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Teacher Interview: Lee Holtzman ’01, Comes Home
Shannon Lyons
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!’”

“Nueva fed the part of me that needed to keep learning,” Lee continued. “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.”

Thomas Wolfe wrote, “You can’t go home again,” but Lee might have figured out a way! In fact, she has figured out how to do the work that she loves, in a place that she loves, and with people that she loves — at Nueva. “I resonate with the gifted population,” she said. “I feel like I have access to their internal world in a way that helps me connect with them and love working with them.”

In true Nueva form, Lee loved learning and trying new things. She tried a few different paths before finding teaching, and soon after found her way to becoming a teacher at Nueva. “Teaching is the best,” she said. “You get to hang out with students while they learn stuff.” Nueva was always in the background throughout her journey to this career path.

Nueva and Lee’s time in High School (before there was an Upper School): “All throughout my high school years, I would come do Lit Club or come help with the after-school program. Even though I wasn’t being paid.”

“My high school senior year 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.’”

Nueva and Lee’s first job: “My Nueva middle school computer science teacher was working for my dad at a small start-up. She came out to Chicago, where I was living, and offered me an internship. My dad didn’t even know that she’d hired me, he found out from HR.” Lee worked for her middle school computer science teacher for three years. Even while working for the start-up, Lee would “sneak out of hi-tech to go substitute teach at Nueva. I did Lit Club too. I would come to Nueva on Friday mornings, read War and Peace with the kids, and then go to product design meetings for the start-up.”

Nueva and Lee’s first teaching job: Lee decided to try something other than the start-up world and the Bay Area. So, she moved to New York City and became an Associate Teacher at the City and Country School. She loved it immediately. The spring of Lee’s first year of teaching in New York, she was scheduled to meet one of her teachers from Nueva for tea. However, instead of meeting with her former teacher, she connected with Liza Raynal (eighth-grade ’95), now the Middle School Head, in the lobby of the hotel where she was scheduled to meet her former teacher. After an hour and a half of talking and catching up with Liza, Liza offered Lee a job as an Associate Teacher at Nueva. It ends up that was the entire reason Liza met with her, and the entire reason her former teacher “flaked” on her.

In an effort to encourage more alumni to return as teachers, and to retain the culture of Nueva as the school grew to a PreK–12 school, Lee was invited back to be the sixth-grade writing teacher in the Associate Teacher Program. This, of course, had been Liza’s plan all along. Or, as Lee explains, “They punked me.”

Nueva and Lee’s History of Science Degree:

Nueva tenth graders take a course called an Interdisciplinary Studies of Science, or ISOS (formally known as History of Science). This class empowers students to understand the role of science in society and help them become critically engaged citizens.

After a year as the sixth-grade writing teacher, word got out that Lee was not only a stellar humanities teacher and writer, but she was also incredibly knowledgeable about the History of Science. “Who knew that getting a History of Science degree would ever be useful,” Lee quips. “That is how I came to the Upper School, because I have a History of Science degree.”

 

Only Lee was surprised that she became a teacher, and a teacher at Nueva. Lee explains, “No one else was surprised that I became a teacher… Nobody else was surprised when I came back to Nueva. They were all like, ‘Congratulations on finally figuring it out!” The trajectory of Lee’s life has brought her back home to Nueva, and hearing her share the story, it seems as though Nueva stayed with her throughout her journey. Lucky for Nueva to have gotten her back!


 



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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!’”

Judee Brasesco and her two grandsons

Judee Brasesco has the unique perspective of seeing how Nueva shaped two generations of students in her family. When she learned about the Nueva School in the 1970s, she had two school-aged children, Jill Brasesco Thomsen (’77 sixth-grade graduate) and J.D. Brasesco (’80 sixth-grade graduate). Last spring, Judee’s oldest grandsons, Scott Brasesco ’18 and Chip Thomsen ’18, graduated from Nueva, and her youngest grandson, Jack B., is now an eleventh grader at Nueva.  

 Andrew Lam and his parents in a city

When Andrew Lam (eighth grade,’01) visited the Upper School with his father last year, he was thrilled to see learning in progress. “There was stuff all over the floor,” he said. “An intentional mess of art and science projects where kids were learning and exploring.” He was happy to see that the culture of exploration and the freedom to make and learn from mistakes were still part of the school he loved so much.

Fun graphic, "May the task force be with you"

The Bridge Experience Task Force

Mission

1) To explore the idea of a Nueva Gap Year Program.

2) The task force determined that Nueva is well positioned to provide graduates with a unique gap year experience, and the task force was charged with defining and launching the program.

Three students from the Class of 2018 meet with Diane Rosenberg

"As you embark on your journey from here, I just wanted to warn you: you may end up back here.”

Lee Holtzman — upper school history of science teacher and Nueva alum — shared these opening remarks as she welcomed the Class of 2018 at their first official alumni gathering earlier this month. Just two days after graduates flipped their tassels and tossed their caps, they gathered at the upper school for a brunch to embrace their new official status as Nueva alums.

A Jane of All Trades

What do a wedding officiant, violinist, actor, stunt performer, stunt-coordinator, singer/songwriter, and audio book narrator have in common? They are all means of employment for New Orleans resident and Nueva alumna Olga Munding ’86. She also publishes the occasional short story and in the future hopes to complete a book on the time she spent with blues legend Jessie Mae Hemphill. 

The Walking Dead Editor Got His Start at Nueva

For the past six years, Nueva alum Dan Liu ’96 has been an editor for the award-winning AMC television show The Walking Dead. Dan got his start by editing the concept trailer for Da Vinci's Demons with an editor of The Walking Dead, who then brought Dan on as his assistant editor for Season 2. He has been a full editor for several seasons now.

Designing Philz Coffee Shops

Among the many moments Heather Keane Leonard ’98 remembers from her days at The Nueva School, the most vivid are the times she spent outside exploring the natural beauty of Nueva’s Hillsborough campus. Whether she was studying the shallow root systems of redwoods, playing the xylophone under the willow tree, eating miner’s lettuce along the Crocker Road fire trail, learning about Native Americans, or acting out Billy Goats Gruff on the “Billy Goat Bridge,” Heather understood that the outdoors were not only her playground at Nueva but also her principal classroom.

Rapping for Social Change

Through his organization Rap Force Academy, Nueva alumnus Rahman Jamaal ’96 has been pioneering Hip Hop education for the last fifteen years, since he first encountered the educational nonprofit Hip Hop Congress. He helps people improve their communication skills through writing and performing rap songs in workshops designed to enhance a person’s self-expression and awareness. Students build their artistic creativity by playing with words and trying out their own voice as they develop their musical prowess and employ nuances of sound to write a rap.