Desiree has been a part of the ACE family for six years, her interest in the school began when she was looking for a place to enroll both of her gifted children. Upon enrolling, she immediately immersed herself in the ACE community as a volunteer board member and as the president of the parent association. When the opportunity to be the ACE Head of Operations presented itself, she used her previous experience and knowledge from roles in the corporate sector to transition into that role. Over the last three years Desiree has used the operations role to strengthen and support the school through strategic planning, program management, and financial development.

Desiree will continue to support ACE Academy as the Interim Head of School. With the support of the community she will be leading the efforts to permanently fill the role with someone that will preserve the strengths and traditions of ACE while bringing the changes necessary to lead the school into the future of gifted education. Desiree is proud to be a member of the ACE community and is thankful to be a part of a mission that brings the joy of learning to gifted students.

Maria Selke is a brand new transplant to Texas who is originally from Pennsylvania. She has teaching certification in special education and elementary education and a master's degree from the University of Connecticut focused on teaching gifted learners. She spent her first year out of college teaching high school special education before moving to West Chester. In West Chester, she worked for six years as a learning support teacher and then was a gifted resource teacher for the last thirteen. Maria enjoys exploring every subject area, which is why she focused on elementary education. She is the mother of two gifted high school sons, one of whom is a senior this year. In her free time, you can find her reading, crocheting, cross stitching, or hanging about in her aerial hammock.
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Nicki Hollums was born and raised in the philanthropic city Austin, Texas where she fell in love with nonprofits. After obtaining her B.S. in Psychology at Texas State University, she was inspired by her direct care work with young girls at a residential treatment facility, where she quickly developed a deep passion for child advocacy. This resolve stuck with her through her graduate degree, leading her to pursue a M.A. in Forensic Psychology from Argosy University in Dallas. After working with multiple non-profit organizations, universities, and mental health organizations in a diagnostic and treatment capacity Nicki found ACE. Joining her variety of experiences and expertise, Nicki is able to welcome, support, and advocate for students and families as she embarks on her fourth year at ACE Academy as the Director of Admissions and Student Affairs.

Adia Dawn has 15 years of combined experience working with educators, children, and families in her hometown of Austin. She has spent the last 5 years working closely with school-based special education and personalized learning teams to provide strength-based interventions to help all learners meet their highest potential. Adia has received extensive training around supporting the social-emotional needs of gifted and twice exceptional learners. She believes in helping learners explore their personal strengths, understand their emotions, and develop coping skills to successfully navigate life's stressors. In her free time Adia loves hiking and being outdoors, cooking, and anything creative or artsy. She is excited to join the ACE community where she can continue to support unique learners and their families.


Alison Reis-Khanna has worked with small and large non-profit organizations in Austin, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Grenada and South Africa. She began her career as a Community and Education Volunteer with the U.S. Peace Corps. Since then, she has worked to ensure community support of education through grant writing, donor cultivation, and program management. Most recently she worked at the Texas Education Agency supporting federal and state grant programs. Alison completed her undergraduate degree at Denison University and holds graduate degrees from Brandeis University and Ohio University. She loves exploring central Texas with her husband and daughter and is thrilled to join the ACE community.

Jol was raised outside of Edinburg, Scotland and relocated to San Antonio, TX at age 13. He is a US Air Force veteran with experience in combat pararescue operations overseas. After receiving an honorable discharge, Jol attended the University of Utah for a bachelor's degree in Psychology. While attending college Jol spent his spare time developing his skills with computers and technology, eventually leading to a career in IT. He has gone on to pursue certifications for A+, Net+, and MCSE. With over 20 years experience in Information Technology, Jol is excited to expand his experience and grow with ACE Academy.

Lower School

Raised in the mesquite and prickly pear cactus that define the west Texas desert; observing horned toads and chasing roadrunners, Denise's love for nature evolved into a passion for science. After working in the corporate sector, she realized that office life was not fulfilling a deeply held desire to share her love for science and nature and a drive to do more for humanity. While volunteering at an after-school program, Denise discovered a talent for connecting with students and instilling true excitement for learning, and finally found her true calling, inspiring young people to understand how science informs lives and goes far beyond the four walls of a classroom.

After graduating in 2012 with a BS in science, and teaching certification in math and science from Western Governor's University, Denise jumped into the classroom. Her methodology focuses on STEAM based hands-on activities, research, and first-hand exploration to encourage students to make a connection with science. She has taught students of all ages, gifted and twice exceptional. She continues to strive and advocate for building each student's inner wealth and became NHA certified in order to better understand and help students increase self-esteem, motivation, and empathy.

In her spare time, Denise enjoys travelling and exploring with her husband, Tyler, and her very adventurous 4-year-old, Ody. She also volunteers with animal rescue and rehabilitation.

Leslie Dover earned a B.S. degree in Food Science and Technology from Texas A&M University. She began her professional career as a food scientist, working in the food-centric San Francisco Bay Area for over 15 years for consulting firms, large food companies and as an independent consultant. In 2015, after thoroughly enjoying time spent working with children at her daughter’s school, she embarked on a second career by pursuing her passion for teaching. Leslie has an inherent quest for knowledge and love of learning and is passionate about instilling these qualities in her students at ACE. She is the parent of two beautiful children, an avid runner, reader, lover of National Parks and likes to explore food halls in any city she finds herself in.

Tasca Shadix has a BA in Radio-Television-Film and an MFA from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas. A dual citizen of the USA and the UK, she is a produced screenwriter with a passion for language and communication. Her diverse work experiences have included: martial arts instructor, French language assistant, magazine contributing editor, and stay-at-home “mum” for 10 years in Edinburgh, Scotland, where her involvement in her children’s schools made it clear just how much she loved working with young people.

She is the mother of two gifted daughters whose wit, creativity, triumphs, and struggles inspired her to pursue her teaching career.

Wanting to study robotics, Thea Eaton went to the University of Texas asking for a course degree in Computer Science and AI. At the time, there was no robotics program in place. She was sent to the Dean's office, and was tasked to set up UT's first robotics course. Free to select undergraduate and graduate courses, she took a mixture of computer science, electrical engineering, cognitive science, artificial intelligence and machine code and child psychology courses. After college, she worked as curriculum developer for several different educational publishers such as Harcourt School and Pearson Education. As part of e-learning efforts she completed an animation course at Pixar Studios in 2D animation to aid in the creation of engaging e-learning materials for children. Working closely with Adobe, she also authored several different tutorials in making e-learning materials accessible to children with disabilities. After her son was born, she got involved in teaching the local gifted community and made curriculum and lesson plans for gifted students.

Katie grew up in a military family, which set roots in San Antonio. She graduated from Stephen F. Austin State University, receiving a degree in Communications DBA with an emphasis in Photojournalism and International studies. While in college Katie did a summer abroad in Slovakia, she has always loved visiting new and different places. After graduating Katie took what she thought would be a temporary job at the YMCA and soon realized that working with children was something that she loved. She stayed at the YMCA for 7 years ,became a Site/Camp Director and has worked with hundreds of children all over Austin from all different economic and cultural backgrounds. Katie is excited about the prospect of someday getting her teaching certificate and having a classroom of her own. Katie loves to make people smile and isn't afraid to be silly.

Mckenzie is a new Austin resident who recently graduated from Penn State University with a Ph.D. in English Literature. Her dissertation focused on representations of intimacy in early modern British literature. During her seven years as a graduate assistant, she served as a writing and literature instructor, an undergraduate writing tutor, and a graduate student writing consultant. She also filled administrative positions as the Graduate Writing Center coordinator and a Public Writing Initiative fellow, both of which provided her with opportunities to expand students' access to writing support and emphasize the importance of writing skills in their lives and careers. When she isn't busy sharing her passion for reading and writing with anyone who will listen, Mckenzie spends her time hanging out with her two adorable dogs, baking pies, and going on biking and hiking adventures.

Upper School

Originally from Chicago, Adam Soto earned a BA in Art History from Knox College and an MFA in English from the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. A former Michener-Copernicus Fellow, Adam's writing has appeared in numerous literary journals. He joined ACE in 2013 as a Red Pod TA and has since taught ELA, Creative Writing, and literary seminars to ACE students 5th grade-12.

With emphasis on connecting rigorous reading materials to social and historical contexts, and exploring language and writing through the need to communicate, Adam attempts to make ELA an important aspect of every student's life. ACE's goals to nurture and inspire, to confront difficulties with grit and integrity, yield a perfect learning and teaching environment for our community's unique students and faculty.

ACE is where our community's giftedness turns into the gifts we offer others, a place where Adam is proud to give and help others learn to give too.

Anna Deripaska is a science educator who works towards changing the relationship between science and the public. By creatively sparking and engaging in that relationship, she believes that most of us will be more interested in science than originally giving ourselves credit for. Anna has taught since 2014, focusing on middle school science. She has experience teaching high school level chemistry and physics as well as university level general, organic, and biochemistry. Throughout her university and professional career, Anna was an LSAMP Scholar, awarded the Cooper Science Award, and led and participated in scientific outreach with the ACS and various teaching organizations. Anna's curosity led her to take the scenic route through college, earning her Bachelor of Arts in chemistry, architecture, and science education from Ball State University.

Jennifer Sturley earned her BA in Education & Child Studies and Theatre from Smith College in Northampton, MA. Since then, she has worked as a gallery teacher at the Blanton Museum of Art, as a first grade teacher at Trinity Episcopal School, a dorm parent at St. Stephen's Episcopal School, a Red Pod TA at ACE, and in many different roles in many different theatre organizations. Her independent feature film adaptation of Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost had its Texas premiere in the spring of 2018, and her production of Macbeth at the Driskill Hotel on Halloween 2018 was recently featured in American Theatre Magazine. She is so thankful to be able to share her love of literature and interdisciplinary education with ACE Upper School, and to get to work with such amazing students and teachers every day! In addition to teaching, she loves reading, cooking, art, and theatre.

Charmaine Price earned an Honours and Masters degree in Mathematics Education from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, and a Bachelor's degree in Education, specializing in English and Mathematics, from the University of South Africa. She completed her teacher certification in high school mathematics through Huston-Tillotson University in Austin and was certified in Mathematics 7 - 12 in 2016. She began her career teaching Sanskrit part-time to young students at a specialized day school, then moved into full time mathematics teaching at a small private high school and finally a large public girls' school, all in Johannesburg.

She moved to Austin in 2015 and joined the ACE community where she loves helping students reach their considerable potential in mathematics.

Mr. Rahmeier hails from the glorious east coast and specifically from the First State itself - Delaware. He began his teaching career in ESL (English as a Second Language) in Nashville, TN shortly after completing his undergraduate degree in history from Vanderbilt University. Having been bitten by the teaching bug, he proceeded to Atlanta, GA where he taught high school history for many years and became involved with the educational programs run by Atlanta's Breman Jewish Heritage Museum (through which he was awarded his Lerner Fellowship).

During his career in Atlanta, Dubai UAE, and Austin, Mr. Rahmeier has taught courses in history, geography, economics, and mythology, always keeping the emphasis and responsibility on the students. A former cross-country and track coach, Mr. Rahmeier is an avid runner and swimmer and can found in various places around the city either pounding out the miles or adding up the laps.

Fine Arts & Foreign Language

Bethany Rhoades graduated from University of California, Irvine with a BA in Drama. During her time in Los Angeles she spent three years at Second City Hollywood, which culminated with acceptance into their Conservatory. Ms. Rhoades sharpened her stagecraft with mentors like W. Morgan Sheppard of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and Kerrie Keane, becoming a member of the Actor's Gymnasium and White Buffalo Theater Company. She studied with many voice over coaches, which lead to professional representation and a body of work.

She earned professional writing and producing credits for film, including an adaption of best selling author Tad William's novel, "Tailchaser's Song." She brings enthusiasm for performance and creativity to her role as teacher!

Paul Pollini holds a Bachelor's of Music-Jazz & Contemporary Music from the University of Maine at Augusta. He started teaching music while in high school and has taught students ranging in age from 4 to 89. Paul’s style of teaching is holistic, emphasizing technique, reading, ear training, and improvisation, to foster whole brain thinking and facilitate creative expression. Paul founded The Perpetual Motion Machine (Portland Phoenix's Best Jazz Group in Maine - 2002) collaborating with Trumpet player, Don Stratton (whose credits include Charlie Parker, Max Roach, and Billy Taylor). Relocating to Austin in 2003, Paul has performed with numerous groups, opened for BB King, Oteil Burburage (of The Allman Brothers), Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam, and The O’Jays. He is a member of AFM, Local 433 and currently performs in the duo 18 Karat, an award-winning variety band, Caboose (Wedding Industry Experts #1 Live Band in the World - 2016).

Liz Reeder owns Studio E Austin, a small performing and technical arts school. Her work has screened at festivals including Tribeca, SXSW, Paris Filmapalooza, and Cannes. She has received directing honors and her work has been seen on screens large and small, from NBC and PBS. She is a three-time winner of "Best Director" in Austin and was recently nominated for best Educator/Acting Coach by the Austin Ad Federation. Studio E’s students are now working throughout the world on both sides of the camera, including Chris Zylka (“The Leftovers”), Dalton Gray (“American Horror Story”), Alessanda Manon (“My Crazy Ex Girlfriend”), and Ryan Lee (“Trophy Wife”). Reeder is former President of The Austin Alliance, Austin's coalition of professional agents, casting directors and coaches.

Prior to opening Studio E, Liz was (among other things) a senior executive for “The McLaughlin Group,” an attorney at NASA (Johnson Space Center), a jury consultant, a script development executive at Orion Pictures Corporation, a social analyst for the Colorado Airspace Initiative, Assistant Attorney General for the State of Texas, and a pretty busy performer in stand-up comedy, musical theater, and of course, film.

Lina was born and raised in Kaunas, Lithuania. She was recruited to Washington State University in 2005, completed Bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology and Movement Studies. Lina competed at four Pac-10 championships, WSU top 10 athlete, All American Top 50 athlete and a record holder. Lina has over 16 years of competitive swimming experience and over 12 years of Strength training and Conditioning. She has been an assistant swim coach at WSU, Texas State University triathlon coach, Swim Coach and PT at Barton Creek Country Club, Head Swim coach for St. Michael's Academy.

Lina holds Fitness Specialist and Personal trainer certificates since 2005 and has a Master’s degree in Sports and Exercise Science and PE, Texas State University. Lina believes that “Movement is a medicine for creating change in a person's physical, emotional, and mental states.”

An Emmy-winning, 21-year veteran of the video games industry, Richie is CEO of the acclaimed boutique development consultancy Hyperkinetic Studios. Throughout his career, Rich has filled critical roles in leading design, production, and programming efforts. He has a passion for the process of game development and has a history of bringing together teams to achieve their goals. Before co-founding Hyperkinetic Studios, Rich was the Technology and Design Lead for an innovative games development division of Sony Pictures.

Alison “Ali” Reyes is a licensed and seasoned hairstylist and makeup artist living in San Diego, CA. Her formal education includes Cosmetology school and MUD (Makeup Designory) has trained her to forge a career path that crosses over many mediums. Miss Reyes is an active IATSE Local 706 union member who works with celebrities, weddings internationally, and is no stranger to the theatre (opera, Broadway) and films. She has also designed countless characters for SeaWorld Adventure Park San Diego. In her free time, Miss Reyes enjoys spending time with her 2 chihuahuas, drawing/ painting, and elevating her craft anyway she possibly can.

Jackie Hinson graduated from the University of Texas with a BA in English. She is a sought-after line editor for popular fiction as well as the author of six published novels. A former public school English teacher, Jackie loves sharing her passion for the English language and all its fascinating quirks. Her classroom is student-focused with an emphasis on meeting learners where they’re at to help them grow as thinkers and artists.

When not writing, editing, or teaching, Jackie loves to travel, read urban fantasy, and study ancient history and mythology (she aims to be Rupert Giles when she grows up). Her household includes her hero of a husband (he researches renewable energy), two amazing teens, and three cats who didn’t get enough treats last night. Just ask them.

Susana Lobo is a passionate teacher who enjoys impacting the development of children by exposing them to a Spanish language in their native language. Susana began her career in education six years ago, came to Austin from her home country in Spain, since there is not a single day that surprises with the potential of the "brain sponges" of young children, "a hundred times more rewarding than a balance spreadsheet".

After spending more than a decade in finance in IT services, Susana understands what is the right balance between teaching language skills and self-esteem. "It does not make sense to create perfect students if they do not believe firmly in themselves."

Susana has a degree in Economics from the Complutense University of Madrid and the European University of Madrid.

Yanyu is a native Mandarin Chinese speaker. She has been in America since 1998 and received a B.Eng. in Electrical Engineering and Automation from Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics. She loves classical Chinese literature, world history, and world geography. She enjoys life with her husband and son. Yanyu loves reading and listening to music in her free time. She is honored and excited to be the Chinese language teacher.

Julia Bao graduated from Shanghai University. She received her B.S. degree and certificate in International Business. She has been a Mandarin teacher at a Montessori School and Canyon Creek Elementary after school club in RRISD. She is a wife and mom to 2 wonderful boys, 18 and 14, and has a cute dog, Scooter. who is 4 years old. Julia likes Chinese food, Korean food, Sushi and sweet potatoes. She enjoys listening to violin and cello music, traveling, reading, and hanging out with fun people. Most importantly, she loves teaching kids!

Nathali grew up in Lima, Peru, Caracas Venezuela, and the US. After studying translation and interpretation in Lima and realizing how much she enjoyed the classroom interaction with students, she obtained her TESOL certificate, and the adventure started 30 years ago. She has taught in South America, North America, and Western Europe to students of all ages and geographies among whom she remembers a KPOP star, politicians, Michael Jackson staff and crew in Peru, and a Brazilian Olympic swimmer. Having fun in her class is a key piece of her methodology. She is a passionate "foodie" and a world traveler.

Consultants & Specialists

Shonna received her B.A. in English and B.A. in Linguistics from The University of Texas at El Paso. She received her M.A. in English from The University of Texas at Austin. After completing her training in Take Flight: A Comprehensive Intervention for Students with Dyslexia and receiving her license to practice by the State, she formed a joint practice and offices in north Austin. She works with students in public school, private school, and homeschool situations. In addition to her private practice, Shonna is also the After School Program Coordinator for the Dyslexia Center of Austin, a non-profit organization working to provide low-cost intervention services for underserved communities, and serves on the Board of Directors of the Austin branch of the International Dyslexia Association.

Rita Cooper is a graduate of the University of Texas and has been living in Austin since. She began teaching in Austin ISD in 2007 and is currently a C.A.L.T. in training at Murchison Middle School working with 6th-8th grade students.

She taught ESL and Bilingual/Dual Language Kindergarten and First grade for a total of 12 years. While teaching in the primary grades, she noticed that there were many students who struggled with the foundations of reading and sought out training to find a different approach to meet the needs of those students that could not be reached with conventional teaching strategies. She went through a Master Reading Teacher Certification Program through Region 13 where she took an interest in dyslexia.

This summer, Rita began the process to become a Certified Academic Language Therapist (C.A.L.T.) through the Dyslexia Center of Austin. This program uses Take Flight curriculum, which is written by the staff of the Luke Waites Center for Dyslexia and Learning Disorders at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children. She is passionate about helping students reach their reading potential.

In her spare time, Rita loves to spend time with her family and loves to relax by reading and taking care of her plants. Rita is excited to be able to support students and their families in the ACE community!