Dr. Elizabeth Adams, Principal
Dr. Elizabeth Adams has been an educator for 16 years. She began her career teaching in Lawndale, CA for nine years. She then joined the VCES family in 2013 as a founding 5th-grade teacher. She immediately appreciated the community and collaboration among the teachers. After teaching 5th grade for five years, she became VCES' reading specialist, which allowed her to work with students across all grade levels. In her out of classroom role, she has also been the coordinator of professional development for teachers and she took on numerous school-wide responsibilities, such as writing our most recent charter renewal. Elizabeth earned her doctorate in educational leadership from California Lutheran University. As a part of her dissertation titled Redefining Family Engagement for Immigrant Latino Families, she interviewed families to better understand the multitude of ways that they contribute to their children's education. In addition to her doctorate, she has a master's in child and adolescent literacy, a reading specialist credential, and an undergraduate degree in liberal studies from Loyola Marymount University. When not at work, she is often doing puzzles or attending car-related events with her husband and two young sons.
Carolyn Yaffe, Executive Director
Carolyn has been an educator for 22 years and throughout her career has focused on promoting equity of opportunity and outcomes for all students. Carolyn began her career as a high school English teacher in the Bronx, NY in the late 1990s. In 2006, Carolyn founded the Academy for Young Writers (AFYW), a small, project-based 6-12 school located in Brooklyn, New York. Under her leadership as principal, over 90% of AFYW students graduated and were accepted to college. After serving as a principal, Carolyn became the Executive Director of School Quality for the New York City Department of Education, where she oversaw school quality and principal practice evaluations across 1,700 schools. Most recently Carolyn served as the Chief Executive Officer of School Empowerment Network, an education non-profit focused on new school design, leadership development, and school quality evaluations. Before joining Valley Charter Schools as the executive director, Carolyn served on the board for two years. Carolyn holds an undergraduate degree from Boston University, an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland, and a degree in educational administration from Baruch College. Carolyn enjoys exploring Los Angeles with her husband, son, and daughter.
Carolina Merino, Office Manager
Having previously worked at a charter school, Carolina knew that accepting an administrative position with a start-up charter would be a lot of work, but she was ready for the challenge. Reflecting back, Carolina says, “I was eager to help build a school, see it grow and succeed. I was looking for a second home and a family that would take the time to go above and beyond to guide children into a successful future.” Born in San Salvador, El Salvador, she grew up in Sylmar and attended California State University, Northridge where she earned a BA in both Psychology and Child and Adolescent Development. Carolina is a caring and devoted mother, and when she is not at work she loves spending time with her family and visiting new places with them.
Andrea Guereca, Office Assistant
Andrea is a native of the San Fernando Valley and joined the VCES office staff four years ago. She loves working with Valley Charter staff and families. Andrea is pursuing an undergraduate degree while working full-time.
Grade Level Teachers
Kristin Nicole Rivera
While many kids dream of being a veterinarian, firefighter, or ballerina, Kristin knew from a very young age that she wanted to be a teacher. In fact, she has memories of enlisting her little brother to play the student so she could play the teacher. The Los Angeles native, who grew up in Santa Clarita, received her Bachelor of Psychology from Chapman University and her Master of Education from Loyola Marymount University. Prior to joining VCES, Kristin held various positions working with children, including at Kumon Math and Reading Center. Kristin loves being a part of the VCES community, which she considers family. She especially loves being in the classroom. She feels being a teacher motivates her to be the best she can be. This is also her goal for her students: to not only do their best but be their best. When Kristin isn’t teaching or prepping a lesson, she enjoys singing and traveling. She also likes exploring the many different cuisines available in Los Angeles.
Jessica Bennett is a founding educator of VCES, a school, she says, that allows for the type of familial community that she can call home. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Jessica comes from a family of educators and says that there has never been a question in her mind about what she wanted to do with her life--as early as the age of three she wanted to be a teacher! She received a BA in Sociology from UC Berkeley and then graduated with a teaching credential and a Master’s Degree in Elementary Education from Stanford University. Before joining VCES she was a preschool teacher at Maggy Haves. Jessica jumped at the opportunity to join VCES because it embodies a teaching philosophy that commits to teaching the whole child and values the social and emotional development of each child. She is grateful for the opportunity to work with children in a role in which she is regularly challenged and that allows her to continue to learn and grow as an educator and as a person. When asked what she loves most about teaching, she says, “I love the children. I love learning from them and with them, and I love watching them grow, explore, experience the world, and create things.” Her students love her right back!
A member of the inaugural teaching team at VCES, Jennifer Melyan reflects on the school and notes, “such a positive environment where everyone’s passion is constantly improving their practice!” Jennifer earned a Bachelor of Arts from Oberlin College, majoring in East Asian Studies with a minor in History, and then went on to earn her Master’s in Elementary Education from Loyola Marymount University. Prior to joining VCES, she taught fourth grade for two years with Teach for America in Lynwood. She is attracted to the teaching profession because she enjoys working with children and also wants to be in a field where, rather than just take, she could actively contribute something positive to society. She finds it especially rewarding watching her students make breakthroughs in their learning and progress both academically and socially throughout the school year. In addition to teaching, Jennifer also has a passion for travel and adventure. Perhaps because she was born and raised in Taiwan and spent her childhood abroad in Taipei and Kaohsiung, Jennifer makes it a life goal to take at least one trip a year and challenges herself to always attempt something new. In addition to teaching first grade, Jennifer boasts the proud position of resident Taiko instructor.
One of six founding teachers, Kris Nakano knew from day one that VCES was where she wanted to be. Above all, Kris appreciates the philosophy of VCES and the creativity afforded to the staff to make a curriculum that is interesting and engaging. It is not surprising that Kris chose a career as an educator. Her mother was a first-grade teacher and a huge inspiration to her. Growing up in West Los Angeles, Kris loved to help out in her mother’s classroom and throughout high school often volunteered in preschool classrooms. She graduated UCLA with a BA in Asian American Studies, then enjoyed a career as a florist before earning a California State Teaching Credential at California State University Northridge. She started her career student teaching second grade at Westwood Charter School and continued with the school for 10 additional years teaching both first grade and a first-second multiage class. Kris loves watching her students grow, hearing about their lives, and listening to their discussions. What she finds most amazing is, “that moment when a child understands something for the first time,” and she feels fortunate to be part of that learning process.
The students in Anne Aronchick’s class are fortunate to have a teacher with 18 years of professional experience in the classroom. Upon receiving her credential from LAUSD’s rigorous training program, Anne honed her educational skills for 10 years at Topanga Elementary Charter School, teaching kindergarten and fourth grades, and at the UCLA Lab School teaching 8-10 year-olds (third and fourth grades). What may excite her pupils more is that she has a knack for making Queen of Sheba chocolate cake as a former pastry chef at Capri restaurant in Venice. Or the fact that in the 1990s she was a research assistant scouting for cacti and other desert plants for the seminal Biosphere Project 2 (a glass-enclosed ecosystem where people lived together as an experiment for future space colonization). Or even that she knows how to draw Drosophila species (fruit flies) or that she was an agricultural expert that helped farmers grow cantaloupe organically (ask her for the best recipe for a non-toxic bug spray). Born and raised in Tucson, Arizona, Anne earned a degree in creative writing and completed her coursework for a master’s degree in art history, both at the University of Arizona. She spent her childhood in the field with her father, a professor of evolutionary biology, learning about inter-connections and deciphering the world around her. Now she wishes to teach her own students with the same project-based approach as valued by her father and by VCES. Anne became a teacher to inspire lifelong learners and leads by example for her students.
Emily Garner, born and raised in Simi Valley, CA knew from a young age that she wanted to become a teacher. Growing up around her mother who has been an educator Emily’s entire life helped plant that seed and greatly influenced her path to education. Emily received a Bachelor of Science degree from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Emily chose to attend Cal Poly for their well-rounded pre-teaching liberal studies program and the university's educational philosophy, “Learn by Doing”, which aligns with the values and constructivist approach we hold at VCES. In addition to the “Learn by Doing” philosophy, Cal Poly’s Liberal Studies program is in the College of Math and Science and provided Emily with a strong foundation in STEM education through rigorous math and science instruction. During Emily’s time at Cal Poly, she had numerous opportunities to work in elementary classrooms through her coursework where she could put what she learned into practical use. After graduating from Cal Poly, Emily continued her educational career at the University of California, Santa Barbara where she earned her Master’s degree in Education as well as her multiple subjects teaching credentials. During her year at UCSB, Emily worked in both a first and third-grade classroom. Throughout her college experience, Emily had the opportunity to work in a variety of grade levels, schools, and districts. She learned through these experiences that she has a passion for the primary grades and couldn’t be happier with her second-grade placement at VCES. Emily is excited to join the VCES community and feels like it is a dream come true to find a school that aligns so nicely with her own personal educational philosophy.
Impressed with all that VCES established in its first year, Mary Allen joined VCES in the fall of 2011. Born and raised in the Los Angeles area, Mary Allen knew from an early age that she wanted to be a teacher and went on to earn her undergraduate degree in Elementary Education and Master’s degree in Child and Adolescent Literacy from Loyola Marymount University, and a California Reading Certificate. Mary has been teaching since 2004, starting her career at St. Jerome Elementary School, and then spending several years at Carlthorp Elementary School before joining VCES. Her experiences teaching Kindergarten through sixth grade in a small group, whole group, and one-on-one settings have instilled in her a firm belief that children learn best in an environment that allows them to construct their own knowledge. She was drawn to VCES so that she could teach in a place that was founded on that constructivist philosophy. What she loves most about teaching is watching “light bulb” moments in her children. Her goal is to ensure that every one of her students leaves her classroom with a love for learning and reading.
Born in Dallas, Texas, Lauren Schauer grew up in Northridge, California. She attended CSUN and received a BA in Liberal Arts, Concentration: Mathematics, a Multiple Subject Credential, and a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction. Prior to joining VCES, where she initially served as a Teaching Assistant in Jessica Bennett’s Kindergarten class, Lauren worked as a substitute teacher and a nanny. She is a teacher because “It’s who I am... a magical profession. I get to be a scientist, a nurse, a coach, an actor, and a friend. I get to make an impact in a child’s life and grow from every new and exciting experience. It’s amazingly challenging and so rewarding.” Lauren enjoys editing video, music, volleyball, arts and crafts, and cake decorating.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Keana Barrios always knew she wanted to work with kids. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology with a minor in Child and Adolescent Development from CSUN, while working at a Kumon Math and Reading Center and at VCES as a Teaching Assistant in Janelle Manus’ fourth and fifth-grade classes. After 4 ½ years as a TA, she went back to school to receive her Master’s Degree in Teaching and Multiple Subject Credential at Chapman University. In her time at Chapman, she was able to work in various educational settings to put theory and strategy to practice with students of all elementary grade levels. Her goal for her classroom is to get to know each student individually and guide them toward lifelong learning in the best way that works for them. In her free time, Keana loves going to Disneyland and concerts. She also enjoys singing, reading, and hand lettering. She is thrilled to be back in fourth grade at VCES!
Jessica Beal grew up in Norwalk, Connecticut, and moved to California in 2009. She attended the University of Redlands where she received her BA in Liberal Studies and Creative Writing, as well as her Multiple Subject Teaching Credential. She Student Taught at Mission Elementary School in Redlands, CA in a first-grade classroom. Jessica went on to Substitute Teach in the Conejo Valley Unified School District and Las Virgenes Unified School District. She then became a Teaching Associate at Citizens of the World Charter School, Silver Lake. At CWC she worked with two third grade classes, supported the after-school program, as well as ran a Social Emotional Learning club each day. After a year as a TA, Jessica was ready to move onto the next chapter and have her own classroom where she could teach a bright group of lifelong learners. In her free time, Jessica enjoys writing, playing with her dog Maggie May, spending time with loved ones, and watching Harry Potter. She is excited to be joining the VCES family!
Stacy Howerton grew up in Granada Hills, just a few miles from VCES. She studied English Literature at Loyola Marymount University and went on to get her Master’s degree in education at National University. She received her Library Media Specialist Certification through Northeastern State University. Prior to becoming a teacher, Stacy worked in public relations. She even did voice-over work at Nickelodeon. But she felt a strong pull back to school, which she says, “has always served as a second home for me.” Before joining VCES, Stacy taught various grade levels and subjects at both LAUSD and Jenks Public Schools in Jenks, Oklahoma. Stacy loves watching her students make new discoveries and is constantly inspired by their curiosity and joy. In her spare time, Stacy likes to sing and build Legos with her young son, swim, do yoga, and read. She especially likes reading fantasy fiction.
Janelle Manus wanted to teach since first grade when her “compassionate, creative, and innovative” teacher so inspired her that she knew her calling from that moment on. Born in Norwich, Connecticut, she grew up in Michigan where she also received her BA in Elementary Education, Concentration: Language Arts and Fine Arts from the University of Michigan. After acquiring her degree she worked as an arts specialist teaching Integrated Arts to K-4 at two different schools in Holt, MI. In this role, she taught a combination of visual art, dance, music, theatre, and technology collaborating with teachers to create integrated lessons that expanded upon classroom material. Janelle loves it when students discover something they are truly passionate about that will shape their entire lives. Her own passions include dancing, singing, running, reading, crafting, baking, and traveling. Drawn to the inviting and inspiring community at VCES, Janelle felt a part of the community from day one.
Specialists & Special Education Teachers
Gina Hairapetian, Physical Education
Coach Gina Hairapetian has been teaching and running physical education programs since she began her career at Woodland Hills Elementary in 1996. In 2004, Coach Gina started teaching P.E. at Serrania Elementary. That same year, she started running the P.E. program at Welby Way Elementary, where she continues to this day. The San Fernando Valley native comes to Valley Charter Elementary with a deep knowledge of physical education programs and getting children involved at all levels. She loves to put together creative, fun, and challenging activities for her students and enjoys helping them grow, thrive, and gain confidence. Coach Gina has also been the head softball coach at Chaminade High School in West Hills, California since 2004. Under her leadership, the softball team has won two CIF Championships. In her spare time, Coach Gina enjoys the beach, reading a good book, and spending time with friends and family.
Joe Tagnipes, Music Teacher
Joseph Tagnipes got his degree in Audio Engineering in 2018 from SAE Institute in Hollywood, CA. Music has been an important part of his life since 2000 and has enjoyed working with children since 2005. Notable roles have been Swim Instructor, PE Coach, STEM Enrichment Instructor, and YMCA Unit Camp Director. He has performed at the Hollywood Bowl, Rose Bowl, 2002 Winter Olympics at Salt Lake City, several tv and commercial spots, and an occasional instrumentalist for the local philippine dance troupe. Joe is also the Music Teacher at Burbank Arts Summer Camp for One World Rhythm since 2012 and continues to represent One World Rhythm throughout the year, teaching music at library workshops and birthday parties. When he's not teaching music, he works as an Audio Engineer. Notable projects include working with AJ Rafael, Ruby Ibarra, Los Angeles Filipino-American Cultural Arts, and Universal Studios' Halloween Horror Nights.
Freya Reisman, Special Education Coordinator
Freya Reisman is a native of Los Angeles and grew up in the Sunland-Tujunga area of the San Fernando Valley. She graduated from UCLA with a BA in Psychology and continued her studies at CSUN for her general and special education Teaching Credentials. She taught special education students in LAUSD in a self-contained classroom for 5 years and as a Resource Specialist Teacher for 23 years. After 28 years in the classroom, she returned to CSUN for her Masters’s degree in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies and her Administrative Credential. She then was given the opportunity to coordinate a college accessibility grant (A GEAR UP Partnership Grant between LAUSD and the U.S. Department of Education) at John Marshall High School and Virgil Middle School. For the next five years, she worked with students and families to support the path to post-secondary education and helped make going to college a reality for many who had not thought it was possible. In 2013 she returned to special education as an Assistant Principal, Elementary Instructional Specialist working with parents, teachers, and service providers to ensure that IEPs are developed and implemented so that students are supported to achieve their highest potential. Following retirement from LAUSD in 2019 and taking a year off, Freya has now joined the VCES team to continue working to provide support for students and families who require special education services.
Mary Hauck, RSP Teacher
Mary Hauck has been an educator for 36 years. After getting her BA in Multiple Subject Teaching at Cal Poly, Pomona, she started working for LAUSD in an elementary school in East Los Angeles. While teaching, she became interested in why some children struggled with learning while others did not. She continued her studies at Cal Poly pursuing a Master’s degree in Education. Her thesis was on right and left brain learning. She also obtained a Resource Specialist Certificate and a Clear Specialist Instruction Credential in Special Education: Learning Handicapped. She spent six months working in a Special Day Class in Eagle Rock and then transferred to working as a Resource Specialist Teacher. Along with working with children with learning disabilities, she also has been a gifted coordinator and has taught gifted classes after school. It has been a passion of hers to always be seeking ways to teach children who struggle in learning. With a belief that all children can learn given the right environment, tools, and approach, Mary is excited about joining the VCES staff. When not teaching she enjoys her two dogs, reading, gardening, and swimming.