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Faculty & Staff

B.A.

Executive Assistant to Associate Head of US

B.S., M.S.

Director of Jewish Life

Frances Alexander B.A., M.A.

B.A., M.A.

Humanities Chair

B.S.

Computer Science Teacher

B.S.

Music Teacher

B.S., M.S.

Hebrew Teacher

B.S.

Technical Support Analyst

B.S.

Receptionist

B.S., M.S.

Executive Assistant to the Head of School

B.A., M.A.

Director of College Counseling 

B.A.

Hebrew Teacher

B.S.

Physical Conditioning Teacher

B.S., M.A.

Audio Visual Specialist

B.S.

Athletic Director

B.S.

Director of Operations

B.A., M.A

English Teacher

B.S.

Science Teacher

B.A., M.Ed.

Judaics Teacher

B.S., M.Ed.

Engineering/Physics Teacher

B.S., M.Ed.

Library/Media Specialist

B.A., M.A., Ed.D.

History Teacher

B.A., M.A.

Art Teacher

B.S.

IT Director

B.A., M.S.

Judaics Teacher 

B.S., M.S., Ph.D.
 

Math Teacher

B.S.
 

Math Teacher

B.A., M.B.A.

Director of Communications

B.S., Ed.S.

Learning Specialist

A.A.

Physical Conditioning Coach/ Music Teacher

Sous Chef

B.A., M.A.

Spanish Teacher

Admissions Associate

Executive Assistant to Associate Head of MS

B.A., M.A.

Math Teacher

B.S.N., M.S.

School Nurse

B.B.A, M.Ed.

Guidance Counselor

B.S., M.B.A., M.S., Ph.D.

STEM Chair

B.A.

Security Supervisor

B.A., M.A.

Dance Teacher

B.A., J.D.

English Teacher

B.S., M.B.A.

HR & Procurement

B.A., M.A.

History Teacher

B.A., M.A.

Campus Rabbi

Vanessa Shamosh B.S.

B.S.

Director of Admissions & Enrollment Management

Facilities Supervisor

Facilities Supervisor

B.S., PhD.

Science Teacher

B.B.A.

Digital Marketing and Events Coordinator

B.S.

Bookkeeper

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Faculty Spotlight

Andrea Aguiniga
B.A.

Executive Assistant to Associate Head of US

aaguiniga@jlamiami.org

Yosef Albo
B.A., M.A., Rabbinic Ordination

Director of Jewish Life

yalbo@jlamiami.org

Rabbi Yosef Albo was born in Israel, and after living in the Dominican Republic for five years, his family made their way to Brooklyn, NY, where he began his eclectic formal Jewish education as a student of various Yeshivot, including Ateret Torah, Chaim Berlin, Ohr Sameach (Jerusalem), Ner Israel Baltimore and Yeshiva University. 

Concurrent with his Smicha studies at Yeshiva University, Rabbi Albo pursued a Masters Degree in Jewish Philosophy, thus continuing in the footsteps of his forefather Rabbi Yosef Albo, the famous medieval Jewish philosopher and author of Sefer Ha’ikarim. He also holds a BA in English Literature from Yeshiva University.. 

As the Director of Jewish Life, he oversees Jewish programming, special events, and our JLA Ba’Aretz Program. Rabbi Albo has eighteen years of experience in education. Prior to JLA, he was the Judaics Teacher and Director of Sephardi Programming at the Ramaz Upper School in Manhattan’s Upper East Side, where he built curriculum for honors level classes in Talmud, Tanach, Halacha, and Jewish Philosophy. Devoted to Jewish communal life, he held Rabbinic positions at the Hampton Synagogue, Manhattan Jewish Experience, and Riverdale Jewish Center. 

Rabbi Albo is also an accomplished artist, illustrator, painter, photographer, composer, and musician. The Albo Band, which he founded and leads, will soon be releasing its third album entitled “Poor Man’s Prayer.” 

Frances Alexander
B.A., M.A.

Humanities Chair

falexander@jlamiami.org

Frances Alexander has taught English from grades 6-12 in a variety of school settings: public, charter, French, Quaker, Independent, and now Jewish. She decided to become a teacher after volunteering in Egypt, where she studied abroad in college as a student of Arabic. That experience inspired her to become a Teach for America corps member in Washington DC, her hometown. In her previous role at Ransom Everglades, she taught 7th-10th grade English for six years and was the faculty advisor to Tedx and student government. 

Ms. Alexander holds a BA from Northwestern University in Middle Eastern Languages and Civilizations and Anthropology. She also holds an MA in English Literature from Middlebury’s Bread Loaf School of English. She recently completed the Certificate in School Management and Leadership from Harvard University. In her past lives and in her moments of free time, Ms. Alexander enjoys pursuing her interests of dance and yoga, piano, studying new languages and cultures, traveling, writing, and reading. Whenever she can, she enjoys taking writing workshops and loves being a student. 

Shelly Assraf
B.S.

Computer Science Teacher

sassraf@jlamiami.org

A native of South Florida, Mrs. Shelly Assraf graduated from Reichman University (IDC Herzliya) with a BSc. in Computer Science. She has a talent for breaking down complex concepts into understandable terms, making computer science accessible and exciting for all students.

Mrs. Assaf is an experienced software designer with proficiency in C, Java, Python, Haskell, Kotlin, Erlang, OOP, as well as CSS and HTML.  Amongst other accomplishments, she has built a complete interactive breaking news Android app, created a web-based space travel game, and co-created a 3D interactive animated film.  As a Computer Science teacher, Mrs.Assraf combines her warm personality and dedication to her students, with  a deep understanding of the latest technologies in the field, from coding to machine learning and artificial intelligence to cybersecurity. 

Beyond her work as a teacher, she is a passionate advocate for the State of Israel and has been actively involved in initiatives aimed at promoting a positive image of Israel. She also enjoys traveling, website design and baking during her free time. 

Mikel Barandiaran
B.S.

With 15 years of experience in the music industry across Latin America and the United States, Mikel Barandiaran is a versatile musician, educator, producer, performer, music director, and composer. Joining JLA from the Doral Academy Just Arts & Management Middle School where he serves as music director, guitar teacher, and digital arts instructor, Mikel plays more than 10 instruments and has taught at the prestigious School of Rock music academy, while leading student bands ranging from 3rd to 12th grade.

Mikel has worked on important projects as a music supervisor and audio engineer for top entertainment companies such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+. He has also served as a music editor and audio supervisor for Nickelodeon Animation’s largest Nick Jr. project, “Baby Shark’s Big Show.” Mikel has recorded with prominent artists as a session musician, while simultaneously producing, composing, and arranging two personal music albums in Latin America. He graduated with a B.S. in Music Production from Full Sail University and studied Audio Engineering at Taller de Arte Sonoro in Venezuela.

When he is not in the studio or with an instrument on hand, Mikel can be found on the soccer field or watching movies.

Daphna Bar Yosef

B.S., M.S.

Hebrew Teacher

Dbaryosef@jlamiami.org

Mrs. Daphna Bar Yosef is excited to join JLA as an Instructor of Hebrew. Daphna grew up in Israel and served in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) as a Tank Instructor. She attended Tel Aviv University, studying Tanach, before continuing to earn both her BS and MS from NYU in Communicative Sciences and Disorders. After concluding her studies in 2021, she moved to Miami with her husband and daughter.

 

Daphna brings over ten years of experience in the teaching and learning world, ranging from teaching in a Jewish Day School to serving as a Division Head and Sports Director in an Israeli summer camp.

As a practicing Speech and Language Pathologist, Daphna has a deep understanding of language development and is excited to teach her students how to incorporate Hebrew into their everyday lives and build exceptional communication skills. During her spare time she enjoys running, biking, and swimming and is also looking forward to cheering loudly at JLA’s sports games “קדימה JLA!” 

Ariel Calzadilla
B.S.

Technical Support Analyst

acalzadilla@jlamiami.org

Melissa Carrazana
B.S.

Alexa Castillo
B.S., M.S.

Executive Assistant to the Head of School

acastillo@jlamiami.org

Darling Cerna
B.A., M.A.

Director of College Counseling

Ms. Darling Cerna joined JLA as our Director of College Counseling from Princeton Day School in New Jersey, where she served as the Assistant Director of College Counseling.  PDS is ranked by Niche.com as one of top 50 K-12 private schools in the country and is widely known for its extraordinary success in college admissions.  A proud alum of Muhlenberg College, Ms. Darling Cerna holds a BA in French and Public Health, as well as a MA in Counseling from Villanova University. As a first generation college student herself, she is excited at the prospect of making a difference throughout this pivotal process for juniors and seniors. She loves being a support system for students, helping them find their passions, and encouraging them to enjoy their high school years as much as possible. She cares deeply about all students and their families, and hopes to bring together her work to support students of all needs and backgrounds. When she isn’t working, she loves to spend time with her family and enjoys going on walks with her two dogs. As a native Spanish speaker, she loves learning about different cultures, practicing her French and listening to music in different languages when she goes for runs.

Vered Cohen
B.A.

Hebrew Teacher

Vcohen@jlamiami.org

Hailing from Israel, Ms. Vered Cohen, recently made the move from California to Miami to become a valued member of JLA. She has spent over two decades teaching Hebrew as a second language to both young students and adults. In California, Vered was a lead teacher for various programs in the Hebrew-Judaics Department at Lashon Academy Charter School.

Before arriving in the United States, Vered dedicated herself to educating middle and high school students in Israel, focusing on World History and the History of the Jewish People. 

After a meaningful service in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) as a commander for new recruits, Vered earned a BA from Tel-Aviv University in World History and Educational Administration, along with her teaching certification. She pursued further studies, completing coursework for an MS in International Management with a concentration in marketing from Bournemouth University through Ramat-Gan State College.

Vered possesses certification in teaching Hebrew as a second language and has undergone training for teaching and administrative roles through the NETA program in Boston. Additionally, she is a certified Parenting Educator from Tenafly Therapy Group in New Jersey.

Beyond her professional achievements, Vered is a devoted mother of two. She finds joy in dancing, sports, travel, and particularly delights in hearing her students engage in conversations in Hebrew.

Yamit Linde
B.A., M.B.A.

Director of Communications

ylinde@jlamiami.org

A native of Brazil, Yamit Linde spent her formative teenage years in Israel and arrived in Miami as a junior in high school. During her time in Israel, Yamit learned firsthand how vital and enriching Jewish education can be. Having lived in different countries and cities throughout her life, she appreciates and cherishes South Florida’s unique diversity.

Yamit holds a BA in International Relations and an MBA with a concentration in marketing from Florida International University, and is fluent in English, Portuguese, Spanish, and Hebrew.

Over the course of her 14 year career as a marketing and communications executive, Yamit has held leadership positions in industry leading brands like Grey Goose, Dove, and Panerai. Prior to joining JLA, Yamit owned her own consulting agency, where she was responsible for developing and implementing communication strategies for clients in the fashion, luxury, food, and hospitality industries.

During her free time, Yamit enjoys traveling and going to the beach with her husband Steven, and two young children, Levi and Lennon. 

Mallory Erickson
B.S.

Physical Conditioning Teacher

merickson@jlamiami.org

Coach Mallory Erickson joins us from Hebrew Academy in Miami Beach, where she has been teaching physical education for nine years. She is the proud recipient of the prestigious “Light the Path to Education” award, bestowed upon exceptional educators who inspire their students to achieve their fullest potential.

Mallory graduated from Northern Illinois University with a BS in Kinesiology, Physical Education, and Health Education. With over 14 years of coaching experience under her belt, Mallory has led her teams to numerous championships and playoff victories in both basketball and flag football. Her unwavering dedication and fervor have been instrumental in guiding former athletes towards receiving college scholarships.

During her free time Mallory enjoys playing the guitar, piano, and saxophone as well as taking her dogs to the park.

David Ernsberger
B.S., M.A.

Audio Visual Specialist

dernsberger@jlamiami.org

RC Ganser
B.S. 

Athletic Director 

rcganser@jlamiami.org

Originally from South Bend, Indiana, RC Ganser has enjoyed over 27 years in education, 18 of them at Gulliver Preparatory as an administrator, teacher, and coach. At Gulliver, RC helped run the most competitive high school sports program, not only in Dade county, but in the entire state of Florida. RC has 30 years of educational experience and is an award-winning coach for numerous male and female sports including volleyball, baseball, softball, basketball, and water polo. With a B.S.in Education / English from Indiana University South Bend, RC has taught middle school and high school English classes including Honors and Advanced Placement courses. Additionally, RC has served in many facets of education including Activities Director, Admissions, Strategic Planning, Student Advisory, Homework Research, and Faculty Council. 

A former 2-sport college athlete in baseball and basketball, RC maintains a passion for being both a participant and spectator in many sports. Daughters Leilani, 25, and Kalei, 19, the loves of his life, are out on their own pursuing their respective educations and careers. Beyond the school setting, RC loves cooking, doing crossword puzzles, and writing poetry.

Jenna Gasner
B.S.

Director of Operations

jgasner@jlamiami.org

BS, Central Connecticut State University

 

Previously at AIPAC

Laura Gill
B.A., M.A

English Teacher

lgill@jlamiami.org

Ms. Laura Gill is a teacher, writer, and editor with over a decade of experience teaching and working with young adults. For seven years, she taught English at The Field School in Washington, D.C. There, she was also an advisor, co-founder of the Peer Tutoring Center and mentor for the literary magazine. During her time at The Field School, she completed an MFA at Bennington Writing Seminars, where she focused on creative nonfiction. Ms. Gill also holds a BA in English from Skidmore College. For the past four years, she has worked in the English Department at Palmer Trinity School where she taught World Literature, English Foundations, and Creative Writing while building curriculum across all grade levels. Laura’s teaching philosophy emphasizes interdisciplinary synthesis between films, books, podcasts, essays, and visual art, helping students recognize the links between different styles of communication and their value.

Aside from her work in schools, Laura has worked with teenagers in youth development organizations ranging from a summer camp on a farm to a nonprofit in D.C. advocating for youth’s rights. She brings with her a love of language and a great enthusiasm for the written word and is excited by the opportunity to build a community of writers and leaders among the JLA students. In her free time, Laura loves to visit museums, read, write, spend time with family, take photographs, explore, and cook.

Zoe Grant
B.S.

Science Teacher

zgrant@jlamiami.org

Born and raised in a small Ohio town on Lake Erie, Ms. Zoe Grant came to South Florida to pursue a B.S. in Biology at Florida Atlantic University, where she also served as a Lifeline Leader and Teaching Assistant in the Biology Department.  Ms. Grant then headed back home to Ohio to launch her career teaching Chemistry, Physics, and Health, to 9th through 12th graders at Patriot Preparatory Academy in Columbus.  From designing engaging chemistry labs to planning visits for students to experience a day in the life of medical students, Ms. G developed a reputation as a teacher who is deeply invested in her students’ futures as creative leaders and professionals. She is excited to now  bring her energy and enthusiasm for science education back to sunny South Florida. 

When she is not in the classroom, you might find Ms. G on the golf course perfecting her drive, or tending to her ever-growing houseplant collection with the help of her cats Louis and Boots. Wherever Ms. G may be, she is dedicated to growing minds with a passion for science and leadership and is thrilled to share that with the Jewish Leadership Academy family!

Rachel Greenberg
B.A., M.Ed.

Judaics Teacher

Rgreenberg@jlamiami.org

A recent NYC transplant, Mrs Rachel Greenberg has spent the past nine years teaching Judaic Studies, Tanach and Hebrew to elementary and middle school students. 

With a Bachelor’s degree in Education with a concentration in Tanach and Talmud from Beis Rivkah Seminary in Israel, and a Master’s degree in Education focusing on Curriculum and Instruction from Central Michigan University, Rachel further enriched her academic foundation with training from Harvard Graduate School of Education and Business School. She represents the perfect blend between traditional and contemporary pedagogical methods. 

With nearly 20 years of experience in the field of education, Rachel’s impact on Judaic Studies education is noteworthy. She played a crucial role in establishing Middle School and Judaic Studies curricula at the Beit Israel Educational Institution in Israel. Rachel also founded and instructed 1st and 2nd-grade classes at the Academy of Arts & Sciences Chabad Bayside, NY, before moving to Park East Day School on Manhattan’s Upper East side where she served as a Judaic Studies teacher for five years. Her commitment to effective education and personal connection has led to lasting relationships with former students.

Rachel’s teaching philosophy revolves around the transformative power of Torah as a guiding light, infusing life with wisdom and joy. She prioritizes fostering strong connections to heritage and the timeless relevance of Torah teachings. Beyond education, Rachel enjoys fitness and cherishes quality time with her children.

Stefany Gurgel
B.S., M.Ed.

Engineering/Physics Teacher

sgurgel@jlamiami.org

Mrs. Stefany Gurgel is a former civil engineer who transitioned into education six years ago when she began teaching in a high school pre-engineering program in Applied Mechanical Engineering with a focus on Mechatronics and Robotics. In 2022 she was named Teacher of the Year by her public school district in Monmouth County, New Jersey. Stefany holds a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Rutgers University and is currently pursuing a Master of Education in Integrated STEM  Education at The College of New Jersey. 

As a lifelong learner and a student advocate, she acquired various industry certifications that enabled her to establish connections with industry and educational partners that enhance the education experience for her students and provide them with internship opportunities. Mrs. Gurgel was a SkillsUSA advisor and collaborated with SkillsUSA NJ to develop and pilot the mechatronics competition in New Jersey. Since then has been the coordinator for the Mechatronic and Robotic Urban Search and Rescue Competition for the state of New Jersey. In addition, Stefany also collaborated with the National Coalition of Certification Center (NC3) and became a Master Instructor certifying other teachers throughout the country through in person train-the-trainer events and through virtual training. She is excited to bring her expertise and experience to JLA’s engineering classes, while helping to run our state-of-the-art Fab Lab.

Orion Hazard
B.S., M.Ed.

Library/Media Specialist

ohazard@jlamiami.org

Orion Hazard, a Minnesota native, brings with her a wealth of experience spanning over 15 years as a school librarian, technology coordinator, and STEM makerspace teacher. She has worked with students in gifted and talented education and taught media and technology literacy, research skills, robotics, engineering design, and computer science in public and independent schools across Minnesota, Vermont, Florida, and Massachusetts.

Orion holds a B.S. in Library Services and Information Technology from the University of Maine at Augusta and an M.Ed. from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

In her spare time, Orion enjoys reading, kayaking, outdoor concerts, going to the beach, spending time with her family, and their two dogs, Jake and Dubley.

Thomas Hendrickson
B.A., M.A., Ed.D.

History Teacher

thendrickson@jlamiami.org

Raised amidst expansive corn and bean fields in rural Illinois, Dr. Thomas Hendrickson’s academic journey began at the United States Military Academy at West Point. He earned his B.A. in History and Classical Civilization from the University of Illinois, followed by an M.A. in History from the University of Georgia. In 2023, he acquired his Ed.D. from the University of Miami. Thomas has spent the past 4 years teaching History and served as the History Department Chair at Lawrence Academy, where he taught AP History,  AP U.S. Government, World History, and Civics. 

Dr. Hendrickson’s passion for knowledge extends beyond the classroom. He engaged in AmeriCorps volunteering, explored the Mediterranean through archaeological expeditions, and earned recognition from esteemed institutions like the American Academy in Rome and the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. His life embodies dedication to learning, service, and historical exploration.

Fun fact about Dr. Hendrickson: he can read Ancient Greek and Latin!

Darcy Hildebidle
B.A., M.A.

Darcy Hildebidle has over 20 years of experience in gifted education, art exhibition and arts program development in community and school settings. Her vast experience, combined with a B.A. in Art History, Studio Art, and French from the University of Michigan and an M.S. Interdisciplinary Arts Education from Nova Southeastern University, provides her with extraordinary tools to support our students as they connect to their passions through creative discourse and develop their own artistic voice. Ms. Hildebidle’s art students have earned portfolio-based scholarships to top art schools throughout the country, including Otis School of Art & Design, Ringling School of Art & Design, and Savannah College of Art and Design. 

Ms. Hildebidle joins us from Cardinal Gibbons High School in Fort Lauderdale, where she developed the curricula and taught courses in 3D Art and Design, Creative Photography, and AP Art History. . Previously she was the Head of the Fine Arts Department at The Sagemont Upper School in West Broward where she taught AP Studio Art as well as courses on Drawing, Painting, and Digital Arts. Ms. Hildebidle lives in her dream home—a Mid Century fixer-upper—with her husband and two incredible kids who inspire her daily.

Joaquin Infante
B.S. 

IT Director 

jinfante@jlamiami.org

Joaquin Infante is a visionary technology leader with over 15 years of experience in leading and directing technology initiatives.  He joins JLA from Charter Schools Associates, Florida’s third largest network of charter schools, serving over 13,000 students. where he served as the Vice President of Technology for five years.  

Throughout his career, Joaquin has demonstrated an exceptional ability to leverage cutting-edge technologies to deliver innovative solutions that meet the unique needs of the schools. He has been instrumental in leading large-scale technology transformation initiatives, implementing data-driven decision-making strategies and establishing strong partnerships with industry leaders. His pioneering work in the adoption of new technologies in the K-12 education sector has been recognized by global technology companies.

As an expert in the education technology field, Mr. Infante has an in-depth understanding of edtech integration best practices. He is skilled in implementing a wide range of instructional technologies, including learning management systems, secure cloud computing integrations and data analytics.

He holds a B.S. in Information Technology from Western Governors University and multiple industry certifications.

Joaquin’s vision is centered around the idea of empowering students with the tools they need to succeed in a rapidly changing world. He believes that technology can be a powerful enabler for learning and that it has the potential to transform the way students engage with education. He is committed to delivering innovative edtech solutions that enable students to achieve their academic goals.

Ari Kellerman

B.A., M.S.

Judaics Teacher 

akellerman@jlamiami.org

Rav Ari Kellerman is originally from Houston, Texas where he has spent his professional career in Jewish Education. He has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Yeshiva University, a masters degree in Jewish Education from the Azrieli Graduate School, and a certificate in Jewish Nonprofit Management from the Zelikow School of Jewish Nonprofit Management. For the last five years Rav Ari has been the Upper School Judaic Principal and College/Gap Year Guidance Counselor and prior to that he spent thirteen years teaching Judaic Studies at Robert M. Beren Academy. 

In addition to his formal roles in Jewish day schools, Rabbi Kellerman has been a presenter for Jerusalem EdTech Solutions, where he has provided professional development for educators around the world in blended learning in Jewish education. A lover of travel, he is always up for a road trip to see new places and learn about different cultures. He’ll usually have his guitar with him in case he comes across a bonfire. He is thrilled to be relocating to South Florida with his wife, three children, and puppy, Austin. 

Pushpa Ann Kurian
B.S., M.S., Ph.D.

Math Teacher

pkurian@jlamiami.org

Dr. Pushpa Ann Kurian earned her M.S. and Ph.D in Physics from the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IITM), as well as an M.S. in Mathematics Teaching from Florida State University. She has taught college level Physics courses in India and high school level Mathematics courses in the Leon County School System in Florida. For the past four years, Dr. Kurian has been teaching in the IB Prep program at Fairview School in Tallahassee.

Dr. Kurian is also the coach of the Fairview Math Competition Team, which has won several prestigious titles, including the Florida Mathcounts in 2019 and the Big Bend Chapter Mathcounts in 2018, 2019, and 2023. She is currently serving as the coach of the Florida Math Team for National Mathcounts, a team she led to second place in the nation back in 2019.  Students in her Math competition class have also earned top honors in regional, state, and national competitions in the individual category.

Dr. Kurian enjoys working with young, bright math minds to sharpen their critical and creative thinking skills.  She aims to enhance their problem-solving abilities, communication, and collaboration, so that they can face future endeavors with confidence. When not busy with her students, Dr. Kurian enjoys spending time with her husband, Mathews, and their two boys, George and Jacob. She also loves to read, garden, cook, and travel.

Eran Levin
B.S.

Math Teacher

elevin@jlamiami.org

Mr. Eran Levin has been teaching Math, Physics and Computer Science for over 20 years. For the past 15 years he has been preparing students for their IB math exams and for the Spanish national math exams in the American School of Valencia, Spain. Eran grew up in Israel but has spent most of his adult life in Spain and is fluent in English, Spanish and Hebrew.

Eran holds a B.S. in Physics from the Complutense University of Madrid, as well as both a Spanish Teaching Certificate from the Complutense University of Madrid and a Canadian Teaching Certificate from Ontario College of Teachers. He believes that motivation is the most important component in students’ learning and strives to establish a personal relationship with his students based on trust, hard work, and constant support. Eran is passionate about teaching Math, Physics, sciences, and critical thinking. He has authored several math workbooks for students in grades 7-10, as well as for IB students in grades 11 and 12.

In his free time, Eran enjoys playing the piano, sailing, and playing basketball and is looking forward to enjoying the Miami sunshine and beaches.

Johanna Lopez
B.S., Ed.S.

Learning Specialist

jlopez@jlamiami.org

Passionate about fostering academic, social, and emotional growth in students. Ms. Johanna Lopez is a rare Learning Specialist who is also a nationally certified school psychologist. . She holds an Ed.S in School Psychology from Florida International University, and a B.S from the University of Miami. 

Ms. Lopez spent seven years as the Associate Site Director of Breakthrough Miami’s Palmer Trinity and Carrollton School sites, a program that provides motivated middle-school students from underserved communities with the tools they need to achieve their most ambitious goals in life.  After completing her degree in School Psychology, Ms. Lopez moved on to the University of Florida’s Neurodevelopmental Pediatrics Clinic where she spent two years as a school psychologist working closely with  students, parents, and staff across various age groups, ranging from Pre-K to college students. Her expertise and dedication have been instrumental in ensuring the holistic development of students. Beyond her professional endeavors, Johanna finds joy in volunteering with Autism on the Seas, a cause close to her heart. During her leisure time, she loves traveling, photography, and salsa dancing.

Victor Martinez
A.A.

Physical Conditioning Coach/ Music Teacher

vmartinez@jlamiami.org

Originally from Miami, Mr. Victor Martinez has a deep-rooted passion for both music and sports. He currently owns and operates his own music studio where he collaborates with artists from various genres and has produced albums for both local and international musicians. He joins JLA as the Digital Music and Sound Engineering instructor, while also serving as the Physical Education teacher and soccer coach. Victor has an extensive background in soccer, having played competitively for 15 years, abroad and domestically, including as the captain for the Florida State Olympic Development Team. Most recently he has been coaching various age groups for Mavericks FC and led his U18 girls team to the National Championship in November.

Victor started his audio career as an intern at a renowned studio in South Miami before pursuing an AA in Recording Arts from Full Sail University. He is fluent in English, Spanish, and Portuguese and enjoys supporting the Miami Dolphins. During his free time, he likes boating and free dive spearfishing.

Susan Medina

Jackeline Melendez
B.A., M.A.

Spanish Teacher

jmelendez@jlamiami.org

Born in Maracaibo and raised in Caracas, Venezuela, Ms. Miss Jackeline Meléndez has over 20 years of experience in education as an instructor of Spanish, English, and German as a Second Language.

Ms. Meléndez served as the Director of the Venezuelan Institute for Culture and Cooperation in St. Kitts and Nevis where she was responsible for planning, implementing, and overseeing the instruction of Spanish for students ranging from elementary school to adulthood.  For the past 18 years, she has served as a professor at the School of Modern Languages at Universidad Central De Venezuela, most recently as the English Department Chair.   

An accomplished translator, Ms. Meléndez translated and synchronized documentary scripts for the Discovery Channel and Nickelodeon from English into Spanish. She holds a BA in Translation from English and German into Spanish, and an MA in English as a Foreign Language from Universidad Central de Venezuela.   

Ms. Meléndez also worked as a private tutor from 2007 to 2016 for students who attended the Herzl-Bialik Jewish School in Caracas, and looks forward to joining a Jewish Day School in an official capacity.  In her spare time, Ms.Meléndez enjoys reading, going to the beach, walking, hiking, spending time in nature, and going to museums with her nieces and nephew.

Malka Meyers

Admissions Associate

mmeyers@jlamaimi.org

Sarah Mora
B.S.

 

Executive Assistant to Associate Head of MS

smora@jlamiami.org

Phillip Nandin
B.A., M.A

Math Teacher

pnandin@jlamiami.org

Curiosity has been a guiding principle in Mr. Phillip Nandin’s life, both personally and professionally. After earning a BA and MA in Mathematics from Queens College, he applied his passion for math during his seven years as a college mathematics instructor. Four years ago, Mr. Nandin transitioned to teaching high school mathematics, drawn by the fresh challenges this change presented and the opportunity to make more of a difference in the lives of young people. First at Oxbridge Academy in West Palm Beach and then at Hebrew Academy in Miami Beach, Mr. Nandin developed a reputation for challenging students to think deeply about math and its underlying concepts.  At the heart of his teaching philosophy is a commitment to igniting curiosity in his students, fostering in them an appreciation for the language of mathematics, the beauty in the art of mathematics, and the pursuit of truth.

 When he is not teaching, Phillip enjoys robotics, drama and photography.

Kristi Nickless
B.S.N., M.S.

Kristi Nickless is on a mission to spread wellness and warmth. Graduating with a BSN from Maryville University in St. Louis, Kristi’s journey led her through South Florida’s fast-paced emergency and pediatric critical care units for four transformative years. Driven by a desire to expand her knowledge and impact, Kristi pursued further education, obtaining a Master’s degree in Nutrition and Human Performance from Logan University.

Beyond mending bodies, she deeply values a holistic approach to wellness and strives to ignite lasting health habits in students, nurturing them towards vibrant lives. When not tending to her school family, you can find Kristi working out, catching a sunrise, or taking a pottery class.

Kristi Nickless is more than a nurse; she’s a beacon of care and wellness for all in our school community.

Theresa Niedosik
B.B.A, M.Ed.

Guidance Counselor

Tniedosik@jlamiami.org

For the past two decades, Theresa Niedosik has served as a much beloved school counselor at New Foundations Charter School in Philadelphia. Holding a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Drexel University and a Masters of Education in School Guidance and Counseling from Widener University, Theresa’s well-rounded background makes her a great resource for our students and their families. Her infectious smile and radiant warmth made her easy to talk to and an invaluable resource for guiding and supporting students both emotionally and academically through their educational journeys.  

During her leisure time, Theresa finds joy in baking, cooking, and taking long walks. Her family, friends, and pets—a dog and two Sphynx cats—hold a special place in her heart.  looking forward to making a positive impact in our community. 

Claudia Ochatt
B.S., M.B.A., M.S., Ph.D.

Dr. Ochatt holds a PhD in Biological Chemistry from the University of Buenos Aires, an MBA from the University of Miami, and a Masters of Education in Leadership from the University of West Florida. She conducted her postdoctoral work on cell and molecular biology at The Rockefeller University, and post-graduate research at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, and at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratories.

Dr. Ochatt served as the MD/PhD Program Coordinator at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine before leaving to become the STEM Chair at MAST Academy. In 2011, Claudia was the recipient of Beckman Coulter’s Science Educator of the Year Award and in 2021 she was named Florida’s Biology Teacher of the Year by the National Association of Biology Teachers. 

Prior to joining JLA, Dr. Ochatt  taught AP Biology, Honors and Forensic Chemistry, and Anatomy and Physiology at Ransom Everglades.

Reginald Payne
B.A.

Security Supervisor

rpayne@jlamiani.org

Born and raised in Miami, Officer Reginald (Rod) Payne is a dedicated security professional who has spent the last two decades safeguarding schools, synagogues, and high profile individuals. 

Prior to his career in security, Officer Payne earned a B.A. in Sports Management & Communications from the University of Michigan. While there, he shined as an All-American center on their football team, where he was named MVP and team co-captain, and then went on to play in the NFL for the Cincinnati Bengals and the Baltimore Ravens. 

Officer Payne’s remarkable journey extends beyond the realm of security, having once been honored as Broward County’s Football Coach of the Year, a testament to his leadership and dedication. Throughout his career, he  has taken on various roles, including personal trainer, high school football coach, managing partner of a gym, and host of a sports talk radio show.

Today, Officer Reginald (Rod) Payne continues to exemplify dedication, resilience, and skill in his role as a security and executive protection specialist.

Fun fact: Officer Payne won a Super Bowl while playing for the Baltimore Ravens!

Jocelyn Perez
B.A., M.A

Dance Teacher

Jperez@jlamiami.org

A native of South Florida, Ms. Jocelyn Perez, brings her talents as a movement artist, educator, and choreographer to JLA and joins our team as our Instructor of Dance. 

Jocelyn’s journey in the world of dance began with a BFA in Dance Performance from the University of South Florida, followed by an MFA in Dance from Florida State University. Her pursuit of excellence led her to training and performing in Paris, where she developed a love for travel. 

Ms. Perez joins JLA from Illinois State University where she served as an Assistant Professor of Dance, after having served as an Instructor of Dance at Florida State University as well as Indian River State College.  Ms. Perez has also worked extensively with younger students in her role as an instructor, choreographer, and director at Broadway Kids Studio in Davie.  In addition to her teaching, Ms. Perez is an active artist, having performed in, choreographed, and / or assisted in production of almost forty productions since 2010, ranging from Concert Dance and Dance Film to Musical Theater.   Additionally, she has conducted master classes and workshops at Florida International University, Florida State University’s School of Dance Summer Dance Intensive, and the American College Dance Association Regional Conferences. She has also shared her choreographic talents as a guest choreographer at Missouri State University and Mount St. Joseph University.  She is now excited to bring those talents and her passion for dance to our emerging artists at JLA.

Elisabeth Pratt
B.A., J.D.

English Teacher

epratt@jlamiami.org

After graduating Connecticut College with a B.A. in Literature, Elisabeth Pratt earned her J.D. at Cornell University Law School and embarked upon a career in public service as an Assistant State Attorney in Miami-Dade.  While Ms. Pratt continues to be an active member of the Florida Bar Association, she quickly realized that her real passion was igniting young minds to love and appreciate literature as she does and therefore gave up the practice of law for the Middle School classroom.  Her teaching career began in the Orange County public schools before moving over to Pine Crest School’s Boca Raton Campus.

Beyond her professional pursuits, Ms. Pratt shines as a trivia champion, is a theme park enthusiast, and is rarely seen without a book in hand.

Jannine Richards Murphy
B.S., M.B.A.

Assistant to the CFO/COO

jrichards@jlamiami.org

BS, University of the West Indies

MBA, Nova Southeastern University


Previously at Katz Hillel Day School

Melissa Lucía Sarmiento
B.A., M.A

History Teacher

Msarmiento@jlamiami.org

Melissa Lucia Sarmiento is a passionate history and social studies educator. After graduating from Cornell University with a BA in History, Melissa moved to Tokyo, Japan, where she taught English at the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program. She then pursued a MA in Teaching at Brown University upon returning to the US. Prior to joining JLA, Melissa taught Humanities and served on the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion team at the highly regarded Newark Academy in NJ.

In addition to her experience in the classroom, Melissa has also worked as a writing tutor and application essay counselor, assisting high school and college students with various papers and application essays. A perpetual learner, Melissa constantly seeks opportunities to enrich her lessons and was awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities grant in 2021.

When she isn’t teaching or writing, you can find Melissa practicing yoga and tending to her many houseplants.

Yechiel Shaffer
B.S., M.A., Rabbinic Ordination

Campus Rabbi

yshaffer@jlamiami.org

As an educator, community leader, and rabbi, Rabbi Yechiel Shaffer has spent over 15 years building communities, creating schools, and advocating for the vulnerable, in a diverse array of community, education and lay positions. A native of London, England, Rabbi Shaffer serves as our Campus Rabbi, building the JLA community and caring for the spiritual wellbeing of each student, while also leading our Service Entrepreneurship Program. 

Rabbi Shaffer received a BS in Sociology, an MA in Jewish Education from Yeshiva University, and Rabbinic Ordination from the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University. Upon completion of his Rabbinic studies, Rabbi Shaffer was one of three graduates  recognized as a creative and driven leader and was awarded a two year fellowship featuring extensive training and mentorship in entrepreneurship and community leadership. 

Since then, Rabbi Shaffer has been a Rabbinic leader of three synagogues, most recently in Baltimore, Maryland, and has served the Jewish community in a variety of capacities: fundraising for Jewish education and infrastructure, being an active board member of a Maryland anti-abuse agency, and by being a passionate voice for integrity and humility in the Jewish community. Rabbi Shaffer has a reputation as a warm, caring pastoral leader, who is driven by excellence and empathy for his students and congregants. 

When not serving as a community Rabbi, Rabbi Shaffer can be found teaching in local schools, working to support Bar and Bat Mitzvah students in their preparations, recording podcasts that lower the barrier of entry to engage with meaningful Torah content, and creating dynamic multimedia courses that bring ancient wisdom to life. 

Rabbi Shaffer is a dedicated father and husband, and whenever he can, enjoys fishing and trying new methods of cooking. 

Vanessa Shamosh B.S.

Vanessa Shamosh
B.S

Director of Admissions & Enrollment Management

vshamosh@jlamiami.org

A native of Mexico City, Mexico, Vanessa is passionate about the future of Jewish education and believes that in today’s classrooms sit tomorrow’s innovators and decision makers.

Vanessa has more than 15 years of experience in Jewish Day Schools in South Florida and beyond. During her five year tenure as Director of Admissions at Brauser Maimonides Academy, she led the implementation of innovative recruitment strategies leading to historically high enrollment figures. Later, at Lehrman Community Day School, she designed and implemented a continuous enrollment system that has been used as a model for other Jewish Day Schools in the United States and Canada.

Vanessa believes that choosing a school is one of the most important decisions parents make and applies a professional and approachable philosophy, understanding the magnitude of this decision and the impact it has on each student individually. 

Vanessa holds a B.S. in Political Science from ITAM (Mexico Autonomous Institute of Technology) in Mexico City, and has also lived in Israel where she attended the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Mechina. A fluent English, Spanish, and Hebrew speaker, Vanessa is an alumna of Prizmah’s Atidenu Program and of the JTS’ Day School Leadership Training Institute, and she is often invited to speak at Independent Schools and Jewish Day School Conferences across the country.

Eva Jerez Tavarez

Facilities Supervisor

ejerez@jlamiami.org

Alberto Torres

Facilities Supervisor

atorres@jlamiami.org

Sophia Ushinsky
B.S., PhD.

Science Teacher

sushinsky@jlamiami.org

Hailing from Canada, Dr. Sophia Ushinsky brings a wealth of knowledge to our STEM department. With a BSc from Concordia University and a PhD in Molecular Microbiology from McGill University, Dr. Ushinsky embarked on her teaching career at her undergraduate alma mater, teaching Virology, Microbiology and several other courses. 

During her tenure as a research scientist working she delved into studying fungal genomes researching genes that would be useful for biofuel and antifungal applications. She eventually made her way to Cardinal Gibbons where she taught AP Biology and Honors Biology. 

In recognition of her remarkable expertise, Dr. Ushinsky was appointed as a CDC Science Ambassador in 2017. Leveraging her training and experience, she designed a Microbiology course at the high school level, with a special focus on infectious diseases and public health. Her dedication to education and her commitment to preparing students for real-world challenges have set her apart and earned her admiration among her peers.

Chelsea Werde
B.B.A.

Digital Marketing and Events Coordinator

cwerde@jlamiami.org

Karin Wongsam
B.A.

BA, Nova Southeastern University 


Previously at Katz Hillel Day School