Custom Class: post-landing-hero

What he’s been reading, what he'd do if he weren’t an educator, and why he wants to know what you hope for

In June, Board Chair Jennifer Price-Wallin announced the appointment of Michael “Mick” Gee as Rowland Hall’s next head of school. A native of the UK, Mick has over 20 years of leadership experience in independent schools and currently serves as the head of Allendale Columbia School in Rochester, New York. While Mick won’t begin his headship here until July 1, 2020, his wife, Amy, and daughter, Madeleine, became Salt Lake City residents in August so Madeleine could join Rowland Hall’s class of 2021.
 
We caught up with Mick while he was fishing at the Finger Lakes in New York during the summer. Read on to learn more about what he’s been reading, what work he might do if he weren’t an educator, and why he wants to know what you hope for. 

This Q&A has been edited for length and style.


We know you are an avid soccer player. What role does soccer play in your life?

With soccer, I love the competitive element. I love the team sport. I love the camaraderie, and I love playing the game.

I think if I was asked to describe myself, I would say athlete first rather than teacher. Or, it would be close. I come from a football-mad country, and I’ve been playing since I was eight, competitively. There are two things I do that, when I’m doing them, I don’t think about anything else. Fishing is one, and soccer is the other. 

With soccer, I love the competitive element. I love the team sport. I love the camaraderie, and I love playing the game. I think I got better as I got older, too, even though I played at a pretty high level when I was 18. Now I play with the over-30 and over-40 guys, which keeps the challenge up for me. I’ve played in competitive leagues in Nottingham, London, Pittsburgh, and Rochester, and hopefully next, Salt Lake City. 

If you didn’t work in education, what kind of work would you do?

If I wasn’t going to be a professional soccer player—and I think those days are gone—I like the idea of professional DJing as well. There’s a guy called Pete Tong who runs the BBC Radio 1 dance show, DJing all over the country. That’s a great job. I like the technical, scientific side to it. 

Growing up, I wanted to be a veterinary surgeon—also a technical, scientific career.

Tell us about your funniest memory from your days as a classroom teacher.

This round-bottomed glass flask fell off of the reflux, bounced off the desk and the bench, kicked over the flame and poured right onto me, setting my trousers on fire.

True story: I was teaching chemistry in England when I first started out, in a public school, with classes of 28 students. When you're teaching chemistry, the lab safety requires extra attention. One of the rules was that you couldn’t sit down during labs, so if anything spilled, you could quickly get out of the way.

So with one class of eighth graders—not the most forgiving crowd— I was demonstrating a fractional distillation (separating different alcohols from each other by boiling point). As I was doing it, I asked the class, “What’s one of the rules? Is there anything I’m doing wrong?” And one of the kids said, “Yeah, you’re sitting down. You can’t get out of the way.” As he said it, this round-bottomed glass flask fell off of the reflux, bounced off the desk and the bench, kicked over the flame and poured right onto me, setting my trousers on fire. The kids thought it was set up, like a way of teaching them a lesson. Then when they saw the look of panic on my face, they realized.

I'm lucky because alcohol burns off before the material burns, so I had a few seconds to recover. But I was running around with my trousers on fire because I didn’t do what I told the kids to do. 

It wasn’t really funny at the time, but it’s funny now. 

Gee family

Immediately above: Head-elect Mick Gee and wife Amy Gee with daughter Madeleine, center, a member of Rowland Hall's class of 2021.
Top of page: Mick is still an avid soccer player. Here he is (front row, third from left) with his 1983–1984 sixth form college soccer team, which made it to England’s final four.

I’m interested in giving kids a chance to really flourish in something, and maybe not do as much of the must-do stuff.

What’s the last book you read that impacted you strongly, and why?

The End of Average by Todd Rose. The premise of the book is essentially that we teach to the middle, we teach to the average, and it's a pretty prescriptive curriculum, right? We don't give kids or adults the chance to dive into things because we tell them you have to do four years of that subject and three years of this and two years of that. Every school does it. So what I’ve been trying to do in education in the last few years is explore what we can do instead of what we must do. I’m interested in giving kids a chance to really flourish in something, and maybe not do as much of the must-do stuff. 

What is one piece of great advice you received as an educator? Who gave it to you, and why did it resonate?

One that’s stuck with me came from Tom King, who was the head of school at Sutton Centre, a community-based school near Nottingham. The kids at that school were on top of you, and they were from really disadvantaged backgrounds, and at times, they were dangerous. I once had to disarm a kid who came into my class with a baseball bat. It was an interesting environment.

Tom King always talked about being good on the stairs. And what he meant by that was: you have to be able to deal with the unknown. You can be brilliantly planned, but if you’re not good on the stairs, you’re not going to succeed. And the kids won’t respect you just because you’re the teacher—you have to earn their respect. You have to talk to them on their terms and you have to show them that you care about them. You always have to earn people’s respect: you do it as a teacher, you do it with opposition soccer players, you do it as a coach. 

About one year out from officially becoming the head of Rowland Hall, what is one question you’d like to pose to our community?

Ultimately we’re in the hope business, and we have more control of building that hope at independent schools.

The question I asked the search committee during my semifinalist interview was: what do you hope for? I wonder about that. We have our polished marketing materials and curriculum guides, but, what do we hope for our graduates? I keep thinking about that because I have a daughter who is going to graduate from Rowland Hall, and so I wonder what the people at the school hope for her, and how those hopes match up with her own. 

I think we don’t ask ourselves that enough—we talk about what we’re going to teach, and we look for a good college, and so on. But ultimately we’re in the hope business, and we have more control of building that hope at independent schools. So when our graduates walk out the door of Rowland Hall, what do we hope for? Probably everything, I imagine.

Community

Q&A With Head-Elect Mick Gee

What he’s been reading, what he'd do if he weren’t an educator, and why he wants to know what you hope for

In June, Board Chair Jennifer Price-Wallin announced the appointment of Michael “Mick” Gee as Rowland Hall’s next head of school. A native of the UK, Mick has over 20 years of leadership experience in independent schools and currently serves as the head of Allendale Columbia School in Rochester, New York. While Mick won’t begin his headship here until July 1, 2020, his wife, Amy, and daughter, Madeleine, became Salt Lake City residents in August so Madeleine could join Rowland Hall’s class of 2021.
 
We caught up with Mick while he was fishing at the Finger Lakes in New York during the summer. Read on to learn more about what he’s been reading, what work he might do if he weren’t an educator, and why he wants to know what you hope for. 

This Q&A has been edited for length and style.


We know you are an avid soccer player. What role does soccer play in your life?

With soccer, I love the competitive element. I love the team sport. I love the camaraderie, and I love playing the game.

I think if I was asked to describe myself, I would say athlete first rather than teacher. Or, it would be close. I come from a football-mad country, and I’ve been playing since I was eight, competitively. There are two things I do that, when I’m doing them, I don’t think about anything else. Fishing is one, and soccer is the other. 

With soccer, I love the competitive element. I love the team sport. I love the camaraderie, and I love playing the game. I think I got better as I got older, too, even though I played at a pretty high level when I was 18. Now I play with the over-30 and over-40 guys, which keeps the challenge up for me. I’ve played in competitive leagues in Nottingham, London, Pittsburgh, and Rochester, and hopefully next, Salt Lake City. 

If you didn’t work in education, what kind of work would you do?

If I wasn’t going to be a professional soccer player—and I think those days are gone—I like the idea of professional DJing as well. There’s a guy called Pete Tong who runs the BBC Radio 1 dance show, DJing all over the country. That’s a great job. I like the technical, scientific side to it. 

Growing up, I wanted to be a veterinary surgeon—also a technical, scientific career.

Tell us about your funniest memory from your days as a classroom teacher.

This round-bottomed glass flask fell off of the reflux, bounced off the desk and the bench, kicked over the flame and poured right onto me, setting my trousers on fire.

True story: I was teaching chemistry in England when I first started out, in a public school, with classes of 28 students. When you're teaching chemistry, the lab safety requires extra attention. One of the rules was that you couldn’t sit down during labs, so if anything spilled, you could quickly get out of the way.

So with one class of eighth graders—not the most forgiving crowd— I was demonstrating a fractional distillation (separating different alcohols from each other by boiling point). As I was doing it, I asked the class, “What’s one of the rules? Is there anything I’m doing wrong?” And one of the kids said, “Yeah, you’re sitting down. You can’t get out of the way.” As he said it, this round-bottomed glass flask fell off of the reflux, bounced off the desk and the bench, kicked over the flame and poured right onto me, setting my trousers on fire. The kids thought it was set up, like a way of teaching them a lesson. Then when they saw the look of panic on my face, they realized.

I'm lucky because alcohol burns off before the material burns, so I had a few seconds to recover. But I was running around with my trousers on fire because I didn’t do what I told the kids to do. 

It wasn’t really funny at the time, but it’s funny now. 

Gee family

Immediately above: Head-elect Mick Gee and wife Amy Gee with daughter Madeleine, center, a member of Rowland Hall's class of 2021.
Top of page: Mick is still an avid soccer player. Here he is (front row, third from left) with his 1983–1984 sixth form college soccer team, which made it to England’s final four.

I’m interested in giving kids a chance to really flourish in something, and maybe not do as much of the must-do stuff.

What’s the last book you read that impacted you strongly, and why?

The End of Average by Todd Rose. The premise of the book is essentially that we teach to the middle, we teach to the average, and it's a pretty prescriptive curriculum, right? We don't give kids or adults the chance to dive into things because we tell them you have to do four years of that subject and three years of this and two years of that. Every school does it. So what I’ve been trying to do in education in the last few years is explore what we can do instead of what we must do. I’m interested in giving kids a chance to really flourish in something, and maybe not do as much of the must-do stuff. 

What is one piece of great advice you received as an educator? Who gave it to you, and why did it resonate?

One that’s stuck with me came from Tom King, who was the head of school at Sutton Centre, a community-based school near Nottingham. The kids at that school were on top of you, and they were from really disadvantaged backgrounds, and at times, they were dangerous. I once had to disarm a kid who came into my class with a baseball bat. It was an interesting environment.

Tom King always talked about being good on the stairs. And what he meant by that was: you have to be able to deal with the unknown. You can be brilliantly planned, but if you’re not good on the stairs, you’re not going to succeed. And the kids won’t respect you just because you’re the teacher—you have to earn their respect. You have to talk to them on their terms and you have to show them that you care about them. You always have to earn people’s respect: you do it as a teacher, you do it with opposition soccer players, you do it as a coach. 

About one year out from officially becoming the head of Rowland Hall, what is one question you’d like to pose to our community?

Ultimately we’re in the hope business, and we have more control of building that hope at independent schools.

The question I asked the search committee during my semifinalist interview was: what do you hope for? I wonder about that. We have our polished marketing materials and curriculum guides, but, what do we hope for our graduates? I keep thinking about that because I have a daughter who is going to graduate from Rowland Hall, and so I wonder what the people at the school hope for her, and how those hopes match up with her own. 

I think we don’t ask ourselves that enough—we talk about what we’re going to teach, and we look for a good college, and so on. But ultimately we’re in the hope business, and we have more control of building that hope at independent schools. So when our graduates walk out the door of Rowland Hall, what do we hope for? Probably everything, I imagine.

Community

Explore More Staff 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

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

Retiring Rowland Hall Director of Admission Kathy Gundersen with colleagues.

By Alan Sparrow, Former Head of School

When Kathy Gundersen first arrived to interview at Rowland Hall in 2001, we knew instantly that she belonged.

Her commitment to caring for children and her deeply held beliefs about the value of education were impressive, as was her passion for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Although her prior experience in education was as an upper school history teacher, Kathy relished the challenge of working in admissions—and her classroom experience turned out to be invaluable in that area. First as the director of admission for our beginning and lower schools, and then after taking over as director for the entire school in 2012, Kathy could always articulate beautifully to parents and students our educational mission and philosophy. 

During her 20 years of service, Kathy transformed our Admissions Office, transitioning to a digital application process while weathering the ups and downs of the Great Recession and, most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic. And no matter how busy she was or what circumstances she found herself in, Kathy found time to talk—and listen—to everyone she encountered: applicants, current students and parents, colleagues, alumni, and so on. According to alumna and Assistant Director of Admission Mary Anne Wetzel ’01, "Kathy's tireless commitment to make a personal connection with every new student and family has made hundreds of members of our community feel welcome. She has been an example and mentor to me throughout my time working at Rowland Hall."

Kathy's legacy is perhaps best summed up by this philosophy: she doesn't admit a student to Rowland Hall—she admits a family.

Kathy's legacy is perhaps best summed up by this philosophy: she doesn't admit a student to Rowland Hall—she admits a family. Her personal approach has been her greatest strength, and the relationships she's built with parents and students extended far beyond their first day on campus. Families know that Kathy genuinely cares about their children and their progress, and they could have deep conversations about important and personal things with her. If a student hit a bit of a speed bump during their first six months at school, a new parent would often call Kathy as a first point of contact. She knew how to reassure parents that we were there to help, and then connect them with the right person to help solve whatever problem had arisen. 

It is one thing to say that you care about students, and another to demonstrate that care, which Kathy has done consistently throughout her time at Rowland Hall. In fact, I cannot remember an event I attended, whether a play, dance, or music concert, graduation, championship game, or student speech, where Kathy was not also there. And simply attending events was not sufficient for Kathy to show her support—she always went out of her way the next day to congratulate the students on an outstanding performance.

Kathy's dedication to our community is matched by her humility regarding success: anytime she exceeded enrollment goals, Kathy gave credit to her team and the entire school community for their hard work. And even now, at the end of a pandemic year and as she approaches retirement, Kathy is still fully engaged as an ambassador for Rowland Hall. As Chief Information Officer Patrick Godfrey said, "In true Kathy Gundersen style, she is admitting students to the school right up to her last day!"

Kathy's impact on students and families will be felt for generations, especially when it comes to making our community more diverse. She has always been a relentless advocate for recruiting underrepresented students to Rowland Hall and finding pathways for everyone to attend. Her definition of diversity is broad, encompassing socioeconomic, racial, ethnic, political, gender, geographic, and religious diversity, and she truly cares about making all people feel welcome and heard. 

Working at Rowland Hall was never just a job to Kathy—it was a mission, and a way to make the world a better, more inclusive, and hopeful place for everyone.

Working at Rowland Hall was never just a job to Kathy—it was a mission, and a way to make the world a better, more inclusive, and hopeful place for everyone. Patrick has worked with her for her entire tenure at the school and described it this way: "Every decision Kathy has made, every program she has led, and every meeting she has been in during her tenure at Rowland Hall, caring about our students has been at the center." It is hard to imagine what our community would be like without Kathy's contributions over the past two decades.

Kathy has also been an incredible friend to me, and to many of her colleagues, taking the time to learn about our personal lives and interests. As she heads into retirement, I wish her many happy days traveling and exploring with her husband, Finn, sons Nick and Lars, and the countless friends she has made throughout her life—including those of the canine variety. As Mary Anne said, "If you have ever had the good fortune to engage in a conversation with her about dogs, you know it reveals the size of her heart...it's as big as a Great Dane."

Congratulations to Kathy, from your colleagues, friends, and the hundreds of families you have skillfully guided into the Rowland Hall community. Thank you for 20 wonderful years.


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

Rowland Hall Nurse Assistant Debbie Skidmore, who is retiring after the 2020–2021 school year.

By Aria A. and Hannah H.

This month, after 26 years at Rowland Hall, Debbie Skidmore—known as Nurse Debbie to students—will retire. In addition to her most recent role as McCarthey Campus nurse assistant, Debbie has worked as a Lower School lunchroom monitor, recess monitor, and Extended Day support person. In honor of her retirement, fourth graders Aria A. and Hannah H. recently sat down with Debbie to chat about her time at Rowland Hall and what she’s looking forward to in the next chapter of her life.


Debbie has been a nurse at Rowland Hall for over 20 years! I think students at Rowland Hall will miss her very much and this will be a reminder of how great she was. We will always keep her in our hearts. We will never ever forget Debbie.

How did you start working here?

A good friend of mine in 1994 told me that she was going to be quitting lunchroom duty and asked me if I wanted to take her place, and I had never heard of Rowland Hall before and it sounded cool.

What was your most memorable moment working here?

I just love Rowland Hall.—Debbie Skidmore, retiring nurse assistant

One time a fifth grade girl fell off the monkey bars and she broke her arm, and that was the first time I ever saw a broken arm before. It went straight, and then in a U shape, and then straight. And because children’s bones are soft that’s what happened.

How has this community impacted you?

It just enlightened my mind of possibilities and high standards of how to treat children, and I just love Rowland Hall.

What will you miss most about Rowland Hall?

Just helping the children and making them feel happy when they’re feeling sad, especially the little kids. I would close the blinds, and let them lay down, and when it’s time to go back to class they’re all happy.

What are you looking forward to most about being retired?

Playing with my grandchildren; learning how to cook better food, healthier food; being healthier; and doing deeds in my neighborhood, helping my neighbors.

Fourth-grade students Hannah H. and Aria A., who interviewed retiring nurse assistant Debbie Skidmore.

Debbie, Hannah, and Aria on the McCarthey Campus.


Nurse Debbie is an AWESOME person. Everyone at Rowland Hall will miss her. We are very thankful to have had her in our lives.


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