Custom Class: post-landing-hero

By Johanna Varner ’02

Doug Wortham’s reputation preceded him – how could it not?

Even 25 years ago, he was legendary for being the hardest teacher in the Upper School. Before we started, everyone in freshman French had heard the stories from friends or siblings. Even our Middle School French teacher warned us that our lives would become much more...difficile. To say that we were terrified would be an understatement.

Mr. Wortham is that rare teacher who has the highest expectations but is somehow still everyone’s favorite.—Allyson Goldstein Hicks ’02

And most of those stories were true. I worked harder for Doug's classes than for any other teacher or professor since. Indeed, his French program is widely regarded as “one of the most challenging and scholarly" programs available at Rowland Hall, an institution generally renowned for being challenging and scholarly. But what those stories left out was the profound impact that his classes would have on us. In addition to actually learning French, an amazing accomplishment itself, we also learned to think deeply, to engage with difficult topics, to recover from failure, and to live authentically in a challenging and unpredictable world.

For the past 43 years, I imagine that all of Doug’s students (and probably also our parents and caregivers) have wondered how he motivated us to work so hard...and actually like it. My classmate Allyson Goldstein Hicks ’02 commented, “Mr. Wortham is that rare teacher who has the highest expectations but is somehow still everyone’s favorite.” 

As an educator now myself, I have also often considered how he managed that feat, and writing this story provided me an opportunity to reflect on my experiences. I also polled my fellow class of 2002 alumni, and together, we pieced together some answers.

Members of the class of 2002 with French teacher Doug Wortham.

Members of the class of 2002 with Doug at graduation. Back row (left to right): Sarah Stevens Canfield, Johanna Varner, Nicole Pershing; middle row: Bryan Lence, Maribeth LeHoux, Doug Wortham; front row: Vanessa Clayton, Michael Reynolds, Allyson Goldstein Hicks. Photo courtesy Johanna Varner.

First, Doug always treated us with adult-like respect and expected the same in return. “Wortham always treated us not only like students, but also mini-adults, which we hardly were,” wrote Maribeth LeHoux ’02. He took the time to get to know each of us, respected our confidences, and earned our trust and respect in return. “Mr. Wortham had a unique way of seeing the teenage version of yourself, meeting you at that place, and subtly supporting each student to become the best version of themselves,” commented Nicole Pershing ’02. He trusted us with personal stories about his life experiences in the gay community, or that we would not get into trouble when given adult privileges travelling abroad. This was a rare experience for many of us, and it made a lasting impression.

In addition, Doug taught us to be prepared for anything—indeed, it was a requisite survival skill for his classes. Whatever we did, the instructions were clear, and we were evaluated fairly. But the day's activity could range from writing a philosophical essay or conjugating verbs until you could no longer hold a pencil, to translating song lyrics, reading a story aloud, or discussing death and religion. Perhaps the most unpredictable activity of all was compétition. In this activity, we had to literally run our answers to the front of the room. Because the first correct answer received the most points, nobody hesitated to throw elbows or even swan-dive across Doug’s desk with their submissions. (Nobody was seriously injured, but I am sure minor bruises were common). “I was always slightly terrified to go to class,” said Maribeth. “It was challenging in a way nothing else was. Even if you studied, how could you ever be prepared?” 

Doug also set the bar high and had faith that we would rise to the challenge. I continued French in college, and none of the classes that I took at MIT or Harvard rivaled Doug’s in terms of challenge, rigor, or reward. Allyson, who majored in French, agreed. “Mr. Wortham’s classes were some of the most challenging, fun, and impactful classes I have ever taken,” she wrote. At age 16, we tackled the great classics of French existentialist literature. We unpacked all the layered metaphors of La Peste by Camus and Huis Clos by Sartre. We even had to memorize and perform an entire act of Ionesco’s play Rhinocéros. We weren’t always successful at first, but Doug always offered patient, graceful, compassionate, respectful, clear, and constructive feedback so that we could understand the assignment and his expectations. “Because of my experiences in his class, I knew after a stumble (literal or metaphorical) I could get back up and keep going,” wrote Nicole. “Those challenges brought us together with shared triumphs that forged friendships.”

Doug Wortham with students at a cooking class in Montreal.

Doug, far left, with Rowland Hall students at a cooking class in Montreal during a 2002 Interim trip. Photo courtesy Johanna Varner.

Perhaps the most important thing about Doug’s classes was that we didn’t just learn French. We learned about politics and governments, religion and philosophy, ethics and morality. We learned how to live authentically. We learned how to respect the worldviews of others, and we developed the courage to speak up in the face of la mauvaise foi.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Doug's courses were deeply relevant to our lives, then and now. We did not just learn how to conjugate verbs, use the subjunctive tense, or memorize vocabulary. We also were tested on colorful slang expressions, pop lyrics, and current events. We traveled to use our language skills in Canada, France, and Belgium. And perhaps the most important thing about Doug’s classes was that we didn’t just learn French. We learned about politics and governments, religion and philosophy, ethics and morality. We learned how to live authentically. We learned how to respect the worldviews of others, and we developed the courage to speak up in the face of la mauvaise foi

“Doug Wortham is the sort of teacher they depict in movies,” said Bryan Lence ’02. “He expected so much of his students. He taught about different world views, governmental structures, culture, and philosophy. He just happened to teach it all in French.” Vanessa Clayton ’02 added, “I’ve always thought that that class taught us more about life than anything.” 

Of course, we also actually got really good at French. “By the time I graduated, I could travel abroad and speak the language, read the language, and feel comfortable,” wrote Bryan. “Twenty years later, I can still read and understand.” Most of us can still recite lyrics to the songs we memorized too. And the other lessons will last a lifetime. Nicole agreed: “My French may have gotten rusty in the last 20 years, but I use the life skills, compassion, and determination that I learned in Doug’s classes every day.”

We also relished passing on those scare stories to our siblings and their friends. Like Mike “Blanquette” Reynolds’ ’02 memories of “writing conjugations until our hands went numb, shaking it out, and then repeating the process for 45 more minutes.” Or Sarah Lappé’s ’02 recollection of “that stylo rouge [red pen] destroying my sentences after I handed my paper in last.” These stories may not be used anymore to heckle future generations of incoming freshmen about the challenges that lie ahead, but I am confident that Doug Wortham will remain a legend at Rowland Hall. My classmates and I all wish Doug the best for his well-earned retirement.


Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been unable to celebrate our departing colleagues as we customarily would. We are planning an on-campus gathering on Saturday, August 28, to honor those who worked at Rowland Hall for 20 or more years and left the school in 2020 or 2021.

People

More Than Just French Class: For 43 Years, Doug Wortham Challenged Rowland Hall Students to Live Authentically

By Johanna Varner ’02

Doug Wortham’s reputation preceded him – how could it not?

Even 25 years ago, he was legendary for being the hardest teacher in the Upper School. Before we started, everyone in freshman French had heard the stories from friends or siblings. Even our Middle School French teacher warned us that our lives would become much more...difficile. To say that we were terrified would be an understatement.

Mr. Wortham is that rare teacher who has the highest expectations but is somehow still everyone’s favorite.—Allyson Goldstein Hicks ’02

And most of those stories were true. I worked harder for Doug's classes than for any other teacher or professor since. Indeed, his French program is widely regarded as “one of the most challenging and scholarly" programs available at Rowland Hall, an institution generally renowned for being challenging and scholarly. But what those stories left out was the profound impact that his classes would have on us. In addition to actually learning French, an amazing accomplishment itself, we also learned to think deeply, to engage with difficult topics, to recover from failure, and to live authentically in a challenging and unpredictable world.

For the past 43 years, I imagine that all of Doug’s students (and probably also our parents and caregivers) have wondered how he motivated us to work so hard...and actually like it. My classmate Allyson Goldstein Hicks ’02 commented, “Mr. Wortham is that rare teacher who has the highest expectations but is somehow still everyone’s favorite.” 

As an educator now myself, I have also often considered how he managed that feat, and writing this story provided me an opportunity to reflect on my experiences. I also polled my fellow class of 2002 alumni, and together, we pieced together some answers.

Members of the class of 2002 with French teacher Doug Wortham.

Members of the class of 2002 with Doug at graduation. Back row (left to right): Sarah Stevens Canfield, Johanna Varner, Nicole Pershing; middle row: Bryan Lence, Maribeth LeHoux, Doug Wortham; front row: Vanessa Clayton, Michael Reynolds, Allyson Goldstein Hicks. Photo courtesy Johanna Varner.

First, Doug always treated us with adult-like respect and expected the same in return. “Wortham always treated us not only like students, but also mini-adults, which we hardly were,” wrote Maribeth LeHoux ’02. He took the time to get to know each of us, respected our confidences, and earned our trust and respect in return. “Mr. Wortham had a unique way of seeing the teenage version of yourself, meeting you at that place, and subtly supporting each student to become the best version of themselves,” commented Nicole Pershing ’02. He trusted us with personal stories about his life experiences in the gay community, or that we would not get into trouble when given adult privileges travelling abroad. This was a rare experience for many of us, and it made a lasting impression.

In addition, Doug taught us to be prepared for anything—indeed, it was a requisite survival skill for his classes. Whatever we did, the instructions were clear, and we were evaluated fairly. But the day's activity could range from writing a philosophical essay or conjugating verbs until you could no longer hold a pencil, to translating song lyrics, reading a story aloud, or discussing death and religion. Perhaps the most unpredictable activity of all was compétition. In this activity, we had to literally run our answers to the front of the room. Because the first correct answer received the most points, nobody hesitated to throw elbows or even swan-dive across Doug’s desk with their submissions. (Nobody was seriously injured, but I am sure minor bruises were common). “I was always slightly terrified to go to class,” said Maribeth. “It was challenging in a way nothing else was. Even if you studied, how could you ever be prepared?” 

Doug also set the bar high and had faith that we would rise to the challenge. I continued French in college, and none of the classes that I took at MIT or Harvard rivaled Doug’s in terms of challenge, rigor, or reward. Allyson, who majored in French, agreed. “Mr. Wortham’s classes were some of the most challenging, fun, and impactful classes I have ever taken,” she wrote. At age 16, we tackled the great classics of French existentialist literature. We unpacked all the layered metaphors of La Peste by Camus and Huis Clos by Sartre. We even had to memorize and perform an entire act of Ionesco’s play Rhinocéros. We weren’t always successful at first, but Doug always offered patient, graceful, compassionate, respectful, clear, and constructive feedback so that we could understand the assignment and his expectations. “Because of my experiences in his class, I knew after a stumble (literal or metaphorical) I could get back up and keep going,” wrote Nicole. “Those challenges brought us together with shared triumphs that forged friendships.”

Doug Wortham with students at a cooking class in Montreal.

Doug, far left, with Rowland Hall students at a cooking class in Montreal during a 2002 Interim trip. Photo courtesy Johanna Varner.

Perhaps the most important thing about Doug’s classes was that we didn’t just learn French. We learned about politics and governments, religion and philosophy, ethics and morality. We learned how to live authentically. We learned how to respect the worldviews of others, and we developed the courage to speak up in the face of la mauvaise foi.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Doug's courses were deeply relevant to our lives, then and now. We did not just learn how to conjugate verbs, use the subjunctive tense, or memorize vocabulary. We also were tested on colorful slang expressions, pop lyrics, and current events. We traveled to use our language skills in Canada, France, and Belgium. And perhaps the most important thing about Doug’s classes was that we didn’t just learn French. We learned about politics and governments, religion and philosophy, ethics and morality. We learned how to live authentically. We learned how to respect the worldviews of others, and we developed the courage to speak up in the face of la mauvaise foi

“Doug Wortham is the sort of teacher they depict in movies,” said Bryan Lence ’02. “He expected so much of his students. He taught about different world views, governmental structures, culture, and philosophy. He just happened to teach it all in French.” Vanessa Clayton ’02 added, “I’ve always thought that that class taught us more about life than anything.” 

Of course, we also actually got really good at French. “By the time I graduated, I could travel abroad and speak the language, read the language, and feel comfortable,” wrote Bryan. “Twenty years later, I can still read and understand.” Most of us can still recite lyrics to the songs we memorized too. And the other lessons will last a lifetime. Nicole agreed: “My French may have gotten rusty in the last 20 years, but I use the life skills, compassion, and determination that I learned in Doug’s classes every day.”

We also relished passing on those scare stories to our siblings and their friends. Like Mike “Blanquette” Reynolds’ ’02 memories of “writing conjugations until our hands went numb, shaking it out, and then repeating the process for 45 more minutes.” Or Sarah Lappé’s ’02 recollection of “that stylo rouge [red pen] destroying my sentences after I handed my paper in last.” These stories may not be used anymore to heckle future generations of incoming freshmen about the challenges that lie ahead, but I am confident that Doug Wortham will remain a legend at Rowland Hall. My classmates and I all wish Doug the best for his well-earned retirement.


Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been unable to celebrate our departing colleagues as we customarily would. We are planning an on-campus gathering on Saturday, August 28, to honor those who worked at Rowland Hall for 20 or more years and left the school in 2020 or 2021.

People

Explore More Faculty Stories

Shuja Khan, Rowland Hall's new director of enrollment management.

Rowland Hall is thrilled to welcome students and families to campus for the 2021–2022 school year.

As you spend time on our campuses in the following weeks, you’ll get to know the newest additions to our faculty and staff, as well as see some of our returning team members in new, adjusted, or expanded roles. For your convenience, we’ve listed these staffing changes below. (Please refer to Fond Farewells 2021 for a list of those who will not be returning for this school year.) Be sure to check back, as this list will continue to be updated.

Administration and Staff

New or Returning Administration and Staff

  • Chris Felt ’06, joins Rowland Hall as accounts payable and accounting associate.
  • Shuja Khan (pictured top) joins Rowland Hall as director of enrollment management.

  • Josh Leger, has been hired as the technology systems administrator. He previously worked at the school for 12 years, most recently as safety and security manager.

  • Chandani Patel joins Rowland Hall as director of equity and inclusion.


Administration and Staff Role Changes

  • Alec Baden, previously director of auxiliary programs, is now director of transportation.

  • Andrea Hoffman ’05, all-school nurse, has taken on the role of McCarthey Campus nurse. She will also continue to support the Lincoln Street Campus.

  • Ashley Meddaugh, previously database specialist, is now Technology Support Center manager for the McCarthey Campus. She will also continue to serve as calendar coordinator.

  • Mark Millard, Technology Support Center manager, will now support the Lincoln Street Campus.
  • Robert Prestgard-Duke, who has been working as an Extended Day staff member, lunch monitor, and SummerWorks lead counselor, is now director of Extended Day and Winter Sports.

Beginning School

New or Returning Beginning School Faculty and Staff

  • Lauren Augusta joins Rowland Hall as 4PreK lead teacher, working with Ella Slaker.

  • Mary Grace Ellison joins Rowland Hall as kindergarten assistant teacher, working alongside Melanie Robbins.

  • Emily Khan joins Rowland Hall as director of learning services (PreK–5).

  • Rebecca Mueller-Jones joins Rowland Hall as the Beginning School administrative assistant.
  • Mary Swaminathan returns to Rowland Hall as 4PreK assistant teacher, working alongside Isabelle Buhler, after taking a year off to care for a family member. Mary previously worked as an assistant teacher in 2PreK and 3PreK for six years.

  • Danielle Thomas joins Rowland Hall as the McCarthey Campus emotional support counselor.

  • Chelsea Zussman joins Rowland Hall as the McCarthey Campus assistant nurse.

Beginning School Role Changes

  • Brittney Hansen, previously a 4PreK lead teacher, is now Beginning School assistant principal.

  • Quincy Jackson ’16, previously a teacher aide, is now kindergarten assistant teacher, working alongside Bethany Stephensen.

  • Kelley Journey, previously a kindergarten lead teacher, is now experiential learning specialist.

  • Kathryn Pickford, previously administrative assistant to the Beginning School, is now executive assistant to the head of school and board liaison.

  • Emma Wellman, previously Beginning School principal, has taken on the expanded role of Beginning School and Lower School principal.


Lower School

New or Returning Lower School Faculty and Staff

  • Cheryl Chen joins Rowland Hall as a fourth-grade teacher.

  • Tiya Karaus joins Rowland Hall as a second-grade teacher.

  • Emily Khan joins Rowland Hall as director of learning services (PreK–5).

  • Shawna Love returns to Rowland Hall as McCarthey Campus receptionist after taking time away. Shawna previously worked in this role, and as a substitute teacher, for more than six years.

  • Stuart McCandless returns to Rowland Hall as a fifth-grade teacher after taking an early retirement. Stuart has 19 years of previous teaching experience at Rowland Hall.

  • Torry Montes joins Rowland Hall as a fifth-grade teacher.

  • Danielle Thomas joins Rowland Hall as the McCarthey Campus emotional support counselor.

  • Colleen Thompson joins Rowland Hall as a fifth-grade teacher.

  • Chelsea Zussman joins Rowland Hall as the McCarthey Campus assistant nurse.

Lower School Role Changes

  • Abby Bacon, Spanish teacher, will teach second- through fifth-grade Spanish in 2021–2022.

  • Paulino Beach, Lower School lunch and playground monitor and Upper School assistant boys basketball coach, has added physical education teaching assistant to his roles at the school.

  • Coreen Gililland, Spanish teacher, will teach first-grade Spanish in 2021–2022.

  • Eric Schmitz, who previously taught fourth grade, will teach second grade.

  • Katie Schwab, who previously taught second grade, will teach third grade.

  • Liz Sorensen, who previously taught first grade, will teach second grade.

  • Emma Wellman, previously Beginning School principal, has taken on the expanded role of Beginning School and Lower School principal.

Middle School

New Middle School Faculty and Staff

  • Shauna Brand joins Rowland Hall as middle and upper school theatre teacher.

  • Sam Duffy joins Rowland Hall as a physical education teacher.

  • Caitlin Kennedy joins Rowland Hall as registrar and administrative assistant for the middle and upper schools.
  • 
Brina Serassio joins Rowland Hall as dance ensemble teacher.
  • Jane Singleton joins Rowland Hall as a learning specialist.


Middle School Role Changes

  • Zack Alvidrez, fitness specialist and Middle School basketball and Upper School boys basketball coach, will also take on the role of interim Middle School athletic director.

  • Chad Obermark, previously a fifth-grade teacher in the Lower School, will teach sixth-grade math in the Middle School.


Upper School

New Upper School Faculty and Staff

  • Effy Bentley joins Rowland Hall as French teacher.

  • Shauna Brand joins Rowland Hall as middle and upper school theatre teacher.

  • Carlos Eyzaguirre joins Rowland Hall as debate coaching assistant.

  • Caitlin Kennedy joins Rowland Hall as registrar and administrative assistant for the middle and upper schools.

  • Tascha Knowlton joins Rowland Hall as an Upper School science teacher and ninth-grade advisor.

  • Anthony Pinto joins Rowland Hall as an Upper School math teacher.

  • Padmashree Rida joins Rowland Hall as an Upper School science teacher.
  • Irina Slaughter joins Rowland Hall as an Upper School math teacher.


Upper School Role Changes

  • Samara Bean, previously a member of the Extended Day staff, is now Upper School administrative assistant and receptionist.

  • Ryan Hoglund, director of ethical education, will take on new roles in the Upper School: ninth-grade advisor, Project Action teacher, and Student Council coordinator in partnership with Upper School Principal Ingrid Gustavson.


Rowmark Ski Academy

New or Returning Rowmark Staff

  • Skip Puckett returns to Rowmark as a U16 coach and academic liaison. He previously worked as a Rowmark coach for nine years.

Rowmark Role Changes

  • Brian Morgan, previously men's FIS coach and equipment manager, is now head men's FIS coach and equipment manager.
  • Foreste Peterson, previously women's FIS coach, is now head women's FIS coach and head conditioning coach.
  • Lyndsay Strange, previously U16 coach and academic liaison, is now FIS coach and academic liaison.

People

2021 Sumner Award winner Sara Yoon.

Each year at division commencement ceremonies, Rowland Hall proudly honors faculty who have demonstrated exceptional teaching and mentoring.

Cary Jones Faculty Mentor Award 2021

The Cary Jones Faculty Mentor Award is presented to Rowland Hall faculty members who demonstrate excellence in teaching, serve as mentors to others, and contribute to the Rowland Hall community. This award was established through an anonymous gift to the school in honor of Mr. Jones' dedication to the faculty when he was the chair of the Board of Trustees.

2021 Cary Jones Faculty Mentor Award winners Mary Jo Marker and Chelsea Vasquez.

Though traditionally given to one faculty member each year, this year’s Cary Jones Faculty Mentor Award has been awarded to two: Mary Jo Marker, eighth-grade American studies teacher, and Chelsea Vasquez, eighth-grade English teacher. Dedicated to teamwork, Mary Jo and Chelsea are a dynamic duo in the Middle School, where they have redefined and re-energized their grade-level programs, creating English and American Studies curricula that are challenging and relevant, that set up students for success in Upper School, and that help students become creative, critical thinkers. Mary Jo and Chelsea have also greatly contributed to the school community as colleagues, whether by participating in the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) Committee, leading a Critical Friends Group, mentoring or coaching faculty, covering classes, or helping to organize eighth-grade graduation events. And in a year where time was an incredibly precious resource, they have dedicated a great deal of it to meeting with Upper School teachers to support the transition to ninth grade, continuing to strengthen curriculum alignment between the Middle School and Upper School.

For their dedication to teamwork, particularly in ways that define the values at Rowland Hall—especially relationships matter, welcome everyone, and learn for life—Rowland Hall proudly honors Mary Jo Marker and Chelsea Vasquez with the 2021 Cary Jones Faculty Mentor Award.

Sumner Family Excellence in Teaching Awards

The Sumner Family Excellence in Teaching Award is given each year to an outstanding faculty member in each division who has demonstrated a love for teaching and excellence in their field. The award symbolizes the Sumner family's high regard for Rowland Hall's faculty. Congratulations to the following recipients.

Beginning School: Isabelle Buhler, 4PreK lead teacher

Isabelle Buhler, winner of the 2021 Sumner Family Faculty Award.

Isabelle Buhler exhibits total commitment to her teaching, colleagues, and school—a fact that is no less true today than it was 18 years ago. Her love of her work is infectious. She cherishes each of her students, thoughtfully adjusting her pedagogy, communication style, and curriculum to meet their needs, and delights in building classroom communities of mutual respect, unending curiosity, and collective responsibility. Though she is an accomplished, highly effective educator, Isabelle epitomizes a growth mindset, actively seeking opportunities to improve her work and committing to generously offering kind, clear, and actionable feedback to colleagues. She also serves the wider Rowland Hall community in myriad ways: on committees, as a mentor, as an ombudsperson, and more. During this especially challenging and wild school year, her meaningful contributions and support have kept teammates and families afloat.

Lower School: Abby Bacon, Spanish teacher

Abby Bacon, winner of the 2021 Sumner Family Faculty Award.

Since 2008, Abby Bacon has created a classroom environment of respect and positive rapport, where she keeps students motivated, excited, and engaged, and where they know their feedback and opinions are valued. In addition to teaching Spanish to several Lower School grade levels over the years, Abby has served as yearbook coordinator, co-chaired the Lower School Caring Committee, and acted as one of the fifth-grade advisors for the 2020–2021 school year. She’s also an incredible colleague and collaborator who shares her organization skills, energy, and magnetic personality in caring and dynamic ways, including partnering with colleagues as co-coordinator for the school’s Northwest Association of Independent Schools accreditation self-study and harnessing her passion for inclusivity as co-chair of the faculty and staff JEDI Committee for the past two years.

Middle School: Sarah Yoon, orchestra director

Sara Yoon, winner of the 2021 Sumner Family Faculty Award.

Sarah Yoon is a highly respected and beloved teacher within the Middle School community.  Full of energy and positivity, she sets the bar high for herself and her students, while also building trust in the classroom, on the basketball and volleyball courts, and on the stage. She has single-handedly built an award-winning orchestra program at Rowland Hall, where she regularly brings in guest performers and, this year, helped to organize a very successful and popular Zoom presentation for the eighth grade. She also goes above and beyond in supporting her students, whether that means visiting one of her advisee’s homes if they fall behind with their school work, cooking with students over Zoom, or cheering for student-athletes on the slopes or the sidelines.

Upper School: Doug Wortham, French teacher

Doug Wortham, winner of the 2021 Sumner Family Faculty Award.

Doug Wortham epitomizes what is best about Rowland Hall teachers: a tireless dedication to coaching students to actively engage with their learning and to grow beyond what they thought possible. He has taught all levels of Upper School French, guiding students to mastery and fluency with high standards, hard work, and relationships built on trust and encouragement. Even more than 40 years into his Rowland Hall adventure, Doug possesses a work ethic and nonstop energy that are truly impressive. When the pandemic hit and scrambled teachers’ plans, he continued to learn and adapt, engaging in new ways. In addition to his educator role, Doug is a coach and mentor to colleagues, serving as a sounding board and a wise, impartial mentor, and he is held in the highest esteem by the entire community.

People

Retiring French teacher Doug Wortham with students.

Doug Wortham (pictured top), French teacher, retires after an inspiring 43 years at Rowland Hall. Doug taught all levels of Upper School French, coaxing students to the highest levels of language mastery and fluency through his strong standards, hard work, and relationships built on trust, encouragement, and connection. He also led legendary Interim trips, mentored colleagues, and launched the school’s ombudsperson program. He is held in the highest esteem by the entire community and will long be remembered for his work ethic, nonstop energy, kindness, wisdom, and passion for teaching. “My life’s joys, triumphs, difficult moments, and even profound loss have all been framed by our community, by you,” reflected Doug. “I will always be grateful for all of you under one name, Rowland Hall.” Read alum Johanna Varner’s retirement tribute to Doug.

Paul Christensen, AB Calculus and algebra 2 teacher, retires after an impressive 37 years at Rowland Hall. A respected and beloved teacher, Mr. C was a mentor to legions of students, as well as to his adult colleagues. He will be remembered for his loyalty, wisdom, generosity, and kindness—and for his playful nature (his hilarious memes and jokes served as a bright light for many, particularly during the isolating early days of the pandemic). “Looking back now it all seems a blur, but a blur of rich and satisfying adventures, successes and failures, laughter, and tears,” said Paul. “I am grateful for the dedication, influence, and example of strong and stellar colleagues, present and past. You have challenged my thinking, deepened my emotions, and broadened my perspectives.” Read alum Mary Anne Wetzel’s retirement tribute to Paul.

Debbie Skidmore, nurse assistant, retires after 26 years at Rowland Hall. In addition to her most recent role in the McCarthey Campus nurse’s office, Debbie has also served the Lower School as a lunchroom monitor, recess monitor, and Extended Day support person. She has consistently and eagerly taken on new challenges, and her ability to provide TLC to students, communicate with parents and caregivers, and maintain a positive attitude have left an indelible impression on our community. She will be remembered by students and colleagues as one of the kindest, most thoughtful people they know. Read fourth-grade students Aria A. and Hannah H.’s retirement tribute to Debbie.

Javier Pinedo, chess teacher, retired in fall 2020 after almost 22 years at Rowland Hall. The leader of a nationally renowned chess program, Javier was an outstanding advocate for the benefits of chess as part of Rowland Hall’s curriculum—he not only taught first- through fifth-grade students how to play the game, but he helped them learn essential skills like predicting, problem solving, using empathy, taking risks, and learning from mistakes, which built their confidence (and, as a bonus, resulted in many city, state, and national championships). We sincerely miss him and wish him all the best in this new chapter of life.

I have loved working with all of you to build the community that we enjoy today.—Kathy Gundersen, director of admission

Kathy Gundersen, director of admission, retires after 20 years. Kathy joined Rowland Hall in 2001 as director of admission for the beginning and lower schools before taking on her current role in 2012. Known for her compassion and steadfast commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, Kathy has built incredible relationships during her tenure at Rowland Hall. Every student who has joined our community during the past nine years has been welcomed and supported by Kathy and her team—there are few others in our school whose impact is as broadly felt as hers (read former Head of School Alan’s Sparrow’s memories of working with Kathy). While we will miss her, we are also excited for her to spend more time with her husband, Finn, and their two sons. “I have loved working with all of you to build the community that we enjoy today,” said Kathy.

Beverly Facklam, second-grade teacher, retires after 16 years at Rowland Hall. During her time here, Beverly’s enthusiasm, as well as her enjoyment of young learners, benefited her many students, while her colleagues reaped the benefits of her passion for growth and learning—and her excellent sense of humor. “What a pleasure it has been to be a part of the Rowland Hall community for the past 16 years,” said Beverly. Congratulations!

Sara Dacklin, third-grade teacher, retires after 15 years at Rowland Hall. Sara’s classroom has always been defined by a happy buzz of students, and her focus on relationships, her continual work to improve her teaching practice, and her personal values of respect, kindness, and fun will be missed tremendously in the Lower School. “It has been a privilege to be a part of such a unique community, and for that I am incredibly grateful,” said Sara. We wish her all the best.

Erika McCarthy, fourth-grade teacher, retires after 14 years at Rowland Hall. Erika will be remembered for her natural ability to connect with her students and colleagues. “The past 14 years at Rowland Hall have been absolutely wonderful,” Erika reflected. “I finally found a place where I was with like-minded people, the curriculum was incredibly interesting, and the community was so accepting.” We’ll miss you, Erika!

Chuck White, emotional support counselor, retires after 13 years at Rowland Hall. Since 2008, Chuck taught students in the beginning and lower schools to mindfully recognize and regulate their feelings, resolve conflict, solve problems, and fill friends’ buckets with respect and kindness. We will miss him and his deep care and support for our students. “I have considered it a great privilege to have been a part of this amazing community,” said Chuck.

It has been a privilege to be a part of such a unique community, and for that I am incredibly grateful.—Sara Dacklin, third-grade teacher

Doug Booher, Middle School athletic director and administrative assistant, left Rowland Hall in April 2021 after 12 years to spend more time with family. Our community benefited greatly from Doug's work as a coach, advisor, registrar, athletic director, and champion of kids. A quiet leader and constant advocate for the Middle School, he worked tirelessly behind the scenes to support all students. He is missed!

Allison Spehar, Middle School director of community programs and dance and wellness teacher, left Rowland Hall in January 2021 to become the administrative manager of equity, diversity, and inclusion for Salt Lake City Public Library. During her eight years at Rowland Hall, Allison inspired students in a wide range of disciplines and was instrumental in helping both students and adults enhance their self-awareness, regulation, empathy, and social skills. Many of our programs—including Middle School Advisory and the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) Committee—benefited from Allison's interests, skills, knowledge, and passions.

Brian Birchler, math teacher, leaves Rowland Hall for a new professional opportunity after nearly eight years at the school. Brian taught a variety of subjects in mathematics—most recently geometry and his own Advanced Topics Statistics curriculum—to every grade in the Upper School, served as the Math Department chair, coached mountain biking, and took students to Southern Utah during Interim in previous years. He will be missed by his students and colleagues alike, and we wish him well on his next adventure.

Kait Abraham, lead 4PreK teacher, leaves Rowland Hall after seven years to spend time with her family. Kait joined the Beginning School faculty in 2015, where she first worked in—and dramatically improved—the enrichment program. She transitioned to 4PreK in 2018, where she’s built strong relationships with students (and their families) and supported their learning growth. Kait is exceptionally warm and has a gift for clear and direct communication cushioned with compassion. We will miss her!

Erika Palsson, executive assistant to the head of school and board liaison, will leave Rowland Hall in July 2021, after seven years of service.  Whip-smart, funny, kind, considerate, and caring, Erika is a consummate professional who thinks strategically and always acts in the best interest of the school. We wish her all the best with her new adventures and thank her for everything she has done for Rowland Hall.

Alisa Poppen, biology and chemistry teacher, leaves Rowland Hall for a new opportunity. Alisa taught several levels of biology and chemistry, and, as department chair, was integral to shifting Rowland Hall’s Advanced Placement (AP) classes to Advanced Topics to emphasize lab skills and writing beyond what the AP curriculum allowed and to better prepare students for university-level science classes. Alisa also championed improved lab safety and a significant upgrade of lab equipment and helped kickstart the conversation about curricular and sequence shifts in the science department.

Nick Banyard, network manager, left Rowland Hall after six years in January 2021 to join SpaceX. During his time at the school, he did an incredible job learning the complexities of—as well as updating and streamlining—our networking systems. Nick oversaw large-scale projects, like migrating users to a single-sign-on system and virtualizing servers, as well as utilized his excellent customer service and top-notch technical support skills to help faculty and staff streamline workflows and classrooms.

Jij de Jesus, Lower School principal, leaves Rowland Hall after six years to become the associate head of school at Pluralistic School One in Santa Monica, California. Jij's skill and passion as an educator are undeniable, driven by a vision for what young learners could and should experience at school, along with a knowledge of how to support teachers to bring out the best in everyone. In the six years he led the Lower School, Jij developed student-centered programs like Maker Night and initiatives like Responsive Classroom, hired and coached exceptional faculty and staff, and helped guide the school's critical work in diversity, equity, and inclusion. We will greatly miss his humor, spirit, and intelligence.

Chaleh Thirkill, McCarthey Campus nurse, leaves Rowland Hall after six years. During her time at the school, Chaleh harnessed her experience as a pediatric nurse, as well as her active membership in the Utah School Nurse Association, to provide compassionate care to students, teachers, staff, and parents. A strong advocate for school nursing, Chaleh has positively touched the lives of many. We wish her the best.

Levi Todd, Technology Support Center manager, leaves Rowland Hall for an opportunity in the Jordan School District. During his six years at the school, Levi learned all of Rowland Hall’s technology systems and kept computers and iPads updated and repaired. Known for his excellent customer service skills, Levi greeted Technology Support Center visitors with a smile and was always willing to jump into a new project or task. He will be missed.

I have considered it a great privilege to have been a part of this amazing community.—Chuck White, emotional support counselor

Kelly Hermans, digital communications manager, left Rowland Hall in April 2021 after more than five years to join the Huntsman Cancer Foundation as marketing and communications specialist. Kelly put her signature touch on every project she worked on, applying a sharp, creative, and efficient approach that elevated the work of the Marketing Department. We are grateful to have benefited from her writing, editing, photography, graphic design, and problem-solving skills—not to mention her inside-out knowledge of The Chicago Manual of Style. Best wishes!

Darcy Marvin, McCarthey Campus physical education teacher, leaves Rowland Hall after five years to move with her family to Texas. Darcy taught third through fifth graders, sharing with them her passion for healthy habits, skill mastery, and the thrill of discovering a sport or activity that can be enjoyed for life. Her ability to collaborate with others to incorporate the best physical-education practices and activities for students, as well as her calm demeanor and thoughtfulness, will be missed. We wish her and her family the best in their upcoming adventure.

Courtney Castleton, accounts payable and accounting associate, left Rowland Hall in August 2021 after four years. Courtney played a key role in the Business Office, where she was responsible for processing check requests and invoices, reconciling credit card statements, and making payments to vendors. We wish her the very best! 

Ray Szczepaniak, sixth-grade math teacher, retires from teaching after four years at Rowland Hall. Ray will be remembered as one of the kindest, most humble, and supportive members of the Middle School team. Incredibly thoughtful and generous with his time, Ray has always been willing to work with students to help them realize their mathematical potential, and he’s embraced the challenges of the pandemic by collaborating with his fellow teachers on a new, highly differentiated math program for students. “I came to Utah from Tennessee looking for an adventure at the end of my career, and I found it in the mountains and valleys and the awesome national parks. I expected that,” wrote Ray. “What I didn't expect was to find it in the hearts and minds and spirits of my amazing colleagues. You are adventurous in your curiosity, your openness, and the incredible way you've risen to the challenges of the pandemic. And you share your sense of adventure and wonder and love with your students. I'll always be grateful that you shared it with me as well.”

Graham Flinn, Rowmark head women's U19–21 coach and head conditioning coach, leaves Rowland Hall after three years to become head coach of the US Ski Team men's Development Team. A talented coach, Graham supports athletes, both physically and mentally, within an environment of respect, teamwork, and fun, which also allows his coaching team to gain experience, independence, and confidence. Congratulations to Graham on this new opportunity!

Dr. Mindy Vanderloo, Upper School social-emotional support counselor, left in August 2021 after three years. While at Rowland Hall, Mindy improved divisional and all-school policies and practices around student wellness and mental health, as well as taught skills for supporting students. From SafeUT to the student Mental Health Educators group, to a variety of faculty trainings like QPR and Mental Health First Aid, Mindy leaves a significant and visible legacy. She will be deeply missed.

Darryl Whitaker, Rowmark Junior coach, left Rowland Hall in fall 2020 after more than two years of service to become the program director of the Kirkwood Ski Team in California, a move that also allows him to be closer to family. Darryl was a key member of the Rowmark coaching staff and made a positive impact on the development of our student-athletes.

Bryan Bailey, director of transportation, leaves the school after two years to join Marathon Petroleum. With a strong background in safety, scheduling, and budget management, Bryan has done an outstanding job leading his department, including bringing a keen eye to policy and procedures. We wish him well!

Dr. Kaci Kuntz, chemistry teacher, leaves Rowland Hall after two years for a new opportunity. Kaci taught chemistry and Advanced Topics Chemistry in the Upper School, served as an advisor, and developed research science, a class that gives students an opportunity to work collaboratively in a laboratory to learn the research process and to gain experience in simulation environments, computer programming, data analysis, and a broad cross-section of scientific disciplines. Kaci will continue to partner with the Upper School to maintain this class next year.

Bri LeBreton, Upper School administrative professional and student activities coordinator, leaves the school after two years to become assistant director for diversity at Westminster College. During her time at Rowland Hall, Bri kept the Upper School’s operations, activities, and initiatives running smoothly, as well as worked closely with the Student Council and the student JEDI Committee. We wish her well!

Heather Ernst ’14, McCarthey Campus receptionist, leaves the school after one year. In addition to her most recent role as morning receptionist, Heather previously worked as a SummerWorks counselor and as a lunch/recess monitor. Her bright personality, excellent communication, and organization skills have benefited Rowland Hall during a challenging school year. We wish her the best!

Dave Wood ’05, support teacher, left Rowland Hall in late May 2021 to become the outdoor programs coordinator for Salt Lake County. He was an integral support to the school during the 2020–2021 year, where he filled in as chess teacher, substitute teacher, classroom teacher assistant, and Winter Sports facilitator. His many talents have served us well, and the Lower School is endlessly grateful for Dave’s support. Best of luck in your new role!

People

Rowland Hall Doug Wortham, who is retiring after 43 years of teaching at the Salt Lake City school.

By Johanna Varner ’02

Doug Wortham’s reputation preceded him – how could it not?

Even 25 years ago, he was legendary for being the hardest teacher in the Upper School. Before we started, everyone in freshman French had heard the stories from friends or siblings. Even our Middle School French teacher warned us that our lives would become much more...difficile. To say that we were terrified would be an understatement.

Mr. Wortham is that rare teacher who has the highest expectations but is somehow still everyone’s favorite.—Allyson Goldstein Hicks ’02

And most of those stories were true. I worked harder for Doug's classes than for any other teacher or professor since. Indeed, his French program is widely regarded as “one of the most challenging and scholarly" programs available at Rowland Hall, an institution generally renowned for being challenging and scholarly. But what those stories left out was the profound impact that his classes would have on us. In addition to actually learning French, an amazing accomplishment itself, we also learned to think deeply, to engage with difficult topics, to recover from failure, and to live authentically in a challenging and unpredictable world.

For the past 43 years, I imagine that all of Doug’s students (and probably also our parents and caregivers) have wondered how he motivated us to work so hard...and actually like it. My classmate Allyson Goldstein Hicks ’02 commented, “Mr. Wortham is that rare teacher who has the highest expectations but is somehow still everyone’s favorite.” 

As an educator now myself, I have also often considered how he managed that feat, and writing this story provided me an opportunity to reflect on my experiences. I also polled my fellow class of 2002 alumni, and together, we pieced together some answers.

Members of the class of 2002 with French teacher Doug Wortham.

Members of the class of 2002 with Doug at graduation. Back row (left to right): Sarah Stevens Canfield, Johanna Varner, Nicole Pershing; middle row: Bryan Lence, Maribeth LeHoux, Doug Wortham; front row: Vanessa Clayton, Michael Reynolds, Allyson Goldstein Hicks. Photo courtesy Johanna Varner.

First, Doug always treated us with adult-like respect and expected the same in return. “Wortham always treated us not only like students, but also mini-adults, which we hardly were,” wrote Maribeth LeHoux ’02. He took the time to get to know each of us, respected our confidences, and earned our trust and respect in return. “Mr. Wortham had a unique way of seeing the teenage version of yourself, meeting you at that place, and subtly supporting each student to become the best version of themselves,” commented Nicole Pershing ’02. He trusted us with personal stories about his life experiences in the gay community, or that we would not get into trouble when given adult privileges travelling abroad. This was a rare experience for many of us, and it made a lasting impression.

In addition, Doug taught us to be prepared for anything—indeed, it was a requisite survival skill for his classes. Whatever we did, the instructions were clear, and we were evaluated fairly. But the day's activity could range from writing a philosophical essay or conjugating verbs until you could no longer hold a pencil, to translating song lyrics, reading a story aloud, or discussing death and religion. Perhaps the most unpredictable activity of all was compétition. In this activity, we had to literally run our answers to the front of the room. Because the first correct answer received the most points, nobody hesitated to throw elbows or even swan-dive across Doug’s desk with their submissions. (Nobody was seriously injured, but I am sure minor bruises were common). “I was always slightly terrified to go to class,” said Maribeth. “It was challenging in a way nothing else was. Even if you studied, how could you ever be prepared?” 

Doug also set the bar high and had faith that we would rise to the challenge. I continued French in college, and none of the classes that I took at MIT or Harvard rivaled Doug’s in terms of challenge, rigor, or reward. Allyson, who majored in French, agreed. “Mr. Wortham’s classes were some of the most challenging, fun, and impactful classes I have ever taken,” she wrote. At age 16, we tackled the great classics of French existentialist literature. We unpacked all the layered metaphors of La Peste by Camus and Huis Clos by Sartre. We even had to memorize and perform an entire act of Ionesco’s play Rhinocéros. We weren’t always successful at first, but Doug always offered patient, graceful, compassionate, respectful, clear, and constructive feedback so that we could understand the assignment and his expectations. “Because of my experiences in his class, I knew after a stumble (literal or metaphorical) I could get back up and keep going,” wrote Nicole. “Those challenges brought us together with shared triumphs that forged friendships.”

Doug Wortham with students at a cooking class in Montreal.

Doug, far left, with Rowland Hall students at a cooking class in Montreal during a 2002 Interim trip. Photo courtesy Johanna Varner.

Perhaps the most important thing about Doug’s classes was that we didn’t just learn French. We learned about politics and governments, religion and philosophy, ethics and morality. We learned how to live authentically. We learned how to respect the worldviews of others, and we developed the courage to speak up in the face of la mauvaise foi.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Doug's courses were deeply relevant to our lives, then and now. We did not just learn how to conjugate verbs, use the subjunctive tense, or memorize vocabulary. We also were tested on colorful slang expressions, pop lyrics, and current events. We traveled to use our language skills in Canada, France, and Belgium. And perhaps the most important thing about Doug’s classes was that we didn’t just learn French. We learned about politics and governments, religion and philosophy, ethics and morality. We learned how to live authentically. We learned how to respect the worldviews of others, and we developed the courage to speak up in the face of la mauvaise foi

“Doug Wortham is the sort of teacher they depict in movies,” said Bryan Lence ’02. “He expected so much of his students. He taught about different world views, governmental structures, culture, and philosophy. He just happened to teach it all in French.” Vanessa Clayton ’02 added, “I’ve always thought that that class taught us more about life than anything.” 

Of course, we also actually got really good at French. “By the time I graduated, I could travel abroad and speak the language, read the language, and feel comfortable,” wrote Bryan. “Twenty years later, I can still read and understand.” Most of us can still recite lyrics to the songs we memorized too. And the other lessons will last a lifetime. Nicole agreed: “My French may have gotten rusty in the last 20 years, but I use the life skills, compassion, and determination that I learned in Doug’s classes every day.”

We also relished passing on those scare stories to our siblings and their friends. Like Mike “Blanquette” Reynolds’ ’02 memories of “writing conjugations until our hands went numb, shaking it out, and then repeating the process for 45 more minutes.” Or Sarah Lappé’s ’02 recollection of “that stylo rouge [red pen] destroying my sentences after I handed my paper in last.” These stories may not be used anymore to heckle future generations of incoming freshmen about the challenges that lie ahead, but I am confident that Doug Wortham will remain a legend at Rowland Hall. My classmates and I all wish Doug the best for his well-earned retirement.


Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been unable to celebrate our departing colleagues as we customarily would. We are planning an on-campus gathering on Saturday, August 28, to honor those who worked at Rowland Hall for 20 or more years and left the school in 2020 or 2021.

People

You Belong at Rowland Hall