Our Administration Team

Founder & Director

Courtney Dickinson

B.A., Dartmouth College
Certified Teacher
Leadership & Company Culture Consultant/Culture Architect, Sapient Corporation

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.

Enrichment Programs Manager

Faith Blake

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.

Marketing and Public Relations Lead

Kerry Crisley

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.

Strategic Initiatives Manager

Alexis Daniels

Doctoral Student, Entrepreneurial Leadership Specialization ’20 Cohort, Johns Hopkins University
M.S., Occupational Therapy, Tufts University
B.A., Anthropology and Public Health, Tufts University

Trained as an occupational therapist, she loved the merging of art, science, technology, and getting to help people. However, as she moved through environments – schools, hospitals, rehab centers – she realized she was more interested in how young minds developed, how students developed a sense of civic identity, and the magic that happens in a classroom. She began her teaching career in out-of-school environments, linking East Boston youth to food justice advocates in the neighborhood. She ran bilingual cooking and science programs, managed three school gardens, and ultimately co-founded an urban farm integrating youths’ visions to design a more equitable, resilient food landscape. Her skills in community organizing, teaching through high-engagement hands-on experiences, and managing novel programs fit well with Acera’s need for an Enrichment Programs Manager. For two years, she managed STEAM summer and after school programs, coaching specialist teachers and witnessing students’ creativity, problem-solving, and sense of purpose blossom.

Now focused on Acera Education Innovation, she sees the challenges translating what’s been proven possible at Acera’s lab school to other settings. Her desire to learn about strategic systems change, best practices in professional development, and develop a “wide angle lens” on innovation in education led her to Johns Hopkins University.

Operations and Administrative Assistant

Queenie Desulme

Facilities Manager

Kevin Duval

Director of Operations and Administration

Sara Honeywell

B.A. Music Business, Berklee School of Music

Carol Ann Licitra

Executive Assistant

Alice Neville

B.A. Communications, Boston College
Administrative Assistant / Front Desk

Pei Ng

Director of Lower School

Marianne O'Grady

M.S., Child Development, Wheelock College
B.S., Child Development, Fitchburg State University
Technology Educator and Manager

David Olson

M.Ed. Lesley University
B.A. Anthropology, University of Massachusetts
Director of Upper School

George Papayannis

Ed.M., School Leadership, Harvard University
M.A., Secondary School Science Education, Columbia University Teachers College
B.S., Architectural Engineering, Drexel University
Director of Strategic Advancement

Trent Ramsey

B.A. English and Sociology, Birmingham-Southern College
Graduate Certificate in Grant-Writing, Fort Hays State University

An experienced, well-connected fundraiser, Trent joined our school in fall 2016 as Acera’s first Director of Development. For the past ten years, Trent has worked in fundraising and youth development across the state of Massachusetts in a variety of capacities: as the Director of the Area IV Youth Center in Cambridge, MA, one of the few high poverty pockets of Cambridge; as the State Field Director for the Mass Charter School Association, building community and funding collaborations for the 60 charter schools in the state; and as the Director of Strategic Advancement for the Lowell Community Charter Public School, focusing on capacity building for the largely ELL-populated school. Before landing in Massachusetts, Trent founded and served as executive director for 11 years of a youth service nonprofit in Alabama that focused on bringing young people from different backgrounds together to engage in community service and social justice work.

Math Curriculum Coordinator

Debbie Seidell

M.S. in Mathematics, University of Washington
B.A. in Mathematics, Brown University

Gary Thurston

Director of Admissions

Sandra Zuckerman

Professional Diploma, Berklee College of Music
B.A.University of Colorado
SIT, School of International Training

Sandra has worked in the admissions field since 2011. After attending the University of Colorado, Sandra moved to Boston to attend Berklee College of Music to advance her studies as a vocalist. She later joined the staff of Berklee College of Music as the International Applicant Advisor and then became the Admissions and Summer Program Enrollment Officer. At Acera, Sandra is passionate about helping students find “their voice” and help them uncover their strengths and own unique self. As the Admissions Director at Acera, Sandra excels at helping families have a positive experience regardless of the admissions outcome. Her ultimate goal is to help ensure that Acera is the best fit for a child. When Sandra isn’t working with families and students at Acera, she is a proud mom, a vocalist, practices yoga and is a foodie!

Director of Education & Innovation

Sarah Zuckerman

M.A.Ed Harvard University, focus in Arts in Education, Recipient of the Urban Scholars Fellowship
B.A.Ed Indiana University, Indiana

An urban public school graduate, Sarah’s life has been dedicated to giving all students high-quality education. Prior to her work in education leadership and program design, she was an art teacher in K-12 classrooms for 10 years, she has taught in the lowest- and highest-performing urban public schools. Sarah has worked on numerous policy issues advocating for students and has received numerous awards for her work, including Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Urban Scholars Fellowship and the Sontag Prize for Urban Education, and has had works published by Education Leadership, Ed Week, and Americans for the Arts.

Our Board of Directors

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.

Founder & Director, Acera School


Michael K. Barron, J.D.

Partner, Morgan Lewis


Richard J. Morello, M.B.A.

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

Our Core Classroom Teachers

Core Classroom Teacher

Deborah Barolsky

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.

Core Classroom Teacher

Vered Brooks

M.Ed., Lesley University
B.A., Literature, Bennington College
Core Classroom Teacher

Alyssa Colby

M.A. Teaching University of Maine, Orono
M.A. Philosophy Brandeis University
B.A. Wheaton College
Core Classroom Teacher

Bob Defandorf

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.

Core Classroom Teacher

Ruma Dutta

M.Ed. Elementary Education, Lesley University
B.A., Cum Laude, Philosophy, Mount Holyoke College

Ruma comes to us from the Odyssey Day School, where she served as co-head teacher as well as English and Social Studies teacher for grades 7 and 8. Her classroom experience includes teaching 6th grade humanities at the Pike School in Andover and working with students with reading vulnerabilities at the British School of Boston. Before discovering her love of teaching and working with adolescents in 2009, Ruma enjoyed a distinguished career as an experienced writer and editor, working with authors signed by large publishing houses such as McGraw Hill and Wiley, and writing for the Times of India and the New York public television channel WNET. Ruma has gone to school in India, Iran, the UK and the US, and is familiar with four languages next to English.

Core Classroom Teacher

David Fodaski

M.Ed., Lesley University
B.A., Lesley University
Core Classroom Teacher

Anastasia Leyden

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 the essential question of how societies assign value, 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!

Core Classroom Teacher

Jenifer McGuinn (formerly Demko)

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 Dickinson. 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!

Core Classroom Teacher

Jamie Schefen

M.A. Teaching, Columbia University
B.A., Northeastern University
Jamie has experience as a high school teacher (A.P. LIterature and Composition, History, Sociology, Filmmaking, and Psychology), a department leader, a college counselor, and a student clubs moderator. She also has extensive experience leading – and inventing! – simulation-based learning, which is one of the most powerful ways to enable perspective taking, systems awareness, and deep understanding. Jamie’s philosophy is a perfect fit with Acera, extending our mission in high school.
Core Classroom Teacher

Emily Achilles Stefanich

BA, Merrimack College
MEd, Lesley University

Emily has been teaching elementary grades for over ten years, with a special focus on the lower and intermediate grades. She is a self-described 'brain nerd', who loves tying social-emotional learning and understanding of how the brain works into academic content. Outside of the classroom, Emily loves spending time with her family, being active outdoors, cooking and reading.

Our Counseling, EF, and Literacy Teachers

Senior Counselor

Malcolm Campbell

Malcolm is a counselor, a coach, a cook, a carpenter, and a Dad. (In any order!) Licensed in New York as a Marriage and Family Therapist, he came to our school after many years of service working in and developing residential treatment programs for youth from birth to and through age 21. Malcolm has great experience with — and enjoys working to build and support — organizations and people who are creating experiences and environments for children to learn, grow and be happy. He has always wanted to be the director of happy children, and now he’s got his wish!
Executive Function Specialist and BIPOC Family Engagement Manager

Marlon Davis

M.Ed., Harvard University Graduate School of Education
B.A., Psychology, Providence College

Marlon Davis has been a lifelong educator with more than 25 years of education experience, beginning as a classroom teacher. He has also served as a school leader in traditional public schools and as an executive director of a charter school. Before joining Acera, Marlon worked in the education technology space where he helped to start a software company designed to build apps for teachers that saved them time with grading. At Acera, his roles include Executive Function coach, Reading and Math specialist teacher, Health and Wellness support staff, and middle school student mentor via the IMP program.

Literacy, Writing, Executive Function and Dyslexia Specialist

Rachel Fuerstman

MA, Brandeis University, Teaching Elementary Education
BS, Vassar, History, Minor in Educational Studies
Student Support Provider

Sigourney Hamilton

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.

Literacy, Writing and Dyslexia Specialist

Laura Inglese

M.Ed, Curriculum and Instruction, UMass Lowell
B.A., Psychology, Keene State College

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.

School Counselor and Movement Specialist

Kei Phillip

M.A., Teachers College, Clinical Psychology in Education
B.A., Barnard College, Dance
Student Support Program Manager

Eileen Sauer

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.

Literacy, Writing and Dyslexia Specialist

Pam Tricca

Certificate, Orton Gillingham Theory and Techniques, The Carroll School
B.A., English & Communication Arts, Emmanuel College

Our Specialist & Enrichment Teachers

Engineering and Maker Space Specialist

Tim Bilodeau

B.S. Mechanical Engineering, Northeastern University

Tim is a violinist and engineer with a love of problem solving and a penchant for making. He originally gravitated towards engineering from a desire to learn more about the physical world and deepen his love of working with his hands. As a mechanical engineer, Tim fulfilled this desire by working in metal and plastics fabrication and product design. While in school, Tim also nurtured a passion for teaching by giving violin and music theory lessons part time while volunteering at youth programs like the Clubhouse Network. Looking to gain more experience as a teacher, Tim was attracted to Acera because of its mission to create a collaborative space full of student-driven opportunities with a priority on inquiry-based learning. In this space, Tim looks to explore his interests alongside students, fostering play and continuing to view concepts from different perspectives.

Engineering, Woodshop, & Math Specialist

Josh Briggs

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

Josh studied and trained as a civil engineer for more than fifteen years prior to changing careers to teaching in 2014. After graduating with dual degrees from University of Notre Dame in 1996, he worked as an engineer in contaminated groundwater assessment and remediation in the San Francisco Bay area. He relocated back to the Boston area in 2000 and worked for a small environmental firm designing restoration solutions for stream and wetlands impacted by human development and stormwater. Josh then pursued his M.S. in Civil Engineering studying the use of porous asphalt for stormwater treatment (2006). After several years of working in rainwater harvesting design and installation, he made the leap to education. He started out teaching woodworking for Eliot School’s School Partnership Program in Boston Public School classrooms. Soon thereafter, he started part time at Acera running Frugal Engineering sessions for Creativity Morning. He began working full time at Acera in the 2015-16 school year. His focus at Acera is creating exciting projects for students that leverage student creativity while developing solid construction and engineering skills. Josh originally hails from Maine, where he developed his great love for boats, building and playing in the outdoors!

Theater Teacher

Jacki Carlson

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.

Model UN Club Advisor

Adam DeSimone

MAT Simmons College
BA, History, University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Engineering Specialist

Jonathan Dietz

MAT, Simmons College
SB, Electrical Engineering, MIT
SB, Life Science, MIT
Computer Science & Games Specialist

Danny Fain

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
Enrichment Teacher

Dylan Foley

Visual Arts Teacher

Camila García Enríquez

M.Ed, Harvard Graduate School of Education
B.A. Visual Arts Instituto Superior de Arte, Havana Cuba

Camila joined Acera after completing her Ed.M. from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. She was looking for a school with a strong profile of hands-on, interdisciplinary and experimental education, and has since found a community of creative and flexible people with whom she loves to work, and a student body whose passion for learning continues to impress her. Her previous teaching experience included four years teaching art at the International School of Havana, and three years offering private art lessons in the same city. Before finding her calling as a teacher, Camila lived and worked in Havana, Cuba as a full-time visual artist. In her free time, Camila enjoys to read, draw, watch films and cook.

Lab Sciences Specialist and Curriculum Collaborator

Michael Hirsch

M.A.T. Biology, Salem State University
B.S., Molecular Biology, Clark University

Michael began his work life as a scientist in the exciting world of Kendall Square biotech researching and creating therapeutics for metabolic disease and inflammation. During that time, he helped placed over 20 drugs into clinical trials and published several papers in the field of diabetes. Despite his success, Michael was feeling unfulfilled and realized that his favorite part of being a scientist was teaching others his research and sharing his passion of science. After receiving his masters degree and Massachusetts teaching certifications, Michael taught Biology and Chemistry in public high schools for 3 years where his zeal and excitement towards his content made him a favorite among students. His belief is that everyone can be a scientist and his goal in the classroom was simple: experiment and solve scientific problems. Michael was attracted to Acera’s vision of curiosity, inquiry based conceptual learning, and an opportunity to work with like-minded creative teachers. He loves the collaborative nature of the school, its ever-changing curriculum, and ability to provide a cutting edge, cool, safe, and unique place for many different types of student to learn and practice their skills. In 2020, Michael was named an Educator Fellow for NPR’s Science Friday. In addition to science, Michael is also an avid musician, playing and recording with seven instruments and is a published pop culture media writer.

Maker Space Specialist

Adrienne Jacobson

Math Specialist

David Lerner

S.B., Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Enrichment Teacher

Megan Mahoney

Arts and Performance Specialist

Stephanie McKay

M.Ed, Lesley University
MA in Art, Community and Education specializing in Integrated arts
B.F.A., Modern Dance, University of the Arts
Cross Classroom Teacher

Alazá Merrill

B.A., Psychology & Pre-Law, Worcester State University
Math & Science Specialist Teacher

Ashley Metz

M.S., Ecological Teaching and Learning, Lesley University
B.A., Environmental Analysis and Policy, Boston University
Cross-Classroom and Enrichment Specialist

Carly Morin

MA, Therapeutic Recreation
Frugal Engineering Teacher

Adam Rosell

Enrichment Teacher

Yonatan Schreiber

Teacher Mentor

Sarah Slubowski

M.Ed., Harvard University Graduate School of Education
B.A., Trinity College

Sarah is an experienced educator (10 + years in independent schools), with a love for children, a creative and engaging approach to teaching, and a passion for coaching and supporting her peers. Sarah joined Acera as a Math Block Teacher, emphasizing hands-on learning and working with children’s interests as the basis for inquiry. Through a child-constructed approach to teaching and an atmosphere of trust, warmth, and curiosity, Sarah maximized students’ intellectual engagement and enjoyment in the classroom. Her role at Acera has now grown into that of a Teacher Mentor; Sarah supports our elementary Core Teachers and Math Block Teachers by sharing strategies, stepping in to offer support, and through thoughtful coaching and collaboration. Sarah helps our teachers by supporting their individual growth, while building on their strengths. She also places an emphasis on the whole child as a unique individual and believes that differentiated instruction and tending to students’ social and emotional growth are vital in the classroom.

Fine Arts Enrichment Teacher

Claudia Thomas

BFA, Animation, Massachusetts College of Art & Design