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. 

Lydia Marquez, Nurture Coach

Lydia has been in the early childhood field for many years, first working as a preschool teacher while a student at the University of Washington, and then as a day camp administrator. She then began her work as a service coordinator with the Early Start program at the San Andreas Regional Center, working with children with special needs from birth to three.  She is also trained as a trainer for Touchpoints, and the Program for Infant Toddler Care. In addition, she is trained as an Infant Early Childhood Mental Health Practitioner and Reflective Practice Facilitator. Lydia has come to know the East Palo Alto community through her family that resides here. Lydia is a Spanish speaker. 

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. 

Cualnezca Tonantzin, Parent Wellness Coach

Cualnezca Tonantzin is an Indigenous(Yaqui/Chichimeca) woman born and raised in North Sacramento from the neighborhood of Del Paso Heights. It was that community along with her family foundation that created her lifelong commitment to community service and civic involvement. She embraces her community work as the main base of her life’s mission to continue assisting the underserved and whole heartedly believes, La Cultura Cura.  

Her professional background consist of 12 official years of experience in early childhood development, youth advocacy and dismantling the school to prison pipeline.

She is a proud alumni of American River college and was one of twelve students selected to represent the United States in President Obama’s summer program  “100K Strong in America,” in alliance with the Consulado de Mexico and has her academic research housed at the University of Guanajuato, Mexico. She is currently finishing her undergraduate degree as an English major with an emphasis in indigenous studies. Cualnezca is also a proud product of the Twin Rivers Unified School District public education system.


Andrew Elliott-Chandler, Principal

Andrew worked in east San Jose for the last ten years, teaching and leading in district and charter elementary schools.  In between, he spent two years teaching integrated technology at an international school in Shanghai, China.  Andrew is a deep believer in the power of joy in learning and meeting the multiple dimensional needs of kids.  

Becky Johnson, Manager of Student Supports

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.

Vanessa Ibarra, Lead Teacher

Vanessa grew up in East Palo Alto is first-generation college graduate in her family of six. Vanessa has spent the last four years working at Bing Nursery School teaching 2 to 5-year-old children. Through out the course of her career, Vanessa has spent a significant amount of time volunteering and working with a variety of age-groups ranging from Pre-K to 8th grade in East Palo Alto and Massachusetts. Vanessa is passionate about serving her community and helping all children receive a well-rounded education during the most important years of their lives. She believes wholeheartedly that a child’s success is greatly enhanced when teachers and parents are partners in the learning process. Most recently, Vanessa volunteered with 10 Books A Home, a non-profit organization in EPA, where she spent two years mentoring and working alongside a 3-year-old and her mother as they prepared for the transition to kindergarten in the Ravenswood School District. 

Vanessa earned her BA in Psychology and Early Childhood Education in addition to obtaining her teaching credentials from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. 

Krystina Tapia, Lead Teacher

Krystina is an Early Childhood Educator that is passionate about creating innovative curriculum that is individualized and accessible for all children. She is a S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Design, Mathematics) nerd and loves to find relevant ways to incorporate these concepts in her work with young children. Krystina believes that all children are capable and competent individuals that can reach their full potential with support, guidance and love. She is excited to brush up on her native Spanish speaking skills while working at The Primary School. 

Krystina earned a BA in Psychology and minors in Spanish and Applied Developmental Psychology from UCLA and a MA in Early Childhood Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. She also has a certificate in Digital Technologies and the Early Childhood Environment from Bank Street College of Education.  

Jen Merz, 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.

Jessica Barajas,  Associate Teacher

Jessica is passionate about educational equity for children and youth. She was previously a Researcher at Stanford’s Understanding Language Initiative focused on promoting the educational needs of English Language Learners, and the Manager of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation’s Latinos on Fast Track (LOFT) Program, dedicated to inspiring, and preparing emerging Latino students for leadership roles across different industries. Jessica has also very much enjoyed her experience as middle school tutor for the East Palo Alto Stanford Academy (EPASA). 

Jessica earned her Bachelor's degree in Education and Political Science with a minor in Latin American Studies from Swarthmore College, and her Masters Degree in Policy, Leadership, and Organization from the Stanford Graduate School of Education. Jessica was born in Los Angeles, California, and raised in Jalisco, Mexico. Jessica feels excited to bring her native Spanish language skills and her biculturalism to her students. 

Cynthia Toscano, Assistant Teacher

Cynthia Toscano 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, she was the site director for several after school programs for children in low income neighborhoods. For the past five years, she worked with elementary aged children and provided 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. 

Sarai Villarreal, Assistant Teacher

Sarai has been working with youth since 2009, and in the Belle Haven and East Palo Alto community since 2012. That is where her passion for teaching began, and ever since she has been working in various areas of youth development.

Sarai graduated with a BA in Latina/o Studies with a focus on educational equity from San Francisco State University in May of 2016 and is excited to bring all her experiences and knowledge into the Primary School. Growing up in Redwood City and East Palo Alto gave her a sense of community. It made her proud to be bilingual and a Latina educator that can give back to her community. She looks forward to learning and growing together! 

Karen Melendez-Alvarenga, Assistant 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.

Viridiana Luna, 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.

Natalie Barrales, Assistant Teacher

Natalie is passionate about being a catalyst for the development of confidence and thinking strategies for children and their families. She values the uniqueness of everyone's needs and enjoys the process of guiding individuals to leading independent lives. Her brother was diagnosed with Autism at a young age, and she previously worked as a developmental therapist for special needs children at Pacific Autism Center for Education. This is why integrating community, school resources, and mental health is so important to her.

Natalie was born and raised in Redwood City.  During her free time she likes to hike, read, travel, and volunteer at local nonprofits. Natalie earned her B.A. in psychology at University of California Santa Cruz.

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.

Tamara Sobomehin, Business and Operations Manager

Tamara believes in helping people make meaningful connections in order to facilitate new opportunities for peace, unity, personal growth, and success. After graduating from the Talented and Gifted Magnet High School in Dallas, Texas, Tamara attended Stanford University, where she earned a BA in Psychology. 

Tamara has worked for several organizations in the Bay Area including Level Playing Field Institute, Live In Peace, Inc., EPASA, Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula, and Team Esface, combining her interests in advocacy, education, and child development with her personal mission to make popular culture positive. Tamara is also a blessed mother of four amazing children, the proud wife of Olatunde Sobomehin, and a humble singer in the locally acclaimed East Palo Alto reggae band - RAFA - whose focus is to bring healing to people through their music, words, and individual actions. 

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 medical technology 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.