Spence saluted 21 faculty and staff members at the annual Tenure Party which was celebrated this year at Spence’s new 412 Athletic and Educational facility. Trustees, as well as family members of the honorees also joined the celebration.
The 13-year tradition started by Head of School Bodie Brizendine celebrates milestone anniversaries for faculty and staff at the outset of their 10th, 15th, 20th, 25th, 30th and 40th years of working at Spence. Brizendine’s heartfelt tributes and words of praise and gratitude that she recites for each honoree are among the highlights of the celebration.
Excerpts of her remarks are included below. Congratulations to this year’s Tenure honorees; we are so grateful for your enduring commitment to the School and its mission to teaching and learning.
Excerpts from Head of School Bodie Brizendine’s Tributes
Honoring 10 Years
Desi Peña, Upper School Science Teacher
It doesn't seem accidental that Desi teaches forensics and biology. They are perfect subjects for someone deeply committed to discovery, to finding things out. That's just the way Desi moves through this world, and she happily shares that passion with every scholar-scientist in her classroom. Desi is totally undaunted by the always dizzying growth in her disciplinary knowledge, so much to learn, and she helps her students to feel the same way.
Yariana Fernandez, Food Service Prep Chef
One of our stalwart kitchen team members, Yariana is one of those quiet folks who makes our school hum...who makes our school well-fed and healthy. She knows the students, and she knows what they like to eat. She takes pride in running the dining room, and that makes all the difference. She's a master at the human touch...she is the peaceful presence that brings calm to our oh-so-busy kitchen, just by being there.
Aletha Haynes, Lower School Head Teacher
Aletha is one of those teachers and citizens of the school who knows how to build. She builds learning by opening her students to the beauty of all sorts of questions...and if there is a little dance party in between...well so be it. She builds community and the exchange of ideas with her peers at meetings, in the hallways...all the time. And, best yet, we see how she also builds love, for everyone.
Justin Iwerks, Head of the Computer Science Department
There just is no way not to use the ever-true and well-worn saying that still waters run deep when speaking about Justin…. Here is a teacher who can still a room with his presence, warmth and kindness. Here is a colleague who can wait, listen and then add wisdom of both depth and relevance…. He leads our computer science program with the grace and knowledge of someone who says, every day, “I've got this...and I want to share.”
Xóchitl Medina, Lower School Spanish Teacher
If I had the capacity, I would share these words in Spanish. If I had the voice, I would sing these words. Because that's how we metaphorically and literally see and understand the miracle that is Xóchitl: singing, and bringing that beautiful language into the lives of our young learners, making them all… sing out with joy and enthusiasm…. Her faithful champions are integrity and imagination, and her sidekick is joy, pure joy.
Nitika Shah, Lower School Head Teacher
Nitika holds the consummate grace of the confident and the all-important gift of humility; what a powerful combination. She is a deep thinker who takes her time and reflects before sharing. Her energy turns to the support of others, almost as a natural reflex. A superb teacher, she is a keen observer of the children, and she has that wonderful ability to put observation and strategy together: something different for each student.
Honoring 15 Years
Sara Beasley, Head of the English and World Literature Department
Sara has about her a breath-taking immediacy, rending both emotional and intellectual invitations to students and colleagues alike. She calls them up to her high standards, and aside them, climbs and climbs with alacrity and joy to meet them…. Simply put, she is beloved, and well she should be. Kind, intellectual, caring, super smart and loving, Sara truly has a large backpack of gifts.
Ellen Thomas, Director of Food Services
Strong of mind, lion-hearted, loving and creative, Ellen is part miracle and part superhero. She's always there to the rescue. Think Ruvna, think farm-to table, think cooking classes with parents and daughters. Think 1001 events, think New Families Dinners with homestyle food at the table, think every day, all the time and in all ways...the wonder of our food and joy we have in eating it...think community at the table set by Ellen.
Rebecca Scott, Lower School Science/Math Teacher
Becky is a tinker and a learner. She is always interested in taking on new challenges (the learning part) and she is equally interested in making things change for the better (that's the tinker part). For example, she taught math last year for the first time, and she did so with great excitement and success…. She has a way about her that invites both hard work and joy...and she leads by example, every day.
Erica McGovern, Lower School Head Teacher
It's very hard to miss Erica's extraordinary commitment to teaching and learning. She's always motivated to do more, to learn more and to understand more. She is the role model for honing pedagogy and for strengthening practice…. A team player, she works collaboratively and has inspired many of us with inspirational curriculum…. You also can't miss that spark of humor and delight, especially when she talks about the children.
Sara Cooper, Middle School Visual Arts Teacher
If you have not had the opportunity to sit down next to Sara Cooper, you should…. Quiet, unassuming and just plain lovely, Sara is a teacher who moves students from ideas to beautiful pieces, from scattered to cohesion, and she does so quietly and lovingly. Without drawing a lot of attention to herself, Sara teaches with a calm and grace that makes her a different kind of and welcomed force in our lives and in our classrooms.
Hemsley Hughes, Lower School Resource Teacher
Every year Hemsley ensures that our first graders are fully on the road to reading, and she has more games, plays and tricks up her sleeve to make sure her charges remain excited than you can imagine…. Leader of the Lower School Sunshine Committee, she makes sure that every birthday, every baby and every big moment is celebrated, and she does so without ever making it about her...ever.
Bodie Brizendine, Head of School
Franklin Speyer, former trustee, and a parent of Spence alumnae, surprised Brizendine by sharing a tribute from the President of the Board of Trustees Bill Jacob, applauding her many accomplishments during her “spectacular” 15 years of leadership. He thanked Brizendine for deepening the School’s good work in teaching and learning, equity, building community and improving and expanding the physical plant. He praised her for instilling the “combination of joy and academic excellence not seen anywhere to the degree to which it is seen at Spence.”
Honoring 20 Years
Frank Brito, Food Services Staff Member
Known for his infectious laugh, Frank is a dedicated worker who always makes a difference with his cheerfulness and ever-readiness to pitch in and to do what is necessary. Known for his consistency, he always works hard, and usually you can find him doing his good work while making both Teresa and Isabel laugh. He's the kindness glue of the team...an always welcomed presence.
Elizabeth Causey, Head of Lower School
Every voice matters to Elizabeth.... But most of all, perhaps, is her incredible ability to make her school a place of love and learning in every corner. She is a master teacher and a master leader and for her, it's always about the lesson, the growth, the promise of each child. She reminds us that every child is smart...and that all of us together, and really only together, can make the magic we call learning thrive.
Dana Crowell, Director of College Counseling
Many of us strive for integrity and a moral compass that regularly points north, but I have to say that Dana Crowell is the model for both of these attributes.... She's famous for her attention to details, and thank goodness she never misses a single one. And there's a grace and patience around Dana, both of which mark her every day. There are many beautiful things in this school, and the simple kindness and humanity of Dana are two of the best.
Nancy Grey, Middle and Upper School French Teacher
Very committed and very determined, Nancy Grey cares deeply about teaching, our community, and definitely, her own learning. She's always looking into how she can take her craft, her experience, to that next level of good…. Nancy is a go-to for just about anything: she seems to know a lot about a lot of things. Cosmopolitan, humble, funny, caring and curious, Nancy has it all firing at the same time.
Eric Zahler, Director of Teaching and Learning
Thoughtfully, Eric sees our school, the students, his colleagues and the world.... His leadership is marked with the utmost care...and his clear-headed determination to do the best work he possibly can no matter the situation make him as strong as an administrator as he is a teacher…. Yes, he understands the true life of the mind...but he also knows the contours of the heart, and blends both of these measures into one beautiful whole.
Honoring 25 Years
Wei Jiang, Physical Education and Athletics Teacher
She is tireless in her effort and in her work, and yet she never ever ever seems tired. She is super willing to chip in wherever needed, no matter what, and she never seems challenged by that. She is a force of nature, but she's never about herself. Nimble, quick, electric, Wei is an energy source for us all, and whenever she enters any room, the voltage just went up. And with the children? Well, she is magical.
Philipp Joseph, Food Services Location Manager - 93rd Street
He's our waystation, our connector, our philosopher and our true friend…. For him, it is always about bringing people together and about loving the children and his unwavering commitment to do so serves each and every one of us…. A prolific reader, Philipp lives the life of a teacher learner. A master chef, Philipp gives us sustenance and joy in equal measure. A stellar human being, Philipp gives us the care we all need.
Honoring 30 Years
Mike D’Elia, Media and Technology Specialist
Mike D'Elia is one of the most generous people we know. Quiet, but also very passionate about things that matter in this world, he sets his sights on making sure we have everything we need, when we need it, no matter how large or small the task…. Unblinking in his dedication to equity, to working for the good of our planet and to giving voice to those who need it most, Mike is an unassuming warrior for peace, justice and ecology.
Honoring 40 Years
Karen Sullivan, Head of Middle School
I was having lunch a few weeks ago with one of our alums from the class of 2016, and she was saluting the teachers who…helped to make her the person she is today."When she came to Karen, she nodded her head and wisely said, “Ms. Sullivan is a rock. She knows exactly what middle schoolers need, not always what they want, and she was always there for us.” Karen is both a rock...and a rock star…. Her teaching is extraordinary, and if you’ve seen her classroom, even for a few minutes, you will see her literally move around the class with an equal measure of grace, challenge and humor…. At the top of it all is Karen’s love for this school...unmitigated, undiluted, and undeniable love. She cares deeply and equally for the place and the people, and we all know her by her stalwart determination to be a team player while working with the very folks she loves: faculty, staff, and the children.