Faculty Profile: Juggling with the Belsky-Dennison Family

Belsky-Dennison Family
The life of any family with teenagers is complicated. There are the academic, athletic, extracurricular, and work schedules, not to mention community and volunteer roles to be managed. If you are Stephen Belsky and Kate Dennison working at a boarding school such as Groton, there is the added complexity of other parents’ teenagers to keep track of: advisees, students, dorm charges, team members, and “unaffiliated: students who somehow find their way. There are balancing acts, and then there are feats worthy of Barnum and Bailey.

Coming to Groton two years apart in the early 80s, neither Kate nor Stephen anticipated staying for long in the then-remote farming exurb of Boston. Groton was as good a place as any to stop off for a year or two as sabbatical replacements. Stephen began in the Science Department, and, two years later, Kate filled a spot in the Classics Department. Time in the “country” would give each of them the opportunity to reassess personal and professional goals and move on from the Circle with a new line on their resumes.

That was nearly 30 years ago, when they barely knew each other. Today, both would say they discovered a much wider world in their own backyard then they ever imagined possible.

Stephen was slinking away from a doctoral program, one that had him spending his research life conversing with plants about their physiology. The plants did not talk back, they didn’t ask good questions, and they only occasionally offered data that seemed useful to him. All in all, though a PhD seemed like a good idea, there was more to life as scientist and academic that he wanted to explore. He had left a position at Noble and Greenough to see if graduate school would be fun; it wasn’t. So when science faculty member Dick Lehrbach P’89 went on sabbatical in 1983, Stephen took the one-year position as a break from his research. One year led to two, and eventually a permanent full-time science position. As a young teacher, he was tapped to fill in where necessary; for example, he often was an alternate dorm head when Hugh Sackett was on his annual archaeological digs.

Just as Stephen was joining the faculty permanently, Kate arrived on the Circle. After teaching for four years at Kimball Union Academy in New Hampshire, she took advantage of a program that allowed young faculty to take an unpaid one-year leave. Kate mentioned to then head of the Classics Department Warren Myers that her professor/advisor at University of Michigan had been David Ross, a current member of Groton’s Classics Department, and without further ado she was stepping in as a sabbatical replacement for Gussie Johns Bannard P’01,’03 (a current Groton trustee who taught at Groton from 1977-89).

The rest, as they say, is history, but what a history it has been. As Groton welcomed them, so did Kate and Stephen make Groton a member of their family. They haved lived individually and together in many of the School’s dormitory apartments, learning the quirks and benefits of each. After courting around the Circle, they chose to marry on it. During one March vacation in 1989, joined by the Groton community, they were married in St. John’s Chapel by Kate’s late father, an Episcopal priest.

After twins Molly ’12 and David ’12 arrived for the Belsky-Dennisons, Kate pressed then head Bill Polk ’58 and the Board of Trustees to invest in the fledgling day care center that had been limping along in what is now the Pest House dorm. The School, recognizing the evolving professional and family needs of its faculty, built and subsidized a new facility, the Children’s Center at Groton. Today CCG cares for and educates about 30 children from infancy to kindergarten, meeting the needs of faculty, staff, and the local community. Without Kate’s boots-on-the-ground experience trying to be a successful professional and hands-on parent, many faculty families might have found the juggling of school and family demands too difficult. She deserves the gratitude of those of us who have benefited from CCG.

Fast forward 18 years, the twins are now Sixth Formers, joined at Groton last year by their younger brother Jared ’15; the family often leaves the house together on weekday mornings and strolls toward St. John’s Chapel. Kate and Stephen each speak to the joys of knowing the rhythms of their children’s day, running into them in the lunch line. Kate and Stephen scrupulously keep a distance between their professional lives and their children’s educational lives at Groton—just another plate to keep spinning.

Not unlike the students who appreciate the opportunity for intellectual growth that Groton provides, Kate and Stephen are grateful for the School’s commitment to their growth as educators. Kate was encouraged to get her MSW degree from Boston University, which helped her carve out an important role, leading the School’s Academic Support program. Stephen pursued his graduate degree in science at the University of Michigan shortly after the twins were born, when the newly enlarged family relocated to Ann Arbor for his sabbatical. It was then that Kate renewed her friendship with David Ross and Katherine Bradley, encouraging both of them eventually to leave Michigan for Groton.

When they ascend the Prize Day stage to hand diplomas to their two eldest children, Kate and Stephen will represent the pride and care their colleagues past and present have for all the graduates who have donned Groton boaters. They are most proud that Molly, David, and Jared will always call Groton home and its community their family.

—Julia Alling

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