Alumni News

Teacher Interview: Lee Holtzman ’01, Comes Home
Shannon Lyons
Alumni Lee Holtzman poses with a lemur

“My years as a Nueva middle school student were the best three years of my intellectual life,” eighth-grade class of 2001 alum Lee Holtzman said. “Nueva fed the part of me that needed to keep learning. We would stay in the math room after lunch and use the whiteboards. It wasn’t weird or geeky, it’s just what people did. Some people went to the music room, some people went to the math room. It felt like home.”

As Thomas Wolfe once wrote, “You can’t go home again,” but Lee might disagree. Today she teaches at Nueva -- doing work she loves, in a place she loves, and with people she loves.
After graduating from eighth grade, Lee went to Menlo School but never lost touch with Nueva. “Throughout my high school years, I came back to participate in Lit Club or help with the after-school program, because I loved being connected,” Lee said.

“My high school senior project was a comparison of schools with progressive pedagogy around the Bay Area. Or, as one of my teachers described it, ‘a veiled way of saying Nueva was better than anywhere else.’ ”

Love of Teaching Leads to Nueva

In true Nueva form, Lee was passionate about learning and trying new things. She traveled a few different paths, including the world of high tech startups, before taking her first teaching job in New York City. She began as an Associate Teacher at the City and Country School, and immediately loved being in the classroom.

But Nueva was still in the background, with connections that remained an important part of her life. During the spring of her first year, Lee had the opportunity to meet one of her teachers from Nueva in Manhattan for tea, but instead she found herself talking with Liza Raynal (Nueva eighth-grade alum, class of 1995), now the Middle School Head. After an hour and a half of talking and catching up, Liza offered Lee a job as an Associate Teacher at Nueva. Turns out there was a little more than serendipity at work, and Lee was thrilled by the offer to join the Associate Teacher Program as the sixth-grade writing teacher. This, of course, had been Liza’s plan all along. Or, as Lee explains, “They punked me.”

The Value of a History of Science Degree

This set in motion Lee’s career at her Nueva “home.” After a year as the sixth-grade writing teacher, word got out that Lee was not only a stellar humanities teacher and writer, but was also incredibly knowledgeable about the History of Science. “Who knew that getting a History of Science degree would ever be useful?” Lee quips. “But it’s the reason I came to the Upper School.”

It seems that only Lee was surprised that she had arrived as a teacher at Nueva. “Everyone else seemed to know this is what I’d do,” she said. “They told me, ‘Congratulations on finally figuring it out!’ ”  Lucky for Nueva that we brought her back “home.”

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Alumni Lee Holtzman poses with a lemur

“My years at Nueva were the best three years of my intellectual life,” upper school teacher and eighth-grade class of 2001 alum Lee Holtzman said. “Ever since I left Nueva, it was always the biggest part of me. Which is odd because I was only here for three years.” After only one week at the school, Lee identified the need for Nueva to expand from a PreK–8 school to PreK–12. “The end of my first week at Nueva (I started in sixth grade, so I was eleven), I went into the Head of School’s office, sat down, and said ‘You need to start a high school, because I need to go there!’”