Walk around our campus with Laura Miyoshi, and she can share a story about each space, and each building – many of which she had a hand in renovating or designing and constructing.
In 2002, having been charmed by SSFS’s mission and philosophy that she witnessed as the parent of her then-rising-first-grade daughter Mikaila, Laura decided to leave her career in technology and apply for the position of Director of Annual Fund in the Advancement Office. With her experience in Business Development, Laura was able to have an immediate impact and grew the Annual Fund by 15% in two years. While working on the Annual Fund, Laura assisted with the “Kindle the Spirit'' capital campaign, a major fundraising and construction effort resulting in the building of three major new buildings–the Performing Arts Center, the Athletic Center, and the Middle School–to support our growing population of students in the early 2000s. At the same time that Laura joined SSFS, she participated in a committee to develop a strategic plan for technology - with the assistance of some professional resources (i.e., friends) from her previous technology career, Laura provided leadership in a review of the existing SSFS technology, audit of the network infrastructure, and recommendations for critical initiatives to pursue.
When an opportunity arose in the Business Office in 2004, Laura accepted the position of Accounting & Services Manager, which included a variety of accounting functions, as well as responsibility for foodservice and technology. In 2006 Director of Operations and Planning Howard Zuses retired, and Laura accepted the position of Director of Operations. With her background in the hospitality and tech industries, as well as her expertise in project management, Laura quickly became indispensable to SSFS as the School moved into a season of growth which included the addition of new facilities and campus infrastructure, increased enrollment and a growing operations department. As the Director of Operations, and subsequently the Chief Operations Officer, Laura has been responsible for overseeing the daily operations of the School and approximately $20M in campus improvements and additions.
Laura’s stewardship of the campus, and the overall well-being of the School’s operations, have been invaluable. The list of Laura’s accomplishments and projects that she has overseen here at SSFS is far too long to enumerate here, but some highlights include:
- Laura’s first task as the Director of Operations was to develop the operations support plan for the 2005-2006 addition of ~80k square feet of new buildings, the new campus road that encircled the campus and initiate the redesign of the center of campus to be dedicated to a beautiful, tree-filled quad and pedestrian green space, with the Meeting House at its center.
- Laura expanded the facility rental program, which served as the foundation of the School’s Auxiliary Services Program.
- Some of the projects Laura worked on around the campus grounds include the installation of the 2 brick pillars at the walkway entrance, the Moffatt Meditation Garden, the Westview dining room amphitheater, the LS Natural Playground, the restoration of the pond, and the planting of almost 200 new trees.
- Laura managed the renovation of Hartshorne (from administrative facility to 9th Grade program use) and Scott House (from residence to administrative facility).
- Laura oversaw multiple renovations to the Westview Dorm facility: addition of HVAC, installation of fire protection, remodelling of dorm rooms/bathrooms and residential units
- Laura negotiated the contract and installation of two solar fields on the School’s land, with no financial cost to the School, resulting in the production of green energy that offsets roughly two-thirds of the School’s energy usage.
- Partnering with architect and designer Miche Booz, Laura helped get plans for the expansion of the historic Meeting House on campus approved by the Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission. (Anyone who has ever dealt with the regulations related to the renovation of historical buildings can appreciate what a feat that was!).
- Laura assisted the School in acquiring approval and certification for the addition of a PreK-3 program
- Laura oversaw the full renovation of the Westview commercial kitchen, while still supporting the Summer Camp program.
- Laura oversaw the design and construction of the new Upper School building, Pen y Bryn, from its original conception and solicitation of community input to its opening in 2020, during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Pen y Bryn is the only high school in the country to be certified GOLD by the International WELL Building Institute. The building received the Grand Prize Award from Learning By Design in 2022.
- With the School’s campus filled to capacity during the school year and into the summer, Laura has carefully planned innumerable enhancements and repairs to buildings and grounds that must be completed in record time during the narrow two-week window between camp’s final week and the return to campus of our students. The amount of coordination and planning required to ensure the campus looks as beautiful as it always does on the first day of school (as well as being safe and up-to-code, year-round) is truly astounding!
Laura has worn many hats here at SSFS, and her contributions have also included participation on various all-school committees; leadership roles in Admin Council, Board of Trustees, and hiring committees; involvement in the Parents Association; and of course as proud parent to SSFS alum “lifer,” Mikaila Wilson-Miyoshi ‘14. We remain incredibly grateful to Laura for sharing her family, her humor, her expertise, her organization, and her commitment to the School with all of us, and we wish Laura and her wife Lori all the best in their retirement years!
Continuing our tour around SSFS: Lower School Art teacher Kate Santorineos’s presence is equally on display throughout the campus in the most artistic, uplifting, and community-building ways imaginable.
One of the first things people see when they approach the school is a stunning mosaic with words from George Fox, “Tend the garden in your heart and by walking in the Light, your vines and lilies will thrive,” surrounded by vines, lilies, mountains, and abstract designs, all created from thousands of beautiful rocks, stones, and shells collected from SSFS students, parents, faculty-staff, alumni, and friends. Kate introduced the mosaic project to the community in 2015 with this description: “The goal is to make a piece of art reflecting the values of the school, inviting students and interested members of the community to participate in its creation, thus connecting art, community, and our Quaker values, while enhancing the beauty of our campus.” This description perfectly encapsulates what Kate has brought to SSFS throughout her 36 years here: beauty; joy in the process of a shared creation; a commitment to Quaker values; and, most importantly, opportunities to connect with one another through art.
In addition to the mural at the front of campus, Kate has led a number of other art projects that are on display throughout campus:
- The 9/11 ceramic and glass Peace mural in front of the Art Barn, made by all Lower School kids
- The Ceramic Peace poles in front of the Meeting House and Tanglewood
- The Ceramic Inuksuks in the Art barn woods
- The student art on flag pole banners, three seasonal sets updated each year
- The Community ceramic flower pole in remembrance for Lexi Speight
- The Metal Flower, butterfly, and caterpillar decorated poles around campus, 3 divisional
- Coming soon: a new mural that will be completed by summer started by students in the preschool and Kindergarten program in 2019. It will be in the lower hall of the Lower School.
Walking around campus, and it is clear how Kate’s vision, creation, and curation has created some beautiful and impactful art spaces on campus. Take a closer look at any art piece, and you can see the attention and care given as well as the unique artistic voice present in the piece. Take a step back, and you can see how all of the artwork highlights our connectedness as a community - one of our core Quaker Values, and the care she has put into ensuring that the artwork can be enjoyed for years to come. This is how Kate’s Lower School art classes operate, as well. At the beginning of the school year, each student signs their name on a “contract post” in the middle of the Art Barn, indicating their agreement to abide by the rules of kindness and respect. Within that safe environment, Kate’s classroom art projects are legendary, and allow each student to shine as they find their own artistic voice. From Super Silly Creatures and Seurat-Inspired Dot Paintings to Geodes and Rangoli Designs, the students who have been lucky enough to have Kate as an art teacher have not only learned amazing techniques in drawing, painting, weaving, and sculpture; they have also made connections with their curricula, learned about different historical eras, and gained appreciation for different cultures and art forms. And, of course, they’ve had FUN! Kate has also partnered with her classes to create cooperative student art, which has been used to raise funds for Financial Aid at the SSFS Auction, including ceramic tables, sculptures, woven tapestries, and more.
Kate’s visionary community art projects always prioritize community and connection, and they endeavor to bring out the best in us. The colorfully-painted metal “peace doves” we see dotted throughout the campus remind us to look up and think of peace, gratitude, and love. The kindness rocks we find in unexpected locations on campus provide a jolt of joy and beauty when we stumble upon one. The annual Lower School candle-dipping tradition provides each class an opportunity to sing and stave off the winter cold, while creating handmade holiday gifts for family members. And of course, no appreciation of Kate is complete without gratitude for bringing the Empty Bowl project to SSFS.
Kate and a group of teachers and parents started the Empty Bowl initiative in 2005, with the goals of creating lasting social change, raising awareness of world hunger, collecting money to support programs that provided support for food-insecure families, and building community. The stories of those who have come to the art barn to create or glaze a bowl speak for themselves. The hours that Kate, her daughter, Rhiana, and many others have dedicated to making the project a success may rival the number of dollars raised for organizations such as Feeding America and S.O.M.E... in other words: a LOT! The impact on the community, however, can’t be measured, and it was with much celebration that we welcomed the tradition back this year after the pandemic put the biannual tradition on hold.
Kate is inclined to duck out of the spotlight and focus on the contributions of others, but we want to take a moment to recognize her for the many ways she has brought us together as a community, nurtured our young artists in the Lower School, and provided so many opportunities for all of us to Let Our Lives Speak. Thank you, Kate!