Meet the Colorado Fellows

Troy Braley is the founding principal of Brady Exploration High School. Brady is an urban school that serves students who are highly at risk. Challenging why we do the things we do in education is at the core of innovation that happens at his school. After graduating as Chemical Physicist from Michigan State he soon realized that his passion was educating youth who were underserved. He has worked in vast spectrum of education ranging from internationally as Peace Corps volunteer, rural, private and public education, starting several school to a professor at Florida State University. Troy believes that schools are woefully behind in preparing students for their future and the solution lies in unleashing the potential of teachers. He imagines a completely different world of education than what we have had for the last 200 years.

James Chamberlin is a life long learner with a passion for project based learning and authentic student engagement. James has served as a high school Spanish and social studies teacher, high school principal, middle school principal, elementary principal, district office administrator and adjunct college professor. His specialty areas are assessment techniques, curriculum and instruction as well as the psychology of learning. James was named 2015 SHAPE Colorado Administrator of the Year. James enjoys backcountry skiing, mountain biking, hiking, camping and coaching soccer.

Rebekah Cook has been teaching mathematics at Skyline High School since 2002. She received her bachelor's degree in Mathematics and Environmental Studies and began her career working as a data analyst at NOAA in Boulder, Colorado. She then served in the U.S. Peace Corps for 3 years as a teacher in a secondary school in Namibia, Africa. There she discovered her passion for teaching and curriculum development and has been teaching ever since! In 2014 she received her master's degree in Multicultural Education and Second Language Acquisition in Secondary Content Classes. Through out her studies she consistently found herself questioning and exploring how to help students find relevancy and agency in learning mathematics and has since created projects and lessons that connect students to real-world issues and situations and mathematics while developing 21st Century Skills.


Paul Freeman has been principal of Glenwood Springs High School for 12 years. The school has twice won the Colorado Governor’s Distinguished Improvement Award. Paul visited Switzerland in 2016 to observe that country’s apprenticeship system. Drawing on lessons learned in Switzerland, his experience in the UK with the Business and Technology Education Council (BTEC), and in Malaysia with the Smart School project, Paul is committed to improving students’ real-life chances by bringing professional credentials to high-school students wanting to take their first steps into the world of work, whether they aspire to enter university or start an apprenticeship.

Gideon Geisel is from Pueblo, CO and has been an Assistant Principal at George Washington High School in Denver Public Schools overseeing Career and Technical Education for the last seven years. He has a demonstrated history of working in the primary and secondary education environments, having served as a Dean of Discipline and Elementary Special Education Teacher. Gideon is passionate at creating relationships and building rapport with partners across industry and institutions of higher learning. He believes deeply in providing all of his students with unparalleled access and opportunity to both a relevant Project Based Learning curriculum and through strong Work Based Learning engagement that will prepare them for success whether in college, career or community.


Vanessa Hayward, an English teacher at Fruita Monument High School, dedicates herself to creating a positive learning experience for her students, emphasizing student individuality and independent growth. It is through fostering relationships that Vanessa is able to encourage students to take risks and open doors to their thinking. Her students are typically a portion of the student body who have struggled to find their way in education. By empowering these students and showing them their hidden abilities, she is not only able to make a great impact on their academic lives, but also in fulfilling her goals as an educator.

Zeb Hayward is a High School Career and Technical Education teacher at Fruita Monument High School, teaching both Business and Information Technology. His love for technology and appetite to learn through self-driven inquisitiveness are what incites Zeb's excitement for teaching. It is Information Technology that has pushed Zeb to continue to learn and adapt through his AP Computer Science and Media Productions programs. Zeb teaches in each of his courses that the basic concepts of self-criticism, problem solving strategies, abstract thinking and perseverance are tools needed for students to succeed in the 21st century.


William Heldman, Ph.D. is an 11th and 12th grade computer science and cybersecurity instructor at Warren Tech, a career and technical education (CTE) high school in the Jeffco Schools district. He is a former Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE), Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT), and Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP). He has written 14 study guides predominantly in the Microsoft certification exam space, but also for Adobe and CompTIA exams. He enjoys teaching students programming, networking, security topics, electronics, and preparation for CompTIA certification exams. This is his third career, having come out of a 20+ year Information Technology (IT) career.


Donna Holley is a high school counselor at Yampah Mountain High School. She specializes in helping students discover their passions, then guides them through post-secondary planning to their career pathway. Donna is deeply invested in helping students make the transition from high school to college and career by providing valuable information and assistance with Career Planning, College Admissions, Test Preparation, Financial Aid and Scholarships. Her focus has been to help students be successful not only in school, but prepare them for their future. Donna is committed to students successfully developing career pathways, Individual Career & Academic Plans, and college and career readiness skills for the 21st century.

Phil Johnston is the STEM Coordinator at Central High School in Grand Junction, Colorado. He came to teaching after 15 years in private industry. His experience includes roles as telecommunication engineer, computer networking engineer and project manager, tech start up marketing director and business owner focusing on home building and land development. In the education field, his focus is on teaching the problem solving process and its application across all content to develop solutions to problems. Phil earned STEM teaching certification through National Institute for STEM Education and was the Colorado Technology Association 2017 Educator of the Year award winner.

Lauren Jones-Kaplan is the Manager of STEM at DSST Public Schools, a network of 13 charter schools in the Denver area focus on providing students with a STEM based education. Previously, she was a 1st grade teacher through Teach For America, a middle school science teacher, a science teacher coach, and founding administrator for a middle school in Boston, MA. Lauren is interested in how science assessment can be re-imagined to show students' ability to do science, not just reiterate what others have already discovered.


Courtney Kallas is a special education Transition specialist in Denver Public Schools working with youth 15 - 21 to develop & achieve their goals for after high school. This is her 12th year in DPS as a secondary special educator. By demonstrating that braiding resources, connecting professionals & leveraging expertise from industry + varied programming from her school district, the city of Denver, non profits, higher education and other entities is best-practice for youth, she wagers that access to opportunity will be more equitable & better matched for Transition age youth in her community. Implementing work based learning, community based learning & Universal Design for Learning in all learning spaces to ensure equity of opportunity for youth to demonstrate mastery are her passions in education.


Marie Kaufman is the teacher librarian at Skyline High School. Born and raised in South Florida, she received her BA in Literature and Secondary Education from Florida Atlantic University and then her masters in English from the University of Northern Colorado. She believes in the power of education to uplift, advocates for equity and inclusion, and thinks high school should be a place of exploration and discovery, where all students can realize success and shape their futures whether they look to career, college, or service. Next year, she will take on an additional role at Skyline, that of Futures Coordinator.


Ashley Martinez is an 8th grade American History teacher and athletic director at STRIVE Prep Green Valley Ranch. Her belief that students need to know their history so as not to repeat the mistakes of the past is what drives her teaching everyday. After graduating from Metropolitan State University of Denver she pursued a career in professional sports management but quickly realized her true passion was working with kids, so she turned to teaching. Now in her third teaching year she's excited to have taken on the challenge of teaching a PBL curriculum which has inspired more project based learning on her campus and within her network in several different content areas.

Jessica McCann is a 6th grade engineering teacher at McAuliffe International School (Denver, CO). Jessica earned a B.A. in Biochemistry/Molecular Biology from Hendrix College, and a Masters degree from Vanderbilt University in Biomedical Research. Her time working as a scientist researching frog development at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN made her dreams of being a scientist come true, but ultimately lead her to fall in love with teaching. In the Engineering classroom Jessica is energized by teaching all students the critical thinking skills they need to solve problems of the future as 21st century leaders.

Zachary McDowell is an Assistant Principal and CareerConnect Pathway Director at the West High Campus in Denver Public Schools. He has been an employee of DPS for 17 years in roles spanning classroom teacher to middle school principal. As a member of the Ritchie Program for School Leaders, Zachary researched and implemented high-leverage leadership practices which became the cornerstone for his leadership. Most recently, Zachary has worked to enroll and support high school students in the CareerResidency Youth Apprentice Program. He enjoys engaging in collaboratively discussions around innovations in education and dreams big for all of the students he supports.

Elaine Menardi is the STEM Coordinator at Denver Language School. She believes in the power of a growth-mindset and knows that the best learning happens when teachers and students see themselves as partners who explore questions and discover new ideas together. Curiosity and perseverance fuel her drive toward all things STEM where she frequently showcases the work of students via online media and video. Elaine is deeply invested in teaching design thinking to students and adults to strengthen their creative confidence and imagination to ensure a successful future for 21st century learners. After graduating from Colorado School of Mines, Elaine began her career as an electrical engineer.Working in Research and Development for the (then) Adolph Coors Company, she is listed among the team of patented inventors for a proprietary machine vision can identification system. Elaine holds a Master of Arts in Community Leadership from Regis University and designs learning opportunities to empower educators and student leaders. She is the Chief Innovation Officer at Colorado AeroLab, Inc., an educational non-profit network of blended learning centers focusing on bridging the gap between K-12 public education and postsecondary and workforce readiness.


Kate Newburgh is a Curriculum Specialist with Eagle County Schools. She began her career teaching Language Arts as a New York City Teaching Fellow and since then has served as an Academic Affairs Director and an Educational Researcher. She earned her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Denver with a focus on early-career teacher attrition. In her current position with Eagle County Schools, she works with teachers, teacher leaders, and administrators from all over the district to design, implement, and scale project-based learning.


Heather O'Brien is currently serving as the President of the Mesa Valley Education Association in Grand Junction, CO. She previously taught English Language Arts. She is deeply committed to the competency-based system her school district is currently transforming to and believes that helping students gain exposure to career readiness education is a central component to any competency based approach.


Jess Palffy is DSST’s Senior Manager of College Success. Prior to joining DSST, Jess spent the school year teaching in Colorado Springs with Teach for America, and summers working for the Aspen Institute in Aspen, CO. Jess graduated with her Bachelors in Government and International Studies from Colby College and Masters in Education Policy and Leadership from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Becky Peters is a Program Manager at the Innovation Center of St. Vrain Valley Schools in Longmont, CO, supporting and celebrating STEM integration in K-12 classrooms across the district. After careers in medicine, marketing, business, and education, Becky earned her teaching license and M.Ed in Curriculum and Instruction before teaching middle & high school math and science. Becky has had the opportunity to facilitate design thinking workshops and discussions with community members, students, and educators, and hopes to continue to iterate education to meet the needs of our learners and community.

Georgia Reagan is the Supervisor of Admissions, Recruitment, Concurrent Enrollment and Testing at Emily Griffith Technical College. She is passionate about education equity and college persistence and success. Originally from Nashville, Tennessee, Georgia relocated to Denver in 2017 to begin working with Emily Griffith Technical College, an innovative college that is actively breaking down barriers for students to receive a quality education. She received her Bachelor's of Arts in Spanish from The University of Alabama and her Master's of Arts in Hispanic Studies from Louisiana State University. Her experiences working in the non-profit, K12, and Higher Education institutions have prepared her to continue fighting for equitable education and job opportunities for all students.

Joe Saboe serves as Director of Strategy for DSST Public Schools. Joe is overall responsible for planning, strategy, expansion, partnerships, and pathways initiatives across 13 schools serving 5,300 students. Previously, Joe was founder and Director of Denver Public Schools CareerConnect, a nationally-recognized pathways program serving over 20,000 students across more than 70 schools. Prior to becoming an educator, Joe was an Infantry Captain in the United States Army. He was recognized as a Top 10 Denver Innovation Leader in 2016, and a Colorado Talent Champion of the Year Finalist in 2017. Joe holds degrees from Georgetown and Stanford.

Born in Madrid, Cristina Sanchez Serrano came to the United States 10 years ago to teach ESL in Charlotte, NC. For 10 years, she worked to serve high school students, specially ESL and special education. Cristina earned a masters degree in English, one in Equity (CU Boulder ) and one in Educational Leadership (CU Denver). For the last two years, Cristina has worked as an Assistant Principal and Career Technical Education Director for Denver Public Schools.

Alberto Sanz del Castillo is an 8th Grade Science teacher at Kepner Middle School. In addition to the development of the science curriculum, Alberto’s students are engaged in after school programs in which students launch personal projects and investigations. Alberto is originally from Spain where he graduated as an Architect from  the University of Alcalá. He moved to Colorado  four years ago.

Bret Thayer has been teaching social studies since 1995 and a certified Scrum Master since 2015. He is excited about educating teachers and students about how to incorporate IT methodologies such as Agile and Scrum into classrooms. Bret has presented Agile in the Classroom to both IT groups like Scrum Alliance (2018) and Denver Agile (2017) as well as to teachers at InnEdCo (2017) and ACT (2018) and will present at ISTE this summer. Bret sees Agile as a natural way for students to practice the 21st century skills employers want into PBL and STEM environments.

Terry Walderman is the proud Principal of Sobesky Academy, a k-12 school for special education students with significant emotional disabilities. After graduating with a Master's in Social Work. Terry realized she enjoyed being her own boss and spent decades owning and operating various businesses in NY. Terry and her husband then decided to move their five children to Colorado where she became first a special education teacher, then central administrator and now Principal. Terry is deeply passionate about helping at-risk young adults learn and practice the 21st century skills needed to become productive, happy and successful adults. 

Missy Wengert is a 7th grade English teacher at East Grand Middle School with 18 years of teaching experience at the middle school level. She has continued lifelong learning with graduate classes focusing on empowering and encouraging students in the classroom to take ownership of their learning. Missy is committed to working with her 7th grade team to develop project-based curriculum that challenges students to ask big questions about big problems that encourages them to gain skills of flexibility, inquisitiveness and persistence, while preparing to be 21st century learners.


Tracey Winey is the media specialist at Preston Middle School and Instructor at Colorado State University. Tracey is the co-founder of Engineering Brightness and the STEM Educator Symposium. She believes in helping people find and use their passions to make the world a brighter place. She is grateful to live in Colorado and finds inspiration through outdoor activities.