Faculty & Staff
CHRISTINE CAMPBELL - ASSOCIATE TEACHER, LEVEL II
Christine has a passion for teaching students and tapping into their creative side. Christine earned her BS and Master of Arts in Education from Bethel University in McKenzie, Tennessee, where she managed the University's Fitness Center and was on the track team as a sprinter and a javelin thrower. Christine moved to California to be closer to her family and began teaching students at the Riekes Center, where she worked with children in speed training, taught physical education classes, and was an instructor for Nature Days at Synapse. She subsequently became an Administrative Assistant and After-School Enrichment Coordinator at Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School in Palo Alto. When substituting for instructors, Christine enjoyed being in the classroom so much that she found her way to Synapse as an Associate Teacher. In her spare time, Christine enjoys traveling, going to the beach, fishing, hiking, and camping.
HOLLY CAMPBELL - LEVEL III LEAD TEACHER
This is Holly's seventh year at Synapse. Holly is excited for another year in Level III. Prior to teaching at Synapse, Holly received her BS in Education at Middle Tennessee State University. She taught fourth grade for five years at a Title 1 school in Murfreesboro City School District where she was awarded “Teacher of the Year” in the 2012-2013 school year. Holly served gifted and special education students in an inclusion classroom. She was a presenter to principals on Tier 1 Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports. Holly also served as a lead teacher for Body and Mind, as well as Families Understanding Nature and Nutrition. In her free time, she enjoys painting, reading, music, and photography.
SARAH CARR-BERRY - LEVEL I LEAD TEACHER
Sarah has been teaching students of all ages since 2005. She joined the Synapse community in 2012 when she returned to California after living and teaching in Tokyo, Japan, for nearly five years. While in Tokyo she taught English to students ranging from four to 80 years old. Subsequently, she taught Kindergarten at an international school. While at the international school, Sarah helped to develop the curriculum for the school’s International Baccalaureate accreditation. Before moving overseas, Sarah created and taught project based middle school social studies curriculum in downtown Los Angeles. Sarah is a native Californian and earned a BA in History with a Theatre Arts minor from University of California Santa Cruz and an MA in Education and a teaching credential from Pepperdine University. She loves playing in her band, seeing live music, and being in the Redwoods.
PAIGE CAREY - LEVEL I LEAD TEACHER
Paige is excited to be starting her fourth year in a lead position in Level I. After attending the University of San Diego and receiving a BA in Marine Science, Paige moved back to the Bay Area to pursue a career that intertwines both education and marine life. She recently completed her Masters in Education - Curriculum and Instruction at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont. She has worked with Galileo Learning Inc. for six years and has been a Team Leader, Lead Instructor in Art, and Lead Instructor in Science for a variety of ages. Paige is passionate about instilling a sense of creativity and confidence in children in all aspects of life and learning, as well as having loads of fun. She possesses many talents and passions such as singing, playing piano and ukulele, dancing, swimming, kayaking, painting and crafting, cooking, and spouting off fun facts about sea life.
HANNAH GALLAGHER - LEVEL III LEAD TEACHER
After three years as an Associate Teacher in Level II and Level III, Hannah is excited to be returning for her third year in the role of Level III Lead Teacher. Prior to Synapse, Hannah taught Kindergarten for two years at Brandeis Hillel Day School in San Francisco. She studied English at University of California Santa Barbara and received her teaching credential at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles. She enjoys collaborating with her team and engaging her students. In her free time she does improv comedy, takes guitar lessons, sings whenever possible, and loves to explore Bay Area hiking and restaurants with family and friends.
ELIZABETH GIBBONS - ASSOCIATE TEACHER, LEVEL II
Elizabeth is excited to be moving to the Level II team as an associate teacher this year. She recently completed her Masters in the Art of Teaching from Santa Clara University and has worked on and off for over 15 years as an instructional aide, primarily at Ohlone Elementary School in Palo Alto. She has also worked as a youth director where she helped build a program based on connection and acceptance. She has a strong commitment to social and emotional learning and building a strong classroom community. She cares deeply about communication, social justice, animals, and environmentalism. Elizabeth has lived in Palo Alto for over twenty years and raised three children there. She enjoys strategic board games, hiking, and spending time with her husband, adult children, and her beloved dog.
ANDIE GROSSMAN - ASSOCIATE TEACHER, LEVEL III
This is Andie's first year at Synapse and she's excited to join Hannah's Level III classroom as an associate. She graduated from Stanford with a degree in sociology and soon after began tutoring full-time. Andie has worked with a wide range of students, from high school students taking AP calculus and statistics to students preparing for standardized testing, but found her passion teaching writing and math to elementary school students. A lifelong lover of books, Andie can't wait to support her third and fourth grade students as they develop their own passion for reading. In her spare time Andie enjoys hiking, watching movies, and attending concerts with friends.
ADAM HATFIELD - ASSOCIATE TEACHER, LEVEL I
Adam returns to Level I this year as an Associate Teacher, after one year in Level III. Originally from Pittsford, Vermont, Adam moved to Florida in 2004 and earned his degree in Secondary Social Science Education from Florida Gulf Coast University in 2016. After teaching history and government in a high school setting, Adam developed an interest in working with younger students and moved to a second grade classroom. He is passionate about independent schools and aspires to create a positive environment to foster a lifelong love for learning in his students. In his free time, Adam enjoys cooking, drumming, riding his bicycle, reading, and hiking with his dog, Bear.
BLAIR JOHNSON - ASSOCIATE TEACHER, LEVEL III
Born and raised in Menlo Park, Blair attended the University of Vermont, where he earned a BS in Social Work from the College of Education and Social Services. After graduation, he moved back to California, where he began working for the Menlo Park City School District as a substitute teacher for grades K-8. Most recently he worked at Encinal Elementary in Menlo Park as a long-term substitute within the severe/medical special needs classroom and as a resource teacher. In his free time he enjoys getting outdoors any way he can - snowboarding, fishing, sailing - or restoring vintage motorcycles in his garage. Blair is excited to be moving to the Level II team this year at Synapse.
YVONNE KUNSTENAAR - LEVEL II LEAD TEACHER
Yvonne is thrilled to be starting her tenth year at Synapse and her eighth year as Level II Lead Teacher. After working in the corporate world, Yvonne discovered the joy of working with elementary school children. She has taught all school ages from Kindergarten through sixth grade as a teacher and science specialist. Yvonne’s passion is to inspire all children to love to read, which has led her to volunteer with several organizations where she has tutored young readers. She received her teaching credential from Notre Dame de Namur University, MBA from The University of Pennsylvania, and BA from Columbia University. Yvonne loves spending time with her family: her husband, two daughters, and several rabbits. After many years of long distance running, she now enjoys going on long walks and most recently, taking yoga classes. In her moments of free time, Yvonne also enjoys time with a good book.
DEVIN MACRAE - LEVEL II LEAD TEACHER
After two years as a Synapse Level II Associate teacher, Devin is thrilled to be coming back to Synapse for his third year in a Level II Lead Teacher position. He holds a degree in Biology from California State Monterey Bay. Devin has worked with children in a number of ways. He was an educator at Marina Vista Elementary School in Marina, California, where he worked with students ranging from Kindergarten to 5th grade. At the Marine Mammal Center, he educated the public on marine biology and conservation. Devin is also the proud parent of a 5-year-old daughter and a 3-year-old son. He enjoys cooking for his family, road trips, gardening, and practicing the ukulele.
BRIANA MCDOWELL - ASSOCIATE TEACHER, LEVEL II
Briana is beyond thrilled to join the Synapse team as a Level II Associate teacher! She graduated in 2018 with a BA in Psychology from Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, she enjoys spending time with her partner, Jessica, and their 2-year-old puppy, Xena. Her hobbies include attending concerts, extreme sea glass hunting (It’s a real thing), and playing board games.
CORA POE - LEVEL III LEAD TEACHER
Cora is thrilled to be joining the Level III team for the 2019-20 school year. Cora graduated from UC Davis with a double major in English and Cultural Anthropology. She loves to bring her interests in reading, writing, people and history into the classroom. Cora worked in public school in Davis, CA, then moved to the Bay and the independent school system at The Nueva School in 2015. She hopes to promote a pattern of lifelong learning in the students she teaches. Things that bring Cora joy outside of school include reading, playing board games, and hiking with her dog, Tommy.
STEPHANIE POO - ASSOCIATE TEACHER, LEVEL I
Stephanie is excited to be moving to the Level I team as an associate teacher this year. In the last few years, Stephanie has taught Level II and various art mediums including acrylic, watercolor, relief printing, and ceramics. She studied Art and History of Art and Visual Culture at University of California Santa Cruz and is in the process of getting her Masters in Education at Santa Clara University. In her free time, Stephanie enjoys reading nonfiction, collecting children books, and spending time with her family and dog, Nugget.
KAREN SHIN - LEVEL II LEAD TEACHER
Karen is thrilled to be returning to Synapse for her second year as a Lead Teacher. She grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from the University of California Santa Cruz with a BA in Psychology. Her first teaching assignment was a long-term substitute position, where she taught second grade. This experience ignited a passion for children, and Karen spent the next eight years teaching in a Special Ed Preschool and Transitional Kindergarten classroom. In addition to education, she has a passion for the healing arts and is a certified Reiki Master and Ayurveda health counselor. She enjoys seasonal cooking and spending time hiking with the love of her life, her dog, Maggie.
AMY ZEHENDER - ASSOCIATE TEACHER, LEVEL III
Amy is returning for her fourth year at Synapse and is super excited to teach the Fort project again! The past few years have been busy as Amy has worked in Level I and Level III, before which she was a multiple subject tutor and live-in nanny. She earned her BA in Elementary Education with focuses in Special Education and Fine Arts from Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, as well her Kansas state teaching license in 2013. Amy has worked as a co-director for Summer Camps for Kids, swim instructor, and coach, all of which contributed to her passion for working with children and incorporating creative thinking moments into everyday activities. This past summer Amy married her best friend and they are loving spending time together and exploring different recipes, books, nature walks, tv shows, and board games. Amy is excited to see what this year at Synapse has in store!
BRENDA BERRY - SPANISH TEACHER
Brenda became a Spanish teacher because of her love of modern foreign languages. She earned a BA in Spanish and Psychology, and later an MA in Medieval and Golden Age Spanish Literature and Drama from University College Cork in Ireland. She holds a teaching credential in Spanish and French from the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff and a California single-subject credential in Spanish. Brenda has worked as a language teacher in Ireland, Spain, South America, and the UK before moving to California 10 years ago. Her main goal as a teacher is to develop in her students a passion for foreign languages and to develop a greater comprehension of cultural diversity in the world around us. When she is not teaching she enjoys biking, hiking, and exploring the wonderful California country and city life with her family and friends.
JOHN GREGORY - HUMANITIES TEACHER; MIDDLE SCHOOL ADVISOR
John is excited to return for his fifth year in the Synapse Middle School. Growing up in Portland, Oregon, John attended independent schools that instilled him with a lifelong curiosity and passion for education. Seeking to expand his horizons, he attended Vassar College, where he majored in English and Political Science, and enjoyed exploring the Northeast with the rowing team. After graduation, John worked in book publishing before he was accepted as a New York City Teaching Fellow, which allowed him to begin teaching in a new public middle school and earn an MEd in English Education from Fordham. After several years, John took a position teaching English at Columbia Prep and attended City College of New York for an MFA in Creative Writing. John moved to the Bay Area five years ago; he enjoys spending time outdoors with his dogs and discovering all that the area has to offer.
ISHA JAIN - MATH TEACHER; MIDDLE SCHOOL ADVISOR
Isha holds a Masters in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies from Boston University and an undergraduate degree in Business Administration. As a child, Isha had the opportunity to go to an experiential and project-based school and is a strong proponent of this approach to education. She believes that learning takes place internally and that the role of an educator is to hone the natural curiosity of young adults and convert it into powerful learning opportunities. Isha has worked as the head of two departments: Technology and Business Management of the International Baccalaureate Middle Years and Diploma Programmes at the Mahatma Gandhi International School in India. She also launched and led a course in Creative Media Production in Filmmaking accredited by Cambridge University. She curated and taught interdisciplinary projects for grades five and six. Isha speaks many languages including English, Gujarati, Hindi, and French. She enjoys cooking and traveling with her husband, practicing Kung Fu, violin, and exploring Bay Area food and culture.
STUART LANGSAM - MIDDLE SCHOOL PERFORMING ARTS SPECIALIST; MIDDLE SCHOOL ADVISOR
Stuart is a multi-faceted percussionist and music educator originally from Southern California. He holds a BA in Music Performance from San Jose State University, a Master's of Music from Oklahoma State University, and is currently studying towards a Doctorate of Musical Arts at the University of Oklahoma. Stuart was a member of the Oklahoma City Philharmonic for eight seasons performing Classics, Pops, Ballet, and Youth concerts. He is also a member of Orphic Percussion, a California based professional percussion quartet. He has worked with learners of all ages in the classroom, on the marching band field, and in private lessons. He enjoys helping students grow and progress in their study of music by guiding them into finding solutions and answers to the questions they ask. He is excited to be joining the Synapse team as the Middle School Performing Arts Specialist and learning our unique and innovative approach to education.
EBEN LAPIER - MATH TEACHER; MIDDLE SCHOOL ADVISOR
This is Eben's seventh year as a Synapse teacher. After three years as an Associate Teacher in Level III, Eben joined the middle school team as a math teacher and 7th/8th grade advisor. Eben graduated from the University of Puget Sound in 2010 with degrees in Mathematics and Medieval Literature and received his credential from Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont in 2012. Eben is happiest when teaching his students to not fear math, or running simulations and hands-on projects. When he is not teaching he enjoys riding his bike, playing tabletop games, and "marching" with his tuba in the Stanford Band.
MARK LEITCH - MATH TEACHER; MIDDLE SCHOOL ADVISOR
Mark has been in love with mathematics for quite a while now. He holds a BS in Energy Engineering from Penn State University with a focus on studying renewable energy. Toward the end of college, Mark discovered a passion for teaching. He moved to New Orleans and taught 7th/8th graders in math, science, and special education for 3 years. In his last year in New Orleans, he also enjoyed tutoring advanced mathematics to students up for a challenge. Mark moved out to the west coast last summer and has now been at Synapse for one year as a 5/6 math teacher and advisor. Mark’s favorite thing about Synapse is that he gets to explore mathematics through unique and exciting projects! In his free time, you can find him hiking, marathon-ing and playing Magic The Gathering. He is incredibly excited for his second year at Synapse!
BRIAN LUCETT - HUMANITIES TEACHER; MIDDLE SCHOOL ADVISOR
This is Brian’s ninth year at Synapse in the middle school. Brian holds a BA in philosophy and a single subject teaching credential in English from CSU Fullerton. Prior to joining Synapse in 2011, he spent three years teaching high school English and after-school classes in U.S. History, literature, SAT writing, and SAT critical reading. Brian believes that education should help students develop the critical thinking skills and creativity necessary to understand and contribute to the world around them, while providing opportunities for laughter because, above all else, learning should be fun. Outside of the classroom, Brian spends his time performing improv and comedy, reading, playing guitar, and enjoying the art and culture around San Francisco.
ANN MARIE MACARA - STEAM TEACHER; MIDDLE SCHOOL ADVISOR
Ann Marie became a scientist because of her love for animals! She earned a BS with Honors in Animal Physiology from the University of Toronto and went on to obtain her PhD from the University of Michigan, where her studies focused on environmental concepts and how they shape animal behavior. In addition to her research, she served as a graduate student instructor, a tutor to fellow students, and a mentor for younger students through community outreach programs. After moving to the Bay Area, Ann Marie worked as a marine educator at the Marine Science Institute in Redwood City. She most recently led a group of high school students on a camping and kayaking trip around Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Her main goal as a teacher is to use her scientific expertise to engage the next generation of students in STEM and environmental stewardship. When Ann Marie is not teaching, she loves being outside, flipping over rocks in search for invertebrates, and going on adventures in the wilderness with her rescue dog!
BEN MEISELES - MATH TEACHER; MIDDLE SCHOOL ADVISOR
This is Ben's second year as a Math Specialist and Middle School Advisor at Synapse. Earning his BS in Mathematics from Duke University, Ben went on to work in professional services at Red Hat for several years. Despite his foray in the tech world, Ben has always wanted to serve as an educator and role model for children. As a math teacher, Ben strives to enable students to embrace the skills and mindsets that create great mathematicians, lifelong learners, and intentional global citizens.
MICHELLE CHANEY - HUMANITIES TEACHER; MIDDLE SCHOOL ADVISOR
Michelle is excited to return for her fourth year at Synapse in a brand new role, as Writers Workshop Teacher and 5/6 Advisor in the Middle School. Originally from the Bay Area, she moved across the country to earn her BA in Psychology from Princeton University and her MSEd in Elementary Education from the University of Pennsylvania. After graduation, Michelle moved to Sydney, Australia, where she taught first grade for three years. Michelle then returned to California in 2015 to work as a second grade associate teacher at The Nueva School. In addition to teaching, Michelle also enjoys coaching springboard diving at her local pool. Some of her greatest passions include traveling, hiking, and collecting beautifully illustrated picture books.
SHERRY ZHANG - MANDARIN TEACHER
A former Level III associate teacher, Sherry is excited to rejoin Synapse with a new role in Middle School and re-meeting her former students who are now middle schoolers! Born and raised in China, Sherry started teaching Mandarin to foreign employees at Caterpillar Inc. in China in 2009 while pursuing her undergraduate degree in English at Tianjin Foreign Studies University. After she obtained her Middle School teaching credential in 2011, she started teaching English to children in China, and later taught Mandarin at Tallahassee Chinese school while in graduate school at Florida State University, majoring in International Comparative Education. She is now in the third year of her doctoral program in Chinese medicine and acupuncture at Five Branches University in San Jose. She is thrilled to share this historical and beautiful language and its rich cultural aspects with Synapse students with a modern, spontaneous, simplistic and student-centered method!
ANNE CHANG - STEAM SPECIALIST
Since joining Synapse in 2012, Anne has taught in both lower and middle school classrooms from 3rd through 8th grade. Anne came from a sixteen-year career in health care operations and consulting prior to pursuing her passion for teaching. She received her Multiple Subject Teaching Credential from Notre Dame de Namur University, a Masters in Public Health from the University of Michigan, and a BS in Biology from Stanford University. In addition, she is the parent of a high schooler and enjoys singing, photography, writing, and cheering on her daughter's sports teams.
ANDREA DIMAS - SEL SPECIALIST, MIDDLE SCHOOL
Andrea graduated from San Francisco State University in 2009 with her MS in Counseling, the first stepping stone toward receiving her Pupil Personnel Services Credential and License in Marriage and Family Therapy. She earned her BA in Mass Communication from UC Berkeley and worked in the world of Advertising before transitioning her passion for understanding people's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors into counseling. She loves working with people of all ages in the therapeutic, teaching, and coaching capacity. Andrea most recently joined us from San Carlos School District, and is a native of the Bay Area. She loves all things sports (particularly volleyball and snowboarding), playing board games, creating through arts and crafts projects, quality conversations with friends, and traveling the world with her husband and two children.
PEGGY MCLEAN - MATH SPECIALIST, LOWER SCHOOL
Peggy received her BA and MA from San Jose State University. For the past 45 years she has been training teachers across the nation in the use of manipulative math materials to foster greater understanding of math concepts presented in the elementary grades. Peggy trained pre-service teachers at Notre Dame de Namur University for 25 years and has had the joy of visiting their schools in the Bay Area and other sites across the nation. With Mary Laycock, she created the elementary math program at The Nueva School, where she was Math Specialist from 1975 - 2015. Peggy joined Synapse full time in 2016 and currently works with teachers in Levels I, II, and III. She is the co-author of several books on the use of various manipulative materials, many of which are currently used at Synapse School.
BRITNEI MERCKLE - ART AND INNOVATION SPECIALIST
Britnei received her MA in Art Education in 2012 from NYU Steinhardt in New York City. She also holds a BFA in Fine Art Photography from Ohio University with a minor in Theater Arts. Britnei is a New York State Certified Arts Educator and has taught art at a variety of private schools including the United Nations International School, where she designed and implemented lesson plans for a digital photography class. She has developed a theme-based curriculum for art classes and curated exhibitions of student work. She also has a great deal of studio experience. Britnei looks forward to her fourth year here at Synapse supporting the arts and innovation programs.
EMILY MICHIELUTTI - ASSOCIATE PERFORMING ARTS SPECIALIST
Emily is excited to join the Synapse team this year! Emily is a composer, pianist, and educator who recently relocated to the Bay Area from Chicago. Over the last five years, her compositions have been performed by Chicago’s New Music ensembles. She strives to find beauty in composition by experimenting with extended techniques using acoustic instrumentation and a digital approach to sound. Originally from Detroit, Michigan, Emily began her professional music career at an early age singing for the Michigan Opera Theater Children's Chorus. Emily holds a Bachelor's of Music in Composition and Piano Performance from Columbia College Chicago. While at Columbia College she began teaching so she could share her joy for music with students of all ages. She believes education is about finding one’s passion while achieving continuous improvement and progression and aims to instill values of creativity, diligence, and curiosity in her students.
ANITHA NANDURI - K-8 COMPUTER SCIENCE SPECIALIST
Anitha is excited to start her first year at Synapse School this year. Her goal is to bring out students’ joy and creativity in learning by emphasizing communication, collaboration and an open mind. She comes to Synapse with over four years of working with and teaching K-8 children in both public and independent schools. Prior to teaching Engineering Design, Coding, and Technology at a local independent school for the past two years, Anitha worked as an Electrical Engineer for over seven years for both large corporations and start-ups. She holds a BS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Arizona. She is the parent of three children and enjoys attending their sports games and/or music performances on the weekends.
CHA CHA PILLAI - BRAINWAVE LEARNING CENTER RESEARCH & PROGRAM COORDINATOR
Cha Cha studied the Neurobiology of Identity in the Human Biology department at Stanford University. At Stanford, Cha Cha taught “Peer Counseling on Comprehensive Sexual Health” and counseled at the Sexual Health Peer Resource Center. She worked as a 24/7 residential health educator and wellness specialist in a freshman dorm where she supported individuals in building their own personal frameworks for flourishing. Cha Cha strives to create warm spaces built on respect and open communication where people feel safe to have harder, important conversations. At the Brainwave Learning Center, she is excited to experience kids see their own brains at work and develop a deeper more intentional relationship with their mind and body. Cha Cha spends her free time doing yoga, making people dance as DJ HONEY, and vinyl hunting for more jazzy-cosmic-disco jams.
CARYN TRAN - COMPUTER SCIENCE SPECIALIST
Caryn is elated to be joining Synapse! She spends half her time as a software engineer at TeachFX, Entrepreneurs-In-Residence at Synapse, where she is a full-stack web developer and machine learning engineer who writes software to enable teachers get feedback on their classroom discourse. Caryn is a recent graduate of UC Berkeley, with a BA in Computer Science and MA in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science with a focus on Artificial Intelligence and a secondary focus in Education. She did research in Machine Learning and Wireless Communications, and taught or supported many courses: introductory CS in Snap!, Core CS in Lisp and Python, and Artificial Intelligence in Python. She also was an instructor for Girls Who Code and volunteered in 6th through 12th grade classrooms. Caryn wants to make computer science a community of practice as opposed to a skill or subject to master and is excited to help inspire Synapse students.
KEIKO SATO-PERRY - SEL SPECIALIST, LOWER SCHOOL
Keiko is thrilled and grateful to continue serving as a Social Emotional Learning Specialist for the Lower School. Her ever-evolving Noble Goal is “to co-create a humane community through connection and play so all lives will reach and celebrate their full potentials.” Keiko has two masters degrees in education, one from Keio University in Tokyo (Educational Psychology) and the other from Stanford University (Curriculum and Teacher Education.) In search of a healthy, firm and thoughtful approach in education, in addition to Six Seconds EQ certifications, she has benefitted from trainings in peer counseling/Listening Partnership, Equity and Inclusion, trauma-informed education, Social Thinking, non-violent communication, holistic health, theater, zen and guided meditation and mindfulness. As a parent she practices and teaches Parenting by Connection through Hand in Hand Parenting. Keiko loves her two teenage sons and enjoys listening to audiobooks, dancing and spending time with friends.
MACARENA SOSNIK - ART AND INNOVATION SPECIALIST
Macarena is a graphic designer by training from the Universidad Finis Terrae in Chile and a crafter by passion. A native Spanish speaker, she seeks to inspire children to create the things they use, wear, and play with. She was most recently a curriculum developer and instructor at EQV, a mobile classroom SEL program benefiting underserved youth in the Bay Area. Macarena brings together the worlds of design and SEL in her unique educational art and communication classes, and offers students empowering Maker opportunities during the school day and after school. She is a mom of two, a four year old and a Synapse fifth grader, and she enjoys camping and spending time outdoors.
PAULO VALENCIA - PE TEACHER
Paulo is a graduate of San Jose State University and holds a BS in Kinesiology. He comes to Synapse after working with children under 2 in the Stanford community and over 10 years at the athletics department of the Boys and Girls Club of Redwood City. He enjoys teaching sports and motivating youth to develop an interest for staying active and healthy. Paulo is excited to join the Synapse team and inspire students through Physical Education. He loves to spend time with his two year old at the park and watch him throw, shoot and kick a ball. He enjoys attending sporting events, barbecuing and spending time with family and friends.
BOB BEAR - CHIEF OPERATIONS OFFICER (COO)
Bob has been Synapse School's facilities project manager for a year and a half and is thrilled to be our school's first Chief Operations Officer (COO). Bob will continue to lead the strategic development of our growing physical spaces as well as taking on more roles in the Synapse team. Bob knows about rapidly growing entrepreneurial ventures from his years in start-ups and software and adds a seasoned voice to our leadership team.
BRIAN BICKNELL - DIRECTOR OF MAKERSPACE; MIDDLE SCHOOL ADVISOR
This is Brian’s tenth year at Synapse. Brian is a former high school English teacher and is considered to be a “jack of all trades.” Brian believes in experiencing people and the world to guide his own learning and has a goal of visiting 100 countries by the time he’s 40. Brian enjoys music, running, making things, solving problems, and traveling. Brian earned a BA in English and a single-subject teaching credential in English from San Diego State University. He is an avid runner and fad-dieter and enjoys working to make the world a better place to live and learn.
ELIZABETH BLOOM - ATHLETICS COORDINATOR; MIDDLE SCHOOL ADVISOR
Elizabeth came to Synapse after a career as a fitness trainer and coach. She graduated magna cum laude with a BA in Psychology from Sonoma State University with an interest in child development and first explored education at Lydiksen Elementary in the east bay as a special education classroom aide. After a fulfilling college cross country and track career, Elizabeth took the opportunity to become the assistant cross country coach at SSU, where she enjoyed mentoring the team of young women and facilitating their strength training program. Entering her third year at Synapse, Elizabeth is excited to continue developing Synapse's athletic, physical education and wellness programs. She loves to run, bike, swim, ride her motorcycle and enjoys cooking (and eating) plant-based cuisine.
JOSIAH BURNHAM - FRONT DESK AND AFTER CARE SUPPORT
Josiah is currently a student at De Anza College wrapping up a degree in General Education and is excited to join the Synapse team part-tme. After working at Philz Coffee for 6 years, he loves making latte art and dialing in espresso, and revels in a juicy light roast bean that makes his taste buds sing. Skateboarding is his first love, and he's comfortable on just about any type of board. He also enjoys playing electronic music with his partner and spending time with her in the great outdoors.
LENA CHANE - DIRECTOR OF ADVANCEMENT
Lena started and chaired SynC, the Synapse PTA, chaired the Head of School Search Committee on behalf of the Synapse Board, and located Synapse’s first building on Edison Way. After two years working as the Director of Outreach, she moved into the role of Director of Advancement. She is excited for her third year in this role, leading communication and development and supporting Admissions. She feels a true sense of belonging at Synapse, is inspired by the Mission and Vision of Synapse, and is thrilled by the momentum at hand. She enjoys engaging with peer schools, the community, and prospective parents. She leads development efforts at Synapse, supporting strategic and intentional growth. Lena graduated with honors from Emory University with a BA in English/Creative Writing and returned to the Bay Area shortly thereafter where she settled into a ten year career in interactive television technology. Lena’s greatest joy is her family: her husband and three children, two of whom attend Synapse and one recent Synapse graduate.
TRINA CURRIER - COORDINATOR OF SYNAPSE TEACHER MENTOR PROGRAM
Trina returns to Synapse for her fourth year of leading our Associate Teacher Program, which is designed to support and develop our lower school associate teachers. Throughout her career, she has taught in a variety of schools, including Potomac School in McLean, Virginia, the Newton, Massachusetts, public schools, and San Francisco Day School. She earned her BA from Harvard and her Masters in Education and Reading Specialist Certification at the University of Michigan, where she also worked in the Detroit Public Schools supervising and teaching student teachers. She home-schooled her four boys for a year and spent seven years volunteering and collaborating with teachers at Ohlone School in Palo Alto. For many years she has been interested and involved in helping teachers, new and old, to be reflective about their work. Trina lives in Palo Alto with her husband James and their four sons, one Synapse middle schooler and three Synapse alums. She is a personal and professional growth junkie and loves to share this work with others. Besides education, her interests include yoga and meditation, cooking and reading, and enjoying the great outdoors with her family and doggy.
HILIARY CUTSINGER - BUSINESS AND TRANSPORTATION MANAGER
Hiliary, a native of the Bay Area, received a BA in Sociology from Arizona State University. She joined Synapse School in 2015 as the Front Desk and Head’s Assistant. Hiliary was appointed to Business and Transportation Manager starting in the 2016-17 school year. Her primary role is to support the business office as well as oversee operations of the school and shuttle program. Outside of Synapse, Hiliary has spent time volunteering in the San Mateo County Emergency Room and with the Airmen & Family Readiness Program.
MAY DUONG - DIRECTOR OF SEL (SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING)
May is passionate about helping individuals connect with their emotions to find calm, joy, and meaning in their lives. Blending her expertise in emotional intelligence, mindfulness, and coaching, May develops deeply impactful programs for individuals, families, and schools. For the past several years, May has been a leader in the Synapse community through her monthly Self Science for Parents and EQ Cafes. Most recently, May held the position of Director of Parent Education with Six Seconds. May is excited to share her passion for SEL, along with her strong leadership skills, to continue directing the Synapse SEL program. May earned an MBA from New York University Stern School of Business and a BA in Philosophy and Asian Studies from Mount Holyoke College. When not working, May enjoys reading, cooking, and yoga. Alongside her husband, she enjoys looking at the world through her children’s eyes and discovering new beginnings every day.
JIM EAGEN - HEAD OF SCHOOL
Jim has enjoyed an outstanding career as classroom teacher, coach, and seasoned administrator. A graduate of an independent school himself, he went on to receive his BA from Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York, spent a year at St. Clare’s College, Oxford, studying art history, and completed a master’s degree in international and comparative education from Teachers College, Columbia University. Jim has served on numerous committees emphasizing school leadership and teacher professional development and was granted a Ford Fellow for Aspiring School Heads from the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS). On a personal note, he has authored short stories and books for young readers, climbed 6000 meter peaks in South America and Asia, competed at the Ironman World Championships, and loves spending time laughing and learning with his wife and their two kids, a Freshman in college and a Synapse Middle Schooler.
NATALIE EINHORN - DIRECTOR OF PERFORMING ARTS
Natalie is thrilled to return for her eighth year at Synapse as the Director of Performing Arts. She has a deep passion for guiding students through the world of music and performance. She uses an interactive approach that specializes in integrating performance curriculum with social studies, language arts, STEAM, and design thinking. Natalie has taught in private schools on the peninsula since 2001. She also taught for four years at Cantabile Youth Singers of Silicon Valley. Natalie received her BA in music from University of California Santa Cruz and her Masters in Vocal Performance from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. She has also completed the three levels of Orff Schulwerk training at Mills College along with other Orff specialty courses. When not teaching, Natalie enjoys spending time in Redwood City where she lives with her loving husband and two children, both of whom attend Synapse.
CRISTABEL FUENTES - CUSTODIAN AND CAFÉ
Cristabel was born and raised in El Salvador. She is the mother of two boys and the grandmother of two beautiful little girls, and a brand-new grandson. Cristabel worked at the U-Me cafe on the site of the Synapse Innovations building and was their facilities manager before transitioning to Synapse. She loves to cook and travel with her large family. Cristabel is always willing to step up and help and is a great addition to our staff.
MISHEL GANTZ - DIRECTOR OF ENROLLMENT
Most recently, Mishel was the Chief Experience Officer at Watershed School, a grades 6-12 forward thinking, intentionally small, independent school in Boulder, Colorado. There, she was responsible for driving Watershed’s enrollment and bringing their student body to full capacity. She developed this through a deliberate, relational strategy with a plan to differentiate the school’s unique style and mission. She is also a seasoned teacher, having worked as a middle school teacher and a team leader at Wyatt Charter School in Denver, CO. There, she was the primary educator for their middle school math program. Mishel also taught the youngest learners (Pre-K & Kindergarten) at Children’s House, one of Boulder’s longest running and most inclusive preschools. Mishel holds a BA in Psychology from the University of South Florida and has multiple certificates and trainings in family systems, grief counseling, and enrollment. Most importantly, Mishel is a proud parent of two grown children of her own.
SARAH HILL - ADVANCEMENT ASSOCIATE
Sarah is excited to start her third year at Synapse, supporting development, marketing, and communications. She comes to Synapse from The Nueva School, where she worked as the school’s Event Coordinator and managed the international 2017 Innovative Learning Conference. Prior to her entrance into the world of independent schools, she coordinated author events at Books Inc in Palo Alto. Sarah originally hails from the Pacific Northwest, where she grew up in Eugene, Oregon, surrounded by green trees and rain, and received her BA in History, with a minor in Classics, from The University of Puget Sound in Washington State. She loves photography and the outdoors, spreadsheets and organization, reading and researching obscure historical figures, and playing with and loving her kitten, Gustav.
DEANNA MAYER - DIRECTOR OF STRATEGIC INITIATIVES; MIDDLE SCHOOL ADVISOR
Over the past twenty-plus years, Deanna Wylie Mayer has served schools in a variety of roles from classroom to administration. For the past 5 years she lived in Rome, Italy where she served as a Dean of Students at an international university. Prior to that wild adventure, she worked on the east coast at both an all-girls school and a Quaker boarding school. Deanna has a Master's of Divinity from a Quaker seminary with a focus in Peace and Social Justice as well as an MFA in Creative Nonfiction. A mother of four children, Deanna loves kids of all ages, but especially loves the work of supporting the adults (parents and teachers) who are raising up emotionally intelligent change makers. She is thrilled to be at Synapse and welcomes any opportunity to get to know the fabulous members of this community.
JOSH MOREAU - CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER (CFO)
This is Josh's fourth year as Synapse's CFO. Josh is also the CFO and COO of boostED Finance. Prior to becoming CFO and COO, Josh served as Victory Education Partners’ Director of Accounting and Finance and was responsible for oversight of the organization’s accounting and finance department. While at Victory, Josh’s duties included the oversight and management of all accounting functions, development of annual financial budgets, and preparation and review of monthly, quarterly and annual financial statements. This enabled schools to gain access to federal entitlement dollars in a regular, expedient manner. Josh is a graduate of DePaul University in Chicago, and currently splits his time between New York and California.
KATIE MORGAN - HEAD OF LOWER SCHOOL
Now in her tenth year at Synapse as an instructional leader and Level III Lead Teacher veteran, Katie works outside of the classroom driving our humanities curriculum and assessment process, as well as working on school-wide feedback and assessment models. Katie works with students in each level, leading literacy efforts, advising staff, and acting as Synapse’s master teacher. A transplant from Virginia, Katie taught 4th grade in a public school in southeastern Virginia and then moved to work as a research associate at The University of Michigan’s Autism and Communication Disorders Center (UMACC) for two years. Katie has a BA in Psychology and an MA in Reading, Language and Literacy from The College of William and Mary. In her free time Katie enjoys playing with her new baby, as well as reading and traveling. For years her bio has said that she “is working to enjoy running.” That hasn’t happened yet, but there’s still hope.
JOANNE MULL - ASSISTANT TO HEAD OF SCHOOL
Joanne emmigrated with her family from the Island of Malta as a young woman. Joanne was a stay-at-home mom for many years and joined the workforce again after her children graduated Middle School. She has a son who lives in North Carolina and a daughter who teaches close-by in Woodside. She has had previous careers in accounting and customer service. As a 28-year resident of the North Fair Oaks neighborhood, Joanne has watched Synapse grow and thrive and is excited to be a part of the staff team.
ALEXIS ROSEN - COORDINATOR OF EXTENDED LEARNING
Lexi recently moved to California from Virginia, where she received her MA in Education and Curriculum Content from George Mason University. Lexi has lived in five different states throughout her life and experienced being both a student and teacher in a number of diverse school systems. This insight inspired her to pursue working in a non-traditional school, like Synapse, whose experimental methods could, one day, positively transform the American education system as a whole. Before Synapse, Lexi worked as a teacher and administrator within an innovative early childhood center. She has also taught high school English and completed research examining the benefits of art integration into traditionally “academic” subjects for high school students, her subject for her Masters’ Thesis. When not at Synapse, Lexi enjoys exploring her new home in San Francisco, camping, playing with her cat ‘Big Kitty”, and eating enough blueberries to keep her hair from turning back to brown.
SOPHIE SCAFANI - ASSISTANT TO HEADS OF LOWER AND MIDDLE SCHOOL
Sophie was born and raised in the bay area. Prior to joining Synapse, she studied Early Childhood Development at Cañada College and worked as a preschool teacher where she found a love for aiding in children's education. She is excited to be a part of the Synapse family and help support the lower and middle school faculty and students. Sophie has a long-held love for film photography and can often be found shooting pictures of friends, family, dogs, nature, and foods around the Bay Area or Lake Tahoe. Another passion and talent she holds is baking elaborate vegan sweets and sharing them with others. Sophie enjoys music, movies, and petting every dog that comes her way.
STEPHANIE SETO - HEAD OF MIDDLE SCHOOL
Filled with enthusiasm for her sixth year at Synapse, Stephanie is excited to continue her role as Head of Middle School. Stephanie was previously the Director of STEAM, and her passion for exploration and education grew from roles as a field researcher and educator in museums and nature centers throughout college, graduate school, and as a professional. Stephanie earned her BS in Biology and Anthropology/Zoology from the University of Michigan and her MA in Conservation Biology from Columbia University. Prior to joining Synapse, Stephanie taught and developed K-12 science curriculum in New York City at The Browning School, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Black Rock Forest Consortium. Outside of Synapse, Stephanie loves laughing and exploring with her toddler, her husband, and Albert the dog.
NICOLE STONE - AFTER CARE COORDINATOR
Nicole was born in Tobago and moved to New York City when she was six. She went through school in the United States and at 18 returned to Tobago to help manage her family’s business – a popular restaurant, bar, and guest house. Working with many different kinds of people and personalities there to develop and support successful teams, she learned a great deal early on about organizational skills, responsibility, hard work, and relationships. Nicole moved back to the U.S. where she now lives with her son, who is a Synapse graduate. She has worked at Synapse in a number of roles, including receptionist, teacher’s assistant, and as a leader in the After Care and After School Programs. She has also worked as an early childhood teacher. Nicole loves working with children and loves being a part of the Synapse team.
DANA STORY - ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF ADMISSIONS & FINANCIAL AID
Now in her fifth year in Admissions at Synapse, Dana is excited for the upcoming admissions season and engaging prospective families. Dana is passionate about building community, social emotional learning, and the education of the whole child. Before joining the admissions team at Synapse, Dana was a teacher at Barron Park Preschool in Palo Alto, SynC Co-Chair, and the founder of Beresford Montessori Parents Group in San Mateo. Her support of our wildly successful Family Camps in the Fall and Spring benefits Synapse teachers and families alike. Before she discovered the wonderful world of schools, Dana spent many years managing the business operations for Hang Art in San Francisco and was an exhibiting artist. She has a BA in Visual Arts from the University of California San Diego. This blend of organization, creativity, and approachability is the perfect combination of attributes for a member of our unique admissions team.
LIZ TOOMARIAN - DIRECTOR OF STANFORD-SYNAPSE BRAINWAVE LEARNING CENTER
Liz has always loved being in school environments, both as a learner and an instructor, and is thrilled to be a part of the Synapse community as the leader of the Brainwave Learning Center, a collaboration with Stanford University. As an educational neuroscientist, she strives to bring together neuroscience researchers with educational practitioners to better understand and improve the learning process. Liz earned a BS in Cognitive Science/Neuroscience from University of California San Diego and a PhD in Educational Psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she taught the undergraduate course “Mind, Brain and Education.” Her doctoral research focused on numerical understanding, spatial thinking, and how the brain develops associations between numbers and space. Since moving from Wisconsin, Liz has been enjoying the beautiful California weather. She enjoys exploring state and national parks and trying out new recipes.
The Synapse Leadership Team moves our school’s strategic vision into every day practice. Members of Leadership hold diverse functions and areas of expertise but operate in the best interests of the school as a collaborative and supportive group. The Team proactively resolves issues, models empathy, and supports each other when making decisions. Our doors are always open!