May 29, 2019

For the love of teaching

Honoring three retiring Andover legends
by Allyson Irish

A caring yet demanding coach. An eccentric, whip-smart English instructor. An athletic trainer and second mom.

The three 2019 retiring faculty members embody what is best about Phillips Academy. Excellence, of course. But more importantly these three longtime faculty members found a way to imbue rigor with kindness, humility, and a non sibi spirit.

Kathy Birecki

Instructor, Physical Education; Athletic Trainer

Photo by Dave White

Years at PA: 35

Retirement Plans: Birecki and her husband, Andy, recently moved to a condo in New Hampshire. She plans to help babysit her grandchild who lives nearby, and to continue her daily FaceTime chats with her other two grandkids in Colorado.

Tributes to Kathy

“Ahhh…our morning walks! I already miss them dearly. Kathy and I started walking with our dogs, Zoe and Sadie, four years ago when Sadie was a pup. It was a great arrangement for humans and dogs alike! We would meet outside of Newman House, her home/dorm at the time, at 6 a.m., proceed through the gates, past the Snyder Center, the stadium, and the ice rinks. We would then follow the tree line around Siberia, the track, and Phelps Field. The dogs kept the pace brisk, but we managed to fill the minutes with talk, mostly of our families and life on campus. Of course, we talked shop once in a while. As we walked by whatever building was under construction at the time, we would remark on the progress of the Sykes Wellness Center, then the Snyder Center, and most recently the OWHL. At times there were stretches of silence, but never uncomfortable—in fact, quite the opposite. It was the comfort you build when you work so closely with someone for 35 years.” — Mike Kuta, PA head trainer

“Kathy was an awesome cluster dean who shepherded me and my friends through at least a few pickles. She was always extremely fair and honest with us. As the parent of a fellow facbrat, Kathy always made her home open to our friends. She is one of the people I remember most fondly from growing up at and attending Andover.” — Alex Thorn ’04

“I walked toward Bancroft Hall last year during my 30th Reunion; it was my first time on campus after graduation. From the outside, I could see the corner window on the top floor where my room was. Stepping inside, I gravitated toward the house counselor’s corner, where you always had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich ready and always cheered us up. I hope you know how much you made us—especially the international students—feel at home.” — Min Xiao ’88

Leon A. Modeste III

Athletic Director, PE Instructor, Head Coach of Varsity Football

Photo by Dave White

Years at PA: 33

Mo Stats:

  • Lifetime Andover/Exeter football record of 20-10-2
  • Coached 3 sports: football, basketball, and lacrosse
  • Two stints as Athletic Director (1990 to 2000 and 2014 to 2019)
  • Managed 100 interscholastic coaches and 8 staff

Nina S. Scott

Instructor in English

Photo by Dave White

Years at PA: 26

Before Andover: Scott was a reporter at the Winston-Salem Journal and a magazine writer in New York, interviewing, among others, Muhammad Ali, Kris Kristofferson, and Dan Rather.

Lucky and Grateful

Personal Reflection by Nina Scott

I am lucky to have known and worked for Oscar Tang ’56. I am lucky to have worked for three heads of school and trustees who made me feel great on this campus. I had the best job in the world.

I'm grateful to my pals in campus offices (and squad cars) who have taken such good care of me and my family all these years, and I’m grateful for my wonderful colleagues, especially my English department chairs, starting with Craig Thorn.

And I got to advise The Phillipian. That was something. Gary Lee was my partner in that endeavor from start to finish. Paul Sonne ‘03 and Clem Wood ’04 were my first editors. They let me into The Phillipian office/newsroom, and so did the editors who came after them. They gave their all to the paper and were hard-nosed and ethical about it. The editors in chief, in particular, carried serious weight on their 17- or 18-year-old shoulders and never buckled.

Meanwhile, Sharon Kramer in the Comptroller's Office, PA parent Greg Zorthian ’71, and Phillipian alums Rich Eisert ’84 and Tom Rubin ’79 saw the paper safely through heavy challenges, providing expert guidance in finance and law. Other parents and alums, especially Phillipian alums, hosted the editors in newsrooms and TV stations all over the country—and then charged in like shining knights and raised the money to endow the paper!

Of course, I had the world’s best students in my English classes. They either had a grand time or pretended they did for my sake. If my house catches fire, I’m rescuing their thank you notes.

Finally, most of all, my gratitude goes to my husband, Bill, for teaching me how to teach, and to my kids Nate ’05, Tess ’06, and Haley ’11. If you know them, you know how lucky I was to go to school with them.

Retirement: Because Tess and her husband, Derek, have a baby (Liam, nearly 1), and Nate’s wife, Kelli, is expecting a child in late April, I am in grandmother mode, so I wrote a children’s book (with a saucy little narrator). The big plan is to keep writing, to continue tutoring immigrants, and to travel to see my grandkids and my former students and their parents, whom I’ve been threatening to visit. Now I’ll have the time. Lock your doors!

Categories: Academics

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