Faculty and Staff

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

Co-owner and Assistant Director

Logann is an alumnus of Rising Star, and has attended Montessori schools through the grade 6. She is very excited to rejoin her Rising Star colleagues this year. She graduated from Ferrum College in South Western Va. with a Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Studies, she holds minors in Educational Theatre, Sociology, and Medieval Literature. She has held her primary Montessori Credential since 2001. She is currently finishing up her Elementary 1 credential 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 where she currently resides. While not working she enjoys hiking with her Labrador, Elphaba, singing, dancing, and attempts to play the guitar.

Shane Higginbotham

IT and Web Admin

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.

Katrina Ross, School Director

Katrina Ross has served as school’s director for 18 years and has been a devoted educator and Montessori practitioner for over 30 years. As director, she leads the school in professional development of staff, promotes educational excellence among the children, and strives to create a sense of family and community that embodies the school’s mission. Prior to her role as director, she started her Rising Star tenure as a preschool teacher for three years at the Cottage Campus, before serving as the school’s Kindergarten teacher for six years.

Sima Patel, Financial 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.

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

Alexia Urizar

Outdoor Classroom

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.

Anne Schlader

Assistant (Redwoods)

Morning Extended Care Supervisor

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.

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.

Ashley Franklin

Afternoon Extended Care Supervisor

In the 11th grade, Ashley took a job at a child development center near her high school. She served snacks and cleaned the class rooms. 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.


Benedicta Santos

Extended Care Assistant

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.

Carrie Burnett

Assistant (Cedars)

Carrie was born and raised in San Leandro and recently graduated from San Francisco State University with a B.A. in Liberal Studies. Carrie’s passion for working with children ignited as a senior in high school. She was initially on a business career path as the youngest Inroads intern in Northern California. It was then that she participated in a community project to build a playground; her desire to help children never ceased. She has since dedicated her energies to the education and betterment of children. Carrie has since completed numerous teacher prep coursework in ECE and family studies, working in preschools and elementary schools throughout the Bay Area through AmeriCorps Jumpstart and Adventure Time programs. When she is not working with children Carrie loves to craft, watch movies, and shop!

Carrie Richardson


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.

Evelyn Tseng

Assistant (Oaks)

Evelyn is an assistant teacher in Oaks. Before moving to the U.S., Evelyn was a certified ESL teacher in Taiwan and taught in high school for six years. She graduated from Tunghai University with a M.A. in Education. Her primary goal in education is to see every child’s potential and to guide them to be life-long learners. Evelyn enrolled in an Early Childhood Montessori teacher training program in June 2016 and will complete her Montessori certification next summer.

Flavia Issa

Assistant (Redwoods)

Flavia Issa is an assistant teacher in Redwoods and has been at Rising Star since 2011. She received her Bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Wilberforce University in Ohio. After graduating from college, she completed an internship in Chicago working as a counselor with inner city youth ages size to seventeen. She firmly believes that it takes a village to raise a child. In her spare time Flavia enjoys traveling, exercising, dancing, and embracing multicultural experiences. Spending time with family is also very essential for her. She was born in Fort Worth, Texas and later moved to the Bay area with her mom and brother when she was twelve years old.

Hooriyeh Biganpour

Librarian & Writer’s Workshop

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.

Lauren Coiner

Assistant (TK/K)

Lauren Coiner joined the Rising Star family in August 2013. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies and Land Use Planning from the University of Hawaii at Hilo and has taught science and environmental education in several classrooms from Hawaii to Colorado. Lauren has her M.A. in Montessori Education from St. Catherine’s University. She is certified through American Montessori Society as both a Lower and Upper Elementary guide (serving ages 6-12). Promoting “learning by doing” and systems thinking are Lauren’s passions. Some of her other passions include promoting horticultural understanding, artfully repurposing worn goods, and being outdoors. When she isn’t in the classroom you will likely find her working in local gardens, road biking, or trail running.

Margina Anvari

Assistant (Cedars)

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.

Michael Holman

Head Teacher (Redwoods)

Michael Holman is an AMS Certified Montessori Teacher and is the head teacher in Redwoods. He also received his Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from Arizona State University before moving abroad to teach. He taught English in South Korea to 3-12 year old children before moving to New Zealand to work exclusively with preschoolers. He has also volunteered in reading, math, art, and mentoring programs designed to help underprivileged children of all ages. He moved to California in June of 2014 and has been loving Alameda since moving here. He is passionate about showing the joys of the learning process and believes children are little scientists exploring the world. Guiding them on their learning journeys is something he looks forward to every single day.

Monice Pernell


Monice Pernell comes to Rising Star enthusiastically pursing her passion to educate children. She is a native of California, born and raised in Oakland. She attended an elementary school in Oakland, went to Hamilton Jr. High for 1 year, then came to Alameda to attend Chipman Middle School, and graduated from Encinal High School.

She received her Associates Degree from Merritt College. She is a Certified Teachers Assistant through Peralta Colleges (Merritt).

She is currently a teacher’s assistant in the Oaks classroom. Her role is to support the head teacher Ms. Robyn as she educates the children as well as assisting her fellow assistant teachers.

She also is an extended care assistant where she supports Ms. Ashley.


Pam Smith

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

Pearlie Ramos

Head Teacher (Upper Elementary)

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.

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.

Steven Hsu

Assistant (Oaks)

Mr. Steven was born in Taipei, Taiwan and moved to the United States when he was 7 years old. He grew up in Southern California and studied History and Sociology at UC Santa Cruz. Having loved the Bay Area so much as an undergraduate, he decided to stay after finishing his studies in 2014. He has been working in education since the middle of 2015 and is happy that he is able to apply what he studied in school to his career.

Victoria Sok

Motor Fitness/PE Resource

Victoria Sok was born and raised in Oakland, CA. During her middle school year of 8th grade she volunteered at an after school program named Harbor House and has continued working with kids since. In 2014, Victoria worked for The City of Oakland in the Parks and Recreation department. Working with the city of Oakland has taught her about why her passion for kids grew so strong. She would notice that the kids were willing to look at the possibility of change and move through the stages. And, they can generally communicate their feelings, even in an expressive way with emotions. She loves how daring and open the children are with new activities and how excited they are just to simply share their ideas with you. Lastly, like every child would learn from Victoria, she would have something to learn from each of them. She says, ” Having the opportunity to work with children is a blessing. Getting to know every child’s personality is incredible.”

Vilma Taway

Head Teacher (Lower Elementary)

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.

Yolanda Young

Computer Resource

Yolanda is the new Computer Resource teacher this year. She is excited to teach students from K-5th. She will teach them the basics of computing, such as keyboard shortcuts, Microsoft Word and how to navigate the web. In the past couple of years, She has worked with K-5th grade as a teacher in public and charter school. She is a pretty flexible person and has worked in many different roles in previous schools.  She also worked with Girls Inc. of Alameda County and the Boys and Girls Club in San Leandro. Her passion for learning grows every day. She is very enthusiastic about the things she cares about: education, children, diversity and families from different socio-economic areas. She went to San Francisco State University where she got her Bachelors of Arts in Psychology. She is still on the path to getting her Masters in Education or her Teaching Credentials for Elementary Education.  During her free time, she enjoys spending time with family, cooking and baking whenever she has the chance and oil painting here and there.

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

Qiao Ming (Anna) Zhang

Assistant (Pines)

Qiao Ming Zhang (Anna) was born in Canton, China. She graduated from Merritt College in Oakland, California in 2016 and holds a degree in Early Childhood Education. Qiao Ming is an assistant teacher at Cottage Pines and has been working at Rising Star since July 2016. She likes to work with children and see them grow, meanwhile she is a good listener, patient and a caring person. Rising Star has a warm friendly environment, and the Montessori method is different than the traditional preschool teaching setting. The Montessori method helps each individual child learn and develop in their own zone of proximal development level, there’s no play toys in the classroom setting, all the shelves in different areas are for learning purposes. Before she joined Rising Star, she volunteered with different organizations, such as the American Red Cross and Reading Partners. In her free time, Anna likes to get together with family and hang out with friends, she also loves to explore the beautiful places in the surrounding area, hiking the trails, bowling, reading, and trying new restaurants in the Bay Area.

Ellen Soi

Head Teacher (Pines)

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.

Jaleh Holland

Assistant (Pines)

Jaleh was born and raised in Palo Alto, California. She graduated from Milpitas High School and has always had a passion for helping others and working with children. When she attended high school, she started volunteering at local preschools and homeless shelters. She has worked at many preschools throughout the East Bay and Peninsula, which has given her the chance to work in many different environments and with many different ethnicities. Jaleh has completed numerous courses in Early Child Development at Canada college as well as Chabot College. She is working towards her degree in early child development. During her free time she enjoys spending time with family and friends.

Krystina Liebig

Assistant (Pines)

Afternoon Extended Care Supervisor

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.

Rosalie Ragasa

Head Teacher (Pines)

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.

Sally Chen

Assistant (Pines)

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.

Sara Farrow

Assistant (Pines)

Morning Extended Care Supervisor

Sara Farrow graduated from College of Alameda with a degree in Psychology.  She has been involved with Montessori education since the age of 10 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.  She 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. 

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