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The People Behind Rising Star


Ann Rose Gavey, M.Ed, Owner and Co-founder

Ever since she was five years old, Ann Gavey wanted to be a teacher. Her love of reading and life long learning started when she was a young girl, building her own library out of issues of National Geographic and running her own printing press. In 1982, her dream came true when she had the opportunity to co-found Rising Star. At the time she was teaching Alameda’s first Montessori elementary class, having worked for six years at Berkeley Montessori and Diablo Valley Montessori schools.

Rex Higginbotham, Co-owner and Music Director

Rex Higginbotham has been co-owner of the school since 1996 and is the school’s Music Director. Prior to him signing on as his wife Ann’s business partner, Rex practiced optometry at Kaiser Permanente of Oakland. At Rising Star his chief responsibility is overseeing the school’s finances while Ann managed the school’s daily operations.

Logann Gavey


Logann Gavey has 15 years of teaching experience. At Rising Star, she has taught from preschool through 3rd grade. She is now a member of the Administrative team and works collaboratively with all of the classes through curriculum development and in supporting the staff and children. Logann is an alumnus of Rising Star, and has attended Montessori schools through the 6th grade. She graduated from Ferrum College in South Western Virginia with a Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Studies, and she holds minors in Educational Theatre, Sociology, and Medieval Literature. She has held her primary Montessori Credential since 2001, and her Elementary 1 Credential since 2015 and is Director qualified. Logann has a great passion for witnessing the development of children, meeting them where they are, and working to cultivate joy within the classroom. She has a special interest in working with children through their challenges, whether they are social, emotional or educational. She was born and raised in Albany, California. She currently resides in Richmond. While not working she enjoys hiking with her Labrador mutts, Jubilee and Penny, singing, dancing, and attempting to play the guitar.

Shane Higginbotham

Co-Owner and IT Administrator

Shane is our tech guru, managing the development and launch process for hundreds of Web, Application and eCommerce projects. He is the go to guy  for building and deployment of Quality Assurance departments for Chicago Digital Agencies. Shane possesses  a Bachelors of Science in Information Systems and a Masters of Science in Information Technology Project Management from DePaul University of Chicago.

Sima Patel, Financial and Human Resource Director

Sima Patel holds a degree in Finance from Louisiana State University and has been Rising Star’s finance director for 10 years. Prior to Rising Star, Sima spent over a decade working in finance for several corporate marketing and advertising firms in the Bay Area. For Sima, Rising Star feels like home to her, a place where she can contribute to making a difference in the community. She appreciates that the school is filled with diverse families and staff, and is a place where children grow to their highest potential. She feels very fortunate to have her two daughters spend their elementary years at Rising Star.

Sharon Djafaripour, Admissions Director

Sharon Djafaripour joined the Rising Star staff in 2004. Prior to working at Rising Star, Sharon worked for nearly 30 years as a certified dental lab technician after obtaining her Associate of Science degree in Dental Laboratory Technology from the City College of San Francisco. Her son Ryan attended the school from age 3 through the 4th grade. The years have passed quickly and she has seen many  children grow and develop into confident individuals. She finds it remarkable how the Montessori method builds a strong foundation for lifelong learners. In her spare time she enjoys jewelry making, baking, cooking, traveling and Zumba. She’s also the Rising  Star fix-it person and whom prospective families call to set up school tours.

Cassie Shephard

Administrative Assistant

Cassie Shephard came to work at Rising Star while attending Cal State East Bay, over 9 years ago. She is also a Rising Star alumnus, having attended the Pre-K through 2nd grade programs. During her time at Rising Star she’s worn many different hats including roles as classroom assistant, administrative assistant, and extended care supervisor. She prides herself in always being helpful and being a part of a supportive team. In her free time she loves exploring the beautiful Bay Area, hiking the trails, trying new restaurants, and going to the movies.

I searched high and low for a private school for my daughter. From Lamorinda area to Hayward This is the only school that met all of my high standards. From PreK to 5th grade this school is completely dedicated to the education, growth and happiness of each child. Jessica M.

High Street Campus

Robyn Trueman

Head Teacher (Oaks)

 Robyn Trueman has been teaching at Rising Star for twenty years. From the very start she knew that she had landed in the right  spot, feeling fortunate to spend each day in the stimulating company of 26 young and inquisitive minds. Robyn holds a Montessori  credential  from the American Montessori Society and is Director qualified. She was born and raised on the island of O’ahu, Hawaii and  moved to the Bay Area with her husband and now three adult children. When not working, she’s spending quality time with her family,  teaching and learning from her granddaughter, singing and enjoying the outdoors.

Annette Sulaiman

Head Teacher (Cedars)

Annette Sulaiman was born and raised in the Philippines and enjoys going back often  to visit family and friends. Annette attended college in the  Philippines at the University of Santo Tomas, where she earned her bachelor’s  degree in Pharmacy. She worked as a pharmacist for ten years before immigrating to the United States in 2006. For 8 years  Annette has  served as an assistant teacher with every age level. She earned her Early Childhood Montessori training certification and is passionate  about working with Rising Star children. Annette is  very devoted to her husband, family, and in attending Catholic Church services every Sunday. Her other hobbies include singing, dancing, playing guitar and fashion.

Pearlie Ramos

Head Teacher (Redwoods)

Pearlie Ramos is Head Teacher for 4th to 5th grades. She first came to Rising Star twenty-one years ago. In addition to her role as Head  Teacher, she also runs “Miss Pearlie’s Dance” an onsite after school program. She has also taught drama in our Summer Fun program.  Pearlie was born and raised in the Philippines, where she taught at the high school level for five years, before coming to California. She  received her B.A. and M.A. in Language and Literature from La Salle University in the Philippines. Pearlie makes her home in San  Leandro, with her husband and two teenage children – both whom also attended Rising Star. She is very involved with her church, Our Lady of Good Counsel, where she attends services and also teaches catechism. In her spare time Pearlie also loves playing guitar, singing, dancing, and fashion.

Margina Anvari

Assistant (Oaks)

Margina Anvari is an assistant teacher in Cedars and has worked at Rising Star since 2010. During her time here she has worked at both  High Street and Cottage campuses, and has completed several child development and Montessori training courses. She is currently  pursuing her undergraduate degree at San Francisco State University, with a double major in Child Psychology and English. Margina has  always enjoyed working with children and has previously worked at several different childcare centers and preschools. She has always  wanted to make a difference in a child’s life, especially the most important stages of children’s early development. Margina was born in Armenia and came to the United States as a child in 1994, where her family settled in Alameda.

Sara Farrow

Assistant (Cedars)

Sara Farrow graduated from College of Alameda with a degree in Psychology.  She has been involved with Montessori education since she was about 10 or 11 years old and went to a Montessori School from 5th through 8th grade. While in High School Sara worked part time at a Montessori School. Sara left from being in a Montessori classroom to pursue a new career. After several years went by, she decided she needed to follow her heart and began working at a Montessori School again. Sara joined the Rising Star family in June of 2017.  Sara absolutely loves children and is very happy to be a part of the Rising Star family.  In Sara’s spare time, she enjoys spending time with the girl she mentors, her family and friends. Sara also loves animals and enjoys her volunteer work with animals.


Hooriyeh Biganpour

Assistant (Redwoods)

Hooriyeh Biganpour is the school librarian and Writer’s Workshop teacher. Hooriyeh became familiar with the Montessori philosophy  when she and her husband began looking for a preschool for their  young son, who they enrolled into the Rising Star program. Upon the  arrival of her daughter in 1998, she decided to pursue Montessori teacher training. She earned her Montessori Early Childhood  certification from the Montessori Teacher Education Center in 2003. At Rising Star, she has taught in different positions beginning with  Computer, Art, and later working as a Pre-K head teacher for four  years. For the last three years she has been Rising Star’s Librarian and Writer’s Workshop teacher. Prior to working in education she studied graphic design at San Francisco State University, and worked  for 16 years as a graphic designer. She possesses a Bachelors of Arts in Industrial Arts and Design. In her spare time she enjoys gardening, hiking, camping, and aerobics. She especially loves spending time outdoors with family and friends. Hooriyeh was born in Shiraz, Iran, the city of flowers and poetry, and came to the United States in 1978.

Kim Shephard

Head Teacher (TK/Kindergarten)

Kim Shephard is our TK/Kindergarten Head Teacher and has been at Rising Star since 1993. When she was 5 years old her Kindergarten  teacher asked Kim what she wanted to be when she grew up. She told  her “I want to be a teacher.” Kim has taught preschool and  Kindergarten for 30 years, and also has a daughter who previously attended Rising Star. Born and raised in the Bay Area, she enjoys  spending  time with family and friends, crafting, video games, tai chi, reading and trying new things.

Vilma Taway

Head Teacher (Maples)

Ms. Vilma comes from a family of educators. She has been with Rising Star since  2002 and has also taught in our Pre-K and Kindergarten programs. She began her teaching career soon after arriving in the U.S. from the  Philippines in 2000. She is AMS certified in Early Childhood (3-6 years old) and Lower Elementary (6-9 years old), and also holds a  degree in Business Management from the University of the City of Makati in the Philippines. In her spare time Vilma enjoys church and  community volunteering, fitness, reading, listening to classical music, cooking, and traveling. She is also a devoted mother of two teenaged children.

Krystina Liebig


Krystina Liebig is an assistant teacher in Pines and has been working at Rising Star since 2008. She has always liked working with young children, and first became interested in early childhood development in high school. Before starting at Rising Star, she worked as a caregiver for a local family who has a child with special needs and a young infant. While working with them, she became more aware of the importance of education and having teachers that had dedication and a high level of caring. Krystina has especially enjoyed the relationships she has built with Rising Star children over the years. Her Montessori training includes completion of both the Sensorial and Practical Life courses. Krystina was born in the Bay Area and has lived in Alameda for most of her life.

Anne Schlader

Assistant (TK/K)

Anne Schlader is an assistant teacher and joined the Rising Star family in the Fall of 2013. She previously taught at another Montessori school, working with children age three to five years old.  Upon having her second child, she decided to take a short break to stay home with her children. After becoming restless to work and missing the Montessori classroom, she recently decided to return to work. Anne is looking forward to furthering her experience and education in the Montessori Method at Rising Star.


Jayita Bhattacharjee

Assistant Teacher

Jayita Bhattacharjee joined the Rising Star as an Assistant Teacher in the month of February, 2020. She was a teacher and part of the faculty at a local pre-primary school in India with special aptitude in the Montessori method of Education. After her tenure in teaching, she had the opportunity to work in the software industry for over a decade. Working extended hours, tight deadlines, family commitments made her slow down and take a break from her profession. However, she continued dreaming to pursue her interest in teaching and love for nurturing creative minds and to listen to their inner voice for physical, social emotional and intellectual development. She’s an artist and loves exploring art and crafts with children of her class in extended care. When she’s away from school, she loves running with her dogs, singing and trying hands on various forms of experimental cooking.

Benedicta (Nedy) Santos

Benedicta (Nedy) C. Santos was born and raised in the Philippines. Nedy, as she prefers to be called, attended Columban College in the Philippines and majored in teaching, prior to her immigration to the United States with her military husband. Nedy raised two children while her husband was deployed overseas and worked two jobs simultaneously, one as account payable/receivable clerk at Svenhard’s Swedish Bakery in the morning and one as a check processing clerk at the Union Bank of California from 1997 through 2015. She has worked as a teacher’s aide at Alameda Unified School District (Lincoln Middle School) since 2008 and has been in the realm of her passion – getting involved with children, and assisting them in their education. She is mostly involved in assisting the teacher in the supervision and instruction of severely handicapped and special needs students in their classroom. Nedy is an Afternoon Extended Care assistant at Rising Star where she enjoys interacting with the elementary students and assisting them in their homework.

Maria Herrera

Maria is an assistant teacher in the Oaks classroom. She graduated from Santa Barbara City College with an associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education and is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Child and Adolescent Behavior at San Francisco State University. Maria’s passion is in facilitating a nurturing environment to help students grow and strive educationally. She has previously taught children from ages 3-6 and has tutored elementary and college students.

Alexia Urizar

Alexia Urizar is our recycling & composting coordinator, a role that combines her two passions for learning and nature.  She began working at Rising Star in 2005 at the High Street Campus as an assistant teacher.  In the summer of 2006 she moved to the Cottage Campus where she took on the role of extended care supervisor before returning to High Street in 2012.   Her Montessori training has included classes at the Montessori Teacher Education Center as well as courses in early childhood development (ECE units) at Merritt College.  Alexia established a new eco-friendly program at the school and is now our composting and recycling coordinator, a position funded as a result of a grant she pursued for Rising Star from the Altamont Settlement Agreement in Livermore.  Alexia loves being a steward of green consciousness and helping children understand the importance of conservation. Her son, Zeriya, is in the Pre-K program at the Cottage.


Pam Smith

Administrative Assistant

My name is Pamela Smith.  My son came to school here 20 years ago.  He attended from the preschool through the third grade.  I began helping out in various capacities at both campuses.  Over the years, I have helped in many ways. I am still here at Rising Star! I like to travel, observe clouds, and take pictures

Jocelyn Burgos

Jocelyn started working with children at the age of 18, right after she graduated from high school. Jocelyn started with an after-school program in San Francisco and really enjoyed it. She later got the chance to work for San Leandro Montessori School, and fell in love with the Montessori Philosophy and that’s when she decided to go back to community college to work on her AA in early childhood development. She has worked at Girls Inc. and learned how to
empower young girls and it made her realize that working with children is her calling. She aspires to finish her AA, then transfer and pursuing her BA in psychology.

Sharlene Pereira

Ms. Sharlene is a very gentle, caring and happy teacher. She has a great sense of humor and is always looking for the bright side in every situation. She has earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Broadcast Media with emphasis in Educational & Instructional Media from San Francisco State University. She has received her Master Teacher and Site Supervisor credentials from the State of California. Her past experiences include: working for PBS, Comcast and ESPN on contract productions, developing media for Montessori teacher training and Montessori materials, creating media for catholic school instruction, office administration and multi-subject tutoring in a K-8 parochial school,  being a Kindergarten and 1st grade teacher in Castro Valley & working with literary and mathematically gifted students at the elementary level, being a Site Supervisor for a Preschool and Afterschool STEM Program for an elementary school in San Leandro, and substitute teaching at the pre- kindergarten and elementary level. In her personal time Ms. Sharlene enjoys doing fun activities, spending time on farms, spending time with people, playing cards and volunteering in various catholic parishes. Ms. Sharlene loves working with all the students and staff here at Rising Star she enjoys being a teacher in Redwoods and in assisting in the extended care program after school.

Imelda Perez Mendoza

My name is Imelda Pérez Mendoza, I grew up in Guatemala City and in 2002 my husband and I decided to come to the United States. We arrived in Atlanta, Georgia because my husband’s family lives there. I finished high school in Guatemala and I studied accounting for a few years. I am a mother of 2 girls, a 6 year old and a 17 year old.

In 2006, when my first daughter started preschool, I volunteered at her school and a few weeks later they asked if I could work with them as a teacher’s assistant, I accepted and worked there for 10 years until I moved to California in 2016. Since then, I started studying child development at Merrit College to prepare myself to continue working with children because I like working with them, and I learn many things from them. I enjoy being a part of their first years of life which are an important and crucial stage.

I love to cook. Since coming to the United States, apart from working at school, I have also worked in different restaurants making different types of food for about 12 years.

In my spare time I like to go shopping, and travel to different places with my family. In 2019 I completed my 12 E.C.E. units in child development and started applying for work as a teacher’s assistant. I got several offers but one day I received a call from Ms. Katrina, we talked and then a few days later I came for the interview and when I entered the door, I felt an amazing atmosphere and I liked it. I did the whole process and after a few weeks I started working with them and I am very grateful to Ms. Katrina, all the coworkers, and all the staff for receiving me very well. I have a lot to learn from them and they are very excellent people.


I’m so glad I found Rising Star and recommend this school to anyone looking for a school that believes in community, child growth, parent involvement, and educational achievement. Great Schools

Cottage Campus

Rosalie Ragasa

Head Teacher

Rosalie Ragasa has been a teacher at Rising Star since 1996. She has three wonderful children who have gone through the Pre-K and  elementary programs. Prior to working at Rising Star, she worked at Merritt College as a Peer Advisor in the counseling department  helping students with orientation and counseling needs. During her tenure at Rising Star she has worked as a classroom assistant, Motor  Fitness teacher, and Extended Care Supervisor. Her interest in the overall social development of children, i.e. how the community,  socioeconomics, and family dynamics affect a child’s social and emotional development, has encouraged her to continue her education. She holds an Early Childhood 3-6 Montessori certification from the American Montessori Society. Additionally, she earned her Associate’s degree in Social and Behavioral Sciences, and Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from California State University at Hayward. Rosalie brings her skills and nurturing care to the preschool room every day where she creates a loving, nurturing, and safe environment for the children. She enjoys spending time at the park with her family, singing, and dancing. Rosalie was part of a Polynesian Dance Company for five years and has performed in the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival, Tahiti Fete of San Jose, and Dance Concerts throughout the Bay area. Her love for music and dance has also contributed greatly to her classroom.

Ellen Soi

Head Teacher

Ellen Soi has been with Rising Star Montessori School since 2008. She earned her Bachelors of Science degree in Business Administration  from San Francisco State University. She also holds her teaching  credential in Early Childhood from the American Montessori Society.  Ellen first came to Rising Star after visiting several preschools, and decided to enroll her daughter. She was later so impressed with  the  philosophy of the school and applied for an open position as teaching assistant. During her time here, Ellen has worked as an assistant in  our Pre-K program, and has also served as reading and motor  fitness resource teacher. She enjoys teaching because it is challenging, rewarding, and stimulating. She believes that every child is unique and every child has the potential for success. In her spare time  Ellen enjoys photography, cooking, attending her children’s sports games, and spending time with her family and friends. Ellen is the happy mother of two wonderful children, a son who currently attends Rising Star, as well as a daughter who is a recent 5th grade graduate.


Sophia Tien

Assistant Teacher

Sophia was born and raised in the Bay Area. She has an associate degree in Psychology and hopes to return to school to pursue child development. She grew up with a large family consisting of more than thirty cousins, so it was natural for her to enjoy being around children. While growing up with a big family, her fascination with the mind of children grew on her. When she is not working at Rising Star, she helps her sister with her three nephews. On the side, she enjoys baking desserts and doing art such as crocheting and jewelry making.

Sally Chen


Sally Chen is an assistant teacher in Pines. Prior to working at Rising Star, Sally worked for over 10 years at several traditional preschools in the Bay Area. Since coming to Rising Star she has completed several Montessori training courses and loves working in a Montessori environment. She especially appreciates how the Montessori Method helps each individual child learn and develop in their own pace. Outside of Rising Star, Sally enjoys spending time with her husband and her two children. She enjoys many outdoor activities with her family including biking, swimming, and hiking. Sally graduated from high school and attended four years of university in San Francisco. She was born in Canton, China.



Jiali(Carley) Yang holds a double bachelor’s degree in applied psychology and mass communication from Beijing Normal University, Zhuhai, China. She worked as a content editor for a media company several years when she was in China. In 2019, she attained a Master of Arts degree in web design and new media from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. She is a lifelong learner, and it is her passion to instill the love of learning in all children. Carley looks to further her Montessori education in the future.  She was impressed with the Montessori approach to provide a beautiful and accessible environment and emphasis on children’s hands-on independent learning because Montessori allows for children to work, develop, and learn at their own individual pace. She is very passionate about helping children grow and learn. In her free time, she enjoys creating digital art, traveling, and cooking.

Ashley Franklin

In the 11th grade, Ashley took a job at a child development center near her high school. She served snacks and cleaned the classrooms. As soon as she started to interact with the children, she knew that she wanted to teach. She became a teacher at the same school and worked there for 9 years before she came to Rising Star. She studied child development at Merritt college and is currently studying African American studies at San Francisco State University. Besides teaching I enjoy videography. Teaching brings her so much joy. At the end of the day she can say something that what she taught a child will stick with them for the rest of their life.


Diana Doe


Diana Doe was born and raised in Liberia in the western part of Africa. She came to the USA at the age of 15 with her family. She has a love for working with kids which comes from having a 10 year old little sister. She was very amazed at how children develop as they grow up. She went to college to get her degree in Early Childhood Education and now she is working with kids. Diana loves doing what she does because her little sister motivates and challenges her.

Isela Martinez

Isela Martinez is a Teacher Assistant at our Cottage location. Isela recently graduated from the University of California Santa Barbara with a Bachelors of Arts in Spanish and a minor in Applied Psychology. Isela also attended Merritt College where she recently obtained her Associate Teacher certificate and Teaching Aide certificate. She became interested in working with young children after volunteering at a local school in UC Santa Barbara. Then she worked in Thornhill Elementary School Extended Day Care. Isela is looking forward into getting teaching experience and then going back to school to obtain her Lead Teacher Permit as well as her Site Supervisor Permit. When Isela has free time, she enjoys spending time with her family specifically with her nephews and nieces. She also enjoys walks, exercising, and spending time with her beloved dog.


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