CSET Professional Learning

2021 Hollyhock Leading Fellows

Ashley Cruz-Albert found her love for teaching at an alternative high school as an almost high school dropout. After interning in veterinary care and the sideshow circus for credit recovery, Ashley finally decided to give her first childhood dream of teaching a try. As a classroom assistant, she found that each day ended with meaningful exhaustion and the greatest joy down to her bones. Ashley went on to receive her B.S. in English Education and M.A. in TESOL from the Steinhardt School of New York University. She is proudly entering her 9th year at Sunset Park High School in Brooklyn, NY, teaching English and History within a co-teaching model. While serving as her school’s Multilingual Learner Coordinator and grade team Inquiry Leader, she is deeply invested in developing student-centered culturally and historically responsive curriculum with equitable grading practices. Following inspiration from the Hollyhock fellowship experience, she has also been a part of the inception of school teams focused on restorative practices, transformative action, and Dreamer advocacy. Ashley’s classroom approach is guided by radical love; she is passionate about cultivating brave and inclusive classroom spaces where students feel cherished and find joy in sharing their multilingual brilliance.

In 2007, when Christine McDermott graduated with a Bachelor's in English from Quinnipiac University, she did not see herself becoming an educator. However, after a few years working in the nonprofit sector leading teens in service learning projects, Christine decided she loved working with teenagers and went back to school for a Master’s in Teaching with a focus on Secondary English; this career move was the best decision she made! Christine McDermott has now been teaching English Language Arts at the high school level for eleven years with four of those years at Denver North High School; North H.S. has a fantastically diverse and inclusive community in which students, staff, and families work together to be intentionally supportive of all stakeholders. During her time teaching high school, she has taught everything from 9th grade English, Reading Intervention, Co-Taught EMS courses to concurrent enrollment and Advanced placement courses. Currently, Christine teaches Women's Literature, CE LIT115, and AP English Literature. Christine also has experience coaching and leading the English department at two of the schools at which she has taught, and spent two years as the Senior Team Lead for the English department at North H.S. Additionally, she leads a professional learning community focused on Building Anti-Racist Educators. Christine is eager to be a part of the Hollyhock Leading Fellows to further her experience and learning around leading educators!

Cara Liuzzi is a 10th-year high school English teacher and Lead of the Humanities Professional Learning Community at Lionel Wilson College Preparatory Academy in Oakland, CA. Cara believes that teaching is fundamentally a revolutionary act that should contribute to the ongoing quest for equity, justice, and liberation in society. She is constantly working to facilitate classroom communities that model how the world could and should be, instead of simply mirroring how it currently is. As a teacher, Cara co-leads the GSA club, coaches the Youth Speaks SLAM poetry club, serves as a Global Glimpse summer trip leader, and partners with Cal Shakes Theater and the Berkeley Repertory Theatre to take students on field trips. Cara’s most meaningful professional learning has taken place in the 2016 Stanford Hollyhock Fellowship and the Bay Area Writing Project’s (BAWP) 2020 Invitational Summer Institute through UC Berkeley. She has enjoyed the chance to facilitate adult learning as a BAWP Teacher Consultant, 12th Grade Level Lead, and Induction Coach. Cara sees joy, relationships, and lifelong learning as the heart of her work; every day she learns more about what it means to be human, and seeks to make education a humanizing experience for every person involved. She can’t wait to learn from and alongside the other Hollyhock Leading Fellows!

Rachel Sagapolu is a seventh-year English teacher and Chair of the English Department at Tennyson High School in Hayward, CA. She spent several years after college working in the sports industry and in the technology sector, but she knew it was not the right fit. After remembering how much she enjoyed her time as an AmeriCorps member in college, Rachel decided to pursue her teaching credential and fell in love with the profession. She is proud to serve the community in which she grew up.

Before teaching English at Tennyson High School in Hayward, California, Ward Stern worked in the nonprofit world: first in grief support services at a hospice; then in volunteer management at a family support center.  From those positions, he brings an emphasis on socio-emotional development and community building to his classroom.  You can often find his freshman English classes outside working on a team-building challenge.  Next year, his seventh, he will take on a discretionary prep named Grading For Equity Coordinator where he will lead professional development for his fellow teachers.

Alysia Ramos is entering her 7th year as a math teacher at North High School in Denver, CO. She earned her bachelor's in International Affairs from the University of Colorado at Boulder and her Masters in Urban Education from Denver University. Unlike many teachers, Alysia did not think she would be a teacher. Her dream was to be an immigration attorney. However, as a first generation college student, she didn't have enough money or knowledge about financial aid and scholarships to attend law school right after college. So, she applied and served through a non-profit called City Year in hopes of using the experience in writing applications for future scholarships. It was through this experience of working with small group math intervention that she absolutely fell in love with teaching. Now, Alysia is dedicated to working to build and support new and upcoming educators in becoming the teachers our students so rightly deserve. While continuing to teach 10th grade math, Alysia is also an instructional coach to a caseload of math teachers and all first year teachers in her building, as well as supports the coaching and development of mentors of preservice (student) teachers.

Dr. Alicia Fontnette is a native of New Orleans, Louisiana where she studied at Dillard University. After completing her Bachelor of Arts degree in History with a minor in English, she moved to Atlanta, Georgia to attend Clark Atlanta University for both her Master of Arts degree in African and African-American Studies and her Doctor of Philosophy in Humanities, Africana Women’s Studies, and English. Dr. Fontnette’s research interests include Black women and their development in America, the impact of Hurricane Katrina on Black women in New Orleans, and the use of Black women’s voices in literature as tools for liberation. Her most recent projects include the deconstruction of systematic racism and bias in America’s educational system and the decolonization of the curriculum students are forced to learn, especially in Atlanta. Dr. Fontnette is currently an instructor of Ethnic Studies, Research, and World History at KIPP Atlanta Collegiate High School and an adjunct instructor of English at Spelman College. Dr. Fontnette hopes that her work will contribute to a society that is truly just and equal for everyone, especially Black and Brown around the Diaspora.

Wellyna Johnson Patterson’s education career began in the summer of 2009. She was nudged towards an education degree by an advisor at freshman orientation who claimed that an education degree would give her law school application an edge over a sea of Pre-Law and English majors. Wellyna would never get a chance to test out that theory as she found fulfillment in the English classroom and never looked back. With a B.S. from The University of Alabama and an M.A.Ed. in High School Education from The University of Alabama at Birmingham, she has devoted the past 8 years to the art and science of teaching. Her career has taken her from classrooms in Makhanda, South Africa to the suburbs of Birmingham, Alabama, and currently, to a vibrant community in Southwest Atlanta. During the past 5 years at KIPP Atlanta Collegiate, Wellyna has taught 10th Grade Pre-AP English and 12th Grade AP Literature, helped overhaul the Multicultural Literature curriculum, chartered the school’s chapter of the National English Honor Society, and currently serves on the AP Literature Curriculum Writing Team for the KIPP Network’s AP for All program. As a result of these experiences, Wellyna has developed a pedagogical philosophy centered around a culturally responsive curriculum and amplification of student voice in the classroom. When not at school, she enjoys spending time with her husband, Eric, and their two vivacious children: Emory and Tallulah.

Kolby Lirette is an 11th grade physics teacher from Chicago, IL. Originally from New Orleans, LA, Kolby moved to Chicago in the summer of 2013 to be a part of Teach For America’s 2013 corps. Kolby was placed at Catalyst-Maria High School (where he still works!) and assigned to teach Biology and Chemistry in a special education setting. Though initially anxiety invoking, this placement blossomed into a passion for science education that has fueled Kolby’s work both inside and outside of the classroom. After four years as a special education teacher, Kolby transitioned into his current role of general education physics teacher. In the classroom, Kolby's passion is rooted in making science education accessible and relevant to all learners. Kolby teaches science concepts through the lens of observable real world phenomena and themes. Be it momentum and impulse through the lens of car safety or thermodynamics and energy through climate change, Kolby is happiest when he is able to get his kids passionate and connected to the science they are learning. Outside the classroom, Kolby works as his school's science content lead. In this role, Kolby coaches the science teachers at his school and works with them toward teacher generated goals around student mastery and engagement. When he’s not working, Kolby enjoys being active with his husband, Robert and dog Parker.

Carmen Cruz earned her Bachelor's degree in English and Creative Writing at Brooklyn College shortly before being accepted into the New York City Teaching Fellowship (NYCTF). Through the NYCTF, she earned a Master's degree in Special Education for Adolescents (Grades 7-12) at St. John's University, in Jamaica, Queens. Carmen has been a Special Education teacher for the NYC Department of Education for nine years, seven of which have been at Sunset Park High School, in Brooklyn, NY. Carmen’s goal is to ultimately become a teacher of teachers and to guide them through essential culturally responsive work earlier in their careers. To achieve this goal, she is pursuing a Doctoral degree in Instructional Leadership at St. John’s University. At Sunset Park High School, Carmen has specialized in decolonizing curricula for the humanities courses she co-teaches. Outside of the classroom, she is a member of her school’s Restorative Practices and Transformative Actions Team and Cultural Celebrations and Critical Actions Team, both of which work to create a critically conscious and culturally responsive school environment. When Carmen is not wearing all her hats at Sunset Park High School, she is either working on her memoir, playing co-ed softball with her friends, or being the happiest of soccer moms watching her son, Vincent, become a soccer superstar.

In pursuit of a career in medicine, Emediong (Emy) Birch accidentally fell in love with teaching high school biology. Even with the first-year highs and lows, she knew she could never turn back.The next four years she was privileged to have mentors to guide her in establishing a growth mindset and exposure to what equity in the class looked like. Most importantly, they modeled how to establish sustainable teaching practices that never negated their own mental health. With this encouragement and guidance, she had the confidence to take on the role of PLC leader, conduct department meetings that rolled out a district-wide literacy strategy initiative, and spearhead a biology EOC review night for 100+ student two years in a row, where by the second year the event was almost independently ran by her students. Emy attributes her fearless pursuit to use education to make a difference to being properly watered and attended to early on. Fast forward to the end of 2020, Emy and her husband moved to Texas. Although she was apart from her mentors, their teachings still shepherds and inspires her. Now, at this new school she has uncovered her other passion of curating nurturing environments for first-year teachers to find their footing and blossom into forward thinking teachers. In all, she hopes to continue to extend the web of influence her mentors had on her to this at times neglected group.

Erik Charney finished up his third year at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School Milwaukee and is finishing his 8th year of teaching. He has spent his entire life around teachers and it is the most popular field of employment in his family (my mom, sister, and Erik all are teachers). His passion for history has been there for most of his life and he knew by his junior year of high school that he too wanted to be a teacher. Erik received his B.S. in History and Geography from the University of Wisconsin: River Falls and his licensure through Alverno College in Milwaukee. After spending five years teaching middle school social studies, he began teaching at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School Milwaukee and was accepted into the Hollyhock Program as a member of the 2019 Cohort. Hollyhock reinvigorated him in the classroom and provided him with new opportunities to make history class meaningful. His Hollyhock school team has been incredibly supportive and has introduced new initiatives within his school. Erik is thrilled to be a part of the Hollyhock Leading Fellows program and looks forward to working with the new leading fellows. When he is not thinking about school and history, Erik is usually practicing taekwondo, biking around Milwaukee, playing with his dog, and working around his house.