This is part two of a four-part series exploring the ways in which staff are working behind the scenes to make school run smoothly and safely for students, staff and parents, especially in this time of change during the pandemic.
Booker T. Washington once said, "Those who are happiest are those who do the most for others."
If this is the case, among the happiest people at Nueva are the division and administrative assistants, whose work—almost entirely behind the scenes—makes them part of every aspect of school life. At the core of all of the teams at Nueva—from faculty to facilities to administrators and everyone in between—is the administrative support team, which includes Caron Anscombe, Jennifer Caputo, Laurel Donnenwirth, Sarah Howard, Rachael Moscato, Gina Ruiz, Janice Toy, and Carolina Valencia.
Caron, Sarah, Gina, and Janice support the senior leadership team of Head of School Lee Fertig, Associate Head of School Terry Lee, and Director of Teaching and Learning Elizabeth Rossini; Division Heads Liza Raynal, Megan Terra, and Karen Tiegel; and the Nueva Board of Trustees. Jennifer, Laurel, Rachael, and Carolina are also first people students and faculty see when they arrive on campus, staffing the all-important front desks on both campuses.
Lee sang their praises, “The true unsung heroes at Nueva are those behind the scenes who constantly keep the engine going, who make sure we stay afloat when things are rough, and who make the rest of us on the front lines always look good These are the office, personal, and administrative assistants that directly and indirectly support so many of us—often one step ahead of everyone—always present, even when unseen.”
While this team is one that has always helped keep the school moving forward, they have had a particular impact on the success of Nueva operations since the start of the pandemic. Onsite since its start in March 2020, the team worked with the leadership and faculty teams to ensure that everything was and continues to be in place for students, which included the complex task of executing a high school graduation that complied with all state and county COVID requirements and still felt like the Nueva way.
“As we watched San Mateo’s in-person event policy change,” Caron shared, “our plans went from 1,000-plus attendees at graduation to possibly delaying celebrations, and then finally settling on a drive-in. The team worked with operations and event planners to work out how we could create the best possible experience for families and students and provide them with the send-off they deserved.”
“A graduation is hard enough to pull off in-person given all of the moving parts,” said Director of College Counseling Gavin Bradley, who, in his role on the leadership team, saw closely all of the complexities Graduation 2020 had. “To plan a graduation in a remote setting on the Hillsborough campus under COVID restrictions, Gina and her team were amazing to pull that off, especially as seamlessly as it went.”
This typically behind-the-scenes team had another critical and outward-facing project that they undertook this fall: coordinating and assembling student kits.
“The admin team worked with tech, operations, teachers, and leadership to order supplies for the new year,” Caron explained. “The gym at Hillsborough and the cafe at San Mateo was a flood with banker boxes containing 957 student kits to get them up and running for 2020–21. From paper, books, and pens to science equipment, canvases, and keyboards, the kits were unlike anything we’ve ever taken on before. Every single one of the kits was customized for each student.”
“The I-lab team created custom student kits that allowed us to send the I-Lab home to them,” said I-Lab Director Angi Chau, “and it was with the banker box system that the administrative team set up that helped to ensure our students received all of their materials efficiently.”
In addition to these two large projects, the team continued forward with a whole slew of other responsibilities. The team used its time during daily Zoom meetings to create multiple plans for a variety of scenarios. They have arranged virtual meetings and events, including town halls, community singing, and division coffees; helped reschedule onsite music lessons as remote ones; and worked with the leadership team to cancel flights and other trip arrangements.
“Gina, Caron, Janice, Sarah, and their team are a dream to work with,” said Liza, who worked closely with Sarah in the spring in her role as middle school head and now works closely with Gina in her new role. “If you think about us at about 950 students and about 200 faculty and staff—with many additional contractors—you could equate what our administrative team does to keeping a small town running. They do it so well, they are always smiling because they are doing this for the students.”
Caron said of her colleagues, “Jennifer and Laurel’s approaches to special projects are so important. Jen offers a warm, welcome face for students as they come to school each day, and it’s so clear how much Laurel cares for our students.”
As for administrative assistants Rachael and Carolina, both based at the Hillsborough campus, Karen is so grateful for the work they do.
“Rachael knows everything about so many things, especially transportation,” Karen said. “She knows which buses go where, what the routes are, and which students are on which buses. And Carolina knows how to contact anyone. Her efficiency and skills with tech is incredible.”
In the lower school, Janice has been a stalwart presence for students, parents, and faculty. She supports Megan with everything from coordinating schedules to fielding student and parent questions to setting up and assisting with lower school meetings and town halls.
“As a division assistant, especially during these past ten months, it has truly been about partnerships,” Janice said. “This has included not only consistent communication with team members and one another, but also with our amazing student and parent community.”
Megan is so appreciative of the work Janice does day in and day out.
“Janice is the best in every way,” she said.
On top of tackling graduation, student kits, and all of the usual responsibilities, Caron, Gina, and Sarah were also tasked with helping to onboard Lee, Liza, and Karen, respectively, into their new roles.
Karen sees Sarah as her Swiss army knife: “Sarah plays an incredibly valuable role in the middle school office. She’s the go-to person: Ordering a lunch? Talk to Sarah! Moving a student to another gem group? Talk to Sarah! Going to be absent? Talk to Sarah! And all of this is fueled by how much she loves the students.”
“I felt immensely rewarded by seeing the joy on the students' faces as they made their way back to campus this January,” Sarah said. “It was a privilege to help Karen with this, and I am so looking forward to a positive and exciting 2021 at Nueva.”
“We really enjoy being the team working backstage with operations to make sure that we offer the best—on campus and off—that we can for our students, parents, and staff,” Caron shared.
It is clear through all of the projects this team has taken on—both big and small—that their impact has been felt across the entire community.
“Collectively, these administrative assistants are at the core of the Nueva experience,” Lee said. “To all of them, thank you so much for everything you do in service of the Nueva community!”