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!’”

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


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.