Faculty and Staff
Katie Gibbons, Level I Teacher
I believe in a learning community that holds the highest respect and compassion for the process of human development; we all develop skills and strengths at different times and we all learn in different ways. A community that is flexible, creative, and full of humor, imagination, and fun will only bring out the best in children. I truly believe in creating a school culture that cares for each individual and honors their role within the group.”
Katie is a founding teacher at Synapse School. Her passion for making learning exciting, fun, and relevant for her students is palpable in her daily interactions with them. She is often seen rallying the Synapse teachers to prepare for an upcoming event at the school. In the past ten years, Katie has been teaching youth ages 5-11 in a variety of public and private educational settings, from an inner city charter school to start-up independent schools. One of her adventurous positions include teaching in a remote Yup’ik Eskimo village for three years where she participated in relevant math curriculum research project called Math in a Cultural Context (MCC) funded by the National Science Foundation. She also participated in the Alaska Salmon Incubation project, which involved collecting, raising, and releasing salmon as part of the classroom learning environment.
Katie completed her B.S. in Education from Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania and has a California Teaching Credential. Katie recently received an Administrative Services Credential and will graduate with a MA in Educational Leadership from Mills College in 2012.
Katie never stops developing herself and learning about different cultures around the world. Katie has traveled to Alaska, Canada, England, France, Germany, Greece, Hawaii, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Korea, Mexico, Peru, Spain, Switzerland, and Turkey. During the summer, Katie heads a summer camp for girls, Dolphin Camp, which she founded at the request of parents.
Enjoy thinking about ways to create something that other people have not even thought about, something no one has managed to achieve.” - Shigeru Miyamoto
Sarah has been teaching students of all ages since 2005. She recently returned to California after living and teaching in Tokyo, Japan for nearly five years. While in Tokyo she taught English Language students and International Kindergarten students. While at the International School, Sarah helped to develop the curriculum for the school’s International Baccalaureate accreditation. Before moving overseas, Sarah taught Middle School Social Studies at a Charter School in downtown Los Angeles. She was born and raised on the Peninsula and earned her Undergraduate Degree in History with a Minor in Theatre Arts at UC Santa Cruz. Venturing to Los Angeles, Sarah earned her Master of Arts Degree in Education and her Teaching Credential from Pepperdine University. Sarah loves traveling and taking worldly adventures. She has had the pleasure of exploring in Western Europe, The Middle East, Asia, and North America. She also enjoys playing soccer, singing, playing guitar, and hiking.
As a society, we expect so much of our students, regardless of age. Therefore, we need to give them the tools to succeed intellectually and socially. I truly believe that if we can instill in our children a love of learning alongside the life skills of coping with daily frustrations, our children will be well on their way to becoming the next generation of leaders and change makers.”
Yvonne Kunstenaar has been working successfully with children for many years in many capacities: classroom teacher, reading tutor, science specialist, and volunteer in the Los Altos School District. Prior to discovering her love of working with children, she spent many years working in the business world. She is originally from New York City and has a B.A. in Foreign Area Studies from Columbia University, an MBA from University of Pennsylvania, and a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential from Notre Dame de Namur University. She loves working with elementary aged children: their natural curiosity, imagination, and uninhibited enthusiasm make them a joy!
As an educator, I yearn to provide my students with an educational environment that both challenges and nurtures their learning development, empowering them and making it possible for them to reach their fullest potential. I want my students to be critical as well as creative thinkers, social activists, and strong confident individuals. I am not only dedicated to the academic development of my students, but I also strive to empower them to become leaders and lifelong learners in a developmentally – appropriate and constructivist way.”
Alexandra is a native of the Peninsula and grew up and went to school in Palo Alto. She received her BA from the University of California, Santa Cruz with a degree in Sociology with a focus in Education. She later received her California Multiple Subject Teaching Credential from San Francisco State University in May of 2009. Alex then worked as a first and second grade teacher in San Francisco. In her free time, she likes to cook, read and travel.
Julie Sanford, Level II Teacher
Stefanie Plaat, Level II Co-Teacher
Katie Morgan, M.Ed., Level III Teacher
When I took a break from teaching to pursue a career in research, I couldn’t believe how much I truly missed being in the classroom. I think being a good teacher requires an investment of time and energy that creates a bond between the student and the teacher. That bond is reciprocal and allows for growth between the student and teacher together.
Fulfilling that partnership and watching the “aha” moments is one of the most satisfying and motivating sensations I have ever felt. Being able to be excited, thrilled, sad, frustrated, hopeful, and intrigued with young people is one of the greatest privileges I know.”
Katie Morgan is the Level 3 teacher at the Synapse School. Katie is starting her third year at Synapse after having successfully worked her way across the country from Virginia to Michigan to California. After finishing graduate school, Katie taught 4th grade in a public school in southeastern Virginia, and then moved to work as a research associate at The University of Michigan’s Autism and Communication Disorders Center (UMACC) for almost two years. While there, Katie worked on program management for the Simons Simplex Collection (SSC), was a leader for play groups, and later helped the Simons Foundation in New York prepare documents and research guides for a new project in 2010. Katie has a B.A. in Psychology and an M. A. Ed in Reading, Language and Literacy from The College of William and Mary. In her free time Katie enjoys reading, traveling and baking, and is working on enjoying running. Maybe some day!
I believe an educator’s motivation and devotion to teach is commensurate with their own desire to be a life-long learner. By demonstrating a positive, enthusiastic passion for learning I aim for every child to discover that knowledge is both liberating and empowering. I inspire and nurture the pursuit of academic greatness while also inculcating the magnitude of integrity, empathy, resilience, and hope. Using simulations and investigations, I strive for balance between analytical and creative thought with a conscientiousness for social responsibility and action. I engage all students and support their individual learning modalities via inquiry-based teaching and through the use of differentiated instructional strategies.”
A California native, Chris was conferred a Bachelor’s degree in English from San Francisco State University and is currently enrolled in the Master’s of Education and Leadership program at Notre Dame de Namur University. He enjoys spending time with his wife and 9 year old son taking long walks on the beach. While not with his family or in the classroom, you’re likely to find Chris cooking, working in the garden, or umpiring youth and college baseball games.
As a teacher I challenge my students to see within and beyond themselves so that they may emerge inspired to live as global citizens. A critical part of the process is helping students discover how they learn best and guiding them to capitalize upon those strategies.”
Cherilyn’s interest in working with gifted students began in 2006 when she worked with the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth summer programs. During the inaugural year of the CTY program in Puebla, Mexico, she organized bilingual activities for students and toured the region’s archeological sites. Cherilyn holds a B.A. in English and International Studies from the University of Arizona. After graduation, she accepted a Fulbright grant to teach English as a Second Language to undergraduates in Bucaramanga, Colombia.
Prior to joining Synapse, Cherilyn was the Technology Curriculum Specialist at a private school in Phoenix where she worked with faculty to integrate technology through engaging interdisciplinary projects. Other passions of hers include traveling the globe, salsa dancing, and enjoying live Shakespeare performances.
I believe in encouraging lifelong learning through fun, curiosity, and leading by example.”
Anne came from a sixteen year career in health care operations and consulting prior to pursuing her passion for teaching. She received her credential from Notre Dame de Namur University and brings experience working with students from a wide array of socioeconomic backgrounds and learning differences as a teacher and parent volunteer in San Bruno, Millbrae, and Hillsborough public schools. She has a B.S. in Biology from Stanford University and a Masters in Public Health from the University of Michigan. In addition, she is an avid fan of her daughter’s soccer team and dabbles in singing and photography.
I believe that the role of education is to open students’ minds to the vast possibilities of the world while developing their critical thinking skills so that they can analytically evaluate the issues and events of their day. I also think that it is important to help students integrate literacy skills and technology in a meaningful way that prepares them to be citizens of the global twenty-first century.”
Brian earned a B.A. in Philosophy at Cal State University Fullerton and had the privilege of studying British Literature for a semester at the University of London. After finishing his undergraduate degree, he earned a Single Subject Teaching Credential in English, and taught high school English and SAT prep courses covering Critical Reading, U.S. History, and Literature in Orange Country for four years before moving to northern California to teach at Synapse. In the spring of 2011, Brian also volunteered his time to co-lead an eight-week workshop where elementary school students prepared artwork for their own art show at PÄS Gallery in Fullerton, CA. His teaching focuses on the value of active reading and writing strategies, while integrating humor into the classroom. Above all else, Brian believes that learning is, and should be, fun!
Brian’s interests include art, literature, and comedy. He often spends his free time cycling, making music, and writing. He has been included in several local publications, including an essay for the third volume of the Hibbleton Independent, an annual art and literature journal, which he helped edit. His work has been displayed in shows in Orange County, where Brian has also curated art shows for The ARTery Gallery in Costa Mesa and Book Machine in Fullerton.
I am really excited to be a teacher here because we can teach so creatively and the students make a huge contribution as well!”
Leana Lee is a first-year teacher. She studied teacher education at CSU Sacramento and UC Davis. She completed her M.A. in Education at UC Davis while researching about science inquiry and teaching hands-on projects and also substituting Kindergarten to Fifth Grade. Leana enjoys baking cookies, bicycling, reading, playing accordion, and practicing Chinese. She has also traveled to various states, Vancouver, China, and Japan.
I feel like education is an experience that all children should have access to in a way that is safe, fun, experiential, and inspiring. I want to provide students with tools that will allow them to think for themselves and find their own voice in an otherwise confusing and expansive world. Education should be a way for children to interact with the world and learning should not stop when they leave my classroom.”
Brian is the level 5 teacher at Synapse School. He is a former high school English teacher and is considered to be a “jack of all trades” and takes pride in lending a helping hand to challenging projects that would otherwise require specialized expertise. Brian believes in experiencing people and the world to guide his own learning and has traveled to Spain, Italy, France, the UK, Croatia, Peru, Mexico, the Caribbean, Thailand, Hawaii, and most of the United States. Brian enjoys music, running, making things, solving problems, and traveling. Brian earned a BA in English and a Single-Subject teaching credential in English from San Diego State University. He is an avid runner and fad-dieter and enjoys working to make the world a better place to live and learn in.
Everyone has a creative side and a basic need to express their free spirit. I want to create a nurturing learning experience so that each of my students can discover the artist within them, and realize their true artistic potential. My art class is dedicated to cultivating in students a life long passion for art, so that they can approach the world around them from a different perspective and find beauty everywhere.”
Noa Mendelevitch is a designer and artist with an extensive background in the Visual Arts. Originally from Israel, Noa has worked as a costume designer for the Israeli Opera and after moving to the bay area owned a small boutique design firm that focused on Identity, Collateral, UI, and Web design. Noa is also a Mixed Media artist who continuously expresses her love of art through her ever-growing body of creative work. Noa has a BFA from Shenkar College in Israel and has expanded upon her strong academic foundation through the MFA program at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Noa is a passionate advocate for art in education and has created a unique interdisciplinary program, “Art History In Practice”, that teaches art with historical context, providing the framework for a deeper understanding, and the skill set needed to engage in the creative process. Noa looks forward to sharing this creative offering with students of all ages.
Natalie Einhorn, Performing Arts Specialist
I am passionate about using music and performing arts as a opportunity and tool for discovering the creative process, and developing the focus and resilience needed to achieve excellence and true self-expression.”
Natalie Einhorn is thrilled to be joining Synapse School this year. She has a deep passion for guiding young children through the world of music and the performing arts. She uses an interactive, full body approach to teaching singing and theory. Her classes are ﬁlled with creative movement, drama and story telling.
Previously, she taught Pre-K through 5th grade general music and the 2nd through 5th grade choirs for six years at the Nueva School, in Hillsborough. There she founded the Nueva Chamber Singers, a small ensemble of 3rd through 8th graders, and The Staves, a singing group of dedicated teachers, parents, and staff members. Additionally, Ms. Einhorn was a founding member of the faculty at Helios New School for Gifted Children, in Palo Alto, where she taught general music for three years. She attended the University of California at Santa Cruz where she received her Bachelor of Arts degree in music. She then attended the San Francisco Conservatory of Music where she received her Masters Degree in Vocal Performance. Ms. Einhorn has also completed the three levels of Orff Schulwerk training at Mills College. Natalie now lives in Half Moon Bay with her loving husband and two children, ages 5 and 2.
You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Atticus to Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
Reading opens the doors to discovery, knowledge, and understanding. Writing provides the “Six Second Pause” that clarifies what you believe, what you know, what you feel, what you question.
Amy Payne has been teaching people of all ages since 2004 and knows that English Language Arts can be taught in a way that brings joy in addition to the skills necessary to communicate effectively in a 21st century world. Thinking should not be rote or boring and neither should reading or writing. A teacher, K-8 writing curriculum consultant, university professor, and resident poet, Amy herself is an avid reader and writer. Her short fiction has appeared in various journals and the SF Chronicle Sunday Magazine, and her feature stories from long ago appeared in various national and international papers. Amy earned her BA in English from St. Lawrence University, her MFA in Creative Writing at San Francisco State University, and is in-process at NDNU’s credential program. Prior to joining her love of reading, writing and teaching, her first career was in College Educational Publishing where she developed and ran the ‘life-long’ sales and marketing training, developed and ran the national recruiting program, developed and ran a new model for the bi-annual international product training programs, managed a team of regional sales people and a national team of sales specialists, and served as senior marketing manager.
Peggy McLean, Math Specialist
Federico Chialvo, Math and Science Specialist