Celebration of Dedication: Tenure Party 2019

Colleagues, trustees, friends and family saluted 23 individuals from Spence's academic and administrative divisions this September at the Annual Tenure Party—The 11-year tradition started by Head of School Bodie Brizendine, celebrates milestone anniversaries for faculty and staff at the outset of their 10th, 15th, 20th and 25th year of working at Spence. During the ceremony, Brizendine shared tributes to celebrate the exceptional contributions the honorees make to the life of the School, as well as their dedication to teaching and learning.

Honorees
Ten Years
Zilpha Abu-Shaheen
Abby Cohen
Lizzy Dickson
Michele Grethel
Jake Kovach
Dayna Ruggerio-Morris                
Emily Stone
 
Fifteen Years
Cornell Owesny                              
Susan Parker
Millie Ruiz
Elsy Bello




Twenty Years   
Julie Abbruscato
Paul Hennessee                                             
Michele Murphy
Alice Park
Celinés Pimentel
Marcos Rosales
Joanne Yoon                       
 
Twenty Five Years
Constanza Melo
 
Thirty Years        
Liz Casanova
Isabel Jimenez
Marianne McCarthy
Elena Rocha


Excerpts from Head of School Bodie Brizendine’s Tributes
 
Honoring 10 Years
 
Zilpha Abu-Shaheen, Assistant Controller
 
If there were a choice between a closed door and an open one, Zilpha would easily glide through the open one (and then slowly back-track to open that closed one). She likes the unexpected, and she can seemingly design structure with the best of architects. With an arresting, even mysterious, smile she affects ephemerality while actually living firmly within the practical, the useful, the helpful. Her talents are legion. A rocker, a mother, an accountant, a development guru and a loving wife, Zilpha has been opening doors here, at Spence with warmth, welcome and determination for 10 wonderful years. 
 
Abby Cohen, Middle and Upper School English and World Literature Teacher
 
Scholar, writer, teacher, Abby Cohen is never unclear about her purpose, helping young minds and hearts to recognize both their own voices and their responsibilities to share those voices with each other and the world. A woman of strong, moral stance and compelling individuality, Abby lives above the pedestrian level, always modeling a way to be who you are, fully and happily. In her quest to embrace the alternative narrative and the margins beyond the known, she offers her students new ways to see the power of quotidian life and the power of self. Thoughtful, reflective and deep, Abby has been teaching and stretching perspective for us all for 10 years. 
 
Lizzy Dickson, Grade 4 Head Teacher
 
When Elizabeth and I first interviewed Lizzy, when she left the room, we looked at each other and knew right away that she’s the kind of person who would soon walk our halls with great professionalism, energy and wisdom. And that she does. With a trademark and potent calmness, Lizzy is strikingly nonplussed and at high attention all at the same time. Always on the lookout for personal growth, her hand is predictably up for the next committee, the next collaboration, the next learning. And with unfettered kindness, she captures the heart of every one of her students along with a huge bunch of us, grownups. 
 
Michele Grethel, Director of Psychological Services and Upper School Counselor
 
Michele Grethel never brags about her deep and broad experience, but if you check it out, you will find a professional and practitioner who has logged in untold hours...There is no simple formula to describe Michele, save her tireless dedication to help adolescents through the sometime-fog of helplessness. She knows her stuff, and unlike the open and visible classrooms, hallways and kitchens that host most of our worlds, her best work can go unnoticed. And she, of course, is beyond fine with that, as she, with absolute empathy and skill, works carefully, quietly and powerfully with children and their parents as they face demanding and difficult times.
 
Jake Kovach, Director of Information Technology
 
Jake Kovach is one of our builders of tomorrow, and thank goodness for that. Gifted with fortitude and foresight, Jake answers our needs, even while gently suggesting that we might want to consider other, even more interesting “needs.” He lifts a hefty load by taking on, day in and day out, not only the highly complicated infrastructure of connections, access and opportunities, but also the mosaic of different personalities which make up our community: yes, the wires of our school, but also the wiring of us all. No small thing that. Inventive, patient, adroit and imaginative, Jake invites us all to the corners of our own competency with enthusiasm and promise. He is a master teacher who works with joy, collaboration, and even stealth, taking us all and the school to that next level of good.
 
Dayna Ruggerio-Morris, Lower School Head Science Teacher
 
Dayna Ruggerio-Morris, I understand, jogs to work almost every day. But her incredible energy source extends far beyond getting to Spence: it actually has more to do with what she does when she gets here… as a science head teacher, Dayna runs to a myriad of opportunities bringing that huge array of talent along with her. Known to be wise, full on in participation and extraordinarily collaborative, Dayna lives our mission within our walls and without. Keep running, Dayna, and keep your GPS centered on doing good in the world and at Spence. 
 
Emily Stone, Director of Development 
 
Our own Energizer Bunny, our puzzle-master, our Timex watch that never needs winding, Emily Stone is a woman of breathtaking energy and unmeasurable love of School. Leaving no knock unanswered, Emily is the consummate learner, always on the lookout for personal growth and professional commitment. She’s the perfect model of lifelong student, and no one, and I mean, no-one, can read a room better than she can. With palpable people power, insight and pure affection, she offers a trove of ideas. With imagination in one hand and structure in the other, Emily keeps us moving forward with an invitational thrust to all the 100 pieces of our community, letting everyone join the momentum that is Spence. 
 
Honoring 15 Years
 
Cornell Owesny, Middle and Upper School Latin Teacher 
 
The small but mighty group of Latin scholars who stay the course until their last moments at Spence are proud...not with arrogance as their mantel, but with that mark of...“we’ve gone deep ...we’ve gone very deep, and we breathe well within those depths.” Mentor, teacher and guide for that deep dive is our own Cornell, who quietly and consistently hoists the oxygen tank on their backs and invites them to dive in. But the sometimes quiet and always kind and calm, Cornell, is not the same man in his classroom. With that wry sense of humor and animated story-telling of furious battles, betrayal in love, prophecies of doom and of glory, Cornell plumbs the depths of classical literature, building bridges between then and now and between the margins and the text, with grace, scholarship and pure joy.
    
Susan Parker, Director of Admissions
 
Sometimes admission directors are called “gatekeepers,” and for obvious reasons. A better metaphor for Susan Parker, however, is, “road builder.” With uncompromising commitment and with engineering finesse, skill and ingenuity, Susan can drive a back-hoe and make a way out of no way and suddenly access becomes a hand-holding partner to our mission. She is the great translator of the pulse of the school, the story-collector of our halls and our classrooms and the strategist of how to make good on our promise of passion, perspective and purpose. Her fierce loyalty to goodness, both professionally and personally, sends her from her synagogue to our halls, from her beloved family to our school with ease, grace and with the forever expectation of goodwill along with a fierce intolerance for the wrong. 
         
Millie Ruiz, Business Office Associate for Accounts Receivable
 
Millie is just one of those folks who connects with us all. Radiant, even electric, Millie can and does light up a room and, actually, any room. In fact, that is her best gift: a sort of democratic kindness acknowledging all, no matter who you are or what you do. The other end of the phone to all of our parents, Millie is our ambassador extraordinaire. Marked with patience, care and consistency, Millie is steadfast and clear: two simple, but essential skills. We may not as easily see her in action, day by day, but we certainly enjoy the fruits of her work, every day. Teeming with her own, special love-of-life, Millie has been making a sustained and important difference here at Spence for 15 years.
 
Elsy Bello, Middle and Upper School Spanish Teacher 
 
For 15 years, Elsy Bello has been the epitome of gentle kindness, self-controlled joy and a quiet love of School and of the children within it. Positive, affirming, she feels no need to be the center of attention, and the way she walks through our halls and classroom has that near magical combination of grace and generosity. When she can, she’ll volunteer to do anything, and if anyone needs a helping hand, she’s there. She is one of those lucky people who are, as the saying goes, “comfortable in her own skin,” and that makes for a calm, comfortable presence that has its own little bit of mystery around it. Dedicated to her students and to our community while modeling an important way of being a source for good.
   
Honoring 20 Years
 
Julie Abbruscato, Middle and Upper School English and World Literature Teacher
 
If you’re ever within the hearing of a Julie Abbruscato yarn, be sure to stick around for the finish: that’s where the kicker lives, and it’s always worth the wait. Her perfect pitch narratives live as spellbinding metaphors for the magic that is Julie. Highly dexterous, always hungry to learn more, Julie is a gifted and serious teacher who adamantly places her students front and center of everything she does. And she does more than teach them: she deeply honors them, seriously respects them wholly for who they are, while gently and yet firmly challenging them as learners and as human beings. As with her own writing, her baking, her parenting, her full membership in life, Julie is never casual about her teaching, never stuck, never single-minded. 
 
Paul Hennessee, Lower School Music Teacher 
 
Paul Hennessee lives on the corner of humility and talent. No one better lives a life of incredible artistry while walking through the day humble and unentitled. His range extends from five-year-old joy to sophisticated composing...with everything in between. And if he has a favorite among those, he’s not telling! He’s a veritable store house of imagination, and seemingly few things are impossible for him. What he does for our children and our school at assemblies, at concerts, at school plays, at farewells and welcome events is immeasurable, and the adage, “let’s ask Paul,” is happily our default measure. For him, creativity is the everyday; for him amplification of joy and beauty is his business; for him the mosaic of music and life is both a gift and a necessity.
                                                   
Michele Murphy, Director of Curriculum
 
With unstoppable good will in one hand and our mission statement in the other, Michele Murphy truly is our own superwoman. She’s our fellow story-teller, our designer and our engineer of ideas for the better and our time-teller and day-planner…all at the same time. She can make the little, big and the big, little when needed, and she can hold our hands, listen hard while doing so. Standing tall in those trademark shoes, and with near-perfect posture, Michele Murphy, ever strong in heart and mind, is the bedrock of all that makes us move forward. She not only gets us to the train on time…she is the train. 
                         
Alice Park, Learning Specialist
 
Alice Park finds, names and nurtures, all without ever drawing attention to herself, the sanctity of every one of her charges’ hearts, making sure that our sometimes limiting, educational descriptors never mar, never limit, never define the child-learner. Her belief in every young girl and woman leads the way. Alice Park is in the business of opening doors, even if those very doors are heavy and have long been closed. Alice Park is in the business of delivering self-agency and confidence. And Alice Park is in the business of never, ever giving up. 
        
Celinés Pimentel, Middle and Upper School Spanish Teacher

Celinés is just one of those human beings who walks through the world, and our hallways, with pure dedication to her students’ learning. Her commitment to the young is, in many ways, her commitment to the future, both hers and theirs. She believes in them, and her daily quest is to marshal their own voices into meeting the promise each one of them holds within. With piercing clarity, intellect and confidence, she is tireless in her work and relentless in her pursuit of goodness. Even if it means making a good fist at some oppositional values. And when she lets loose that near-mischievous smile or that beyond-funny story or that little bit of life-at-Spence irony, it is as if the whole of us are brought into her sphere of warmth.  
                           
Marcos Rosales, Middle and Upper School Visual Arts Department Chair and Visual Arts Teacher
 
As we all know, Marcos can use art to both make a statement and literally and figuratively, bring us together, both at the same time. His mark, true and steady, is, everywhere: on the walls of both buildings, in the expanding creativity of our children, at the podium speaking about art,1ife and making a difference, in our lecture hall next to the wallpaper, and in our hearts. He names possibilities, and then, he joins us in making them come real. His magnetic humor and pure humanity make us both laugh and then stand to in good attention, and I will forever appreciate the generosity he affords us all in assuming good will and in caring about his community. 
 
Joanne Yoon, Middle School History Teacher 
 
Recognized universally as a master teacher who would only leave the Middle School kicking and screaming, Joanne Yoon, seemingly, was born to teach. And teach she does. The recent recipient of our sole teaching award, she is a veritable choreographer on how to do that magical and difficult teaching dance of stepping forward while standing back. She has the gift of practicality, the wonder of imagination and the stamina to put them both to work, every day. There’s a kind of Whitmanesque commitment to the pronoun “you,” in her, and a complete shunning the “I” as well as the spotlight. Left to her druthers, she would rather just do her wonderful work without fanfare, without attention. But that’s what kind of makes her so special…which means that’s why we love saluting her. 
 
Honoring 25 Years
 
Constanza Melo, Middle and Upper School Spanish Teacher 
 
Constanza is one of those true citizens of the school. Guided thoroughly by respect, self-respect and honor, she sets her compass true north…and...goes to work. With an understated and yet joyous and loving presence, Constanza is a teacher of consummate skill and commanding results. With the authority of the truly confident, she seeks not acclaim, but engagement, not approval, but improvement. Her kindness is straightforward... and if you ever need a helping hand, a colleague to support you or your ideas or a good thought-partner, right there, next to you stands Constanza...ever ready and ever willing.

Honoring 30 Years
 
Liz Casanova, Director of Lower School Science
 
Learning and student agency is paramount to everything Liz does, and her artistry in teaching is smelted and refined to shine brightly no matter the lighting. What need of stage-props when you have a bucket or two of soil, when you have some water and a few seeds, when you have a stove top, nine seven-year-olds and a bunch of curiosity? Teaching for Liz is in her marrow, and everything she touches has behind it that magical, magical calculus of question plus question equals wonder and wonder. You don’t solve for X, you live it. 
 
Isabel Jimenez, Food Service Prep Chef
 
She loves her grandsons, she loves her salsa-dancing, and she loves her Spence. For 30 full and wonderful years Isabel, our “Isa,” has been giving us both food and love...every day. And with that dish she hands over to us and with that beautiful smile, comes healthy servings of kindness, respect, care and affection. She knows what part of the chicken you enjoy; she knows if you like rice with your beans, she knows if you can’t eat potatoes or won’t eat meat, and she knows...well…she knows you. She makes every one of us, children and adults alike, feel known, visible and valued, and that makes all the difference in the world. So, while her daily routines are ones you could set a clock to, the impact of them and of Isabel is timeless. 
 
Marianne McCarthy, Middle and Upper School Visual Arts Teacher
 
Marianne is profoundly grounded in what truly, really matters in our teaching: what is best for the students. This tenet guides just about everything she does…She can bridge that sometimes-large spectrum between life and learning not just with possibility, but also with some serious how-to choices. She has within her the true art (pun intended) of teaching, and that art is never about her visions (pun intended again!) or her ideas, but rather about what’s going on in that wonderment we call a child. With gentle, but ever-strong voice she can guide us all to a better way of seeing what it means to be the fold of young learners, what it means to meet promise, growth and imagination where it is...in them and not us. 
 
Elena Rocha, Middle and Upper School Spanish Teacher 
 
In the novel, Transatlantic, there is a line that reads, “The world does not turn without moments of grace,” a line that should make us all think of Elena Rocha. Without drama and with incredible poise and positivity, Elena walks through our halls and into our classrooms with grace, genuine care and uncommon, common sense. Words such as professional, stand-up and grown-up surround her, and she carries all this and more into every class she meets. Her students know that their sailing will be good, no matter the winds, no matter the tides. And her advisees, who love, love, love her, know that they have someone who will stand beside or behind them always, with her no-nonsense and loving care and full-on presence. 
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