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Middle School Staff

Chalimar Chieza, Social Studies Guide

headwaters-guides-7-2016-2-2 c.brown@headwaters.org

I have had a passion for teaching for as long as I can remember. I graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington with a degree in Business Administration, however most of my free time was spent working with students in economically-challenged areas of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. Recently, I have headed community service efforts to contribute to Hurricane Katrina victims, soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, earthquake survivors in Haiti, and local Austinites in need. I love teaching, sports, reading, gardening, cooking meals from scratch, and photography. Most of my extra time is spent with my two dogs, Otis and Tyson, watching the History Channel, or playing soccer and sand volleyball with friends. I am excited to be a part of Headwaters School teaching faculty where they value creativity and dynamic learning environments.

Sean Fleming, Dean of Students / MS Athletic Director & Coach

SeanF s.fleming@headwaters.org

After taking the road less traveled for many years, I earned a BA from Texas State University in 2005 with a double major in History and English. Ironically enough, I found myself rudderless after graduation and began searching for something meaningful to do with my life.

Fortunately, a serendipitous conversation one summer afternoon with Lisa Dubuque, a cofounder of our school, led me to sign up as a substitute teacher for the River Campus in 2008. My first assignment was subbing for a history class in Building 1, and I will never forget the feeling I had standing in that room with students and sharing my love of the humanities. I finally had my eureka moment, and realized that my passion was working with kids!

I went back to Texas State to earn my teaching certification, and hoped daily that a position would open up for me at Headwaters when I finished. Luckily for me, it did! While teaching, I completed a master’s degree in secondary education during the spring of 2016, and I am proud to say that I have spent my entire career in education here at Headwaters.

In my free time I like to hang out with my wife, Andrea, and our two daughters, Djuna and Margaux, both of whom attend the Creek campus. In addition, I enjoy storytelling in its myriad forms, and I try to incorporate those elements into my work with students.

Michelle Gardella, Photography Guide


I am a photographer and photography teacher who loves nothing more than empowering the creative expression of others. My teaching philosophy is rooted in an appreciation for the process of art making, as much as the final product. I also believe, with all of my heart, in photographic storytelling as a tool for social justice.

I graduated from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA with a degree in Art Therapy. My personal work is centered on the celebration of the fierce female spirit, and the reunification of women and nature.  I lived for two years an Airstream, traveling the country with my little family, capturing women in rivers. My photographs have been exhibited internationally and my book, River Story, sold out within months of release. I’ve been featured in over 100 national print magazines, illustrated two best-selling books still available in book stores nationwide, and had my work on Good Morning America, CNN, The Today Show and VH1. I’ve earned the tremendous distinction of being named “Top 30 Photographers in the World,” by Rangefinder Magazine, and “Top 10 Photographers to Watch in the US.” But the accomplishments I am most proud of, are those of my beloved students. I have been a teacher for over a decade and am so honored to be part of the Headwaters family.

When I’m not collarbone deep in river, or teaching in a classroom, I can be found playing old school board games around our kitchen table with my husband Thomas, and our two children, Braedon, 15, and Lily, 7.

Lorena Germán, English Guide

headwaters-guides-5-2016-3-1 l.german@headwaters.org

I was born in Dominican Republic and grew up in an urban setting in Massachusetts. I am a writer and a teacher and I love to read and write about teaching as an act of social justice.

As an undergraduate, I knew I wanted work with young people in the area of literacy so I earned my undergraduate degree in English and my Master of Arts in English at Middlebury College Bread Loaf School of English. I have been published by ASCD, EdWeek, NCTE, a National Writing Project anthology, and other sources. Twice my work has earned national recognition with the National Council for Teachers of English. Outside of teaching, reading, and writing, you can find me playing with my toddler Analíz, eating great food with my husband, and pretending I’m going to workout soon.

Thom Gibson, Math & Robotics Guide / Head of Math

color2 t.gibson@headwaters.org

I graduated in 2010 from Texas State University with a degree in Sound Recording Technology; not the most typical route to get into teaching but glad I found my way. 🙂 I started my teaching career at an International Baccalaureate school called Iduma Elementary in Killeen, Texas and was granted the Teacher of the Year award my third year there.  I’m in my fourth year at Headwaters and had the honor of being the middle-school student choice Teacher of the Year my first year here. I love my job and it’s a gift to enjoy coming to work each day.

My wife Sara is a pediatrician and recently finished her pediatric residency at Dell Children’s Hospital!  Outside of school, I like to make videos, run, swim, lift weights, do freelance voice-over work, and learn new cooking ideas. I also enjoy reading up on the topics of faith, education, sociology, and some fiction every now and then.

Claudia Guajardo, Spanish Guide

IMG_0949 c.guajardo@headwaters.org

I was born and raised in Matamoros, Mexico, and relocated in 2014 with my husband and two sons to Austin, Texas. I graduated with a Bachelors Degree in Chemical Engineering and worked in Mexico for Delphi (General Motors) as an Environmental Engineer for more than seven years. After taking some time off to raise my two sons, I started doing volunteer work at my son’s elementary school. It was there that I  discovered my passion for teaching.

I had the opportunity to work for more than four years as an ESL teacher in the Language Learners at the University of Texas Center for Hispanic Achievement (LUCHA) program aimed at helping Spanish-speaking students transition into public high schools at Donna ISD in South Texas. Recently, I worked at the Cathedral School of Saint Mary (CSSM) as a Spanish Teacher serving all grades (PreK4 to 8th grade). At CSSM, I implemented several cultural events and performances in an effort to highlight the customs and heritage of the Hispanic culture.

Estoy muy contenta de ser parte de la familia Headwaters y poder transmitir a mis estudiantes mi lenguaje y cultura!

Georgia Helen, Humanities Guide

georgiahelen g.helen@headwaters.org

I love facilitating meaningful inquiry, peer learning, civic engagement, service learning, and championing youth voice and expression. As a humanist and culturalist, I am deeply motivated and inspired by Headwaters students’ abilities to imagine, articulate and create models for transformation, social justice, freedom, and discovery. I am honored and excited to learn and grow with our community and seek to offer unique and collaborative contributions to Headwaters programs. My experience is grounded in a nontraditional personal background and the fellowships I received to earn a BA from Lewis & Clark College and an MA from Stanford University in Sociology and Cultural Anthropology. I have taught in middle school, high school, and college humanities programs stateside and overseas, and I am passionate about the fostering of intercultural relationships and practices. It is such a joy to join the Headwaters family.

Kelley Janes, Science Guide & Head of Science

S2_Week2_Web02 k.janes@headwaters.org

I love science. It is a way for me to connect with nature and life on the most meaningful levels. I love teaching as much as I love science. I love Headwaters as much as I love teaching. Hence, I love my work. I teach physics (8th grade physical science, 10th grade Physics, and IB Physics) and astronomy. Much of my formal science education was done in Bellingham, Washington at Western Washington University, where I left the creative writing department and landed happily in the physics department. My studies have taken me to Southern Chile, Baja California, Italy, Mauna Kea, and the McDonald Observatory, which I find to be the happiest place on earth. In my spare time, I can be found practicing Ashtanga yoga, listening to Radio Lab or This American Life, reading old diaries at the Ransom Center, conducting experiments in my kitchen, and oogling over my three kids and my charming husband.

Paul Lambert, Math Guide

headwaters-guides-9-2016-1-2 p.lambert@headwaters.org

Learning and teaching are at the core of our family culture. My mother was a teacher and high school counselor, my brother is a teacher, and my wife is a teacher and university academic counselor. I have been an educator for sixteen years–thirteen as a teacher and basketball coach, and the last two teaching special education mathematics. I am passionate about the Houston Astros, solar energy, and spending time with my family. I am excited to guide my students to build the skills they need to become their best, authentic selves.

Marc Lionetti, School Counselor & Vocal Music Guide

MarcL m.lionetti@headwaters.org

I received my undergraduate degree in Music Education from Northwestern University, and was a full-time music teacher for eight years at a small progressive private school in the San Francisco Bay Area. After that time, I felt an inner calling to interact with students as a counselor in addition to as a teacher. That calling ultimately led me to the Educational Psychology department at the University of Texas at Austin, where I received a Masters of Education in Counselor Education in 2008. I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in the state of Texas, and I have been serving as Headwaters School counselor (and vocal music guide) since 2009.  In addition, I am certified as a Registered Yoga Teacher at the 500-hour level, with specialized training in Kundalini yoga.  Outside of my work at Headwaters, I also perform music regularly around town with various bands, and teach private music lessons.

Terra Lynch, Learning Specialist

Terra Lynch t.lynch@headwaters.org

I come from a long line of teachers, but it wasn’t until I moved to New York City that I became one myself. I taught Humanities, Spanish, and Music Appreciation at high school in Manhattan. I got my Master’s in Social Studies Education from New York University, and became an affiliate of the School Reform Initiative. Since moving to Austin several years ago I have been an instructional coach, a tutor, and a volunteer.  I return to NYU each summer to teach a Facilitative Leadership Seminar for school administrators and teacher leaders.

My brain changed when I became an educator, and now I can’t stop thinking (and talking) about teaching and learning! My experiences living in Brazil, Spain, and Egypt attuned me to the challenges of language learners. My years in project management help me think about lesson planning, data, and outcomes. I am constantly looking for creative ways to make teaching more effective and efficient, and to make learning engaging and equitable for all kinds of students. As the parent of dyslexic children, I am especially attuned to the needs of those who may not succeed in a traditional classroom–I even became trained in Dyslexia Therapy at the Rawson Saunders Institute to better understand and support their learning. As a graduate of an International Baccalaureate program myself, I felt a connection to the Headwaters School. I am so happy to be the Learning Specialist at the River Campus, collaborating with thoughtful teachers in ways to meet the needs of our diverse students.

When I’m not talking about education, you can find me reading, cooking, leading a robotics team, or on the greenbelt with my husband, our two children, and our energetic dogs. Please stop and say hi!

Jaclyn Mann, English Guide

Jaclyn j.mann@headwaters.org

I am the daughter of an English teacher, therefore my English grammar and literature education began at a very young age. My love and appreciation of the craft came later, though. First, I was an athlete, and my early dedication to swimming earned me a scholarship at the University of Texas here in Austin. I moved here in 2002 to compete for UT, and I graduated in 2007 with a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work and as a decorated athlete.

In my swimming years and beyond, I had the desire and passion for helping and inspiring others, especially young people. The disillusionment of post-swimming life came with great introspection and tremendous life re-evaluation. That journey brought me to education and to Headwaters in 2009.

I have found my home in the classroom teaching English to 6th and 7th graders, but I have other loves, too. I am fortunate to work in a community that inspires and supports people to be full and to do what they love—all of it. I am a lover and teacher of yoga, and health and fitness are huge passions of mine. I am the wife of a math educator, and I am the mother of an interesting and mischievous toddler and two marvelous pups. I feel tremendously fortunate to spend my time in this community as it continues to challenge and support me.

Martha Melendez, Spanish Guide


I am originally from Los Angeles, California, but I lived in San Francisco for a large part of my adult life. My passion for foreign languages came at an early age for me. My maternal language is Spanish and as a child, I lived in Mexico. When my family returned to the U.S., I was able to understand English, but I didn’t know how to speak, read, nor write it. I was therefore put in ESL classes in elementary school and before I knew it and before anyone expected it, I was completely literate and fluent in English. I loved it! From then on, my parents were very strict on keeping Spanish the household language and English whenever we were outside of the home. In high school, I was given the opportunity to appease my appetite for foreign languages and took up French. I went on and graduated from Saint Louis University in St. Louis, MO with a Masters in French and have travelled extensively around France and Western Europe. I am excited to be a part of the Headwaters community and I hope to inspire and transfer that same passion for languages onto my students.

John Mulvany, Art Guide and Head of Performing & Visual Arts

JohnM j.mulvany@headwaters.org

I am an artist and art educator originally from Ireland who has been living and working in Austin for the last 13 years. This is my twentieth year teaching art and my fifth at Headwaters School, where, in addition to teaching AP Art, High School Art, and Middle School Art, I am head of the Visual Arts program. This year I am also teaching an art class to the Upper Elementary class at the Elementary campus. Teaching at Headwaters School has been my most rewarding and inspiring experience in education.

I graduated from the College of Art, Design and Print in Dublin, Ireland with a Fine Art degree, and I also have a degree in art and design education from the Crawford College of Art in Cork, Ireland. As an artist my work has been shown in Ireland, the UK, Germany, and the U.S. I was featured in the 2009 Texas Biennial and was nominated for best artist in the 2009 Austin Visual Arts Association awards. My most recent exhibitions were a solo exhibition at Texas Lutheran University and a show at Gray Duck Gallery in Austin last April. I live in east Austin with my wife, Monique, and our two sons, Henry and Cormac, who are starting in the Primary and YCC Programs at Headwaters School’s Primavera campus this year.

Genevieve “Chinny” Okpara, Science Guide


I come from a family of teachers, so maybe my love for teaching runs in my genes? Who knows? I absolutely love the energy involved in working with kids and I’m a scientist at heart, constantly asking questions and observing the world around me…so teaching science just made sense!  Best decision I’ve ever made…behind choosing the right husband, of course. 😉

Long before falling in love with Headwaters and this holistic approach to education, I graduated from the University of Rhode Island with a degree in Biological Sciences. Why Rhode Island? Well, I was offered a full-ride athletic scholarship for volleyball. After university, I found myself back in my home state of California, but in Northern California this time, where I taught 7th Grade Life & Health Science as well as 9th Grade Biology at a top-ranked high school in the heart of Silicon Valley. After a few years of teaching in public schools, my husband and I made the decision to soul-search a bit and travel the world. I traveled through Southeast Asia and Europe for 2 years with my husband, immersing myself in different cultures, eating a plethora of different foods, and getting certified to teach yoga in Bali.

I love mindfulness, yoga, sports (obviously volleyball), cooking, farmer’s markets, and flea markets, and I’m passionate about health & nutrition.

I strive for my classroom to be a safe space where students can learn through exploration and curious inquiry without judgment. I want to show my students that the world is their classroom… Sigh, as I’m writing this, I can’t wait for them to walk through these doors!

I’m so grateful to be a part of this Headwaters family and look forward to teaching and coexisting with this community in a way that is so closely aligned with my personal beliefs.

Ryan Phillips, Head of Middle School

RyanP r.phillips@headwaters.org

Originally from Kansas City, Missouri, I graduated from Texas A&M with a B.A. in English and History. After graduation, I joined the Public Policy Research Institute as a research associate studying the effects of poverty on sentencing guidelines in the State of Texas. After the report was complete, and probably read only by me, I left Texas for Annapolis, Maryland where I graduated from St. John’s College with an M.A. in Liberal Arts. While at St. John’s, I became interested in the nature of happiness, specifically in what makes me happy. Much to the horror and surprise of every teacher who had the misfortune of having me as a student, it became clear that my passion lies in education. Upon graduation I joined the staff of The Touchstones Discussion Project, a non-profit specializing in collaborative learning methodologies, where I ran discussion groups with inmates at the Maryland House of Corrections and The Juvenile Detention Center in Baltimore. In 2008 I became the Director of School Programs for Touchstones in charge of teacher training and program development. Over my time with Touchstones I had the honor of working with thousands of teachers and professionals from around the world including Brazil, Haiti, Burma, and Jordan, where I spent two weeks in 2010 as a consultant to the Ministry of Education.

At Headwaters, I have held the roles of High School Humanities teacher, Social Studies Department Lead, Dean of Culture, and Head of the Middle School.

Hilda Reilly, Spanish Guide


I love the Spanish language and have been teaching it for over 20 years. I have been a foreign language instructor in different settings: universities, private, charter and public schools in Mexico, Ecuador, and the United States. Through these years the driving force has been to see my students experience the language and succeed at being proficient in Spanish. I was born in Monterrey, Mexico, and my undergraduate work is in Spanish Literature from Tecnológico de Monterrey. I received a Master’s Degree also in Spanish Literature from Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León and a Master of Arts in Hispanic Linguistics from the Ohio State University. For this academic year, I am thrilled to join Headwaters because the commitment to foster the personal growth of individuals in a global community resonates with my personal beliefs.

Mike Stavitz, Music Guide


As a 9-year-old, I watched a 6th grader named Dave Coniglio play “Wipeout” on the drums in the school concert, and I was hooked. Dave later became my first teacher, college roommate and best friend. After realizing as a middle schooler that playing shortstop for the New York Mets probably wasn’t in the cards, I focused on music. Growing up an hour north of NYC, I was lucky enough to get to witness and perform a lot of music there. After high school, I decided to further my passion at Berklee College of Music in Boston, where I earned a BA in Music Education in 2005. While in Boston I shoveled a lot of snow, played a lot of music, and met the woman whom I would marry. In Boston, I found my passion for bringing the same excitement and inspiration Dave and other teachers brought to me, by teaching music to students of my own. I was able to work as an outreach teacher for Community Music Center of Boston, co-teach percussion at a Puerto Rican cultural center with one of my professors, work with kids at a Boys and Girls Club, as well as lots of private instruction. I also got the the opportunity to join a great band and tour the country for the better part of two years. After pretending to be a rock star for a bit, my wife and I decided to completely uproot our lives and move to Austin in 2011. The snow literally followed us as far south as Memphis but we finally made it. I had the great honor of joining the amazingly talented staff at Armstrong Community Music School in 2011, and for the last 6 years have taught there, been involved with some of their many outreach programs, and joined the Austin music scene. In October 2015 my wife and I had our first child, Elliot. I will very likely show you pictures of him whether you ask or not.

I am extremely grateful and excited for the opportunity to be a part of the Headwaters community, and can’t wait to share my passion for all things musical with students and teachers alike.

Alex Thomas, Film Guide

AlexT a.thomas@headwaters.org

After receiving an MFA in Film Production from the University of Texas at Austin, I found a home at Headwaters in 2010. I’ve written, directed, produced and edited films that have played at South by Southwest, Austin Film Festival, Texas Black Film Festival, Austin Comedy Film Festival, and a few others. In 2013, I founded the Austin Youth Film Festival with another local film instructor, which allows all middle and high schoolers in Texas to showcase their work at the Alamo Drafthouse, compete for prizes up to $1,000, and meet inspiring filmmakers (including Richard Linklater!). Our film department focuses on learning about film through theory, history, and culture. We also make movies that have gone on to play nationwide at Alamo theaters, festivals, and on our Youtube channel “Headwaters Student Films.”  You should definitely subscribe to the channel and check out some of our music videos, documentaries, dramas, horrors, comedies, and experimental fare.

Sarah Youree, English Guide

FB_IMG_1466575363733 s.youree@headwaters.org

Reading and talking about books is by far my favorite pastime, so I see teaching English as a pleasure and a privilege. I earned a B.A. in Spanish and Communication from Southwest Baptist University and an M.A. in English Literature from Texas State University. I have been a teacher for more than 15 years, having taught middle school, high school, and university students. I have taught Spanish, English, and ESL at the secondary level. Recently, as a Senior Lecturer in the Department of English at Texas State University, I taught classes in American literature, rhetoric and composition, and teacher preparation. I also worked at Texas State’s innovative Writing Center. I love exploring the spaces in and among language, literature, and culture.

International travel has been an integral part of my life and my approach to the classroom. I have lived in Brazil, Costa Rica, and Spain for extended periods, and I have also been greatly influenced by long stays in Italy, Mexico, and Sweden. The many reasons I am drawn to Headwaters include the IB curriculum and our commitment to creating peaceful global citizens. This hopeful vision of the future is what guided me when I joined the Headwaters family in 2016.