Experiencing UPA: Teacher’s Edition


Joe Shem

English teachers Kathryn Gong-Guy, Kristin Moore and Claire Ballard discuss possible summer reading options during an English department meeting on Feb. 13.

From Monday to Friday in the packed and diminutive classrooms of UPA, teachers complete many feats both in front of the class and behind the scenes.

Although the size of our school has been a key feature of UPA, social science teacher Katherine Poltorak also sees that it is also a drawback. 

“The small size of our school can be a challenge,” said Poltorak, “but it also creates a natural limitation on how many courses we can offer and different types of courses on things like that. One is a master schedule.”

Not only are course schedules difficult to manage, but so are events.

According to art teacher Karen Crump, schedules have been so tight, collaborations with department teachers, such as all-school art showcases, have been limited.

But despite unyielding schedules and small classes, diversity is present and very much alive at UPA.

Joe Shem
English teacher Claire Ballard talks about fellow English teacher Andrea Aquino’s idea during an English department meeting on Feb 13.

In eighth-grade science teacher Alan Kahn’s classroom, a wide range of skills and educational backgrounds collide, making teaching a varied group of talented students an active part of teaching at UPA.

Kahn’s students’ previous educational backgrounds include public elementary schools, private elementary schools and public charter elementary schools, all of which are from different social and economic parts of the county.

Kahn enjoys teaching a wide cast of students because he can apply himself to the ever-changing needs of the class.

“It’s great that I can see all their different abilities,” Kahn said. “And then I have to be creative to figure out a way to present something to all those different students.”

Fewer students also mean fewer teachers. With fewer teachers per department, this allows teachers to become closer to one another.

Social science teacher Ariana Rodriguez notes that smaller departments have advantages to bigger ones.

“At other places, there’s 15 in a department,” Rodriguez said. “Sometimes you don’t know some of the teachers you’re working with and so it’s nice having this smaller, more intimate group.”

For math teacher Anne Wustrow, who has been teaching at UPA for eleven years, the Math Department has been the highlight of her career.

Joe Shem
English teacher Kathryn Gong-Guy shares her screen with fellow English teacher Jessica Wall to review summer reading options during an English department meeting on Feb 13.

“If I don’t have the backing of my colleagues, if I don’t have the support, I need to face the challenges because let’s face it, there are challenges in teaching, then, it would be difficult to teach here. But I do have that support,” Wustrow said. “So when things go bad, my colleagues boost me up. When things go great, colleagues celebrate with me.”

Teamwork as a teacher is not confined within a single department and collaboration extends to the school administration. Fortunately, administration connections are better in smaller schools.

Rodriguez has had a closer and more meaningful administration experience at UPA than with other schools.

“Sometimes you only see [administrators] when they are evaluating you or if there are specific issues, but for the most part, you don’t have that personal connection when there are so many teachers at a bigger location,” Rodriguez said. “I actually know my administrators here, like I actually talked with [former Executive Director Daniel Ordaz]. We’ve gone to conferences. I’ve actually even visited Mr. Ordaz when I was in Reno. So it’s like you have a more personal relationship because it’s, again, a smaller school.”