March 11, 2022

The State of Us

Jaime A. Dominguez / Head of School

On Wednesday, March 9, 2022, Head of School Jaime A. Dominguez delivered Oakwood’s annual state of the school address, The State of Us. Below is the full text of his remarks, as well as some of the videos and images he shared. Click here for a downloadable PDF of the entire slide presentation.

We also invite you to visit our newly-launched minisite: A Vision for Our Future, which contains information about all the projects outlined below, and much more.


A big welcome to the Oakwood community and thanks for tuning in. It goes without saying that we wanted this to be in person but I’m happy to be connected with you all virtually tonight.

Before I jump into the formal presentation which is meant to be joyful and future-focused, I think it’s important to acknowledge the emotions, struggles, and anxiety of the past two years. In addition to the challenges and heartaches experienced due to the pandemic and the racial reckoning, we are also having to deal with additional fears caused by economic uncertainty and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. There is no question that these issues demand our attention and response in support of the people that are directly in harm’s way as well as the need to take care of our children who are experiencing worry and sadness. 

As a parent myself, I know all too well that time is precious, and that every year goes by in a flash. Nobody had the Kindergarten, 7th grade, or Senior year they dreamed of long before this pandemic. Every part of the school’s operation shifted to make room for a new set of priorities: the health and safety of students and teachers. And that has challenged our ability to deliver on everything our students and families have hoped for—sometimes even the things that “should be easy” have not been. I take pride in all we have done to fulfill our students’ needs, but I know it hasn’t always been ideal for students, parents, or for our community. There have been times when we’ve disagreed about the best way forward and there have been times when I’ve realized I made a mistake and had to adjust. Throughout all of it, though, one thing is certain: I, our principals, our faculty, our entire team—we have never wavered in our dedication to our students. And our students have never stopped showing the resilience and passion that enables them to find friendship, joy, and amazing intellectual and emotional growth. 

With this said, I thought it would be inspiring to hear directly from our faculty and staff. The individuals who dedicate their lives to ensuring that students are not only provided for academically but also compassionately. Our teachers and staff model for us what it means to lead with care and love, which is the ultimate antidote to the pain and suffering we see and experience in our world. I recognize that it is our faculty and staff, beyond anything else, that is what makes Oakwood the incredible school it is. 

Last week, I asked them to share with us just a few words on what’s gotten them through the past two years. Let’s hear what they had to say:

I just love our faculty and staff, and in particular their enthusiasm and the “can do” attitude that they’ve demonstrated over the past several years. It’s tremendous to see all the ways the Oakwood community has stayed optimistic and pushed through. This is what motivates me, carries all of us forward together, and sets the perfect stage for our presentation.

Tonight will begin with me looking back at what we have accomplished together this year. We will hear directly from our students about what they hope, wish, and demand for the future of Oakwood School. And then I will get to the final section where I will share with you ideas that are forming our vision for Oakwood’s future. But first, let me take a minute to explain why we have titled this year’s State of the School presentation The State of Us.

Ultimately, we root everything we do in relationships & community. This connects back to the earliest days of Oakwood when in 1951 a group of parents joined together to open a school. This echoes in our Statement of Philosophy, which states that “teachers and learners should inspire one another and that young people’s feelings and thoughts should be accorded respect and dignity.”

Three years ago, thanks to the tireless work of my predecessor and friend, Jim Astman, Oakwood published a book titled If School Keeps. This is the chronicle of Oakwood’s origin told by one of its founding parents, Jessica Ryan. With both humor and conviction, If School Keeps tells how in the earliest years of our school, parents and teachers, principals and leaders held strong, yet vigorously tested their core beliefs while constantly working to define, and re-define, what it meant to provide an Oakwood Education.

I’m proud to say that this same spirit is very much alive today. Oakwood remains a work in progress, but we move forward together towards a future that honors our past and empowers students to take action in the present. Ultimately though, tonight is a STATE of US because ALL of US have a role to play in pushing Oakwood into the future.

What I would like to do now is describe some of the programs that are new or substantially changed over the past year, as a way to celebrate some of the ways we, together, are enhancing the student experience. These programs span the elementary and secondary campuses.

The first programs I want to highlight are ones that are enhancing our curriculum, deepening our commitment to complex and cross-disciplinary ways of learning, and supporting students along their journeys to college and beyond.


The Oakwood Advanced Studies program, available to Juniors and Seniors, represents the pinnacle of our educational program and provides our students with the kind of rigorous intellectual stimulation that I think sets an Oakwood education apart from more traditional models. Oakwood Advanced Studies (OAS) officially started in 2019 with a handful of senior-level social studies courses. We’re now offering 19 Advanced Studies courses in Math, Science, Social Studies, World Languages, Arts, and the Humanities.

But even before OAS rolled out, Oakwood’s educators were discussing the need to better align with what we believe about education, and it was clear that the traditional AP courses Oakwood was offering were not serving our students. In fact, many of the teachers who were most involved in designing our Advanced Studies program had very recently been teaching at the college level. They noticed that students who had passed AP tests were increasingly not able to handle the ambiguities and unanswered questions at the heart of academic disciplines. And now, we’re seeing that moving from AP towards OAS has given students the tools to do real work within a discipline—and that this approach is transferable to what kids will be doing in college.

And by way of comparison, Oakwood is currently offering more Advanced Studies courses than the number of APs we used to offer. And we’ve seen larger enrollment in OAS courses than we did in APs—across every department.


Now let’s move to the earlier side of the learning process to highlight a program that I am personally most excited about, and that is our recent expansion of world language instruction with the introduction of Spanish at the elementary campus.  For those of you who have not met him, here’s our new Spanish teacher, José Salguero, who will provide a brief look into how this program is playing out with our Kindergarten through 4th graders.

In addition to building foundations for understanding the Spanish language, our students are learning about cultures from around the world. In doing so, they learn how communicating with others brings them closer to communities here in Los Angeles. And—José’s story about first graders learning the Spanish alphabet and the letter Q, which lead to the Quetzal bird, and then to studies on prehistoric history via Earth Gallery… that’s a remarkable example of Spanish being a bridge across disciplines. I’m excited to see this program grow and develop with plans to add Spanish to 5th and 6th grades, so that within the next two years we will have a language program that spans from Kindergarten to 12th grade.


Just a few minutes ago I highlighted our Advanced Studies program and how it provides opportunities to engage at significant levels of rigor, and depth. But this is just one way that students are being prepared for the world beyond Oakwood. This school year, our College Counseling Office expanded to offer an even more personalized approach and to connect with every student. With the addition of our new counselor, Carolyn Starks, who joins Melissa Palmer and Steffany Perez, the College Counseling office is implementing programs they have long dreamt of offering. This includes an annual weeklong essay and application workshop for rising seniors and the second-annual Historically Black Colleges and Universities webinar.

For the first time, the college counseling office is also creating programs that support families new to higher education, or who will be the first to attend a four-year college. And finally, we now have the ability to match every sophomore with a college counselor. This helps students navigate course sign-ups for their junior year. All of this brings us closer to our goal of Oakwood graduates having transformational experiences in higher education.

Oakwood School is only fulfilling our mission when we strive to meet the needs of each and every student. I’d like to tell you more about recent things we’re doing to live out our belief that everything we do is rooted in relationships & community.



Oakwood’s Student Support capacities continue to grow and adapt to the changing environment our students are living and learning through. A number of new roles were created at both campuses dedicated to academic and social-emotional learning. At the secondary campus, new Learning Specialist Mary O’Malley teamed with Director of Support Services Wendy Weicker, our principals, and teachers to reimagine the Study Center. This has provided students with drop-in support on everything from gaining conceptual understanding across subject areas, to managing workload, and building organizational skills.

Last school year, Dr. Kavita Ajmere joined the secondary campus as our full-time Director of Counseling and Wellness. Along with Adriane Steinheimer, our Counselor & Human Development Coordinator, and Wendy Weicker, our Director of Support Services,  they were instrumental in shepherding students through the most troubling months of the pandemic. This took place during daily individual sessions, with students and families, lunchtime, and after-school.

At the elementary campus, Ramsey Merritt is in his first year as our Math Specialist. He is supporting kindergarten through 6th-grade students in developing positive, growth-oriented mindsets on Math. He also collaborated with secondary campus Mathematics chair David Hammett on a pair of workshops for 5th and 6th-grade parents & guardians. Titled Inquiry-Based Math, How and Why it Works, this is an example of how we’re working on curricular alignment across grade levels, in all subjects, this year and in years to come.

Another new face at Oakwood is Maia Morgan. As our elementary campus counselor, Maia joins us at a time when teachers, not to mention parents and guardians, are trying to understand how living through the pandemic has affected social-emotional development in children. Maia’s helped our youngest learners with being able to name emotions and express themselves in ways that are appropriate. Anxiety is present, and teachers have observed that kids may be struggling to remember what it’s like to play with one another. As their advocate, Maia’s worked to develop toolkits for students to re-learn what it means to be part of a school community—which sets the stage for learning.

As we know, social-emotional and academic learning go hand in hand, and it’s our teachers who are tasked with carrying out both, in the classroom. Maia’s collaborated with the elementary campus team on a number of workshops aimed at re-empowering teachers to navigate student emotional challenges. This is a hand-sized, quick reference guide to help teachers apply Restorative Justice principles to resolve conflicts.

I can tell you from firsthand experience, and I’m sure Denise, Kevin, and everyone at both campuses would agree—our students have shown tremendous resilience and empathy. As so often happens, students lead the way by showing us they are stronger than they know and that Oakwood students truly care for one another. Taking care of one another is what holds us together as a community. Caring sustains the work we do and the connections we make.


The new Oakwood Kitchen cares for, and literally feeds bodies and minds, while creating new opportunities for connection over shared meals.

Our new secondary campus Kitchen & Cafe, the elementary campus Servery, and our K-12 meal plan program is transforming the school day for students, teachers, and staff. In addition to providing healthy and affordable meals every day, our outdoor dining spaces are alive with conversation, laughter, intense discussions, purpose, and play.

Preparing and serving these meals is quite an undertaking—here are some facts: in the past 60 days, the Oakwood kitchen has served 489 deli sandwiches, 937 fresh strawberry lemonades & OJs: 1740 beef, fish, and poultry entrées, 1290 vegetarian entrées, and an incredible 1547 house-baked cookies. That’s a lot of food and a lot of fun. The Oakwood Kitchen and meal plan are still relatively new, and just like any restaurant in its first year of operation, we’re working to improve. Soon you’ll be receiving a survey from us seeking feedback on the complete kitchen experience. We want your suggestions on the food, ordering system, and to better understand how your student is enjoying mealtimes at school.


Being truly rooted in community calls on us to care for the whole of every person—their emotional and physical health—with an emphasis on their sense of belonging. Toyin Augustus, our new Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging has hit the ground running in her first year, collaborating with fellow administrators, teachers, students, parents & guardians, and alumni on work that reaches into every part of the Oakwood School experience.

Oakwood has continued its affinity group work, including for the first time students in 5th and 6th grade. There are also more adult groups meeting this year, such as our Jewish-identifying parents and guardians, and an ever-growing number of White Anti-Racist faculty and staff are gathering to do the essential work of recognizing harm and critically examining systems of oppression.

In classrooms and on campus, students have partaken in celebrations and class projects drawn from all the cultures and heritages that make up our school community and Greater Los Angeles,  including so far this year: Latinx Heritage Month, Indigenous People’s Day and Native American Heritage Month, Dia De Los Muertos, Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Lunar New Year, and Black History Month. And we look forward to more observances and celebrations later this year for Women’s History Month, Holi, Ramadan, Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Jewish American Heritage Month, and LGBTQ+ Pride Month. 

I’d like to add another undeniable thing that Toyin, in collaboration with Kevin and our PGODEIB committee, have brought to Oakwood this school year: joy and love. If any of you have seen photos of cultural celebrations on campus, attended a Voices Envisioned talk, or gathered in an affinity group, you know what I’m talking about.

The experience of belonging is one that brings us love and joy. I want to thank these individuals for reminding us of that, and for providing so many opportunities to feel it.

This next project contains inspiring examples of students empowered to take action while at the same time requiring students to grapple with complex ideas and place their learning in local and global contexts.


Next week, our 7-12 graders begin Immersion
. For those of you who may be unfamiliar, Immersion is a two-week period when secondary students step away from their usual classes to take a mini-course of sorts that is hands-on, exploratory, and unrestricted by the boundaries of the classroom. Immersion has a long history of growth and evolution at Oakwood. This year we’ve intentionally focused the program on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. We believe this framework enables students to, in the words of our Statement of Philosophy, “foster a sense of responsibility and humility along with a habit of service and instill a lifelong commitment to social justice.”

This year’s Immersion also brings a renewed focus on the greater Los Angeles region. This aligns with our current and future goals of being a school whose walls are increasingly permeable and whose students are active in the communities around us. It’s a credit to our tremendously creative faculty that within those focus areas, students will be partaking in a hugely varied offering of courses. 

I want to call out one upcoming Immersion course in particular… Many of you remember that in 2019 Oakwood English teacher Melissa Berton, Director Rehka Zatabchi, Oakwood students, and alumni took the stage to accept an Academy Award for their documentary short, Period. End of Sentence. The story of this film, about women in a rural village in India fighting stigmas around menstruation, begins all the way back in 2013. Melissa took a group of Immersion students that year to the Annual Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations. There they learned about the problem of period poverty and the inventor of a machine to manufacture sanitary pads out of natural, locally-sourced materials. This led to the establishment of The Pad Project at Oakwood, a youth-led initiative whose work on menstrual equity evolved from winning an Oscar to growing into the thriving non-profit organization it is today.

And the story continues. Next week with Melissa’s new Immersion course, “The Pad Project at the Border,” In partnership with the non-profit, Border Angels, and students from Nuevo Vallarta, our students will examine menstrual and reproductive rights in Mexico and the United States, with a focus on how the lack of access to period care products poses challenges for migrants. Students will engage with experts and activists to learn how non-profit program development and advocacy can create positive change.

I should also mention that so many things we practice in the Immersion program are a natural outgrowth of countless projects that happen at the elementary campus. For example, this year’s “operation gratitude”, which collected over 300lbs. of surplus Halloween candy for members of the Military and First Responders, is the perfect example of living out our belief in developing habits of service among all students.

Each of the projects we looked at tonight is a credit to the abiding values of our philosophy, the boundless creativity and imagination of our students and teachers, and the unwavering commitment and trust of our families. Despite the challenges of the past two years, we are deeply grateful to have done all of this (and so much more that we couldn’t fit into tonight’s presentation) in partnership with the entire Oakwood School community. We’re proud of everything we’ve accomplished, but we’re also here to look forward to Oakwood’s future. 

All of this starts with our students, so now it’s time to bring their voices to this conversation, to help frame what comes next. This is what they hope, wish, and demand for the future of Oakwood School.

I just love how our students are empowered to voice their opinions and insights and are fearless in sharing these ideas with both their classmates as well as the adults in the community. This is truly one of the hallmarks of an Oakwood education. Hearing their voices, I reflect on the rich mix of small and large goals; the practical and the aspirational, hopes about things that make day-to-day learning possible, and hopes they have for the greater world and for their own lives.

As we look toward the future, we have to ask ourselves: can we respond to that full range of wishes, hopes, and demands? Can we make possible all the ways our students hope to learn, and all the ways they hope for us to live together as a school community? 

Absolutely Yes. I believe we must. And I know that we can.

Because at Oakwood, we don’t see learning and life as separate. We CAN provide excellent learning while also tackling the big questions that are shaping our students’ lives–questions of equity, sustainability, and civic responsibility. In fact, we provide excellent learning by engaging with those big questions and living our values, both in our classrooms and beyond. We accomplish all of this through commitments you have heard me mention this evening: our commitment to deep, complex thinking; our commitment to authentic, trusting relationships; and our commitment to taking action.

These same commitments have focused Oakwood School on three interconnected priorities that are driving our choices today and driving our vision for the future:

Advancing Our Curriculum

We provide a robust curriculum in academics, the arts, and athletics. Now, we are prioritizing work to enhance and extend our curriculum even further, making it more interdisciplinary, equitable, and aligned throughout the K-12 experience.


Ensuring Belonging

Community and relationships are a part of everything we do. Now, more than ever,  we must ensure that all members of our school community experience belonging and have the full support and resources to contribute their whole selves and receive the full benefits of the Oakwood experience.


Empowering Students to Take Action

At Oakwood, we take action on the issues that matter. We are prioritizing new ways of providing students with the skills and opportunities they need to put their learning into action as problem-solvers, creators, innovators and leaders.

You’ve already heard tonight about some of the ways we are fulfilling these three priorities. You’ve heard about advances within our curriculum such as Spanish language on the Elementary Campus and Oakwood Advanced Studies on the Secondary Campus. You’ve heard about our work to ensure belonging through enhanced student support programs and our DEIB work. You’ve heard about this year’s Immersion program as a way we are continuing our commitment to putting learning into action.

These are big ideas–some are starting to move forward, some are still being imagined, but all are, I believe, critical to realizing our shared vision for Oakwood’s future.

Da Vinci Lab
Da Vinci Lab at the Elementary Campus



The Da Vinci Lab
is being envisioned to support students’ creativity and entrepreneurial spirit from the youngest ages by providing Elementary Campus students with project-based and design-thinking learning experiences. More than just the expansion of our already robust secondary STEAM program, this will be both a curriculum and a new space. Our plans include the construction of a dedicated home at the elementary campus for Da Vinci Lab programs and equipment. This work is being fed by our involvement with the USC Iovine and Young Academy’s work to develop methodologies for project-based learning that span primary, secondary and higher education. Da Vinci Lab programming started at the elementary campus in Fall 2021, and we look forward to taking the next steps as a community towards a fully-built program and space in the years to come.



The Secondary Campus Arts Building is being planned to bring the level of our facilities up to standards set by the boundless creativity and imagination of our students.
Our school is known for the quality of our arts education. Art is integrated into every area of study at Oakwood, giving students the capacity to see the world differently and make their unique voices heard. This three-story building planned for the corner of Magnolia Blvd. and Lemp Ave lot will dramatically increase the quality and size of our spaces for the visual and theater arts, including doubling our spaces for film and video and theater, as well as the size of our scene shop, dressing rooms, and backstage spaces. The building will also include sustainability features such as extensive solar panels, architecturally-integrated shading, natural ventilation pathways, and a rooftop garden.

The Secondary Campus Arts Building
Secondary Campus Arts Building

In the words of art teacher, Kim Kahn, “If the architecture of the school provides a framework and structure for learning, then this new building resets the boundaries… Expanded space lets us loosen the creative boundaries and fill the page, the room, the building and the campus (… maybe even the world).”

After a year of working with faculty to envision this building, our architects have just completed their design and our Board is now preparing to approve the project and determine the fundraising goal that will enable us to move this project forward.

OWLS Field
Owls Athletics Field


A special committee of our Board of Trustees is hard at work on acquiring a sports field that gives our student-athletes consistent access to outdoor spaces for training and competition.
The ideal field will provide facilities for multiple sports and activities—soccer, , flag football, softball, baseball, tennis, and physical education. Owls Field is part of our larger dedication to athletics. We’re invested in providing students with a broader array of opportunities to play and learn from sport and competition.


We’re committed to developing a comprehensive plan focused on environmental sustainability and stewardship.
We recognize that as a society, we must take action to impede the negative effects of human activity on the planet. Oakwood has a responsibility to do our part. As such, the plan will incorporate action steps that reach across every part of the institution, spanning our curriculum and facilities.

Furthering our goal of taking action to address the most pressing issues of the day, Oakwood has established a Sustainability Working Group. Made up of school administrators, students, and parents & guardians, this new team which meets monthly is charged with charting our way forward finding pathways for the school to commit to pledges around zero waste, carbon neutrality, and environmental justice education.

The ability to offer financial assistance is critical to meeting the needs of a socioeconomically diverse student body. We’re proud of the financial assistance we currently provide, where 1 out of every 5 students receive some form of assistance. With this said, we are committed to doing even better. Our goal should be to ensure that all qualified students can attend Oakwood regardless of their families’ income. This community has already proven that we believe in this goal. Thanks to your generosity, year after year,  the Scholarship Endowment fund has grown and will continue to grow.


Ultimately, it is when a school is able to remove the financial barriers that might exist, that we are able to capitalize on the full potential of all of our talented students and their families. In a similar manner, prioritizing racial and ethnic diversity amongst our students and faculty must be a top priority. The greatest gift we can provide all of our students is to create a community where students from all different backgrounds are working and learning from one another.  So if we are aspiring to provide the very best educational experience, it is when the School is able to provide all of its students with an opportunity to learn in a diverse community that we ensure their academic and professional success. 

Currently, 43% of our student body identifies as a person of color. Our goal is to increase this to 50% over the next several years in order to more closely mirror the demographics of Greater Los Angeles. Not only is this important from an educational standpoint, but it is also a moral responsibility and in the end benefits both our own students at Oakwood, and society at large.

Everything we’ve shared tonight is just one step along our school’s journey. Oakwood families have covered an incredible amount of ground over the past 70-plus years, and I am honored to be continuing this journey with you all.  As we wrap up, I want to invite everyone to visit a website that is launching tonight. There you will find even more information about the high-impact projects I shared tonight, as well as others we didn’t mention. You can also share your feedback, and willingness to help us work towards making the projects I talked about tonight a reality:

Again, I wish we could have been physically together tonight. But I’m happy to share more about these upcoming events: Please join us at the elementary campus for Bookwood on Saturday, March 19. I want to send a deep heartfelt thanks to our PGO Leaders, to the hard-working Bookwood team, and to each and every parent & guardian who has volunteered their time this year—we truly could not do any of this without you. I’m thrilled to announce that our Alumni Reunion will be back in the Old Senior Lot on April 30, and finally… Our virtual Special Event, OAKWOOD LIVE–ISH, is coming on May 4. This year’s Special Event will feature amazing performances from familiar Oakwood faces and honors the one and only Barbara Marshall for her 50 years of volunteerism at Oakwood. Net proceeds from The Special Event benefit our Scholarship Endowment Fund.

Ultimately, what I hope you came away with is that as a school we are proud of what we have been able to accomplish in the last several years but more importantly, we have developed a strong vision for Oakwood’s future. I am grateful to all members of the community who have contributed to this collective vision and for the collaboration that will be necessary to execute on this plan. This has certainly been a group effort and I want to thank our students, our faculty and staff, our parents and guardians, our alums, and alumni parents and our Board of Trustees. I am grateful for your partnership and support and I am confident that together, we can move our school forward.