Ann Rose Gavey, M.Ed, Founder, Co-Owner
Ever since she was five years old, Ann Gavey wanted to be a teacher. Her love of reading and lifelong learning started when she was a young girl, building her library out of National Geographic issues and running her 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, Music Director
Rex Higginbotham has been co-owner of the school since 1996 and is the school’s Music Director. Before 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 works with the school’s administrative team.
Sima Patel, Operations/Financial Director
Sima Patel holds a degree in Finance from Louisiana State University and has been at Rising Star since 2004. Before 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, where she can make a difference in the community. She appreciates that the school is filled with diverse families and staff and grows to its highest potential. She feels very fortunate to have had her two daughters spend their elementary years at Rising Star.
Program Director/Teacher (Oaks)
Robyn Trueman has been teaching at Rising Star since 1982. 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 young and curious 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 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.
Cassie Shephard came to work at Rising Star while attending Cal State East Bay. She is also a Rising Star alumnus, having participated in the Pre-K through 2nd-grade programs. During her time at Rising Star, she’s worn many different hats, including roles as a classroom assistant, administrative assistant, and extended care supervisor. She prides herself on 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.
Lead Teacher (Oaks)
Annette Sulaiman was born and raised in the Philippines and enjoyed 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 eight years, Annette served as an assistant teacher at every age level. Now She is the Lead Teacher in the Oaks class. 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.
Lead Teacher (Redwoods)
Ellen Soi has been with Rising Star Montessori School since 2008. She earned her Bachelor 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 school’s philosophy and applied for an open position as a teaching assistant. During her time here, Ellen has worked as an assistant in our Pre-K program and has also served as a 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 beautiful children who attended Rising Star.
Jayita Bhattacharjee joined the Rising Star as an Assistant Teacher in February 2020. She was a teacher and part of the faculty at a local pre-primary school in India with a particular 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 took a break from her profession. However, she continued dreaming of pursuing her interest in teaching and love for nurturing creative minds and listening 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 various hands-on forms of experimental cooking.
Lead Teacher (Aspens)
Kim Shephard is our TK/K Head Teacher and has been at Rising Star since 1993. When she was five 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 over 30 years and 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.
Krystina Liebig is an assistant teacher at High Street this year and has been working at Rising Star since 2008. She has always liked working with young children and 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 a 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.
Margina Anvari is a team teacher and has worked at Rising Star since 2010. She has worked at both the High Street and Cottage campuses during her time here and has completed several child development and Montessori training courses. She completed 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 critical 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.
Regina has been working with kids since she was 16 years old. She started at the Boys and Girls Club and eventually started nannying at 18. She came to know the kids she sat for closely and started to realize how much she loved working with kids. At the time she wanted to be a pediatric nurse but gave that up as she faints every time she got my blood drawn! (Yikes!). She is currently still in school and is working towards getting her bachelor’s in education. It is a major flip for her. Regina wants the kids to feel comfort and love at school. She is a huge advocate for mental health and noticed some issues can stem from childhood. Being there for the children in a crucial time in their lives and being their supporters is a top priority.
In her free time she loves to take her dog on walks and learn to cook new meals and trying to get back into reading!
Lead Teacher (Maples)
Rosalie Ragasa has been a teacher at Rising Star since 1996. She has three beautiful children who have gone through the Pre-K and elementary programs. Before 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 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, creating 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 significantly contributed to her classroom.
Sara Farrow graduated from the 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, 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.
Sarah Spence is a teaching assistant who has been working with children in Alameda since 2006 when she was a swim instructor for Alameda Park and Recreation. Since then, she has found a love of being in the classroom and developing creative Reggio focused curriculum as a Lead Teacher for the past ten years. Sarah is an Oakland native and began a passion for early child education while attending classes at Merritt College. Sarah holds a degree in Social and Behavioral Studies and an Associate Teaching Certificate. While not in the classroom, Sarah enjoys hiking, traveling, and cooking.
Victoria is originally from Romania and came to the U.S. in 2009 with her husband and two children. She has been living in Castro Valley since 2010. She has always dreamed of working with children. She thinks the field of Early Childhood Development (ECD) is an emotionally rewarding career which gives you the privilege to make a difference in the lives of young children. Her passion for teaching became a reality when she started taking ECD classes at Chabot College. From there, she obtained her Associate Teacher Certificate. In her free time she enjoys spending time with family, reading, hiking, and long walks by the beach. She is really excited to join the Rising Star Team.
Lead Teacher (Cedars)
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). Also, She holds a degree in Business Management from the University of the City of Makati in the Philippines. Vilma enjoys church and community volunteering, fitness, reading, listening to classical music, cooking, and traveling in her spare time. She is also a devoted mother of two adult children.
Yessica was born in Mexico and came to the U.S in 2006 with her siblings. Her first internship was at a preschool, since then she decided to become a preschool teacher. Her passion for educating and caring for children grows everyday. She attended Merritt College and Contra Costa College where she obtained her Teaching Aide certificate and Associate Teacher certificate but still wants to grow and continue her education later on. In her spare time, Yessica enjoys spending time with her family, exercising, crafting, and watching anime.