Newsletters from Castilleja

Castilleja's Project Status

Castilleja’s campus has been nestled in a residential neighborhood for over a century, operating under a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) granted by the City of Palo Alto.

As the Associate Head of School and Chief of Finance and Operations, Kathy Layendecker oversees the school’s application to the City of Palo Alto for a new CUP and our plan to modernize our campus and increase enrollment.

To learn more about our process and Castilleja’s exciting future, please feel free to read the updates she has shared with our community.

Kathy Layendecker
Associate Head of Finance and Operations
Castilleja School


Previous Editions

EDITION 13 - JULY 2019

I hope you are all enjoying a summer that includes relaxing with family and friends. Summer is always a busy and productive time at Castilleja, and this has been a particularly exciting week as the long-awaited Draft Environmental Impact Report was released on Wednesday morning. While it will take more time to fully analyze this lengthy and complex document, our initial response is that we are pleased the report validates many central aspects of our proposal.

  • Proposed project is 100% compliant with the City's Comprehensive Plan, the guiding tool for preservation and development in Palo Alto
  • Building design and landscaping blend more gently into the surrounding neighborhood and improve the visual character of the site
  • Underground garage is supported over surface parking
  • Tree plan is supported with sufficient mitigations and amenities, such as landscaping and a neighborhood park 
  • Environmental measures, including photovoltaics, energy efficiency, and water use, meet the City's sustainability goals
  • Bike safety on the Bryant Bike Boulevard improves due to reduction in curb-cut driveways

As you can see, we are excited about many findings in the report. At the same time, as you may have read in local news coverage, there are specific impacts related to traffic redistribution that need to be addressed. We look forward to working with the City of Palo Alto to find solutions that will minimize our impact and support our goals. 

I hope that when you read Nanci's note about the release a couple of days ago, you marked your calendars for Wednesday, August 14, from 6:00–8:30pm to attend the meeting of the Planning and Transportation Commission in City Council Chambers, 250 Hamilton Avenue. I encourage you to show your support, and I cannot emphasize enough how important your presence is to the school's future. 

Thank you for all you have done to support Castilleja thus far. We look forward to a positive resolution as this process moves ahead.

As always, please forward this email to your network and visit Castilleja Reimagined to learn more about our project and how you can further lend your support.

EDITION 12 - MAY 2019

As we look forward to the summer, I want to offer an update on our Conditional Use Permit application process so that you can continue to be informed advocates for Castilleja in and around Palo Alto. First and foremost, we understand from City of Palo Alto staff that our project is on the Planning and Transportation Commission (PTC) meeting agenda for Wednesday, August 14th at Palo Alto City Hall. The PTC will hear comments on Castilleja's Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR), which is being prepared by the City and is expected to be released in early July. We hope, in particular, to see Palo Alto residents at the hearing on August 14th at 6:00pm, as you will play a crucial role in conveying the depth of Castilleja's support to our City leaders.

With the DEIR release date almost here, we all should expect increased chatter and media coverage about our proposal, which will mean you may also encounter more misinformation in your daily conversations. I know it can be hard to keep the facts at hand in the context of our busy lives, so please refer to these FAQs for answers to common concerns, such as Castilleja's compliance with required enrollment reductions and traffic mitigation results. Also be assured that our team is here to help with any other questions that may arise for you over the summer. Please reach out to me at any time.

I will be back in touch after the DEIR is released to offer more details about its findings, and I look forward to seeing as many of you as possible on August 14th at the PTC meeting. This will be one of the most important times to come out and share the reasons you believe Castilleja's vision for the future supports Palo Alto's goals as a community.

In closing, I would like to share photos from several wonderful Palo Alto events that Castilleja took part in this spring: Palo Alto Day, May Fete, and Bike to Work Day. These three initiatives brought to a close an exciting year of partnering with our community and working to be a good neighbor. 


On April 28th, Palo Alto celebrated its 125th birthday with a new tradition, Palo Alto Day, which featured local musicians, a display from a time capsule from the centennial, and speeches by local leaders, including our own Alyssa Sales, President of the Palo Alto Youth Council.


On May 4th, Castilleja Middle School students and singers from Glee marched with members of the Gatorbotics team and their award-winning robot, Nova, in the 97th May Fete Parade, celebrating the vibrant community in Palo Alto.


Then, on May 9th, Castilleja Middle School students and staff partnered with Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition and the City of Palo Alto to host a Student Energizer Station in Old Palo Alto, where students could stop for breakfast on the go while they commuted by bike to many neighborhood schools.

As always, please forward this email to your network and visit Castilleja Reimagined to learn more about our project and how you can further lend your support.

Edition 11 - April 2019

Last week, we submitted our architectural designs to the City of Palo Alto, a key step in the CUP application process. Drawing on the previously submitted Master Plan, our architects at WRNS Studio have brought to life innovative and sustainable plans for our 21st-century learning spaces. Their work reflects input from our many constituents--students, employees, neighbors, and parents. I am so excited to share some images of their work to help you visualize the future at Castilleja. 


Above: Proposed View from the Circle

The results of WRNS Studios' work supports Castilleja's hopes for the next century of leading and learning with vibrant spaces that inspire creativity, collaboration, and a sense of curiosity. These interconnected spaces further allow for flexible learning and the type of student-teacher interactions and collaborations that define a Castilleja education. The exteriors and landscaping were designed with close attention to the aesthetic of our residential neighborhood.


Above: Proposed Exterior View from Kellogg & Emerson Streets

WRNS has also supported our Net Zero energy use and Platinum LEED standard objectives with electrical and mechanical systems and landscaping that place Castilleja at the leading edge of sustainable architecture and design. 

Consistent with our Master Plan, our modernized campus is designed to reduce our impact on neighbors with:

  • an underground garage to remove parking from neighborhood streets
  • below grade deliveries and waste pick up to decrease noise
  • new trees and a park to be shared with nearby neighbors
  • a recessed pool with new sound wall


Above: A Birds-eye View of our New Campus

I hope these images help you to visualize our reimagined campus; our full submittal can be seen here. Please feel free to email me if you have any questions. This spring, we will be in touch with you again as we anticipate the release of the Draft Environmental Impact Report. In the meantime, please forward this email to your network and visit Castilleja Reimagined to learn more about our project and how you can further lend your support.

Edition 10 - January 2019

I would like to wish you all a happy new year. We are off to a busy start with change underway in Palo Alto as some of our elected officials assumed new roles earlier this month. We have Eric Filseth as Mayor, Adrian Fine as Vice Mayor, and other Council Members Alison Cormack, Tom DuBois, Liz Kniss, Lydia Kou, and Greg Tanaka. This newly-formed City Council is likely to be the group that votes on Castilleja's campus modernization and enrollment increase proposal, determining many aspects of the school's immediate and long-term future. 

In the comments they made during their first meeting, City Council members emphasized working together to resolve issues in Palo Alto, relying on collaboration and cooperation. Within this context, Castilleja will ensure that the most up-to-date and accurate information is reaching City leadership. Specific elements of our proposal include:

  • A Conditional Use Permit to increase enrollment gradually to 540 students contingent upon meeting traffic demand management requirements
  • Approval of our new Master Plan for a modernized and sustainable campus
  • Reducing our impact on the neighborhood by:
    • Ensuring no additional vehicle trips to campus
    • Moving deliveries and services below grade and inside campus to minimize noise
    • Relocating the pool below grade and adding a sound wall
    • Reducing at-grade drop off and pick up locations 
    • Relocating on-street parking to campus, beneath a landscaped playing field, to free up on-street parking for residents
    • Creating a half-acre community park for the neighborhood, which contributes to overall open space
    • Reducing the number of on-campus events

The next milestone in our process is the release of the Draft Environmental Impact Report, which will assess various impacts of the project and suggest mitigations when necessary. As many of you know, this valuable document is complex and likely to draw commentary and misinformation. Once it is released, we will work to offer you a clear interpretation of the report as quickly as possible. We hope as public supporters you will add your voice to the conversation at open hearings, which are expected in March or April. 

Thank you for your continued support as we work to educate more women and girls on a modern, 21st century campus. Please share this letter with fellow Palo Altans who might find the information of value, and refer them to Additionally, we wanted to make sure to share the Palo Alto Weekly's cover story from last Friday on the school's Artificial Intelligence curriculum.

Edition 9 - December 2018

As 2018 winds down, I want to thank you for your continued support of Castilleja's Conditional Use Permit (CUP) application and our reimagined campus. Much has been accomplished this year, including familiarizing the Palo Alto community with our proposal and engaging citizens in healthy dialogue about our goals. We are so grateful for the part each of you has played in growing support for our school, and in supporting our mission to educate girls for leadership.

I also want to update you on our application's progress. With the Master Plan concept completed and submitted to the City, we are now turning our attention to the design of our building and landscape. I am thrilled to share that WRNS Studio has been selected to continue this work, building on the Master Plan so artfully crafted by Steinberg Hart Architects.

This transition to the next phase is exciting for all of us. WRNS Studio won the 2015 Green Schools award and has designed many sustainable learning spaces at area schools, including Sacred Heart Schools in Atherton, Sonoma Academy, and Woodside Elementary District. As a firm, they have demonstrated a deep understanding of how to work closely with neighbors and integrate schools into their surroundings.

The start of the new year will also bring the release of the the school's draft Environmental Impact Report, which will lead to public hearings at the Planning and Transportation Commission and the submittal of the application for our building to the Architectural Review Board. I will be in touch with you as these events approach, seeking speakers and public support, both which will be vital in this next leg of the process. In the meantime, the team from WRNS Studio has already begun the creative process that will lead to our improved campus. We are so thrilled that they will help us realize our vision for a modern, sustainable campus. 

In the nearer term, on behalf of the Castilleja community, I wish you and your families all the best during this holiday season, and I look forward to working together in the year to come.

Edition 8 - October 2018

With the City of Palo Alto continuing to process our Environmental Impact Report (EIR), there has been a bit of a lull in our Conditional Use Permit (CUP) application process. Still, public dialogue around our proposal continues and is essential and valuable to a good outcome. This has prompted me to share some important facts. My hope is that these additional details will help all of us be even more effective advocates for Castilleja in subsequent conversations. 

Will the garage bring more cars to the neighborhood?

We cannot and will not permit more cars. Instead, the garage is designed to streamline pickup and drop-off and move parking underground. Since 2013, when the City asked the school to launch a more robust Traffic Demand Management (TDM) program, Castilleja has reduced the number of peak car trips to campus by 25 percent. Our proposed increase in enrollment is contingent upon a continued commitment to our TDM program; our student body will only be permitted to grow if we keep trips to campus below our City-approved limit.  The EIR will also study this question and will offer mitigations if necessary.

Garage Rendering

Garage Exit, Emerson Street

Why doesn't Castilleja split its campus like other schools have done?

Some local schools have opened other campuses when they have grown by over 60% or created entirely new divisions. By contrast, Castilleja is seeking a 6% enrollment increase in our Upper School in year one. If traffic management succeeds, the Upper School will grow by another 6% annually until it reaches a 30% maximum, an increase that does not justify a second campus.

Furthermore, splitting campuses is not the same conversation for an all-girls school as it is for a co-ed school. Remaining on one campus allows for mentorship, an essential element of girls' education. Our Upper School students coach, tutor and direct Middle School students every day. The younger students use this experience to begin to imagine themselves as leaders, and the older students benefit as well, building valuable leadership experience. Therefore, we have chosen incremental growth with a cap at 30% rather than larger-scale growth that would require a second campus and run counter to our mission.

Is Castilleja violating its CUP?

In early 2014, the City established an enrollment reduction schedule, which the school has followed faithfully.  

How does Castilleja's plan affect its trees and greenspace?

Our reimagined campus will create more open space, which we plan to transform into a neighborhood park. We will need to remove 35 trees from different locations on campus, and nine others will be relocated to another setting. Many of the others are diseased or drought-stressed. All of the remaining 130 trees will be preserved, and at least 50 will be added for a net increase of at least 15 trees to preserve the rich natural history of our campus.


Emerson Park, Emerson Street

What is the duration of construction?
Regarding the time frame for construction, we estimate the project will take less than three years to complete. Within that period, the garage will be finished first. As that work concludes, the construction of other aspects of our Master Plan will begin. We are committed to minimizing disruption during construction and therefore are deeply invested in completing the work as quickly as possible.  

In Closing
The facts shared here highlight two central goals in our new Master Plan: we seek to improve daily life in our neighborhood while supporting our mission to prepare more girls for leadership. I hope these details help to illustrate that these two efforts are not mutually exclusive. Instead, they build on each other as the school and the neighborhood will improve together and look toward more sustainable choices for building, greenspace, and transportation in Palo Alto. 

Finally, I have a favor to ask. Please forward this email to five people you know who are still learning about Castilleja's modernization. If you or they want to learn even more, please go to and become a public supporter. Thank you for your continued support.

Edition 7 - September 2018

In recent years, increased traffic has changed life in all corners of the Bay Area, and at Castilleja, we are determined to be part of the solution--for our immediate neighborhood and for the larger world around us. Through our ambitious Traffic Demand Management (TDM) program, we are working to reverse current traffic trends while instilling a sense of community and global responsibility in our students.

In 2013, the City of Palo Alto asked Castilleja to launch a more robust TDM program to reduce peak trips to campus. Currently, we support many environmentally-conscious transit alternatives for our students and staff, including:

  • Electric shuttles to and from the Caltrain station and East Palo Alto
  • Morning bus service from Los Altos and Woodside/Portola Valley/Menlo Park
  • Remote employee parking within walking distance of school
  • Extensive bike parking
  • Student and staff carpool matching


These tactics have yielded impressive results due to 100% employee participation and strong participation by students and their parents. Our most recent measurements taken in April and May of this year by outside monitors indicate that we are leading the way in Palo Alto, reducing peak car trips per student by a staggering 25% and reaching the gold standard in TDM with less than half of our students arriving in single-occupancy vehicles.  


Some of our newer staff members have never driven to campus; others don't even own cars. Castilleja, through extensive and effective TDM, is leading the way by redefining our relationship to car culture.


Of course, we still have cars coming to campus, but as a community, we have proven that we are determined to do our best to limit trips. In fact, our application to the City of Palo Alto for a new Conditional Use Permit (CUP) underlines our lasting commitment to this effort, because it will require us to maintain our peak car trip levels even as we increase enrollment. As I mentioned above, recent traffic counts prove this goal is entirely within our reach. Our underground parking garage will not increase our peak trips because that number is fixed and cannot increase according to our proposed CUP.  Instead, the parking structure will move parking, drop-off, and pick-up below ground, improving the neighborhood traffic patterns. 

We initially introduced the TDM program with a single goal in mind: to meet the City's TDM requirements and reduce peak car trips. We have succeeded in that. However, I also believe we have achieved much more for our neighborhood, our environment, and ourselves in the process. We are a different school than we were before TDM, and I would argue that we are better for these changes. It is a more mindful life that we are leading, thinking through our options carefully and taking the world around us into account. 

Please take a moment to watch this video reminding Castilleja parents to abide by our good neighbor driving practices and TDM policies.  In addition, please visit to learn more about our proposal, to request a new or replacement lawn sign, and to add your name to our list of supporters.

Edition 6 - May 2018

In the lives of our students, spring is all about milestones. From the sixth graders, who sat for their very first final exams last week, to the seniors who graduated on Saturday, Castilleja girls of all ages are feeling a great sense of accomplishment right now. Fittingly, the school has also reached a significant milestone recently. We filed our Conditional Use Permit Application with the City of Palo Alto in June of 2016, and over the past many months, the City staff has asked us to submit supplementary materials to clarify various aspects of our plan. Now, I’m thrilled to report that on April 25th, we received word that our application was deemed complete.

What does this mean? First of all, it means that, like our graduates, we will be entering a new phase in the fall. Second, it means we will need your help more than ever as we work to realize our vision for a new, sustainable campus with flexible learning spaces and greater upper school enrollment that will diversify our student body and enrich our programs.

It might be helpful to explain the next steps in the Conditional Use Permit application process. We are currently awaiting the draft Environmental Impact Report, which should be released at the end of summer or early fall. This review, required and managed by the City, will assess the impacts of the project on many levels, everything from traffic to trees to the water table. The results will impact our next steps, and there will be a period of time during which the School and the public can respond with comments and questions. In parallel, we plan to hold community meetings, both large and small, to gather feedback.

In the next few months, we expect to receive the dates for our open meeting(s) with the Planning and Transportation Commission. This will be a time for the Commission to ask questions, hear feedback from Palo Altans, learn more, and arrive at a recommendation for the City Council regarding our Conditional Use Permit and, ultimately, Castilleja’s future.

Thus, we need your help more than ever. We have been so heartened by our growing number of supporters, over 500 now! We love to see the many postcards and letters to City Council, advocating for the School in general and the project in particular; the new names added every day to our list of public supporters; and the lawn signs around town. Soon you will see our new signs, “We Support Castilleja,” as well. All this activity and support is so encouraging, but we still need many more voices speaking up in favor of our reimagined school. Here are some ways to help:

  • Add your name to the list of public supporters (link)

  • Send an email to City Council (link)

  • Request a new lawn sign (link)

  • Volunteer to speak at City Council (link)

  • Plan to attend a City open meeting about Castilleja’s application---as a sign of support

  • Contact me with any suggestions (link)

The Conditional Use Permit application process has provided valuable lessons to all of us. We are optimistic that these next months will be a time for members of the Castilleja and Palo Alto community to come together in support of our school’s mission. In the meantime, we’re committed to an open dialogue with all parties, while we continue to clarify lingering misperceptions and learn from your input. With your help Castilleja will be well positioned to gain approval for a new, modern learning space and more opportunities for the next generation of women leaders.

Finally, to celebrate the beginning of summer, be sure to read this week’s article in the Palo Alto Weekly about our graduation and graduates (link). It highlights some of Castilleja’s central themes, including active risk-taking, the importance of respecting diverse viewpoints, and the deep sense of sisterhood our new alumnae will carry with them always.  

Thank you,

Kathy Layendecker
Associate Head of School
Finance and Operations

Edition 5 – March 2018

Dear Castilleja Families and Friends,

We are fortunate to live in a community that places an extremely high value on education and provides excellent educational institutions to match. Palo Alto is home to a nationally regarded public school district as well as world-renowned Stanford University. Students at these schools have an incredible opportunity to expand their minds, further their education, and access the tools that will help them lead successful lives.

With so many educational options in Palo Alto, why does our community need a private all-girls alternative like Castilleja? While a single-sex education is certainly not the only way to prepare girls and young women to thrive, it is an important and viable option that should be available to even more girls and their families.

Research shows that students who receive an all-girls education are six times more likely to consider majoring in math, science or technology, and three times more likely to consider careers in engineering. They report higher levels of self-confidence, heightened career aspirations, and greater access to leadership opportunities than their female counterparts in coed schools.

We need look no further than Silicon Valley to see the need for far more women leaders, a societal challenge addressed in many ways including all-girls education. American journalist and Bloomberg TV host Emily Chang reports in Brotopia, her recently published exposé, on the professional challenges facing women in Silicon Valley where just 2% of companies receiving venture capital funding are run by women. Furthermore, only 25% of tech employees are women – compared to 50% in the banking sector.[1]   

While modern statistics such as these weren’t available when Mary Lockey founded Castilleja in 1907, she recognized the importance and value in preparing women for the academic rigors of a college curriculum. And while the mission initially focused on preparing girls for higher education, today Castilleja prepares girls to become leaders of their own learning, and ultimately, leaders in their communities and in the rest of the world.

We are proud to continue Mary’s legacy today. Our desire to provide more girls and young women with access to an all-girls education, as well as our efforts to modernize our campus, are rooted in our mission. In doing this we are in no way repudiating other educational avenues, but we know that what we do makes a difference in the lives of many girls, young women, and even the people they impact.

As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, “The world will never realize 100 percent of its goals if 50 percent of its people cannot realize their full potential. When we unleash the power of women, we can secure the future for all.” 

Thank you for all that you do to support our mission and the education of all the children throughout our community. We hope you will join us in supporting these efforts by visiting our website to sign up as a supporter, e-mail the city council, and request a lawn sign. Your voice makes a difference.



Kathy Layendecker
Associate Head of School
Finance and Operations


1. National Coalition of Girls’ Schools, The Girls’ School Advantage: Top Ten Reasons to Attend an All-Girls School, April 14, 2016.

Edition 4 - February 2018

Dear Castilleja Families and Friends,

It has been some time since I last updated you on the progress of our Castilleja Reimagined campaign to provide more girls with access to a Castilleja education and to modernize our campus. In this month’s newsletter, you will find updates on our advocacy efforts, the Conditional Use Permit application process, and our neighborhood outreach.

Over the last several months, Castilleja has sharpened its focus to better articulate our mission and to explain why our request to gradually bring in more students and modernize our campus is important to our future. Being more deliberate about the way we are sharing our message has borne fruit. It is clear that many of you strongly believe in the school’s mission and future. It has been wonderful and gratifying to witness your outpouring of support: you have proudly displayed over 300 lawn signs outside your homes; sent more than 100 letters, emails, and postcards to the City Council; and added 300 names to our list of public supporters. No matter where you go in Palo Alto, you will find expressions of support for Castilleja. Thank you to those who have vocalized your support in one — or in some cases, all — of these ways.

For those of you who have not yet added your voice to the groundswell of support, please join us by visiting and doing the following:

  • Add your name to the list of public supporters
  • Send an email to City Council
  • Request a lawn sign
  • Volunteer to speak at City Council

Please consider showing your support in all of these ways!

As for the City of Palo Alto application process, it is underway and moving at a slow but steady pace, which is typical of a project that has received a lot of public attention. Although we submitted our application nearly 20 months ago, many levels of review by the City are yet to come. In the meantime, we continue to work with the City staff responding to requests for more information and waiting for the release of the draft Environmental Impact Report (dEIR) for public review and comment, hopefully sometime this spring. The dEIR will be particularly illuminating as it will evaluate our project’s impacts and propose mitigations. This information will be useful as we work with a mediator to find resolution with a vocal minority of neighbors who oppose our efforts to increase the accessibility of a Castilleja education and upgrade our learning spaces.

At the suggestion of the City Council, we are entering facilitated discussions with neighbors through Project Sentinel, a non-profit offering conciliation and mediation services. Our objectives in participating are to develop a better understanding of neighbor concerns and to identify means of addressing their concerns. Our current proposal includes changes to the campus to move activities away from neighboring homes, a new park and bike station accessible to the public, stringent restrictions on vehicular trips and school events, and meaningful penalties should we exceed our car trip or enrollment caps. There is always more to learn, and we look forward to hearing new thoughts and ideas on how these measures can be further improved. We’ll continue to work in good faith to arrive at a resolution that works for our neighbors and provides new opportunities for women’s education.

This is a complicated and lengthy process which requires resilience, patience, and a steadiness of purpose. It’s easy to get distracted by discussions relating to construction details and permitting. But at the end of the day, our efforts all stem from our mission: to provide an excellent education to girls, equipping them with the tools they need to be confident, compassionate leaders and engaged citizens. We are dedicated to this mission and remain determined and focused in our work to empower our students to be tomorrow’s change. Thank you for standing with us in support of our mission, our vision, and our commitment to the school’s future.

Kathy Layendecker
Associate Head of School
Finance and Operations

Edition 3 – January 2018

Dear Castilleja Families and Friends,

Happy New Year!

As has become our custom at Castilleja, we started 2018 with Global Week, a program that focuses on important global challenges and social issues. In lieu of classes, students attend lectures and panels featuring distinguished speakers who are working to raise awareness and promote change and then meet with their classmates and teachers to further discuss and explore these issues.

This year’s theme was “Equity in Education”. Speakers included Jonathan Jansen, President of the South African Institute of Race Relations and last year’s Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, who gave a keynote talk titled “Is Education a Human Right?” Students attended panels on topics such as EdTech, Global Solutions, and Local (Bay Area) Challenges and Solutions. The week was filled with courageous conversations, thought-provoking presentations, and a 6th grade tribute to one of the speakers. It was Castilleja at its best and an inspirational reminder of the importance and impact of the school’s mission.

Two weeks ago, students also had the opportunity to hear social justice activist Bryan Stevenson speak. Stevenson is a lawyer and the founder and director of the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit based in Montgomery, Alabama that provides legal representation to the underserved. He has argued cases before the Supreme Court and has been part of a movement to end extreme sentencing of children convicted of crimes. Stevenson is a powerful speaker, and his talk may have brought a few of us to tears with his inspiring message about the hope, compassion, proximity, and commitment required to effect change.

Fostering a sense of purpose and responsibility in our students is a key tenet of our mission that we believe helps define and distinguish the Castilleja experience. Framed by on-campus experiences such as Global Week, our students engage in immersive community activities that bring classroom learning to life and reinforces the empathy and determination that are so critical to leadership. Among our community partners are Ada’s Café, Boys & Girls Clubs, and the Palo Alto Veteran’s Hospital.

The opportunity to step outside one’s life and make a difference is an experience that students carry with them beyond Castilleja. In fact, we are extremely proud to say that many of our graduates continue their commitment to public service throughout their professional lives, including right here in Palo Alto. Which brings me to this month’s feature: a Q&A with one of our alumna who models this commitment to service. 

Castilleja graduate Julia Ishiyama ’09 is a second-year law student at Stanford University. We hope you will read her story and feel inspired by her plans to work towards securing additional legal protections to help women thrive.

An Interview with Julia Ishiyama

Castilleja Class of 2009, Stanford Law Class of 2019

Castilleja: Can you tell us a bit about your pro bono work at Stanford Law?

Julia: As a first-year, I did pro bono work at Stanford’s Social Security Disability Project (SSDP) to help provide homeless and at-risk clients access to their Social Security benefits.

As a second-year student, I plan to work with Stanford’s Housing Pro Bono Project, which helps low-income East Palo Alto renters resolve landlord disputes – whether the client is facing eviction, habitability issues, discriminatory behavior, illegal increases in rent, or other housing problems.

Castilleja: Where did you volunteer while you were a student at Castilleja?

Julia: My primary volunteer activity was spent in my old kindergarten classroom at Walter Hayes Elementary School. Since Palo Alto public schools operated on a different schedule than Castilleja, I spent my breaks reading stories to students, preparing and running educational activities, and helping administer state-mandated assessments.

In high school, I served as a member of Congresswoman Anna Eshoo’s Student Advisory Board where I researched and drafted policy recommendations for a year-end report presented to the Congresswoman, including on how to incentivize HPV vaccination.

Castilleja: How do you feel your education at Castilleja prepared you for your future?

Julia: Seven years of all-girls education gave me an incredible appreciation for how rare and wonderful it is to have strong female voices in every classroom, female leads in every play, and women running (student) government.

As a result, my focus in law school is on issues of gender equity and removing real-world barriers to the kind of female excellence I was surrounded by at Castilleja.

To that end, I spent the summer of 2017 interning at the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project. I am the president of Stanford Lawyering for Reproductive Justice and serve on the board of Women of Stanford Law. This summer, I’ll be at a law firm where I hope to work on Title IX litigation—advocating for survivors of campus sexual assault.

Castilleja: As you know, we are undertaking an effort to increase enrollment to provide more educational opportunities for girls and young women. Are there any comments you’d like to share about this effort?

Julia: Castilleja’s investment in its students pays dividends in this community every day. I think seeking the opportunity to double down on your commitment to Palo Alto by populating it with more young women dedicated to service while responsibly managing growth deserves fair consideration by the people of Palo Alto.

We’d like to thank Julia for making the time to speak with us, and we wish her the best in her endeavors. Please visit our website at to show your support for Castilleja’s mission and vision for the future.

Thank you,

Kathy Layendecker
Associate Head of School
Finance and Operations

Edition 2 – December 2017

Dear Castilleja Families and Friends,

We want to wish you all Happy Holidays and Best Wishes for the New Year. Inevitably these last couple of weeks of December are full of activity as you wrap up your obligations and gather with your loved ones for what I hope will be a time of rest and celebration.

The end of the year is also a time for reflection. As the administrator overseeing Castilleja’s Conditional Use Permit and Master Planning process, I come to the close of 2017 aware of the challenges ahead, but also feeling a tremendous sense of hope and gratitude — hope and gratitude inspired by the overwhelming support we have received from so many of you.

I cannot help but be grateful when I see the nearly 300 (and growing) “We Support Women’s Education” lawn signs around town. As I review the list of public supporters and read the many letters and postcards you have sent to the City Council, I become hopeful not just that our mission to modernize our campus and make our education available to more deserving girls and young women will be fulfilled, but also hopeful for a brighter future for girls and women in all aspects of society.

I am reminded of the saying:
“If you are more fortunate than others, build a longer table not a taller fence.”

Like you, we believe that Castilleja students are fortunate. Our desire to gradually add more students and modernize our campus is about building our proverbial longer table.  It is about allowing more young women to attend our school and have access to a life-changing education. It is about expanding opportunities to a diverse universe of students to ensure the next generation of female leaders is a reflection of our community.  

In short, our gratitude for your support and for the opportunity to be a part of this school and its legacy is best expressed when we work to extend the table. I am thankful to be able to do this work and to end the year with a renewed sense of purpose and commitment.

Happy Holidays!  

Kathy Layendecker
Associate Head of School
Finance and Operations

Edition 1 – November 2017

Dear Castilleja Families and Friends,

We hope this message finds you well as you head off for Thanksgiving break, the winter holidays come into focus, and the mad dash to the end of the year gets underway.

This is the first in what will be a series of monthly messages in which I share the latest news about the many activities that support our vision for Castilleja’s future. As the Associate Head of School, I have been deeply involved in furthering this vision including overseeing the Conditional Use Permit and Master Planning process.

Reading the Signs of the Times

Castilleja School’s mission to provide young women with educational opportunities and to develop confident and capable female leaders has always been an important one. In the last couple of years our mission feels especially salient, as the current climate and news cycle underscore how underrepresented women are at the top in virtually every industry and sector.

Access to a high-quality education for girls with a focus on the skills necessary to succeed in a 21st century economy is essential to closing this gap. Every year Castilleja receives far more applications from deserving students than we are able to accept, sadly forcing us to turn away many bright and eager girls. With the goal of empowering more girls with the skills, empathy, and confidence to be tomorrow’s leaders, Castilleja is seeking permission from the City of Palo Alto to increase enrollment by 25 students per year over four years, for a total of up to 540 students (our current enrollment is 438), and upgrade our campus to create learning spaces designed to better support today’s educational needs.

Those closely following Castilleja’s plans know all too well that our proposal to modernize our campus and gradually add students has been met in some quarters with opposition, including the posting of lawn signs critical of the school. These signs visually convey a negative and one-sided message that we felt was unfair to the school, our mission, and our planning process. After much discussion and consideration, and after receiving numerous requests from students, parents, and other members of the community for a visible way to demonstrate their support and add their voices to the conversation, we decided to respond with our own, more positive lawn signs supporting the school’s mission. Just before Halloween we delivered 150 Castilleja lawn signs to school parents and other members of the Palo Alto community. After nearly a year of reflection, this felt like an important response in support of our community and our vision for the future.

We are thrilled to have received so many requests for a visible way for our advocates to show their support, and believe the signs will help balance out this discussion. Nevertheless, we know there are likely those who will have questions about this process:

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Signs? The school created the lawn signs in response to an outpouring of requests from parents and other members of the Castilleja family who asked for a way to visibly demonstrate their support for the school as a response to the critical signs that were painting a negative and one-sided picture of Castilleja’s future plans.

Why Now? Some of our students have been discouraged by the negativity they must pass everyday as they arrive for school. Our supporters, particularly parents, felt it was time to act and add our voices to the conversation.

How Long Will They Be Up?  We feel that having signs up supporting the school while opposition signs continue to be displayed is an important component of participating in this conversation.

Castilleja was founded 110 years ago to equalize educational opportunities for women, and we remain committed to this important mission. We’re gratified neighbors and supporters are willing to literally put a stake in the ground and display their support. We view it as a hopeful sign for our school and for a more inclusive future. Please visit to learn more about the variety of ways to voice your support.

We hope you find time to relax over the holiday season and enjoy time with friends and loved ones.

Thank you,

Kathy Layendecker
Associate Head of School
Finance and Operations