CORE CLASSROOM TEACHERS
Emily Achilles Stefanich, Core Classroom Teacher
M.Ed., Lesley University
B.A., History, Merrimack College
Emily comes to Acera with deep experience in social-emotional learning and the neurosequential model. During seven years at the Expeditionary Learning School in Denver, she led students in fieldwork, including trips to Moab, a student-run voter registration drive in front of the Colorado State Capitol building, and sleepovers at the zoo during a study of animal adaptations. Emily loves seeing students learn and grow into amazing human beings who are empowered and can advocate for themselves. When not at Acera, Emily can be found going on adventures in the mountains with her husband and their dog, Luna!
Deborah Barolsky, Core Classroom Teacher
M.S. Teaching Wheelock College
B.A. Swarthmore College
Deborah Barolsky brings more than 20 years of public and private school teaching experience to Acera. Deborah enjoys the creative and collaborative community of teachers and students here, and is especially happy to be teaching a multi-age class. Outside of school, Deborah’s hobbies include reading, drawing, swimming, playing chamber music, and spending time with her husband – also a teacher – and their daughters, dogs, and cat.
Annie Bodian, Core Classroom Teacher
MAT, Brandeis University
BA, Italian Studies, Brandeis University
Vered Brooks, Core Classroom Teacher
M.Ed., Lesley University
B.A., Literature, Bennington College
Alyssa Colby, Core Classroom Teacher
M.A. Teaching University of Maine, Orono
M.A. Philosophy Brandeis University
B.A. Wheaton College
Bob Defandorf, Core Classroom Teacher
M.Ed. Lesley University
B.A. English Wesleyan University
Prior to joining Acera in 2017, Bob taught for seven years at Odyssey Day School in Wakefield, where he taught children of all ages from toddlers through eighth grade. At Acera, he loves helping math students attain both the joy and discipline of advancing their skills to the next level. In addition to being a co-teacher in the core classroom, Bob teaches a wide range of electives from Cultural Anthropology to the History of Math, including the annual US Government elective. Bob is from Boston, and is the parent of a former Acera STEAM Camp summer intern.
Jenifer Demko, Core Classroom Teacher
M.A.T. Child Development, Tufts University
B.A. Communications, Simmons College
Montessori Institute of San Diego, Primary Teacher Certificate
Jen grew up in Washington, DC. Prior to becoming a teacher, she worked as a cake decorator, camp counselor, and graphic designer. At Acera, Jen loves that each day is full of surprises and miracles. During the 2018-19 school year, Jen and her students worked as classroom to build a giant reading loft. The kindergarten and first grade students brainstormed design ideas, made drawings, wrote a persuasive presentation to school founder Courtney Dickenson. They then made models to scale, and presented them to an architect/parent in the class. That summer, the loft became a reality, and the students celebrated with a ribbon cutting the following September!
Ruma Dutta, Core Classroom Teacher
M.Ed. Elementary Education, Lesley University
B.A., Cum Laude, Philosophy, Mount Holyoke College
Rachel Kramer, Core Classroom Teacher
B.S., Engineering and Applied Mathematics, Tufts University
Originally from Atlanta, Georgia – where her parents, sister, and brother-in-law still live – Rachel came to Massachusetts to pursue her math and engineering education at Tufts University. At Acera, Rachel is inspired by the positivity and excitement that her students bring to learning, and loves witnessing kids follow their passions and create learning experiences that will continue to nurture their curiosity. In particular, planning last year’s New Orleans unit and field trip was a powerful experience for both Rachel and her students. Outside of school, Rachel loves to play Ultimate Frisbee; her Boston women’s team are current National Champions, and she was a member of 2018’s Team USA, which won the World Championship in Australia.
Anastasia Leyden, Core Classroom Teacher
M.Ed, Lesley University
B.A., Williams College
Anastasia spent 10 years as a medical writer before making the career shift to elementary education. At Acera, she loves the ever present and varied opportunities for connection and learning with children, and enjoys bringing creativity to the curriculum. One year, Anastasia used a “pirate” theme to bring to life the concepts of trade and values, engaging students in the kind of deep systems thinking that is a hallmark of our school. Originally from Arizona, Anastasia has lived in Pennsylvania and Connecticut before settling in Massachusetts after college. She loves to travel – especially trips to Maine in the summer!
Kim Machnik, Professional Development Lead, Teacher Coach and Mentor, Core Classroom Teacher
MS Ecological Learning and Teaching, Lesley University
B.A. International and Global Studies, Brandeis University
Katie Semine, Classroom Co-Teacher
M.Ed., Tufts University
B.A. in Anthropology, Tufts University
Anna Tonry, Classroom Co-Teacher
MAT, Tufts University
B.A., Psychology, Bates College
Amy Yuschik, Classroom Co-Teacher
M. A., Educational Psychology, Marist College
B.A., Elementary and Special Education, Marist College
SPECIALIST / ENRICHMENT TEACHERS
David Alsdorf, Technology & Narrative Specialist
M.Ed, Early Childhood Education, Lesley University
A.B. Religion, Reed College
David is a teacher, researcher, education consultant and artist. While a post-graduate at Tufts Center for Engineering Education and Outreach (CEEO), he taught robotics and programming in Boston Public Schools, researched makerspaces for the LEGO Foundation, and collaborated as an artist in residence with Harvard Project Zero’s and LEGO Foundation’s Pedagogy of Play. His graduate thesis analyzed word choices made by children of differing educational backgrounds (Montessorian and non-Montessorian) as they interacted with the Montessori trinomial cube. His undergraduate thesis was about St. Augustine’s doctrines of grace and predestination. David is passionate about helping children develop sense-making narrative capabilities and “prototyping mindsets.”
Josh Briggs, Engineering, Woodshop, & Math Specialist
M.S. Civil Engineering, University of New Hampshire, 2006
B.S. Engineering & Environmental Science, University of Notre Dame, 1996
B.A. History, University of Notre Dame, 1996
Registered Professional Engineer (P.E.), Massachusetts, 2012
Kyle Browne, Maker Space and Arts Teacher
M.Ed, Lesley University
B.F.A., Pratt Institute
Jacki Carlson, Theater Teacher
B.A. Theater Arts and English, Assumption College
Jacki is a comedienne, improviser, and writer who has been performing and writing sketch comedy for the past ten years throughout Boston, Chicago, and LA. She has been a character performer for The Walt Disney Company© and Party Princess Productions New England. She currently performs at Improv Boston in Cambridge and Improv Asylum in the North End. In addition to performing, Jacki is energized by creating theater-based learning programs/experiences for various audiences. She is the co-creator of an improv-based corporate training program at Bain & Company. She also created and leads a confidence workshop for young women in high school that focuses on public speaking, self-esteem and body image. Jacki’s passion for teaching improv comes from her strong belief in its ability to help students find their unique voices and develop the confidence to use them.
Danny Fain, Computer Science & Games Specialist
S.B. Geoscience, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Teacher Education Program, with emphasis in Math and Science teaching
Several Workshops in Design and Development of Digital and Video Games, Team-Based Design, and Multimedia Visualization
Rachel Fuerstman, CCT & Literacy Specialist
MA, Brandeis University, Teaching Elementary Education
BS, Vassar, History, Minor in Educational Studies
Camila Garcia Enriquez, Visual Arts Teacher
M.Ed, Harvard Graduate School of Education
B.A. Visual Arts Instituto Superior de Arte, Havana Cuba
Esteé Hill, Architect Specialist
MAT, Tufts University
BAS, Bachelor of Architectural Studies, University of Cape Town, South Africa
BArch, Bachelor of Architecture, University of Cape Town, South Africa
Michael Hirsch, Life Sciences Specialist Teacher and Curriculum Collaborator
M.A.T. Biology, Salem State University
B.S., Molecular Biology, Clark University
Laura Inglese, Cross Classroom and Literacy Specialist
Laura has taught upper elementary and middle school math, and was a math specialist for kids in grades 1-5. Later, she shifted her focus to a deeper examination of literacy education, particularly reading. She has been engaged in Orton Gillingham training and post-graduate coursework for Reading Specialists. Laura grew up in New England, and enjoys being outside in all seasons.
Nicole Notaro, Elementary Science Teacher
M.Ed., Education and Child Development, Tufts University
B.A., Child Development, Tufts University
David Olson, Technology Specialist / EQ Coach
M.Ed. Lesley University
B.A. Anthropology, University of Massachusetts
Vanessa Roman, Theater and Social Sciences Teacher
Adam Rosell, Woodshop Teacher
Debbie Seidell, Math Specialist & Coordinator
M.S. in Mathematics, University of Washington
B.A. in Mathematics, Brown University
Sarah Slubowski, Teacher Mentor
M.Ed., Harvard University Graduate School of Education
B.A., Trinity College
Malcolm Campbell, Counseling Lead
Edye Caine, School Counselor and Mindfulness Lead
MA Fordham University – Education Administration
MA Mercy College – Elementary Education
MA Teachers College, Columbia University – Clinical Psychology and Spirituality
Edye’s love for seeing students’ eyes light up when they are having that “aha” moment has kept her teaching for 25 years. She considers helping students to develop useful tools to navigate through life with grace an honor and a privilege, and she is looking forward to working with the Acera community to bring mindfulness to the forefront. Edye has traveled all over the world, learning about and immersing herself in new cultures. Originally from southern California, Edye lived and worked in New York for many years before relocating to Boston to be near family. When not in school, she loves being out in nature and spending time with her children and grandchildren.
Sigourney Hamilton, Student Support Provider
BA, Psychology, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts
Intermediate Floortime Provider, Interdisciplinary Council on Development and Learning
Sigourney comes to Acera with a Floortime background. Floortime is a relationship based therapeutic approach utilized to promote the development and strengthening of social and emotional skills. Sigourney has worked with young children as a specialist at early intervention and older children through her work at a private practice and private school. She is excited to work at Acera and bring her skills to the classroom setting–from promoting self-regulation and self-advocacy to working as a flexible team member. When she is not at school, Sigourney loves to be on the beach or practicing pilates.
Sam Kitchens, School Counselor
B.S., Clinical Psychology and Film, Tufts University
Sam brings extensive experience in education and student support to his role at Acera, including a tutor for the Elliot Pearson Children’s School, an ABA therapist at Nashoba Learning Group, and a lecturer at Tufts Experimental College. When it comes with working with kids, he loves their natural inclination towards curiosity and creativity. Originally from Florida – and a triplet! – Sam lived in Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee before making Boston his permanent home.
Eileen Sauer, BCBA, LABA, School Counselor and Student Support Manager
M.S. Behavior Analysis, Simmons College
B.A., Graphic Design, UMass Lowell
Eileen is Acera’s self-described behavioral science geek! She loves learning about why humans do the things they do, especially complex verbal behavior, and she has been a Board Certified Behavior Analyst since September 2010. She previously spent more than a decade working at Nashoba Learning Group, a private school serving children with autism, as a clinical director specializing in working with students with anxiety and inflexibility. She is working to track the growth in psychological flexibility that our Acera students experience throughout the year in innovative ways. Eileen grew up in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, where she currently lives with her husband, John, and sons, Lincoln (Link) and Leo.
Tyler Szymanski Bly, School Counselor
M.S.W., University of Southern California
B.A, Psychology, Merrimack College
Tyler is a clinical child/adolescent therapist and behavioral therapist, specializing in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. She enjoys helping students learn independent skills to function optimally and be the best versions of themselves, and utilizes a strength-based, person-centered approach. Originally from Framingham, Tyler has lived in the midwest and France – but considers Boston her favorite city! Outside of school, she enjoys being outdoors with her husband, their baby Noah and dogs Guinness and Remy.
Kara Williams, School Counselor and Student Support & Services Manager
M.A., School Counseling, University of Saint Joseph
B.A., Theatre, Eastern Connecticut State University
Courtney Dickinson, Founder & Director
B.A., Dartmouth College
Leadership & Company Culture Consultant/Culture Architect, Sapient Corporation
Connect with Courtney on LinkedIn
Courtney Dickinson is a passionate educator with a strong belief in public service and innovation in education. Initially, Courtney was certified as a teacher and planned to work in public education. Things did not unfold that way, however, and she spent the first 15 years of her career in industry – both as culture architect at Sapient Corporation and then as a management consultant for other high growth organizations.
After her own children started in public schools, Courtney saw that there was a disconnect between what kids needed in school and what they were getting, and in the 20 years away from education, things in the public space had become worse, not better. Realizing that a return to education was essential, she became an advocate for change.
The decision to found a bootstrap start up school was a difficult one. Courtney dove in, galvanizing prospective parents and teachers around a shared mission for what school could be. A year later, Acera opened in Melrose with an inaugural class of 37 students.
“Building the engine while you fly the plane” has not been easy, but with persistence and emphasis on continual improvement, the concept came alive: early and deep exposure to STEM, individual learning plans for every child, an eclectic blend of pedagogy that empowers teachers to create environments of discovery, authentic engagement, learning, and growth in their classrooms, and partnerships with scientific thought leaders in Greater Boston to link learning to real innovations and the challenges of our time.
From the very beginning, Courtney’s intent was to create a model that could happen anywhere. After years of developing and pilot-testing innovative curricula at Acera School, Courtney and her team launched AceraEI – an outreach division that brings Acera’s Tools to Transform Schools into public education. Through professional development workshops, ongoing support, and metrics for success, AceraEI partners with public schools to implement these Tools in a way that fits each school’s unique setting and needs, empowering educators to be change agents and leaders in their schools and school districts.
Faith Blake, Enrichment Programs Manager
M.A., Education, Stanford University
B.S., Biology, Tufts University
Faith is committed to giving each child and teacher that she works with opportunities to develop into the best versions of themselves and to contribute to a dynamic and healthy community. Prior to becoming Acera’s Enrichment Programs Manager, Faith taught Biology for five years in public high schools. She brings experience coaching new teachers, managing an Honors Independent Research Program, and organizing school field trips. When not managing Acera’s after school programs, Creativity Morning, and camps, Faith enjoys lifting weights, painting, and reading.
Shari Card, Executive Assistant
B.S. Business Administration, Saint Michael’s College
Kerry Crisley, Marketing and Public Relations Lead
M.S. Public Relations, Boston University
B.A. English, University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Kerry brings more than 20 years of marketing and public relations experience to Acera, including a combined 16 years at the nonprofit organizations The Nature Conservancy and Boston Bar Association. Kerry creates and shares Acera’s stories of innovation in education via the school’s website, social media channels, and in local and statewide media outlets. She lives in Wakefield with her husband John, their children Ben and Erin, and their (very spoiled) rescue dog Luna. When not at work, Kerry can usually be found reading, walking in the Fells, or getting into a wide variety of shenanigans with her book club.
Queenie Desulme, Operations and Administrative Assistant
Sara Honeywell, Director of Operations
B.A. Music Business, Berklee School of Music
Carol Ann Licitra, Bookkeeper
Pei Ng, Administrative Assistant / Front Desk
Trent Ramsey, Director of Strategic Advancement and Development
B.A. English and Sociology, Birmingham-Southern College
Graduate Certificate in Grant-Writing, Fort Hays State University
Holly Whittemore, Finance Director
Sandra Zuckerman, Director of Admissions
Professional Diploma, Berklee College of Music
B.A.University of Colorado
SIT, School of International Training
Sarah Zuckerman, Director of Faculty
M.A.Ed Harvard University, focus in Arts in Education, Recipient of the Urban Scholars Fellowship
B.A.Ed Indiana University, Indiana
Acera’s Board of Directors has as its foremost charter to safeguard the fiscal stability and sustainability of the school. Its approach is modeled more after the for-profit sector than the typical non-profit board approach, enabling the rapid and flexible growth of a start-up school.
Courtney Dickinson, B.A., Chair
Founder & Director, Acera School
Michael K. Barron, J.D., Secretary
Partner, Morgan Lewis
Richard J. Morello, M.B.A., Treasurer
President, Life Sciences Division Aptus Health
David Grayzel, M.D.
Partner, Atlas Venture
Jane Moulding, A.L.M.
Principal, SmarterWisdom Consulting
Former Head of School, The Cambridge School of Weston
Greg Phelps, M.B.A.
Independent Advisor, Former Chairman of the Board, Charles River School
Holly Whittemore, C.P.A,
Chief Financial Officer, Nimbus Therapeutics