Laura Gordon Reska joins administration as Director of Community Development

On a Tuesday morning, you can find Laura Gordon Reska in Johns Hopkins at 7 a.m.,  with the “Breakfast Club”, the ASB leadership who eat breakfast in the mornings together as they hold their meetings. Laura Gordon Reska, former journalism adviser from August 2013 to June 2021 and English teacher from August 2013 to June 2018, has assumed the new role of Director of Community Development. She sees this role as “being in charge of all the fun things.” The position focuses on improving relationships between students, families and teachers; it is the first of its kind at UPA.

Executive Director David Porter and Director of Community Development Laura Gordon Reska “soar” on the first day of in-person school for the 2021-2022 school year. Gordon Reska arranged for balloons to be displayed around campus to promote a festive “Welcome Back” experience for students after a year away from school during distance learning. (Photo courtesy of Laura Gordon Reska.)

Moving into administration was never a path Reska had in mind when planning her future, although working with people has always been her number one goal. It took her some convincing from Executive Director David Porter—about a year and a half, to be exact.

She said the biggest connection between this new position and being a journalism adviser is being able to not be restrained to a classroom and work with a variety of people, not just students. The most drastic difference is how flexible her schedule is.

“It’s weird to have flexibility in my afternoon,” Reska said. “As long as I’ve been at UPA, I’ve had to be somewhere, I’ve had to be in a class. It’s interesting to see what I can do with that time.”

Reska’s day always has two hours of free time for unpredictable situations. She schedules meetings for clubs, implements programs that support students and families, and works with students in the Associated Student Body (ASB) as the ASB adviser. 

Reska has focused on bringing new student-oriented traditions into UPA, such as the Harvest Festival, Open Mic week, health education for the seniors, and the Breakfast Club for ASB. She has tried her best to also bring new plans for teachers and families: Parent University, teachers’ group costumes for halloween, data days for teachers, and PTSO Spring Social for families.

Laura Gordon Reska brought bales of hay to campus as the set for the photo booth available to students during the Harvest Festival on Nov. 12. There have been several photo stations put up for students throughout the school year, including one for pictures with Santa during the December Spirit Week. (Photo courtesy of Laura Gordon Reska.)

Porter believes she is the best fit for this administrative job because of her work abroad in Tanzania and her previous teaching experience. From her experiences in Tanzania, Reska learned a lot—from how teenagers behave to how to be resourceful in a power outage. 

“There were different moments that happened that made me realize that teenagers are the same, no matter where in the world you are…I just really enjoyed working with teenagers and it was fun to see that even though everyone’s so different. The teenage experience is pretty universal,” Reska said.

Reska has been working with teenagers for 20 years and has taught all grade levels, from seventh to 12th. According to Reska, she has supported 54% of the staff at UPA in their education careers through her mentoring course load. Porter believes she will make students feel more included and safe at school. He wants to embrace individuality and differences in students in order to balance the scales with academics and have a larger emphasis on community and interpersonal relationships.

Reska hopes this new position will help students connect with each other amidst other commitments, classwork and homework. She mentioned the need for building a culture where people can appreciate and celebrate each other.

“I’ve seen students at a rally working on homework, and to me that is a missed opportunity,” Reska said. “We can do homework other times, but the rally is a place to really be present and just have a good time.”

In addition ASB splits into teams depending on what they are working on. Reska advises and helps teams such as Secretary of Clubs, Secretary of Spirit and class representatives to brainstorm event ideas and help them stay organized.

UPA faculty and staff participated in Costume Day on Halloween by collectively dressing up as “Where’s Waldo.” The group effort was initiated and led by Gordon Reska, who believes that when teachers are having fun, students are having fun. (Photo courtesy of Laura Gordon Reska.)

While Reska’s job title has changed, she continues to be an advocate for teachers because she believes that whatever helps the teachers will overall benefit the students. She has spoken and led activities during professional development, and has continued to brainstorm with the administration for ways to support teachers during this school year. 

Part of Reska’s job is to be intentional about helping families and supporting them. Reska worked on a new program called Parent Guidance, which meets once a month for parents about different mental health, mental wellness and parenting strategies. They offer parent coaching as well. 

The parent coaching program is run mainly by Academic Counselor Jill Buensuceso, Board of Trustees member Amy Ulug and Reska. They partnered with an organization called the Cook Center for Human Connection. The program is virtual and is a standalone session on Zoom where they give the talks themselves.

Gordon Reska overseas field trips, student clubs, and the school’s hot lunch program (My Green Lunch). She saw the opportunity to unite all three aspects and arranged for members of the Cooking Club, as well as folks on the My Green Lunch student team, to take a field trip to the My Green Lunch headquarters and kitchen in San Jose. The March 11 experience included learning about running a small business and making personal pizzas for lunch. (Photo courtesy of Laura Gordon Reska.)

Reska, as one of the only women in the administration at UPA, makes sure there are diverse voices in the decision-making. She was one of the first women to sit in at an administration conference even before being an administrator. She expresses how different it is to be a woman in leadership compared to a man. She says the biggest learning experience is that a woman needs to be more confident in her work in order to get respect from her peers.

“There are certain biases or unspoken, or even subconscious expectations that people have towards a woman who’s leading than a man,” Reska said. “For a woman, you have that pressure of being warm regardless of your competence.”

Reska wanted to make a difference in this school and hoped this position could be just that.

“Looking at the school, not just as a resource for the students, but also what resources can we provide for our parents that can help us all succeed? Because we’re all in it together,” Reska said.