From 49.6 Print: Menlo Faculty Says Goodbye Continued
May 12, 2023
This collection of stories is an online extension and reproduction of the Coat of Arms 49.6 print edition. This package includes the original articles from the 49.6 News section and a few additional stories that highlight the careers and impact of departing Menlo faculty.
After finishing her fifth year at Menlo, Associate Director of College Counseling Natalie Ford will be leaving the school.
Citing the high cost of living in the Bay Area as the largest factor in her decision, Ford, along with her husband and two children, will be joining relatives in Denver, Colo. She’ll be joining another school’s college counseling program there. “If I had it my way we would stay here,” Ford said. “We really, really tried.”
Ford said she will miss the people at Menlo the most. “[The students] are fun and interesting,” she said. “My team of colleagues here in college counseling make coming to work every day fun and joyful. There’s been lots of happy moments, funny moments, supportive moments.”
Outside of its community members, Ford appreciates Menlo’s community-building events, including dance shows and athletic events. “[At Menlo] there’s a sense of belonging,” she said. “If you work hard, and you show up and you care, you’re part of this community and I’ll really miss that.”
Edwige Gamache will retire from education after 16 years of teaching in Menlo’s world language department. Splitting her time between California and the Netherlands, Gamache hopes to enjoy biking and kayaking in her retirement, but she noted she enjoyed her time at Menlo, too. “[Teaching at Menlo was] very rewarding in terms of student achievement,” Gamache said.
And she had many students. In the past, Gamache taught, at various points, all levels of French, Spanish 1, and Latin 1. This school year, she teaches French 1 and French 2, in addition to an Advanced Topics in French course which focuses on post-colonial France.
Some of Gamache’s favorite memories at Menlo come from taking the students in these classes to get coffee in order to get to know them better. This close relationship between students and teachers at Menlo is what Gamache said she liked the most about teaching at the school. “Students don’t have this divide,” she said. “I’ve had students that I’m still friends with and they left years ago.”
Coming from teaching at various colleges and universities, Gamache said that teaching at the high school level proved very different from her previous experiences. “It was a learning curve for me,” she said. “I have definitely matured as a teacher.”
Joan Iwamoto will be leaving Menlo after 25 years as Campus Store Manager. Topping her long list of Menlo highlights is when students come into the store near the holidays. Around this time, the store offers complimentary hot chocolate to help students during finals season. Not only interactions with students, but the Menlo community as a whole, is why she has loved working here. “What has made me stay as long as I have has been in the human factor, meaning the engagement with great staff and faculty I’ve worked with,” Iwamoto said. “They’ve been very, very gracious, very supportive, and I think that’s what makes the job.”
Iwamoto first arrived at Menlo in 1997 with the opening of the campus store. Since then, she has witnessed many changes at the school, especially in the activities she took on. “The tasks, the projects, have greatly changed through the years,” Iwamoto said. “When I first came in, I was hired to basically sell books […] I had to order the books from the publishers [and physically sell them, which is] very different from now because you just go online and you order anywhere.”
The digital shift was not the only big transition occurring during Iwamoto’s time at Menlo: she watched both her children graduate from Menlo in 1999 and 2005. Her now-adult children and their families live in the Pacific Northwest, so Iwamoto and her husband will move to Washington to be closer to them. “My daughter’s in Portland, and my son is just outside of Seattle,” Iwamoto said. “I’ve moved in my personal life, but it’s always been a situation where we could just drive and drop some things off at our new place. But this is a very big move.”
As she settles down into her retirement, Iwamoto hopes to do some volunteer work to keep herself busy. “I think it would be anything with children. I very much [stick] to my grandchildren […] and so we FaceTime […] [and] I like reading books [to them],” Iwamoto said. She says she wants to get involved with mentoring, helping with reading books, and activities of that nature.
Iwamoto added that she has experienced positive growth as a person in her time at Menlo. “I think [being at Menlo] has helped me to be more assertive as an Asian woman, especially an older one,” Iwamoto said. “I’ve never been one to take more of a stand and voice my opinions, and I’m still working on it, but [Menlo has] given me the opportunity to certainly make more choices and then stand behind them.”
Math teacher Henry Klee is leaving Menlo after 24 years at the school. Klee plans to start a tutoring business for high school and college math students and potentially return to teaching at a community college.
Klee received an undergraduate degree in mathematics from UC Berkeley in 1989 and a master’s degree in pure mathematics from San Francisco State University in 1991. From there, he transitioned to teaching math at the College of Marin and later at The Harker School before finding Menlo. “Menlo was a completely different place that was family-oriented,” Klee said. “I just loved the atmosphere.”
At Menlo, Klee has taught various math classes, most recently AP Calculus AB. In his words, he “marched to [his] own beat” by sticking to the principles he believed in, as opposed to the popular teaching style at Menlo. “I pursued mathematics and teaching the way I wanted to do it, in an artistic way with colors, without a lot of technology,” Klee said.
Klee recognizes that his old-school teaching style — in which most classes center around a lecture with examples on his patented blackboard — isn’t what the Menlo administration is looking for. “It’s been hard for me because it doesn’t work for me, for instance, to do group work and incorporate a lot of technology in the classroom,” Klee said. “Menlo and I have kind of grown apart: Menlo wants to be [technology-heavy], and I’m not a tech-type person.”
Still, Klee is grateful for the decades of support that Menlo has provided him. “I always felt that Menlo let me [teach how I want to teach]. What I loved about teaching here was the fact that [the administration] trusted me to teach mathematics the way I knew it needed to be taught,” Klee said. “I’ve taught thousands and thousands of students, all really, really nice people, and I’m very appreciative of my time here at Menlo.”
Creative arts teacher and Journalism Adviser Tripp Robbins is leaving Menlo after 23 years at the school. After teaching a variety of classes and advising The Coat of Arms for nearly a decade, Robbins plans to use his journalism education experience to guide students in a less time-consuming role.
Robbins first came to Menlo when his wife, Bridgett Longust, was hired as the language department chair. Robbins began teaching yearbook in the Upper School and seventh grade English and history. He was also the tech director for the theater program.
Throughout his time at Menlo, Robbins has taught a variety of classes in the Upper School, ranging from English to moviemaking to a stage combat course. “I guess I’ve been lucky to be able to explore things that I’m excited about, and to get paid to do it. So being able to shape my weird constellation of classes that’s completely, you know, sort of me, that’s been a privilege,” Robbins said.
In 2010, Upper School Director John Schafer asked Robbins if he would be interested in co-teaching the debuting journalism class “21st Century Journalism.” Robbins accepted this role, instructing students on the photo and video aspects of journalism before the adviser of The Coat of Arms left Menlo in 2014, and Schafer asked Robbins to take her place. “I was like, ‘Hell yes!’” Robbins said.
Robbins has overseen many changes in the journalism program, including a major revamping of The Coat of Arms’ website and the publication of three special editions. “One of the things I’m most proud of is just the general culture and quality of excellence I would say that we have, and that’s been built by students year after year,” Robbins said.
After Menlo, Robbins plans on working part-time as a journalism adviser. He also hopes to write for newspapers in his area, such as the Half Moon Bay Review, on a freelance basis, in addition to riding his motorcycle and spending time with his dog, Coco. “I’m glad that I will be able to dial the speed and load down,” Robbins said.
He is incredibly grateful for his time at Menlo, especially working with students. “Some of my closest friends are former students and colleagues. I love staying in touch with alums and hearing how the story of their lives continue,” Robbins said.
After over a decade of tech assistance, Tech Director Gabe Schwarzer has decided to further pursue his career outside of Menlo.
Mr. Schwarzer’s first day at Menlo was very unique. “I remember, my first day here, 12 years ago, was on Halloween, and I was not dressed up,” Schwarzer said. “That first experience gave me a really good insight into the Menlo culture and how students don’t take themselves too seriously.”
When Schwarzer first started at Menlo, his job mostly consisted of coding, but when the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, he was given the complicated task of getting the school through the pandemic. “We had to cram three to five years worth of tech changes into a single summer in order to prepare for the upcoming school year,” Schwarzer said. This included changing to new management systems, like Canvas, and updating to technology capable of handling a large influx of digital students.
Schwarzer still views his biggest accomplishment as creating the digital Knightbook that we all know today. “When I first started here, the Knightbook was all on paper, which meant it was really hard to navigate,” Schwarzer said. “So I decided to put it into a digital format over several years.” It was a long but rewarding process and Mr. Schwarzer was inspired by how useful the project would be when completed.
One part of Menlo that Mr. Schwarzer will always remember is the assemblies, which he says he thoroughly enjoyed. “My favorite assembly ever was when former Secretary of State Madeline Albright was invited to speak, which was really impactful,” Schwarzer said.
However, Mr. Schwarzer still enjoys the more playful events, such as the winter holiday assemblies. “I love how the Menlo community gets together, sings songs, and the seniors ‘go crazy.’”
Dobbie Vasquez, an Upper School Latin teacher who has worked at Menlo for 31 years, has decided to leave Menlo and retire from teaching. “[Dobbie Vasquez] has always been an inspiration to me, her energy, her passion for Latin,” Upper School French teacher Corinne Chung said. “She really gives everything to her students.”
Throughout Vasquez’s time at Menlo, she has overseen Menlo’s Junior Classical League, which is a youth academic organization that promotes the study of ancient Greece and Rome. JCL plans events, including trips to Europe and community service events with the Redwood Family House, a homeless shelter. Vasquez also oversees Halloween, Christmas and Easter celebrations, as well as waffle sales at Menlo, all to support the Redwood Family House. “I love the work that we do with the shelter,” Vasquez said.
When Vasquez started working at Menlo, she took initiative in starting the Latin program at the middle school. “Three times a week I taught a pilot class of 35 eighth graders, all boys,” Vasquez said. The next year, Menlo started a full-time middle school Latin program.
Vasquez has done a variety of activities with her students in her time at Menlo, such as Latin plays. “For years, we used to do plays with [students],” Vasquez said. “But it took a tremendous amount of time out of students’ schedules.” Other schools in the area would bring their Latin classes to see these plays during the day and parents would come in the evening.
Vazques is still helping students plan for the California Junior Classical League State Convention, which will be held at Menlo next April. “We’re setting up as much of it as possible before I go, and then I will be back probably at least two weeks before to help,” Vasquez said.
“[Vasquez] has taken the lead on everything and I’ve been learning from her how things are done at Menlo. Next year, I’ll be taking on all of those roles,” fellow Upper School Latin teacher Jennifer Jordt said.
The Latin department hired a new teacher, Tom Garvey, who will teach most of the advanced classes starting next year. “It’ll be great to have him as a partner,” Jordt said.
After retirement, Vasquez will move with her husband to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, where they are building a house.
After over five years as Menlo’s Chief of Institutional Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging, Keith Wheeler will leave the school at the end of the 2022-23 school year to become the next Head of School at Giddens School in his hometown of Seattle.
Wheeler came to Menlo with a vision to strengthen the community and its values. “My goal from the beginning of my tenure at Menlo was to create an ecosystem where every member of our constituency felt a sense of belonging,” he said.
During his tenure at Menlo, Wheeler worked on implementing a five-year strategic plan, which is currently in its fourth year. The 2022-23 Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging Strategic Plan consists of 23 strategic efforts in seven prioritized areas. According to the document, the plan aims to help Menlo grow as a heterogeneous and inclusive community.
Director of Family Support Miriam Magaña works alongside Wheeler as a part of Menlo’s EDIB Strategic Plan Leadership Team and believes Wheeler’s dedication to his role has paid off tremendously. “He’s shown that this work is important, that it matters and it makes a difference,” she said.
Magaña also admires Wheeler’s collaborative qualities. “He isn’t someone who leads from the top down. […] He’s someone who brings people together and connects them,” Magaña said.
Although he has seen the community develop resilience and become more culturally responsive, Wheeler doesn’t want the community to get comfortable with what has been accomplished. “I hope that we continue to push the envelope of change at a pace that is comfortable and aligned with our values,” Wheeler said.
In an email to the community addressing Wheeler’s departure, Head of School Than Healy said he appreciates Menlo’s progress under Wheeler’s leadership. “We’ve become substantially more diverse and inclusive, students feel a greater sense of belonging, and thus we are stronger as a school and a community,” Healy wrote.
Wheeler believes his time at Menlo has made a lasting impression on his life. “I have many memories that I will take with me for a lifetime that will inform my work moving forward,” he said. “I’m going to leave not just with professional promotion, but I’m going to leave as a better human being. […] I’m going to miss every single kid.”