Meet Overlake's Department Chairs
Eight teachers at Overlake manage more than just students on a daily basis. As academic department chairs, they teach a series of classes as well as manage an entire department of faculty members. They are - Chris Border (math & computer science), Nate Edmunds (English), Erin Gabriel (art), Sara Baquero-Garcia (social studies), Lisa Orenstein (science), Kelli Pleskac (interim - world languages), Kent Renno (experiential education), and Sara Thomas (physical education).
Most recent to the group is experiential education. “This is my second year as department chair of the department,” says Renno. “Being an academic department with a department chair shows everyone at Overlake (students, parents, faculty/staff) that what we do in experiential education (service learning, Project Week, outdoor program, clubs) is an important piece of our students’ education and on par with other more traditional departments.”
Holding the position of department chair at Overlake requires the faculty member to coordinate with other members within the department by holding regular meetings and to collaborate on curriculum across the grade levels within their specific academic department. Because of this extra time, department chairs carry a three-course load, as opposed to other faculty, who have a four-course load.
“I believe that our role is one of middle ground, mediators, and carriers of the torch for our collective academic life as a school,” explains Sara Baquero-Garcia. After four years as Department Chair of the social studies department, Baquero-Garcia says her view is both short-range and long. “I am fully engaged in making decisions that will continue to improve and document what we do at Overlake in the classroom, and I am excited to be a part of moving our department forward in our field. The social studies department feels very engaged in helping our students understand the world and being engaged citizens is our ultimate goal. My task is to engage my department in making those goals our reality.”
For Nate Edmunds, Department Chair of the English Department, he also sees his role as curricular support for the betterment of the overall academic program. “It’s easy to get bogged down in the weeds, so having a department chair ensures that we’re thinking holistically about our program and are consistently thinking about how to improve it for the students.”
Edmunds brings up a good point, that his role serves not only other educators at Overlake, but our students as well. He wants students to be able to ask questions related to their academic progression through their years at Overlake, and sometimes that starts with talking to the chair of an academic department to discuss course selection.
“The department chair can also be helpful in thinking about a student’s experience in a department throughout their time at Overlake, not just in a specific year,” explains Edmunds.
Another main job of the department chair is to oversee the hiring committee for each department when there is an open faculty position to fill. Not only do the department chairs actively bring new members to our faculty community, they help mentor them and help ease the transition that comes with starting a new job.
It’s a lot of responsibility Overlake’s department chairs hold, and because of that they’d like to remind our community to have patience. “Please have patience with us,” says Baquero-Garcia.
The tasks that we are engaged in are complex and require a lot of work, thinking, learning, and continued engagement.”