COMMUNITY STORIES FOR 20 YEARS
Founded by Janet McGarvey in the early aughts as the Bay Area Teacher Development Collaborative with 58 Bay Area independent schools, the organization has expanded to Southern California and Central California and now boasts 140 member schools. Over the years CATDC has seen many changes, yet our transformational approach to professional development remains steady: whether you are a classroom teacher, an aspiring leader, or an experienced administrator, our programs provide you with the opportunity to develop to your full capacity and build sustaining relationships with peers from other schools.
Kalyan “Kal” Balaven is the Head of School at Dunn School in Los Olivos, California. He is the founder of the Inclusion Dashboard Consortium and Inclusion Factor, both of which are key think tanks for schools centered around inclusion. He serves on the board of ISEEN, the Independent School Experiential Education Network and the Board of Standards for the California Association of Independent Schools. Kal loves comics and graphic novels, long slow runs, and is a diehard 49er fan.
Briefly explain your leadership and/or career journey (what brought you to education, explain a pivotal moment or person, where are you now?)
My journey to educational leadership might best be described as equal parts serendipity, DNA, and spiritual calling.
Circumstance put me into Tommie Lindsey’s rhetoric class at James Logan High School. It was a time in my life that I was being raised by a single mom and we were homeless — I was always extremely hungry and being drawn towards the wrong crowd. Mr. Lindsey saw something in me and took me in. He saved me such that I shudder to think what may have happened otherwise. He would drive me home, buy me meals, and pay for my participation in speech and debate tournaments and summer classes. He invested in my future like a parent and became a father figure for me. Through him, I realized the power of a teacher, and I ended up chasing that feeling — to have on others the kind of impact he had on me, essentially trying to be him, and eventually I ended up in schools myself.
Along with the catalyst of a mentor, there is knowledge buried in my chromosomes. This is poetic waxing but truth; there is an essential trait buried in my hemoglobin, which is a siren call to both education and leadership within. First and foremost, there is my mom, a lifelong educator, a multilingual aide who helped countless students learn how to read and write. My earliest memories of her are her sitting and helping neighborhood kids with phonics or math on homemade worksheets. Beyond this, more recently and surprisingly, I discovered that my grandfather worked for the American Embassy in New Delhi and had three sisters and a niece who all became headmasters at various British Schools. I was bemused by this revelation and found strength in knowing that this matriarchy was part of me in a way, further validating my path shift away from the career in law I studied for in college and initially practiced as a young professional.
Finally, there is faith. I became Muslim at 18, mesmerized by the rhetoric and Autobiography of Malcolm X. Shortly thereafter, I began a deep study into my newfound faith, which paralleled my journey through college and law school. Along the way, I discovered and then began to follow the path of Islam as prescribed by the family of the Prophet Muhammad through his daughter Fatima. In an effort to connect with these historical figures I traveled to the Middle East to visit these Fatimi (of Fatima) shrines and ended up at an ancient temple in northeastern Iran where I had my first out-of-body spiritual experience. It was here I decided to make the shift away from law to education, and later from teaching to leadership.
What does leadership mean to you?
Leadership means to serve — to build community and help those within it to optimize their special gifts in order to further the communal mission together. Sometimes it means getting out of the way, other times it means being in the trenches. Ultimately it’s about being a little bit of everything.
What does learning in community: across schools and roles, mean to you?
Is there another way of learning? There is no other way to learn for me. It’s not about extroversion or being gregarious, but — something like what was described in the Scientific American idea of diversity — it’s through discourse and sharing of perspectives that I learn best. Having been at different schools from public to charter to independent, and also in different roles through these spaces, I’ve benefited from being part of different learning communities and teams. I’ve thrived by learning as much from the experience as I have from others, and I’m sure all these team members now see the impressions they made upon me in the way I carry myself in service to whole student education.
How has CATDC impacted your professional journey?
CATDC was pivotal. I first encountered opportunities for growth with the CATDC with its offerings in the realm of DEI, specifically Equity as Excellence, which was appropriately excellent, and the quality of the programming brought me back for additional offerings. Then, the director reached out to let me know about CATDC’s Leadership Fellows cohort. Though I signed up with some trepidation regarding the direction the work I would do within it — especially as folks who I had respected in the Independent School game spoke about other leadership programs as the places to be — I walked into a room of the best educators in the field being led by the crème de la crème. In a room facilitated by my mentor Debbie Reed and the icon Reveta Bowers, the path to headship was never clearer. I took detailed notes, did my assigned homework, and here I am, serving as the Head of the Dunn School.
Anything else you would like to share?
CATDC is not a stagnant organization but a fluid one, ever expanding, growing, developing and offering insight. It’s an organization unconcerned with merely offering a modicum of support. Rather, it has been prolific in creating an abundance of educational opportunities and action. I’m a huge proponent of the aforementioned stalwarts as well as folks like Cris Cullinan, Kate Sheppard, and Elizabeth Denevi — the best and brightest of the education world make up the offerings that the CATDC puts out.