By Wendy Lawrence, Inspire Contributor

It’s not clear if the place makes the people or the people make the place. But what is obvious is that something special and strong connects the group of people celebrating their five- and ten-year anniversaries at Eastside Prep. This group brings a wide variety of talents—they teach all sorts of subjects, design websites and serve food, coach sports and direct shows—but uniting them all are some fundamental traits their community loves about them.

One of those traits is a sense of humor that brings the community together. “Shar Crockett has the ability to make you laugh during the most hectic of times!” says Janine Martorano. Burton Barrager calls David Kelly-Hedrick a “super-prankster” and loves his “hairbrained ideas that end up becoming really cool and well thought out.”

“One of the things about Anthony Colello is his unstoppable sense of humor, which he often directs at himself,” says Kelly Violette. “He is kind, deeply thoughtful, and always thinking about how to serve our students—with a really strong sense of how things are experienced from their perspective.”

Lisa Frystak brings light and laughter into every room she enters,” says Paul Hagen, who loves her irreverent humor and genuine concern for her colleagues and students. Others talked about how she impressively combines intense organizational skills with good humor. Jordan Lettau mentions that Victor Guevara has a great sense of humor and admires his good-natured approach to work.

There was a lot of talk about how genuine this group is and how that leads to reflectiveness and honest engagement with each other and with students. Colello “genuinely likes to know things,” says Karen Mills, “so he’s great at asking questions and really hearing the answers.”

Bess McKinney has this ability to really listen to people, says Ed Castro. “When she gets excited, it shows up in the students. They feed off her energy and share it with the rest of the campus.”

Matt Henson appreciates the efforts Guevara has made to mentor him in his first few months at EPS: “He’s always there when you need help.” Jim Owen adds that he “instinctively knows what needs to be done” on campus.

Crockett is “genuine with the kids,” says Gilbert Ragudos. She remembers all their names and their regular orders. “They love how she is goofy with them and makes them laugh,” says Janine Martorano.

David Fierce welcomes and insists upon hearing all viewpoints in conversations with an energy and passion his colleagues appreciate.

Ryan Winkelmann says Kelly-Hedrick “has a huge heart for others, is endlessly creative, and has a wicked sense of humor.” But one of his best qualities is bringing out the honesty in others. “It’s hard not to be yourself around him.”

Holding each other accountable was a common theme for this group. “Something I truly value is Adam Kruger’s lack of hesitation at stating with great clarity and thoughtfulness something that needs to be said, whether calling out a process or idea that isn’t working well or generating new ideas,” says Ted Scott.

It’s also a kind group. Elena Olsen works with Colello and Elizabeth Andersen on the college counseling team. “My favorite thing about Colello is simple—his kindness. It is such a gift. He is a principled person with a big heart and a fantastic sense of humor.” And Andersen has a “beautifully sanguine attitude. She finds reason to be optimistic, cheerful, generous-spirited and smiling, and it is 100% sincere and authentic.”

Derek Clarke not only built an amazing website that is an important portal for the school-community connection, but he’s also a key part of connecting the in-person community. “He is always reminding others of their accomplishments. He is a great cheerleader,” says Jannell Denhart.

Fierce always advocates for those who cannot speak for themselves. “He has his colleagues’ back at all times,” says Caitlin McLane. “There are so many students, particularly young boys, who have benefited from having him in their corner.”

Sam Uzwack says Colello is always advocating for the fifth graders when whole-school plans are made. “His faith in kids is unwavering.” That faith is something a lot of them share. “Andersen believes fully in the students,” says Uzwack. Kelly Violette adds that “she is a strong, proud millennial and a fabulous role model.”

EPS students know these teachers are there for them. “I have yet to meet a student who doesn’t love Frystak,” says Sam Baldwin. “I seriously wish I had a teacher like her growing up.”

“To work with McKinney is to know that you are going to be pushed to go above and beyond for your students,” says Verity Sayles. “Her commitment to justice is rooted in her character and her profound empathy for others.”

This is a group of people always working on behalf of others.

Just knowing that Dan Yezbick is there to take over classes makes everyone at EPS feel more relaxed, says Randi-Louise Peterson. “It seems like he can cover any topic at any time!” says Sarah Hollingshead. And Kruger single-handedly created an amazingly rich set of programs in physics.

Clarke is an expert in tech, but has an artistic side, too. “We were able to discover features and functionalities for our website and graphic design projects because he can think beyond the norm,” says Tina Hadden.

Elizabeth Andersen, Literary Thinking Faculty and College Counselor, remembers being welcomed to EPS before she even interviewed by a group of seventh-grade girls who saw her waiting in the lobby. Andersen is celebrating five years at Eastside Prep.

Derek Clarke, Technology Manager, especially loves teaching the kids who have no previous experience with technology. “The really cool thing is the aha moment when they finally get it.” This is Clarke’s fifth year at EPS.

“The students, especially our youngest, remind me every day to maintain my sense of whimsy,” says Anthony Colello, Historical Thinking Faculty and College Counselor. “I am very grateful for that. I chose to come to EPS because I was drawn to the close-knit community. I can’t explain how much I have grown here as an instructor.” Colello has been at EPS for five years.

“There’s always something going on at EPS. You never really know what challenges you might face that day, but as a team we always pull it together,” says Shar Crockett, Food Services Support. “The kids amaze me in so many ways. Their kindness is the first thing that comes to mind.” Crockett is celebrating her fifth anniversary at EPS.

David Fierce, Social Science Faculty, loves working at a school where there is no teacher lounge to escape the students. “That’s a good sign!” This is Fierce’s fifth year at EPS.

Lisa Frystak, Drama Faculty and Production Coordinator, loves the fun she has with her students. If she ever has a yearbook shoutout, she says it will be “Most likely to say something inappropriate in front of Dr. Macaluso.” This marks Frystak’s fifth anniversary at EPS.

Victor Guevara, Custodian, says, “EPS is like a family to me,” and works hard to keep the campus clean, orderly, and safe for students and employees. Guevara is celebrating ten years
at EPS.

David Kelly-Hedrick, Literary Thinking Faculty and Experiential Education Coordinator, loves the connections he makes with his English students and appreciates that everyone at EPS advocates for the needs of others. Kelly-Hedrick has been at EPS for five years.

Adam Kruger, Science Faculty, loves the open-ended freedom to build creative curriculum—and the smaller moments that freedom creates, like the 2019 spontaneous dance party. This is Kruger’s fifth year at Eastside Prep.

Bess McKinney is the unofficial EPS Racewalking Champion, but officially the Equity, Inclusion and Compassionate Leadership Coordinator and Social Studies Faculty. “EPS students have taught me more than they know.” A favorite moment was watching twenty-three exhausted yet focused EPS students sprawled out in a Hampton Inn conference center in Selma, AL, intently writing in their journals and reflecting on their experiences after speaking with a participant in the historic 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery. McKinney also celebrates five years at EPS.

Dan Yezbick, Faculty, In-House Sub, and Middle School Debate Coach, first saw EPS during an eighth-grade Continuation ceremony where he saw the close community and wanted to join it. His favorite part of the school is the collaboration with his colleagues. This marks Yezbick’s fifth year at EPS.

15 years

Fifteen years ago, Eastside Prep was different in many ways—smaller, newer, shorter (only two stories), a bit less shiny, a little less fancy. But the culture and community that students, parents, and teachers love—the sense of connectedness and caring—was already there. It was there because of the dedication of people like Amis Balcomb, Jonathan Briggs, and Tina Hadden. Even though they hail from different disciplines and departments, they were working together, especially back then when the whole school felt like one department, building a foundation for a place that welcomes innovation and weirdness, that celebrates excellence and mistakes.

I remember that work because I was there. I remember the ways Hadden seemed to understand, predict, and organize every piece of a constantly-moving, three-dimensional, multimillion-piece puzzle. I remember Balcomb calmly creating new lessons, whole new classes, sometimes on the fly, constantly teaching herself as she taught the students. I remember how Briggs created whole systems from scratch and patiently walked his colleagues through them. (I also remember how quickly he saved my laptop when I completely submersed it in a puddle while running late to a meeting. When I arrived and dropped it, soaking wet, on the desk in front of him, he didn’t even seem surprised. The ability to pick up any problem at any time and run with it is a Briggs specialty.)

In fact, it’s an EPS specialty. Balcomb, Briggs, and Hadden were all instrumental to the founding of the school. They succeeded—and the school succeeded—because they could handle anything that was dropped (sometimes literally) into their laps. Hadden could plan a major event while juggling multiple spreadsheets and moving from one office to another. Balcomb could teach any age with any set of materials and collaborate with any other subject.

I always love writing the anniversary articles for Eastside Prep because they show the talent, passion, and love of this community. When colleagues speak on behalf of each other, their values reflect in their words—they always choose to talk about the kindness of their colleagues, their reflectiveness, their passion. But this article, especially, was fun for me because these three mean so much to me, even so many years after I’ve left their daily presence.

What hasn’t Balcomb done for this school? Colleague Lisa Frystak says it best: “I don’t think there’s any way to quantify just how important Amis is to EPS. Her compassion, patience, and ability to think outside the box bring art to every corner of the EPS community.” Balcomb has a way of connecting to the students that is really important. She cares deeply about their work and the artist inside them.

“If a student is struggling, or a little more introverted, she can tap into them,” says Frystak. She meets every student where they are and engages their joy of creativity. Both Ed Castro and Frystak appreciate Balcomb’s ability to stay calm and consistent. But beneath the calm is a passion for art she models for her students. “Amis has a way of taking stress from someone else and turning it into a positive, usable action that helps solve problems,” says Castro. “She helps everyone feel heard.”

One of the favorite lessons she taught was having students draw a pair of eyes on stiff paper and then wear them as glasses in front of a green screen. Balcomb remembers how much fun it was and says she’s always appreciated that EPS has given her the autonomy to develop her curriculum. Balcomb is an amazing teacher partly because she is also a student. “My fifteen years at EPS has been an epic learning process,” she says.

Jonathan Briggs describes his time at EPS as the chance to “build the school I wish I could have gone to.” He has spent nearly his whole adult life at EPS, starting when he was twenty-six and engaged and now in his forties watching two of his three children attend the school. He loves that EPS continually pushes assumptions of what education is supposed to be.

Since starting at EPS, Briggs has built the school’s technology infrastructure, created a 1:1 laptop program, and built a custom student information system, which his colleagues very much appreciate. “Four11!” says Jannell Denhart when asked what Briggs’ greatest gift to the school is. She loves the customizability and power of the Briggs-original system.

“Jonathan’s combination of high bandwidth, humbleness, and student-first focus is a gift to EPS,” says colleague Matt Delaney, who also loves Briggs’ quirky sense of humor and problem-solving skills. In fact, another one of his gifts is “finding simple solutions” to complex problems. And he’s happy while doing it. “Briggs has the ability to muster impressive enthusiasm in almost everything he does,” says Denhart.

Throughout the years, Briggs has been excited to be part of designing new buildings and new maker spaces, as well as the TEDxEastsidePrep event that brought in speakers from all over the country. And it’s unclear if there’s a course in math, science, or computing that Briggs hasn’t taught at some point. In the fifteen years he’s been here, he’s taught eighth-grade Science, US Physics, Calculus, Programming, and a whole lot of others. One of his favorite lessons was building audio speakers out of a plastic cup and magnet wire, but he most loves when students are doing their own presentations. Because, as with so many others at EPS, it’s never about him and all about what he can do for the students.

It would be impossible to describe what Tina Hadden does for the school, but she summarizes it modestly as supporting the Board and Head of School’s office. Basically, anything the Head is involved in, Hadden is involved in. But she’s more than the best support those offices could ask for—Hadden is a creator and a thinker and an originator, the perfect person to drive the behind-the-scenes implementation of the EPS mission. She organizes, plans, and follows through on any goal, and she will always make it better in the process. While working on the community newsletter, Hadden suggested creating the INSIGHT section, where community members share reflections, and it’s been a hugely successful part of the newsletter for three years now.

Other EPS leaders have no idea where they would be without Hadden. She remembers everything. “In a meeting someone will say, remember that thing we sent out about the thing?” says Vickie Baldwin. And Hadden just finds it. Immediately. “She’s the rock of SLT,” says John Stegeman. “Nothing fazes her, and she’s the only one who can keep up with Dr. Macaluso.” Stegeman also loves the way Hadden’s presence is felt in the group. “You know it’s a funny joke when Tina cracks just half a smile,” he says.

Hadden has loved her EPS journey. “It’s a great feeling to be part of an organization from the beginning. In my first year, we had twelve students in the Upper School and how we have more than 500 in the MS and US. I’ve seen the joys and pains of growth. I’ve seen how the mission remained the same.” Hadden reflects that life at EPS is never boring. Change is the only thing that stays the same. “No matter how much we’ve grown, the desire to improve has not waned.”