Castilleja School

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Castilleja School
Palo Alto, California
Type Private, College-prep
Motto Women Learning - Women Leading
Established 1907
Founder Mary Ishbel Lockey
Head Nanci Z. Kauffman
Grades 6-12
Gender Girls
Enrollment 448[1]
Campus size 6 acre
Campus type Suburban
Athletics conference CIF Central Coast Section
(West Bay Athletic League)
Mascot Gator
Tuition $38,200[2]

Castilleja School is an independent school for girls in grades six through twelve, located in Palo Alto, in the U.S. state of California. Castilleja is the only non-sectarian all-girls middle and high school in the San Francisco Bay Area. The faculty consists of approximately 70 full-time and part-time women and men. Castilleja is a member of the California Association of Independent Schools[3] and the National Coalition of Girls' Schools.[4][5]


Castilleja was founded in 1907 by Mary Ishbel Lockey. Originally from Montana, Lockey graduated from Stanford University in 1902, where she majored in English.[6] She was encouraged by Stanford's first President, David Starr Jordan, to start a school that would offer girls a comprehensive, college preparatory education.[7] In its early years, some boys were allowed to take classes at Castilleja.[8] The school’s core values, known as "the 5cs," include: conscience, courtesy, character, courage, and charity. In 2007, Castilleja celebrated a century of educating girls.

Academic program[edit]

Castilleja’s academic program is college preparatory in nature. Castilleja offers a comprehensive liberal arts and science curriculum with programs in foreign languages, including Mandarin Chinese and Latin, and the visual and performing arts, including digital filmmaking, studio art, and dance. Since 2010, a number of new interdisciplinary and STEM courses have been added as upper school electives including The Biology and Economics of Cancer, Engineering Sustainable Solutions, Shakespeare: Stage and Page, Computer Science I and II, Engineering I: The Design and Science of Everyday Things, and Astronomy.[9]

Performing and visual arts are integrated into students’ academic schedules. Students are introduced to and can pursue dance, drama, studio art, chorus, movie-time and photography. Each year, the Upper School puts on a fall play and a spring musical and the Middle School puts on a musical.

In addition, Castilleja’s academic program has two unique components: the Global Program and Fitness and Wellness.

The Global Program at Castilleja aims to infuse global education into every student’s educational experience. The global perspective permeates the school curriculum throughout the year, and each January the entire school devotes a week (Global Week) to an in-depth examination of global issues through speakers, workshops, readings, films, service opportunities, class projects, and panel discussions. For example, in 2011, Global Week focused on "Food Justice and Sustainability" and featured speakers including co-founder of Feed Projects Ellen Gustafson. In 2010, Castilleja opened the Center for Awareness, Compassion, and Engagement (ACE Center).[10]

In their junior year, students travel to a developing country on their Global Investigator Trip. Since the trips began in 2007, students have traveled to India, China, Guatemala, and France to explore communities and develop a deep understanding of the role of women in these emerging countries. During these trips, students interview women, girls and men from all walks of life, visit local schools, towns and villages, and work on collaborative projects with members of the community.

Castilleja’s Fitness and Wellness Program is designed to help students be “fit for life.” The Fitness and Wellness curriculum is designed to equally emphasize the physical and psychological components of well-being and to engage all students, not just student athletes. Fitness activities include spinning, mat pilates, water aerobics, circuit training, kickboxing, ball-handling sports, rock-climbing, and core conditioning.


Each year the school welcomes several special speakers to campus, including more than 15 during Global Week each January. Recent speakers have included Gloria Steinem (activist and founder Ms.magazine), Jill Bolte Taylor (neuroanatomist and author My Stroke of Insight), Kip Fulbeck (artist, poet, filmmaker), Penny Pritzker '77 (Founder, Classic Residence by Hyatt; National Finance Chair for the Obama presidential campaign), Al Gore (Nobel Laureate and former Vice President), Marissa Mayer (Vice President, Google), Thomas L. Friedman (author, The World is Flat, and Greg Mortensen (author, Three Cups of Tea). In 2010, the school welcomed two-time Pulitzer Prize winning columnist and author ("Half the Sky") Nicholas Kristof, Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Beast Tina Brown, and began the Lockey Alumnae House Speaker Series. The first speakers were Liesl Gernholtz, Director at Human Rights Watch; Mu Soucha, a leader of Cambodia's political opposition, the Sam Rainsy Party; and activist and author Somaly Mam, whose work to stop human traffiking and rescue victims has received international recognition. Additionally, classes often welcome guest speakers from the faculty and staff of Stanford University and Silicon Valley companies.


Castilleja offers 9 sports for Middle School Students and 13 for Upper School Students including basketball, volleyball, tennis, swimming, cross-country, water polo, golf and softball. In the Middle School, most sports offer multiple teams including Varsity A (VA) and Varsity B (VB). Some sports also offer Junior Varsity A and B (JVA and JVB) teams, exclusively for sixth grade students. All students make it onto a team in order to expose students to many different sports before high school. Placements are solely held to correctly place students on an appropriate team. In the Upper School there are Varsity and Junior Varsity teams for most sports.

Castilleja competes in the West Bay Athletic League (WBAL) and the Peninsula Athletic League (PAL), within the Central Coast Section (CCS). For the past seven years the school has won the WBAL Commissioner’s Cup, which recognizes the best athletic program in the league. In the last three years, four athletes have signed national letters of intent to compete at the Division I level and over the past four years over 40 seniors have been recruited for Division I, II and III sports. Castilleja opened a new, multi-level athletic center in January, 2008. The center features two gyms, a cardio room, indoor rock-climbing wall, dance studio, and yoga/spinning studio. Recent athletic highlights include: • California State Division-V Champion, Volleyball • CCS Division V Champions, Cross-Country (3rd consecutive year) • WBAL Champions, Golf and Softball • PAL Champions, Water Polo • Finalist CCS Division V, Water Polo and Basketball

The Arts[edit]

Performing and visual arts are also an important part of Castilleja. Courses include: chorus, theater, drawing & painting, ceramics, design & sculpture, film, and photography, and advanced placement studio art. Students also have the opportunity to play in either the Middle or Upper School orchestra and sing in one of several choirs. Students perform in 4 major productions each year, including Upper and Middle School Musicals, the Upper School Fall Play and Arts with a Heart benefit. Additionally, one-act plays, concerts, and art exhibits are held throughout the year.

Past productions have included, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Once Upon a Mattress, Seussical: The Musical, Kiss Me Kate, The House of Bernarda Alba, and the Music Man. Each year, students also put together the Arts with a Heart benefit performance to raise money for an organization chosen by the student-led Community Service Council. In 2011, this production was co-produced by students in the new Dance Production Workshop Class and benefited organizations working to stop bullying. In 2013-2014, the arts projects included the Middle School Musical production of Bye Bye Birdie and a student produced show, The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds.

In addition, Castilleja has a 1260 square foot Gallery space used for student shows, professional shows, and leadership opportunities including curatorial experience.

STEM at Casti[edit]

Castilleja offers courses in biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics (pre-algebra through AP Calculus, plus electives like Number Theory and AP Statistics) to all Middle School and Upper School students. Computer programming in Scratch and Python is taught to every Middle School student during select FLEX blocks, and Upper School students, especially juniors and seniors, can take electives in engineering and computer science.

The newly created Bourn Idea Lab[11] is a place for girls to tinker, design, and build creations of their own. Projects that make use of this space are integrated into existing courses, and students are welcome to use the lab on their own time as well. The lab is also home to the school's robotics teams. In addition, the Bourn Lab holds "Open Labs" on Friday afternoons for interested students.

After-school activities are another way for girls to engage with STEM topics. Upper School students can join Castilleja's FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) team Gatorbotics,[12] which designs and builds a 3'x3'x5' robot in just over six weeks. Other programs include the Technovation program where groups of girls build mobile apps to help their community and a 4-unit Research Methods (RM4) course. Middle school students can participate on a FIRST Lego League (FLL) team, of which Castilleja currently hosts two.


In the Upper School, each of seven classes meets four times a week for three 50-minute periods and one 70-minute period in a rotating schedule. Middle School classes meet four times a week for 50-minute periods. Break is 20 minutes, and Lunch is 45 minutes long. At the end of some days is built-in study time (Middle) and Clubs period (Upper) and school and class meetings.

On Wednesday afternoons, classes get out early and the Upper School attends EOP (Middle School attends FLEX), an extra period for grade-wide activities and extracurricular clubs.

Student Life[edit]

Castilleja offers more than 40 clubs to Middle and Upper School students.[13] These clubs include service clubs such as Amnesty International and Peer Tutoring and cultural clubs such as the Diversity Coalition. Student publications clubs include "Counterpoint," the official all-school newspaper; "Castilleja Free Press" (the counterpoint to "Counterpoint"); "Casti Me," the online Middle School newspaper; "Flame," the middle school literary and art magazine; "Caledonia," the upper school literary and art magazine; and "Paintbrush," the yearbook.

The student government is very active in both the Middle and Upper School. There is a different government for every class, but there is also a unified government for both the Middle (MSSG, Middle School Student Government) and Upper (ASB, All Student Body) School. Community action is an integral part of student life at Castilleja and every student participates in some sort of self-initiated project each year.

Traditions and School Spirit[edit]

Castilleja School students participate in a number of traditions throughout the year, including the Tie Ceremony at the beginning of the year, Junior-Senior Rivalry and "Ringing," and Founder's Day, all of which complement the academic year and build a strong sense of community. Other traditions include Spirit Week, Cookie Thursdays, Grandparents' Day, and the Father-Daughter Dinner-Dance.

In this tight-knit community, school spirit becomes even more prevalent as entire grades compete against one another during school organized spirit weeks. Each grade, six through twelve, is assigned a color which is often used during spirit weeks to show school pride and dress according to a theme like Harry Potter, Food Groups, or Historical Warriors. Sixth graders are marigold yellow, seventh graders are sky blue, eighth-graders are a navy, freshmen are green, sophomores are orange, juniors are purple and seniors are red. During Junior/Senior Rivalry week, the whole school is decked out in purple (by the juniors) and then red (by the seniors).

School spirit becomes a more personal tradition as each incoming sixth grader is paired with an eighth grade "big sister". This allows the Castilleja spirit and traditions to be passed on each year. The "big sister" acts as a friend, mentor, and guide, and is a meaningful part of each girl's Castilleja experience.

Ringing and Rivalry[edit]

In the Junior-Senior tradition known as Ringing, each Junior (known as the Ringee) secretly gifts an assigned Senior (known as the Ringer) throughout the fall with gifts and goodies to ease the stress of applying to college. By Thanksgiving, each Ringee must "reveal" her identity to her Ringer and ask "Will you ring me?" to which the obvious answer is yes. The gift-giving is returned for a week in the spring with "Reverse Ringing," at the end of which the Ringer presents her Ringee with a ring. Many rings are "lineage" rings, meaning they have been passed down over the years. A week of Rivalry between the Junior and Senior classes then commences, where the Juniors (purple) then the Seniors (red) decorate the school and spend a fun night of ringer-ringee bonding together. On Friday, the Juniors throw a Banquet dinner for the Seniors and all is celebrated.

Notable Alumnae[edit]

  • Amy Chow, Olympic Gold medalist in gymnastics, Pediatrician
  • Pansy Ho, Macau-born heiress and operator of casinos
  • Josie Maran, actress and model
  • Penny Pritzker, Philanthropist; Founder and Chair of Classic Residence by Hyatt; previously National Finance Chair of Barack Obama's presidential campaign; U.S. Secretary of Commerce
  • Grace Slick, singer and songwriter
  • Tori Anthony, pole vaulter
  • Lindsay Taylor, soccer player and PAC-10 Freshman Player of the Year (2008)
  • Nancy Ditz, Olympic marathon runner
  • Laura Arrillaga Andreesen, founder and chair of Silicon Valley Social Venture Fund
  • Rupa Marya, composer, singer, guitarist, and founder of Rupa & the April Fishes
  • Emily White, COO at Snapchat
  • Claire Kirch, Publishers Weekly magazine Senior Correspondent


Castilleja is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and is a member of the National Association of Independent Schools, the National Coalition of Girls' Schools, and the College Board. In late 2007, the Wall Street Journal identified Castilleja School as one of the world's top 50 schools for its success. In 2009, Castilleja was given the highest accreditation rating by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. [1] Castilleja was named one of the Bay Area's Best Private Schools by San Jose Magazine.

Castilleja was also recognized as the 5th best private high school in the United States by Niche [2] in their 2015 rankings


  1. ^ Casti At A Glance
  2. ^ Financing a Castilleja Education
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ Bay Area's Best Private Schools | San Jose Magazine
  6. ^ "Kappa". Alpha Phi Quarterly. XXVII (4): 418. September 1915. 
  7. ^ Sargent, Porter (1998). The Handbook of Private Schools. Boston: P. Sargent. p. 679. 
  8. ^ "Castilleja School". Western Journal of Education. XXVII (7): 6. July 1921. 
  9. ^ 2014-2015 Course Catalog
  10. ^ ACE Center
  11. ^ Bourn Idea Lab
  12. ^ | Gatorbotics Team 1700
  13. ^ Student Life | Admissions Website

External links[edit]