Faculty and Staff
MEET OUR FACULTY
BOB ALEI – MATHEMATICS
Bob grew up in Los Alamos and received his BA from UC San Diego and MS from Stanford University in electrical engineering. In 2000, after working as a software engineer in medical imaging and environmental data management, he decided to pursue teaching math. He began with pre-algebra and algebra in a public middle school in rural California. Since then, he has taught courses from Algebra through Calculus at both private and public schools. He has a passion for helping students discover the beauty and elegance of mathematics as one of many lenses into our world. He is excited to be working with the IB math program at Desert Academy.
RANDY BENNETT – Chairman, Performing Arts
Randy looks forward to his 8th year at Desert, where he has developed a dynamic theatre program. He has taught improvisation and comedy writing for over two and a half decades to over 2,500 students including George Clooney, Jon Lovitz, Julia Sweeney, Darryl Hannah, Phil Rosenthal (Executive Producer of Everybody Loves Raymond) and J.J. Abrams (“Lost,” “Star Trek”). His career started in the early years of The Groundlings where he was a performing member of that now legendary comedy troupe with Phil Hartman and Paul “Pee-wee Herman” Reubens. He ran The Groundling School of Improvisation for many years and opened Groundlings East in New York City, which is still operating under the banner of Gotham City Improv. He was a Hollywood talent agent in the early 80’s representing such talents as George Clooney, Kelly Preston, Lynn Redgrave, Cloris Leachman, Kirstie Alley, and Tom Selleck. As a LA theatre producer and casting director, he gave “first breaks” to Lisa Kudrow (Friends) and Peri Gilpin (Frazier), which helped launch their successful acting careers. He was also a television director on ABC’s Jam Bay, for Bunim/Murray Productions (Real World, Simple Life) and The Nanny for CBS. He graduated cum laude from the University of Southern California with a degree in Theatre Arts. Randy holds his IB certification in Theatre.
JESSICA CAVALLI – World Languages Chair, Spanish Instructor, C&S/CAS Coordinator, Personal Project Coordinator
Jessica has been teaching Spanish at Desert Academy since 2003 and is proud to be a Level 2 teacher in the school’s International Baccalaureate Programme. Jessica was raised in Santa Fe and graduated cum laude from the University of New Mexico with a BA in Modern Romance Languages. She holds a NM teaching license with an endorsement in Spanish as a foreign language, as well as the Diploma of Spanish as a Foreign Language (Nivel Superior) from the Instituto Cervantes of Spain. Jessica has also successfully completed the New Mexico Spanish Language Proficiency Exam (Prueba de Español) for bilingual certification. Additionally, she attended the Universidad de Alcalá de Henares (Madrid) Master’s level program in teaching Spanish language and culture. She has studied, worked, and lived in various parts of Spain, and travels frequently to Mexico where her family has a home. Jessica leads semi-annual student trips to Spanish-speaking countries, such as the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica, to realize service and outreach work. She is the faculty advisor for the Desert Academy Leos Club, a youth division of Lions Club International, as well as the school coordinator for community and service programs in the Middle Years Program (C&S) and Diploma Program (CAS). Jessica takes immense pride in the fact that her son, Cristian, was among the first graduates of Desert’s Diploma Program in 2010, and her daughter, Evelina, is also a “Desert baby” in the MYP.
JOCELYNE COMSTOCK – Science
In over 10 years of teaching, Jocelyne has had the opportunity to teach students from all walks of life, aged 13-20+ in a multitude of classes. She obtained her BA from the University of Hawaii at Hilo in Natural Sciences with a minor in Earth and Space studies. She has worked in some of the largest public schools in the state of Hawaii, an outside charter school in the state of Colorado, and at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colorado. She sets her standards high, and provides her students with a way to relate everyday life to the school subjects they learn through co-operative learning groups, hands-on lab work and research that delves more into subjects of interest for the students. She earned her MA in Earth Sciences with work directed in geology and astronomy. Jocelyne has published three articles, one referring to her master’s thesis and two regarding Astronomy and Math applications; she looks forward to writing new articles as part of this faculty.
JILL FELICE – Assistance Dog Training
Assistance Dogs of the West was founded in 1995 by Jill Felice, and has been an integral part of the Desert curriculum. Jill is a graduate of the Assistance Dog Institute in Rohnert Park, California. Dr. Bonita Bergin, the founder of Canine Companions for Independence, founded Assistance Dog Institute. The program is unique in its additional focus on the benefits for participating students, as well as for the recipient of an assistance dog. Student trainers enable Assistance Dogs of the West to train and place more dogs with recipients. Desert Academy students have trained dogs that have been placed to help individuals with multiple sclerosis, spina bifida, degenerative nerve diseases, and victims of accident, stroke, and war injuries. Jill is a graduate of the Assistance Dog Institute in Rohnert Park, California.
LIS GILBERT-DESMOND – Art, PE
Lis has been working for Desert Academy since 1999. She has taught Art, P.E., Social Studies and English. This year, she will be teaching art and P.E. In addition to her teaching duties, she will also coach cross country, track and help out as the assistant athletic director. Lis moved to Santa Fe in 1991 after graduating from St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY. She spent her first few years in Santa Fe pursuing outdoor interests as a raft guide, and as a skier services representative and expedition guide for teen trips in Montana and British Colombia. Lis is an avid tri-athlete and continues to race everything from 5k’s to marathons. When Lis is not running with the Desert runners, you can find her with her husband and young daughter.
PAUL HEDRICK – English
Paul hails from Albuquerque, New Mexico. He received his BA in English from the University of New Mexico and his MA from Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English. Paul is certified as an IB English Instructor. He began teaching in 1997 and joined the Desert Academy faculty in 2007. Despite his interests in science fiction and fantasy, comic books, gaming, Star Trek, film, and English literature, Paul likes to think he’s not the world’s biggest geek.
REBECCA JARAMILLO- Math
Rebecca was born and raised in Santa Fe. She received her BS in Math Education from the University of New Mexico. She is currently working on her MA in Curriculum and Instruction from New Mexico Highlands University and is also planning to receive an endorsement in Administration. She is passionate about working with young people, not only to help them become stronger in math, but also to have more confidence out of the classroom as well.
KIM KURIAN – Photography
Originally from St. Louis, Kim moved to Santa Fe in 1998 to pursue a new career in photography. Previously, Kim worked as a clinical registered dietitian in hospitals, mental health institutions, out-patient health and wellness clinics, and even at a maximum security federal prison. In addition, she taught nutrition and health education classes at Southern Illinois University while pursuing a Doctorate in Health Education. One semester she decided to take a class in black and white photography and as a result, changed her course of study mid-stream and has never looked back. Now, with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in photography, Kim teaches part-time and works as a freelance and fine art photographer. Outside of photography, her interests are being a homemaker, gardening, cooking, olympic style weightlifting, and hiking with her husband Greg and her dog.
LISA LINCOLN - Speech and Debate, Musical Theater, Music
Lisa received her B.A. in Communications with minors in English and Drama from the University of California, San Diego. She is the Artistic Director and Founder of Eldorado Children’s Theatre and Teen Players that began in 1999. Lisa graduated with the Estill voice training program certification, a college level voice teaching method, and studied voice in the Los Angeles area for more than 20 years with opera and musical theatre professionals. She has performed in at least 50 musicals, and directed and vocal directed more. Ms. Lincoln was on the Faculty of the Performing Arts Department at Santa Fe Preparatory School from 2006-2012 as vocal director and musical theater teacher for all musical theater classes, productions, and performances; At Prep, she also started the award winning Speech and Debate Team in 2008 and trained/coached the students in all events from debate, public speaking to acting events. She was the drama teacher for the Girl’s Ranch from 2005-2007, is the vocal teacher for all National Dance Institute’s vocal classes, summer intensives and in-school programs, and directed “A Chorus Line” for NDI’s advanced programs. She initiated, designed and implemented the 6th grade Shakespeare study & performance program at Eldorado Elementary School and has been a private voice teacher since 2002.
JENNA MARSHALL – Math, English
Jenna has the good fortune of teaching both math and English at Desert Academy, thanks to the liberal education she received as an undergraduate at St. John’s College. Math was her favorite subject throughout college, and she strives in her classes to convey not only the practical utility of mathematics, but also some of its beauty and abstract wonder. In addition to her bachelor’s degree, Jenna holds an MS in Science Journalism from Boston University. Jenna fell in love with teaching in Tokushima, Japan where she spent two years as a middle school English instructor. She has been teaching, tutoring, and doing educational writing since her return to the US in 2006. She is honored to be a new member of the Desert community.
NATALIE MARTINO – MYP Coordinator, Science
Natalie Martino grew up in Chicago and received a B.S. in Environmental Studies and Psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After her Peace Corps service in Ghana, she pursued her M.A. in Secondary Science Education at the University of New Mexico. Natalie taught in Santa Fe public and charter schools for six years, during which she also interned at the Randall Davey Audobon Society. Most recently, she was an IB Middle Years Programme science teacher and the Human Ingenuity and Environments Coordinator at an international school in London. She continually aims to connect students to their local and global communities through a 21st century, relevant, project-based curriculum. Natalie is delighted to be back in Santa Fe with her husband and son to pursue her love of travel, the outdoors, and do-it-yourself projects. Natalie is looking forward to sharing her experience with the Desert community.
GABRIELLA MASONI – French, Social Studies
Gabriella has lived in Washington, D.C., Paris and Rome. Educated in international schools, including l’Ėcole Active Bilingue, an IB school in Paris, Gabriella earned her BA in Art History at the American University of Paris with a minor in Art from Parsons Paris School of Art and Design. While living in Rome before moving to Santa Fe in 2009, Gabriella pursued her teaching career at Oxford Institutes as a certified ESL instructor. She also specialized in FFL and IFL, and taught at Rome International School, an IB K-12 school where she headed the art department, chaired the Cultural Education Committee and taught modern languages, humanities, art and art history. In 2003, she earned an MA in Humanities from California State University. Gabriella is an avid linguist, traveler and painter who loves outdoor sports and a good book. She has a wonderful husband who is an award-winning Italian film director, and two lovely daughters who constantly remind her that life is about living. Gabriella is a certified IB instructor.
JEFF MATHIS – Science, Mathematics, Math Chair
Jeff is excited about his third year at Desert where he teaches Chemistry, IB Biology and Algebra. Jeff has been working in Science, Math and Technology fields for over 20 years, either as a university instructor, in private industry, or teaching high school. He has a deep love for mathematics and the natural world, and really enjoys sharing this passion with children and teens. Jeff earned a B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Montana, was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship for study in West Germany, and received a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Colorado. He then did post-doctoral scientific research at the University of Utah in biochemistry and bioinformatics before working in private industry for eleven years as a scientific computer modeler and in the fields of bioinformatics, supply chains, and quantitative finance. He also has a Masters of Education with an emphasis on at-risk youth in secondary schools. Jeff is a certified IB instructor.
BRENDAN MCKINNEY – English, Philosophy
Brendan comes to Desert Academy from northern Virginia, where he taught History, Social Studies and English in a liberal arts high school. Brendan also taught English with the Peace Corps in Guinea, West Africa. He received his B.A. from St. John’s College in Santa Fe in 2001 and his Masters from Bond University in Queensland, Australia in 2007. Brendan is an avid reader and lover of music from bluegrass to jazz, and as a native of Maryland, he hopes one day to see the Baltimore Orioles restored to their former glory. He believes that reading well is a skill that comes with practice, just as writing well is, and that students who are able to do both are equipped to be inquisitive and confident learners in all aspects of life.
ROD MEHLING - Dean of School, IB History Teacher, Tennis Coach
Rod is passionate about helping young adults realize their full potential – in the classroom, on the athletic field, and in other walks of life. Rod has been teaching at Desert since 2005; in 2009 he also became part of the administrative team, first as Dean of Students, then as Head of High School, and currently as Dean of School. Rod earned his BA in History from the University of Wisconsin (Madison), holds his teaching certification from the State of New Mexico, and is an IB-certified History teacher. Rod is also TESOL-certified (Teacher of English to Speakers of Other Languages). Before coming to Desert, Rod taught at Monte del Sol Charter School. Prior to entering the teaching field, Rod spent 20 years in the healthcare communications field. From 1996-2002, he served as President of Catalyst Communications Inc., an award-winning firm that produced educational and advertising programs for doctors and patients.
SHEILA MILES – Chair, Visual Arts
Sheila is an artist who has been teaching for over 35 years throughout our country. She has held teaching positions in Montana and in Hawaii, in one room school houses and for the National Endowment for the Arts and Montana Arts Council. Sheila has been Director of the Provincetown Art Museum and Curator at the Yellowstone Art Museum. Sheila has a Masters in Painting and Drawing and has exhibited in over 300 exhibitions; 100 of her works are included in various public collections including the Federal Reserve Bank. She has also received the Gottlieb Foundation grant and a Montana Arts Council Fellowship. After a vibrant career in Montana for over 27 years, Sheila moved to Northern New Mexico, where she has been inspiring the creativity of Desert Students. You can view her work at www.artistmiles.com.
NATALIE PASSALACQUA – Athletic Director
Natalie received her BA in education from the University of Pittsburgh State. She was a 4-year letter winner in basketball and track & field, and captain of the basketball team. She placed all four years at the MIAA track and field conference championships and was awarded Outstanding Student Athlete. Natalie was a special education instructor from 2000 to 2004 in Kansas, and coached volleyball and softball. She receives great satisfaction from helping students achieve difficult goals.
PAT PREIB – 7th Grade Humanities, Administrative Assistant
Having grown up in Chicago, Pat pursued graduate work in Classics at the University of Texas at Austin and finished her MA in Liberal Education at St. John’s College. She has taught middle and upper school students in Latin, history, geography, physical education, English, and communications for nigh on 25 years. She has led backpacking adventures along the Pacific Ocean, into the Northwest woods, and into the canyons of the Colorado River as well as chaperoning academic trips to Rome, Italy and Nice, France. Pat helped launch an independent middle school in Seattle, serving as its Head of School for nine years, and has also served as Middle Scbool Director in Seattle, WA. She was delighted to return to Santa Fe in 2011 where she completed the MA program in Eastern Classics at St. John’s College and joined Desert’s staff the following year.
DANA RICHARDS – US History
Originally from Massachusetts, Dana lives in Santa Fe with his wife and two teenage children. Before Santa Fe, Dana lived and studied in Palo Alto, Santa Cruz, and Berkeley, California for more than 20 years. After more than 15 years of high school social science teaching, Dana founded two innovative high schools with an emphasis on ecological literacy and service learning. Dana has coached baseball and led backpacking and winter mountaineering trips. He has also directed nonprofit programs related to sustainable workforce development and ecological restoration. Dana’s local community development work includes the Eldorado School and Community Garden and forming the Sustainable Planning and Educations Committee within Eldorado’s governance structure. Dana is also an educational consultant, currently on contract to develop Santa Fe High School’s Academy for Sustainability. At Desert Academy, Dana teaches US History and helps develop the school garden.
JENNIFER SANDOVAL – English
Jennifer Sandoval came to Desert Academy this year with 15 years teaching experience. She received her bachelor’s degree in English Literature from the University of New Mexico and is currently working on her master’s degree through Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English. Jennifer has received teaching-related fellowships from Yale University and St. John’s College. She enjoys teaching English, and sometimes wishes she could just diagram sentences all day.
SCOTT SHUKER – Technology
Scott is delighted to expand his budding professional teaching career at Desert Academy. He received his BA in Fine Arts from UNM in December 2011 and began teaching as a substitute at Santa Fe Public Schools in the spring of 2012. He joined Desert Academy as a technology instructor in August and arrives with an extensive background in visual arts, radio and web broadcasting, print media, sustainable technology, and theatre. Since 1995, Scott has helped rebuild, reorganize and sustain the Lama Foundation, a spiritual, educational and retreat community in northern New Mexico. Scott subscribes to the adage that education is a journey, not a destination and seeks to learn as well as teach. He hopes to grow with the new Desert Academy well into the future.
FU-MEI TSAI – Chinese
Fu-Mei received her BA in Chinese Literature at National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan. She is a certified Chinese teacher in Taiwan and has taught Chinese in junior high school (grades 7, 8, and 9) in Taiwan from 1992 to 2002. She won her lottery Green Card and moved to the States with her family 2003. She has been teaching Chinese at Desert Academy since the 2006 school year. Fu-Mei took six of her DP Mandarin Chinese students to visit Taiwan during the 2011 spring break. Fu-Mei also teaches Chinese 111 & Chinese 112 at Santa Fe Community College.
LEAH WEED – US History
Leah majored in archaeology and history as an undergraduate at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, and will complete her Master of Arts in Liberal Arts at The Graduate Institute in Liberal Education at St. John’s College in December. She has worked as a fisherwoman in a Bedouin community in the Sinai, in agriculture on kibbutz in Israel, and as Director of Research for an independent film company. Since 1998, Leah has worked as an educator, teaching social studies, language arts, and theater arts to middle schoolers in Compton, California; language arts to students K-12 in Highland Park, California; and writing at El Camino College in Torrance, California. Leah is pleased to join the Desert Academy community and hopes to share her excitement about history with her U.S. History students.
CHRIS ZAPPE – Digital Media Arts
Chris received his BFA in Art and Technology from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His roles at Desert Academy include teaching digital animation in the school’s burgeoning Digital Media Arts department and providing technical assistance with campus computers and technology infrastructure. He also occasionally works in the math department teaching middle school math. Despite his field of interest, Chris maintains a healthy skepticism toward computers and enjoys the many outdoor activities Santa Fe has to offer, previously lending his talents to the St. John’s College Search & Rescue team.
MEET OUR STAFF
JENNIFER DRYFOOS – College Counselor & Registrar
Jennifer has spent a surprising amount of her life devoted to colleges. She was director of college counseling at Santa Fe Prep for twelve years and worked as a college counselor in Locust Valley, NY (at The Portledge School) prior to moving to Santa Fe. Before that, she was a college administrator (in residential life) at Princeton, Wheaton, Oberlin, and Green Mountain College.She was born and raised in New York City, but has lived all over. She got her undergraduate degree in Psychology and Women’s Studies from Smith College and her Masters in Counseling Processes from Harvard University. Jennifer also has a Certificate in Financial Planning from NYU.
BARBARA KLEIN, Front Office Coordinator
Barb has been involved with Desert Academy in a variety of volunteer capacities since 2008. Most notably, she is the mother of two current high school students. She joined the staff in August of 2012. Barb attended Mills College, earning a BA in Studio Art. Prior to working at Desert Academy, she worked in the art world at Sotheby’s in New York City and in design, construction and sales in Santa Fe’s real estate market. She is active in Assistance Dogs of the West, and her dog, Cammie, is the mother of the youngest litter of puppy trainees.
JUD OSBORN – Finance Director/Human Resources
Jud joined Desert Academy in the summer of 2005. Jud earned his BA from the College of Santa Fe in 1993 and has served as Business Manager/Finance Director in New Mexico private schools for more than ten years. In the winter of 2006-07, Jud initiated the Middle School Winter Mountain Sports Programs and in the fall of 2007 he resumed teaching Creative Writing.
TERRY PASSALACQUA – Head of School
Terry has taught in various capacities in Santa Fe over the past twenty years, including the last fifteen at Desert Academy. In that time, he has served as Dean of Faculty, Head of High School and Assistant Head of School. He has also taught Anthropology, IB Psychology, Government/Economics, History, and served as Athletics Director for ten years. He is a certified International Baccalaureate Instructor in two disciplines, The Theory of Knowledge and Psychology. He is also certified in International Baccalaureate Administration. Terry has conducted various leadership workshops and seminars in Santa Fe, Denver, and at the Omega Institute in New York. He earned a B.A. in Psychology from Kent State University and a M.A. in Educational Leadership from the University of New Mexico. Among his many other accomplishments, Terry was voted “Most Influential Teacher” for the Santa Fe Super Scholar Program in 2006, 2007, and 2008, and was named “Most Inspiring Teacher” by a student finalist in the National 2007 Presidential Scholars Program. Terry also writes a column on educational issues for the New Mexico Free Press.
Prior to retiring from athletics in the spring of 2007, Terry had spent twenty years coaching high school track & field in the Santa Fe area. The last twelve of those years have been at Desert Academy. He has a long history of athletic achievements, including being voted as “The New Mexico Coach of the Year” in 1994, 1995, and 2003. Individual athletes from his teams have won over fifty state championships and his teams have competed and won awards at the state, national, and international levels. Terry was the founder of the Santa Fe/Los Alamos Track Club. In 1992, as head coach for the United States track & field team, he made a historic trip to China – at the time, it was the largest track contingent to compete in China.
“I believe in the absolute power of the individual to achieve, grow and flourish as long as love and support are present.” – Terry Passalacqua
KAY RICE – Director of Advancement
Kay began teaching special needs students after graduating from the University of Texas. The next year she moved to Tererro, New Mexico, east of Santa Fe to continue her teaching career at Brush Ranch School. She also served as Director of Admission and eventually as Head of School. She holds a Master’s Degree from the University of New Mexico in Learning Disabilities. Along with involvement in BRS came co-directing Brush Ranch Camps, with her husband Scott. Her three grown children and her two grandchildren, along with extended family, are the most important part of her life. Hiking with the dogs, travel with anyone to anywhere, getting dirty while gardening, and taking on new challenges keeps her going.
MICHAEL SCHROEDER – Learning Specialist and Counselor
Michael received undergraduate degrees in Psychology and Printmaking from the University of California Santa Cruz and has striven to maintain the connection between art and psychology both in his career and personal life. He studied graphic and furniture design at Parsons School of Design in NYC and trained as a Yoga Instructor at New York’s Integral Yoga. Art lead him back to psychology, particularly depth-related modalities and the work of Carl Jung, MD. He received his Master’s Degree from Pacifica Graduate Institute, graduating summa cum laude. He has worked extensively with kids and within numerous school and university environments with focuses on neurology, childhood development, Co-occurring disorders, addiction, trauma and Autistic Spectrum Diagnoses. His psychotherapy practice is solution–focused, combining art and myth to help people evolve to greater self-knowledge and evolution. Michael is a licensed psychotherapist (LMFT) in California and New Mexico. He considers Santa Fe one of the best kept secrets and loves living amidst its fresh air, cultural richness, four seasons, green chile and abundant outdoor activities.
ISABELLE THIÉBAUT – Director of Admissions, IB Diploma Program Coordinator, French
Isabelle was born and raised in Paris. She received her certifications in Languages and Communications: (Associate in English, BA in Spanish and BA in FLE-French as a Foreign Language, Master in Communication /PR/ Marketing). She has worked in the communication field for over 15 years. Isabelle also holds a Masters Degree in Counseling from Paris. She moved to Santa Fe six years ago with her daughter and since then, she has been teaching French to middle and high school students and to adults. Isabelle is a certified Feng Shui Practitioner and Teacher and also teaches at the Santa Fe Community College for The School of Arts and Design.
CHRIS ZAPPE – Director of Technology
Chris received his BFA in Art and Technology from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has been happily engaged with the technology infrastructure and students of Desert Academy since 2006. His teaching roles at Desert Academy have included everything from digital imaging, animation and visual effects to programming, mathematics and comics. While Chris enjoys working within the ever-changing realm of digital technology, he maintains a healthy skepticism toward computers and enjoys the many outdoor activities Santa Fe has to offer, previously lending his talents to the St. John’s College Search & Rescue team.
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