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Our team

Experts, Allies, and Partners.

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Our Team

It’s no stretch to say that, as a Mastery School student, you will work with extraordinary teachers and mentors who bring expertise, passion, and a desire to engage with you.

They also bring a commitment to redesigning school so that it’s more human and more humane; so that it’s built with your future in mind; so that it helps you identify, nurture, and own your talents and capacity for growth.

Seventeen years ago, I came to Hawken to help start the Humanities program. At Hawken, I’ve had the chance to build and develop programs including Humanities and intensives, to grow as a teacher and school leader, and to become wildly excited about a way to do school differently. Inspired by my work with Doris Korda, I believe with every fiber of my being that school should be about discovering your strengths, channeling your intrinsic motivation, and finding joy. My family’s roots run deep in the sleepaway camp world of New England, where I learned to love kayaking, swimming, campfires, putting on plays, and building meaningful community. I love yoga, any kind of tea, theatre, spending time with friends and family, cooking, and podcasts. I live in Cleveland Heights with my husband (a Hawken alum), two children, and a cat who likes to play fetch.

Contact Info: jgrif@hawken.edu

Julia holds an undergraduate degree from Harvard University in Government with a focus on political theory and masters in Literature from Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English.

My approach to the classroom and student life engages young people as citizens who reflect upon the worlds they occupy, even as they consider how to build the world they desire. In our work together, we discover that this self-reflective work requires courage, imagination, and safety. I love walking alongside young people as they explore their truths, distill their own ideas about the legacy they want to create, take risks, make mistakes, and grow to be the truest versions of themselves within a caring community. I joined Hawken after nine years in government, politics and nonprofit advocacy, and enjoy the ability to draw upon this experience as we think about what it means to create a healthy culture as Dean of Students for the Mastery School. I am the adoring partner of a courageous historian, bonus dad of a STEM-loving second-grader, brother of two great siblings, son of caring parents, and Boston (MA)’s own.

Contact Info: afatu@hawken.edu

Ambrose earned a BA and MA in English Literature and Language from the University of Virginia, and an MA in Theological Studies from Boston College. 

“We have a powerful potential in our youth, and we must have the courage to change old ideas and practices so that we may direct their power toward good ends.”  This is a direct quote from Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune’s Last Will and Testament to the university she founded, which started out as a small school with five little girls and funded with $1.50 and a seed of faith.  I had the opportunity to attend and graduate from that institution, Bethune-Cookman University, exactly 100 years after its founding, and it’s a big part of why I am so excited to lead the admission process as the Director of Admission for the Mastery School of Hawken.  It is my belief that the work we are doing at the Mastery School will create amazing opportunities for students 100 years from now!

My journey at Hawken began one year ago after 15 years of diverse experience in secondary education, sales, marketing, college admissions, and diversity and inclusion work.  My commitment as an education advocate is to create admission processes that are equitable, inclusive, and engaging.  I am excited to return to my Cleveland roots and experience my city as a wife, mother, and professional. 

Contact Info: rasa.drane@hawken.edu

Rasa earned a B.S. in Biology with a Minor in Chemistry.  She is currently in the M.Ed. program in Higher Education at Penn State University.

 

I am an earnest and passionate extrovert who treasures building and maintaining meaningful relationships with students, parents, and friends alike. In my various professional and personal roles, I’ve come to cherish being surrounded by children and those who care for them, supporting families in the intricate orchestration of their daily lives. Before joining the Mastery School in the spring of 2020, I spent four and a half years running the administration of a local private lesson music school, enveloped by my loves of music and management. With a fondness for logic puzzles and problem-solving, I look forward to relying on my gumption and prowess to round out the founding team of the Mastery School of Hawken. At home, I am known for my cooking and caretaking, and I have a hard time turning down the opportunity to host. On Sundays, you’ll find me with my partner, Phelan, completing NYTimes word puzzles while enjoying dim sum.

Contact info: mindy.roth@hawken.edu

Mindy graduated with a BA from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, studying Psychology, Sociology, Music, and Entrepreneurship.

My training in studio art taught me the importance of iteration, feedback, and problem solving. I was able to apply these concepts throughout my seven years as a legal assistant at a local law firm and I am thrilled to put them into practice as Administrative Associate at the Mastery School. I love supporting people, building meaningful connections, and learning about the stories that inform our worldviews. When I’m not catching up on reading for one of my book clubs, I may be found exploring the outdoors and also pursuing creative projects (ask me about my Quikrete installation!). I am a devoted daughter, sister to an adventurous brother, partner to a dedicated communications director, and ardent analog photographer. 

Contact Info: mary.defer@hawken.edu

Mary earned BA in Studio Art from Kenyon College.

Students learn best when they have room to grow, create, and collaborate.  In my role as an Admission Counselor, I engage students and families by building relationships and making connections as they discern the next steps in their educational path.  I love learning about people and sharing conversations about their passions and wonders.   Prior to joining the Mastery School, I became part of the Hawken community in 2015 as the Lower School Performing Arts teacher and saw the spark of curiosity in young learners and continue to fuel this same spark in high school students.  Outside of school, you can find me spending time with my family, making music, and sailing.

Contact Info: sarah.kozlowski@hawken.edu

Sarah holds a BME in Music Education from Baldwin Wallace Conservatory of Music and a MME in Music Education from Kent State University.

As an educator (and parent), I’m passionate about empowering learners with not only the critical thinking, reasoning, research, and communication skills needed to seize 21st Century opportunities, but also the confidence to take risks in search of their potential. I value authentic educational experiences and the journey of discovering multiple solutions to problems, even less-than-perfect ones. When I’m not lying awake at night contemplating a new way to challenge my students, I’m corralling my own circus of three, elementary-aged children. Occasionally, I find time to enjoy a good book, go for a hike, take a Peloton ride with my “boo,” or dial into a Zoom call with my circle of power-women all over the country. 

Contact Info: april.bain@hawken.edu

April earned a BS in Commerce from The University of Virginia and a  MAT in Secondary Education from The University of Southern California.

Making connections with others and building relationships are what bring me the greatest joy in life and what has brought me back to teaching again and again. I truly believe that we become our best selves only by taking the time to understand the world from another’s point of view and this is exactly what I try to do together with students in our language and culture classroom. I joined the Mastery School Design Team after working in K-16 language education in Colombia, France, and the United States, excited by the opportunity to rethink the goals and methods of high school world language education and explore a transdisciplinary model of learning and teaching. I am a lover of good food and good company and try to bring the two together in international locales as much as possible. I live in Shaker Heights with my partner and our adorably lazy greyhound and am proud to be the fourth generation in my family to call Northeast Ohio home. 

Contact Info: nick.cheadle@hawken.edu

Nick earned a BA in History from Northwestern University and Masters degrees in both Spanish and French from Middlebury College. He completed two years of PhD coursework in Second Language Acquisition at Carnegie Mellon University before deciding to opt out of academia and join the Mastery School Design Team.

My background in engineering taught me that there is rarely a “right answer” and that good decision making is all about the questions we ask and the assumptions we make.  I love exploring how the world works and the ways in which we can combine math, science, and humanities to deepen our understanding of it.  As a teacher, I’m passionate about pushing students out of their comfort zones and into spaces where they learn to embrace failure and iteration, learn from one another, and deepen their critical thinking skills.  I joined the Hawken community in 2015 after working in the aerospace engineering industry and then as a teacher in Chicago and Northwest Indiana, and I am incredibly excited to be a founding faculty member at the Mastery School.  Outside of school, you’re most likely to find me and my husband hiking the Metroparks with our daughter and dog in tow, enjoying the local food and music scene, or planning our next big adventure.

Contact Info: jhodg@hawken.edu

Julia holds a BS in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Notre Dame and a MA in Teaching with a focus on Math and Science Education from Dominican University.

I believe that the most meaningful learning happens when we democratize the classroom, shifting from a structure that positions the educator as authority and students as subordinates to a model that respects and champions the autonomy and diverse experiences of its learners. I aim to create an environment where students and educators actively learn with and from one another, challenge each other’s thinking, and work collaboratively through problems to design creative solutions.

Prior to joining the Mastery School, I worked as a curriculum designer and afterschool educator at the YWCA of Greater Pittsburgh. While there, I developed activities that integrated arts and making to teach traditional STEM concepts.

Outside of school I enjoy experimenting in my garden, exploring nature, and finding new ways to be creative. I am happiest when snuggled up on the couch with my partner and pets watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Contact Info: annie.homan@hawken.edu

Annie holds a BS in Neuroscience from Allegheny College and a MS in Neuroscience from the University of Pittsburgh.

I love learning about how and why things work. Playing video games growing up, I always thought it was cool that people would program entire worlds to explore using nothing but code. When Minecraft’s Alpha first released, the world generation was amazing. It made me wonder about “the code” that makes our own universe tick. From my years doing outreach in Cleveland and working with students, I found that many people learn to hate math and physics as formula-memorizing, tedious, time-sinks. But this is so far from what mathematicians and physicists actually do: Experiment, solve puzzles, and, most importantly, play with real problems! We talk about school as “preparing you for the real-world” but why wait? What if school was about doing real physics or real mathematics with real problems and challenges? I joined Hawken Upper School in 2017 in the hopes of making this idea of school a reality and, now, here we are at the Mastery School! I’m stoked to return to the city of Cleveland where I originally started my work in education. I missed it. Outside of school, you’ll likely find me with my family and friends (online and in-person), playing video games (PC and Switch), playing tabletop games (D&D), making music (piano and more), or building stuff (like a gaming table!). If you’ve got a project in mind, I’d love to hear about it, whatever it is.

Contact Info: zkord@hawken.edu

Zack earned a B.S. in Physics and B.S. in Mathematics with a minor in Education from Cleveland State University.

I believe that teaching well is all about having actual relationships with students, where we, as teachers, figure out what the students’ starting points are and then we take them somewhere new.  In particular, I love teaching about storytelling, whether it’s reading literature together, interviewing strangers, writing original stories, or analyzing a period of history.  I’ve been at Hawken for six years now, and before that I taught in New York City and Boston schools – this Fall will be the beginning of my sixteenth year of teaching.  I’ve learned a bit about how to build classroom communities where students feel safe to share their thoughts, and I put a lot of time into that, because it’s important that students feel they can be open and honest at school.  When I was in high school, I developed so much of my sense of humor, my sense of self, and my friendships (I still talk to two of my best friends from high school every week!) so I know that it’s important for us to make this into a place where students can really grow.

Contact info: docon@hawken.edu

Dan earned a BA in English from the College of Wooster, and an MA in the Teaching of English from Columbia University, Teachers College.

Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All” convinced me at a very young age that agency, passion, relationship, curiosity, authenticity, and self-knowledge are essential to deep and effective learning. Ten years working with students as a teacher, advisor, house director, coach, and in leadership roles has only added depth to that belief. I value creating equitable and inclusive spaces in schools, whatever that means at whatever moment. I admire writers like Toni Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston, whose authenticity revolutionized how people see our world by illuminating difficult truths and changing the writing landscape. I want to do that in education. As a type 1 Enneagram, Myers-Briggs INTJ, and Architect brain type, my favorite things are working to improve education for us all, golfing with my partner, trying to understand my cat’s motivations, spending time with my family, board games, drinking tea, and learning…anything? I think of my brain as a sort of jukebox and am constantly adding to my collection. My most recent learning adventure has been teaching myself to play funky bass guitar. I love bass’ subtle, steady significance in some songs and game-changing movement in others. I think that is also what I love about people—our range of subtle significance and capacity to change the game.

Contact info: janae.peters@hawken.edu

Janae earned a BA in English Literature from Kenyon College and a Masters in Clinical Social Work (MSW) from the Smith College School for Social Work.

“Education is an act of love, and thus an act of courage.”

“Whoever teaches learns in the act of teaching, and whoever learns teaches in the act of learning.”   

After many years working with students, these quotes from Paulo Freire resonate most with my beliefs about education and speak to the reason I chose to become a teacher.  Helping students as they overcome obstacles, build grit and self-confidence, and ultimately achieve mastery through hard work is my vocation.  After sixteen years of teaching high school in the NYC Department of Education and six years serving as an adjunct lecturer at the City University of New York, I am excited to join the Mastery School of Hawken and to be a member of the design team and founding faculty.  As a parent myself, I know the profound impact a positive learning experience can have on a child, and I believe that each student brings a unique and special contribution to class.  I am a lucky husband of an amazing physics teacher, father of three little blessings, son of courageous and loving parents, brother to an artistic sibling, proud Latino, and musician at heart.

Contact info: pedro.placido@hawken.edu

Pedro earned a BS from NYU-Tandon School of Engineering in Mechanical Engineering, a MS in Education and Mathematics from PACE University.  Pedro holds multiple licenses and certificates in STEM education and TESOL.

“The self is not something ready-made, but something in continuous formation through choice of action”  –John Dewey

As an educator, psychologist, and parent, John Dewey’s words are often apparent in my daily interactions with youth.  It is my belief that too few teens are given the space to adequately explore who they are, who they want to be, and how they can best navigate their world in both meaningful and authentic ways.  The values of giving students a voice and empowering them to direct their own growth and find their own resilience are lived fully when I work with students through active listening, validation, and co-creation of narratives and solutions.  As I encourage student growth, I myself am able to grow alongside them and to learn from their experiences and my own missteps along the way.  I joined Hawken in 2019 and am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to work within the Mastery School, providing supportive encouragement as students find themselves through purposefully created choice activities.  Outside of school, I can be found trying to help my own children find their sense of self as we explore nature with our two dogs or trying to sneak in a cup of good coffee and maybe a quick read before the day begins!

Contact Info: ashley.poklar@hawken.edu

Dr. Poklar earned a B.S. in Special Education from College of Charleston in Charleston, SC and a M.Ed. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and a PhD in Urban Education, with a specialization in Counseling Psychology from Cleveland State University.

I live and teach using the scientific method: make observations, generate questions, test hypotheses and draw informed conclusions – then repeat the process. In today’s technology-centered world, facts are at everyone’s fingertips. As a science educator, it’s my goal to get students involved with the process of discovery and to encourage keeping up with cutting edge research. I believe that the habit of critical thinking is an important and versatile resource for any challenge that one may face, in science or otherwise. I also believe that research works best in collaborative settings, where ideas can be freely exchanged in a culture of trust and respect. I come to the Mastery School with over 15 years of experience in environmental research in many sectors of the field, including academia, non-profit institutes and private industry. I enjoy passionate conversations and sharing ideas with others, and I feel my best when I can be helpful. Outside of the classroom I spend my time cooking, reading love stories, marveling at pond life under the microscope, and raising three spirited children.

Contact Info: claudia.tausz@hawken.edu

Claudia earned a B.A. in Liberal Arts from Hampshire College and an M.S. in Environmental Science and Engineering from Oregon Health and Science University. She is currently enrolled in a doctoral program in Regulatory Biology at Cleveland State University.

I join the Mastery School after 13 years of teaching in both public and private schools and 3 years as a freelance illustrator and animator. In my work in the classroom, I find it essential for students to discover what they love and to identify their strengths. It’s my goal to help students find what it means to work as a member of a team to confront and tackle creative challenges. Creating room for students to grow, reflect and question their work, and make connections with themselves and the wider world is what continues to inspire me to work in education. I love discovering new ways to create and share visual media and to understand how others experience the world. Outside of the classroom, you can find me drawing, playing basketball, or enjoying a hike with my partner and two kids. 

Contact Info: tom.waitzman@hawken.edu

Tom holds a BFA from the University of the Arts in Film/Digital Video and an Art Education Teaching Certificate from Moore College of Arts & Design

I believe that our character is a culmination of our experiences and how we’ve made sense of them, and I see my role as an educator to bring critical and creative thinking to this meaning-making, best-self-finding process. I’m passionate about cultivating meaningful experiences and living wholeheartedly, which might look like pausing to appreciate the sunset in the midst of an evening run or persevering alongside my students as we examine preconceived notions of what we–and our community–are capable of, what’s holding us back, and how we chart a course forward. I joined MSH twelve years into my journey as an educator, a journey that has taken me to expeditionary learning, the humanities classroom, and school leadership. As a member of the founding faculty, I continue my path of learning alongside students and embrace the challenging, silly, and beautiful moments all the same. I am a devoted family member, proud midwesterner, partner to a fellow educator, and an adventurer at heart.    

Contact info: ashley.waldorf@hawken.edu

Ashley earned BAs in Professional Writing and Anthropology from Michigan State University, an MA  in Education from Alliant International University, and is currently enrolled in a doctoral program in Education Leadership and Policy at Vanderbilt University.

Because architecture is the intersection of art and science, I believe it offers students a unique multidisciplinary lens to view, process, and understand the world around them. By understanding the design process as a problem-solving tool, I hope students are able to notice that they have agency in the world, are curious enough to question it, and feel empowered to redesign it. I am interested in understanding, experiencing, and creating spaces that reflect people’s diverse experiences and innovatively look to the future. I am a licensed architect and worked in an architecture firm for 8 years designing cultural and performing arts spaces. My career took a slight pivot to education as I became interested in how architecture and design could shape not only future architects and designers but future citizens and occupiers of space. A life long Clevelander, my husband and I live in the home we renovated in Ohio City and we enjoy walking to our great lake with our two young sons. 

Contact info: kziel@hawken.edu

Katie earned a BA in Mathematics from the University of Virginia, a BS in Architecture from Kent State University, and a Masters of Architecture from the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative at Kent State University.

I’ve always looked up to and I walk the same values Sam Walton established with his company. Respect for the individual, customer service and strive for excellence. These values are universal. Exceptional customer service extends to anyone I come in contact with; students, faculty, supervisors, parents, family, community members, just to name a few.

Contact info: victor.nelson@hawken.edu

 

Over the years, I have become convinced that education, marked by self-awareness, authenticity, and diversity, is fundamental to a wholistic journey toward understanding.  When we bring the truest form of ourselves into our relationships, new and exciting possibilities and intersectionalities begin to emerge.  The most exciting part of my role, here at The Mastery School, is being able to journey with students as surprising conversations arise, and technical support issues need solving. Helping students work through tech issues, as I see it, is an act of empowerment and support for both their journey toward self-awareness and their path toward being a lifelong learner. Through the unconditional support of my beautiful wife, and three children, who are unable to contain the vast sea of potentiality that lies within, I am inspired and energized to do hard work.

Contact Info: bryan.overbaugh@hawken.edu

Bryan holds a Masters of Divinity (MDiv)  from Ashland Theological Seminary, and a BA from Malone University.

Take a deeper dive

We asked a few questions to get to know these folks a bit better…

Have you ever written a thesis or dissertation?
  • Yes: 68.4%
  • No: 31.6%
Do you play a musical instrument:
  • Yes: 73.7%
  • No: 26.3%
Favorite Season:
  • Winter: 10.5%
  • Spring: 15.8%
  • Summer: 31.6%
  • Fall: 42.1%
How many cats do you have?
  • 0 cats: 52.6%
  • 1 cats: 26.3%
  • 2 cats: 15.8%
  • 3 cats: 5.3%
How many dogs do you have?
  • 0 dogs: 47.4%
  • 1 dog: 52.6%
How many cups of coffee do you drink a day?
  • 0 cups: 15.8%
  • 1 cup: 31.6%
  • 2 cups: 31.6%
  • 3 cups: 10.5%
  • 4 cups: 5.3%
  • 5 cups: 5.3%
How many cups of tea do you drink a day?
  • 0 cups: 57.9%
  • 1 cup: 21.0%
  • 2 cups: 10.5%
  • 3 cups: 5.3%
  • 4 cups: 5.3%
iPhone or Android?
  • iPhone: 79.0%
  • Android: 15.8%
  • Other: 5.2%
Have you ever had a job as a waiter or waitress?
  • Yes: 36.8%
  • No: 63.2%
Which Harry Potter House are you?
  • Gryffindor: 10.5%
  • Hufflepuff: 15.8%
  • Ravenclaw: 26.3%
  • Slytherin: 10.5%
  • Muggle: 36.8%
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