Ventura Charter School has recruited a staff possessing a wealth of knowledge, experience and expertise in progressive, constructivist education. Our teachers are skilled at using project-based, structured cooperative learning strategies, integrated thematic units, multicultural education and conflict resolution. They enthusiastically collaborate to provide an academically challenging and enriching educational environment for our students.
Mary Galvin, Director of Operations
Mary Galvin holds a Master's Degree in Educational Administration from California State University, Northridge; an Administrative Credential and Multiple Subject Teaching Credential from California State University, Northridge; and a Bachelor of Science from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She taught for 17 years in the Los Angeles and Ventura Unified School Districts where she employed the principles, theory, and research of constructivist education in primary classrooms. Mary is an unfailing advocate for progressive, innovative, child-centered education. It is her goal to provide support for a rich experiential learning environment where inquiry, creativity, and compassion are valued, and to assist in maintaining an atmosphere that supports intellectual pursuit, skill mastery and academic success.
Lisa Hildebrand, Director of Education
Lisa began her teaching career over 18 years ago and quickly realized that she wanted to work in alternative education. After a 10-year teaching position at Open Classroom in Ventura, she took some time off to stay at home with her baby girl, Kaitlyn, and returned to Ventura Charter School five years later. Lisa is passionately committed to helping children find the joy in learning, themselves, and their world. Drawing from her experience teaching K - 5th grades, as well as holding a Masters in Education and an Administrative Credential, Lisa's focus is on creating a safe place for educators, students and parents to reach their personal potential.
Amanda Aragon, Assistant Director
Holly Johnson, Kindergarten
Holly always knew she wanted to teach. She decided early on that she would help make the world a better place by working with children. Her 15 years of experience with children covers a broad spectrum. She has been a nanny, tutor, preschool teacher, teacher’s aide, and K-6 teacher at a special needs school in the San Fernando Valley. Holly attended George Mason and California State Universities. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing with a concentration in Poetry, a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential, and a Master of Education. Holly is a firm believer in teaching to the whole child. She takes great care in creating a classroom that is supportive of academic, social, and emotional needs. Holly has a passion for all things creative and loves integrating arts into the core curriculum. She strives to nurture compassionate, critically-thinking students while building a classroom of love, laughter, and fun. In addition to teaching, she has a passion for sewing, playing guitar, and photography. She also leads a Girl Scout troop.
Laura Ruiz Bingham, Kindergarten
Laura began her teaching career in Santa Barbara at the Open Alternative School, where she taught K-2 for twelve years. During her employment with the Santa Barbara Elementary School District, Laura served as a Mentor Teacher for the district where she provided workshops to teachers on enhancing Diversity and Multicultural Education into the classroom. She also served as Co-Head Teacher for three years at OAS. After moving to Ventura, Laura worked for five years at the Open Classroom Magnet Program. She is a firm believer in progressive education and in providing families with educational choices for their children. Laura is one of the founders of Ventura Charter School and currently teaches Kindergarten. In addition to her Multiple Subject Teaching Credential, Laura also possesses a Learning Handicapped Specialist Credential, an Administrative Credential in Educational Leadership, and a Masters in Educational Leadership.
Liza Scheer, Grades 1-2
Liza realized she wanted to pursue teaching as a career as a senior in high school while tutoring a freshman in Algebra. Seeing the light bulb go off in her student's head was all she needed to switch her career goals from engineering to teaching. She obtained her teaching credential from Sam Houston State University in Texas with a major in elementary education and a minor in math. Her 25-plus years of teaching experience is in a wide array of areas including elementary and middle school as well as several years in the homeschool community. Liza discovered progressive education while searching for an alternative school for her oldest son and hasn't looked back since. She spent many years with her three children at Conejo Open Alternative School in Thousand Oaks in which she was heavily involved in the classrooms of all three of her children. She also served on the board of their parent organization.
Hannah Allen, Grades 1-2
Hannah is deeply reflective on the positive influence her teachers from her early childhood education have had on her - who she is and where she finds her joy! She states confidently that her relationships with her teachers have given her access to her best self, and has found unmatchable joy since re-entering a caring learning community in pursuit of her Teaching Credential at Antioch University, Santa Barbara. Harmoniously paired with two extraordinary teachers from Ventura Charter School, Hannah fulfilled her student teaching experience embraced by the VCS community, and is absolutely elated to find herself continuing her career at this remarkable institution. She completed her thesis detailing her passion for student to teacher relationships, the power of belonging, and school connectedness, and is fully committed to fostering and maintaining sincere collaboration with her students. Hannah has a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Studio Art from Wheaton College in Massachusetts, a Master’s Degree in Education, and Multiple Subject Teaching, 2-Dimensional Art and Introductory Art Credentials from Antioch University, Santa Barbara.
Allison Krist, Grades 1-2
Allison grew up in Ventura and is glad to be back teaching in her hometown. She went to the University of California, Santa Barbara for her undergraduate studies and majored in Environmental Studies. After she graduated, Allison began teaching environmental education in local elementary schools. Standing among students who were singing and acting out the life cycle of a steelhead trout, she knew that she wanted to become a teacher. She gained experience as an Instructional Assistant and through working with children with special needs, and eventually went back to school and received her Multiple Subject Teaching Credential and Masters Degree in Education, also from UCSB. She brings to the classroom her desire to form meaningful connections with her students, while helping them realize their full potential and become well-rounded, successful students and members of the community.
Emily Noel, Grades 3-4
Emily Noel is a 2016 graduate from UCSB where she received her Credential and Masters in Elementary Education. Emily received her undergraduate degree in both English and Film and Media Studies from Lafayette College in Pennsylvania. Emily caught "the teaching bug" while at Lafayette where she was a member of the LIME Program (Lafayette Initiative for Malagasy Education), a team of students and professors who traveled to Madagascar to mentor and aid students in their applications to universities in the United States (and elsewhere). Emily felt it was one of the greatest experiences of her life. Emily started working for WISH Charter, a full inclusion school, in Los Angeles as a Paraprofessional and the head teacher for the before and after school program for grades 2-7. Within the first week of working at WISH Charter, she knew teaching was what she wanted to do as a career. Emily believes that every student is unique and beautiful in their own way and that she as a teacher needs to support each student while enhancing their critical thinking. Emily works to educate the whole student; socially, emotionally and academically. Emily likes to bring in movement, breathing and real-world application to her investigative and exploratory lessons. She is very excited to be joining the Ventura Charter Community.
Flow Hansmeier, Grades 3-4
I'm thrilled to teach grades 3/4 at VCS. For me, a meaningful education incorporates a community that practices kindness and connection, laughter, hands on projects, humor, real life experience, lots of time in the great outdoors, the company of Babou the therapy dog, outstanding teachers who love their job and are surrounded by support, trust and freedom and lots of heartfelt learning. I knew I wanted to teach as a child. I love being around kids of all ages. I grew up in San Diego, attended Santa Clara University in the Bay Area and earned my teaching credential at Cal State University Channel Islands. For ten years I was an Outdoor Educator and taught students in a variety of amazing outdoor environments all over the West ranging from our deserts, forests, mountains, the redwoods, streams, creeks, rivers and my favorite place, the ocean and Emerald Bay, Catalina. I joined the VCS staff in our starting year and have taught a variety of grades at VCS ranging from K, 1st/2nd, 7th/8th and I taught for a year in our homeschool. I'm happy to call Ventura home where I live and play with my husband James, our children Otto and Iris, and our dog Babou. Lastly, my real name is Kim. I got the nickname "Flow" while guiding students down the Colorado River in canoes. "Go with the Flow!" It just stuck ;).
Jessica Murphy Granados, Grades 3-4
Jessica received her Multiple Subject Teaching Credential and Bachelor's Degree in Education with a Minor in Spanish from the University of Southern California (USC). She received a Master's for Educational Leadership at California Lutheran University (CLU) in 2008. She started her career in Oxnard teaching gifted and talented students (GATE) and was a member of their Leadership Committee. With her project-based and constructivist learning approach, she made the easy transition to Ventura Charter School of Arts and Global Education. Outside of teaching, Jessica enjoys traveling. She spent six months in Spain as well as one month in Costa Rica enhancing her Spanish skills. She developed a love for sports, playing competitive softball for 11 years and tennis throughout high school. Jessica brings her enthusiasm and experience into the classroom as she challenges her students to think critically to construct meaning from their environment.
Erin Looker, Learning Center
Erin has been teaching for over 20 years. She began teaching in Monterey. She started out as a substitute teacher, which is where she got her first exposure to Special Education. Those experiences sparked the interest to pursue a credential in Special Education. She moved to Santa Barbara and began getting more experience in special education working as a substitute teacher in all grade levels. She worked at Santa Barbara Junior High for several years as an ELL teacher, Special Education teacher, and the Opportunity teacher - working with teens at risk. She moved to Ojai nearly 10 years ago and began teaching at Matilija Junior High. There, she taught Pre- Algebra and Algebra. She also taught in the Resource classroom there. She has been at Ventura Charter School for nearly 5 years, where she teaches in The Learning Center. Erin loves teaching at VCS - "There's no other place I'd rather be!"
Chris Pena, Grades 5-6
Chris grew up in the small town of Three Rivers, CA and was surrounded by wonderful teachers who taught him the importance of education. In fifth grade he had the opportunity to experience one of the best teachers he could imagine. This teacher just happened to be his grandmother. Because of this source of inspiration, Chris has always seen the value in working to guide young people toward fulfilling their potential. After high school, Chris went to Westmont College in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated with a degree in Cross-Cultural Sociology. He then went on to work in the Santa Barbara community as a Residential Counselor and Street Outreach Worker at Noah's Anchorage youth crisis shelter. Chris then moved to Colorado where he continued his career in social work before deciding to follow his dream of becoming a teacher. After receiving a multi-subject teaching license, Chris took a job at Westridge Elementary in Littleton, Colorado, where he moved back and forth between teaching 5th and 6th grades. Chris is excited to be back in California and working as a part of the Ventura Charter community. He brings to the classroom his goal of connecting with each student on an individual level and is committed to relevant and meaningful subject matter, mutual respect, a diverse outlook on education, and a focus on social justice and social/environmental responsibility.
Karen Mercer, Grades 5-6
Karen Mercer has been teaching with Ventura Charter since its inception in 2006-2007. Karen has a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential from Antioch University and a Bachelors degree in History/Politics from UC Santa Cruz. Karen has been working with children for over 10 years as an outdoor and environmental educator, early literacy tutor, math teacher, and science specialist. Karen's years as an outdoor educator convinced her of the power of experiential constructivist learning. She brings those experiences to the profession of "indoor education" at Ventura Charter School. She is committed to making the Ventura Charter middle school a meaningful and exciting place to live and learn together as a community.
Susan Melican, Grades 5-6
Susie Melican graduated from UCSB in 2004 with her multiple subject credential and Masters in Education. For nine years she worked as a second, third, and fourth grade teacher at Open Alternative School in Santa Barbara. Before stepping into the classroom she worked in a variety of outdoor education programs as a garden teacher, environmental educator, and wilderness trip leader. She shares her love for the outdoors with her students and strives to foster meaningful connections between students and the natural world. In the classroom Susie works to build a strong community of learners where all students feel supported in their academic, social, and emotional growth and celebrated for their unique gifts and talents. She shares her love for the arts with students, integrating visual and performing arts across the curriculum. Susie is excited to work with students, parents, and Ventura Charter School staff to create a vibrant and positive learning environment for all students.
Ivy Brown, Grades 5-6
Ivy moved to Ventura from Boston where she studied International Business and Italian at Northeastern University. After volunteering in elementary schools in Ventura and Santa Barbara, Ivy fell in love with teaching, and decided to pursue a career in the classroom. She went on to earn her Master's in Education and Multiple Subject Certification from the University of California, Santa Barbara. While completing her teaching credential, Ivy was introduced to Ventura Charter School, and was fortunate enough to complete her student teaching there. After graduating from UCSB, she knew that Ventura Charter was the place where she wanted develop as an educator, and was thrilled to become a part of their staff. Ivy strives to create learning environments that engage and welcome all students, and values connecting with each of her students as individuals. Outside of the classroom, Ivy can be found cooking, gardening, and spending time with her friends.
Shelly Ballmer, Grades 7-8
Shelly has been with VCS since 2008. She received her BA in Psychology with an emphasis in Child Development from UCSB, and her Multiple Subject Teaching Credential from UCSB as well. She has completed additional graduate coursework on how to teach math at the secondary level. She has experience teaching all grade levels from K-8, with the majority of that time spent with middle schoolers. In her 25+ years in education, she has also worked with homeschool families and at-risk teens. Along with the daily joys of teaching young people across all subjects, Shelly has a passion for drama, service learning projects, and project-based learning. As an avid mathematician, Shelly especially enjoys teaching math, and strongly believes the whole-child tenet that addresses the need to attend to the emotional state of a math learner is essential for success, especially at the middle school level. Math anxiety and low self-esteem are the death knell for mastery, and Shelly strives to help students reimagine who they are as math learners. Shelly spends her free time with her husband Chris, and enjoys the beach, hikes, and fun outings. Her three grown children are now off on their own adventures. Seeing them go through high school has helped her shape the middle school program here at VCS so that it is insured that we are doing all we can to properly prepare our students for 9th grade.
Christi Sandbach, Grades 7-8
Christi Sandbach is thrilled to return to California and to Ventura Charter School after living in New Jersey for the last 3 years and teaching at Voyagers Community School, a private progressive k-12 school in Eatontown, NJ. Throughout her career, she has worked with children in a range of grade levels including kindergarten through 12thth grade. As a Ventura Charter School founding teacher, she was instrumental in developing the Middle School program.Christi received a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology in 1997 and a Masters in Education from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2001. She currently holds a California K-8 Multiple Subject Credential as well as New Jersey teaching credentials for both Elementary K-6 and English K-12. As a progressive educator of 15 years, she is passionate about constructivist, project-based education that honors the whole-child. Christi is dedicated to creating a learning environment where curiosity guides the course of study, where community is strengthened through a sense of belonging, connection, and mutual respect, where teacher and student are partners in education, practicing the habits of life-long learning together. During her spare time, Christi enjoys spending time with her family, traveling, reading and being in the outdoors: running, hiking, camping, and going to the beach as often as she can.
Rachel Vargas, Grades 7-8
Rachel is thrilled to start her teaching career at Ventura Charter School. She first learned about the magic of VCS while teaching at Harmony Preschool in Santa Barbara. While receiving her Multiple Subject Teaching Credential and Master’s in Education from Antioch University, she was fortunate enough to complete her student teaching at VCS. She quickly learned of VCS’ constructivist, whole-child approach to education and it didn’t take long for her to feel right at home.
Recognizing that every person has his/her own unique experiences to share, Rachel looks forward to nurturing the curiosities, interests, and autonomy of each student. Rachel comes to the classroom with a background in art history, ceramics, and garden education.
Terri Hooson, Intervention Teacher
Terri holds a Masters in Education with an emphasis in Literacy and Social Justice from Antioch University, LA and a BA in Outdoor Recreation with a minor in Exercise Science and Sport Psychology from Western Washington University. She has taught for over 20 years in constructivist classrooms, has served as an adjunct professor and lecturer (teaching graduate courses in Language Arts Methodology at Antioch University and at the University of California Santa Barbara) has served as a Mentor Teacher, and has designed and led numerous workshops for educators. She is a voracious reader and is ecstatic about her position as a Reading Intervention and ELD Teacher. She is dedicated to helping children discover joy in the process of learning about themselves and the world through reading, writing, and language. Terri chose to teach at VCS because it champions childhood and is a place where she can contribute to creating an equitable and just world within a community of other anti-racist educators. She believes that connection, authenticity, and integrity are sacred within the classroom so that all children can be seen, feel safe to take risks, and experience a deep sense of belonging. When not at school you can find Terri soaking up a delicious book, traveling and exploring wild places, and adventuring in nature with her vibrant, playful daughter.