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Sandy Butler, Lower School, 2001–2022

Sandy Butler

By Jenn Katsoulis
Lower School Faculty

Former Lower School Principal Annette Raphel told me that 20 years ago, we were about to start school without an art teacher. On a Friday before Labor Day, a tip came in about Sandra Butler. She interviewed and left us speechless. Sandy taught us to WAIT for the perfect teacher and never settle.

Sandy is described as kind, talented, wise, funny, and “a magician disguised as an art teacher.” She has a magical clarity with children, treating them with enormous respect and confident expectations they will produce their best. She shared with me openly about the first time she taught kindergarten, planning an activity that overestimated their experience with scissors. Sandy’s takeaway was to be grateful for this lesson: students showed her what they needed to learn, therefore she developed lessons on fine motor skills.

Sandy is a wizard at introducing students to ways of seeing real and imaginary worlds, appreciating different media and art forms, and celebrating artists who have brought techniques and perspectives to the world. She approaches learning and teaching in multiple ways. While teaching portrait sketching, she poses in a beautiful hat, reading stories aloud. Her elaborate set designs for the Grade 5 Play allow students to “own” the colorful work they make. While Sandy’s art curriculum is fun, a look at the scope and sequence reveals a careful progression of fostered skills. Favorite projects include alebrijes, intricate watercolor and ink flowers, Egyptian masks, a lifesize elephant connected to math and literacy, acrylic paintings inspired by Kadir Nelson, and Ugandan paper beads for a summer reading assembly.

Sandy’s belief in each student reflects a gifted educator who makes all students feel confident and creative. We have marveled at what she helps our students produce artistically. She is an accomplished artist in her own right. After sharing her work she encourages children to critique it, graciously accepting the thoughts of every child.

Sandy is a much-loved collaborator who shares ideas, materials, and time. As part of the Cambridge/Somerville carpool for many years, I witnessed Sandy bring to life projects conceived during long commutes. Lucia described her as “a sponge” eager to learn and share during a teaching exchange with El Pilar. Sandy found time to support the Farmers Market Service Learning Project this year, and host a visiting artist. Noah Grigni’s visit, the non-binary artist of It Feels Good to Be Yourself: A Book About Gender Identity was a powerful experience for K-5. Sandy was attuned to the needs of both the artist and students during every workshop.

Sandy’s warm presence welcomed Lower School newcomers. She asks how you are, and genuinely wants to know! We all cherish every heart-to-heart chat. Her deep friendship is sensitive to the more somber aspects of the human experience. A willingness to be vulnerable, provide emotional support, and listen, allowed us to bring our whole selves to work during some tough times. She’s a sounding board for curriculum, for connecting with kids, and for adulting all these years.

We hope that extra time in her own studio will continue to feed her passion, and friends certainly look forward to extra time with her. The school has been enriched by Sandy’s vision, delight, and talent, and she will be missed by all.

What’s the Big Idea?

As Robert F. Kennedy ’44 observed, the best ideas—the most daring, and those that make the most profound impact on our world—spring from the minds of people who are unafraid to ask “Why not?” This issue highlights Milton graduates whose ideas are limitless, who challenge outdated assumptions, and who champion new approaches to old problems. On campus, students and teachers celebrate not only thinking but rethinking, and the powerful good that can be achieved when minds are nurtured, compassionate, and free.