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New Teachers Bring New Talents to Upper School

(L-R) New teachers Mr. Smentek, Ms. Randell, Dr. Walter and Mr. Kaufman get together on the patio during break. Photo: Abby Meyerowitz and Sydnie Jiang

The Arthur M. Blank Family Upper School underwent significant changes in the faculty over the summer. With the departure of Joe Sandoe, Stephanie Harrell and Meredith Carpenter, three new science teachers were added, along with a new honors English teacher for the 11th grade. 

Originally from Warwick, New York, Honors Biology teacher Taylor Randell recently moved to Georgia for this teaching position. This is her first time living in the South, and Ms. Randell said that Southern pride is very real here. “I really like it here,” said Ms. Randell. “At Pace, anything I need help with I didn’t have to ask because people already offered. The students are also very respectful.” This is Ms. Randell’s first teaching position, and she likes to incorporate relevant real-life examples of science into her lessons. “I just want to show my students that science isn’t just facts in a textbook,” said Ms. Randell. Outside of the classroom, Ms. Randell enjoys attending stand-up comedy shows, but she also prefers a night in rather than a night out.

Mr. Robert Kaufman fills the role of new English teacher this year. Originally from Dallas, Texas, Mr. Kaufman earned his bachelor’s degree from Brown University and a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies from Dartmouth College. He is enthusiastic about working at Pace because of its tight knit community and how close the families are. To inspire the students to love learning about different perspectives and cultures, Mr. Kaufman uses his past year-long trip to Norway to give his students examples of lives outside of Pace and the United States. “My goal is to get kids to love reading and writing,” said Mr. Kaufman. “To do so, I will use the poetry angle, the Norway angle, the make-books-relevant angle, and different reading and writing genres to hopefully spark some interest.”

Mr. Kaufman strives to show his students that through careful reading and thoughtful writing, they can draw out the creativity and genius within them. “There is a beautiful passage in ‘The Prophet’ by Kahlil Gibran in which a person asks, ‘what is teaching?’” said Mr. Kaufman. “And the answer is that a wise teacher doesn’t show you his or her own wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your own wisdom. My aim is to help students learn to translate their thoughts and feelings in a cogent, cohesive and persuasive language. This is not only important for college and careers, but also vital to being a human being.”

Sophomore chemistry teacher Matthew Smentek is an Atlanta native, and he earned a bachelor’s in chemistry from Wake Forest University before he got his master’s in organic chemistry at Emory University. Mr. Smentek previously taught chemistry at St. Pius X and also coached boys lacrosse. “St. Pius was great,” said Mr. Smentek. “I loved it there and I miss it, but I feel like I’m at home now.” With regard to his Pace experience so far, Mr. Smentek is speechless about how happy he is here. “I wish I could just show people how happy I am here instead of trying to tell them,” said Mr. Smentek. “It’s hard to find the right words. I’m in love with this school.”

Mr. Smentek describes his teaching style as flexible and intense, and he loves doing demonstrations in class. Once the school day ends, however, Mr. Smentek is out on the field coaching middle school boys lacrosse. He is the new head coach, and he is very happy with his position. “I coached against [Pace history teacher] Grady Stevens for three years, and he’s just great,” said Mr. Smentek. “He’s the one who set me up with Pace.” Outside of school, Mr. Smentek enjoys fishing and watching sports. He is recently engaged, and he spends a lot of his time balancing adjusting to Pace and planning his wedding.

The science department also welcomes Dr. Melody Walter as a new chemistry teacher. Dr. Walter earned a bachelor’s degree from Emory University, a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Georgia, and worked as a postdoctoral associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Bioinorganic Chemistry. Dr. Walter is excited to teach the bright students at Pace and she looks forward to work every day. “The students are really interested in learning,” said Dr. Walter. “It seems like a very positive environment to be in, to work in, to teach in and to learn in, so I was excited to talk about science with young scientists in a positive community.”

Dr. Walter hopes to inspire her students to be as passionate about science and chemistry as she is and to apply it to their everyday lives. “I hope that students will end up seeing that chemistry is all around us and it’s in the daily phenomena that we see,” said Dr. Walter. “I hope that that makes the science seem a bit more accessible.” Dr. Walter has felt welcomed by not only the students and families, but by the faculty as well. One of her favorite parts of working at Pace is when students stay for extra help. “I love the questions that students ask,” said Dr. Walter. “I love when students stay after class and ask me questions about the periodic table or other parts of chemistry, whether it’s related to the science that we’re currently covering or the science we will get to in the future.”