We say goodbye to faculty and staff who have served CA for more than 20 years
by Nancy Shohet West ’84
34 Years – Mathematics Department, Academic Office
“I’ve known since age 6 that I wanted to teach mathematics,” says Deborah Gray. “The only question was at which level.” After beginning her career at St. Paul’s School, she was drawn by CA’s strong academic reputation and supportive math department members — including then-chair Bill Adams P’98, whom she’d met during a summer teaching program. “She could teach any course we offered,” Adams says. “She embraced new technologies quickly. She mentored both students and new teachers well.”
Two separate CA teaching stints followed, the first from 1977 to 1983 and the second from 1993 to 2019. During the hiatus, she wrote graphical statistics software and tutored at the college level. Since 2019, Gray has focused exclusively on academic scheduling at CA, which had already been her purview for years; she maximized student choice while factoring in the faculty and school’s many needs and limitations. Adams says she surpassed all expectations as scheduler due to her “hard work, clear thinking, and a meticulous system that she developed” — and because she is, “quite simply, the most organized person I have ever met.”
Much has changed at CA during Gray’s tenure: Enrollment, facilities, and the course catalog have grown, and students come from increasingly diverse backgrounds. “There is far more institutional awareness of and support for the issues and needs of students and adults of color and of the LGBTQIA+ community,” Gray says. “As our revised mission states, we are diverse and striving for equity. It is challenging and humbling work.”
Always active in the life of the school, Deborah Gray attends a celebration of the completion of CA Houses renovations in the Haines-Hobson Commons in October 2019.
In 2007, Gray introduced Harvard physics professor Eric Mazur’s method of peer instruction in her teaching, shifting to a balanced mix of lecture, discussion, and sample problems. After learning more about differentiated instruction, she created a range of exercises “from straightforward practice to nonroutine problems, and students could choose for themselves where to start,” she says. “Some students love math, some are there only because colleges expect it, but all have a passion for learning and appreciate a teacher’s organization and enthusiasm for the subject being taught.”
Gray will take up residence at Kendal at Oberlin, a life plan community in the Ohio town where she spent her undergraduate days. There, she looks forward to volunteering, reading, participating in Bahá’í faith activities — and, yes, studying more math. “I’m so very grateful to CA for this long chapter I’m now completing,” she says, “and I’m eager to discover my next adventures.”
33 Years – Performing Arts Department
After 32 years at Concord Academy, Amy Spencer P’13 is still energized by CA students. “They’re sophisticated in many ways, and they don’t have a lot of preconceived notions,” she says. “That’s kept my creative juices flowing.”
For more than 20 years as head of CA’s Performing Arts Department, Spencer has cultivated a laboratory exploring intersections of music, dance, and theater. Such partnership has generated many memorable projects including Don’t Ask Me, a performance co-created by the CA Singers, Dance Company, and Theater Company, and Much Ado About Nothing, a feature-length movie musical. She encouraged the development of digital music production, film scoring, and sound design, and helped the school envision new arts facilities that will support even more interdisciplinary possibilities.
Jessica Cloutier-Plasse, theater faculty and production manager, calls Spencer’s mentorship “a masterclass in leadership.” She credits the department’s positive trajectory to Spencer’s “flexibility, elegance, grace, strength,discipline, focus, and the trust of a dancer in her partner.”
Prior to joining the faculty in 1989, Spencer and her husband, Richard Colton, were members of Twyla Tharp Dance, and while teaching, Spencer was able to continue performing with companies such as Pilobolus and the White Oak Dance Project. The couple founded Summer Stages Dance at CA, which continues to involve Concord alumnae/i at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston.
They started CA’s Dance Company (now Dance Project) to create original work with students and engage them in the creative process. “Technique was in support of problem-solving and collaboration,” Spencer says. “We never wanted a flashy, competitive atmosphere.” She has also loved introducing beginners to dance as a communicative art form.
“With Amy, we were more than just students,” says Eliza Miller ’94, who taught at Summer Stages and is now a vascular neurologist in New York City. “In her eyes we were artists, and she was our mentor. She taught us how to dance, but more than that, she taught us how to notice the strangeness of human movement and recognize its beauty, without looking for some kind of meaning or message. Later I came to understand that Amy was part of a direct dance lineage from Merce Cunningham through Viola Farber, who was Amy’s teacher and a founding Cunningham dancer. Amy was the first person to open my eyes to what was really a revolutionary way of approaching dance — and art in general, maybe even life.”
Amy Spencer directs a rehearsal of Bewilderness, an original CA Dance Project production that addressed the environmental crisis with urgency and beauty in November 2019.
21 Years – English Department
Twenty years in CA’s English Department have yielded some memorable moments for retiring faculty member Abby Laber P’16. Once, she persuaded her whole class to bark like Theseus’ “hounds of Sparta.” Another classroom enactment of A Midsummer Night’s Dream inspired a quiet, brainy student to roll on the floor in the part of Bottom. “When we allow ourselves to engage in that kind of playfulness, wonderful things happen,” Laber says.
Anticipating the election, the department decided to teach Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric in the fall semester. “I was grateful to my colleagues for their foresight. It’s a work that helps us to have meaningful discussions about the racial injustice in the world around us,” Laber says. “On the other hand, there’s so much we still need to learn about social equity in the classroom context.”
A summer 2014 sabbatical at the Globe Theatre in London and her faculty role at the Bard College Institute for Writing and Thinking have influenced Laber’s teaching, as have CA’s students. “The conceptual work CA students do in the arts makes them intelligent in a very particular way,” she says. “And they learn so much about storytelling and the power of narrative when they listen to one another’s chapels.”
Whether mentoring new teachers or even taking classes herself from ceramics instructor Monica Ripley, Laber has prized her faculty relationships. “I’m always amazed by the collegiality in my department and throughout the school,” she says. “I have loved thinking and collaborating with my generous, creative colleagues.”
In turn, her colleagues have been inspired by her vision, generosity, thoughtful listening, and humor. “I love the way Abby thinks about writing as an expression of thinking and an extension of thinking,” says English Department Head Ayres Stiles-Hall, who praises “the way she helps student learn to be better writers, even if they think they’re not good at it, by giving them an environment where they can learn to trust their own voice.”
“Abby has a knack for seeing the possible even in difficult situations, and for helping others see it too,” says English teacher Alison Lobron. “Whether she’s helping a colleague think through a thorny classroom dilemma or helping students believe in the value of a messy rough draft, her confidence and optimism are wonderfully infectious.” Her fellow teacher Nancy Boutilier adds, “Abby is one of those colleagues who makes everyone around her a better teacher.”
21 Years – Performing Arts Department
Numerous forces have influenced Diana Thompson’s 21-year career as a vocal and instrumental instructor at CA: her training at the School of Contemporary Music in Boston; her 10-year mentorship with jazz, pop, and Broadway vocal teacher Eddie Watson; the years she spent as a performer in jazz clubs and coffeehouses and singing with a wide variety of bands; and a decades-long musical and personal partnership with her husband, former CA faculty member Ross Adams.
She arrived at CA in 2000 to teach voice, piano, and guitar. Not long after that, shows like American Idol and Glee, along with pop-influenced musicals such as Rent and Wicked (and more recently, Hamilton), began to spark a new wave of interest in singing. “CA has always had a strong classical music program,” Thompson says. “But we were seeing an influx of kids who wanted an experience other than singing in a traditional chorus.”
One of those students, Ada Obieshi ’14, now a professional actress and singer based in New York, describes music as something she’d loved but had felt was out of reach to her as a first-generation student of color at CA. “Meeting Diana was a pivotal moment that changed my idea about what I thought was possible,” Obieshi says. “Her coaching formed the foundation of my music education and gave me the confidence to perform. Vocal coaches are incredible at training a muscle you can’t see — it’s something you control through feeling and visualization. Diana, thank you for teaching me how to project from my third eye and send my voice over the hill.”
Diana Thompson. Photo by Ross Adams.
In 2009, Thompson and Adams started CA’s very successful Vocal, Jazz, and Pop Ensemble. “Ross directed the instrumentalists and I trained the vocalists,” Thompson says. “What I loved most about this setting was that it gave me an opportunity to develop each singer’s unique talent, as well as their ability to work together as a group. It was most gratifying to see their confidence grow, and the greatest rewards for me were the stellar performances they gave at Music Cafe each year.”
In retirement, Thompson plans to garden, travel, organize her enormous music library, and write a book about her singing methodology. “It will be good to have the time to focus on these,” she says, “and perhaps get back to performing again as a vocalist.”
24 Years – Health Services
Framed nature photographs taken by Eve Fraser-Corp, RN, have helped make CA’s Health Center feel comfortable and connected to the earth. When she departs CA this spring after 24 years on staff, they’ll remain on the walls, a reminder of her caring presence. “Eve is a nurse by profession but also by constitution,” says Jeff Desjarlais, director of health and student support services. “She nurtures everybody.” He credits her with building the Health Services team.
When she accepted a nursing position at CA in 1997, her children were young and she had recently moved back to Massachusetts from California. She started alone, though after two years she lobbied successfully for another full-time nurse. Early on, she worked in an old infirmary, without computers (she would stuff appointment reminders in student mailboxes).
Now the staff includes a full counseling team and works closely with the athletics trainers, fully part of the Student Health and Athletics Center (the SHAC). “Every year, it’s just gotten better and better — the team we have and the policies we’ve developed,” she says. “We’ve worked hard to make the Health Center a haven, for boarders and day students alike.”
She had always valued getting to know students, but when she moved onto campus four years ago and became a house faculty member, she experienced a new side of CA. She “tried to take house food to the nth degree,” she says, making Thai soups, Jamaican jerk chicken, and lemon squares. And she counts as a “huge honor” having been asked to sit in the family bench for a few students’ chapel talks. “Chapels can bowl me over,” she says. “This place gives such a beautiful foundation to so many.”
Fraser-Corp and her husband, Kevin, are moving to Nantucket, Mass., where she will work at a Nantucket Cottage Hospital outpatient clinic. The island has been a home base for her family for decades. But she plans to stay connected, she says, to “this remarkably caring and creative community.” And she hopes to reunite with colleagues and alumnae/i during CA’s Centennial.