Connecting with Small Steps and Big Goals

Guest Blog by Dr. Ivy Sukenik, Principal of Sunset Ridge School

Welcome to our Small Steps, Big Goals blog!  The brainchild of sixth-grade teacher, Jennifer Kahlenberg.  Small Steps, Big Goals will be a space where we highlight just a fraction of the phenomenal work being done by students and teachers here at Sunset Ridge.

Sunset Ridge, with its population of 275 students and 60 staff, gives new meaning to the phrase "small, but mighty!"  We currently have more than 10 clubs, award-winning band and orchestra programs, state champion robotics team, 8 interscholastic athletic teams, and a visionary student council, in addition to the world class instruction happening in each of our classrooms.

Birth of a Vision

In the spring of 2018, Sheri Styczen, our Director of Technology and Innovation, Lauren Gray, our Library and Informational Technology Specialist, Kim Heilenbach, our Computer Science Educator, and I had the incredible good fortune of attending SXSWEdu, in Austin, TX.  SXSWEdu ( is a remarkable conference that brings together people from around the globe to learn and collaborate about innovation, social-emotional learning, technology, and forward-thinking education.  During some of our time together, we began to talk about telling our story - the story of Sunset Ridge - on social media.  We came up with the hashtag, #D29Connect, that our staff and students could use when posting around the wide world of social media.  We chose "connect" because we recognized the importance of connecting our school community to the village and world communities.  As our time went on, we also began talking about the important life skills our students need, including empathy, perspective-taking, and a true understanding of people unlike themselves.  Essentially, we wanted to be purposeful about building connections.  

Kim Heilenbach, Lauren Gray, Sheri Styczen, and Ivy Sukenik in Austin, TX at SXSWEdu 2018.

When we returned, our existing social emotional committee began to brainstorm, with inspiration from the work of CASEL ( ways to address student-student, student-staff, staff-staff, and school-community connections.  Out of these brainstorms, the seeds of our #D29Connect program was born.

We decided to explore 6 different areas:

  • Student-student connections
  • Service Learning
  • Social Justice
  • Community Education
  • School-wide Behavior Expectations
  • Colleague - Colleague connections

During the summer of 2018, 6 groups of teacher leaders met together to develop mission statements and visions for their different areas of focus.  Two of the groups, student-student connections and service learning, combined to form our Service Leagues (stay tuned on this blog for more about it!).  The work of these dedicated educators led to the kick-off of #D29Connect for the 2018-19 school year.

Each of these themes falls under a social justice umbrella, all with the focus of building connections and social emotional competency for all members of our school community.  Our district mission statement reads "Cultivating a learning community that engages the hearts and minds of students, one child at a time."  We live and breathe that mission each and every day.  We are consistently taking small steps in hopes of making a big impact in our classroom, school, village, country and world communities.

Small Steps, Big Goals is just one tool we are using to help tell our story and highlight the connections that are being formed and strengthened each and every day at Sunset Ridge.

I welcome you to check in on this blog for some deeper dives into the amazing things happening on a daily basis in our state-of-the-art building and beyond!


  1. #D29Connect showcases how teamwork, shared visions, and determination can have a profound impact on the world in which we live. Led by an incredible leader, Dr.Sukenik is the epitome of a visionary who is ready to encourage each student and staff member to fulfill his/her potential. Incredible! Keep up the good work!!


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