An Interview with Jennifer


Anyone familiar with Parker knows that we have a few constants that you can always turn towards, like a compass finding true north. We are a school where you will always find talented and dedicated educators, curious and engaged children, and treasured and bountiful natural resources. One other constant, for the past nine years, has been the steady, trustworthy presence of our esteemed faculty member, Jennifer Gresens.

Jennifer began her career at Parker as a part time reading specialist, and advanced quickly to head teacher in our K-1 classroom, where she spent the next two years. When founding teacher Carol Oko retired in 2016, Jennifer advanced to her position as Director of Academics, where she has worked tirelessly for the past 5 years in supporting both faculty, students, and their families. During her career at Parker, Jennifer has worked to build her administrative talents and understanding, seeking leadership possibilities whenever they have emerged. It was Parker’s incredible fortune, therefore, that when Laura announced her retirement in June 2021, Jennifer was poised and willing to step into the position as Interim Head of School.

While it is almost certain that most reading this have already had the pleasure of sharing some personal exchange with Jennifer, we wanted to take this opportunity to officially introduce Jennifer to our community of families, faculty, trustees, donors, and friends. It is with pleasure that I invite you to please read on to learn more about Jennifer, in her own words…

How did you get in to teaching?
“I first discovered my love for education when I was right out of college. I graduated from University of New Hampshire with a degree in art history, and I had moved to New York City, where I got a job working in the education department at the MET. I took the job thinking I wanted to pursue art history, but then I started working with these kids at the museum. Every day, I got to engage with children in this amazing setting and witness their excitement about everything they were learning. I quickly realized I had found my calling. I enrolled at Hunter College in NYC to get my Masters in education. After graduating from there, I was lucky enough to get a job at Brooklyn Friends School, which was the first progressive school that I had ever encountered, and my first foray into progressive education.”


Describe your educational philosophy?

“I truly believe in listening to children, putting children at the center of their learning, and empowering them to be the best versions of themselves. I have a strong respect for children. I feel that they know so much, and that we can learn so much from them. Kids come to school with so much of their own excitement and experience. I think it is incumbent upon us as educators to follow their interests, foster their curiosity, and provide them with opportunities to follow their own passions. When we take the lead from kids, see where they are, and build upon that, we can scaffold their learning to help them take on more challenges and show them what they are capable of. I think every child deserves an educational experience that celebrates and encourages them.”
What originally drew you to Parker School?

“I came to Parker ten years ago as a parent, looking for a school for my oldest son, who was five at the time. I will never forget the day: It was bright and sunny, and the campus was absolutely gorgeous. I met Meg (Parker’s former Head), and she just had such enthusiasm for the school. She embodied this philosophy of empowering kids and putting them at the center of their learning. On our tour, I saw how excited and engaged the kids were. I was blown away by the passion and creativity of the teachers and the whole atmosphere of the school. I knew that it was a place I wanted to be. Needless to say, we decided to enroll my son in first grade. Once he was accepted, I promptly went to Meg with my resume and said, “Just hire me for anything; I’ll do anything.” She graciously told me that she did not have any positions available at the time, but I just kept pestering her. Finally, a few months into my son’s first year at Parker, I was hired as a very part-time reading specialist…and I’ve never looked back:)”
What do you like about teaching at Parker?

“One of my favorite things about working at Parker is being surrounded by so many thoughtful, engaged, and creative teachers. I am constantly inspired every day by what our teachers are doing in their classrooms. As a school, Parker creates a culture of growth for both the kids and the adults who work here. Teachers are empowered to grow and learn and become better educators, and their growth trickles down to encouraging that in their students. Every teacher here is constantly dedicated to learning, growing, becoming better teachers, and finding new ways to do things, and I am constantly in awe of them.

I also love the daily opportunities that I have to interact with all different ages and types of learners. Back when I was a teacher, I always felt like I was only an early childhood educator. However now, as an administrator, I get to work with kids from PreK all the way through 8th grade. I feel privileged to witness how each age brings something so special and unique. Getting to be around kids every day is a dream. It’s so inspiring. Parker is a place where kids are treated with respect, and they are valued for who they are as people and for what they know. Children at Parker are really encouraged to find their passions and explore their interests. I feel honored to be part of a school that encourages children to grow towards better versions of themselves and become good citizens that are going to make a difference in the world.”
How do you hope to bring your years of experience in the classroom and as Parker’s Academic Director to bear on your position as Head?

“Being a teacher lays the foundation for how to work with kids. Therefore, I always have the best interests of my students in mind when I approach anything. In my position as Academic Director, I’ve also had five years of working with colleagues and families, helping to mentor new teachers, and encouraging growth in our school. I want Parker to be a place where not only the kids are learning and growing, but the faculty and staff are also learning and growing. I hope to provide more opportunities for everyone to do that. I also look forward to tapping into our outside community, bringing parents into the fold, and growing as a community together — students, parents, and faculty. Everyone at Parker has such a passion for this school. I see my work going forward as figuring out how to harness and utilize that passion to move Parker into the future, making our school the best it can possibly be.”
What are your hopes and dreams for next school year?

“Oh goodness, I have a lot! One of my hopes and dreams for next year is that (within the parameters of what is safe) we can start strengthening our community in terms of having kids make connections out in our community. I also really hope we can somehow bring experts in various fields into our school again. My overall goal is to expose our kids to the world beyond our campus, and to use service learning as a way to help kids start thinking about their place in our community and in the world.

Another thing I am really looking forward to next year is the addition of a dedicated diversity, equity, and inclusion specialist on our faculty. Along with that, I hope that as a school we can do the necessary work required to attract more multi-ethnic families, build a more diverse student body, and also ensure that diversity is reflected in our hiring practices. I want to grow our community in a way that supports diverse families and students once they are in our community, to ensure that these changes are sustainable. I also hope that as a school, we continue to inspire our students to become activists. I want Parker students to realize that they have a voice, and that they have so much power to effect change and to make change in the world…and that we really need them to do that.”