The closing faculty and staff meeting of the 2020-2021 school year stood out for a number of reasons. Not only was the Thursday, June 10 meeting the first time McDonogh’s entire faculty and staff had all been together in person since the pandemic struck 15 months before, but the inaugural presentation of the Susan Hillis Newton Teaching Chair was awarded to Lower School faculty member Mary Beth Kuchno.
Endowed Teaching Chairs are generously funded by donors and awarded to faculty and staff as a way to recognize and celebrate excellence. Often named for a respected member of the community, recipients are usually seasoned professionals. However, when alumni parents Susan Cummings and Kris Jenner (Liv ‘15, Maddie ‘18, and Kristopher ‘20) established the Susan Hillis Newton Teaching Chair in 2020, they stipulated it be awarded to teachers with 10 or few years of experience.
Kuchno, who graduated from the University of Maryland in 2011 and earned a Master’s Degree in Literacy Education from the Teachers College at Columbia University, was both surprised and delighted to be the first recipient of the chair named for Newton. In describing the honoree’s attributes without giving away her identity, Head of School Dave Farace ‘87 said, “This young educator possesses an extraordinary gift for teaching. She is a natural. She takes a thoughtful, student-centered approach to everything she does, and her teaching is grounded in a deep knowledge of content— particularly reading and writing. She creates a loving and kind classroom community, and she finds ways to work successfully with every child in her care. Her strengths are rooted in her innate ability to connect with grace to everyone.”
He went on to describe her strong leadership abilities noting that although she only been at McDonogh for seven years, she has been a trusted and admired team leader for four of those years. He described Kuchno as a warm and generous person who involves herself in the life of the school beyond her classroom doors. “She organizes professional development activities for colleagues, works hard on DEI initiatives, and co-directs the Fourth Grade Leadership Program,” Farace said.