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Leaving a Lasting Impact

By Jennifer Fogarty, communications content manager
LJCDS celebrates five retirees for their dedication and service.

With a combined 147 years of service with LJCDS, five educators will welcome retirement at the end of the 2020–2021 academic year. Margi Bingham, Pamela Madigan, Susan Middleton, Martha Migdal and Glenda Poliner have left an indelible mark on their colleagues and thousands of students and their families. We thank them for their dedication and service to generations of Torreys. They leave a lasting impact and legacy of dedication, kindness and passion behind.

Margi Bingham
Grade 1 Educator
34 years

Margi Bingham could write a book about her adventures before becoming a teacher, her third career. In an era when women were expected to either be a teacher, a nurse or a housewife, she was determined to do anything but. After attending Stanford University and spending time abroad, she completed her undergraduate degree at American University in Washington, D.C., majoring in international relations and French. She stayed in D.C., where she worked for a congressman as a legislative analyst and was involved in the drafting of the first seatbelt law and the Freedom of Information Act. Mrs. Bingham was even called in on a Sunday morning to help write a Bill of Impeachment of President Nixon, who was a Navy friend of her father’s.

Ms. Bingham went on to become a paralegal. Subsequently, while teaching Sunday School, she realized she had a talent for teaching and working with children. Her strong sense of adventure spilled into the classroom when, after a trip to Africa, she chose that year’s classroom theme, “Explorers,” complete with safari hats and the students’ stuffed animals for the class picture. Adventures in learning was a popular theme in her classroom.

Ms. Bingham’s first connection with LJCDS was as a parent when her daughter, Leigh, entered preschool and graduated in 1997.

“Instead of feeling intimidated or overwhelmed by the prospect of education,” shares former student Olivia Lenz ’09, D.V.M., “I am unrelentingly excited about everything I want to know. Mrs. Bingham was part of the team that taught me how joyful learning could be, which is a mindset I still apply to the learning I do every day as a veterinary scientist.”

“We’re lifelong learners at Country Day," explains Ms. Bingham. “The teachers and the students. I’m always learning. I thought about retiring earlier, but I had to come back this year and prove to myself that I could be a Country Day-level teacher during the pandemic, learning how to teach online using Google Classroom and Zoom. I have mastered those challenges this year, which gives me a sense of pride and accomplishment. I want to leave Country Day having been the best teacher I can be.”

Pamela Madigan
Middle School Math Educator, Grade 8
27 years

Math gets a bad rap. For some students, it is a class just to get through. Pam Madigan understands and accepts that not everyone likes math. Her goal is to help students feel more confident about doing math and enjoy it more than when they started her class. Knowing every student learns differently, Ms. Madigan encourages students to explore and find ways to obtain answers in any way that makes the most sense to them.

“As an educator, no matter what you teach in middle school,” shares Ms. Madigan, “you get to be that person that could possibly help shape a child by giving them the support that they need. I like to think of it like, yes, I teach math, but more importantly, I give them the tools and the guidance that they need to be the best versions of themselves.”

Born and raised in New York, Ms. Madigan is a first-generation American. Her father was born in Russia and, along with her grandparents, survived the Holocaust. After arriving in Southern California 30 years ago, she was a summer school teacher at LJCDS before joining the Middle School to teach math and science in the fifth and sixth grades. After spending two years teaching in Boston, she returned to the Middle School team teaching all levels of seventh-grade math and eventually eighth-grade math.

“Mrs. Madigan always made the classroom feel like a safe and welcoming space where I could be myself and relax,” shares Stella Stompoly ’23. “The impact she had on my life is everlasting, and I will always be grateful.”

Following in her mom’s footsteps, Ms. Madigan’s daughter, Morgan, is now teaching kindergarten. Once retired, Ms. Madigan plans on volunteering in her daughter’s classroom and in classrooms for underprivileged students.

Susan Middleton
Lower School Librarian
36 years

“This is the best book ever!” is one of Susan Middleton’s favorite exclamations from students. Even at a young age, Ms. Middleton knew she wanted to be a librarian and has spent half of her life instilling an excitement for books and a love of reading in the youngest children at LJCDS.

Although Ms. Middleton always wanted to be a librarian, she never envisioned working at a school. After spending two years in the Peace Corps in South Korea, she worked for a year in Japan and backpacked for nearly two years through Asia. She then earned her Master of Library Science degree and worked in business libraries, public libraries and university libraries, both in the U.S. and abroad. She imagined she would be a research librarian translating Japanese or Chinese materials.

Luckily for LJCDS, Ms. Middleton found independent school education and never looked back. Since 1985, thousands of students (and parents/guardians who volunteered in the library) have witnessed and benefited from the magic of her storytelling. She started as the Upper School librarian before moving to the Lower School—her sweet spot. Ms. Middleton brought legendary events like the annual baseball week with the Abbott and Costello “Who’s on First” routine, the telling of The Polar Express, the Newbery Awards assembly, and the Brown Bag Book Barter. She also brought many of the students’ favorite authors and illustrators to campus, including Robin Preiss Glasser of Fancy Nancy fame.

“Susan has made such an impact on Nick and shaped his school experience in so many wonderful ways over the years,” shares Patricia Mogul P’27. “Her love for literature and her students always shines through. We feel blessed that Nick was able to experience her gift of making books come alive and are grateful for the love of reading she instilled in him.”

One of Ms. Middleton’s favorite annual events is the Lifer lunch, which honors graduating seniors who she has witnessed growing up on the LJCDS campus for 13 cumulative years. She also treasures being a parent to her own Lifer children, Amberley ’00 and Sean ’04.

Over the years, Ms. Middleton has kept cherished notes from students. One note is from a student who was moving on to Middle School and reads, “You’ve been a great library helper for five years, half my life. Thanks for being a great librarian. From your number one fan.”

“These notes are my inspiration,” shares Ms. Middleton. “I see them every day. That is a great responsibility because I think the stories and learning, what we offer in the library is important. That keeps me working, and keeps me honest, and keeps me energized.”

Martha Migdal
Kindergarten Associate Educator
17 years

Martha Migdal is a caring mentor to both students and colleagues. Known for her calm, patient and gentle demeanor, Ms. Migdal has worked with LJCDS’ youngest Torreys to build them up for success. To her LJCDS team members, she’s a wise collaborator and friend.

Ms. Migdal knew she wanted to be a teacher since she was in the first grade. Before coming to LJCDS to teach junior kindergarten and then kindergarten, she was trained in the Montessori method, which has provided a valuable perspective on early childhood development. 

“Martha has been a pillar of excellence,” shares Payton Hobbs, head of Lower School. “She strategically guides students with grace, courtesy and respect for themselves, their environment and their community. Her welcoming smile and joy in celebrating all children strengthen the vital relationship, which is so important for a child’s growth and development.”

Ms. Migdal takes pleasure in developing an environment that represents the students and their interests by preparing lessons with hands-on activities and big science experiments. She fondly remembers teaching each student a special magic trick and dressing them up in a magic hat and cape for the annual Mother’s Day magic shows.

January is her favorite month of the school year. “I love teaching in January because the students always come back from break confident and excited to learn,” she explains. “Students and teachers alike notice the remarkable progress that has been made. You just feel like the seeds that you sowed are flourishing, and it happens every January.”

“Ms. Migdal is such a talented, warm and caring human being and we are beyond blessed to have had the opportunity to know her,” shares Lisa Gomez P’25 ’27. “She laid the foundation upon which our children have continued to thrive. We will always be indebted to her.”

After retiring, Ms. Migdal plans on spending time with her new grandson, reading, journaling and maybe doing a little more cooking.

Glenda Poliner
Middle School Science Educator, Grade 7
33 years

Jumping into the Pacific Ocean at 6:45 a.m. is one of those moments most people don’t forget. For Glenda Poliner, she shared that experience with her seventh-graders taking the Polar Bear Plunge during the annual Outdoor Education trip to Catalina Island, then swimming back to shore with the sun rising. These are among her favorite moments during her time at LJCDS.

While teaching Life Science, Ms. Poliner emphasizes the human systems, not only learning the anatomy and the physiology of the systems but how to keep that system healthy. In addition to physical health, there is also a focus on mental health. Students learn how to live a longer and healthier life.

“The best legacy Glenda has given her students is the confidence to think for themselves and to ask questions, not just scientific ones,” shares Kathy Hirsch P’01 ’04 ’08. “She gave them the space and empowered them to ask and to know it’s okay to do that—to not just accept what is. I love that about her.”

Ms. Poliner loves to get the families involved because that will have a greater impact and be more long-lasting. During a healthy eating project, students were challenged to plan and carry out a two-day menu. They researched, found recipes and cooked with their families, and proudly shared pictures of their meals.

To successfully lead a longer, healthier life, her students learn that they also need to improve the planet’s health and actively help accomplish that goal. Over spring break, students were tasked to journal their successes as they worked with their families to use leftovers rather than wasting food, reduce their meat consumption, avoid heating their home above 68 degrees or cooling it below 78 degrees, end their use of single-use plastics, and keep their neighborhood free of litter.

“I want students to remember that we're always learning,” shares Ms. Poliner. “Never stop learning and never stop making your lives and your family’s lives better, healthier, and our planet better and healthier through your actions and through a general attitude of concern and kindness.”

Ms. Poliner hopes to be a professional volunteer once she retires. She is already active in feeding baby birds every week with Project Wildlife, which is part of the Humane Society, and she and her husband hope to add to their weekly shift with Feeding San Diego. But their real commitment and passion are to reverse climate change. They’re involved with SanDiego350 and the Climate Action Campaign. “My personal mission and number one focus is to leave this world better off than when I entered it for the next generation, including the Country Day students that I care about so much, and my own children (Rachel ’03, Rebecca ’08 and Leah ’15), and my six grandchildren.”

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