The 20 Year Club

For faculty and staff who stay for 20 years or more, Town has become home — a community where they serve and thrive and keep coming back year after year. Here are a few of their stories.

Your first encounter with Town is always memorable.

Bill McCartney: On my last day of interviews, I was dropped off in the faculty room and then the next person who was supposed to pick me up never came along. I ended up sitting in the faculty room for over an hour, having a long conversation about politics with Tom Golden and Lee Nissen. And to this day I remember thinking...that was a lot of fun.

The red doorWalter Midland: I remember walking in that door… We used to call it ‘the bunker’. It was metal. And it was huge. You walked in, and there was Phyllis [Fletcher] on the right side in the little window, like a box office. Jan Mooney:…and she knew everything about all of us — way more than all of us collectively knew about anybody. Ken Higgins: Yes! And when a parent wanted to get in touch with a child or deliver a message to a teacher, you called Phyllis. And she wrote it down, and at some point during the day, someone would get that message to you. And that was school communication. Call the school, Phyllis writes a note. Somebody passes it on...at some point. And we still had school, and a lot of successful graduates.

Peaches Gillette: Jackie Williams (then head of the Division) took me on a tour and I was impressed with what she presented as the primary teaching and learning philosophy; it was nurturing and allowed for what seemed like a perfect balance of learning — through the freedom to explore and learning through structured activities. It felt very much that the philosophical focus of the nursery program was based on the understanding that being a student does not eclipse or replace being a child.

Jan Mooney: I interviewed here and at one of the campus schools and when I came here for my interview, Mary Newman was in her bare feet — as were most people, as it was the first week after school got out. And I felt very overdressed because I had shoes on. Walking around, what I liked was the artwork — it made me feel immediately very at home. It was really just the openness — and the bare feet — that got me and helped me know this was the place.

Town’s unwritten hiring motto: ‘find the right people and they will make great things happen.’

Claudie Tanenbaum: I was hired by Walter Birge in 1974. I went in for a French position and after I accepted it, I was about halfway to the door when Mr. Birge said “by the way you’ll be teaching Latin as well.” And I said “oh that’s great!”...and then I ran home to brush up on my Latin.

Cynthia Davies: Well, I had come over from the UK, where I had been teaching at a boarding school in Oxford. And when I came to NYC I started my own ceramics studio, but eventually decided it was time go back into the workplace so was sending resumés around. Joyce Evans had just started and she called me in and she said “well there are no jobs for art teachers right now but would you like to be my executive assistant?” And I said “what’s that?” She explained that it was essentially to be her right-hand woman and we learned Town together. About three years later an opportunity came up to teach in the art studio and I built it up from there.

Enza De Caro: When I interviewed, Joyce Evans made me feel very comfortable; we had a great conversation. Then she casually mentioned ’oh you’ll also meet some of our staff’ and brought me into the conference room and everybody was sitting around the table ready to interview me. Thank goodness Natasha [Sahadi] was there. She was her warm and welcoming — and a little bit outrageous — self, and that helped me relax.

Ken Higgins: Bill [McCartney] and I were homeroom buddies his first couple years...and then we were separated. One day when he was at lunch, the 8th graders and I decorated his room with a wall of bearded poets in order of length of beard, including a ridiculous quote supposedly attributed to each poet — that project became a great tradition for a few years.

Claudie Tanenbaum: That’s The Town School: you can be who you are, and do what you do best.

Town becomes your home, even if you didn’t plan it that way.

Laurie Brongo: I was not looking for a job. At that time I was still acting and directing and choreographing professionally. They called me because they wanted a professional choreographer for the 8th grade play. And then at the end of the year it was, ‘you know what would really be good is if these kids had musical theater dance classes to prepare them for their plays.’ And then, ‘gee, you know the 4th grade play could use just a little extra choreography, would you be willing to do that?’ And finally I realized, I’m a teacher!

Ken Higgins: I was tending bar at nights and writing soundtracks during the day. I was teaching piano lessons at Town a day or two a week when Mary Newman suggested I take on the three-day-a-week music position. The school prided itself on having teaching artists, so the whole idea that I was writing musical scores was great. I had never had a paycheck besides working at SummerSault in the summer — and I really liked it. But quite honestly I really loved the interaction with the kids, and I really liked the tenor of the school.

Melissa Bauman: I started as a parent. I ran the auction one year and then I was PA President. Mary Newman and Betsy Gitter decided that they should hire me! I loved the school and my kids loved the school, and my husband was on the Board for 10 years. So the whole family was steeped in Town.

Town is a family.

Bill McCartney: I remember an alum who lost a close family member while she was in high school and her Town classmates all came to support her. They all came back to the city and it was not even a question; they came to Town to be together. I remember her saying ‘well it didn’t even cross my mind...where else would we go?’

Laurie Brongo: It’s so special when alums come back because they walk in, they’ve got this look on their face: where’s Mr. McCartney, where’s Mr. Higgins? They are so excited for us to see who they are becoming, and I think they want us to know that we had a stake in that. They aren’t bragging or showing off, they want to share it with us and it just warms my heart.

The “five-year plan.”

Cynthia Millman: My plan was to stay five years and move on to a high school. But it’s nice to build your foundation and grow from there. To build a more creative, useful, valuable and professionally rewarding program.

Peaches Gillette: When I thought about working at Town, my plan was to stay for two or three years and then move out to California; a true testimony of the “best laid plans.”

Rosa Franco: I thought I was going to be at Town for four years and then I would move on and go somewhere else. And I don’t even know how many years I’ve been here. I came the last year of Mary Newman, when Tim Burns was the interim head.

Walter Midland: You don’t come here just to hold a job; it’s more of a calling.

What makes Town such a special place? What do you love returning to year after year?

Ken Higgins: Irrespective of who the Head of School has been, I think the faculty has always been able to give its heart to the work of teaching here. And as often as not, you have an administration who has a sense of humor and appreciates the kookiness that comes with a group of very passionate educators.

Peaches Gillette: I like that Town is an environment that is always regenerating. Although change can be difficult, there is no progress without it; I think that Town is always trying to do better for its families, its faculty and its staff.

Enza De Caro: I think the artwork sets Town apart. When applying parents are waiting outside for a tour or interview, they’re all looking at the art. And they say ‘this is so amazing. Did kids make this?’ I always smile a bit at their surprise, and explain that yes, this is really our students’ art.

Cynthia Millman: Well you might guess I love the Book Fair. I love seeing the kids get excited about books; they can’t wait to start reading something new.

Enza De Caro: For me it’s also the holiday assembly and the 8th grade plays. They are just so joyful; it’s beautiful.

Cynthia Davies: I think the Opening Day Ceremony is pretty unique, with the Team in Blue and our hodgepodge marching ‘band’ and just the gathering of the community. You look at all the parents and children, and there’s this excitement about coming back to school, and coming back together.

Peaches Gillette: I love watching the Upper School children get ready for Science Night; most of the hallways are brimming with excitement and hopeful, creative energy. It is a joyful sight to be a witness to the process of young minds inventing.

Melissa Bauman: Honestly my favorite moments are when I get to interact with the kids, whatever way that might be.

Rosa Franco: Definitely being with the kids, hearing their comments and questions about food. But a truly great moment is when you’re interviewed by a 1st grader as part of their community project, and you get that hand-painted portrait. That’s a special day.

Laurie Brongo: My favorite moments are actually when I’m not teaching and just walking through the hallways. I see the kids in every little nook you can find — reading together, helping each other, or they’re filming a short movie for class on their iPads. They’re so absorbed they don’t even realize you’re walking by and they’re very serious and earnest and you see the joy in learning. Their faces show you that what they’re doing in that moment is the best thing in the world. And that’s exactly what they should be feeling.

Bill McCartney: The thing that most stands out to me is the passion of the kids in the classroom. Something inevitably happens at some point every year, that wholly unexpected moment when a kid (who you would least expect it to come from) will make a comment like ‘ugh, I don’t want the class to end now!’ They’re completely engaged and completely invested; something has just reached out and grabbed them and they want to keep talking about it. It’s such a seemingly little thing, but it just resonates right to your core that something worked. This is a 14-year-old kid who is saying ‘I would rather sit here and talk about moral decay in society rather than go to gym or to go to lunch or go to snack.’ That’s the moment. There’s nothing like it.

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