects, Kindergarten statistics
Learning in Relationship
Step Up Projects, Faculty retention
Leadership in Community
Professional development, Institute
Organizational Integrity
Budget, Fish Wish Report

Letter from the Board Chair


Greg Bjarko

This year has been a wonderful year for the school! We used one of our core values - Leadership in Community - as a thread throughout the year. Our community and organization are more robust as a result of the inspiring leadership we saw from children, families, faculty, and the Board of Directors. 

Our children demonstrate Leadership in Community every day in small and big ways. From a Rainbow child helping his friend feel comfortable jumping on the bridge of the climbing structure, to a Beach child teaching her classmate to draw a castle, to an older Big Kid facilitating the younger Big Kids' dramatic vision of Little Red Riding Hood, to the entire River classroom sharing their experience of environmentalism with their parents, Hilltop is filled with examples of the leadership fostered in children by Hilltop's teaching practices.

Our families led in their commitment to this community throughout the year by responding to documentation about their child(ren), contributing to conferences and collaboratives, attending potlucks and family gatherings, coming to our first annual alumni picnic, volunteering their talents and time by sharing family traditions with their child's classroom, being on the Board, participating in committees, making snacks, going on field trips, etc., etc., etc. And, families came together in an unprecedented and humbling way during our Fish Wish fundraiser, in which we had 99% participation and raised $108,000. As a result of this strong community engagement and other factors (like high enrollment) that have put us in a strong financial position this year, Hilltop is able to grow and deepen our pedagogical practices, at the same time focus more intentionally on long-term organizational sustainability and capacity building.

Our faculty have also shone as leaders this year. We have seen exceptional classroom leadership in intentional and in-depth work with children and families, collaborative conferences, and documentation. In addition, our faculty have demonstrated professional growth and leadership outside the classroom through the Step Up Program, presentations at conferences, and engagement with the ECE community. Faculty's commitment to the first year of investigation into launching Hilltop's professional development institute helped transform a long-time discussion and dream of the faculty and the Board into a burgeoning reality.

Our Board grew by three members this year, which has enjoyed additional capacity and skill sets as a result. We updated our bylaws and articles of incorporation, took leadership on technology, fundraising, institute, and finance committees that has resulted in positive change in every aspect of the organization those committees touched, and made the important decision to invest in the future of Hilltop by initiating a strategic business planning and board development process, which will start this fall.

During the school year 2013-2014, Leadership in Community has helped motivate our actions, guide our decisions, and define our path. We look forward to continuing to grow and develop as leaders in our communities.


Emergent Curriculum

We evoke new perpective 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.
From year to year, there are pedagogical elements of our work with children that remain steady: children as competent and at the center of their learning, educators as researchers committed to inquiry-based teaching practice, classroom environments as integral to children's education, and the commitment to emergent curriculum to facilitate children's development as intellectual and social learners.

And, every year, we engage in critical thinking and rigorous discussion about our work and how we can continue to improve what we do. This year, we have spent time reflecting on the protocol we use to develop emergent curriculum: The Thinking Lens, developed by Margie Carter and Deb Curtis. We have taken this excellent protocol and are using it as a foundation and inspiration to define a modified version, now being tested in the weekly team meetings. 

Both the consistent philosophical tenets and the ongoing work around protocols and best practices are the carefully-tended garden from which the children's investigations grow and blossom. Children brought their individual personalities and passions to the classroom, which resulted in inspiring and sometimes surprising in-depth group projects (see chart below).

Educators carefully set up their classroom environment, offer children invitations or provocations in the form of open-ended materials, and step into their roles of researcher, facilitator, and collaborative observer of children's play. They meet weekly to discuss the themes, challenges, and joy emerging from the play. While some of these larger concepts and structures remain consistent from year to year, we continue to engage in rigorous and challenging inquiry with each other: leading in community.
2013-2014 In-Depth Projects

 Rule Breakers, Camping, Doctors & Superheroes
Big Kids:  Names & Identity
Mountain: The Experiment Project Team, School Building Mice, Mazes & Mysteries
Rainbow: Monsters & Superheroes, Cooking, Storytelling
Raindrop:  Drumming, Pretend THIS...
River: The River Kids Tackle Littering
Spanish: The Art of Frida Kahlo and Joan Miró
Sunlight: Story Writers, Turtles/Liking Things, Wild Creatures

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.
Our faculty have shone this year as educators and as leaders. While continuing their role in the classroom, four educators stepped into new part-time, semi-administrative positions as Mentor Teachers, an Events Coordinator, and a Step Up Program Coordinator. In addition, 74% of educators participated in Step Up Leadership Projects, which welcomed teachers to grow as professionals in a self-directed way, while contributing to the needs of the school and community. In addition, we maintained a 96% retention rate of all faculty (educators and administrators) from September 2013-August 2014. Our professional development focused on anti-bias curriculum best practices, emotional intelligence work, and further investigation into the science of child development.

Step Up Projects 2013-2014

Advocacy Day
In-Depth Projects Catalog

New Child Transitions
Office Environment
Protocol for Identifying Children Who Need Additional Support
Teacher Appreciation Week
Technology Committee Representative
Work Room

Food Program
Fundraising Committee Representative
Men in Early Childhood Education
Faculty Retention

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.
Hilltop's Professional Development Institute grew from an ad hoc approach of accommodating the many visitors interested in learning about Hilltop's work with children to a more structured plan of study that better supports Hilltop's program. In this past year, the Institute has allowed us to develop internal structures and systems that have improved our classrooms, offered educators opportunities for additional pathways for professional growth, and enabled influential leaders in the field to come to Hilltop to further educate and inspire our teaching practices. 

Not only has the Institute taken steps to positively impact the school, but it has also begun to positively impact the field of Early Childhood Education. In the words of Nicky Byres, Executive Director for the Society of Richmond's Children's Centers in British Columbia:

"Our organisation would not be where we are today without the partnership, teaching, modelling and encouragement we received from the Hilltop team. To know we have colleagues ahead of us on this journey who are willing to walk alongside us as we learn and grow, with deep humility and integrity, is a gift beyond measure."

As the Institute continues to grow and develop, it will continue to remain focused on the value of Leadership in Community as a guide and compass, both internally and externally.

Why has Hilltop invested in a professional development institute?

Over the past 45 years, Hilltop has become known internationally for:

Stimulating physical environments
Dynamic Emergent Curriculum
Extensive Pedagogical Documentation
Child-led In-Depth Investigations
Meaningful partnership with families
Commitment to authentic childhood

Hilltop is an exceptional place to learn and work, and we believe that all children and families have the right to a high-quality early childhood education experience like that of children at Hilltop. Our Professional Development Institute helps us share what we've developed over the past four decades with fellow educators and administrators, so that we can effect change in the field of early learning, while attracting and retaining outstanding faculty and enhancing our own programs here at Hilltop. ​

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.
Our families came together in an unprecedented and humbling way during our Fish Wish fundraiser, with a 99% participation and $108,000 raised. Wow!!! As a result, Hilltop has been able to grow in much-needed ways this year: by upgrading our technology systems and equipment, in helping fund the new Support Educator positions, which helps support continuity when a regular educator needs to be out of the room, and through an increase in available scholarship funds. All of this was made possible through the inspiring leadership from this community: to date, unprecedented levels of participation, impressive stretch gifts (both large and small), challenge gifts, matching gifts from employers, in-kind gifts, and hours upon hours of volunteer time and energy! 

The Board also committed to a 10% wage increase for educators, as a part of a long-term plan to offer career wages and professionalized pay for employees. Our revenue was greater than anticipated and our expenses were lower, leading to a robust year for the budget. Administrative processes and structures have been and continue to be examined and improved, with the goal of continued high administrator retention. For the first time in recent Hilltop history, every faculty member (administrators and educators) received a performance evaluation. And, we continued to streamline systems for families and faculty, from tour sign-ups to mid-year conferences to the faculty schedule. 

Values-based decision-making continued to be a central theme for the administrative team; stewardship, sustainability, efficiency/effectiveness, and transparency support our responsibility to uphold Hilltop's value of Organizational Integrity.
Families demonstrated an unprecedented level of Leadership in Community through their organization of and participation in this year's Fish Wish fundraising campaign. As we continue to move away from the auction model for fundraising, we have become more committed to the alignment of philanthropy (love of people) and the community building that is central to this approach and clearly aligns with our organizational values.

Fish Wish supports Hilltop’s framework of an emergent curriculum and child-centered education through the general operating budget. About 6% of Hilltop’s operating budget is maintained through annual giving. Through Fish Wish, we are able to continue to invest in three important elements of the school: Children, Teachers, and the Siri Mayo Scholarship Fund.
And while the money raised is critical to the immediate needs and long term health of the organization, the conversations and sense of community generated by the inspiring level of participation, renewed and deepened each of our commitment to children's authentic childhood, to supporting and inspiring all of us in this joyful work and play, and to connecting with each other as faculty, families, and friends of Hilltop.
Research shows us that strong relationships with adults are key to a child's successful development. With this in mind, Hilltop is in its second year of piloting our Support Educator program to offer consistent coverage when classroom educators are out of the room for planning time or professional development. Support Educators are a consistent presence in the classroom, participate in team meetings and plan curriculum, and develop close, supportive relationships with the children in their classrooms. Gifts from the Fish Wish represent 40% of the funding for this pilot program.
With an historically minimal budget for technology, Hilltop educators have been placed in the challenging position of being expected to produce high quality documentation, communicate effectively with parents, and develop complex curriculum without the necessary tools. The average age of our computers is 5 years old and there is a commensurately high fail rate. We have lost countless photos and pieces of documentation about your children, been unable to start the writing process because the computers won't turn on, and been challenged to communicate effectively because of limited access to email. This change, due to the hard work of a Board-lead technology committee and to the generosity of this community, allows us a multi-year technology plan, new equipment for educators, and positively influences educator retention, job satisfaction, curriculum development and our ability to connect with families about their children.

The Siri Mayo Scholarship Fund was founded in memory of Siri Mayo, a former Hilltop student, who passed away in 2005, at the age of nine. Siri lived with humor and zest; her eyes twinkled, offering a joyful invitation into play, conversation, and sweet companionship. Siri and her family stayed connected with families they met at Hilltop long after leaving the school. These friends helped establish the Fund in 2006 to honor Siri and the gift she was to all who knew her. Our goal is to help families overcome financial barriers to participating in the Hilltop program. Hilltop is pleased to honor the value of friendship and diversity that Siri held dear.

Thanks to the generosity of Hilltop's community, the Siri Mayo Scholarship Fund grew by 40% last year and was able to lend support to 10% of Hilltop's families.
Testimony from families receiving financial aid:

"I'm so relieved we can stay here another year."
"Thank you so much for hearing us out and making the effort. Our child is very much looking forward to returning, so needless to say, we are very relieved that we can keep him a part of the Hilltop family."
"[Hilltop] has really enriched [my daughter's] life and socialization so much so that I can't imagine her not having this experience in her life. She absolutely loves it and she talks about school often." 
"Thank you so much! We are blown away by Hilltop's generosity. We are so grateful. Our child obviously loves it at Hilltop and feels so at home. We are relieved and so thankful that he is able to continue his journey there. We are so happy to be a part of the Hilltop community and really look forward to this next school year.  The gift from the Siri Mayo fund is really, really appreciated. Again, thank you so much. We are humbled by your kindness."
2014 Donors to the Fish Wish
Annual Fundraising Campaign
Thank you, thank you, thank you to our community - immediate and extended - who are responsible for our school being more robust than ever this year!!!!
Matching Gifts
Davidson Investment Advisors
Gates Foundation
Puget Sound Energy

In-Kind Gifts
Hilltop's Board of Directors 2013-2014
Greg Bjarko, Chair
Cynthia Dold, Vice Chair
Anna Woodard, Treasurer
Norma Andrade, Secretary
Jim Armstrong
Sarah Bilton
Christi DeCuir
Shannon Ellmers
Liz Heron
Ann Ilgen
Zach Morgan
Ian Sample
Michelle Sanders, Faculty Representative
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