Faculty/Staff

Administration

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 a total of 15 years in various 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 seventh school year at ACE Academy as the Director of Admissions and Programs.

Alison Reis-Khanna brings 20 years of experience with non-profit educational organizations. This is Alison's second year with ACE, serving as Director of Development and this year the Summer Wonders program. Throughout her career, Alison has worked with small and large non-profit organizations in Austin, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Grenada and South Africa. Prior to joining ACE, she worked at the Texas Education Agency supporting federal and state grant programs and was the Executive Director of the TX Partnership for Out of School Time. Alison completed her undergraduate degree at Denison University and holds graduate degrees from Brandeis University and Ohio University. She is a returned Peace Corps Volunteer, having served in South Africa. She loves exploring central Texas with her husband and first grade daughter.

Erin Peace is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Registered Play Therapist who specializes in helping students access their inner and external resources. Before joining the ACE community, she has spent the last seven years working in community mental health and with students at Communities in Schools, and she's honored that her journey has led her to ACE. When working with families, she provides strengths-based, trauma-informed, and solution-focused support for students pursuing their utmost potential. In her free time, you can find Erin eating yummy food, hiking throughout Austin, and spending time with her husband and daughter.

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.

A native of Scotland and a US Air Force veteran, Jol Walker is entering their fourth year at ACE Academy. While attending the University of Utah for a BA in psychology, Jol spent their spare time developing skills with computers and technology, eventually leading to a career in IT lasting over 30 years. Mx Walker has gone on to receive multiple IT ceritifications and accrediations including A+, NET+, MCSE, Linux+, CISSP, CISA, and Security+.

Lauren was adopted from Bogota, Colombia and moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota when she was four months old. She has been in Texas since 2010. Lauren has been a Jill of all trades, doing jobs from food and beverage to being a certified nursing assistant and an administrative assistant. She came to Ace Academy after working with the State of Texas, specifically from the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. She is a new mother to her son Declan. She enjoys learning languages and speaks French at the beginner level. She loves to travel.

Lower School

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.

Valerie moved to Austin from Boston, Massachusetts three years ago. She graduated from Emmanuel College with a Bachelor of Arts degree with a concentration in Elementary Education and became a licensed educator in grades 1-6. She has taught first grade for six years and has taught third grade for four years, and this will be her 11th year teaching elementary students. During her free time, she loves to travel, go to parks with her dog Russell, and spend time with my family and friends.

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. At ACE, she found her niche, and for the past three years has thoroughly enjoyed teaching gifted students and being a part of such a unique community. 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.

asca Shadix holds an MFA from the Michener Center for Writers. A produced screenwriter with a passion for language and communication, she decided to pursue her teacher certification after realizing that all of her extracurricular work and life experiences – martial arts instructor, English assistant in a French high school, PTA president and stay-at-home "mum" for 10 years in Edinburgh, Scotland – revealed a love of working with children. She is the mother of two gifted daughters whose school experiences inspired her to pursue a career in gifted education at ACE..

Upper School

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. He also serves as a regional and state judge for the annual National History Day competitions in Central Texas.

Jennifer Sturley earned her BA in Education & Child Studies and Theatre from Smith College in Northampton, MA. Since then, she has taught at the Blanton Museum of Art, Trinity Episcopal School, and St. Stephen's Episcopal School. When she's not teaching middle school, she's the artistic director of Past is Prologue Productions, a Shakespeare theatre company. 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.

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.

Sowmya Srinivasan is excited to join the ACE community this year. She has been a high school math teacher in Philadelphia, PA for the last three years and loves working with students. Outside of school, Sowmya enjoys reading, music, and spending time outdoors with her family.

Tara is a recent transplant to Austin, Texas. She was born and raised in the Bay Area of Northern California. After the birth of her first daughter, Tara decided that she wanted to go back to college to pursue a career in education. She went back with the intent to become an English teacher because she spent some time with her husband teaching English in Costa Rica. However, when she returned to Academia, she took a course on the History of women in the United States, and that is when she discovered her passion for the subject. With that in mind, she earned a BA in History along with a minor in Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies at UC Davis. She then went on to complete her Social Science Credential and Education MA at the UC Davis School of Ed. She has taught a variety of history subjects and age groups and has truly loved them all! When she is not in the classroom you might find her enjoying a concert, cooking vegetarian food in the kitchen, or hanging in the backyard garden with her little family.

Annette Harris is from St. Louis, MO. She has a lifetime teaching certification in science and english language arts and a love for all areas in the science arena. In her last year of undergraduate studies, Annette worked on a team to create a biological pesticide for local farmers in Nashville, TN. She spent her first year out of college, working as a botanist for the Shawnee National forest in Carbondale, IL. From there she worked as a chemist in a chemical manufacturing lab and formulated strips cleaners for Boeing 737 planes. She explored more opportunities in forestry as she coordinated the efforts in the Quality Control Lab and Environmental departments at a sand mine in Pevely, MO. Although, Annette loved working in the corporate world her passion surfaced when came she obtained a MA in teaching and went back to her alumna mater to spread her love of science to middle school children. Annette then recieved an Advanced Science certificate from Washington University in St Louis that focused on science curriculum and instruction. She is excited to take on the role of STEM instructor this year at ACE. In her free time, you will find her singing, baking, reading, writing books, spending time with her teenage son, or working out in her yard planting flowers and gardening.

Mr. Hawthorn comes to ACE from Magellan International School.
Over the last two years, he developed Professional Development(PD) and
Design Thinking classes with Patrick Benfeld. His classes are cross-curricular
and blend the five domains of coding, 3-D design, hardware,rapid prototyping,
and intellectual property. His students gain familiarity with a wide variety of
tools within each ofthe five domains in orderto become technology
generalists. Mr. Hawthorn has also served on the National Teacher Advisory
Councilfor Autodesk and was selected as one ofthe firstten Dremel Idea
Builder Ambassadors.

Before moving to Magellan School Mr. Hawthorn builtthe mechatronics
program at St. Raymond School in Menlo Park, California, which functioned as a
professional development hub forthe San Francisco Archdiocese and other
local and international schools. He also ran professional development
workshops forthe Tech Museum in San Jose and the Krause Centerfor
Innovation and has been a presenter atthe Minolta Planetarium.
Priorto teaching Ken worked on a wide range of original prototypes from a land
speed record-setting electric motorcycle to LSPR machines. He was awarded
the U.S. Patentfor a Fixed Pitch Continuously Variable Transmission. Mr.
Hawthorn was selected as the first Salzburg Scholarfrom the Connie L. Lurie
College of Education at San Jose State University. Mr. Hawthorn founded an
after-school introductory engineering program that served at-risk students in
17 school districts in the San Jose area for over a decade.

Foreign Language

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.

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!

Fine Arts and Electives

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!

Carole Dostie is a French native speaker with a B.A. in French from University Laval, Quebec and an M.A. in Spanish Literature from Laval University/Cordoba University, Argentina. Her 26 years of experience teaching languages and literature has spanned public, private and international schools where she has guided students with differing abilities and expectations.
She worked as a literature teacher, language specialist, curriculum builder and dedicated her last 11 years to working passionately with younger children. Her natural ability to communicate, strong organizational skills, contagious enthusiasm and flexibility at adapting to children and parent’s needs are all skills that she is honored to share with ACE Academy. She is very passionate about teaching, literature, poetry, music, cooking and dance.

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.”

Jackie Hinson graduated from the University of Texas with a BA in English and a Latin minor. Her eight-year career in public education ended when she became a foster parent and had her first book published in the same year. After releasing five books through traditional channels, she formed her own publishing company and now enjoys the freedom of an independent label. On the side, Jackie is a freelance line and copy editor, helping authors from newbie to bestseller polish their prose. With any time she has left, Jackie loves to plan globetrotting adventures, watch movies with her teen daughters, and research obscure history for future books.

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.

Consultants, Specialists & Collaborators

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!

Patrick Benfield is the Co-Founder of co.lab // Community Makers, a non-profit fabrication lab and creative studio for innovators, artists, and designers from underrepresented communities. He is also the founding director of two independent school K - 8 makerspaces in the Austin area, the Lead Maker Mentor for The University of Texas at Austin UTeach fellowship, and a Thinkery EdExchange Senior Fellow. Patrick frequently presents on Making in education around the country at Stanford, MIT, and SXSW. In those rare times when he's not making and tinkering, Patrick plays music professionally around town with a group called McLemore Avenue and is also a Dungeons and Dragons (forever) DM.

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