Faculty and Staff

Pagee Cheung, Principal — Ms. Cheung is the former Dean of Instruction at Brooklyn Ascend Charter School, where she had previously been Director of Operations. Previously, she managed multiple project work streams within the College-Ready Promise in Los Angeles, a $60 million initiative funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to train and retain highly effective teachers through an innovative compensation and support system. Ms. Cheung also served as an independent consultant specializing in charter schools; her former clients include the Raza Development Fund and Jim Ford Research Group, Inc. She is a former Math for America Fellow, who entered the education field as a teacher of math and entrepreneurship, first at Baruch College Campus High School and later at Harlem Village Academy High School in New York. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in business administration from the University of Southern California and a Master’s Degree in secondary mathematics education from Columbia University Teachers College.  She is a practicing competitive eater and once ate 35 tacos in under 20 minutes.

Arthur Samuels, Executive Director — Mr. Samuels was a member of the founding faculty at the Renaissance Charter High School for Innovation, in East Harlem, where he developed the curriculum for the College Bound program that is taught at MESA.  Prior to that, he was the first Director of College Guidance and Academic Culture at the Williamsburg Charter High School, where he built a college program that saw students accepted with full scholarships to schools such as Dartmouth College, Johns Hopkins University, Georgetown University, Wesleyan University and New York University.  He also built partnerships with CUNY through the CollegeNow program, and created the innovative Essay Busters college essay-mentoring program.  Mr. Samuels has worked for the COACH college-readiness program in Roxbury, MA, and the TEAK Fellowship in New York City.  He holds a B.A. from Brown University, a J.D. from Harvard Law School and a Master of Arts in Education Leadership from Teachers College, Columbia University.  He sits on the Advisory Board of NYC Promise, an initiative to promote greater college success among low-income students.  He enjoys making educational rap videos.

Princess Francois, Assistant Principal of Math and Science — Ms. Francois is a Brooklyn native (“Brooklyn, We Go Hard!”). She graduated from Columbia University in the City of New York with a History major and a Pre-Medical Concentration. After college, Ms. Francois began teaching as a member of Teach for America where she worked as a Special Education and Science high school teacher in her home neighborhood. During this time she completed her master’s degree at Hunter College in Adolescent Special Education. Following her TFA commitment, she remained at her placement school for a few years taking on numerous leadership positions while working toward a second Master’s degree in Educational Leadership at Bankstreet Graduate School of Education. She has a passion for traveling and helping students of color overcome barriers in STEM. You will often find Ms. Francois pondering the question “where to next?” as she plans her next travel adventures. In her free time, Ms. Francois loves to dance, explore her own hometown of NYC, and play with her cat Cairo (yes, like the city in Egypt). She has a love for corny science jokes, all things sweet, and 90s POP Music (there is no shame in singing Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys and N’Sync)!

Zalykha Mokim, Assistant Principal of Humanities — Ms. Mokim is originally from tropical Miami, Florida, where she received her Bachelor’s in History from Florida International University. After completing university in 2009, she worked for a variety of nonprofits in education and the arts in New York City, including the New York Public Library.  In 2011, Ms.Mokim joined Teach for America to teach English in West Harlem in grades 9 through 12, with a specific focus on teaching emergent bilingual students. She holds a Master’s degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages from Fordham University. In her spare time, she enjoys drawing, writing and exploring her Persian-Latino culture via culinary experimentation.

Jessica Bloom, Director of Special Education  — Ms. Bloom grew up just outside of New York City. She attended Syracuse University where she majored in pre-medical studies and nutrition science and minored in psychology. After college, Ms. Bloom began teaching as a member of the 2011 Teach for America Corps where she worked as a Special Education and Science teacher with 9th through 12th graders. During this time she completed her master’s degree at Hunter College and participated in the Sci-Ed Fellowship where she gained additional experience in facilitating students’ active engagement in science, including participation in a  science fair. During her free time Ms. Bloom enjoys dance, yoga and outdoor summer activities.

Natasha Gudiño, Director of English Language Learners (ELL)  — Ms. Gudiño is a New York City native having grown up in Queens and at one point or another worked in all 5 boroughs (even Staten Island!)  She graduated from CUNY Queens College as a Spanish and Education major and is now pursuing her masters at LIU-Brooklyn in Bilingual Special Ed.  Prior to working at MESA, Ms. Gudiño was a Spanish teacher and Operations associate at Community Partnership Charter in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.  During her free time Ms. Gudiño is planning her next vacation adventure or rescuing adorable kitties with Catnip and Carrots and other veterinarians.

Libby Cox, ELA Department Leader  — Ms. Cox is from Litchfield, Connecticut – birthplace of Harriet Beecher Stowe and the site of America’s first law school. Following her graduation from Yale, Ms. Cox worked as a writer and editor before joining the Peace Corps and serving as an education volunteer in Madagascar. After completing her Masters in Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, she taught at an alternative public high school outside of Boston and the Rabat American School in Morocco. Ms. Cox lives to travel and teach.

Alexandra Bernardini, ELA Teacher  — Ms. Bernardini was born and raised in San Diego, California. After high school she attended the University of Washington in Seattle where she earned her BA in Psychology and Law, Societies and Justice. Teach for America brought her to New York where she spent three years teaching middle school ELA in the Bronx and completing her Masters at Brooklyn College. She is very excited to join the MESA team this year! In her free time you can catch Ms. Bernardini reading, cooking or planning a trip to a place in the world she has yet to visit!

Christopher Buffum, Special Education  — Mr. Buffum is originally from Rhode Island, which is a state (not to be confused with Long Island).  After high school, Mr. Buffum went to college at Tufts University in Boston, where he received a B.A. in Italian Studies and International Relations.  Having lived abroad in both Italy and Chile, Mr. Buffum is fluent in both Italian and Spanish as well as English.  In Boston, Mr. Buffum worked for Let’s Get Ready, a non-profit college access program serving students in under-resourced neighborhoods of Boston.  He then moved to Brooklyn this past summer to begin working at MESA.  Although he remains a Red Sox fan, Mr. Buffum is adjusting well to life in New York.  When he is not teaching ELA, Mr. Buffum can usually be found inventing jokes with Mr. Catalano after school.

Anna-Marie Candelario, Special Education Teacher and At-Risk Coordinator  — Mrs. Candelario is a originally from Chicago and continues to learn all things “New York”. For the past two years, Mrs. Candelario taught 6th and 7th grade content courses in a small supportive setting in a charter school in Bed-Stuy. She earned her undergraduate from Roosevelt University and Masters degrees from Northeastern Illinois University. While studying psychology, she learned the value of special education and decided to pursue a Masters as Learning Behavioral Specialist. She enjoys building positive relationships with students and parents and she is passionate about finding ways to connect learning with student culture. In her free time, she enjoys cooking and spending time with her pups, Logic and Lola.

Nadhia Fernandez, Special Education Teacher — Ms. Fernandez is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she received her Bachelor’s of Science in Human Development and Family Studies. She sang with the University Gospel Choir as a soprano. In addition, she enjoys singing and vlogging on YouTube and honing in on her makeup artistry. Nadhia began working with MESA because, as a Bushwick native, she wanted to return to her community and serve as a role model for her youth. She is excited to be back in her home borough of Brooklyn and try out new places to eat!

Olivia-Beate Franzini, ELA Teacher and Student Culture Coordinator — Ms. Franzini is a Long Island native who recently decided to make Queens her home (Go Mets?). She graduated from Siena College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Education and is currently pursuing a Masters degree in Urban Education at CUNY the Graduate Center. After college, Ms. Franzini spent two years teaching English Language Arts and Writing at Invictus Preparatory Charter School, in East New York. She has a passion for traveling and spent time studying abroad in South Africa. When Ms. Franzini is not in the classroom, she can be found either enjoying sushi, indulging in a good book, or kickboxing.

Ryan Guthrie, ELA Teacher — Mr. Guthrie is originally from Texas, and moved to New York to support his wife while she is working on her Masters at Teachers College, Columbia University. While living in Texas, he received a B.A. in History with a minor in Philosophy, began teaching History, coached football and baseball at Northbrook High School, and found time to meet his wife. Since moving to New York, Ryan had become a tourist in the city. On weekends, he often spends time exploring the city through Free Tours by Foot. Ryan is looking forward to teaching 12th grade ELA for the first time in MESA Charter High School history! Fun Fact: If you ask him, he will gladly talk to you for hours about his hobbies, which involve building, painting and playing a miniature war game called Warhammer 40k.

Taralynn Lozada, Special Education Teacher — Ms. Lozada is a Williamsburg native who despite being incredibly close to Bushwick, had never really been to until she started working at Mesa! After graduating high school at 16 years old, she attended City College where she obtained her Bachelor’s in English Childhood Education. She is now attending Hunter College to pursue her dream of becoming a School Counselor. In her free time, she likes to eat tacos, read books and hang out with her adorable son!

Amber Soutra, Literacy Specialist — Ms. Soutra was born in New Hampshire, moved to NYC right after graduating college, and has been teaching ever since! She has a B.A. In Secondary English Education from Keene State College, a M. Ed. in Adolescent Literacy from Hunter College, and a degree in special education. Although Ms. Soutra considers herself a New Yorker who loves living in Brooklyn, she will never be able to leave her New England sports teams behind. When she’s not teaching, you’ll find her planning her next adventure with her husband or hanging out with her adorable dog.

Stephanie Sun, ELA and Writing Teacher — Ms. Sun is originally from Princeton, New Jersey, but has lived in the city for many years. She holds an undergraduate English degree from NYU and a Master’s degree from Relay Graduate School of Education. As a 2010 Teach for America Corps Member, she was on the founding team of Domus Academy, an alternative school in New Haven. She has since taught ELA at Harlem Village Academies and more recently, taught Writing at Achievement First Brownsville Middle School where she was a recipient of the 2015 Fishman Prize and was given the opportunity to reflect on her classroom practice. While not grading essays, she enjoys disco roller skating, Scrabble tournaments, and has recently started adult tap dancing lessons.

Audrey White, ELA and Writing Teacher — Ms. White is originally from Portland, Oregon, where she received her Bachelor of Arts in English from Portland State University. After moving to New York in 2013, she earned her Master of Arts in English Education at Columbia University Teachers College. Before joining MESA, Ms. White taught English at Shude Experimental School in Sichuan, China. In her free time, she enjoys jamming on ukulele and winning at skee-ball.

Patrick Catalano, Math Department Leader  — Mr. Catalano was born in New York and grew up in Livingston, New Jersey where he began loving math at an early age.  His passion continued throughout high school and college where he attended The College of New Jersey, where he found a true passion for teaching and graduated with honors as a mathematics education major.  Along the way, he became inspired by the people he worked with at Providence Summerbridge, a program that seeks to put middle school students on a path towards college. In 2012, he joined the Math for America fellowship with his colleague at MESA, Jillian Kearney in an attempt to bring energy, optimism, and rigor to the mathematics classroom.  In his spare time, you might see Mr. Catalano juggling as many objects as he can find.

Jay Green, Math Teacher — Mr. Green is a Brooklyn native who grew up in the handball courts and football fields in Bushwick. After he graduated from Canarsie High School, he attended Morrisville State College where he discovered his love for teaching as a Math tutor. He later graduated from the University at Albany with a Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics, then became a 2014 TFA Chicago corps member where he developed the curriculum for the founding Algebra II class. He recently moved back to NYC to teach students who grew up in the same community to help eliminate the fear of Math. Some of his hobbies include, running, traveling, playing sports and trying new foods.

Krystal Mieschberger, Math Teacher — Ms. Mieschberger was born in New York and has spent her entire life living on Long Island before moving to Brooklyn this summer. She went to college at Hofstra University where she graduated with honors as a Mathematics Education major. Since the 6th grade Ms. Mieschberger has been inspired to teach mathematics and she is thrilled that this year will be her third year teaching! When she is not teaching you can catch Ms. Mieschberger watching Despicable Me and practicing her Minion impressions.

Momotaj Hossain, Math Teacher — Ms. Hossain is born and raised in Queens, New York. She graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School and then attended Hunter College. Ms. Hossain entered college with no ideas on what career she wanted to pursue, so freshman year she took classes in each and every department the college had. After freshman year, she interned as a teaching assistant and realized that education was her true calling. She graduated from Hunter College with her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees simultaneously. Alongside teaching at MESA, Ms. Hossain also teaches art, writing, and math at the STEP program at Barnard College. She lives in Queens, but Ms. Hossain can be found in Bushwick more often than not. She enjoys collecting various items, traveling, reading, and singing.

Nicole Survilla, Math Teacher — Ms. Survilla was born in New York and grew up on Long Island. She went to college at SUNY Binghamton where she graduated with a Mathematical Science degree with honors. Her inspiration for teaching came when she tutored high school students during college in a program called Upward Bound. In 2014, Ms. Survilla joined Teach for America and taught high school Mathematics in Bridgeport, CT for 2 years. She is very excited to start her third year of teaching here at MESA! In her spare time, she enjoys binge-watching TV shows, planning events, being a big sister, and spending time with friends/family.

James Willett, Math Teacher and Math Department Coordinator – Mr. Willett was born in a small town in the outback of Australia where he spent his school years. Upon graduating High School he attended the University of Newcastle, balancing his love of Mathematics with his love of sports and travel. Since becoming a teacher he has taught in both England and Australia and is looking forward to furthering his career as part of the Mesa team. In his spare time you will find him searching the country for amazing outdoor activities.

John Sullivan, Director of STEM — Mr. Sullivan grew up on the beaches of Central New Jersey (no he did not go to high school with any cast members of the Jersey Shore). He has recently moved back to the NYC area after five years teaching at a charter school in Massachusetts. Prior to that, he was a founding teacher at the Williamsburg Charter High School. In his free time he enjoys going on day trips and adventures with his wife and two sons. He enjoys hiking, snowshoeing and having a healthy obsession with meteorology. Urban planning, architecture, street design and neighborhood observations fill the rest of what little time he has left each day. As a huge believer in what communities can accomplish cooperation and compassion, he is very excited to be a part of a team that displays so much of both!

Micah Chervin, Science Teacher — Mr. Chervin grew up in the beautiful sunshine of Atlanta, Georgia. He attended the University of Maryland where he graduated with a B.A. in Philosophy. Mr. Chervin started his science teaching career in Washington D.C., followed by Brownsville, Brooklyn. In that time, he graduated with a Master of Arts in Teaching from Relay Graduate School of Education. In his spare time, Mr. Chervin practices capoeira – a Brazilian martial art – and loves to bike throughout Brooklyn.

Megan Figueroa, Science Teacher — Ms. Figueroa is a Bushwick native with style and attitude to prove it. She knew she wanted to be a teacher since she was a little girl and hasn’t let anything hinder her dreams. She brings a lot of experience working as a substitute teacher in the DOE and working all over NYC teaching various subjects. She has a Bachelors of Science degree in health education from CUNY York College and wishes to pursue her Masters in school counseling in the future. On her spare time, she enjoys cooking, taking long road trips and coaching boys baseball with her father.

Alissa Gildemann, Science Teacher — Ms. Gildemann was born and raised near Seattle, WA. She earned a BS in Biology from Washington State University and then attended the University of Washington, where she did Masters work in Secondary Science Education. Ms. Gildemann has also lived in Madrid, Spain, where she taught science to Spanish high schoolers for three wonderful years. When she is not teaching, Ms. Gildemann enjoys traveling, learning, reading, playing sports, and planning her next adventure!

Kate Goldbaum, Science Teacher — Ms. Goldbaum spent the first eighteen years of her life in a small town in North Carolina before attending The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In college, she studied Biology and creative writing and remains passionate about the intersection of art and science. She is incredibly superstitious, hates ketchup, loves mangoes, and will happily tell you her theories about ghosts.

Sam Lee, Science Teacher — Mr. Lee was born and raised in Queens, NY. He later attended his alma mater Boston College. There he explored the intersection of biology, education, and social justice. Mr. Lee taught science for two years at Brownsville Collegiate in Brownsville, Brooklyn and worked as part of the Operations Team for a year at SA Harlem 2 in East Harlem. He is more than ecstatic to continue teaching at MESA to help spread joy and love for the sciences. In his free time, Mr. Lee is an avid volleyball player for a local league, enjoys copious amounts of coffee, and an avid snacker.

Gemma Lenowitz, Science Teacher  — Ms. Lenowitz comes from a town outside of Philadelphia where her closest neighbors were horses. Her love of science began when she wondered why a llama spit in her face. Continuing to ask the important questions, she went to college to find out how humans and computers learn languages. After graduating with a degree in Cognitive Science from the University of Pennsylvania in 2013, she joined Teach for America. Ms. Leno taught ELA and Science to 7th and 8th graders in East New York, and earned a Masters degree in Teaching Exceptional Adolescents from Fordham University. Ms. Leno loves helping students use technology to solve problems… and when students help her learn new technology! So far she has been to 5 of the 7 continents and her life goal is to travel to Australia and Antarctica.

Alexander Macaluso, Science Teacher — Mr. Macaluso grew up in a small city located in upstate New York, called Canandaigua.  While upstate, he attended a college located near his hometown called Hobart and William Smith, where he majored in Biology and minored in education.  After his undergraduate studies, he earned a Masters in Education from the University of Rochester. Before working at MESA, Mr. Macaluso worked at schools in Rochester, NY and also in Manhattan.  In his free time he watches movies, reads, plays video games, and explores the city.

Maggie Walker, Science Teacher — Ms. Walker grew up in Philadelphia and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. There, she received her B.A. in Biology and completed the Baccalaureate Education in Science and Teaching (BEST) program. Before her senior year, she spent a summer teaching high school students in Palestine. Since then, she has founded a program to maintain the relationship between UNC and Palestine. Ms. Walker has a deep passion for social justice and an insatiable curiosity for scientific exploration. You can often find her exploring her new Bushwick neighborhood, or performing textual analysis of her favorite rap lyrics.

Erika Meza, Social Studies Department Leader  — Ms. Meza was born and raised in Corona, Queens where she currently lives just walking distance from CitiField and Flushing Meadows Park. She majored in Political Science at CUNY Baruch College where she received her Bachelor’s Degree and currently attends CUNY Queens College as she pursues her Master’s Degree in Secondary Education. Prior to beginning her teaching career, Ms. Meza worked in social services as a Case Manager assisting recipients of public assistance obtain employment and access to resources and education. In her spare time, Ms. Meza loves to spend time with her huge Dominican family, dancing merengue or bachata and cooking new dishes using recipes she finds on Pinterest.

Miles Bergner, Social Studies Teacher  — A native of the city, Mr. Bergner is thrilled to be working in the borough he loves most. He received his Bachelor’s Degree from Brown University, with a concentration in Religious Studies. Before joining MESA as a full-time teacher, Mr. Bergner taught Global History STR to MESA’s 9th and 10th graders. Mr. Bergner lives on music, literature, and yogurt. In his free time he plays jazz standards with his father.

Shaquise Elie, Special Education Teacher  — Mr. Elie was born and raised in Boston, MA but now lives in Brooklyn. He attended the University of Massachusetts Boston and earned a BA in Economics. Mr. Elie is currently working on his Masters of Science in Teaching at Fordham University. Before teaching at MESA, he worked at Massachusetts General Hospital in a research group that worked on health policy. He also volunteered as a high school MCAS (Massachusetts’s Regents equivalent) tutor, where he found his niche for working with adolescents. Mr. Elie has two younger sisters, who mean the world to him. And when he’s not teaching, he’s probably planning his next beach getaway. Mr. Elie’s favorite places are the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, and South Beach, Miami.

Grace Mason, Social Studies Teacher  — Ms. Mason grew up in Hamburg, Michigan and only recently moved to Brooklyn. Before this big move, she studied History and Secondary Education at Eastern Michigan University. While attending uni, she studied in England for 6 months and as a result, caught “the travel bug”. She continued her adventures abroad in Asia, finishing her degree in Chengdu, China before teaching and traveling there for a year. Next, she moved to Taiwan to experience a different side of Chinese culture while teaching history at an international school. She is really excited to be back in the US and looks forward to living and working in such a cool place with other dedicated teachers and students. In her free time, Ms. Mason likes to read, explore, watch movies, play sports, and try to find new hobbies. She has no idea how to cook, so her goal this year to make one good dish each week. Wish her luck!

Betsaida Reyes, Special Education Coordinator — Ms. Reyes grew up in Brooklyn, NY. After high school, Ms. Reyes attended Hunter College, where she received a B.A. in English Literature and Sociology. After working with Champion Learning Center and tutoring several students within the Bushwick community, Ms. Reyes began working with the non-profit organization Make The Road NY where she taught ESL technology courses. After working with students and families from under-resourced communities in Brooklyn and Queens, Ms. Reyes have been inspired and joined Teach For America and enjoys educating and helping students grow and reach their furthest potentials! When she is not teaching, you can catch Ms. Reyes eating tacos and embracing the beauties of Central Park!

Ferny Reyes, Social Studies Teacher — Mr. Reyes was born in Houston, TX, raised in the Rio Grande Valley and now lives in the Bushwick neighborhood. He graduated from Yale University in 2010, earning BA degree in History and Religious Studies. Before working at MESA, taught AP US and World History in Houston and New York City and worked on test and curriculum development for AP history courses. When not teaching, Mr. Reyes can be usually found watching, visiting friends across the country, reading historical journals and working on social and political activism around LGBT issues.

Meaghan Roberts, Special Education Teacher — Ms. Roberts is a New York native and received her BA from Pennsylvania State University in Crime, Law and Justice. She began her teaching career here in Brooklyn while completing her Master’s Degree. Ms. Roberts has been teaching Special Education, Social Studies and ELA for 7 years in and around New York City. She spent the last year teaching English in Vietnam and traveling around Asia. While there, she also became a trained teacher of mindfulness. In her spare time, Ms. Meaghan enjoys listening to music while wishing she had any musical talent at all whatsoever, exploring lesser-known NYC neighborhoods and trying to read 100 books per year.

Cassandra Greene, Foreign Language Department Leader — Ms. Greene was born in Paris, France, but primarily grew up in Connecticut. In high school, she quickly found she loved studying languages, which prompted study abroad experiences in Madrid, Spain, and western France. She received her B.A. in Romance Languages (French, Spanish, and Italian) and Psychology at NYU. After she graduated, she joined the 2011 Teach for America corps in Atlanta, Georgia where she taught Spanish and coached athletic teams. Ms. Greene loves basketball, her dog, Maverick, and practicing any pre-set dance routine (including, but not limited to, the Dougie and the NaeNae)

Emmeline Danforth, French Teacher — Ms. Danforth grew up in Charlottesville, Virginia and then moved to the great state of Maine to pursue her degree. She attended Bowdoin College (with Mr. Bamba!), where she majored in French and math with a minor in visual arts. She spent the last year in France as an English Teaching Fellow, and is thrilled to come to MESA as the new French teacher. When she is not teaching, you can find Ms. Danforth singing, baking something chocolatey, or exploring the city.

Miguel Jimenez, Spanish Teacher — Mr. Jimenez is a born and raised New Yorker. A graduate from Purchase College, he attended Fordham University for his Master’s of Science in Teaching specializing in Adolescent English and Special Education. After working in the non-profit field, he began his teaching career as a Teach for America New York City Corps Member (2011). Currently, he lives in the Bronx and when not teaching in Bushwick he can be found book shopping, traveling, or searching for his next cup of coffee.

Gabriela Pedreros, Spanish Teacher

Taylor Poulin, French Teacher — Taylor grew up in Houston, Texas before moving to New York City to study photography and French at NYU. After graduation, she moved to France, where she taught English to French high schoolers for 3 years. Since moving back to the states, she has perused her Graduate degree in French Education at Hunter College, and taught French to middle schoolers and toddlers. She is excited to teach American high schoolers for the first time! Ms. Poulin loves taking photos, making ratatouille, painting, and playing on her co-ed soccer team.

Shingi Mutasa, Director of School Culture — Mr. Mutasa was born in the tropical paradise of Zimbabwe, a small landlocked country in Africa. He moved to Brooklyn a long time ago after spending a considerable amount of time living in Dallas, Texas. He has a strong passion for education and is currently working on his 5th college degree, a Masters in Educational Leadership from Fordham University. He is a former Teach for America corps member and is actively involved in education policy reform. He is also a former school captain with Educator’s for Excellence, a non-profit teacher-led organization based in NY. He once had a pet hyena named “Shumba.”

Anthony Velez, Dean of Students — Mr.Velez was born in Brooklyn, NY. At the age of 17 he graduated from Dorchester High School in Massachusetts and enlisted in the Marine Corps just three weeks later. In the following 8 years, he reached the rank of Staff Sergeant and became one of the youngest squad leaders to lead a team into Iraq during Operation Endure Freedom in 2004. After three combat tours, he was selected to be an instructor at the Corporals Leadership School in Quantico, VA. This is where his love for teaching and coaching young men and women flourished. At the end of his military career, he moved back to New York and set his sights on the education field. He earned his Associates degree in Liberal Arts and Science from Queensborough Community College and is currently attending Queens College for a degree in Psychology. Mr. Velez secretly writes poetry, trains in Mixed Martial Arts, loves Motown music, and is fascinated with astronomy.

Rashawn McCormark, Associate Dean of Students — Mr. McCormack was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and attended Abraham Lincoln High School in Coney Island. Upon graduation, he went to SUNY Morrisville where he played Basketball for two seasons while earning his A.S in Business Administration. After SUNY Morrisville, he attended Southern Polytechnic State University in Marietta, Georgia where he played Basketball and completed his B.A. in Business Administration. After graduating college, he played in a semi-professional football league. Then he worked for Broadridge Print as Quality Control inspector. After feeling the urge and duty to work with kids as a mentor he was decided to work at a school. He was hired at Urban Dove Team Charter High School as a Coach Advisor, and also taught physical eduction, health, and did social and educational advisement. At Urban Dove, he started as an Assistant Coach and ultimately became the Head Coach of the Boys Basketball Varsity Team where they took home the 2017 CSAA Basketball Championship. On his free time Rashawn engages in fitness training like weight lifting.

Derek Isaac, Associate Dean of Students – Born and raised in Washington Heights, Derek Jackson Isaac knew early on that his place in life was to help people. While attending Lehman College he pursued a career in law enforcement but felt there had to be a different way of helping people which lead to short terms as a Youth Coordinator and a Paraprofessional. Currently a School Aide for MESA Charter High School, he hopes to do his part to keep things running smoothly and a little bit easier.

Hope Everett, Associate Dean of Students – Ms. Everett was raised in Brooklyn, New York. She grew up running track and playing basketball. She has coached Atlanta’s Red Storm AAU women’s basketball team. She also participated in running for the Junior Olympics, Penn Relays and Madison Square Garden and loves all things sports. She attended Kennesaw State University in Atlanta, GA. She has worked with children from every age & level for over ten years and still loves to make a difference everyday here at MESA. She loves Lebron James, every genre of music and all things Beyonce.

Jenny Nue, Counseling Department Leader — Ms. Nue is originally for Lima, Peru, and moved to the U.S. when she was 8 years old.  She grew up in Jamaica, Queens, and eventually went to St. John’s University. Having discovered a passion for helping young people, she received a Masters in Bilingual School Counseling from Hunter College in Manhattan, and went on to work as a Guidance Counselor in several DOE and Charter Schools before coming to MESA.  Ms. Nue has two lovely cats, is huge soccer fan, and is on a never-ending quest to find the best ceviche in the city.

Lourdes Carrasco, Guidance Counselor — Born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Inwood, Lourdes is committed to youth development, community organizing and social justice. She comes to us from Cristo Rey New York High School. Before pursing a career in education, Lourdes worked at several youth development and social justice organizations, including Chess-in-the-Schools and the NY Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG). Like Marilyn Monroe, her moon sign is in Aquarius. Lourdes is passionate about birthing rights and hopes to become a doula, so that she may provide assistance to low-income families during the summer months. The key to her heart is a James Baldwin-themed anything.

Dwayne James, Social Worker — Mr. James was born and raised in Boston, MA. His parents are originally from the sunny island of Jamaica making Mr. James a first generation Caribbean – American. Mr. James grew up with two older siblings (brother and sister) and one younger brother. After graduating from Boston Arts Academy High School Mr. James set out to live his dream of moving to New York City. Mr. James obtained both his Bachelors and Masters degrees in Social Work from Adelphi University in Garden City, NY. Aside from aiding with the social well being of our next generation, Mr. James enjoys performing arts (Hip Hop, Jazz, and Classical Ballet) as well as watching Football and Basketball. Mr. James passion for working with youth derives from his experiences going to an inner city high school, and his awareness of how staff can impact the development of student’s success.

Shannon Sarthou, Social Worker — Ms. Sarthou grew up traveling the world and was raised mainly in Hawaii, Japan, and Virginia. She is a SIFI certified LCSW who is passionate about working with young people and their families. She has experience working in an alternative school, youth drop-in centers, homeless shelters, and in residential programs. She earned her BSW degree from Virginia Commonwealth University and her MSW degree from New York University. Ms. Sarthou continues to be honored and humbled in her work with young people and maintains a passion for helping youth to realize their own potential, resilience, and ability to grow and heal. In her spare time, you can find her sipping tea, watching sci-fi thriller movies, and making a fool of herself in dance classes. She also loves collecting lipsticks, but rarely wears them!

Wayne Seymore, Physical Education Teacher and Athletic Director — Coach Seymore was  born and raised in New York City, and has lived in both Harlem and the South Bronx. In 2005 he graduated from Lehman College with his Bachelors’ Degree in recreation education in middle and high school. He has been working in the school system as a basketball coach and teacher since 2008. He enjoys playing and watching sports, and has a great passion for fitness.  Coach Seymore strives to be the best at his craft and to be a positive role model for the youth in the inner-city.

Raldane Cunningham, Physical Education Teacher

Quanda Campbell, Dance Teacher — Born and Raised in Brooklyn, New York. Quanda studied Business Marketing at Norfolk State University in Virginia and is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Dance Education. Quanda has worked in multiple day and after school programs such as the Police Athletic League as a Performing Arts Specialist, Prep for Success as their Program Coordinator and Dance Specialist, Epiphany Lutheran School as their Dance coordinator, and the Berean Community Drumline where she has successfully lead her team to victory two years in the national competition of Battle of the Bands. Dedicated to helping the residents in her community, Quanda started her own non-for-profit called G.I.R.L.S.(Girls In Real Life Succeed) that served as a mentorship program that helped over 50 plus girls with self esteem, counseling, resume building, and career opportunities. She also volunteers some of her time ministering to struggling youth in juvenile detention facilities and in step up programs. Outside of her passion for with working the youth, Quanda does a lot of freelance creative directing and choreographing for indie artists. Currently, she is apart of the Fit 4 Life staff as the dance specialist for almost 3 years and is starting her very first dance company. A young scrappy doo, with an intense to-do-list, a big heart, and a fierce ‘Janet Jackson-Rhythm Nation Face’.

Cardozie Jones, Specials Coach and Advisory Coordinator

Lucy Smith, College Bound Department Leader — Mrs. Smith grew up in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts until she made the move to New York City to attend New York University. After graduating from NYU with a degree in English Education, she spent six months teaching English as a second language in the Mexican state of Jalisco. Upon returning to NYC, she moved to Brooklyn and taught ELA at the Williamsburg High School for Architecture and Design, the Williamsburg Charter High School, and Believe Southside Charter High School. She later spent two years refining and teaching the College Bound 9 curriculum at the Renaissance Charter High School for Innovation in East Harlem, where she also took on the position of Ninth Grade Coordinator. She holds a Master’s degree in School Counseling from Brooklyn College. In her free time, Mrs. Smith enjoys cycling, hiking, gardening, cooking, and taking tips from her relaxation gurus, Merlin and KiKi, who are also her cats.

Yudelca Alcantara, College Counselor — Ms. Alcantara was born and raised in the Dominican Republic. She migrated to United States at the age of fifteen. She attended Gregorio Luperon High School and then obtained her Bachelors Degree from Binghamton University in Latin American and Caribbean Studies and Spanish Literature. After she graduated from Binghamton University, she spent a year working as a classroom leader for the Women’s Housing Economic Development Corporation (WHEDCo) after school program. She later spent four years working as an Advocate Counselor at the Kennedy YABC for Good Shepherd Services. She is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in School Counseling at Hunter College. In her free time, she enjoys cooking different types of ethnic food, reading, and traveling around the world.

Melissa Lewis, College Counselor – Ms. Lewis is originally from Stamford, Connecticut and moved to New York to attend Fordham University. After earning her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Women Studies, she interned at the Office of Disability Services and decided to pursue a degree in education. After completing her master’s degree in Counseling and Personnel Services at Fordham University, she began working as a College Counselor at a non-profit organization and later became the College Counseling Program Manager at Harlem Village Academies High School. Ms. Lewis has been a College Counselor for over 10 years and loves helping students move into the next phase of the lives. When Ms. Lewis is not counseling, she enjoys traveling, pretending to work out, dancing, and playing with her doggies, Lily and Sasha.

Virginia Dallman, College Bound Teacher — Ms. Dallman grew up outside of Chicago and attended Elmhurst College for her undergraduate studies. After graduating she began teaching Special Education on the west side of Chicago. She taught reading, math, and science to middle school students for three years. While she was teaching she also earned her Masters degree in Teaching from National Louis University. After three years of teaching she was finally ready to venture out of the Windy City! She is now a member of the College Bound team, teaching College Bound 9. She is loving being apart of the MESA community and exploring Brooklyn! In her free time she likes to bike around the city on her quest to find the best pizza in New York.

Shannon Browne, Senior Director of Operations  — Ms. Browne was the founding school leader at Believe Southside Charter High School in Brooklyn, NY. Prior to Believe, she taught 9th grade English and AP Language & Composition at Williamsburg Charter High School and later helped create a Freshman Seminar class at Harlem Village Academy High School. She holds a B.A. in English Literature and an M.A. in English Education from New York University. She is excited to step outside of the classroom this year into the Director of Operations role and bring her experience with charter school start-ups to MESA. She has a healthy obsession with yoga and an unhealthy obsession with her cat, Charles.

Emily Davidian, Operations Manager  — Ms. Davidian was the founding Operations Manager at Unity Preparatory Charter School of Brooklyn in Bed-Stuy prior to joining MESA. Before that she taught Art to grades Pre-K through 8 in East Tennessee public schools and acted as the Special Education Coordinator at Schenck Job Corps in Pisgah National Forest. Ms. Davidian holds a BFA from Savannah College of Art and Design, an M.S. in Art Education from the University of Tennessee, and an MSW from NYU. Ms. Davidian is the proud owner of the most beautiful dog in the world, and loves exploring New York on her bicycle!

Betsy Rustrian, Office Manager  — Ms. Rustrian was born in Brooklyn, NY, and holds an A.S. degree in Human Services from Borough of Manhattan Community College. She has worked for over a decade in the field of Human Resources that supports the NYC Department of Education, among other important organizations. Ms. Rustrian has a passion for working with young kids and a strong desire to strive for excellence in all that she does. She loves travelling and spending time with her family and two daughters. She loves to sing and is currently working on an album that she and her husband have written together.

Ricardo Jorge, School Aide 

Liseth Ortega, School Aide 

Traci Douglas, Director of External Affairs — Ms. Douglas joined MESA in 2016 as the Founding Director of External Affairs. She entered the field of education in 2006 when she moved from New York to Philadelphia to be a social emotional teacher with Mastery Charter Schools. Prior to that, she practiced law in NYC for several years, and spent most of her legal career as a public defender, specializing in criminal defense and delinquency cases in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Before teaching, Ms. Douglas ran an after-school program for at-risk youth at The Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem. It was this experience that drew her from the practice of law and led her to work in charter schools. Ms. Douglas was the Founding Director of Operations at DREAM Charter School in East Harlem and held other leadership roles at charter schools in Brooklyn. She holds a B.A. in Economics from Howard University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. When Ms. Douglas isn’t recruiting new students and staff, developing community partnerships and raising awareness of MESA’s greatness, she is spending quality time with her family and perfecting her yoga poses.

Sebastian Bamba, External Affairs and Culture Coordinator — Mr. Bamba grew up on the biggest island in the Philippines until he was 12 years old. He moved to West Orange, NJ where he attended middle school and high school where he was a varsity Cross Country and Track and Field athlete. Then, he graduated from Bowdoin College where he majored in Economics and Gender and Women’s Studies. There, he became a Resident Advisor, a Programming Director and a College DJ to name a few. Mr. Bamba loves Bowdoin, so here are some fun facts for you – their mascot is a Polar Bear and their school colors are black and white. During his free time, you would see Mr. Bamba running around his neighborhood, reading a good fantasy book or experimenting in the kitchen.

Nelly Soto, Family Coordinator — Ms. Soto was born and raised in the Dominican Republic where she attended the University Autonoma of Santo Domingo and received a degree in cinematography. She later moved the the United States, and is a resident of Bushwick. Ms. Soto is a fluent Spanish speaker, and provides much of MESA’s translation services. She has two sons, Aaron and Steven, who are honorary MESA-nites.