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.





Jodi Densmore

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.



Anthony Drago

PHE MYP Teacher, Advisory, Track Coach, Cross Country Coach

Tony followed his passion for architecture and construction for thirty years, working and living in Colorado. Colorado provided the perfect opportunity to follow his other passions during his downtime - teaching and coaching windsurfing, rock climbing, mountaineering, snowboarding, mountain biking, and ultra running. Tony’s athletic passions allowed him to work with troubled youth, struggling with addiction and suicidal tendencies, and assisting them in finding healthy habits. He enjoyed the personal connection he made with his students, especially providing the opportunity to give a new outlook on life and the ability to build a future. When he had the opportunity to start a mountain bike program at Desert last year he began connecting with youth again and was ecstatic when the opportunity to teach Physical Health Education opened. As a teacher, he seeks to provide students with a positive experiences in sports, games, and health. When not teaching or coaching, Tony can most likely be found on the mountain either hiking, snowboarding, running, or biking.



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 Granger


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.





Lauren Karle, MFA

High School Art, Middle School Design

Originally from Wisconsin, Lauren earned her B.A. in K-12 Art Education from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. After graduating, she taught middle school art for 2.5 years in Guatemala City. She returned to the United States to pursue her art, as she knew she could be a better teacher if she was also an artist, completing her MFA in ceramics at Kansas State University. As a potter and social artist inspired by people – food, traditions, and place – Lauren seeks to create work that serves a purpose beyond its utilitarian function, designing it for who and how it will be used. Viewing eating as a time for sharing, she designs events using her work to build community. Her current socially engaged projects include Symbolic Connections, Project Canary, and Weaving Dialogues. See here amazing work

She was awarded a fellowship to do an internship at Talavera Uriarte in Puebla, Mexico and continued to research the Talavera tradition at Escuela de Arte Talavera in Spain. In 2015 she was awarded the Betty Woodman Prize and participated in the Future of Food thematic as an Artist-in-Residence at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts. Lauren exhibits her work nationally and publishes articles in Ceramics Monthly magazine. You can view her work at She lives with her husband and dog. Her favorite animals are the underappreciated bison, beavers, and prairie dogs because of their important role in ecosystems. She likes good food and yoga. She is thrilled to be joining the Desert community. Ask her about her summer in Mongolia!




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  Learn more about the workshops here at

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

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





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.



Fiona Simon, MA

MYP Spanish

Fiona's career has followed three main paths: writing, teaching Spanish, and entrepreneurship.  After receiving her Master’s degree in Spanish Literature from the University of Oregon (where she first became an instructor) she continued teaching Spanish at Metro State University in Denver and Front Range Community College in Boulder.  In 2002, she switched gears and started a granola company, which she owned and managed for 10 years. After much encouragement, she wrote her business memoir, Gambling on Granola: Unexpected Gifts on the Path of Entrepreneurship. The book was published in early 2018 by Terra Nova Press. Fiona has lived and studied in other countries and continues to be an avid traveler and food product developer. Learn more about her book a




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.





Kelly Trujillo, Ph.D.

Chemistry & Biology, Science Department Chair, and Service As Action Coordinator

Kelly Trujillo is a native Santa Fean. Kelly earned his B.S. in Biology from New Mexico Tech in 1995 and his Ph.D. in Molecular Medicine from the University of Texas Health Sciences Center in 2002. He worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Senior Staff Scientist at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research and the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, respectively.  Most recently, he was Assistant Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, where he taught both graduate and medical students, and conducted cancer research in the field of epigenetics. Kelly also oversees our Middle Years Program service learning, Service as Action.




Daniel Weeks, Ph.D.

Math and Physics

Daniel is a native from the Northwest U.S. who studied physics and mathematics at the University of New Mexico (UNM) and obtained his Ph.D. in high energy astrophysics from the University of Hawaii at Manoa on Oahu. After a two year postdoctoral fellowship at the Institute for Cosmic Ray Research in Tokyo, Japan, he returned to UNM as a visiting professor of astronomy and astrophysics. Then, for twenty two years, he was a Technical Staff Member at Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories with specialties in nuclear weapon design and satellite optical and radio detection of nuclear detonations. Once his lovely daughters Sarah and Emily finished their educations and both became established in medical fields, he ended his employment at the national labs and took three years to follow his loves of travel, flying, music, and skiing while preparing for a second career. He has a passion for Japanese language and culture, and is excited to teach at Desert Academy with a goal of helping students discover a love of math and science.



Meet Our Distinguished Leadership Team


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

Admissions Director

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.




Annette Kaare-Rasmussen,BA

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.




Phil Lucero, MA

Athletic Director, PAWS and Events Coordinator

Phil Lucero, a Santa Fe native, has an extensive background working with youth in experiential settings. His career began at UNM as a high ropes course facilitator with the Journeys in Excellence program. It was there, while in graduate school for environmental education, that he found his calling and began to seek employment in experiential and outdoor education. In 2004, he was hired as an instructor for the North Carolina Outward Bound Program. There he led multi-week bike-packing expeditions in the Pisgah National Forest outside Brevard, NC. This ultimately led to his work with the Calgary based organization, Two Wheel View. For five years, Phil led international bicycle expeditions as the lead instructor for their annual trip to northern Argentina.

Upon returning to Santa Fe, Phil followed a more traditional path in education. He spent eight years working as a program coordinator for Santa Fe Public Schools running a district wide youth leadership program called The Student Wellness Action Team (or SWAT). The program is a prevention-based program that addresses issues including drug and alcohol abuse, DWI, suicide, bullying, depression and a range of issues identified by students as problematic in their schools. Under his purview, the program grew from 40 students in four schools to 220 students in 13 schools.  Phil developed a close relationship with SFPS administrators, teachers, support staff of students while in this role. Most recently, Phil served as the Dean of Students and Athletic Director at Nina Otero Community School. It was there that he gained valuable experience in school leadership and athletic program management. Phil’s passion has always been in positive youth development. He prides himself on his ability to create a dynamic school culture that provides students a safe, engaging and challenging place to call their home away from home.

When not at work, you’ll usually find Phil playing with his kids outside or roaming the New Mexico wilderness on his mountain bike.




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.




Karen Schwoerer, BA

Business Coordinator

Originally from Wisconsin, Karen has inhabited both United States coasts and many places in between. Her adventures started in Madison, Wisconsin, where she earned her B.A. in Anthropology, Linguistics, and African Studies. Her professional career has spanned many sectors, but her passion for learning brought her to education. She joined the Desert Academy community as Exeutive Assistant, and them moved into the role of Business Coordinator.

Karen is often found hiking, camping, riding her bicycle, gardening, cooking, playing the ukulele, or reading in her hammock.




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 



Meet Our Staff


Aguie Muñoz

Facilities Manager

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 Valdez

Maintenance Staff

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.



Rosie Reyes

Maintenance Staff