On February 28, 2014, Lynne Greenfield, who was THHS’s Assistant Principal of Humanities from 1991-2002, passed away. Though she left THHS in 2002, she is still renowned among faculty for her dedication to fostering a love of humanities in the school as well as personal relationships with many current and former teachers.
Ms. Greenfield came to THHS in 1988 as an experienced English teacher, and became AP of Humanities in 1991. After leaving THHS, she taught the English language at Lehman College.
“Lynne Greenfield (Lynne with an ‘e’ she would always say), although not a member of the founding faculty, quickly became as one,” said former science teacher Odile Garcia.
Former principal of THHS Malcolm Largmann explained his decision to choose Ms. Greenfield as AP of Humanities.
“Ms. Greenfield was selected as supervisor of the humanities department not only because of her fine classroom performance, but because she represented the enduring spirit of Townsend Harris High School,” he said. “She had it all—great personal charm, sparkling intelligence, great creative thinking, compassion for colleagues and students, and a unique sense of fun. These are the qualities that defined her leadership of the humanities department.”
Ms. Greenfield made several contributions to the Humanities department during her time here.
“[Ms. Greenfield] knew that a young school, which we were when we re-opened in 1984, needed traditions and she helped mold them,” said former English teacher Debra Michlewitz, who described Ms. Greenfield as a “tornado of creativity and energy.”
One major tradition Ms. Greenfield helped establish was the Election Simulation, which was started in 1996 when a former teacher suggested the idea to her. She then organized various meetings between teachers from THHS and Queens College to organize and establish it.
“She was very progressive and open to new ideas,” said Social Studies teacher Chris Hackney, who also played a part in forming the Election Simulation.
She also helped foster the connections between THHS and Queens College to develop opportunities for seniors on campus.
Social Studies teacher Linda Steinmann recalled that Ms. Greenfield “had wonderful ideas about how to make [Founders’ Day] relevant.”
Ms. Greenfield started the “Founders’ Day Challenge,” which she was inspired to start after a student sang a Billy Joel song as they were moving into the new building. She then formalized and turned this into a contest among all English classes in which students created skits, song parodies, top ten lists, and other acts with the winning entries to be performed on Founders’ Day. Although it is not strictly followed as a contest anymore, the vestiges of her idea are still evident through the humorous skit and songs performed at the ceremony.
“I, for one, will never forget the hilarious spoofs of our school that left the audience roaring with laughter. While the contest is no longer held, the tradition of humorous performances on Founder’s Day is part of Ms. Greenfield’s legacy,” said former English teacher Ilsa Cowen.
Another contribution Ms. Greenfield made to the humanities department was the addition of lessons on writing a college essay to all junior English classes. English teacher Judy Biener said that although this would mean a lot more work for Ms. Greenfield and the other English teachers, Ms. Greenfield did it because she thought it would be best for the students.
“During my junior year, I wrote my college essay in her class and she worked with me on draft after draft until we were both happy with it,” said Ilana Golin, ‘96.
“She had a lot of wonderful ideas about courses and projects for students,” added Dr. Steinmann.
Ms. Greenfield, spurred by her love of New York City and its diversity, heavily emphasized interdisciplinary education in the school and tried to connect various departments to create a more enriching experience. For example, she united two teachers to collaborate on an English/Art elective, and also started the elective “The Big Apple,” in which students visited various places in NYC and wrote about them afterwards. In her “Native Voices” elective, students made documentaries about their family heritages. She also aligned what students were learning in English classes with their history lessons.
“She encouraged experimentation and was all for interdisciplinary projects,” said Ms. Cowen. “When I wanted to collaborate with teachers in the science department on joint projects for our Writing Process and biology classes, she was all for it.”
Ms. Greenfield was also known for organizing ambitious freshman trips—her inspiration was Homer’s Odyssey. On one trip, freshmen visited a Hindu temple in Flushing, a restaurant in Chinatown, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art all in one day to explore characteristics of various civilizations and cultures.
Dr. Largmann also explained another reason he chose Ms. Greenfield to be AP of Humanities: “She had a wonderful ability to identify new, young teachers who thrived under her guidance.”
The first person Ms. Greenfield hired was Humanities teacher Raquel Chung, who came to THHS from teaching at a middle school.
“[Ms. Greenfield] was in a sense my mentor. She taught me how to adapt and work with high school students,” she recalled.
Ms. Chung adds that as a new teacher, she “would approach a lesson with [Ms. Greenfield] in mind.”
Many other teachers also looked up to Ms. Greenfield for inspiration.
“She always had a better understanding of characters than I did,” said English teacher Judy Biener.
Ms. Biener recalled how she and her students had always classified “Zeena” from Ethan Frome as a bad person. Ms. Greenfield, however, saw a good side to Zeena and told Ms. Biener this, permanently reforming how Ms. Biener taught the book to her class.
Ms. Biener also recollects how, during the time when Ms. Greenfield was still a teacher, Ms. Greenfield invited her over for dinner to give her pointers on teaching.
From the beginning, Ms. Greenfield was dedicated to perfecting the school to her best ability.
Dr. Steinmann said that when THHS was relocated to the current building in 1995, Ms. Greenfield was “crazed” about the auditorium. Ms. Chung recalls Ms. Greenfield’s dislike of the auditorium seats and how she tried to fix them.
“She was so concerned that people wouldn’t enjoy what they saw because of the discomfort of the seats,” Ms. Chung said, laughing.
Because of this concern, Ms. Greenfield purchased ostentatiously yellow, personalized THHS cushions for the auditorium seats. The cushions were eventually sold as a fundraiser for the humanities department.
According to Dr. Steinmann, upon moving into the building the auditorium’s sound system was also less than satisfactory.
“[Ms. Greenfield] bugged people at the Board of Education to get it fixed,” she said.
Another instance of her dedication to perfection occurred when she gathered a group of volunteers to repair the once decrepit Harold, the tin can dinosaur built by THHS’s Society for the Preservation of the Earth club.
Ms. Garcia recalls another example of Ms. Greenfield’s meticulous dedication.
“When the large Peace Dove installed in the front Hall by Amnesty International—made of paper feathers with a signed “contract” on them by every school member confirming his/her respect and tolerance for others—began to deteriorate, she helped re-install it with a black background at another location,” added Ms. Garcia.
During her time at THHS, Ms. Greenfield also came up with the idea of Vocabulary Month and the THHS Writer’s Manual.
In addition to being an innovative AP, Ms. Greenfield was an inspirational teacher.
“I clearly remember her teaching us that words have specific meanings, and you can’t just stick whatever word you want in a sentence and hope for the best,” said Ms. Golin. “She used to say that strong writing is about finding the right word to convey specific meaning. It’s a lesson I draw on all the time.”
She adds that she read many of her favorite books while in Ms. Greenfield’s class.
“She instilled in me a love of literature that I continue to carry with me,” she said.
Ms. Greenfield also had a great sense of humor, which Ms. Biener said made work more enjoyable.
“You must know…in addition that Lynne made absolutely the best chocolate cake any chocolate lover could imagine,” recalls former librarian Valerie Billy. “My mouth waters just thinking about it.”
Whenever it was a teacher’s birthday, Ms. Greenfield would make a huge, triple chocolate cake. In addition, when a teacher had a baby, she would knit them various items; she also formed the Knitting Club.
Sheila Orner, former Assistant Principal of Guidance, sums up Ms. Greenfield’s contributions that “set the standard of excellence for a Humanities program.”
“Under her leadership, the humanities department and its programs were one of the finest in the city… As a result THHS had the finest newspaper, literary magazine, debate team and drama club to name a few.”
Upon retiring, Ms. Greenfield expressed her love for THHS when she told The Classic: “What I will miss most about my job here is teaching and laughing with the kids every day.”
After retiring, Ms. Greenfield continued to channel her creativity and ambition into living life to the fullest, always doing challenging things that people of her age might avoid, such as hiking in the Himalayas.
“As she had hoped, her retirement meant she had a lot more time for reading, theater, opera, hiking on fabulous trips all around the world, and friends,” said Ms. Cowen.
She especially maintained her inseparable, personal relationship with Dr. Steinmann. The pair traveled to places such as London, China, Turkey, France, and more recently, Uzbekistan, in addition to spending every summer in Vermont together.
“She was the kind of person we all strived to be,” said Dr. Steinmann.
Ms. Biener agrees, calling Ms. Greenfield “a good model for how to live life.”
Dr. Largmann expressed gratitude for Ms. Greenfield’s contributions and emphasized their importance for students, saying, “To the current and future students of Townsend Harris High School: Remember, the success of the school is the reflection of educators like Lynne Greenfield.”
Published in the THHS Classic, April 8, 2014, by Stephanie Geier.