Leaving the Nest: Seven Faculty Members and Staffers Retiring in 2020

As three iconic faculty members and four trailblazing staffers leave the nest this year, their combined 172 years of service deserve a moment in the spotlight. They have taught and nurtured our students, helped build our community and culture, and their legacies will carry on.

Tina Nott, retiring Math teacher, was a founding member of the Middle School faculty, a co-founder of Middle School Focus Days, and the second woman to teach Math at Athenian. Joining Eleanor Dase, Munzer Afifi and Lester Henderson in a combined Middle School/Upper School Math department, she joined Athenian in 1982 and helped realize a vision to have more women teach STEM. 

Retiring French teacher Elisabeth Bertschi, who joined Athenian in 1986, brought with her “whole child” approaches to learning. Her rubrics for refreshing her curriculum were decades ahead of their time. Though she came to Athenian straight out of graduate school, she had a natural ability to connect with students. 

Retiring staffer Debbie Schafgans joined Athenian in 1987, initially in the Development (now Advancement) department. She was also a pioneer: the first staffer to use a personal computer for core elements of her role and one of the first to manage the digital integration of her department. 

As with Debbie Schafgans, retiring staffer Debra Ataman’s role evolved. She joined Athenian in 1997, working in Reception before becoming the Assistant to the Director of Special Programs in 2001. In the years following, Debra became heavily involved in community outreach and ultimately went on to be a key member of our Summer Programs, contributing to its significant growth over the years.

When asked about why Athenian staff and faculty are so well-equipped to play a variety of roles, former Head of School Eleanor Dase pointed to the many opportunities for faculty and staff to show leadership, such as chaperoning trips, organizing fundraisers, providing leadership in Round Square, Interim/March Term, and much more. If self-determination and grassroots organizing are part of Athenian’s DNA, it’s clear why retiring employees Lydia Guzman, Elise Jan and Barbara Carlino were so effective.

Lydia Guzman began her career at Athenian in 2000, serving for 20 years as the Attendance Officer. She also co-advised the Latino Club, raised more than $17,000 for the Monument Crisis Center over the years after co-founding the Tuesday Nacho Sale, organized the annual Athenian Pink Day to benefit breast cancer and served a run as Dean of Staff. Along with Debbie, she was an early regular attendee of the National Association of Independent Schools’ People of Color Conference (POCC) and an early champion of equity and inclusion at Athenian.

Barbara Carlino, who joined in 2007 as Upper School Counselor, founded longstanding programs as well. She co-created ASAP (the Athenian Sexual Assault Prevention Program), started the school’s peer counseling program, and shaped curriculum and culture by carrying out Athenian’s health education program for many years.

Mandarin teacher Elise Jan, who came to Athenian in 2009, is yet another lauded language teacher. She developed an innovative method of instruction that helped students achieve a level of fluency that wasn’t obtainable through classic approaches. Along the lines of holistic participation, she also chaperoned several trips abroad. 

Beyond what these outgoing women contributed as trailblazers from a curriculum and culture perspective, they contributed greatly to our enjoyment of the school. They gave hugs. They played pranks (we’re looking at you, Tina). They performed in countless Staff and Faculty Talent Shows. They were treasured friends. We will miss them all. 

The Spirit of Athenian Flies Again!

Students and mentors with the Wag-Aero Sport Trainer

Thanks for your interest in the Athenian Airplane project. Our goal is to provide some history of the student-built airplane project at The Athenian School, as well as to chronicle the current progress of the students as they begin work on the latest project, a Van’s RV-12 light sport aircraft.

The project began back in 2002, when pilot, Marsh Freeman, had an idea. Born of his lifelong passion for airplanes, both building and flying them, he wanted to gather a group of young people together to build (and eventually, fly) a plane. When he approached The Athenian School, Eleanor Dase, the Head of School, was immediately interested. She felt that the project was in line with the school’s mission of providing experiential education experiences, and along with Dick Bradford, gave Marsh the school’s blessing to bring this innovative program onto the campus.

The first order of business was to build a suitable workshop for the project. Freeman took charge of the permitting and construction of a shop on the school grounds. He then presented the project to the student body and parents. He successfully inspired 85 students, an equal mix of boys and girls, including both middle school and high school students, to take on this challenge. Marsh and his family funded the purchase of the first airplane kit, a Wag-Aero Sport Trainer, and the construction process began.

Marsh was aided in the instruction process by Dr. Jim Mandley, a retired Navy pilot and award-winning aerobatic pilot and other members of the Experimental Aircraft Association. Together, these mentors began the process of teaching students how to build the plane, dubbed the Spirit of Athenian. The project was an after-school club, and students typically spent two to four hours per week in the workshop working on various parts of the plane. Two and a half years later, at the Buchanan Airfield in Concord, CA, the Spirit of Athenian went “wheels-up” to the cheers of about 100 spectators , many of them the student builders. Jim Mandley was the pilot, and the first passenger? Eleanor Dase.

In order to keep the program flying, the Spirit of Athenian was sold to fund the purchase of a second airplane kit, a Christen Eagle, an aerobatic biplane. More about that in our next post. Stay tuned!