Careers

Meet Our Teachers

Kauffman School teachers come from diverse backgrounds and bring a wealth of experience to our students. Learn more about our teachers’ professional backgrounds and beliefs.

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Vincent Alexis-Laona, 7th Grade Math Teacher

Vincent Alexis-Laona believes that all children are capable of rising to high academic expectations and all children deserve a school and teachers who will push them to achieve at the highest level. He is committed to creating a mathematics classroom that prepares students to be confident and successful in their future high school and college math courses. Before joining the team at the Kauffman School, Mr. Alexis-Laona was a 2011 Teach For America corps member, where he taught seventh and eighth grade math at Central Academy of Excellence (formerly Central High School) in the Kansas City Public Schools district. He received a Master of Education from Rockhurst University in 2013. As an undergraduate, Mr. Alexis-Laona earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Northeastern University in 2011. He is excited to be part of the team of talented teachers working to create college graduates.

Lauren Alford, 5th Grade Guided Reading Teacher

Lauren Alford believes that all children can achieve excellence when the bar of expectations is set high. She is committed to creating a classroom culture where students feel loved, supported, and challenged. In her classroom, students will develop a joy for learning and an understanding of the importance of reading. Prior to teaching at the Kauffman School, Ms. Alford taught second grade reading in the Kansas City Public Schools district at the Foreign Language Academy. She is a proud alumna of the University of Arkansas, where she majored in Elementary Education and later went on to receive a Master of Arts in Education. In 2014, Ms. Alford was recognized as a regional nominee for the Sue Lehmann Excellence in Teaching Award on behalf of Teach For America - Kansas City. Ms. Alford is absolutely thrilled to be a part of such a strong team at the Kauffman School and to see her students to and through college.

Matt Apuzzo, 8th Grade Textual Analysis Teacher

Matt Apuzzo believes in the power of an excellent education and the doors it opens to ALL kids. He is committed to giving kids the skills and abilities to succeed inside and outside of the classroom so they are able to follow wherever their dreams take them. Prior to teaching at the Kauffman School, Mr. Apuzzo taught seventh- and eighth-grade social studies in Wichita, Kansas and coached football and track and field, and also taught preschool and kindergarten at the Hilltop Child Development Center in Lawrence, Kansas. Mr. Apuzzo is an alumni of the University of Kansas where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Secondary Education, Social Studies. Mr. Apuzzo wanted to come to the Kauffman School because of its amazing and positive school culture that inspires both students and staff to succeed and be their best possible selves.

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Sebastian Barraza, 5th Grade Fitness Teacher

Sebastian Barraza is convinced that every student can excel, if given the appropriate tools and support, and that potential is enough reason to deserve a quality education. Students are the authors of their stories, but teachers can be pretty good proof readers. Prior to teaching at the Kauffman School, Mr. Barraza earned a Bachelor of Arts in Physical Education from the University of Texas at Arlington and then a Master of Arts in Educational Leadership from the University of Connecticut. Mr. Barraza became passionate about youth development after time spent coaching youth soccer and basketball in Texas, and made the decision to join Teach For America after a year spent working with urban youth in Hartford, Connecticut. Mr. Barraza was attracted to the Kauffman School because of the unapologetic culture of high expectations and student achievement.

Martina Bergstrom, Music Teacher

Martina Bergstrom believes that music is a powerful tool for self-expression and communication that all students deserve access to. She is committed to using music to help students develop meaningful skills of self-confidence and self-expression. Prior to teaching at Kauffman School, Mrs. Bergstrom taught elementary music in Galesburg, Illinois. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Music Education from Knox College in Galesburg. She has a particular love for choir and vocal music, but is excited to bring music of all kinds to the students at Kauffman School.

Kameron Berkley, Kansas City Teaching Resident

Kameron Berkley believes that every child has the opportunity to change his or her narrative and make it something that he or she believes in. She is passionate about her students being successful, productive citizens in their community. Prior to teaching at the Kauffman School, Ms. Berkley joined the first cohort of the Kansas City Teacher Residency (KCTR). She received her Bachelor of Arts in English from Grambling State University in Grambling, Louisiana. She is currently working on her Master of Education in Urban Education at Park University in Parkville, Missouri. Growing up, Ms. Berkley was a Kauffman Scholar, and understood that the legacy of Mr. Kauffman lives through her; this realization inspired her to join the Kauffman School team, which is working to live out Mr. Kauffman’s legacy every day.

Robyn Blakemore, 8th Grade Math Teacher

Robyn Blakemore believes every student deserves an excellent education. She is committed to holding her students to high expectations so they will be ready to excel in college and their future careers. Prior to teaching at the Kauffman School, Mrs. Blakemore taught seventh- and eighth-grade math in the Kansas City Public Schools district at Central Academy of Excellence (formally Central High School). Mrs. Blakemore is an alumna of Teach For America - Kansas City. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Child and Family Studies from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She went on to receive her Master of Education in Secondary Education from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Mrs. Blakemore was drawn to the Kauffman School because of its unique and positive school culture. She is excited to celebrate students’ successes this coming school year.

Elisabeth Booze, 9th/10th Grade Creative Writing Teacher

Elisabeth Booze believes in the power of education to change students' life outcomes. She is committed to using students' experiences with writing to help them engage with academics and the world at large. As a founding teacher at the Kauffman School, Ms. Booze worked with the founding class as a guided reading, non-fiction, English Language Arts and fitness teacher. This year, she has returned to teach creative writing to Kauffman School high schoolers. She also works to develop and support high school students' non-cognitive development. Ms. Booze is an alumna of Teach For America - Kansas City. She received her Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Denver. She went on to receive her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Hollins University. She is excited to continue working with Kauffman School staff, families, students and community members to create college graduates.

Wycla Bratton, 7th Grade Guided Reading Teacher

Wycla Bratton, a Kansas City native, believes every scholar is equipped with the abilities to succeed beyond measure. Mr. Bratton believes that the best investment you can make is in a child, and he has lived that belief out as he's volunteered and worked with many organizations, camps, and programs targeting youth development. Some of these experiences include Kansas City Freedom Schools, Great Circle, and Missouri Legislative Black Caucus Foundation Emerging Leaders Conference. Mr. Bratton received his Bachelor of Science in Secondary Education Language Arts from the University of Missouri - Columbia. He is excited to be a part of the students' growth, as he believes these scholars will be the game changers of generations to come.

Chris Bridenbaugh, 10th Grade Chemistry Teacher

Chris Bridenbaugh is a firm believer that all students deserve access to a school with a strong culture and academic climate. He is committed to the belief that rigor is respect and that all students deserve to be held to the highest possible standards. Prior to teaching at the Kauffman School, Mr. Bridenbaugh taught first-grade reading intervention at Academia de Ninos and ninth grade English at Carver Preparatory Academy in New Orleans, Louisiana. Mr. Bridenbaugh is an alumni of Teach For America - Kansas City. He received his Bachelor of Science in Corporate Communications from West Texas A&M University.

Mario Brown, 6th Grade Fitness Teacher

Mario Brown believes every student deserves an excellent education. He is committed to making a safe and thriving environment within his classroom. Mr. Brown loves teaching and being a strong role model to kids within our school and community. He believes that it is very important to hold students to the highest expectations possible. Mr. Brown previously was an ISS supervisor within Liberty Public Schools. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Physical Education and Masters of Arts in Teaching at the University of Central Missouri. Mr. Brown came to the Kauffman School because he was very impressed with the structure and student performance. He is very excited to get to know the PREPsters and make an impact.

Shelli Brown, 5th Grade Guided Reading Teacher

Shelli Brown has never met a student who did not have greatness in them, and is excited to spend another year helping students discover their own greatness. Before teaching in Kansas City, Ms. Brown earned her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and English from Auburn University. While studying at Auburn, Shelli worked extensively with philanthropy and fundraising efforts within Auburn’s Honors College. She was a 2011 Teach For America - Kansas City corps member and completed her Master in Special Education degree from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Ms. Brown is happy to be teaching with a staff of teachers who are dedicated to proving what is possible for students in Kansas City.

Camille Burgmeier, 5th Grade Science Teacher

Camille Burgmeier believes each student deserves to enter college confident and prepared with critical thinking skills needed to succeed. She also believes that science classes should be filled with opportunities to practice and sculpt these critical thinking skills by cultivating creativity and explanation. Mrs. Burgmeier was born and raised in Kansas City and graduated from Westminster College with a Bachelor of Arts in Middle School Education. She taught biology for two years at DeLaSalle Education Center. The decision to come to the Kauffman School was made because of the personal and professional development for teachers. Mrs. Burgmeier wants to be the most effective teacher possible because she knows each child deserves that. This year, she is most excited about continuing to inspire fifth graders to love science!

Jessica Burton, Learning Support Specialist

Jessica Burton believes that every single person deserves to be loved and respected without question or judgment, just as every student has the right to be educated fairly and equally with great passion. Prior to coming on staff at the Kauffman School, Ms. Burton spent four years teaching special education in Worth County, Missouri and Lee's Summit, Missouri where she also coached volleyball and girls’ basketball. After stepping away from teaching for a few years, Ms. Burton spent time serving in student ministries with Church of the Resurrection and Young Life, working in restaurant management and traveling and working in Australia, Southeast Asia and New Zealand. Ms. Burton holds a Bachelor of Science in Elementary and Special Education from Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville, Missouri and a Master of Arts in Education from Baker University in Baldwin, Kansas. Ms. Burton was drawn to Kauffman School because of its desire to put student's needs above all else and its positive and passionate environment. She is most excited about forming and fostering relationships with students and staff during this upcoming school year.

Dylan Conway, 6th Grade Guided Reading Teacher

Dylan Conway believes every student deserves an excellent education. He is committed to holding his students to high expectations so they will excel in college and beyond. Prior to teaching at the Kauffman School, Mr. Conway attended the University of Missouri-Columbia where he received his Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education. Mr. Conway is a Teach For America - Kansas City corps member and is working on his Master of Education in Elementary Education from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Mr. Conway was drawn to the Kauffman School because of its excellent academic results and its positive school culture. He is very excited to celebrate students' successes this coming year.

Sarah Cooper, 5th Grade Guided Reading Teacher

Sarah Cooper joined the Kauffman School because she is inspired by the mission to create college graduates. She believes schools should support students in setting and reaching ambitious goals. Prior to teaching at the Kauffman School, Ms. Cooper taught kindergarten in Houston, Texas and worked as a reading interventionist at Academia de Ninos in Kansas City. She also taught English in Chile and speaks Spanish. Ms. Cooper graduated from Northwestern University (go 'Cats!) with a degree in Social Policy. She is excited to foster her students' love for reading and celebrate their growth!

Cornell Ellis, 7th Grade Textual Analysis Teacher

A Kansas City native, Cornell Ellis believes all students are individuals with unlimited potential. His formative years of school were spent in the Kansas City Missouri Schools district, and graduated from Rockhurst High School. Mr. Ellis was a collegiate athlete at Avila University, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in History. Working with children is his passion and he is grateful to begin his teaching career at the Kauffman School. His love for Kansas City and its people brought him to the school. He is excited about developing relationships with students this coming school year.

Ellen Frierson, 9th Grade English Teacher

Ellen Frierson is committed to helping students achieve their full potential so they can pursue their academic, vocational, and personal dreams. Prior to joining the Kauffman School team, Ms. Frierson served for two years in the Teach For America - Mississippi corps, during which she taught ninth- and tenth-grade English at Simmons High School in Hollandale, Mississippi. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of Pennsylvania and is currently completing her Master of Science in Secondary Education through the Johns Hopkins University School of Education. Ms. Frierson was drawn to the Kauffman School because of its strong school culture, emphasis on teacher development, and commitment to the Kansas City community. She looks forward to working with incoming freshmen this year.

Angie Gipson, 5th Grade Science Teacher

Angie Gipson believes all students should have access to an exceptional education. She is committed to ensuring all students are ready to succeed in college and their future careers. Prior to teaching at the Kauffman School, Mrs. Gipson worked as a health care consultant at Cerner Corporation. Prior to Cerner, she taught high school biology and anatomy and physiology in the Houston Independent School District. Mrs. Gipson is an alumna of Teach for America - Houston and received her Bachelor of Science in Biology from Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. Mrs. Gipson was drawn to the Kauffman School because of its positive culture and unwavering faith in students and their ability to achieve at high academic levels. She is excited to see her students' growth and success this school year.

Abby Green, 10th Grade English Teacher

Abby Green believes that quality education is the key to success. She is committed to having high expectations for students through rigorous content and social behavior so that they will be given the tools they need to succeed in college and beyond. Prior to teaching at the Kauffman School, Ms. Green taught sixth- and seventh-grade social studies at Junction City Middle School in Junction City, Kansas. Ms. Green received her Bachelor of Education from Kansas State University in both History and Government and Language Arts. Ms. Green chose to come to the Kauffman School because she is a native of the Kansas City area and is committed to educational growth in the community. She is excited to work alongside such inspiring students and staff.

Keshia Greve, 9th Grade Math Teacher

Keshia Greve believes every student can go to and through college. She is committed to holding her students to high expectations in order to prepare them for college. Prior to teaching at the Kauffman School, Ms. Greve taught seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grade math in Oklahoma City Public Schools at Oklahoma Centennial Mid-High School. Ms. Greve is an alumna of Teach For America - Oklahoma. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. Ms. Greve was drawn to the Kauffman School because of its incredible teacher development and high expectations for students. She is excited to be a part of the growing high school team this year!

Spencer Hardwick, 5th Grade Math Teacher

Spencer Hardwick knows that all kids have the right to a quality education. Prior to teaching at the Kauffman School, Mr. Hardwick was an institutional sales analyst at Goldman Sachs in New York, New York. He is also an alumni of Teach For America and taught in Dallas through the Uplift Education charter school network. He graduated from Harvard in 2011 with a Bachelor of Arts in Government and a citation in French. Mr. Hardwick was drawn to the Kauffman School because of its high expectations for all students, strong reputation in instruction, and emphasis on professional development. He is a proud Kansas City native and excited to be teaching in the neighborhood he grew up in.

Marissa Holaway, 8th Grade Math Teacher

Marissa Holaway believes every student is capable of achieving his or her goals and is committed to building relationships and holding high expectations in order to help students do so. Ms. Holaway is a corps member with Teach For America - Kansas City. Prior to teaching, she served as a City Year AmeriCorps member at the Kauffman School. Ms. Holaway received her Bachelor of Arts in English and Global Studies from North Central College in Naperville, Illinois. She chose to work at the Kauffman School because of its strong staff and student culture. She is excited to continue building relationships and celebrating student wins.

Tawar Khalandi, 7th Grade Math Teacher

Tawar Khalandi decided to become a teacher, specifically at the Kauffman School, because she believes every student deserves quality education and a champion. After earning a bachelor’s degree from University of Missouri - Kansas City, Ms. Khalandi worked at Cerner Corporation. Feeling a pull to teach and lead in urban schools, she joined the Kansas City Teacher Residency program. She is pursuing a Master’s in Urban Education through Park University.

Maria Kennedy, 10th Grade World History Teacher

Ms. Kennedy views teaching as an act of justice. Grounded in her belief that all students deserve an excellent education, regardless of identity or income, she is both excited and humbled to walk with Kauffman School students as they pursue the life they want for themselves. Prior to teaching at the Kauffman School, Ms. Kennedy taught second and third grades at Academia de Ninos. An alumna of Teach For America - Kansas City and Leading Educators, Ms. Kennedy earned a Bachelor's in History from Centre College and a Master's in Education from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. She loves reading and drinking tea.

Maple Kirby, 8th Grade Textual Analysis Teacher

Maple Kirby believes that through their education, every single one of our students can become the self-advocating future leader of his or her life, our city, our nation, and our world. An alumna of Teach For America, Ms. Kirby taught ninth- and tenth-grade English at Southwest Early College Campus before coming to the Kauffman School. Before that, she earned high honors in Sociology and Organizational Studies from the University of Michigan. Ms. Kirby left Michigan and came to Kansas City in order to do everything possible to bring a high-quality education to students who have not always received it. She joined the Kauffman School team because all of the school's staff and community shares that vision. She can't wait to work with this year's incredible eighth graders!

Johanna Laxton, 6th Grade Math Teacher

Johanna Laxton believes that every child in Kansas City deserves an outstanding education and is capable of succeeding in a rigorous classroom setting. She is committed to exemplifying the values of hard work, kindness, and joy in her classroom in order to facilitate student growth, pride, and success. Ms. Laxton is a 2015 Teach For America corps member and a graduate of the University of Montana, with degrees in Communication and Psychology and a focus in Human and Family Development. She is pursuing a Master of Education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Ariel Lehr, 5th Grade Math Teacher

Ariel Lehr believes that all students deserve an excellent education and is committed to the work and dedication that it takes to provide this to all students. Prior to teaching at Kauffman School, Ms. Lehr taught fifth grade math and science at Primitivo Garcia Elementary in the Kansas City Public Schools district. She received her Bachelor of Sciences in Elementary Education from Missouri State University and is working on her Elementary Math Specialist Certification and Masters of Arts in Elementary Mathematics at University of Central Missouri. Ms. Lehr made the transition to the Kauffman School because she knew Kauffman School holds high expectations for all students and matched her passion for academic success in Kansas City.

Georgina Leslie, 6th Grade Textual Analysis Teacher

Georgina Leslie believes that every child deserves a high-quality education and should have the opportunity to graduate from college. She is thrilled to be part of a team that makes sure students are held to high expectations and rigorous academic standards in every classroom. She received her Bachelor of Arts in English and Russian Area Studies at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio and her Master in Education from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Prior to joining the Kauffman School, she taught fourth grade at African Centered College Preparatory in Kansas City, Missouri, as a corps member with Teach For America.

Steffanie Long, 6th Grade Textual Analysis Teacher

Steffanie Long believes that every student can learn and deserves an excellent education. She is committed to holding her students to high expectations and preparing them to excel in college and their future careers. Prior to teaching at the Kauffman School, Ms. Long taught sixth grade in the Kansas City Public Schools at J. A. Rogers Elementary. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ms. Long was drawn to the Kauffman School because of the positive environment and high standards for students as well as teachers. She is excited to celebrate the many successes that are sure to come this year.

Kristina Maude, 7th/8th Grade Guided Reading Teacher

Kristina Maude is committed to ensuring that each student has the ability to graduate from college. She is committed to teaching her students critical analysis and communications skills that are necessary for college and in everyday life. Prior to teaching at the Kauffman School, Ms. Maude attended the University of Kansas, where she received her Bachelor of Science in Journalism and Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. She is a 2016 Teach For America corps member and is working on her Master of Arts in Education through the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Ms. Maude was drawn to the Kauffman School because of its commitment to ensuring every student’s success.

Amber Merola, 6th Grade Guided Reading Teacher

Amber Merola stands behind the belief that all students can learn given the appropriate guidance, support, and love. Before starting her journey at the Kauffman School, Ms. Merola taught Read 180 and System 44 reading intervention programs to fourth- through eighth-grade students at a Kansas City, Missouri charter school. In addition, she also played a different role as a lead teacher and taught her own fifth-grade classroom before joining the Kauffman team. Ms. Merola received her Bachelor of Arts in Public Administration and Communication at the University of Pittsburgh, and a Master of Arts in Elementary Education from Seton Hill University. One of the main reasons Ms. Merola joined the Kauffman School is because the school represents her vision for the future of our youth.

Read Amber's Story >

Deon Myer, 5th Grade Textual Analysis Teacher

Deon Myer believes every student, no matter what race, gender, preference, etc., deserves equitable education. Mr. Myer believes children are our future and that it is imperative we invest in and shape our future. Before joining the Kauffman School, he taught at two private schools and Academia de Ninos in Kansas City, Missouri. Mr. Myer is an alumni of the University of Missouri-Kansas City and will graduate from Rockhurst University with his Master of Arts in Education. Mr. Myer was drawn to the Kauffman School because of the professional development opportunities and the school's authentic mindset around culture and social justice. He is excited and truly blessed to be working here this coming school year.

Margaret Perko, 9th Grade Math Teacher

Margaret Perko truly believes that every person is entitled to an excellent education. She is continually inspired by the ever-growing capacity of every student to face challenges head-on and emerge into success with a stronger sense of self. Prior to teaching at the Kauffman School, Ms. Perko attended William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri where she received her degree in Political Science and Communication. As a life-long learner and enthusiastic educator, Ms. Perko has discovered a passion for teaching. She is a 2016 Teach For America corps member and is pursuing a Master of Education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Ms. Perko is grateful to be teaching at the Kauffman School and looks forward to witnessing and celebrating students’ successes throughout the coming year.

Emily Randall, 6th Grade Guided Reading Teacher

Emily Randall believes every child in Kansas City deserves the very best education. She has an unwavering faith in her students' abilities to grow as readers. Prior to teaching at the Kauffman School, Ms. Randall was a fundraiser and event coordinator for DeLaSalle Education Center and Newhouse Domestic Violence Shelter. Prior to her work in fundraising, Ms. Randall worked as a news reporter at the Atchison Globe and the Northeast News. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri. Ms. Randall chose to teach at the Kauffman School because she is energized by its mission to create college graduates.

Elisabeth Randall, 8th Grade Science Teacher

Lis Randall is so excited to partner with parents and students this year at the Kauffman School. Ms. Randall is committed to helping her students get to and through college, and believes every child deserves an excellent education. Before teaching at the Kauffman School, Ms. Randall taught seventh- and eighth-grade science in Kansas City Public Schools at African Centered College Preparatory. Ms. Randall is an alumna of Teach For America - Kansas City. She earned an undergraduate degree in English Literature from Centre College in Danville, Kentucky and she received her Master of Education in Secondary Education from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Ms. Randall was drawn to the Kauffman School because she believes that its high expectations can help its students achieve extraordinary success.

Hayley Steel, 7th Grade Textual Analysis Teacher

Hayley Steel believes that, if equipped with the proper tools, students in Kansas City have the ability to change the world. She is committed to doing everything she can to help students obtain their short-term and long-term goals. Prior to teaching at the Kauffman School, Ms. Steel taught eighth-, ninth- and tenth-grade special education and English Language Arts at Southwest Early College Campus in the Kansas City Public Schools district. Ms. Steel is an alumna of Teach For America - Kansas City. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Saint Mary's College of California in Morage, California. She went on to receive her master’s degree in Special Education from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Ms. Steel was drawn to the Kauffman School because of the impact the school is having on the students of Kansas City. She is excited to be part of a community dedicated to providing an excellent education to all Kansas City students.

Molly Schmeidler, Kansas City Teaching Resident

Molly Schmeidler believes in celebrating grit, appreciating creativity, and knowing your neighbor. She serves as a Resident through the Kansas City Teacher Residency program. Prior to KCTR, Ms. Schmeidler served on the full-time staff of Camp War Eagle, programming the summer and year-round special events for kids and families in Northwest Arkansas. She taught skateboarding to kids and designed weekly curriculum encouraging kids to become involved in their communities. She received her Bachelor of Arts in History from Baker University in Baldwin City, Kansas. Ms. Schmeidler is excited to serve at Kauffman School because of the high expectations it holds for its students and supportive staff culture.

Taylor Sidles, 5th Grade Math Teacher

Taylor Sidles is committed to creating a world where every child has access to an outstanding education, beginning with students at the Kauffman School. Ms. Sidles received her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, with focuses in History, English, Women and Gender Studies, and Medieval and Renaissance Studies. She is a 2014 Teach For America - Kansas City corps member. She is looking forward to learning and growing alongside her students. Ms. Sidles is so excited to be a part of the Kauffman School team because of team members' dedication to helping students become confident and independent PREPsters on their journey to and through college.

Emily Thorpe, Learning Support Specialist

Emily Thorpe believes all students possess the potential for success despite any and all obstacles. She is committed to providing an inspiring and rigorous education that paves a pathway for life-long opportunity. Before coming to the Kauffman School, Ms. Thorpe studied history and political science at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama. She is a proud Kansas City native and saw education as the key to Kansas City's continued growth and success. These fervent beliefs led her to join Teach For America - Kansas City. She was particularly drawn to the Kauffman School because of the school-wide vision of creating college graduates. She is extremely excited about this year for one particular reason: She believes Kansas City residents are truly some of the most driven, passionate, and community-aligned people and kids and she absolutely cannot wait to harness all that Kansas City and Kauffman School students have to offer.

Bess Toyama, 6th Grade Guided Reading Teacher

Bess Toyama believes that all children in Kansas City deserve an opportunity for excellent education and if given that opportunity can succeed academically. She also believes the key to excellent education is excellent, dedicated, and caring teachers. Ms. Toyama studied at Mississippi University for Women, where she earned her Bachelor of Arts in History and Political Sciences. She continued her education at University of Missouri-St. Louis, where she earned her Master of Education in Secondary Education. Prior to joining the staff at the Kauffman School, Ms. Toyama taught third and fourth grade at Gladstone Elementary School in the Kansas City Public Schools district. Ms. Toyama is excited to be a part of a staff that is greatly impacting the growing movement to provide quality education to all children in Kansas City. Entering her third year on staff, he hopes to continue sharing her love of reading and learning with all students at the Kauffman School.

Read Bess's Story >

Alecia Tumpap, 9th Grade Biology Teacher

Alecia Tumpap believes that all students are capable of achieving greatness. She is committed to holding students to high standards to ensure that they are able to overcome any obstacle that may impede their future success. Prior to teaching at the Kauffman School, Ms. Tumpap taught ninth grade science at Paseo Academy of Fine and Performing Arts in the Kansas City Public Schools district. Ms. Tumpap is an alumna of Teach For America - Kansas City. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington and went on to receive teaching certification from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Ms. Tumpap was drawn to the Kauffman School's rigorous curriculum and strong school culture. She is looking forward to providing the academic skill sets and personal supports necessary for students to reach their highest potentials.

Daniel Velazquez, 9th/10th Grade Spanish Teacher

Daniel Velazquez believes all humans deserve the opportunity of an excellent education, and that equity of voice enriches and positively impacts our community. He is excited to work at the Kauffman School in the pursuit of its mission to create college graduates, and his students and colleagues inspire him every day. Prior to Kauffman School, Mr. Velazquez started the English Language Learners (ELL) Program at DeLaSalle Education Center in Kansas City, and he is an alumnus of Teach For America - Kansas City. He grew up in Asuncion, Paraguay, and earned a Bachelor of Arts in Child and Adolescent Development from San Francisco State University. He recently completed a Master of Education from the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Margaret Watermann, Teaching Fellow

Margaret Watermann believes that every student in Kansas City deserves access to a high-quality education. She is committed to building strong relationships with students and families to achieve the highest degree of academic success. Prior to teaching at the Kauffman School, Ms. Watermann served as the Assistant to the Executive Director for the Arkansas Teacher Corps program. Ms. Watermann is a Teach For America corps member. She received her Bachelor of Arts in History, Political Science, and French from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Arkansas. She is working on her Master of Education in secondary education from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Ms. Watermann was attracted to the Kauffman School because of its high expectations and service to the community. She is ready to work hard and see her students achieve tremendous growth.

Rebecca West, 7th Grade Science Teacher

Rebecca West believes all students deserve to have the educational supports that push them to develop a passion and curiosity for life and a drive to excel academically. She is committed to developing students to think critically and responsibly in order to be successful in college and beyond. Prior to teaching at the Kauffman School, Ms. West completed her undergraduate education at Drury University, earning a degree in Elementary Education. She is a 2015 Teach For America corps member. She is excited to watch students grow personally and academically this year and make it the best year yet!

Roxine Westhues, 7th Grade Textual Analysis Teacher

Roxine LaPorte believes every student deserves to have his or her voice heard and be pushed to communicate in meaningful, sophisticated dialogue with peers. Prior to teaching at the Kauffman School, Mrs. Westhues taught English for grades eight through twelve in New Mexico and Texas. She received her Bachelor of Arts in English and her Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction from New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Mrs. Westhues came to the Kauffman School because of the strong culture and high expectations. She is excited to get to know the students and hear each of their unique voices.

Chelsea Whittle, 6th Grade Guided Reading Teacher

Chelsea Whittle believes all students deserve the best education. She knows each student can obtain his or her goals with determination and hard work. Prior to teaching at the Kauffman School, Mrs. Whittle taught fifth grade at Faxon Elementary in the Kansas City Public Schools for three years. Mrs. Whittle received her Bachelor of Sciences in Elementary Education from Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri. She is an alumna of Teach For America - Kansas City. Mrs. Whittle grew up in the Kansas City area and is very excited to influence the lives of students at the Kauffman School. She can't wait to see her students' achievements this year!

Erin Wilmore, 7th/8th Grade Science Teacher

Erin Wilmore believes every student deserves highly effective teachers and a quality education. She is extremely passionate about serving the students in her hometown of Kansas City, Missouri. Ms. Wilmore strives to push her students to become the best they can possibly be. Prior to teaching at the Kauffman School, Ms. Wilmore taught third grade in Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools at John F. Kennedy Elementary School. Ms. Wilmore is an alumna of Jackson State University, where she received her Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and Middle School Mathematics. Ms. Wilmore was drawn to the Kauffman School because of its high expectations for students, staff and strong dedication to raise the bar of excellence. She is excited to accomplish myriad goals that she will set with her PREPsters this year!

Courtney Winchester, Learning Support Specialist

Courtney Winchester believes that every child has the ability to achieve his or her dreams and positively shape the world. To help children reach a their potential, she will hold students to high expectations and utilize each child’s strength to encourage students to be successful members of society. Ms. Winchester is a graduate of the University of Kansas with a Bachelor of Sciences in Elementary Education with a concentration in Special Education and English as a Second Language. Ms. Winchester is eager to contribute to the Kauffman School’s vision of cultivating students who are equipped with skills to pursue their dreams.

Casey Wright, Learning Support Specialist

Casey Wright believes that all students have an unlimited potential to be world changers and leaders and have the capacity to achieve their dreams. Prior to teaching at the Kauffman School, Ms. Wright graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and Justice Systems from Truman State University and worked as a Guardian ad Litem Florida. She is a corps member with Teach for America - Kansas City. Ms. Wright was drawn to the Kauffman School because of its emphasis on creating college graduates as well as its positive culture and commitment to student success. She could not be more excited to be a part of the Kauffman School family.

Jason Zimmerman, 10th Grade Geometry Teacher

Jason Zimmerman is committed to the idea that Kansas City's children possess the ability to compete on an absolute scale with the best and brightest of our nation. Prior to joining the Kauffman School, Mr. Zimmerman served as an elementary teacher in the Kansas City Missouri Public Schools district, where he helped transition the district into its standards-based academic system. Mr. Zimmerman is an alumnus of Teach For America - Kansas City and received his Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Communication, and Gender Studies from the University of Pittsburgh and Master of Education from Rockhurst University. Among his reasons for joining the Kauffman School is creating a proof point for Kansas City that showcases exceptional public education.