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

Katie Williams, first-grade homeroom teacher

Rowland Hall is thrilled to welcome students and families to the 2022–2023 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 2022 for a list of those not returning for this school year.) Be sure to check back, as this list will continue to be updated during the school year.

Administration and Staff

New Staff

  • Teal Beltran joins Rowland Hall as an all-school nurse.
  • Marlee Brown joins Rowland Hall as the advancement services manager. 
  • Cassie Ford joins Rowland Hall as the payroll/benefits specialist.
  • Braden Morrill joins Rowland Hall as the director of annual giving.
  • Nicholas Renzo joins Rowland Hall as the director of people.

Administration and Staff Role Changes

  • Alec Baden, formerly director of transportation, is now director of transportation and safety.
  • Lindsay Carver, formerly the director of the Annual Fund, is now director of major gifts.
  • Brittney Hansen ’02, formerly the Beginning School assistant principal, is now a Beginning School and Lower School assistant principal.
  • Eric Schmitz, formerly a second-grade teacher, is now a Beginning School and Lower School assistant principal.
  • Gita Varner ’05, formerly the manager of COVID campus response and safety, is now the operations project manager.

Beginning School

New Beginning School Faculty and Staff

  • Jordan Capps joins Rowland Hall as a 4PreK assistant teacher, working alongside Lauren Augusta.
  • Jenn Carrino joins Rowland Hall as an assistant kindergarten teacher, working alongside Melanie Robbins.
  • Julianne Harmon joins Rowland Hall as a McCarthey Campus librarian.
  • Deborah Wright joins Rowland Hall as the McCarthey Campus emotional support counselor.

Beginning School Role Changes

  • Melinda Canfield, formerly a long-term substitute teacher and classroom aide, is now a three-day 3PreK assistant teacher, working alongside Gail Rose.
  • Mary Grace Ellison, formerly a kindergarten assistant teacher, is now a lead kindergarten teacher.
  • Emma Shear, formerly the Beginning School associate teacher, is now an assistant kindergarten teacher, working alongside Mary Grace Ellison.
  • Ella Slaker, formerly a 4PreK assistant teacher, is now a 4PreK lead teacher.
  • Vicki Smith, formerly a kindergarten assistant teacher, is now a McCarthey Campus librarian.

Lower School

New Lower School Faculty and Staff

  • Jenn Anderson joins Rowland Hall as the Lower School learning specialist.
  • Julianne Harmon joins Rowland Hall as a McCarthey Campus librarian.
  • Meredith Johnson joins Rowland Hall as a third-grade teacher.
  • Sam Johnson joins Rowland Hall as a fifth-grade teacher.
  • Lexi Kemp joins Rowland Hall as a third-grade teacher.
  • Fabian Liesner joins Rowland Hall as a part-time Lower School PE teacher.
  • Nico Napolski joins Rowland Hall as the Lower School science specialist.
  • Deborah Wright joins Rowland Hall as the McCarthey Campus emotional support counselor.

Lower School Role Changes

  • Vicki Smith, formerly a kindergarten assistant teacher, is now a McCarthey Campus librarian.
  • Katie Williams, pictured top, formerly a kindergarten lead teacher, is now a first-grade teacher.

Middle School

New Middle School Faculty and Staff

  • Sophia Cutrubus ’18 joins Rowland Hall as a part-time middle and upper school dance teacher.
  • Mindy Leo joins Rowland Hall as a part-time academic support counselor.
  • Jon Poll joins Rowland Hall as a computer science teacher.
  • Brady Smith joins Rowland Hall as the eighth-grade English teacher.
  • Dan Trockman joins Rowland Hall as the sixth-grade science teacher.

Middle School Role Changes

  • Zack Alvidrez, formerly the interim Middle School athletic director, is now assistant athletic director.
  • Molly Lewis, formerly a sixth-grade math and science teacher, is now the middle and upper school ceramics teacher.

Upper School

New and Returning Upper School Faculty

  • Brian Birchler returns to Rowland Hall as a part-time Upper School math teacher.
  • Paul Christensen returns to Rowland Hall as a part-time Upper School math teacher.
  • Sophia Cutrubus ’18 joins Rowland Hall as a part-time middle and upper school dance teacher.
  • Brenna Thomas joins Rowland Hall as an Upper School math teacher and ninth-grade advisor.

Upper School Role Changes

  • Zack Alvidrez, formerly the interim Middle School athletic director, is now assistant athletic director.
  • Molly Lewis, formerly a sixth-grade math and science teacher, is now the middle and upper school ceramics teacher.

Rowmark Ski Academy

New and Returning Rowmark Staff

Rowmark Role Changes

  • Brian Morgan, formerly head men's FIS coach and equipment manager, is now head men's and women's FIS coach.

People

Rowland Hall Beginning School teacher Vicki Smith bids farewell to the school in 2022, after 13 years of service.

Carolyn Uhle, director of human resources, leaves Rowland Hall after 29 years. In addition to her most recent role, Carolyn also served as Lower School administrative assistant and accounts payable and payroll associate. As director of human resources, she was instrumental in building the school’s human resource practice, supporting faculty and staff, and ensuring that the school meets employment laws and regulations. Carolyn has brought to her work a genuine love of people, a deep care for the school, and a sense of humor. "I'm looking forward to being able to spend time with my family, follow my passions, and create new adventures,” she said. Read Carolyn’s retirement tribute.

Stuart McCandless (pictured top), fifth-grade teacher, is re-retiring after an encore year. Stuart first began teaching at Rowland Hall in 2001, retired for the 2020–2021 school year, and returned for 2021–2022. During these years, Stuart has impacted hundreds of fifth-grade students and their families and built strong classroom communities that foster deep and careful thinking, teamwork, and personal growth. He’s looking forward to spending more time with his wife, Peggy, in retirement, and we hope to have him back as a substitute from time to time.

Lori Miller, Lower School assistant principal, is retiring after 15 years of dedicated service to the beginning and lower schools. This year, she supported the new academic leadership team on the McCarthey Campus as Lower School assistant principal, but has spent most of her time at Rowland Hall as the director of learning services. Lori is a phenomenal resource, loved for her presence, humanity, and ardent encouragement for others. We are thrilled she'll have time for more travel, gardening, and being with her dear ones. She will be missed.

Andrea Beckman, Middle School administrative assistant, left Rowland Hall at the end of March, after nearly 14 years at the school, for an opportunity at Huntsman Cancer Institute. The heart and soul of the Middle School, Andrea worked tirelessly behind the scenes to support the entire division. She handled difficult situations with grace and professionalism and never said no to a colleague or friend in need. Her humor, kindness, and team spirit will be missed, and we look forward to seeing her at community events.

Beth Ott, 4PreK assistant teacher, leaves Rowland Hall after 13 years. Beth worked as an assistant teacher in both 4PreK and kindergarten, and was also the director of auxiliary programs for 10 years. Extraordinarily kind, patient, self-reflective, even-keeled, and curious, Beth is a cherished colleague, teacher, mentor, and friend, and she will be missed.

Dan Mitchell, middle and upper school ceramics teacher, leaves Rowland Hall after 12 years. Many students have repeatedly taken Dan’s classes, developing into skilled, masterful ceramicists, and many more have benefited from the welcoming, calming atmosphere of his classroom. We will miss Dan’s commitment to his craft and his ability to connect with students—not to mention his incredible T-shirt collection, music, storytelling, and love of cars.

Garrett Alberico, bus driver, resigned in September 2021 after 10 years with the school. He’ll be remembered for his years of hard work and his dedication to Rowland Hall and our families.

Linda Tatomer, Lower School assistant principal, left Rowland Hall in November 2021 after nearly 10 combined years at the school. In addition to this most recent role, Linda previously served as the Lower School specialty principal, the Lower School assistant principal, and a Middle School teacher. She had returned to Rowland Hall in the shared assistant principal role to support the transition to a new team of leaders in the beginning and lower schools.

I am very proud to have worked at Rowland Hall and with such outstanding colleagues.—Cheryl Birt, retiring McCarthey Campus library

Cheryl Birt, McCarthey Campus librarian, retires after eight years at Rowland Hall. Her dedication, organization, and welcoming smile will be missed. “I am very proud to have worked at Rowland Hall and with such outstanding colleagues,” she said.

Charles Cain departs Rowland Hall after eight years to work for his family's business. During his time at the school, Charles made delicious meals in the Lincoln Street Campus cafeteria during the school year and helped the McCarthey Campus operations team during summers. He was generous in his treatment of faculty, staff, students, and visitors alike, leading by example the many young employees who worked alongside him, and always giving his best and bringing pride to his day-to-day routine.

Emina Alibegović, Upper School mathematics teacher, leaves after six years at Rowland Hall. As Math Department chair, Emina led the redesign of the math curriculum, incorporating an integrated sequence and expanded curricular pathways for students of all abilities and interests. Committed to student and peer success, she has served as an advisor, led professional development work, initiated Friday hikes with students, and was in the vanguard when the school pivoted to distance learning in 2020. We’ll miss her energy, expertise, and commitment.

Trina Empey, student accounts manager, left Rowland Hall in December 2021 to relocate out of state, though she continued to support the school into March. Over the last six years, Trina developed strong relationships with families, streamlined the school’s billing and collection processes, and significantly reduced receivables. She always kept the needs of students and families at the center of her work, and brought a lot of laughter to the office.

Lyndsay Strange, Rowmark Ski Academy FIS coach, leaves Rowland Hall after six years to move to Washington State, where she will pursue new opportunities and adventures. Lyndsay has held multiple roles with Rowmark, bringing infectious positive energy, deep knowledge of all aspects of Alpine ski coaching, and an unwavering passion to find the next bottomless powder turn. She always kept it fun while pushing athletes to reach their potential and will be missed.

Chelsea Vasquez, eighth-grade English teacher, leaves Rowland Hall for new adventures after six years at the school. During her time here, Chelsea taught seventh- and eighth-grade English, and she will be remembered as a kind, caring, funny, humble, smart, and passionate teacher and a champion of all students—connecting with them, advocating for them, and inspiring them. She will be greatly missed.

Carly Biedul, Lower School science teacher, leaves Rowland Hall after five years. Carly joined the Lower School team as a long-term substitute in 2017, and has gotten elementary students fired up about science ever since. A dynamic and knowledgeable educator, Carly will be remembered for her humor, warmth, and energy. We wish her well as she finds her next grand adventure.

Kate Ferguson, Steiner Library assistant, leaves Rowland Hall after five years. Kate has been an integral part of the library, welcoming students and sparking joy for books and stories, and she brought warmth, deep knowledge, and a terrific sense of humor to her work. Though we will miss Kate as a full-time staff member, she will continue to be part of the community as a substitute teacher next year.

Niure Damico, advancement services manager, leaves for a new opportunity after nearly five years at the school. In addition to her support of the Advancement Department, Niure was an Upper School advisor and, prior to this year, worked as the Upper School administrative professional. We wish her the best of luck.

Matthew Collins, third-grade teacher, leaves Rowland Hall for a new opportunity after four years at the school. During his time here, Matthew has held many roles: fourth-grade teacher, third-grade teacher, ombudsperson, Strategic Plan Implementation Committee member, instructional coach, and Lower School representative on the Strategic Priority Task Force. A skilled and thoughtful educator, Matthew is admired by all who know him. He will be sincerely missed.

Jacade Narcisse, bus driver, left Rowland Hall in December 2021 after a combined four years at the school. Those lucky enough to cross paths with Jacade know of his genuine kindness, extended to everyone he meets, and hard work and dedication to Rowland Hall and our families.

Kirsten White leaves Rowland Hall after four years to work closer to home and better support the needs of her family at this time. During her time at the school, Kirsten worked in the Beginning School Enrichment program, for Extended Day, and as a 3PreK Assistant Teacher. We have so enjoyed having Kirsten on the faculty and wish her the best.

Nevah Stevenson, director of major gifts, left Rowland Hall in April after nearly three years at the school to become executive director of the Catholic Foundation of Utah. Nevah’s positivity and professionalism were an asset to the Advancement Department, where she worked to raise funds for the new Steiner Campus. She will be missed.

Foreste Peterson, Rowmark head women's FIS coach and head conditioning coach, leaves the school after two years to become assistant coach for the US Ski Team women's Development Team. Foreste led the Rowmark women's FIS team and conditioning program with tremendous expertise and enthusiasm. She is a tireless professional who—thanks to her experiences as a World Cup athlete, NCAA athlete, and Rowmark coach—will bring a lot to the table at the next level.

Irina Eikenberry, Upper School math teacher, leaves after one year. We are grateful for Irina's expertise in the creation of a new course: data science. This was a challenge, as there was no previous teacher's work to build upon, but Irina did it with grace, hard work, and professionalism. Students, and her colleagues, love Irina's kind and caring nature in the classroom and beyond. We wish her well as she works to complete her master's degree in statistics and enjoys life as a newlywed.

Marcus Riley, Lower School associate teacher, has completed his year with the Lower School. Marcus was just who was needed during another wacky COVID year—he rolled up his sleeves, figuratively and literally, to support every teacher, grade level, and student in the division, meeting many a curveball with flexibility, humor, and a can-do attitude. While he won’t be the associate teacher next year, since this was a one-year position, we’re glad he’s agreed to be a substitute teacher and are confident we’ll see a lot of him in this capacity.

Danielle Thomas, McCarthey Campus emotional support counselor, leaves Rowland Hall after one year to relocate with her family. Danielle jumped into our beginning and lower school communities with both feet—and her head and heart too. She quickly became a safe adult for many of our students and an invaluable member of the student support team. Danielle’s humor, warmth, and unflappable approach have meant so much to so many on the McCarthey Campus this year. She will be missed.

Chelsea Zussman, assistant nurse on the McCarthey Campus, leaves after one year at Rowland Hall. Chelsea quickly became an integral part of the team, working with students, families, and employees with grace, humor, and care during a very demanding year. Chelsea is returning to full-time parenthood but promises she will return to fill in when needed in the future. Thank you, Chelsea!

Sonya Cotton, Beginning School and Lower School logistics manager, leaves Rowland Hall after nearly a year to relocate with her family. Sonya temporarily stepped in mid-year to manage various essential components of the school day, all with good cheer, attention to detail, and a collaborative approach. We’ll miss you!

Josh Scheuerman leaves Rowland Hall after teaching the Middle School mixed media art class this past semester to return to his full-time job as a muralist. Schedule permitting, he may return to work with students as a visiting artist in the future.

Brina Serassio, dance ensemble teacher, leaves Rowland Hall after one year. During her time at the school, Brina inspired beginning dancers and helped to lay the foundation both for a strong dance program and the lifelong love of dance and artistic expression amongst middle schoolers. Schedule permitting, Brina may return throughout the next school year as a visiting artist, to help with Winter Sports, and to judge dance auditions.

People

Carolyn Uhle, director of human resources, to retire at the end of the 2021–2022 school year.

Carolyn Uhle’s title at Rowland Hall is director of human resources.

It’s a good title, but it really doesn’t give you a full picture of what Carolyn does. Every day at the school, Carolyn functions as a psychologist, a sociologist, a mediator, a proofreader, an accountant, a policy keeper, and a problem solver.

“We are so lucky to have Carolyn,” said Chief Financial Officer Gwen Fonarow. “She is that rare person who can see the big picture yet at the same time respond to each situation with care, understanding that people and their needs can be so vastly different.”

We are so lucky to have Carolyn. She is that rare person who can see the big picture yet at the same time respond to each situation with care, understanding that people and their needs can be so vastly different.—Gwen Fonarow, chief financial officerCarolyn is the first person to hold the director of human resources position in the history of the school, and her experience as a staff member for the last 25-plus years made her well suited for it. Because, like Rowland Hall, Carolyn grew and changed a lot in that time.

“When I was first hired, I was the administrative assistant to the Lower School principal,” said Carolyn. “After a few years I transferred into the Business Office, where I did accounts payable and eventually took on payroll, then added benefits. In 2016 I was made the human resources manager and began completing my certification in the field. Then, after completing the certification in 2019, I was made director of human resources.”

Each of Carolyn’s career changes at Rowland Hall echoes the story of a school transforming from a small niche campus in the Avenues to a dynamic, constantly growing multi-campus institution with a national reputation. After all, one of the reasons she became the school’s first human resources director is that, up until fairly recently, such a position wasn’t recognized as needed. “Things are so different now than when I started,” she said. “But what stays the same is that this is a place of open ideas and diversity that really cares about preparing students to impact their world in a positive way.”

Carolyn Uhle at the Lower School mask parade.

Carolyn at the Lower School mask parade, 2021.


The position of director of human resources isn’t directly involved in education. Carolyn doesn’t prepare lesson plans or grade papers, take attendance or schedule parent-teacher conferences. But she sees her job as supporting the students. “Even though I don’t have a lot of contact with kids, I try to support faculty so that they can do their jobs better, and I support managers and administration so they can support faculty,” she said. “Everyone here, at the end of the day, is here for the kids.” 

Everyone here, at the end of the day, is here for the kids.—Carolyn Uhle

In order to support the faculty and staff Carolyn has worked hard to put in place a foundation for employment practices and a model of equity across all divisions when it comes to human resources. Her goal, she said, is for everyone to receive equal treatment and access to benefits, no matter where they are working or who they report to. She has done this not only through her work, but by collaborating with others to ensure that there is fairness and understanding of policies among the faculty and staff. “I think workplace harmony is important to Carolyn,” said Gwen. “Of course, that doesn’t mean people don’t get upset. But it means that when they do, they’re heard and given fair answers.”

“Carolyn puts people first,” added Associate Head of School Jennifer Blake. “That isn’t always easy in her position, trying to balance the business interests of the school with the personal needs of the faculty and staff, but she works tirelessly doing it."

Maybe the reason Carolyn is so good at caring for people professionally is how much cares for them personally. If you ask anyone who has known Carolyn for an extended time, the first thing they will tell you is how much they value her as a friend and confidant. “Carolyn was the first person I went to when I received some bad news while at work,” said Director of Operations Ann Burnett. “The news came as a shock and I thought of nothing more but to seek her out in her office so we could process together.”

Chief Information Officer Patrick Godfrey said that Carolyn’s office often serves as a place of refuge for anyone in need of one. “You can walk in and shut the door and vent a bit and know it’s not going to go anywhere,” he said. “And she will always manage to make you laugh. Carolyn has an excellent sense of humor.”

That sense of humor has been the source of countless practical jokes at the school over the years. Carolyn has been a part of pranks involving tiny school photos of employees pasted into various locations around campus and a famous flying loaf of bread. For all her antics, though, Carolyn is willing to get as good as she gives. “Carolyn has a really sensitive sense of smell,” says Patrick. “We took hundreds of those hanging air freshener trees and put them all over her office. It took her almost a month and a half to find them all. She never got mad, though, she just kept laughing.”

Carolyn Uhle with her two dogs

Carolyn with her beloved dogs, Steve (left) and Curly (right).


As she looks toward the next chapter of her life, Carolyn said she’s looking forward to spending time with her parents, her partner, John, and their dogs and family, and to recharging her batteries for new adventures. Of course, that doesn’t mean we still won’t see Carolyn around campus—she is thrilled with the changes and growth on the school’s horizon, and as excited about Rowland Hall’s new chapter as she is for her own. She will always be a part of this community, in many ways—even in muscle memory.

“When I leave, I’m probably going to drive to school every morning at first because that’s been my habit for 29 years,” she chuckled.


Banner: Carolyn with colleague Carol Frymire.

People

Rowland Hall Director of Equity and Inclusion Dr. Chandani Patel with students in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Dr. Chandani Patel wasn’t looking for a new job when she learned that Rowland Hall in Salt Lake City was searching for its first director of equity and inclusion. But when a recruiter sent her the posting, she found her interest piqued.

At the time, Chandani was director for global diversity education at New York University, a challenging and rewarding role that she had no immediate plans to vacate. However, as she read Rowland Hall’s position statement, Chandani was surprised to find herself contemplating a move: not only did Rowland Hall demonstrate a long-term commitment to the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work she’s dedicated her career to, but the school greatly emphasized community—a value that had risen in importance to her family after nearly a year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In the New Jersey/New York area, we did not have much community at all, really, because we were far from our workplaces—everyone commutes,” explained Chandani. “The pandemic really shifted our priorities. We didn't feel embedded in a community, and we really wanted that.”

As Chandani and her husband, English teacher Dr. Brady Smith, discussed the Rowland Hall opportunity, they realized that Salt Lake City may be just the place to grow the community connections they craved, both for themselves and for their young daughter, Aashna, then four years old. The location worked both personally—Chandani already had a sister in Salt Lake, her parents were willing to relocate, and Brady’s parents live in nearby Colorado—and professionally: Salt Lake’s size and growth opportunities, including the ability to build partnerships in the DEI space, greatly appealed to the two academics-turned-educators. Furthermore, Rowland Hall serves a student population that, after more than a decade in higher education, Chandani felt pulled toward.

“I had been thinking about transitioning to PreK–12 education for a couple of years,” she said, “because I was starting to see key challenges in higher education: a lot of the unlearning that folks were engaged in as adult learners needed to have happened a little earlier in their lives.” In other words, Chandani had been observing students entering college classrooms with little to no experience engaging with those whose backgrounds or beliefs differ from their own, and it had become clear to her that students need earlier opportunities to practice navigating conflict and building trust across their differences.

“The world is, in many ways, super interconnected, yet we continue to be siloed; we continue to see patterns of kids only hanging out with kids who look like them or like the same things,” explained Chandani. “Research backs this up, even from—or maybe especially from—a racial identity standpoint.”

School Today: What’s It For?

As Rowland Hall’s inaugural director of equity and inclusion, Chandani is now playing a role in building the collaboration skills that today’s students will need in college classrooms and beyond. But even though preparing students to respectfully handle tough conversations, particularly with those who have differing opinions, in today’s world is of vital importance, she explained, it still often isn’t a priority in PreK–12 schools.

“In many schools, those are not the skills educators are explicitly talking about or helping students learn,” said Chandani, “yet in every single industry, the first thing that any hiring committee will ask about is collaboration skills or a time you encountered and navigated a conflict.”

And employers need staff members who work well with others. Many cite so-called soft skills—such as teamwork and collaboration, leadership, critical thinking, and communication—as areas they most desire in new hires. And it isn’t just day-to-day business tasks that benefit from these skills; the most pressing problems we now face—the ones today’s students will help find solutions to, including inequality, climate change, and a global pandemic—can only be solved by coming together.

“Students have inherited a whole lot of problems that require really creative and out-of-the-box solutions; we have to imagine different possibilities to build a different and better world,” said Chandani. PreK–12 schools offer ideal environments in which students can safely learn how to build relationships, practice collaboration, and navigate conflict—which, Chandani pointed out, is a helpful life tool.

Schools are now the places where students should acquire and practice human-centered skills that machines can’t replicate—like teamwork, curiosity, judgment, and creativity—and where they learn what to do with all the information available at their fingertips.

“We need to help students understand that when conflict arises, you don't back away from it but embrace it, so that you can learn something new—maybe about yourself, maybe about the other person, maybe about that issue, maybe about the world,” she explained. “If that process can happen at a younger age, then we have many more opportunities for students to practice, and to understand how to work across their differences.”

For some, this can be an unfamiliar perspective: we haven’t often thought of PreK–12 schools in that way. But just as twenty-first century employers have been rethinking the skills employees need to succeed, so too should educators be rethinking the role twenty-first century schools play in student success.

“School is no longer a place to just learn facts and information—we have that available to us on the internet,” said Chandani. Instead, she explained, schools are now the places where students should acquire and practice human-centered skills that machines can’t replicate—like teamwork, curiosity, judgment, and creativity—and where they learn what to do with all the information available at their fingertips.

Dr. Chandani Patel with a student in her Salt Lake City Lincoln Street Campus office.

Chandani's role allows her to focus on helping Rowland Hall students learn how to thrive and connect in our rapidly changing and diverse world. “We need to embrace our differences and know that we're not always going to agree exactly on an issue,” she said. “But, together, we can make the world a different place, a better place for all of us.”

Creating Student Leaders

For a DEI professional like Chandani, refocusing the role schools play as we look to the future is important in enhancing students’ learning experiences, especially as they participate in current conversations around equity and inclusion. By emphasizing human-centered skills alongside traditional academic subjects, students are better able to see the humanity behind their studies, building a stronger understanding of our collective history and how it shaped, and shapes, our daily lives. Examining diverse lived experiences in an English class, for instance, or learning about the contributions of historically underrepresented groups to the sciences helps students understand cultural contexts, while engaging in classroom discussions helps students learn to express themselves, make connections, and practice respectful disagreement.

By emphasizing human-centered skills alongside traditional academic subjects, students are better able to see the humanity behind their studies, building a stronger understanding of our collective history and how it shaped, and shapes, our daily lives.

“It’s important for them to recognize that even if we have a lot of shared experiences and shared identities, we're still not going to always agree—and that's not a bad thing: that means you always have something to learn from each other,” said Chandani. This applies to educators, too, who help solidify these skills by modeling what it means to learn from others. “My goal,” said Chandani, “is to help students learn how to facilitate conversations, navigate conflict, and build a collaborative process.”

Importantly, this focus on building human-centered skills in the classroom should be viewed as an enhancement to learning—not something that comes at the expense of the academic rigor we expect from schools—because it enriches learning, helping to develop lifelong thinkers who can ask thoughtful questions to build their understanding of the world, their place in it, and their role in creating knowledge and change.

“Our students want to have hard conversations, and we want them to have the tools to ask questions of the world,” explained Chandani. “We're not in the business of making any student feel bad or responsible for something that's way bigger than them—that is not how learning happens. The goal is to give students tools to ask questions around why things are the way they are and how they might be different in the future so that everyone can thrive.”

These actions benefit students in other ways too: as we emphasize human-centered skills, we show the value of all lived experiences, giving students a deeper sense of belonging to their school communities. And as they feel that belonging—and their confidence grows—students are more likely to speak up, to take action, and to believe in their own ability to make change.

“I'm really invested in the idea that every single one of our students is a leader,” said Chandani. “And we need to cultivate that sense of leadership.”

Dr. Chandani Patel with a group of Salt Lake City high school students.

Chandani's office on the Lincoln Street Campus supports student growth too: she views it as a community space where students can gather to practice connection and leadership skills, or simply hang out or do homework. “Space is really important, especially for students who don't feel well-represented,” she explained. “It's a huge part of how they come to think about school.” 

Looking Ahead

For Chandani, building leaders doesn’t stop at students—in fact, she said, one of the most exciting things about joining Rowland Hall is discovering the community’s collective commitment toward lifelong learning and making the school a welcoming place for all.

Rowland Hall has been doing this for over a decade. This is a community that really does care for each other, that really does want to do the hard work, because everyone is in the space of wanting to learn.—Dr. Chandani Patel, director of equity and inclusion

“Rowland Hall has been doing this for over a decade,” said Chandani. “This is a community that really does care for each other, that really does want to do the hard work, because everyone is in the space of wanting to learn.”

As she continues to settle into the school community—now her family’s community—Chandani is committed to involving all stakeholders, including families, in supporting their students as well as in navigating their own learning journeys, and she’ll be engaging various groups in conversation to identify the top challenges, opportunities, and questions that will inform Rowland Hall’s DEI work in the coming years.

“I'm invested in learning from a diverse array of folks,” she said.

And because Chandani knows that it will take time to get to know the entire community, she’s also committed to providing ongoing updates on what she’s learning and what families can expect from her, beginning with a community forum tentatively scheduled for February.

“I want to talk with the community about what I'm learning, answer questions, and really make sure the work that I'm doing is transparent. This is not work done in secret; it’s shared work that is always going to be important to talk about and make visible,” said Chandani with a smile. “There is a lot of excitement and enthusiasm, and we have a really great opportunity to build on that momentum.”

Equity & Inclusion

You Belong at Rowland Hall