Originally Published in Alumni News June 19, 2017
“I think being the ‘cheer leader’ for VMS is the role of which I am most proud,” notes Jeanne Macsata, reflecting on her tenure at VMS. Ms. Mac, as she is affectionately known, can be found leading the cheer at just about any given home sporting event or pep rally, a duty that she takes on voluntarily, and with extraordinary enthusiasm. “I grew up in the days of Title IX and I was proud to be both a varsity athlete and a ‘cheer leader.’ I try to stay true to the idea of leading the cheer rather than providing entertainment, which seems to be the focus in sports today. We’re there to support the athletes and this is also a great way to build community.”
This year, Ms. Mac begins her 34th year at the school and, as is common among independent schools, she’s stepped up several times over the last three decades to do what needed to be done, such as being the school’s cheer leader. She often jokes, in fact, that the perennial addendum to her title, regardless of the role she’s playing, is ODAA Specialist, a tongue-in-cheek reference to to the other duties she’s been assigned.
Over the years, she’s taught math, science and technology. She built the drama program and helped architect the school’s first database system. She’s the queen of laminating and has been the school’s librarian in recent years. This fall, she will begin the next chapter in her career, greeting visitors at the front desk and serving as the primary liaison between the school and our alumni, most of whom she knows on a first name basis.
In the Beginning
Ms. Mac’s story begins in April of 1984 when she moved here from Vermont. She taught in the Winooski public schools, the same ones that she attended as a child. Inconveniently, her Vermont teaching certificate was valid in all but two states–Colorado and California–so she was unable to teach in Eagle County public schools.
At the time, her father-in-law was building a house on nearby Aspen Lane. “He said to me, you should go down the road to that school that they’re building,” recalls Ms. Mac. “I walked in the door and met Mr. Abuisi. The timing was perfect because the 5th/6th grade language arts teacher had just informed Peter that she was having a child and would not be returning. Mr. Abuisi asked me to come back the next day and teach a class. The following Monday, the phone rang and Peter informed me that he was calling on behalf of the faculty who demanded that he offer me a job.”
Shortly after her arrival, Ms. Mac expanded the school’s fledgling drama program. Productions were staged in the basement of the old building, which also served as school’s lunch room. The first production was the Wizard of Oz and Ms. Mac wrote the script herself, adapting it from L. Frank Baum’s novel. She recalls that John Johnston was the Tin Man and Jed Gottlieb was the Scarecrow, and that the one performance had an audience of 30. “We grew from there and needed a bigger space, so we rented out the Cascade movie theater,” notes Ms. Mac. “We put on Tom Sawyer and had a full house of about 200. Partway through Laura Maitland’s big solo, my husband Bryan, who was serving as stagehand, set off the fire alarm while lighting kerosene lanterns. Everyone stayed put and Laura, who was a bit shy at the time, started from the top and brought down the house with an incredible performance.”
The Future Arrives
Somewhere around 1992, VMS created the school’s first computer lab with Macintosh computers purchased through a program offered by Safeway grocery stores. VMS families collected receipts and earned enough credit to acquire about a dozen computers which were all networked together and attached to a then-massive 10mb hard drive. “We did not accomplish a heck of alot,” says Ms. Mac. “There weren’t enough computers to teach all the kids in a class at once, so we split into two groups. We ran MacPaint and MacWrite and created a school newspaper, among other things. The teachers used Filemaker to do report cards and, at the height of it, there were 95 different layouts being used by various teachers. Individualized education has always been at the heart of VMS, but this was a bit much!”
The More Things Change…
As the school’s longest-serving employee, Ms. Mac has a unique perspective on VMS. When asked about what’s changed and what’s remained the same, she offered the following: “When we moved into the new, new building, I remember that it seemed huge and I wondered if we could keep the feeling of being one big family. It’s the same question today as we’ve grown enrollment, and the answer is unquestionably, yes. Our traditions and the sense of community have endured because we’ve worked intentionally and conscientiously to do so. Our mission statement has changed so many times over the years. The most recent one–Develop Character, Seek Knowledge; Build Community–really resonates with me and shows how we are still the same despite our growth. If we help form minds that have strong character, they will eventually seek knowledge, and contribute to their community. That’s what we must continue to strive to do. It’s like marriage and family. You have to work at it.”