On December 4, 2017, trustees applauded all Winsor faculty and staff during a special evening of tributes at the annual Faculty-Trustee Dinner.
Sarah Pelmas, head of school and O'Donnell Family Chair, gave special recognition to English teachers Linda Hansen and Courtney Jackson and the Advancement team's Judy Brasher P'18 for reaching 20 years of service. She also presented the school's Pennypacker Prize to Lisa Stringfellow. Click here for more on her honor.
At the start of evening, Allison Kaneb Pellegrino '89, P'21, '22, president of the Corporation, recognized the seven other faculty and staff reaching five-year milestones. This year marks a decade of service for Camille DeMarco, Laura Vantine and Tom Wensink. Laura Houlette and Jennifer Graham celebrate their 15-year anniversary. This year marks the 30th for Kevin Lynch of the Facilities team and the 40th for Lisa Taillacq, the Eleanor Thomas Nelson '49 Fine Arts chair.
While 20-year tributes have traditionally been at the heart of the annual event, Ms. Pelmas made a special point to add a personal and heartfelt message of gratitude to both Kevin Lynch and Lisa Taillacq, expressing "how blessed we are to have you as part of our community."
"Together, you are the heart of this school. Winsor is Winsor because of you," Allison Pellegrino reflected, speaking to the contributions of every staff and faculty member. Amid the celebration, she made a special point to applaud the newest faculty and staff.
Below are excerpts from Ms. Pelmas' remarks about the three 20-year veterans:
Judy Brasher P’18
In honoring Judy, Ms. Pelmas began by recounting a story from Nancy Sullivan Skinner, Winsor’s chief advancement officer. Nancy happened to run into an old acquaintance who had worked with Judy years ago and now heads a university’s fund-raising campaign. While Nancy wasn’t surprised to hear how glowing her friend spoke of Judy, it somehow surprised her that to think that Judy had ever worked somewhere other than Winsor.
As Nancy explains, “Judy’s memory of Winsor is long and deep, as if she’d been here since the beginning.” She joined Winsor’s development team in 1998 after learning the ins and outs of fund raising at the Anti-Defamation League and Children’s Hospital. Then-director Diana Garmey brought her on board, appreciating her “very bright, calm, thoughtful” approach.
After Diana retired, Kathy Cole remembers how “invaluable” Judy was when Kathy started in 2000 as the development director with the school poised to launch The Essential Winsor campaign.
To Kathy, several qualities stood out. First was her capacity for friendship. As Kathy put it: simply, Judy’s a “great friend.” She embodies the ability for active listening, attention to detail, and personal, loving honesty. Second, Kathy valued Judy’s commitment.
Her colleagues agree. What are the first words to come to mind when Beth Peterson thinks of Judy? Thoughtful, kind, and inquisitive. Elizabeth Drolet adds three words of her own: warm, funny, organized. Joe Broughton remembers how generously Judy answered his countless questions when he first joined the team in 1999.
“My own introduction to the Winsor community has been made infinitely easier and better because of Judy,” added Ms. Pelmas. “She loves getting to know people and understanding their lives and their values.”
She ended with a reflection from Judy’s husband, Brad Brasher. “One of my favorite memories was the day we found out that our daughter, Olivia, was going to start Winsor as an incoming Class I student,” he wrote. “This was without a doubt the ultimate dream for Judy: working for the school she dearly loves with her daughter right there, enjoying and benefiting directly from that work. Judy cried about a dozen times that week, and it was a joy that was infectious.” With Olivia set to graduate this June, “There is another favorite memory in the making."
“To invoke Linda Hansen’s name is to invoke kindness, generosity, unflagging optimism, and the biggest heart imaginable,” said Ms. Pelmas in opening her tribute.
To explain what Ms. Hansen has meant to Winsor, she turned to the words of both colleagues and students. Senior Claire Ganiban remarks, “Having her both as a teacher and as a club advisor, I really appreciate how she always goes above and beyond to help students. Whether it be acting out passages of a book to make them come alive, or volunteering to help organize a party for the residents of Mt. Pleasant, Ms. Hansen has always been so dedicated to those around her. I remember vividly a Class IV English class where we were struggling to understand Shakespeare. She gave us the assignment to relate the text to a song we liked, and after hearing presentations about how the themes of A Midsummer Night’s Dream related to One Direction and Taylor Swift, everyone seemed to be enthusiastic about reading Shakespeare, which is quite the impressive feat. The countless moments where Ms. Hansen really understood what would engage us as eight graders made me look forward to English class every day.”
As Ms. Pelmas noted, Ms. Hansen is deliberate and inclusive in the classroom, taking the time to hear and encourage all student voices, to allow confusion into the room without letting it overwhelm the discussion, and to offer the assurance that, while there is not likely to be a single answer, there are answers and the students themselves have the skills to draw conclusions and master the text.
“Ms. Hansen is an amazing teacher,” says senior Kathy Lin. “I first had her in Class III, and she can teach grammar like nobody’s business. Whenever my class didn’t understand a certain grammatical topic, she would patiently review it with us until every member of the class understood it.”
Kathy adds, “Her compassion shines through past the classroom. This year marks my fifth year volunteering at Mt. Pleasant with her. Every Monday without fail, Ms. Hansen drives us there with a smile on her face. Once we arrive, her bubbly persona lights up the room. All the residents are drawn to her, and she makes sure to talk to each one of them. She truly cares about everyone around her.”
Senior Rose Heald remarks how “both Winsor students and Mount Pleasant residents truly value Ms. Hansen’s genuine kindness and welcoming nature. I have been going to Mount Pleasant with her for the past four years. I remember a time earlier this fall when Ms. Hansen suggested a new board game for our Mount Pleasant meetings called, ‘Awkward Family Photos.’ Almost all of us were crying laughing by the end of the game. She consistently makes us smile each and every meeting”
Perhaps dangerously, Ms. Hansen is known among colleagues as someone who will say yes to anything. She leaps to help, sometimes before even being asked. Universally, she is seen as one of the most kind-hearted colleagues any teacher has had the pleasure to work with. As Jennie Skeele sums up, “This is a woman who loves everyone—generously, without qualification. There isn’t a day that she doesn't start with wonder and delight.
“If I were to make a word cloud of all the accolades I have seen about Courtney Jackson, the pop-out huge words would be: compassionate, fearless, and smart,” began Ms. Pelmas in the last of her three tributes for the evening.
“I will admit that Courtney is one of many teachers I met last year who I thought must be in her early 30s, plenty experienced enough and seasoned, but certainly not someone we would be honoring at her 20-year mark tonight!” she added. “Honestly, I think her youthfulness and energy is all about loving her work. She loves learning, and loves teaching.”
Susanna Ryan offers a beautiful look at her classroom work in saying, “Having taught many of Courtney’s students the year after they have worked with her, I can also say that she is an inspiring teacher,… one who makes her students feel heard and supported in their learning process.”
Throughout the tribute, Ms. Pelmas wove in the voices of past students. Isabel Seguin ’16 was Ms. Jackson’s student in Lower School and then later her advisee. She writes, “One of my favorite memories from her class is a spirited argument about Animal Farm, which I still think of today as an important foundation of my love of literature. Additionally, her obvious love of English is something that has served to guide me in trying to decide how to balance the things that are important to me. In Ms. Jackson I found a firm friend who was utterly skillful at helping her students through their more difficult decisions with patience and kindness, both excited and absolutely knowledgeable about her subject area, willing to care about her students’ lives outside of the classroom and even outside of Winsor, and happy to support them in all of their endeavors.”
Another one of Courtney’s biggest fans, Lilla Gabrieli ’16, writes, “I couldn't have been luckier to have Ms. Jackson as an advisor! Every Thursday, the five of us would gather in the English office for advisory, a time that quickly became a kind of calm refuge from the busy nature of school. Gathered together, she would ask each of us how our weeks were going, remembering to follow up on little details that each of us had mentioned the previous week that we had almost surely forgotten. However trivial those details may seem—from orchestra recitals to a hard test in chemistry—Ms. Jackson’s memory of them spoke volumes to the kind of advisor she was. She was always the first one to reach out, sending us little notes whether it be congratulating us on an accomplishment or expressing her support when things didn't go our way. Winsor can be a hectic place, but knowing that someone truly cared about us—enough to remember even the smallest of details—made it seem all the more like home."
As Ms. Pelmas noted, every English teacher uses the word “lucky” to describe how they feel working with Ms. Jackson as their department head. “In fact,” says Andrea Chase, “we call her Our Fearless Leader! She respects each of us as professionals and people, she is very supportive of our professional growth, and she encourages us to try new things in the classroom.” Sarah Wolf adds, “I think of Courtney as more than just my department head; she is also a model educator, a professional mentor, an interested colleague, and a supportive friend.”
Those who have been on committees with her all will say that her cool head, combined with big-picture thinking and an easy command of the details, makes her the best kind of committee member.
But Ms. Pelmas noted that she’d be remiss if she only commented on Ms. Jackson the committed, smart, selfless, wise teacher and leader. As Jennie Skeele notes, “She cheerfully volunteers to participate in antics. Department antics. School-wide antics. Faculty talent show antics.”
When asked about Ms. Jackson, Judy Robbins, a retired English colleague and former department head, adds to this, saying, “One of my most specific memories of Courtney is a recital she gave in the old assembly hall, showing her beautiful, strong voice and acting. It made vivid for me that she really could have pursued a career in music but instead made the choice to teach.”
To sum up these accolades, Ms. Pelmas returned to the words of Isabel Seguin: “In my life and, I believe, in the lives of many Winsor girls, she is a role model: someone who possesses a rare combination of the simple and all-important qualities that everyone values but no one seems quite to achieve—kindness, patience, and love of what she does.”