Ryan Padrez, Medical Director
Ryan is a pediatrician and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). While at The Primary School he continues to take care of patients and teach at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital in San Francisco. Prior to medical school, Ryan spent years engaged in health policy work at Avalere in Washington DC and then helped launch the Center for Medical Technology Policy in San Francisco. He focuses on projects that integrate systems of care and promote models that ensure high quality care is accessible to all children.
Ryan graduated from Stanford University with a BA in Human Biology and earned his MD at UCSF. He then went on to complete his pediatrics residency in the UCSF and participated in the Pediatric Leadership for the Underserved (PLUS) program. He also completed a chief resident year at The San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center.
Valentina Helo-Villegas, Senior Manager of Coaching
Valentina combines mental health, community empowerment, and education to guide families towards a path of transformation and resiliency. She has extensive experience developing and executing support programs for populations that have been victims of severe trauma. Previously, she was a Bi-Lingual Lead Therapist at CHAC where she led a team of trainees in providing mental health and psycho-educational services to Elementary School students and their families. Prior to that, she was a Clinician at Momentum for Mental Health, and a Clinical Case Manager at Edgewood Center for Children and Families.
Valentina earned a degree in Psychology from Los Andes University in Colombia, her native country, and an M.A. in Counseling Psychology from the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology. She is fluent in Spanish, French and English.
Shawneece Stevenson, Family Success Coach
Shawneece has joined The Primary School as the Manager of Parent Program. Shawneece began her work in Early Childhood Education as a Parent Educator in Parents as Teachers Program in Cincinnati, Ohio. This work inspired her to pursue a Masters in Social Work Administration from the University of Cincinnati. Shawneece has had variety of organizational and family service experience working with young children, their families, and communities in which they live. Most recently, she managed a local Regional Center’s California Early Start Program serving infants and toddlers with developmental disabilities and their families. Shawneece has a strong value of supporting families through the development of their child. Most importantly, she is a wife and parent of three children with a variety of health and educational needs. She is a proud parent of the Ravenswood and Sequoia Unified School Districts.
Cristina Matthews, Parent Wellness Coach
With a passion for empowering individuals to discover their inner strengths and access advancement through cultivating agency and self-efficacy, Cristina has worked with youth and families for the past 7 years in a variety of community and school based settings in the Bay Area. Before joining The Primary School, Cristina worked as an MFT trainee through Youth & Family Services of Fremont counseling at risk families and youth on probation.
Cristina firmly believes that every human being holds innate potential to rise above their circumstances and succeed beyond expectation in life with the presence of a supportive community that fosters kindness, empathy, and equal opportunity.
Cristina Earned her BA in Psychology from Sonoma State University and later went on to attend Santa Clara University where she graduated with an MA in Counseling Psychology and an emphasis in Correctional Psychology.
Stephanie Diaz, Parent Wellness Coach
Stephanie is a Belle Haven native and attended high school in East Palo Alto. During and after college, Stephanie volunteered in Oakland preschools and interned at law firms that provided pro bono services. She has always been driven to serve and find her own meaning of social justice.
She is now excited to serve the community she grew up in. With a background in crisis counseling and intervention, Stephanie feels privileged to have the opportunity to witness people in her community pursue growth and happiness in an educational setting.
Stephanie received her Bachelor of Liberal Arts in Women and Gender Studies with a minor in Spanish at Saint Mary’s College of California. She is currently pursuing her Executive Master’s in Public Administration at Golden Gate University.
Marla Romero, Parent Wellness Coach
Marla Romero is a bay area native who has learned to love the diversity and uniqueness of her home town, Redwood City.
Growing up in a single parent home and with an amazing grandmother taught her the importance of love, compassion, unconditional support and knowledge. Marla’s curiosity in exploring human behavior, emotions, communication and coping strategies inspired her pursuit of education. After completing her undergraduate studies in Psychology at The William Jessup University, she had the privilege to volunteer with a humanitarian group that traveled to Africa and Cambodia offering medical support. After her return she became a part of the SES Team (Support Enhanced Services) with The Bill Wilson Center in San Jose which focused with at risk youth on probation and their families. Marla provided rehabilitation services in collaboration with Probation officers, other mental health providers and family support. Marla has a strong belief in supporting children, youth and parents. She believes that if we can all learn to find confidence in our strengths we can be empowered to use them to make a difference and impact our future in a positive and joyful manner.
Jessica Torrez, Parent Wellness Coach
Jessica Torrez was born and raised in Redwood City and for the past 13 years has lived in East Palo Alto and now Belle Haven. She grew up in a single parent home with her older brother. Her mother, was an immigrant from Mexico, full of life and joy, who showed them the true meaning of an American Dream. From her, Jessica learned the meaning of dedication for work, passion for her culture and community, the importance of family and the eagerness for growth.
She has three beautiful daughters who have all attended Belle Haven school where her husband and her have had the great opportunity to volunteer and lead other parent volunteers. Six years ago, She had the wonderful opportunity to work in Education. She worked for the Ravenswood City School District, Special Education Department, where she had the experience of serving her community. Her and her family also volunteered and joined a group at church where their mission was to unify at risk families. It was during these years of working in education, volunteering for Belle Haven and in her church group that she found her passion for helping others discover their inner strengths and power to overcome any circumstance.
Yadira DiSiena, Parent Wellness Coach
Yadira DiSiena was born in Guadalajara, Mexico and raised in Los Angeles. She is the oldest of three sisters and the first in her family to graduate college.
Yadira graduated with a Bachelors in Sociology from California State University Northridge. After graduating, her true journey began. Yadira moved from Los Angeles to Menlo Park with her husband and 5 pets. Seeking the opportunity to work with her community, Yadira connected to the local Head Start program. Yadira was an Early Head Start Home Base Specialist in East Palo Alto, Belle Haven and Redwood City. She became familiarized with the local community agencies and partnered with them to support the families she served.
Yadira enjoyed serving the community she worked in so much that she eventually became a member of the Belle Haven community.
Mike Kerr, Principal
A proud native of New Jersey, Mike Kerr received his B.A. in Government and Politics from the University of Maryland. Upon graduating in 1999, Mike joined Teach for America and taught kindergarten through third grade at Public School 192 in Harlem where he also served as the grade level chair. After earning his M.A. in Elementary and Early Childhood Education from the Bank Street College of Education, Mike then earned his M.S.Ed. in School Leadership from Harvard University. Next, Mike served for five years as the founding principal of the Achievement First Crown Heights Elementary School (AFCHES) in Brooklyn, NY. During his last year there, 99 percent of third- and fourth-grade students scored proficient on the state reading exam and 100 percent scored proficient on the state math exam with 72 percent scoring advanced. After transitioning AFCHES to his successor, Mike moved to Los Angeles and served as the founding principal of KIPP Empower Academy. In 2013, the school's first year of standardized testing, KIPP Empower Academy became the highest performing public school in Los Angeles and ranked tenth out of over 5,000 elementary schools in the state. After training KIPP's school and regional leaders for the past three years, Mike joins The Primary School as principal.
Kyndal Hargow, Assistant Principal & Early Childhood Lead
Kyndal has spent the majority of her eight years in education in the early childhood setting. Her years teaching preschool and pre-K in underserved communities, taught her how imperative it is to provide quality education and experiences even before Kindergarten. Early Childhood Education, quickly became her passion. Most recently, working as a Pre-K Literacy coach in Oakland, Kyndal continued to follow her passion while coaching and training Head Start and Transitional Kindergarten teachers around early literacy. Kyndal feels most successful when the teachers and students she works with demonstrate that they feel both respected and capable. One of her favorite things to hear students say is, "I did it!" She strongly believes in the importance of creating joyous and intentional classrooms. Kyndal is inspired by the innovation The Primary School brings to early childhood education and its mission to include and empower families while addressing the needs of the whole child. She looks forward to the opportunity to work with a team motivated and focused on the model’s mission and is humbled at the potential to effect change on a deeper level. Kyndal has a B.A. in Communication from the University of Southern California and a Masters in Early Childhood Education from Loyola Marymount University.
Becky Johnson, Senior Manger of Integrated Systems
Becky spent the past eight years working in Education, spanning multiple grade levels, multiple roles, and multiple states. She is committed to serving all students, and dedicated to building programs and schools that support students with diverse needs. Becky has served as a teacher, behavior coach, camp counselor and Assistant Principal across public and charter schools in San Jose, and teaches a course on Positive Behavior Management at Loyola Marymount University.
Becky received her BA from the University of Southern California, and her Masters in Special Education from Hunter College/Relay in New York City.
William Vosa Cavu-Litman, K4 Senior Lead Teacher
William better known by his middle name, Vosa, was raised in Redwood City, and is an educator specializing in Early Childhood with an added passion for working with high school and university populations. In his eight years of teaching and leading, Vosa has enjoyed working with students in achieving their potential and creating a safe and trusting atmosphere. Vosa strives to build a life-long love for learning and to build a team of committed educators determined to create a sense of leadership and a strong community. Vosa started working in education as an undergrad at San Jose State University and formally started teaching in Los Angeles as a corps member in Teach for America. Vosa joins us from Korea where he taught and lived for six years. During his summers, Vosa helped to develop young leaders into culturally aware and globally responsible citizens throughout Spain, Chile, Peru, and Ireland and has traveled extensively throughout Asia and many parts of Europe. Vosa believes working with The Primary School will be an adventure of lessons and looks forward to working with a population of families is representative of how he grew up.
Jen Merz, K5 Senior Lead Teacher
Jen worked as a teacher in East San Jose for the last seven years. She is passionate about early literacy and developing a love for reading and learning. Jen believes in supporting all students by working closely with families to meet the diverse needs of each child.
Jen received her BA in Psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles. She discovered her love for teaching working as an Assistant Teacher at the UCLA Lab School. Jen is proficient in Spanish.
Tajmah Martin, K3 Junior Lead Teacher
Tajmah joins The Primary School from Hope Technology School, a fully inclusive private school for both typically developing and special needs students, where she has been since the fall of 2007. There, Tajmah worked as a para-educator in the HTS elementary program from 2007-2013 before becoming a fully qualified preschool teacher. Tajmah has volunteered for a non-profit soccer program for children with special needs and has worked one-on one with children with special needs in both school and home settings. She has also had experience working in the public school system through volunteer work and community service.
Olivia Thomas, K4 Junior Lead Teacher
Liv is a born and raised Jersey girl who has been living in the Bay Area for the past 7 years. She first came to the West Coast to attend Stanford University. There, she studied Human Biology with a concentration in Child Development and Mental Health. After reading the shocking Hart and Risley study on the language gap that begins before students enter school, Liv was drawn into the world of Early Childhood Education. After graduation, she went on to join Teach for America and is still currently teaching ECE in Richmond, CA. Liv joined The Primary School because it is deeply aligned to her personal vision for what it will take to support children in reaching their full potential. She is ecstatic and eager to be joining a team that shares the urgency, passion, and love that she has for working to support children and their families.
Taegan Williams, K5 Junior Lead Teacher
Taegan comes to us from the Taipei American School where she has been teaching first grade. Prior to her two-year tour there, her teaching career has taken her from the Somali community in Lewiston, Maine to two orphanages in Ho Chin Minh City, Vietnam and then back to Harlem, New York. She has a B.A. from Bates College in East Asian History, Women and Gender Studies and Educational Studies, and an M.S. from Touro College in Elementary Education and Special Education. Adopted from an orphanage in Hunan, China and raised in the United States, Taegan is particularly sensitive to the principle that a child’s zip code should not dictate the quality of his or her schooling. She is excited to apply her skills and enthusiasm to The Primary School’s vision of empowering a sustainable community.
Karen Melendez-Alvarenga, K4 Senior Associate Teacher
Karen Melendez-Alvarenga is a passionate early childhood educator. She has over 12 years’ experience working in preschool and school environments with children ranging for 1-5. She is creative and enthusiastic and attentive to children’s individual needs. Karen grew up in East Palo Alto and is fluent in Spanish. Most recentlyKaren was part of the founding preschool team at St. Elizabeth and has spent summers working with Iridescent, leading children to explore engineering design. Karen strongly believes that a quality early childhood education can have enormous impact on the lives of children. For this reason, Karen is excited to partner with families and the larger community to support children and their growth.
Cynthia Toscano, K5 Senior Associate Teacher
Cynthia was born and raised in East San Jose. Over the past nine years she has worked with students of all ages. She has worked in both rural and urban communities to help recruit and advise high school students towards accomplishing their dreams of higher education. After earning her Associate’s degree, Cynthia was the site director for several after school programs for children in low income neighborhoods. Prior to joining The Primary School, Cynthia spent five years working with elementary aged children, providing specialized instruction to those with higher behavioral and educational needs. Her passion has always been to not only serve her students but families and communities as well. Being a mom of two little girls also inspires her to show all her students the love, care, and devotion that she would give her own daughters. It is her honor to bring to her experience and passion to families of The Primary School. Cynthia was a founding Assistant Teacher at The Primary School and joins the 2017-18 team as a Senior Associate Teacher.
Daisy Medina, K4 Junior Associate Teacher
Daisy was born and raised in Redwood City and married her high school sweetheart. They have 2 energetic boys and a beautiful girl. Daisy chose to join The Primary School because she believes in supporting not just the child but the whole family.
Akriti Jain, K4 Junior Associate Teacher
Prior to joining The Primary School, Akriti was a Fellow with Teach for India, the sister organization of Teach for America. There, Akriti saw what good healthcare and nutrition could do for a student, and the direct relationship between academic growth and child health. As a teacher, Akriti conducted community visits and helped foster growth of both parents and students. Akriti started with The Primary School in its founding year as a substitute teacher and joins the 2017-18 team as a Junior Associate Teacher.
Viridiana Luna, K3 Assistant Teacher
Viridiana is a mother, wife and teacher willing to learn and grow with her community. She was born in Mexico City but raised in the ever so growing and diverse city of East Palo Alto. She attended the University of California, Davis, where she became inspired to embrace her culture, society and community. It is now her mission to inspire her community through teaching, giving future generations an equal opportunity in all aspects of their lives. In her spare time she enjoys painting, dancing, traveling and photography, but most of all spending time with family.
Brenda Quezada, K3 Assistant Teacher
Brenda was born and raised in East Palo Alto in a single parent household. Being from East Palo Alto has pushed Brenda to want to give back to the community she grew up in. Brenda initially pursued an associate degree in Criminal Justice as a means to start a career as a probation officer for juveniles. It was through her work as a mentor through one of the local Boys and Girls Club after school programs, that Brenda realized that she wanted to support children as a teacher. Since then she has become the mother of two boys and transferred to a local State University where she will be completing her Bachelor's degree in Early Childhood Education.Brenda is proud to be part of The Primary School team and contribute to its formation in her community through all her identities which include her experience as daughter, student, mother, wife and now teacher.
Martha Paramo, K3 Assistant Teacher
Martha is a Nicaragua native raised for most of her life in Belle Haven. From a young age, Martha enjoyed working with children and taking care of her younger family members. Martha joins The Primary School from the CCLC at Stanford West where she has spent the last four years working with infants and toddlers, first as a floater teacher and later as a lead teacher. Martha enjoys watching children grow and learn, and is thrilled to bring her passion for teaching and giving back to the community that she grew up in.
Daryl Dickerson, K3 Assistant Teacher
Daryl has been working with children for over 8 years as a preschool teacher’s assistant at a Belle Haven summer enrichment program, a camp leader at Belle Haven After School Program, and as a nanny. Daryl loves working with children and families, and is excited to kick-off her career as an educator at The Primary School and be a part of a community focused on the whole child and family.
Eric Stuart, K4 Assistant Teacher
As a lifelong resident of East Palo Alto and father to two young children, Eric is passionate about the community and is committed to providing enriching opportunities to the next generation of citizens and leaders. Eric has dedicated his professional career to local education, working as an Early Childhood Educator for over twenty years before transitioning into a managerial role. Over the last 11 years, Eric has also managed the Greyhounds, a sports program that has supported local youth in developing the character and confidence they need as successful adults. Eric started with The Primary School in its founding year as a substitute teacher and joins the 2017-18 team as an Assistant Teacher.
Rachel McGarvery, K5 Assistant Teacher
Rachel started her teaching career as an AmeriCorps Spanish literacy tutor in Texas, and as a substitute teacher. Rachel looks forward to joining The Primary School, where she seeks to be a part of a community where all adults seek to understand the whole child to help him/her grow.
Elizabeth Garcia, School Operations Associate
Liz is a recent college graduate from the University of California of Riverside. She received her BA in Sociology. Throughout her college years she worked for Riverside’s Child Development center as a teacher assistant, and served as an AmeriCorps Tutor for 7th graders mentoring them in Math and Language Arts. During her summers she served as a summer camp counselor and director for the city of Los Altos Recreation Department. Liz also volunteered for two years as an assistant coach with RYAA soccer here in East Palo Alto. Liz is excited to be part of The Primary School and help build a great learning community.
Priscilla Chan, CEO
Priscilla is a pediatrician and an education entrepreneur. In particular, she is interested in integrating her work in health and education through designing and implementing interventions addressing adverse childhood experiences. Prior to entering medical school, she ran an afterschool program in Boston and taught 4th and 5th grade science at the Harker School.
Priscilla earned her BA in Biology with Spanish Citation at Harvard University and her MD at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). She also completed her pediatrics training in the UCSF/PLUS Pediatrics Residency. Priscilla is also the co-founder of the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative.
Meredith Liu, President and COO
Meredith is a deep believer in the power of education to eliminate racial inequity. Prior to co-founding The Primary School, she was the chief financial officer at Match Education, a charter management organization and teacher training program, and served as a dean and then board member at Codman Academy, a Boston high school co-located with a health center. She has worked with and far a variety of non-profits, state education agencies, and school districts to build stronger education systems. She began her career at Bain & Company.
Meredith earned a BA in Economics from Dartmouth College and an MBA at the Harvard Business School. She is also a proud graduate of the D.C. Public Schools.
Lindsey Luebchow, Chief of Staff
Lindsey is dedicated to making the education system more equitable so that it can meet the needs of underserved children. She has worked in education policy, government, and school operator roles at the federal and local levels. Most recently, she was an attorney and school advisor for Success Academy Charter Schools, a high-performing charter management organization in New York City. Prior to that, she worked at the U.S. Department of Education on civil rights monitoring and policy development for federal education programs. Lindsey earned a BA in Public Policy Studies from Duke University and a JD from Yale Law School.
Naoko Kudo, Director of Operations
Naoko has been working in K-12 and nonprofit operations management for the last eight years. Most recently, Naoko was a Director of School Operations and later the Director of Network Support Operations at Achievement First, where she oversaw Operations team management, communications, learning and development, knowledge management, and data integrity. Prior to Achievement First, Naoko worked at Gap Inc., Obama for America, the Corporation for National and Community Service, New Leaders, and School of One.
Naoko holds an M.S. in Economics from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and is a proud product of the NYC public education system.
Nora Razon, Family and Community Engagement Manager
Nora is originally from Mexico and grew up in East Palo Alto. Over the course of her career, Nora has worked closely with youth and families in a variety of different roles, including at the Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center, the Legal Aid Society, and College Track. Most recently, she was a program coordinator at the Renaissance Entrepreneur Center in East Palo Alto, responsible for developing and leading financial literacy programs for families.
Awara Mendy Adeagbo, Senior Manager of Special Projects
Awara is passionate about social justice and providing equal opportunities for underserved communities. She strongly believes that addressing the health needs of a child and supporting a child’s parents is just as important as addressing their educational needs. Awara earned a BA in Government with a Spanish language citation from Harvard University. She also earned her MBA and a Certificate in Public Management and Social Impact from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. She has worked in a number of industries including healthcare and technology, and she began her career as a management consultant at The Boston Consulting Group. As an undergraduate, Awara tutored students in an afterschool Spanish language immersion program and is very excited to be back in a joyful student environment.
Nishi Mehta, Special Assistant to the President
Nishi has a deep interest in integrating education and healthcare to positively impact the trajectories of children in underserved communities. Most recently, Nishi was a management consultant at Simon-Kucher & Partners, helping clients solve key strategic challenges. Prior to that, she served as a 7th grade literature teaching fellow and college access coach for Breakthrough Collaborative. She also trained college students to teach health education in Boston public high schools through the organization Peer Health Exchange.
Nishi has a B.S. in Psychology and English from Tufts University. She was a visiting student in Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford.
Sophie Wharton Smith, Manager of Data and Analytics
Sophie is driven by a desire to help children and their families reach their full potential and lead fulfilling lives. She believes that the strategic use of data is crucial to effectively supporting students and has worked as a data analyst in education for several years, at both the KIPP Foundation and the Illinois Network of Charter Schools. She began her education career as a classroom teacher, at charter schools in Brooklyn and Chicago.
Sophie earned her BA in Psychology at Harvard University, completing the Cognitive Science track of the Mind, Brain and Behavior honors program.
Eric Gordon, Data Associate
Eric is motivated by the desire to create a more equitable education system for all. He began his career as a mathematics teacher at Cristo Rey Boston High School before taking on a role as a data analyst in San Francisco. Now, he is excited to combine his passions for data and education in order to have a greater impact for students of all economic backgrounds.
Eric graduated from Boston College with BAs in both Mathematics and Secondary Education. He is also a proud graduate of the Urban Catholic Teaching Corps of Boston College, where he earned a M.Ed. in Curriculum & Instruction.