New Faces Join the Faculty

...and some veterans assume new roles.
The first few weeks of a new school year are a time of settling into new roles. For the students new to campus, everything is fresh, and there is little that does not feel like an adjustment. And last year’s juniors must also navigate new territory as they assume campus leadership roles as this year’s seniors. Sophomores step up to become juniors and last year’s newbies find themselves part of the welcoming committee. But change is not the monopoly of the young. This year, faculty and administrators are among those learning their ways around campus (or simply around a new office).

Here is the roster of this year's additions to the faculty:

Karen Haldeman comes to us from the Ojai Valley School, where she has taught math and psychology classes for the last eight years. A Ventura County native who grew up in Camarillo riding horses and camping, Karen lives in Santa Paula and teaches Math II and Calculus part-time with us this year. Given her background of enjoying the outdoors in the region, Thacher activities and our beautiful campus setting are happily familiar to her. Karen is also helping to coach our varsity girls' volleyball team, and she feels excited to work with and learn from the dynamic faculty at Thacher. Karen reports that she “enjoys the collegiality of the mathematics department” and “feels inspired to grow as a teacher through working with them and the thoughtful, motivated, interesting, and interested students.”

Returning to Thacher after graduating from Davidson College and teaching second grade for the past two years at Monica Ross in Ojai is Cal Jensen CdeP 2006. Cal shares, “My time here as a student shaped me into who I am today, and I am humbled by the opportunity to share my experiences and knowledge in an attempt to help guide current students to discover their own path.” Cal replaces his father in the role of technical director for campus events, assuring all of us that audio-visual equipment will be prepared to run smoothly for School presentations and performances. (Thankfully, Cal also has a great sense of humor, so he’ll keep us smiling through any unexpected glitches.) Cal’s role includes running the theater in the Milligan Center for the Performing Arts as well as directing the student-staffed tech crew. Also acting as one of the faculty advisors to the Indoor Committee and coaching varsity baseball, Cal lives on campus in the cozy and charming Music Box.

Kim Maxwell is a professional acting teacher with a non-profit workshop studio in downtown Ojai who has signed on with the School to teach Freshman Drama. Starting her career as an actress, Kim appeared in numerous plays, commercials, TV shows, and films. As her passion for stories broadened to in include producing, directing, writing and teaching, Kim co-founded Theater 150 in 1996 and served as its original artistic director for 11 years. The following year she co-founded the Ojai Playwrights Conference where she continues to serve on the board and as the director of its youth workshop, and even more recently, Kim was given the Lifetime Achievement Award from the city of Ojai. Kim tells us, “I like Assemblies and kindness and teachers who love movies. I like big trees, apple bins, Robotics Club, and soft serve machines. I like trustees that blush with passion at what they learned here. I like people with the patience and wisdom to wait for a big ol' bear to make his way down from a tree, spurs on the Dining Hall floor, and investing myself in a place where I feel welcomed, valued, challenged, and inspired. I guess I like Thacher a lot.” Kim lives off-campus with her two wonderful kids, Lily and Woody, and her speckly dog, Willa.

Donald Okpalugo will serve the community in various capacities; as a Thacher Fellow, he will contribute in the Admission office, teach a sophomore elective on African history in the winter and the spring, and coach basketball. Donald is originally from Manchester, England; he attended boarding school himself as an international student at Deerfield Academy and graduated from Pomona College this past spring. Living in Los Padres dormitory, Donald advises junior boys and is also one of the faculty advisors to the Indoor Committee. When asked about what he has noticed about the School thus far, Donald said, "In my first six weeks at Thacher, I have been most impressed by the emotional maturity of the student body. The majority of students seem extremely comfortable around faculty and staff; when I see them around campus they are often laughing and smiling, but also seem to recognize when it's time to exercise moderation, knuckle down, and get work done."

Jim Poulsen comes to Thacher as our new director of finance and operations after 18 years of experience as the business manager at Northfield Mount Hermon. Jim has a BA in economics from Williams College and earned his MBA from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. His initial boarding school experience was at Middlesex School, where he was assistant business manager and an assistant football coach. Jim is happy to be at Thacher despite his background of living exclusively on the East Coast, and he considers the prospect of EDTs an especially exciting opportunity to work with students and faculty on different grounds. He has two sons: Luke, a freshman at Macalester College, and Dominick, a sixth former starting his freshman year of high school at Eaglebrook in Massachusetts. Jim currently lives above the Business Office.

Teaching Spanish, advising in Upper School, serving as a faculty advisor to the Environmental Action Committee, and coaching JV soccer is Juan Sanchez. Juan earned his BS from Universidad Estatal a Distancia in Costa Rica and also has an MS from Tufts University. Prior to Thacher, Juan taught Spanish at the Cambridge School of Weston in Massachusetts. He has a strong background in sustainable development in both the private and the public sectors, and using this expertise, Juan has developed a study abroad program in Costa Rica and Panama combining Spanish immersion with elements of environmental science, tropical ecology, and green building practices. Juan moved from Boston with his wife Xena Grossman; they are living on campus with their dog, Asha, and their brand new baby girl, Sierra, who was born on September 21.

Tim and Courtney Sullivan relocated to Ojai from Baltimore, where they both worked at private day schools (Tim at Loyola Blakefield, and Courtney at The Boys’ Latin School). Courtney and Tim met in Oxford, England while getting their MAs from Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English, and the school-minded couple was married last summer. A graduate of Princeton, Tim has come to our campus as associate director of admission, where he is able to share his enthusiasm for Thacher’s community and spirit of adventure with prospective families while also making time to advise junior boys and coach varsity lacrosse. Courtney, who attended Rice University as an undergraduate and has an MFA in visual art from Carnegie Mellon, is happy to be back in California where she got her first taste of teaching at Polytechnic School in Pasadena. Advising freshman girls and working part-time in Communications keeps her busy as Courtney prepares for the arrival of the Sullivan’s first child, who is scheduled to grace their Upper School apartment in mid-February. Courtney reports, “Tim and I are thrilled to be at Thacher; it has been a dream of ours to join this community for some time, and the warm welcome we’ve received from faculty and students alike has quickly made this place feel like home."

New Roles for Some Veterans
Having served as director of studies and assistant head of school for three decades, Peter Robinson has returned to the classroom full time this fall, a move that students embrace and eagerly anticipate. In addition to his work in Olympus, Peter has maintained a presence in the classroom, teaching AP Art History for the past eight years and instructing electives on such interesting topics as film and Shakespeare. Now, he’s returned to his first passion of teaching English in addition to art history.

Blossom Beatty Pidduck CdeP 1992, who served as Thacher’s dean of faculty for the past two years and English teacher for the last nine years, has stepped in as the new director of studies. Blossom matriculated from Thacher to Amherst College, where she graduated with a BA in English and American Studies in 1996. She then earned a master’s in education in English from Harvard University in 1997. She worked in Thacher’s Admission Office for two years prior to teaching English at the Viewpoint School for five years before returning to Thacher. Taking over from Blossom, Spanish and history teacher Jeff Hooper began his three-year term as dean of faculty this fall. A graduate of Trinity University with a major in economics and a minor in Spanish, Jeff earned a master’s degree in Latin American history from the University of Texas. Since joining Thacher’s faculty in 2002, Jeff has served as Thacher’s football coach, director of the Senior Exhibition Program, and coordinator of the recently launched Capstone Consortium.

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