Herr Igor Jasinski is back! This year, he will be teaching a variety of both Upper and Middle School courses: German I, German III and IV for high schoolers, and German IA for the sixth graders. He is also a faculty advisor of the Polyglot magazine, and a Middle School Homework Club proctor.
Herr Jasinski grew up in a small town in Germany outside of Düsseldorf, and later went to the University of Düsseldorf, earning his Grundstudium (bachelor’s) degree in Philosophy and German Literature and Linguistics. From there, he received his Hauptstudium (graduate) degree from the University of Tubingham in Philosophy and Modern German Literature. He then participated in graduate studies, including a Ph.D. program in Philosophy at Stony Brook University in New York, earning an MA in the subject.
Herr Jasinski’s teaching career began at Bergen County Academies, shortly after finishing his Ph.D program. He had never taught before, but he says that even during his interview for the position, he could tell that teaching was something he really loved: “It’s hard to quantify it, but it was interacting with the students that felt great… How you create a community, and the feeling you get when it works and you’ve created a curiosity and openness in a student, I feel like I connected with that.” After Bergen County, Jasinski taught at a variety of schools, both private and public, including William-Cullen Bryant High School and Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School for German and/or Philosophy.
Herr Jasinski began at Pingry in 2009 and taught classes here for five years before deciding to take a sabbatical in 2014; he enrolled in a Montclair-based EdD, or Doctorate of Education, program in Pedagogy and Philosophy. To write his dissertation, he moved to a city on the coast of Mexico, Puerto Escondido. While he was there, he received and accepted his first book offer. Giorgio Agamben: Education without Ends was published at the end of 2018.
After publishing his book, Herr Jasinski decided that it was time to get back to teaching, scouring the U.S. for available jobs. Luckily for us, he was able to come back and teach at Pingry. Though he admits he does not have a lot of free time, Herr Jasinski loves to run, Salsa dance, and do yoga. He is also hoping to start a Philosophy Club here at Pingry this year, and maybe even propose a course on the subject. “Teaching philosophy to young people is a real passion of mine,” he says. We wish him the best of luck this year, and are excited to have him back!
Mr. Joseph Napolitano is thrilled to join the Pingry faculty as a teacher as well as a set designer. He will be co-teaching sections of the Scenic Costume and Design course this year, and has already been named Head Set Designer for all of Pingry’s drama productions. In addition to designing, he plans to assist in set construction, as well as tackle various other aspects of Pingry Drama, ranging from ticketing services to environmental graphic upgrades and marketing initiatives.
Before joining Pingry, Mr. Napolitano attended Rowan University. After graduating, he worked on design. “[I] collaborated with a variety of organizations and universities on creative placemaking, experience design projects, large-scale public art, and production design for theatre and television,” he mentioned. He’s also taught design workshops and classes and really enjoyed the experience, which is one of the reasons he wanted to teach at Pingry. “[They] inspired me to seek out further opportunities for sharing my knowledge of process,” he recalled.
So far, Mr. Napolitano enjoys being a part of the Pingry community. “My experiences thus far at Pingry have been wonderful!” he remarks. “I’m extremely grateful for the drama department faculty and staff. I could not have asked for a better team to be a part of.”
Mr. Napolitano is currently working with part of the Student Tech and Design Crew for this year’s fall play, Our Town. He has really enjoyed working with these students so far, stating, “I’m most grateful to have witnessed moments of brilliance amongst our theatre design/tech crew students in the shop.”
One goal he has for this year is to educate his students about the different areas of production design and hopefully spread his passion to aspiring designers. Another goal is to “draw parallels to adjacent areas of study [e.g., architecture, thematic design, technology, etc.] and identify specific skills that are used not only in theatre-making, but in many other disciplines as well.”
Outside of Pingry, Mr. Napolitano designs professional productions, including Into the Woods, Urinetown, and other productions both on and off Broadway, and has won multiple awards for his designs.
He also is passionate about sustainability in his profession, and enjoys working with the charitable organization Broadway Green Alliance. With this organization, he works “on multiple sustainable initiatives industry-wide,” which promote recycling and sustainability in the Broadway community.
He is incredibly excited to getting to know the community in the upcoming year! Welcome, Mr. Napolitano!
The Upper School Mathematics Department welcomes Mr. Zhaojun Yong, who will be teaching both Honors Geometry and Advanced Algebra and Geometry. Besides teaching, he will also be coaching the boys’ freshman basketball team and advising a club in the middle school.
Mr. Yong is no stranger to New Jersey. Having grown up near Rutgers, he is familiar with the Basking Ridge area. In his free time, he enjoys playing sports, mainly tennis and basketball. “Sports, as well as running in general, are great ways to get my mind off of school and academics,” he said. Mr. Yong is especially drawn to playing basketball, having been a member of his high school basketball team. This experience played a large role in his inclination to coach basketball at Pingry. “I’ve always loved playing basketball,” Mr. Yong said. “Especially now that some of my students are also involved with the team, it creates another dimension towards them in terms of understanding who they are.” Mr. Yong praises basketball for its ability to “allow kids to interact in a manner different from class settings.” With the season approaching, he is looking forward to coaching the team.
Prior to coming to Pingry, Mr. Yong attended college at NYU, where he majored in mathematics. He recently finished graduate school at Columbia University. There, he furthered his schooling in mathematics, earning his master’s degree in Mathematics Education.
During his time at college, he often served as an informal tutor for his fellow peers; he helped them whenever they had difficulty with math-related problems. This informal service soon unveiled Mr. Yong’s passion for teaching and paved the way for his future career.
Mr. Yong started his educational career by working as a substitute teacher. “The desire to want to help students and help others” was his main motivation for teaching. In the past, he knew that many of his peers saw math as too difficult, and they would, therefore, shy away from the subject. In hopes of changing these perceptions, Mr. Yong strives to create an atmosphere in his classes where “students do not feel discouraged,” and rather feel open and “accepting towards new challenges.”
At Pingry, Mr. Yong aspires to “help more high schoolers to not feel so intimidated by math.” He plans to achieve this by “helping prepare [students] as best as I can, in terms of what I know and what I can do.” Good luck, Mr. Yong!
With a passion for teaching and love for the Spanish language and culture, Ms.Guadalupe Nunez receives a warm Pingry community welcome. This fall, Señora Nunez joined Pingry as a Middle School Spanish teacher and Form I advisor. In addition, she will be helping with the production of the Middle School play.
Ms. Nunez graduated from Syracuse University, where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations and Human Resource Management. She received her Master’s Degree in Foreign Language Education from New York University. Before joining Pingry, Ms. Nunez taught Spanish to elementary and middle school students at schools such as Hunter College Elementary School, Trevor Day School, and New Canaan Country School.
Besides her teaching posts, she also implemented a program for non-English speaking students at Teach for America and worked with other non-profits around the New York City area including the International Rescue Committee, the Coalition for the Homeless, and El Museo del Barrio. In addition to these roles, Ms. Nunez has also worked with a middle school on their diversity committee.
Throughout this school year, Ms. Nunez sincerely hopes to “infuse a love for learning languages and for appreciating the people and culture of the Spanish-speaking world,” which ties in to her passion for teaching. Ms. Nunez says that she was “inspired to become a teacher because through teaching, I feel you can empower students to follow their dreams and be advocates for themselves.”
Outside of Pingry, Ms. Nunez enjoys cooking and taking part in different recreational activities with her two sons. When asked what she enjoys about Pingry, she says that she particularly admires the inquisitive nature students and honorable character of the students.
This year, the Upper School History Department welcomes Mr. Saad Toor, who will be teaching three sections of World History 9 and one section of World History 10.
Mr. Toor recently completed his second M.A. in South Asian Studies at Oxford University in the United Kingdom, where he was fortunate enough to be taught by important world leaders such as Hillary Clinton, the Prime Ministers of Kosovo and Kenya, and many British ambassadors. In addition, he was a classmate to politicians and important figures in the world, such as Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, and former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
At Oxford, Mr. Toor studied the history of Pakistan and India under British colonization, as well as the geopolitical aftermath of decolonization that continues to affect the region to this day. Outside of class, Mr. Toor played cricket for the Oxford Pakistan XI club team and Merton College club teams, and trained with the Wolfson-Saint Cricket Club and Oxenford Cricket Club. Mr. Toor was also active in debate at Oxford, and was fortunate enough to debate Gandhi’s grandson on the Indian Partition.
Alongside his M.A. in South Asian Studies, Mr. Toor holds an M.A. in curriculum and instruction from the University of Connecticut and a B.A. in Political Science with a minor in History and Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Connecticut.
Mr. Toor taught college students at the University of Connecticut’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and Stanford Unviersity’s Bing Overseas Program. He also taught history to high school students for two years in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia at an international school, and taught for two years in the Connecticut public school system.
Mr. Toor brings a unique global perspective from his studies in the UK and two years teaching in Saudi Arabia, and he hopes that his “extensive global experience will inspire Pingry students to reach out of their comfort zone and go abroad to have life-changing experiences similar to what I did.”
Having lived in three different countries and two different states in the last four years, Mr. Toor hopes that New Jersey will be a new and welcoming home for him. He is especially interested in Pingry’s Honor Code, and how it “inspires students to hold themselves to the standards of ‘Excellence and Honor’ and try new things in school.” He plans to try new things as well, and intends to “learn all sorts of life lessons from [his] own students” as they grow throughout the year. He is thrilled to bring expertise on the histories and politics of the Middle East, Pakistan, and India to the classroom, and hopes that his students will be just as interested in history as he is.
In his free time, Mr. Toor loves playing and watching cricket, and has written several commentaries on the sport. He is an avid Dallas sports fan, and loves watching UConn college basketball during March Madness.
As the new school year begins, Pingry is extremely fortunate to welcome Dr. Zachary Wakefield to the History Department. He attended Juniata College, where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in history. He then went on to earn his M.A. and Ph.D at Auburn University, both in history as well. Prior to joining the Pingry community, he spent four years working as a history teacher and coach at a boarding school.
At Pingry, Dr. Wakefield is teaching three World History 9 classes and one AP US History Class, where he has already spearheaded some of his unique classroom practices. These include placing phones in a basket at the start of class, as well as taking paper notes instead of electronic notes. When asked how these tactics benefitted the classroom environment, it all came down to keeping students focused: “People have been conditioned to pick up their cell phones or check social media as soon as they get a notification,” he explained. “I get that, so rather than me getting upset and disrupting class, I like to just take it out of the equation.”
In addition to the techniques he has brought with him, Dr. Wakefield wants to try new methods and expand his horizons. “My goal for the school year is just to get out of my comfort zone, teaching-wise, and maybe try more student-driven activities,” he said. He would also like to attend a number of academic conferences. After his first month at Pingry, he is optimistic: “The students are smart, and they keep me on my toes,” he said laughing. “They’re pushing me, which makes for a really good classroom environment.” He also enjoys the vibrant atmosphere, as well as the rural setting. “I love the area; it reminds me of where I grew up,” he remarked.
In keeping with his passion for history, Dr. Wakefield’s hobbies are quite worldly. When he’s not teaching, Dr. Wakefield loves being outdoors, whether that be hiking or going to the beach. He is also an avid reader and traveler.
Being a new teacher can be intimidating, but Dr. Wakefield is ready to rise to the occasion. “Even though I’m starting at a new school, which is challenging, I’m going to try my best to grow as a teacher and achieve my goals,” he stated. Good luck, Dr. Wakefield!
This fall, the Pingry community welcomed Mr. Michael Wang, who teaches Chinese 1, two sections of Chinese 3, and Chinese 6. In addition to teaching, Mr. Wang chaperones the Middle School Homework Club.
Mr. Wang graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Before coming to Pingry, he was a teacher at St. George’s School in Newport, RI. He has taught Chinese for 18 years at all levels, including AP. Besides teaching Chinese, Mr. Wang coached soccer and was a dorm advisor.
So far, Mr. Wang really enjoys Pingry. “Pingry is a very friendly environment; it is like a home and like a family,” he said. His goal this year at Pingry is to get to know his students well in order to better serve and adapt to their needs.
The one aspect of Pingry which really sticks out to Mr. Wang is the teacher-student relations. In his interview he pointed out the constructive familiarity between teachers and students. This was a large factor in his decision to work at Pingry. The small greetings and interactions he saw were something he hadn’t seen in other schools.
Outside of school, Mr. Wang likes to exercise. He enjoys running, playing basketball with his youngest son, and exploring new local areas.
The Pingry community welcomes Ms. Yifan Xu this fall as a teacher of Middle and Upper School Chinese. She will be teaching levels 1A, 1B, and Chinese 2 in the Upper School. She has two years of prior teaching experience before coming to Pingry, having taught Chinese at an all-girls boarding school in Virginia. Ms. Xu received her B.A from Beijing Language and Culture University, majoring in teaching Chinese as a foreign language. She went on to study at SUNY Binghamton where she received her M.A in Asian Studies.
Ms. Xu loves the Pingry community so far, explaining how other teachers have welcomed her with open arms. “The faculty here are all very dedicated to their work and have a passion for teaching.” She said, “They are all very supportive of me as a young teacher.”
Her inspiration for teaching comes from a passion for spreading knowledge. “Every time I can see the excitement and curiosity in the students’ eyes, that motivates me to be a teacher.”
Ms. Xu is a dedicated teacher with many objectives for her students. She has been impressed and is excited by her students thus far, saying that, “They are very creative and engaged in learning.” Her main goals at Pingry this year are to develop a positive environment in her classroom and make sure her students progress as Chinese speakers. “I want to build positive student-teacher relationships,” she remarked.
Outside of Pingry, Ms. Xu currently lives in New Brunswick and enjoys hiking, as well as cooking and K-Pop. On the weekends, she is always up for viewing a good horror movie. We wish Ms. Xu good luck on achieving her goals!
Mrs. Kelly Ross is welcomed by the Pingry community this fall as she joins the Upper School English Department. She is teaching English 9, Creative Writing, and Shakespeare.
Mrs. Ross received her Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Bucknell University. During her time at Bucknell, she also completed the degree requirements for a Bachelor of Science in Education and minored in Italian. After graduation, Mrs. Ross earned her Master of Arts degree in English from Middlebury College.
Before arriving at Pingry, Mrs. Ross taught at a couple of other schools, including Oak Knoll. She held a variety of roles in her previous positions: she served as a lacrosse, cross-country, and track coach. She was the moderator for the school newspaper, the director for a program similar to the seniors’ ISP, and contributed to the diversity team. She also worked as a tutor for students taking standardized tests and assisted in general academic assignments. When asked what else she had done before coming to Pingry, Mrs. Ross said that she has been teaching for most of her career. “I’ve pretty much been a teacher since I graduated from college, but I love teaching and I’m happy to be here,” she said.
Inspired by her high school English teacher to pursue a career in education, Mrs. Ross said that her combination of being an “engaging teacher,” yet also “having very high standards” motivated and allowed her to become a better reader and writer. In her senior year of college, she became a student-teacher and quickly realized that she loved teaching. She said, “If I could teach for free, I would. For me, it’s more than just a job; it’s a vocation.”
Mrs. Ross was drawn to Pingry by the school’s commitment to intellectual engagement. She remarked, after working with students from other schools, she was impressed by the students’ passion for learning. “I really see that in the students. They’re spending their free time doing research and I see them going above and beyond what’s expected to engage intellectually and that is a teacher’s dream come true.” As for her time here so far, Mrs. Ross noted that she has already noticed the school’s mission of honor and integrity in the students and staff. “I feel that those are principles that the school takes to heart … as a whole, the community is really engaged and that makes me feel like it’s a great place to be.”
When asked about her goals for the school year, Mrs. Ross said that she wants to encourage her students to see how the skills they learn in English apply outside of the classroom. She also hopes to become more involved in the school community in the near future.
Mrs. Ross is excited to join the community and meet everybody on campus. “I feel the school is committed to the right values; I really enjoy my students so far, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the rest of the year goes.”
Eva Schiller (V), Vicky Gu (VI), Meghan Durkin (V)
Though the Pingry community has known his name for almost a year now, Mr. Matt Levinson has just begun his first academic year as our new Head of School. Following a five-month search and a unanimous vote from the Board of Trustees, Pingry officially welcomed its sixteenth Head of School on July 1, 2019, succeeding Mr. Nathaniel Conard’s 14-year tenure as Headmaster.
The role of the Head of School has long been ambiguous to many Pingry students. Mr. Levinson explains his job as keeping “everybody focused on the student experience… from myself, to all administration, staff, and teachers,” and that “every day is different. There are a lot of interesting challenges that cross my desk, problems to solve.” He remarked, “But also, being out in the community, being out in classes, being out at games, is really important.”
When asked what drew him to Pingry, Mr. Levinson immediately responded, “the Honor Code was a first appeal… The trust that’s inherent in having an Honor Code is really meaningful to me.” Pingry’s inclusive atmosphere was also attractive. “Commitment to diversity and inclusion is really important to me, personally and professionally,” he says, adding, “I’ve been really struck and impressed by Pingry’s diversity and how it strengthens and enriches the community.”
Beginning his career teaching both middle and high school students, Mr. Levinson has stepped into many roles within school communities, whether that be coaching sports or serving as a dean of students. He believes that his experience allows him to “understand everything that goes into running a big organization like Pingry.”
Despite his extensive experience with education, he confessed that in high school, he was not always “as engaged as [he] should’ve or could have been, but something just kind of kicked in senior year and a couple teachers really inspired [him].” During his time at Pingry so far, he has noticed “how much [the teachers] are inspiring to you all.”
When asked about his vision for Pingry, Mr. Levinson left his response open-ended. Rather than only him deciding where Pingry should go in the upcoming years, he thinks that everyone should have input and “that the vision question is something we all need to invest in and work on together.” However, he does have a “strategic plan focusing on global education, student wellbeing, interdisciplinary learning… and also to promote teacher growth and development.”
His first step is to address student wellbeing with the hopes of helping the community “improve and be attentive.” So far, he has met with peer leaders and teachers, and plans to do some staff training in November.
Speaking on the Pingry community, Mr. Levinson noted that “everyone’s been incredibly welcoming, which has been wonderful.” He has visited classes on both campuses and gone to games in order “to get the chance to see the student experience.” What amazed him since his arrival was the “long history of people who invest their lives here. I think everyone here is trying to always get better, no one’s standing still, which I love about the community”.
Mr. Levinson also revealed that the process for getting “Shorts Days” begins with students. A student emailed him one evening asking to allow shorts the next day, and by the end of the night, Mr. Levinson had confirmed one. “I know,” he says, “on a hot day, when there’s no air conditioning, it’s nice to be able to wear shorts.”
Speaking of air conditioning, will Pingry ever get it? “That’s a big question I’m hearing; lots of people want to talk about that, but I don’t have an answer to that yet. It could happen. I don’t know when, but I know it’s something that people, especially in the 90-degree weather, are very interested in.” Perhaps someday.
Mr. Levison concluded, “I would just like to say I’ve been so impressed with the students in this school. The engagement in the classes that I’ve seen, from kindergarten all the way through 12th grade, makes it clear that the kids here really like learning and want to learn, and the teachers are really invested in making that happen.”