By Lauren Sonnenberg
When Julia Siegler ’14 died after being struck by a car as she crossed Sunset Boulevard, handfuls of her devastated friends gravitated to Head of Middle School Ronnie Codrington-Cazeau’s office.
Surrounded by Elmo dolls and pictures from students past, Emily Segal ’14 and other grieving classmates spent hours exchanging stories with Cazeau.
“Going to school was really hard, and Ms. Cazeau’s office was a safe place for all of us,” Segal said.
“There was never a doubt that when tragedy hit a class, students could head to
Cazeau’s office to find comfort and solace,” said Camelia Somers ’14, another frequent visitor to Cazeau’s office.
Students gathered there during free periods, sitting at a table snacking with friends and ventured into “Narnia,” a student-named corner of her office where kids played music and enjoyed each other’s company.
Cazeau’s office draws students in during happy as well as sad times. She started collecting Elmo memorabilia in 1991 and has lost count of the many dolls that “make [her] smile.”
“Ms. Cazeau is an inspiration for me to come to class excited every day and eager to learn,” said Jono Klein ’15, a student in Cazeau’s history class. “She is always charismatic and funny during class, and she made the whole class genuinely interested in the curriculum.”
Cazeau graduated from Wellesley College in 1991 with a degree in Anthropology and earned her Master of Science degree in Educational Administration from Pepperdine University in 2001. After teaching English and Social Studies for four years at Park School in Brookline, Mass., Cazeau and her husband moved to California so he could pursue a career in aerospace engineering. Cazeau accepted a job at Harvard-Westlake as a seventh grade English and history teacher in 1995. Two years later she became a seventh grade dean and ninth grade history teacher, and later she was asked by President Thomas C. Hudnut to be Head of Middle School, a position she has held for five years.
Along with Cazeau, seventh grade dean Kate Benton, former Director of Advancement Alan Ball and English teacher Julia Grody joined the staff, and Cazeau says that together they helped each other in their first year at a new school.
“Harvard-Westlake is a great place to be new because you make great friends and form instant familial bonds with your colleagues,” Cazeau said.
A love for her students and a great first year kept Cazeau at Harvard-Westlake for the next 17 years, she said.
Beyond her adoration for students, Cazeau hopes to be remembered for her “love of Elmo and warm spirit.” She plans to bring this to her new job as Head of School at Evergreen School in the Seattle area.
“What I always noted, and I worked closely with her for a number of years, she was always student centered in problem solving,” Ninth Grade Dean Paul Mastin said. “It was always helping that student out of the situation, making sure that the solution was right for the individual child.”
Upper School Dean Jon Wimbish will replace Cazeau as Head of Middle School next year.
“Her enthusiasm for young people is infectious, and I hope to embody her joyful spirit as I come back to the Middle School,” he said.