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Staffing News: Comings and Goings in the Lower School

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

In this season's "Coming and Goings," we are particularly grateful to all those departing for the intense faith, love, and commitment they have given, most especially in this incredibly trying and complicated year. We are optimistic for the next professional steps of each of our faculty who are making internal shifts at SFFS, and as well, we are excited to welcome a few new people to our Lower School Friends family in 2021–2022. Here are some of the changes coming as we plan for staffing and program growth next year.

Lower School Lead Teachers:
As a K–8 institution, and when the time is right, we blur the lines of arbitrary divisions, embracing the spirit of professional growth and personal courage. After many years of wondering when the right time to shift might be, Amabelle Sze figured now is as good a time as ever, and she will be moving to teach 6th Grade Math in 2021–2022. In a late search process, we were fortunate to be able to hire up Gavin Odabashian to fill this key role in the Lower School. Gavin returns to SFFS after a stint teaching 4th and 5th Grade at Marin Horizons, and will be teaching 4th Grade alongside Maureen next year. We are so lucky Gavin has agreed to return, and excited about what she will bring as a key thinker and caretaker of Friends educational traditions and innovations. 

Developmental Support:
Rebecca Mallabone jumped in at SFFS with both feet last fall as our Friends@Home, hybrid, and other COVID school needs unfolded. Since then, she’s been an invaluable and successful teacher on the 3rd Grade team. As our program anticipates a return to a more normal structure in 2021–2022, Rebecca will be happily moving to join Frances Dickson and Kim Gitnick full-time in our Developmental Support (DS) Department. This addition to DS will be an incredible one, affording us all the chance to meet our students where they are and push them further, especially as we assess all sorts of needs emerging from our unusual year. Rebecca’s expertise and commitment will be focused on supporting teachers to address a range of learning needs, working across the grades in our ongoing efforts to differentiate instruction for all of our students.

Lower School Music:
Dianne Hurvitz is moving on next year from Friends to pursue her long-growing Summer Maker Camp program. Dianne has been a creative, hard working, mirthful faculty member, whose contributions are widely felt, from curriculum and schedule, to teaching all our kids sign language when they couldn’t sing due to COVID restrictions. She’s been a fearless shifter into virtual teaching, able to deliver warm and engaged programs for our kids online (and in school)! She will be missed, and we hope to hear more as her camp grows. We are thrilled to welcome Jane Rinard, who will join our Arts Department as our new Lower School Music teacher. Jane has a wealth of experience with elementary music instruction and program creation, and we are so lucky she has chosen Friends as her next school home. From her prior position at SF Day, and more recently at the American School in Mumbai, Jane was recommended to us by many folks, including our former LS music teacher, Kent Jue. Jane brings a rich tradition in performance and choral work, as well as a depth of experience working with teachers in project work and integration. 

LS Teaching Assistants:
Every year we say goodbye to a few of our beloved teaching assistants, and welcome a new cohort of  TAs. This year, these goodbyes hit harder than ever—what these TAs have given this year is indescribable. They each stepped up in ways none of us could ever have anticipated, and did so with grace, courage and commitment to the work with the children that makes me proud to know each of them. 
Cale Nickerson (2nd Grade TA) and his partner Amoy will be packing up and moving to New York. We hope that Cale pursues work in schools, because his gift is clear.
Emelia Breen (2nd Grade TA) is already a master teacher in many ways, and is headed to UC Berkeley to go to Graduate School in Education. This is good news for the field, and we are very happy for her and hope that she may return to us one day, if not only as a substitute when she gets a few days off of school!
Marisa Graham (1st Grade TA) has been a devoted K–2 TA for the past several years, and has now taken the courageous step to return to graduate school for her Master's in Early Childhood Education at Mills College. We hope Marisa will also be around to substitute, and we couldn't be more proud of her as she spreads her wings.
Nina Eckoff, our long-serving K and 1st Grade TA, will move into the role of full-time faculty member at Friends, as our onsite Lower School substitute teacher. When she is not subbing, she will support teachers and students, primarily in the K–2 classrooms.

In the Lower School 2021–2022, we anticipate returning to two sections in each grade, five days a week in person, and also a return to our regular classroom spaces and staffing model. As you know, we have always had a full-time TA in each classroom K–2, and part-time in 3 & 4. As part of our efforts to support a robust learning experience when we return to campus in 2021–2022, we will be growing our TA cohort (from eight to ten) to include the addition of two full-time TAs in each section of both 3rd and 4th Grades, as well as our full-time TAs in Grades K–2. Joining the TA cohort officially next year will be many familiar names to some of you—as they are either returning for a second year in the TA role, or moving into this new position from our temporary aide role that served us so well during the height of COVID restrictions. 

Our new TA cohort in the lower school next fall will include: Lily Layman, Jeremy Mikush, Amanda Hack, Kaylin Mansley, Salvador Martinez, Sebastian Kleppe, Bekah Puddington, Gracia Garcia, and Angel Cage. Please feel free to congratulate them for this next step in their careers, and thank them for their ongoing service to SFFS. With the Extended Day and Enrichment program most likely re-emerging next year, we will plan to see Liz Peterson (1st Grade Aide) and Selina Rodriguez (2nd Grade Aide) back at it with Marina. 

Lower School Spanish:
Since Tanya Cotom will stay on in 1st Grade as a lead teacher next year, we continue to seek the best candidate for an excellent new Lower School Spanish teacher. This key position will help us rebuild and refine our Spanish language instructional program, and we are certainly looking forward to that. We are hot on the trail of a few folks, and will let you know as soon as that wraps up.

Thank you all so much for your ongoing support, and constancy in reading what has been a fire hose of news this year—with even more to come!