Science Leadership Academy Learn · Create · Lead

Faculty and Staff

Principal: Chris Lehmann -

Chris is the founding principal of the Science Leadership Academy, a progressive science and technology high school in Philadelphia, PA. The Science Leadership Academy is an inquiry-driven, project-based, 1:1 laptop school that is considered to be one of the pioneers of the School 2.0 movement nationally and internationally. The school was recognized by Ladies Home Journal as one of the Ten Most Amazing Schools in the US, has been recognized as an Apple Distinguished School in 2009 and 2010 and has been written about in many publications including Edutopia Magazine, EdWeek and the Philadelphia Inquirer. Chris returned to his native Philadelphia after nine years as an English Teacher, Technology Coordinator, Girls Basketball Coach and Ultimate Frisbee coach at the Beacon School in New York City, one of the leading urban public schools for technology integration.

In June 2013, Chris was named Outstanding Leader of the Year by the International Society of Technology in Education. In November of 2012, Chris was named one of Dell's #Inspire100 - one of the 100 people changing the world using Social Media. In April of 2012, Chris won the Lindback Award for Excellence in Principal Leadership in the School District of Philadelphia. In September of 2011, Chris was honored by the White House as a Champion of Change for his work in education reform. In June 2010, Chris was named as one of the "30 Most Influential People in EdTech" by Technology & Learning Magazine. In 2009, Chris was a honoree for the Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development's Outstanding Young Educator Award. Chris was named as one of "40 Under 40" by Philadelphia Business Journal in 2009. In 2006, the National School Board Association named Chris one of "20 to Watch" among American administrators. In 2001, Chris was honored by MOUSE as a Champion of Technology and Education for his work on building the portal at the Beacon School. Chris has written for such education publications as Principal Leadership Magazine, Learning and Leading with Technology Magainze, and the School Library Journal. 

Chris has spoken at conferences all over the world, including TEDxPhilly, TEDxNYED, the National Association of Secondary Schools Conference, the Building Learning Communities conference, the National Educational Computing Conference, the Philadelphia Area Educational Technology Conference, The Yahoo Cybercitizen Conference, the Innovative Learning Conference, The Council of Educational Facilities Planners Regional Conference, the K12-Online Conference, the International Conference on Technology and Education and at LinuxWorld, and he has worked with many schools and districts in the U.S. and England as a consultant.

Chris received his B.A. in English Literature from the University of Pennsylvania and his M.A. in English Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. Chris is co-editor of What School Leaders Need to Know about Digital Technologies and Social Media, the author of the education blog Practical Theory: and is father to Jakob and Theo.

Special Education: Michael Ames -

Michael came to SLA in 2011 after over a decade of teaching in the School District of Philadelphia. A Philadelphia native, Michael received his Master’s degree in Curriculum, Instruction, & Technology in Education from Temple University and is certified in the areas of Special Education, History, and Elementary Education.  Michael is a firm believer that project-based learning is uniquely suited to meet the needs of all learners.  He lives in Philadelphia with his lovely wife Mélanie and their three wonderful children - Iris, Simon, and Eliot.

History: Matt Baird –

Matt is a 20 year veteran teacher who has been with SLA since the school opened in 2006. Previously he taught at several Quaker schools in the Philadelphia area and in Costa Rica.  At SLA Matt teaches history to 9th and 12th graders, coaches girls soccer and chess, and coordinates student-teaching placements from local colleges and universities. His academic interests center upon the structural and institutional framework of societies and the distribution of political and economic power. Matt has a master's degree in Government Administration from the University of Pennsylvania and an M.S. in Secondary Education also from Penn.  He did his undergraduate studies at Haverford College majoring in Sociology and Anthropology. At SLA, Matt has been developing a project-based history curriculum using a "case study" method that focuses on enabling students to become thoughtful and engaged scholars and citizens.

Biochemistry / Senior Science Electives: Tim Best –

Tim has been teaching at SLA since 2007. Before SLA, he was a high school technology integration specialist and middle school science teacher in the Boston area.. In 2011, Tim was named a National Board Certified Teacher.

Spanish: Mark Bey –

Mark came to SLA in 2008 after teaching in Philadelphia, Georgiaand New Jersey.  He has been teaching Spanish for 16 years and has a passion for the culture and language.  Mark graduated from Central High School of Philadelphia in 90’ and attended Morehouse college in Atlanta, GA.  In college he had a double major, Spanish and Finance and studied in Mexico.   After several summer internships Mark decided finance wasn’t for him and instead of working on Wall Street he joined the Peace Corps. 

He trained for 3 months in Guatemala and served his 2 years tour in El Salvador.  There is where Mark developed his love for teaching.  He taught high school English, held business workshops for women and helped initiate community banks.  When returning to the states Mark enrolled into Temple University to acquire his masters in Modern Foreign Language Education.

He resides in the Brewerytown neighborhood of Philadelphia and enjoys traveling immensely and sharing his experiences with his students.

Humanities: Joshua Block –

Joshua has taught students in public schools in the Philadelphia suburbs, New York City, and Philadelphia. He received his B.A. and M.S. in Education from the University of Pennsylvania. He received additional education while living in Jerusalem and Cameroon and while working as a cabinetmaker. Joshua is passionate about his belief that education should be a tool that allows people to both understand and transform their individual and collective realities. He is a Nationally Board Certified Teacher, a PBS Innovative Educator, and winner of the Adele Magner Memorial Award from Philadelphia Young Playwrights. Some of Joshua’s writing about teaching can be seen at:

School Police Officer: Cynthia Byrd -

Cynthia is SLA’s founding School Police Officer. She has been in the School District for thirteen years and came to SLA after time at Engineering & Science, Masterman and various other schools in the city.

English: Alexa Dunn -

A Philly girl at heart, Alexa returned to SLA in 2009 after spending two years in Toronto. She was part of SLA's founding faculty in 2006.   Alexa also taught 7th and 8th grade Language Arts and worked as Director of Publications in Development at Friends' Central School in Wynnewood, PA. She completed her year long English Education internship at The Beacon School in New York City while pursuing her Masters in English Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. Prior to entering the education field, Alexa enjoyed a four-year stint as Marketing Manager at The Conde Nast Publications for Vogue, Glamour, W, and Details magazines. She earned her Principal's Certificate from Drexel University in 2011 and currently runs the Parent University and Student Assistant Teaching programs at SLA. She loves yoga, dancing, Spanish language and culture, knitting, reading, travel, and spending time with her beautiful and engaging family.  

Biochemistry: Stephanie Dunda -  

She earned a BA in Biology from Wesleyan College, where she studied abroad in Argentina and found a love for the language and culture. A Minnesota and Florida native, Stephanie arrives at SLA after teaching for 5 years in Florida. Stephanie was Teacher of the Year at the Phoenix Academy, in Florida, and was the Florida Association of Science Teachers Outstanding High School Science Teacher. Her passion is connecting students to their surrounding world, particularly analyzing the influence of human impact on their environment and watersheds. Current students have worked with Drexel Engineers to improve their urban living space by building indoor vertical gardens. She admires the philosophy/teaching of Kagan, McREL, Ruby Payne, Hal Urban, Wong, and her middle school science teacher, Mr. Kolodji.  Her most recent accomplishment is achieving her National Board Certification in Biology.

Physics: Rosalind Echols –

Rosalind is in her fifth year of teaching physics at SLA, during which time she has worked with her science colleagues to design a real-world based physics curriculum accessible to all of the students at SLA. She earned her undergraduate degree in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Princeton University and came to teaching in Philadelphia after a year in Tanzania teaching English and Math. She started the SLA Ultimate Frisbee team, and now collaborates with Mr. Lehmann to coach the greatly expanded (and enthusiastic!) team. She also shares her love of ceramics by teaching the ceramics elective. In her free time, she contemplates the science of her life, most notably running, baking, and her car. And then insists on sharing these contemplations with her students. She recently earned her National Board Certification in Physics.

Math: Erin Giorgio -

After teaching a year in England and in New York for a few years, Erin moved to Philadelphia in 2008 where she earned her Masters Degree in Secondary Education (Mathematics) from the University of Pennsylvania.  She joined the SLA faculty in 2009 where she enjoys teaching students mathematics.  Erin also coaches the SLA girls’ varsity basketball team and is hopeful that she will be able to start a lacrosse team in the upcoming years!  During the 2012 summer, Erin attended the Math & Sustainability conference where she worked with other math and science teachers in Pennsylvania to develop curriculum for interdisciplinary lessons/units that focus on sustainability and is looking forward to implementing many of these ideas in the future!  Outside of the work day, Erin enjoys exploring the city of brotherly love, testing out new recipes in the kitchen, and challenging others to feats of strength.  

History / Dig Vid (Digital Filmmaking): Douglas Herman -  

Douglas hated history when he was a kid! Sounds kind of strange coming from a history teacher, but he didn't have the epiphany that the classroom was where he belonged until he spent a few years solid traveling around the ”developing world”. Obviously he had a change of heart and returned to the states as a “man on  a mission” to pursue a career in media art education. After revamping the photography program at Appel Farm Arts & Music Center, NJ, (2003-08), Douglas earned his M.A.T. in history and media art from the Center for Creative Teaching at Bennington College, VT. In his 4th year at SLA, and 5th in the Philadelphia public school system, Douglas brings a unique perspective to history, both modern and ancient, by utilizing media art in understanding and developing individual relationships with history and politics. When not teaching, Douglas continues to travel through the developing world to create relationships with organizations, communities and individuals focused on sustainable development. Perhaps the most important phase has been to adapt this work for the classroom through history and video curricula to convince his students that they are actually living history every second and therefore have tons of opportunities to change it. Check out his media art work at  


Douglas is also the director of Rough Cut Productions - a collaborative media production team which handles all aspects of media creation with an explicit focus upon video production. Rough Cut’s staff is comprised of current and former Dig Vid students from SLA, and has just established an annual Rough Cut Film Festival at The Franklin Institute. Check out the 2012 show on Rough Cut’s website ( Rough Cut Media - a nonprofit for schools- has also been established to promote the pilot program at SLA to schools around the world.

Counselor: Karina Hirschfield –

Karina is a founding faculty member here at SLA.  Before joining SLA's faculty, she taught in the New York City Public School System for four years in a classroom setting in her Bronx, NY hometown.  Her love of education and interest in counseling led her to a Masters of Science in Education degree in School Counseling from Fordham University.  Karina currently runs the school's College Counseling program where she is thrilled to pursue her passion of supporting students in their pursuit of higher education and professional goals. Karina enjoys getting her students fully engaged in their entire college process experience.  This involvement has resulted in her students achieving success beyond their expectations.

Technology Coordinator: Marcie Hull –

Before becoming SLA's founding Technology Coordinator,  Marcie spent five years at Shoemaker Middle School in SDP. She brings a powerful understanding of both the fine and digital arts and their role in schools. She has established a reputation as one of the top digital arts educators in the city. Marcie has presented at the National Educational Computing Conference, PETE&C, the NY Tech Forum and has worked training teachers all over the School District of Philadelphia.

History: Pearl Jonas --  

Pearl has been working with Philly youth for over 10 years as a tutor, teacher and mentor. She joined SLA in 2012 thrilled to be part of a school that practices many of the core values that have been part of her past experiences. After earning her Masters in Secondary Education from the University of Pennsylvania in 2010, she spent her first year of teaching in Ecuador at a bilingual and service-oriented school. As a City Year volunteer she spent two years traversing Philadelphia with 150 middle school students practicing reflective service-learning. Before that, spending a year working in Nicaragua with a fair-trade organization not only solidified her passion for experiential learning but also to teach with a goal of helping students develop as critical citizens.

English: Matthew Kay –

Matt is a product of the Philadelphia Public Schools, having graduated from Saul High School and West Chester University. For a young teacher, Matt has had an incredible amount of teaching and coaching experience, having worked as an assistant football coach at West Chester, as a Summerbridge Math and English teacher and as a teacher and naturalist at the Awbury Arboretum.

Mathematics: Brad Latimer –

Brad was born and raised in the Philadelphia area, and returned to Philly to complete graduate coursework at the University of Pennsylvania in 2006. In 2008, after earning his Masters Degree in Teaching, Learning, and Curriculum, Brad joined the faculty of SLA. He currently serves as the Mathematics Department Chair, teaches students Algebra 2 and Calculus, coaches Track and Field, and chairs the Academic Standards Committee. Additionally, he taught a Math Methods course at the University of Pennsylvania in 2012 for Teach for America Corps members. Brad recently earned his Level II Certification for Mathematics, and won the Linback Distinguished Teaching Award in 2010. In his free time, he enjoys sports (basketball and football), music, and spending time with his daughter.

School Secretary: Diane LoGiudice -

Ms. Diane is the founding secretary at SLA and a proud SLA alumni parent. She started with the SDP as a Wrap Around working at both Girard and Fell grade schools. She was a secretary at Kirkbride Elementary for 6 years. She enjoys the beach, reading and being with her family and friends.

Spanish: Melanie Manuel –

 After living in Latin America and California, Melanie came to SLA where she teaches students Spanish and coordinates our community service program. She has organized and led many international trips for her students to the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Costa Rica, the US-Mexico border and Guatemala. In her free time she wanders aimlessly in the city on her bike, dances hiphop, plays soccer, snowboards, dabbles in art and guitar, travels to countries with US State Department issued travel advisories and obsesses over public art. Melanie holds a National Board Certification in World Languages and mentors teachers in the area who are applying for the certification.

Physical Education / Health: Pia Martin –

Pia Martin Health and Physical Education: Teaching is one of her greatest pleasures.  She believes that Health is everything and with that belief she tackles the issues that often make it difficult for people to make wise, proactive health decisions. be they, physical , emotional, social or intellectual.  Her goal is to help the whole school community achieve optimal health, through each individual valuing their wellness and advocating for the wellness of others. Pia is the product of two English teachers and the NYC public school system. She moved to Philadelphia to attend Temple University and has been here ever since.  She has proudly taught in the Philadelphia School District for 17 years. Pia has led numerous PD for the district and others on various health and PE topics. She has been a guest lecturer at Temple University introducing Standards Based Health Education to future health and PE teachers and Public Health Students. Pia is 2003 Stecher Award Winner and a 2008 Lindbach Award nominee.

Special Education: Beth Menasion -

Beth came to SLA after 6 years in the district as a Learning Support teacher at Welsh K-8 school.  She has worked in the social services field in many different capacities, including several years in early childhood education at the Parent Infant Center.  She attended Temple University and lives in West Philadelphia with her husband and 2 energetic boys.  In an effort to generate interest and support for neighborhood, public schools in her community, Beth co-founded the group, West Philly Coalition for Neighborhood Schools

Math / Computer Science: Mark Miles -

Mark was born and raised in Phoenix, AZ. He attended college at the University of Arizona in Tucson, AZ, originally pursuing a degree in Education, but ultimately double majoring in Mathematics and Computer Science with minors in Creative Writing and Business Administration. After he graduated in 2005, he worked at Raytheon Missile Systems for four years, first as a Safety Engineer, then as a Software Engineer. However, in 2009, Mark decided to follow his passion for teaching; he moved to Philadelphia and joined the Science Leadership Academy through the Philadelphia Teaching Fellows. Mark earned his Masters in Secondary Education from Arcadia University in 2011, and he has taught students Pre-Calculus, Advanced Drama, Statistics and Computer Science Engineering.

Meenoo Rami -

Meenoo has been teaching in the School District of Philadelphia since 2006.  At SLA, she teaches English to 11th and 12th grade students.  Mixing moments of joy, laughter, risk and encouragement Meenoo pushes her students to think critically about their connection to the word and the world.  Meenoo did her undergraduate work at Bradley University in IL in areas of Philosophy and English and completed her Master’s degree in Secondary Education at Temple University.  Meenoo also contributes to the work of school-wide events and professional learning communities at SLA.  Meenoo works as a teacher-consultant for the Philadelphia Writing Project.  She has shared her classroom practice at various conferences  such as: NCTE, ISTE, ASCD, EduCon, Urban Sites Conference for National Writing Project, and #140edu.  Meenoo also runs a weekly twitter chat for English teachers called #engchat.  You can learn more about #engchat here ( and follow her adventures in teaching via twitter here (  In her free time, Meenoo can be found on her bike, on her yoga mat or in her kitchen tinkering with a vegetarian recipe.  

English: Larissa Pahomov –

Larissa teaches students English and Journalism. In addition to her classroom duties, she helps coordinate SLA's alumni relations, community events, and diversity programs. She has presented her school's work at ISTE, EduCon, and EdCamp Philly. S he is a core member of Teacher Action Group, a teacher-run network that seeks to bring positive transformation to all schools in Philadelphia. Larissa also works as a curriculum developer for the One Book and One Film programs run by the Free Library of Philadelphia. She earned her Masters degree in Education from the University of Pennsylvania Before that, she worked as a Fulbright Teaching Assistant for English in a high school in Germany. In the classroom, Larissa is dedicated to helping her students learn to read both the word and the world. She blogs regularly about all of this at

Mathematics: Sunil Reddy –

Born in Philadelphia and raised in Bucks County, PA, Sunil is passionate about teaching and living within the School District of Philadelphia. Graduating from Colgate University with a dual degree in Mathematics and English Literature, he spent his fifth year in Central New York earning a Master of Arts in Teaching degree in Secondary Mathematics Education. His ambition to teach students math began in sixth grade when he admits he first felt challenged in the subject because of his teacher, who was less than motivating. Vowing to rise above his teacher’s low expectations, Sunil made the decision to excel in the content area and one day become a better teacher for his own students. During college Sunil tutored math at the high school level in all subjects, and singularly coordinated the tutoring program linking undergraduate volunteers with neighborhood high school students. Sunil has worked as a math instructor and tutor for various Upward Bound programs in and around Philadelphia, during summer residency programs as well as during Saturday enrichment courses during the school year.

After teaching 300 students via distance learning through a PA virtual academy, Sunil joined the SLA community in its third year of operation. Tasked with building up the Algebra II curriculum at that time, he has coached many students with their skills to provide them with a more comfortable transition into advanced courses. At SLA, Sunil has taught students math in Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II and Pre-Calculus courses. Sunil does not believe that any student is incapable of learning, rejecting the notion that some people "can't do math." It is Sunil's belief that all children are able to excel in any subject area if they are provided with ample individualized and differentiated instruction. Sunil is a patient practitioner who is able to contextualize mathematical concepts for students, grounding them in many real world examples. Although his students know him to be a strict teacher with high expectations regarding quality and ethic of work, they also cite him to be a teacher that never asks more or less of his students than he expects of himself.

Apart from his mathematics responsibilities, Sunil is proud to be the school’s founding Yearbook Advisor, responsible for the design and business affairs of the annual publication. Having also served on the school’s Attendance and Multi-Culturalism Professional Development committees, Sunil most recently accepted the role of Attendance Coordinator, overseeing student tardiness across all grade levels. His prominent organizational skills and meticulous attention to detail also sets him apart as the official staff scribe during weekly professional development sessions. Outside of school, Sunil enjoys spending time with his dog, connecting with friends, and finding ways to enjoy moments of downtime.

Biochemistry & History: Gamal Sherif –

Gamal first began working with children in 1980, when he served as a summer camp director in New York’s Bear Mountain State Park. After earning a bachelor’s degree at SUNY Binghamton, he worked as a sous chef at Caribou Cafe, a development director with the Philadelphia Drama Guild, and a house manager/projectionist at the Roxy Theater. In 1995, Gamal earned a master’s degree in education from Temple University. After five years as a high school biology teacher and federal grants administrator with The School District of Philadelphia, he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a second master’s degree in educational administration. Gamal has Pennsylvania certificates for the principalship, biology, chemistry and social studies.

Over the years, Gamal has facilitated professional development for schools in Pennsylvania, across the country, and abroad with the U.S. Department of State. In 2010, Gamal worked with the Center for Teaching Quality to research and publish a report entitled Transforming Working Conditions. In 2011, he received the NSTA’s National Award for Inquiry-based Science Education. In 2012, Gamal served as a Fellow with the U.S. Department of Education.

Since 2006, Gamal has studied biochemistry and African American history with SLA’s students. At the core of Gamal’s pedagogy is student engagement through inquiry-driven, project-based learning. When students have time to ask questions, design their research, and then reflect on and share what they have learned, students develop essential life-long skills. Gamal is especially passionate about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning through environmental studies. Whether studying watersheds, global positioning, small-scale farming, or solar panels, environmental studies has the potential to connect students to each other and the world around them.

Counselor: Zoe Siswick -

A proud product of Philadelphia public schools, Zoe is passionate about working with students in her beloved hometown.  After earning her degree in International Affairs from George Washington University, she returned to Philadelphia. Zoe brings a wealth of experience working with Philadelphia public school students--she taught second grade and ran an academic enrichment program before completing her counseling internship at SLA as part of her Master's degree in Counseling Psychology at Temple University.  When she's not at SLA, Zoe enjoys watching football, cooking (and eating!) and hanging out with her wonderful husband and bulldog.  She enjoys working with some of the most vibrant and intellectually curious staff and students in the nation!

Program Manager / ILP Coordinator: Jeremy Spry -

Jeremy runs. He also runs stuff.

History: Jason Toddd -

Mathematics: Caitlin Thompson –

Caitlin completed her undergraduate degree at Tufts University in Boston and started her teaching career as a Philadelphia Teaching Fellow.  She earned her degree in engineering science and geology and enjoys exposing students to the wide range of mathematical applications in the world.  Caitlin came to SLA in 2008 and has taught students Algebra 1, Geometry and Statistics.  She finished her Masters of Arts in Adventure Education from Prescott College and continues to enjoy sharing her love for cycling and the outdoors with Philadelphia's finest youth.

Engineering: Matt VanKouwenberg –

Science Leadership Academy (SLA) teacher Matt VanKouwenberg came to the school after 5 years of teaching at West Philadelphia High School, where he had won teacher of the year.  At SLA, Matt has been able to take full advantage of his background of a BSE in Chemical and in Biomolecular engineering from UPenn by developing many courses in both science and engineering.  After being a Yale National Teaching Fellow, he went on to win the first annual Lindback award for secondary teachers.  In his engineering classes there has been an over-arching theme of energy – with his students developing breakthroughs in bio-diesel production and helping to figure out how to make solar thermal, distillation, and wind-driven energies accessible to everyone.  These ideals are now being used in his capacity as a member of the steering Committee of the PECO Energizing Education Program, where he is helping to implement curriculum to decrease energy consumption throughout the Philadelphia 5-County region.  Matt has also helped his students develop methods for cleaning water locally as well as in Egypt, Kenya, Ethiopia, Malawi and Guatemala. He is also helping to develop curriculum for the Penn Genome Frontiers Institute by creating units of instruction accessible to all secondary schools to help their students learn about epigenetics and biotechnology.  Matt is also on the Chemical Heritage Foundation's Teacher Advisory Board and the NIH Institutional Biosafety Committee, part of the IRB, at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. He was voted by the Society of Professional Engineers (SPE) as the Outstanding Science Teacher in the region in 2012. He is currently taking pleasure in working with the Egyptian Ministry of Education through USAID to help develop project based STEM schools in Egypt. Matt also coaches soccer and the FIRST Robotics team.

Franklin Institute Liaison: Luke Van Meter --,

Luke started at SLA in 2010 as the Individualized Learning Coordinator. Now, as The Franklin Institute's Liaison to SLA, he oversees all programs associated with the partnership. One such program, called Wednesdays@TFI, brings SLA's freshman class to The Franklin Institute once a week for informal STEM programming, augmented by Museum exhibits. This program was recently awarded a national prize by IDSA for successfully integrating design thinking into K-12 education. 

Luke is the administrator of the FIBOT Scholarship, which provides six grants of $10,000 each for college-bound SLA seniors, and manages logistics for an NIH grant-funded neuroscience curriculum development project at The Franklin Institute. As SLA’s primary admissions representative, Luke travels to schools across Philadelphia to present about SLA’s pedagogical approach. In 2012, Luke co-founded an initiative called, “EAGR Philadelphia” which brings high school students into laboratories at University of Pennsylvania.

Luke holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Haverford College (2009), a Master of Science in Design from Philadelphia University (2013), and a certificate from Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. Outside of TFI and SLA, Luke is an avid outdoorsman (hiking, biking, whitewater canoeing, sailing, kayaking, skate skiing) and has led educational wilderness trips in Maine for teenagers. He is a freelance designer and amateur singer.

Custodian: Paul Williams -