Get to Know Gretchen Forsyth: Q+A
Have you known Gretchen since her enthusiastic arrival at GUS in 2010? Are you a newer family who isn't as familiar with her passion for education? Get to know Gretchen in our fun, insightful Q+A. From her early years as an eager learner at Shore Country Day School to her most recent experiences in leading student advocacy at GUS, you'll be inspired by her dedication to education. Learn more about Gretchen--her experience, educational philosophy, and vision for Glen Urquhart School's next 40 years.
Q: Hi Gretchen, tell us a little bit about yourself.
A: In the GUS tradition, I’ll start with an essential question. Where Do I Live? I live in Manchester. Having grown up here myself, it is a dream come true to be raising a family in my hometown. My husband Kirk also grew up in Manchester, and though we didn’t know each other, we rode the same bus when we were in elementary school, just one stop apart. Our favorite thing about living here is the Fourth of July. The parade is my favorite part of the holiday and we often put together a float for Gardner Mattress. My family loves to play golf and swim in the summer. We sled, ski, and skate in the winter. We go apple picking in the fall and enjoy picnics on the Great Lawn on Coolidge Point or Singing Beach. We love THE SEA and are so happy to be so close the ocean. The North Shore, in general, is just a beautiful place to live.
Q: How does who you are as a person inform who you are as an educator?
A: For me, creating an intentional and deliberate community of learners is deeply personal. For so many close to me, their early school years were high-pressured, stressful, and filled with anxiety. While I did well in that environment, I saw what that kind of environment did to people around me, especially my sisters. As a professional educator, I was determined to find another way. I believe there are many different ways to educate a child and that different approaches work for different kids. It isn’t really the GUS way to say we are “better,” but I do believe the way we educate children is better for them. I want young people to love school. I want them to skip down the halls, laugh with their teachers, and enjoy their days. I always say there is fun in challenge, when it is the right kind of challenge. When students aren’t afraid to fail, when they can question and take chances, then they can push themselves to new heights. What I love about GUS is that we work to create an environment that builds from a child’s natural sense of curiosity. Starting with what a child knows and letting their questions guide their inquiry and discovery keeps the joy in learning. At GUS, we don’t add more to just add more, we encourage our students to go deeper. This is what is truly magical about a GUS education and why our students find success long after their GUS days.
Q: What brought you to GUS in 2010?
A: Annie Barton brought me to GUS. I was getting married and moving back to Massachusetts from Rhode Island, and Coach Barton mentioned the job at GUS. I immediately went home and sent my materials. When I first visited GUS, like many, I found it to be a hidden gem. Even as a local, who attended camps here in the summer as a child, I didn’t really know what GUS was about. I left after that first visit thinking GUS was a warm community where students loved coming to school. The joy was palpable. As an educator with a Masters in Private School Leadership and Social Work, I came to GUS in 2010 looking for a place that understood the value of the social-emotional lives of young people to be as equally important as the academic outcomes. It amazes me that the school of my professional dreams was right in my backyard the whole time. I am a believer that everything happens for a reason. My previous teaching experiences, my unique advanced studies combination, my conversation with Coach Barton, and my first visit to GUS all made it feel like GUS is where I should be. After nine years, I still feel so lucky to have found GUS.
Q: As an educator, what inspires you?
A: I am inspired by people. In the classroom, on the field, as an advisor and role model, as an administrator and a counselor, I am constantly working to learn all I can in order to do all I can for my teachers, my students, and my school. I am inspired by what is happening in our world, by the development of technology and social media, and the changing demands on individuals in our society. I believe that independent schools have a responsibility to create educational opportunities that will uniquely prepare young people for the future. To that end, I am a constant student, always exploring every resource I can to find, to discover new and exciting ideas about teaching and learning today. I get inspired by sharing these ideas and resources with my colleagues who share my dedication and motivation. I send the teachers weekly Sunday emails. Teachers have asked me how I know just what to say to get them ready for the week. The truth is, I work on the message until there is one the resonates with me. By searching out inspiration and understanding, I find the passion for what I do is always there.
Q: You seem to love your job; why are you so passionate about GUS?
A: This place, this program, these people, GUS has my whole heart. I am passionate about what I do and there is nowhere I would rather work than here at GUS. In many ways, GUS connects with who I am as a person and as a professional. I am excited by the amazing students and families and inspired by the dedicated teachers. The people and the GUS philosophy take my love for what I do and increase that passion exponentially. What we have here at GUS is truly special and that is one thing that will never change. Our intentional, place-based, theme-based program, with a sincere and important focus on character, community, and social justice, is who GUS is and continues to be the reason I come to work every day. Perhaps important to note, it is also why I am not alone on the car ride each day. Both of our girls attend GUS and this is an intentional choice. My husband and I have complete confidence that there is no place that will know them, challenge them, celebrate them, and love them like GUS will.
Q: Do you have a favorite part about working at GUS?
A: While I find the most joy in my interaction with students, what I love most is my work with teachers. I see myself as their coach - supporting them, pushing them, and being the leader they need me to be. I am most proud of the opportunities I have created to advance our program in innovative and exciting ways that have not only provided important educational experiences for our students, but also provided engaging professional development opportunities for our teachers. One my favorite opportunities is X-blocks, the student-centered activities in which the middle schoolers become experts and the teachers are facilitators. I am not afraid to take chances and to try new things. Just as we encourage our students to be brave, I love when we as a school, armed with research on best practice, can make important tweaks to our program that help us better deliver our mission. Even with changes, there is always work to be done and I actually love that aspect of the job too. Again, just like with our students, we can always go deeper. The best part of working at GUS is that I have a team of teachers and professionals who are willing to go there with me, who push me to find new answers, and who support me as I support them.
Q: How would you describe your next role of Interim Head?
A: Keeping momentum and a sense of continuity is my number one priority and having been through times of change at GUS before, I can draw on those experience to help keep an even keel as we continue to move forward. David has been a wonderful support, and I am buoyed up by his confidence. I know working closely with him over the next few months will be so helpful. Also, his work, and the efforts of the board, members of the faculty, and the administrative team on the strategic plan will also guide much of the work, not just in the interim, but also in the next few years. With the strategic plan in place to serve as the channel markers, we have already charted a safe and steady course into the future. I also welcome a head search to make sure we continue to do what is best for GUS. Having a thorough process, understanding all our options, and making a educated decision about leadership is essential to a healthy school. Working with Carl Graves, the Board of Trustees, and the faculty makes me confident that the school will continue to make great strides.
Q: You've experienced a lot of change at GUS; what have you learned from it?
A: As many of you know, I love quotes. One that has become more meaningful to me is by Winston Churchill, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” With this perspective, it is easier to welcome opportunity and manage change. I also gain confidence because I have such a strong belief in the power of a GUS education. Over GUS’ 40 years, there has been quite a bit of change, but there is also so much that remains steadfast. I believe what makes GUS so GUS is firmly rooted in our program. It is this belief in the whole of the GUS experience that allows me to speak with prospective and current families with conviction and passion and say that GUS is truly the best place for their children. It is the knowing that we have helped shape the lives of truly inspirational young people who leave us with the ability to change the world that fills me with such pride in our small school.
Q: We hear you love to read… what's on your nightstand these days?
A: As part of my goals the last two years, I’ve said I would read at least three books during non-vacation time. I truly love to read. I also spend quite a bit of time reading articles about education on Twitter, but I do love a good book. I have three books I’m reading right now. This was a Man, by Jeffrey Archer (I’ve read all the others in this series. He has always been a favorite of mine), Brene Brown’s new book, Dare to Lead and The Wedding Shop by Rachel Hauk. As a former U.S. history teacher, my favorite books are historical fiction, especially books that connect narratives from two different time periods. Since I was young, I have devoured books.
Q: How will you spend your March break?
A: Spring Break in March has been a part of my life since my own kindergarten days. My parents, creatures of habit, brought us to my grandparents’ in Florida every year, the highlight of which was a day trip to the Magic Kingdom, if we were lucky. Thirty-six or so years later, I’ve only missed one March trip to Florida and value this time my girls get with their grandparents as my favorite time of the year. When I was in college, my father signed the letters he wrote me, “work hard, play hard.” At the time, I thought it was a reference to my academic and athletic commitments, but today, it means something even more valuable. I believe we all need to take some time to “fill the tank,” as I say to the faculty. When we take the time for ourselves, we are able to give more of ourselves to our work. This time in March is invigorating and always brings me back to work engaged and ready. I can’t wait for vacation and for the next chapter in my GUS story.