Meet Our World Class Faculty
Desert Academy is proud of its faculty, staff, and leadership. Our teachers have a passion for teaching, expertise in their subjects, enthusiasm to work with young adults, strong work ethic, eagerness to collaborate, and fidelity to the International Baccalaureate. The staff and leadership work diligently to support teachers and students in meeting their fullest potential.
Bob Alei, MS, MA
Math, Creativity, Action, Service (CAS) Coordinator, and Math Department Chair
Bob grew up in Los Alamos and received his BA from UC San Diego and MS from Stanford University in electrical engineering. In 2000, after working as a software engineer in medical imaging and environmental data management, he decided to pursue teaching math. He began with pre-algebra and algebra in a public middle school in rural California. Since then, he has taught courses from Algebra through Calculus at both private and public schools. He has a passion for helping students discover the beauty and elegance of mathematics as one of many lenses into our world. He is excited to be working with the IB math program at Desert Academy.
Cayley Bell, BA
Film and Animation
Cayley grew up in Santa Fe, and has more than ten years of experience working in the film industry. A few of his locally produced credits include: Legion, Terminator: Salvation, Paul, We’re the Millers, and True Grit. With his diverse production experience ranging from stunts and visual effects to assistant directing and editing, he looks forward to introducing students to the many creative and collaborative aspects of filmmaking. Cayley is thrilled to join the ambitious team at Desert Academy, and to help make the local film communities and resources more accessible to local film students.
Assistance Dog Training
Assistance Dogs of the West was founded in 1995 by Jill Felice, and has been an integral part of the Desert curriculum for 22 years. Jill is a graduate of the Assistance Dog Institute in Rohnert Park, California. Dr. Bonita Bergin, the founder of Canine Companions for Independence, founded Assistance Dog Institute. ADW is a proud member of ADI.
Jodie Densmore did her apprenticeship by Jill's side for 2 years along with many continuing education forums/conferences on Behavior, Dog Training, Child Development, Education Development, Autism, PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury and many other topics related to ADW's mission throughout her 13+ year career.
Florence Duncan, BA
French, Department Chair
Florence is from France and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Management from the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, Scotland. She has taught both French and English to children and adults – in France, England, Scotland and Australia. In addition to these countries, she has also lived in Southeast Asia – Vietnam and Thailand – giving her a multicultural background and good knowledge about the diverse ways in which children learn. She joined Desert Academy in 2017.
Nadia Garcia, MA
Nadia was born and raised in Albuquerque. She holds a dual Bachelors in Psychology and Spanish, and a Masters in Spanish with a concentration in Hispanic Literature from the University of New Mexico. She taught Spanish for two years at UNM. Her passion lies in literature, with a special love for Golden Age and Latin American literature. When she was an instructor at UNM she discovered that she wanted to dedicate her life to sharing her knowledge of language and culture to others.
Sarah moved to Santa Fe to get her Master’s degree in Liberal Arts at St. John’s College, and she never left. She loves the mountains, the climate and living in a small city. Sarah majored in Classical Languages as an undergrad, and loves teaching Latin to young people. She has been teaching, coaching or tutoring consistently since college, and has loved the array of subjects and ages she has taught. She also teaches Latin at The Fayette Street Academy. Besides teaching, she enjoys riding her bike, reading books,and drinking coffee. Sarah is newly married and has a cat named Ivan.
Paul Hedrick, MA
English, Department Chair
Paul hails from Albuquerque, New Mexico. He received his BA in English from the University of New Mexico and his MA from Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English. Paul is certified as an IB English Instructor. He began teaching in 1997 and joined the Desert Academy faculty in 2007. Despite his interests in science fiction and fantasy, comic books, gaming, Star Trek, film, and English literature, Paul likes to think he’s not the world’s biggest geek.
Dan Koenig, Ph.D.
This is Dan’s third year teaching French at Desert Academy, helping junior and senior students prepare for the challenging International Baccalaureate French examination.
He is a retired PhD nuclear engineer with 17 years of scientific experience at the Los Alamos National laboratory, where he worked on research projects related to the conversion of nuclear, solar and thermal energy to electricity. Dan also has 10 years of experience in the field of computer graphics designing software to enable artists to paint on a computer.
Having been born and brought up in France where he has a large family, Dan is fluent in French. As an adult, he had the good fortune to do scientific research in France for several years. For the past ten years, he has been conducting a weekly French conversation class for adults in his own home. In his spare time, Dan plays the oboe with the Santa Fe Community Orchestra.
Sarah Meghan Lee, MA
Sarah Meghan Lee worked as a photojournalist for 15 years, first based in central Africa then Latin America, covering social, environmental and human rights issues. Her work was published in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, and the Guardian (London). Sarah, a New Mexico native, became interested in photography while completing her degree in Eastern European modern history at Stanford University, including studies in Kraków, Poland, and Berlin, Germany.
While working as a photojournalist, Sarah taught one-week workshops at the Santa Fe Photography Workshops for 14 years. Sarah has also taught at University of California San Diego Extension, San Diego State University and Francis Parker School. Sarah is the principal instructor of an international workshop series that has traveled to developing countries such as Bhutan, Nicaragua, Kyrgyzstan, and India teaching high school students the fundamentals of photography and visual story-telling. See Sarah's amazing photography at www.sarahmeghanlee.com Learn more about the workshops here at fredricrobertsworkshops.org/
Sarah earned an MA in Media Studies from San Diego State University in 2013 and recently moved back to New Mexico with her husband and two children. Sarah is very excited to join the art team at Desert Academy and bring photography to life with hands-on projects and the alchemy of the darkroom.
Lisa Lincoln, MA
Musical Theater, Music, & Performing Arts, Speech and Debate, Arts Department Chair
Lisa is passionate about helping students reach their potential and helping them find the lifelong joy in music, public speaking and performing. She received her B.A. in Communications with minors in Political Science and Drama from the University of California, San Diego and studied voice in the Los Angeles area for more than 20 years with opera and musical theatre professionals. She has performed in at least 50 musicals, and directed and vocal-directed more.
Since Lisa began teaching at Desert Academy in 2012, she has started the award winning Speech and Debate Team, brought students to nationals every year, served as President of the New Mexico Speech and Debate Association and has just become a Diamond speech and debate coach, a high national honor in the speech and debate world. She also started the award winning Vocal Performance Class, “Crescendo” that has qualified to go to the state championship for the past two years. She has helped students qualify for All State Music positions – a statewide honor for students, and has taken many students to perform in District Wide Honor Choirs. As the Artistic Director and Founder of Eldorado Children’s Theatre and Teen Players, founded in 1999, Lisa has extensive experience igniting a passion for performing in children and teens.
Gabriella Masoni, MA
International Student Coordinator, French and Humanities, and Humanities Department Chair
Gabriella has lived between Washington, D.C., Paris and Rome. Educated in international schools, including l’Ėcole Active Bilingue, an IB school in Paris, Gabriella then earned her BA in Art History at the American University of Paris with a minor in Art from Parsons Paris School of Art and Design.
While living in Rome before moving to Santa Fe in 2009, Gabriella pursued her teaching career at Oxford Institutes as a certified ESL instructor; she also specialized in FFL and IFL, and taught at Rome International School, an IB K-12 school where she headed the Art Department, chaired the Cultural Education Committee and taught modern languages, humanities, art and art history. In 2003, she earned an MA in Humanities from California State University.
Gabriella is an avid linguist, traveler and painter who loves outdoor sports and a good book. She has a wonderful husband who is an award winning Italian film director, and two lovely daughters who constantly remind her that life is all about living. Gabriella is a certified IB instructor.
Joel Nakamura, BFA
Middle School Art and Aikido
Joel Nakamura is an image maker, producing art for commercial clients and galleries. He has won hundreds of awards of excellence for his work in editorial, advertising, and corporate illustration. Clients and projects include the 2002 Winter Olympics opening and closing program illustrations, Nike, Rolling Stone, Time Magazine, Denver Museum of Nature & Science, and Merck Pharmaceutical, in which Nakamura’s illustrations for Maxalt made it the number one recognized medical branding in the world. He is the author and illustrator of the award-winning children’s books Go West! and I Dreamed I Was a Dog. See his amazing work at www.joelnakamura.com
In Santa Fe, Nakamura is known for art he created for Harry’s Roadhouse, Santa Fe Film Festival posters, Japan Festival posters, Century Bank, and exhibitions at Hahn Ross and Pop Galleries. Nakamura has a long history in arts education, including teaching at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA, Santa Fe Community College, Santa Fe University of Art & Design, Partners in Education Artworks Program for SFPS, the Art Smart program and the O’Keeffe Boys’ Summer Art Camps. Joel is excited to join Desert and hopes to bring his second passion, Aikido, to the school, too.
Erika Penczer, MA
Science and Math
Erika earned her bachelor's degree in biology with a concentration in environmental science at Colby College and her master's degree in educational leadership at Columbia University Teacher's College. With more than 20 years of experience in education, Erika taught and served in leadership positions at Kents Hill School, Santa Fe Prep, and Gould Academy. When not in the classroom, Erika enjoys hiking, mountain biking, snowboarding, traveling, and spending time with family & friends.
James Reich, BA
Philosophy, Theory of Knowledge, and English
James was born in England and has lived in New Mexico since 2009. He is the former chair of Creative Writing and Literature at Santa Fe University of Art and Design and the author of four novels: I, Judas (2011); Bombshell (2013); Mistah Kurtz: A Prelude to Heart of Darkness (2015) and Soft Invasions (2017). He was recently commissioned to write a history of British science fiction in the 1960s for the Bloomsbury Publishing’s Decadesseries. He is also a regular contributor to Deep Ends: The J.G. Ballard Anthology, and a number of other publications. James is the founder and publishing editor of Stalking Horse Press. See more about James and his work at www.jamesreichbooks.com
Darko Sabo, MA
Born and raised in Southeast Europe (Sarajevo, B&H), Darko Sabo came to the United States and earned his Bachelor’s Degree in International Business from St. Louis University. Upon graduation, he was hired in the finance world in France. Like his wife, Tatjana, a year later he made the choice to change his career path toward his real passion – teaching. Shortly thereafter, he earned his Masters Degree in Education from University of Missouri, St. Louis, as well as his Teacher Certification in Math. He received the ETS Recognition of Excellence for his outstanding performance on a PRAXIS II (Math teacher competence) test. During his years of international teaching, Darko developed a great interest in traveling and learning about different cultures while working in highly respected IB schools in Germany, China and Singapore. He likes working with students, and he will continue to strive to be a positive influence in their lives.
Tatjana Sabo, MA
High School History
Tatjana moved from Europe to the United States and graduated from the Lindenwold University (St. Louis, Missouri), with a Masters degree in Education. Teaching was not her original career intention. Her undergraduate degree was in corporate Law. To pursue her true passion, teaching, Tatjana turned from Law to Education, obtaining a Social Studies/Humanities Teaching Certificate. She began her teaching career as a History teacher in St. Louis, moving on to become an IB History teacher in international schools in Germany, China and finally Singapore. Tatjana’s passions outside of the classroom include photography, reading, gardening and cooking. She is a true believer in life-long learning, and she is always looking to challenge herself. Tatjana feels very fortunate to have the opportunity to live and work in Santa Fe and share this great adventure with her husband and son, who are also joining the Desert Academy community.
Sue Shen, MA
Shujuan (Sue) Shen is from the People’s Republic of China, she has a Bachelor’s Degree in Chinese language and literature, and a Master’s degree in Education Concentration in International Teaching from Framingham State University in Massachusetts.
After teaching eight years of Chinese language and literature in a vocational school in Fujian province, Sue moved to a full IB school, Xiamen International School in the beautiful city of Xiamen in 2003.Sue served as a Mandarin department head and teacher for both MYP and DP programs until she came to the US with her husband in July of 2017. As an educator, Sue believes in building safe learning environments, based on inquiry teaching strategies,which allows students to achieve their maximum potential inside and outside the classroom.
Sue has a daughter in her senior year at SUNY Binghamton in New York, and a husband who works at a public IB world school in Santa Fe. Sue and her family love to travel, cook, and explore the natural beauty of New Mexico.
Cameron Sperry, MA
Middle School English
Cameron Sperry loves to learn and explore new things, whether it be through a suspenseful novel or traveling around the world. She is originally from Colorado and received her BA in English Literature from the University of Oregon and her MA in Secondary English Education from New York University. Cameron has been teaching for over 6 years in Abu Dhabi, New York City, and Maryland. In New York, she was trained in the world-famous Lincoln Center Theater Middle School Shakespeare Program and taught in the After-School Academic Intervention Services. She has taken part in Maryland county’s cadre of highly qualified teachers that write the English Language Arts curriculum for grades 7-12. Cameron is moving to Santa Fe with her husband and is very excited to embark on her journey as a teacher at Desert Academy.
Meet Our Distinguished Leadership Team
Yann Lussiez, Ed.D.
Head of School
Yann is a dual national, born in France and raised in Colorado. He has over 20 years of experience in education, beginning his career as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Central African Republic (1992-’96) where worked as a health extension agent, ecotourism program manager, and forest elephant researcher. He later taught elementary, middle and high school levels in Santa Fe, Venezuela, and Los Alamos. He was principal of El Dorado Community School, MEF International School, Istanbul (an IB World School) and Rio Gallinas Charter School. He joined Desert Academy in 2016 after two years as a Program Evaluator focused on education for the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee.
Yann earned his dual bachelor degrees from Webster University, St. Louis, and his M.A. in secondary education and his doctorate in educational leadership from University of New Mexico. He has conducted research, made conference presentations, and consulted on empathy, emotional intelligence, transformational leadership, teacher efficacy, and creating caring school communities.
Yann is currently a board member and Education Chair for Santa Fe Council on International Relation, seeking to provide engaging programs and opportunities focused on international-mindedness for our Santa Fe youth. He is also a board member for Warehouse 21. Yann's wife, Jennifer, is a longtime elementary educator, currently working at Te Tsu Geh Oweenge Day School. aYann is an avid cyclist and photographer, and enjoys acting, most recently performing in the 2015 Santa Fe Melodrama.
Lucy Barna, BA
Director of Admissions
Lucy joined Desert Academy in early 2019 bringing a background in administrative organization, program management, and working with the public in various sectors. While attending undergraduate school in Charleston, SC, Lucy discovered a passion for learning about different cultures and belief systems, earning her degree in Religious Studies and Communication from the College of Charleston. Post-graduate years found her traveling across the US with programs such as AmeriCorps and beginning her M.A. in Socially Engaged Buddhism at Naropa University in Boulder, CO, further developing her love of learning and passion for effecting change within social systems.
Lucy’s gypsy spirit (coupled with raising twin boys, class of 2025 at Desert Academy) keeps her forever vibrant and ready for the next adventure - whether it’s paddle boarding, touring with her band, or traveling abroad with her children and partner.
Jennifer Breneiser, Ph.D.
College Counselor & Registrar
Jen Breneiser is a native Santa Fean. She earned her B.A. and M.S. degrees in Psychology from the University of New Mexico, but also attended New Mexico State University for part of her undergraduate education. She completed her Ph.D. in Psychology (with a Cognitive specialization and Teaching Citation) at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. Upon completion of her Ph.D., Jen started as an assistant professor in psychology, and earned tenure and promotion to associate professor. She enjoys teaching and research, but her favorite duties by far are advising and helping students find and pursue their educational and career passions. She is excited for the opportunity to work with students and their families at Desert Academy.
Shona Casey, BA
Director of Operations
Shona is a native of New Mexico, growing up in the Los Alamos, Pojaque and Santa Fe areas. Prior to joining the Leadership Team at Desert Academy, she joined the community as a parent, became involved with the Parents Association and then the Board of Trustees. Her love of the school started with the International Baccalaureate Program but grew tremendously through all her experience working closely with the school’s leadership, and most importantly through witnessing her two boys flourish. As she has recently sold her business of ten years, it seemed natural to move into working directly for the school. Her educational focus was Intercultural Communications at the University of New Mexico and the American College of London. She has an extensive background in customer service and sales, marketing and client outreach, finance and budgeting, fundraising and event planning, team building, human resources, training and overall business operations.
Throughout her career, she has made it a priority to support the community as much as possible, working with several non-profits and educational organizations in Santa Fe. Shona was a founding member and finance chair of the Ransom Reynolds Memorial Foundation. She loves being in the mountains surrounded by trees - always excited for hiking, skiing, snowshoeing, snowboarding, paddle boarding and more. She also has a love of dance, theatre, art and music. Her sons Kale and Rylan are in the classes of 2022 and 2024 respectively
Fran Cole, BA
Front Desk Coordinator
Fran is the front desk go-to person at Desert. Students call her by her first name confidently knowing she will help them with most anything. She is the editor of the Desert Times, the school’s weekly newsletter, that comes out every Friday.
Fran has lived in Santa Fe since 1985. She has a BA from George Washington University with 25+ years of experience working and fundraising in the non-profit community, tackling many different causes from deforestation in Central America to AIDS in New Mexico. She has lobbied on the local level for energy tax credits and water conservation and on the national level for wilderness designation in the Rocky Mountain West. Before working at Desert Academy, she was the Public Affairs Director at Santa Fe Botanical Garden.
Fran has a lot of energy, a strong work ethic and a desire for right livelihood. She is proud of her Topbar Beekeeping certification and devotes much of her free time gardening, hiking, skiing, paddle boarding and taking long walks in her beautiful valley along the Rio en Medio.
Barbara Doddek, BA
Development & Events Coordinator
Barbara was born and raised in Decatur, Illinois and attended Illinois State University where she received a B.A. in Interior Design. She has worked as a design sales associate for Marazzi Tile, and for Dillards and Macy’s in various positions that include Visual Merchandise Manager, Dallas; Visual Design Trainer, San Francisco Union Square Macy’s, and Visual Merchandise Manager Macy’s Houston Galleria. In addition to Dallas, San Francisco and Houston; she lived for 4 years in Perth, Australia before moving with her family to Santa Fe. She enjoys interior decorating, gardening and raising her two daughters. Both of Barbara’s daughters have attended IB schools for most of their careers, her oldest just completing her IB diploma from Desert Academy. Throughout her daughter’s time at Desert Academy, Barbara has been active in the Parent Association and one of the leading members of our annual Auction Committee, employing both her unique networking ability and her extraordinary design talent in service to the School. She met and married her husband Michael, in San Francisco, and he currently works as a physicist at Sandia National Labs.
Business Office Manager
Yoshi is from Rockford, IL and moved to New Mexico in 2010. She has three children and a husband that keeps her busy. Yoshi enjoys traveling and exploring the many historical sites found in the Land of Enchantment. It was on one of these trips that she and her family discovered The City Different. It wasn’t long afterward that she accepted a position with St. John’s College and officially made the move to Santa Fe which she still proudly calls home.
Most recently Yoshi shared her strong background in customer service, administrative organization, project coordination and event planning with the Rio Grande School. Her experiences at St. John’s and Rio Grande helped her to narrow her professional focus on what she truly enjoys – supporting a strong and positive educational environment while delighting in daily interaction with students.
IB Program Coordinator
Annette Kaare-Rasmussen was born and raised in Denmark. She received her B.A. in Elementary- and Secondary school education from one of Denmark’s leading institutions (Blaagaard Statsseminarium) and was awarded a level III teaching license.
She worked as a math teacher in different capacities in Denmark before moving to United States. Now she also holds a New Mexico teacher’s license and is delighted to be back in the classroom pursuing her passion! To teach at Desert Academy is a dream come true, since the IB philosophy and practice are very close to the educational system she grew up with and helped promote in Denmark.
When not at school, you will find Annette driving her three boys to their many activities, studying creative ways of teaching division of fractions and other exciting subjects, or planning yet another camping trip to a National Park with her family.
Christine Siegrist, MA
Counselor and Student Advocate, FOCUS Coordinator
Originally from south of New Orleans, Christine Siegrist has resided in New Mexico since 2003, working in the counseling and mediation fields. Her experience includes concentration with at-risk youth, assessment of the best interests of children within the context of divorce and separation, and mentorship of local teens. Christine holds a B.A. in Sociology and Anthropology from Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon and an M.A. from Southwestern College in Santa Fe. She is an independently licensed mental health counselor. Christine is a dedicated student of circus arts and enjoys hiking in the mountains with her boxer dogs, riding a bright blue electric bicycle, and assisting with local non-profits and action groups. She is thrilled to be a part of the Desert Academy community.
Chris Zappe, BFA
Director of Technology, Personal Project Coordinator, Design Department Chair
Chris received his BFA in Art and Technology from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has been happily engaged with the technology infrastructure and students of Desert Academy since 2006. His teaching roles at Desert Academy have included everything from digital imaging, comics, animation and visual effects to programming, mathematics and micro controllers. While Chris enjoys working within the ever-changing realm of digital technology, he maintains a healthy skepticism toward computers and enjoys the many outdoor activities Santa Fe has to offer, previously lending his talents to the St. John’s College Search & Rescue team. He is the proud owner of a stupid phone.
See Chris' award-winning animation work at www.vimeo.com/zappe
Meet Our Staff
Aguie is everybody’s go to guy at Desert. We’d be lost with out him. He has been Desert’s Facilities Manager since 2010. Aguie manages the maintenance and custodial team and organizes daily transportation for field trips and athletic games. He is responsible for all building related activities, repairs, installations, equipment, utilities, supplies, grounds keeping, security, safety, engineering and much more. Aguie was born in Mexico and has been in Santa Fe since 2010. He and his wife, Maria, have three children, Fabi, Aguie and Falina. He is on the Board at Cesar Chavez Elementary School and volunteers his awesome skills for all of their special events. Aguie is an outdoorsman. In his free time he enjoys camping, hunting, fishing and boating. In the summer months, he and his family love to take their boat out for a day of swimming and water skiing.
Ismael has been a valued member of the Desert Academy maintenance crew since 2012. Born in Chihuahua, Mexico, he has lived in Santa Fe for close to 40 years. He has two grown children. Ismael lives with his wife, Maria, on a small farm, off St. Michael’s Drive. When they moved to Santa Fe, their farm was way out in the country. Today his farm is surrounded by homes, apartments and fast food restaurants. Keeping with tradition, however, they still keep goats and chickens and tend to a large vegetable garden. Ismael and Maria make cheese and cream with their goats milk and collect a constant supply of fresh eggs from their 15 chickens. On the weekends, if he is not in the garden or mending the animal pens, he is fishing at Abiqui Lake. He has two dogs. They are El Ranchero and Delilah.
Ismael’s efforts on the maintenance team and driving students to and fro, are key to keeping Desert running smoothly. If you’d like to practice your Spanish skills or help Ismael with his English, look for him in the atrium, where he is always working, cleaning, tinkering or repairing something.