Behind the principal’s SHS Friday Letter: a schoolwide group project

January 24, 2024 — by Florence Hu
Graphic by Isabelle Wang
The process of crafting the Friday Letter each week invites collaborative input from staff and students.
The letter, with more than a decade of history, has become an essential source of news for the school’s community. Principal Greg Louie is currently looking for a Chinese translator and students to design more engaging graphic headlines. 

Every week, teachers and other staff members gather recent news about the school community, adding each of them to principal Greg Louie’s Friday Letter. With each piece of information, they hope to attract attendees to school events, shine a spotlight on outstanding clubs or students and provide guidance information regarding academics. 

Louie came up with the idea of sending out a consistent newsletter more than 10 years ago while working as the principal at Santa Teresa High School, which he brought here when he was hired at the start of the 2020-2021 school year following former principal Paul Robinson’s retirement.

“I wanted to make sure that we have something that captures all the upcoming [events] so people can plan accordingly,” Louie said. “I wanted to also recognize all of the cool things that we’ve recently done or celebrate our students or staff when they’ve done something that’s achievement-worthy.”

Before Louie, Robinson had an unofficial weekly newsletter, where he compiled most of the information himself. Like Robinson, Louie originally dug through emails and scoured calendars for events, sports games, guidance meetings and club events to draft the letter by himself. 

“[This process] would take almost a whole day just in of itself,” said Louie. “It suddenly dawned on me that I could do this easier, and that’s when I started sharing it with everybody [teachers] and asking them to add information.”

The crowdsourcing approach — asking others to contribute significantly — in turn lightened his load to concentrate on other priorities while also improving the quality and accuracy of the letter’s contents, he said. Each Monday morning, Louie sends out a Google Doc template to teachers and staff, usually with a lot of similar information from the previous week. He gives them edit access to the document.

Teachers and staff then add information about the latest news and updates from the school. In addition, many students and student groups also email requests to have Louie include announcements in his letter.

The main categories include ASB News and Updates, Other News (which often includes upcoming events and student accomplishments), College and Career Center (CCC), Guidance Counseling News, Wellness Center, Class of 2024 Announcements, Falcon Family Peer Tutors, Toga Athletics, Fundraising and Donations and Resources. 

Major contributors include activities director/assistant principal Kristen Cunningham, athletic director Rick Ellis, guidance counselor Brian Safine and CCC counselor Brad Ward, all of whom usually spend 30 to 45 minutes writing their respective sections each week.

The streamlined collaborative process has allowed Louie to spend around two hours each week revising the previous week’s letter to exclude past events and irrelevant information, proofreading and formatting the final Google Doc draft and then sending out the email through ParentSquare, a communication platform used by the school for sending out information. The letter goes out to more than 3,600 individuals.

Over the years, the letter has had major improvements and changes. One piece of feedback Louie received early on was that the letter was too long, and people didn’t want to have to read the entire letter. To solve this, Louie added a table of contents so people could skip to the important headings. Additionally, he uses asterisks to denote topics important for parents, some of whom would write to him about topics mentioned already in the letter. 

With Ward’s addition to the staff last year came the CCC section, which offered guidance counseling advice and announcements specific to college and career opportunities. Another recent addition was the Class of 2024 Announcements.

“What’s new this year was the section just about the graduating class,” Louie said. “There’s usually things that are pertinent to the seniors that I don’t want to get lost, so we just have one that’s dedicated to the Class of 2024.”

Though the letter usually only goes out to staff, students and parents, Louie sometimes sends out the relevant news to rising 9th graders in the spring. In the past, staff members like activities secretary Anna Ybarra would put up the letters on the school website, allowing anyone (including alumni and community members) to see them. However, Louie said he doesn’t currently have staff members who have the time for webbing the letters, and the school would need a webmaster to do it.

To help more members of the community access it, Louie has had translator Jean Poo write the Chinese translations. Poo, a mother of SHS alumni, previously volunteered to translate community updates for Robinson. She continued to do these translations for the Friday Letter, which she hopes will help more students and families access this information. According to Registrar Robert Wise, 31% of the student population identify as Chinese and 25% cite Mandarin or Cantonese as their home language. However, because she is currently experiencing personal family issues, Louie is looking for another translator for the next few months.

Louie also said the headers for each section, made with preset shapes in Google, could have better design.

“I tried to give [the headers] something cinematic, but it’s Google Art,” Louie said. “It would be cool if I had some student support, like art students or graphic artists who can do something really cool with it.”

In the end, the letter has grown from a one-man job to a group project for all staff members and the community.

“I’m most proud of the fact that it’s collaborative — all the different staff will contribute, and I have students who email me and ask to put something in,” Louie said. “The Friday Letter is truly a collaborative community campus. It’s not just my letter.”

3 views this week