StaffThe People Behind Rising Star
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 Rising Star’s finance director 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.
Betsy Raj, Educational Director
Betsy is very excited to join the Rising Star Team as the Educational Director this year. She brings in more than 2 decades of experience – both as a teacher and Principal. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Education and a bachelor’s degree in Arts. She is Montessori credentialed for Early Childhood Education from the American Montessori Society. She is very passionate about her profession and loves working with children. She believes giving children a strong educational foundation and focusing on character building in their early childhood years will set them on the right path to becoming valuable leaders and contributors to our society in the future. In her free time, she likes to spend time with her family. Her other hobbies include hiking, cooking, painting, and travelling. She feels very excited to be a part of the Rising Star Family.
Sharon Djafaripour, Admissions Director
Sharon Djafaripour joined the Rising Star staff in 2004. Before 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 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.
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.
High Street Campus
Head 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.
Head Teacher (Cedars)
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 Head Teacher in the Cedars 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.
Head Teacher (TK/K)
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.
Margina Anvari is an assistant 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.
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.
Isela Martinez is a Teacher Assistant. Isela recently graduated from the University of California Santa Barbara with a Bachelor 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. She worked at Thornhill Elementary School’s Extended Day Care program. Isela is looking forward to 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.
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.
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). 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.
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.
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.
My name is Victoria. I am originally from Romania and I came to the U.S. in 2009 with my husband and two children. I have been living in Castro Valley since 2010. I have always dreamed of working with children. I think 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. My passion for teaching became a reality when I started taking ECD classes at Chabot College. From there, I obtained my Associate Teacher Certificate. Also, I am CPR and First Aid certified. In my free time I enjoy spending time with my family, reading, hiking, and long walks by the beach. I am really excited to join the Rising Star Team.
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.
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.
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.
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 is an assistant teacher in Pines. Before working at Rising Star, Sally worked for over ten 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 child learn and develop at 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.
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 grew 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.
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