Faculty and Staff

Those who make up our faculty and administration are the backbone of our school. Their diverse backgrounds, passions, and approach to working within our community contribute to making The Co-op School a truly compassionate, unique learning environment. Below you can learn more about each of them. Read some of our parents’ thank yous, posted on Padlet, in celebration of Teachers Appreciation.

Preschool Teachers

Catalina Adragna

I was born in Chicago but raised in Los Angeles. However, I am happy to have made a home here in Brooklyn! I graduated from Bennington College in 2018 with a Bachelor’s degree in literature and drama. I also received my MFA in poetry from Rutgers University in 2021. I’ve worked as both a preschool assistant teacher and nanny and love to use my theater background for imaginative play with children. In my free time, I enjoy writing poetry, playing the piano, hanging out with my cat, and exploring the many parks in the city.

Razeia Azees

My name is Razeia, and I live in Queens. I was born in Guyana and moved to America with my family when I was nine years old. I love eating ramen, spending time watching all sorts of documentaries and hanging out with my cat. I’m currently working towards my degree in early childhood education.

Sheldon Brown

I was born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Montgomery County, Maryland. I have lived on both coasts of this beautiful country spending time as a resident in South Florida and also the bay area in California. I have been a Brooklyn local for almost seven years. I received my associate’s degree in early childhood education from Kingsborough Community College and am currently working toward my bachelor’s degree at Brooklyn College. I am a staunch supporter of students learning through play, social interaction, and inquiry. I have two daughters ages five years (Harper) and 19 months (Rose). I am excited to continue to grow my existing relationships, and form new ones, with The Co-op School community!

Malia Bruce

My name is Malia. I live in Astoria with my two cats and Bearded Dragon. I love to run, teach and practice yoga, and try out new vegan recipes! Before joining The Co-op School, I taught in Baltimore, Maryland. I spent the first six months of social distancing creating a remote learning platform on YouTube for preschoolers and learning how to propagate my plants. When I am not in the classroom as a teacher, I’m working on my degree in special education and school administration.

Stephen Canino

I was born in a small town in the Hudson Valley and developed a strong interest in art and painting at a young age. I attended Purchase College where I obtained a Bachelor of Fine Arts. I moved to New York City to seek out a career as a painter. I attended Hunter College and received a Master’s degree in Fine Arts in 2006. My world changed immediately as I discovered the joy of working with young children. I worked as a headteacher for three to five-year-olds at a head start program in West Harlem where I worked for six years. I completed my Master’s degree in early childhood education at City College. I found my way to Brooklyn where I joined The Co-op School. I have been working as a Pre-K teacher since 2013.

Brittany Chandler

I’ve been at the Co-op School since 2016. I was born and raised in Chelsea, Manhattan. I have my Bachelor’s degree in social work and will be going back next spring to receive my Master’s degree in early childhood education. I enjoy reading and writing, and most of all I love spending time with my wonderful daughter.

Leslie Chevere

I was born and raised in Brooklyn, and my family is from the beautiful islands of the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. I attended the City College of New York, where I obtained my Bachelor’s Degree and majored in psychology and minored in sociology. I am currently enrolled in a Master’s Program, working toward a degree in early childhood education. I discovered my passion for teaching about three years ago and haven’t looked back since. In my spare time, I enjoy doing puzzles, going on road trips, and just spending quality time with family, friends, and wife.

Heather DeGrandis

I fell in love with early childhood education while studying at Teachers College at Columbia University for my Master’s degree in general and special education. In the past, I have had the great joy of working and traveling with students from the ages of three months to six years old. I was born and raised in a suburb of Cleveland and have been living in New York since I was an undergraduate at Fordham University, where I studied communications and psychology. Currently, I live near Brooklyn Bridge Park and adore this beautiful borough that many of us call home. I recently earned my children’s yoga certification and cannot wait to share yoga and practice mindfulness with my students! I also love photography, so look out for lots of school-day photos.

Sara Johnson

I have taught at the Co-op School for over five years. I have a Bachelor of Music in Classical Vocal Performance from Manhattan School of Music and a professional studies degree from the William Esper Studio. My passion for the arts ultimately led me to pursue a Master of Science in Early Childhood General and Special Education at Brooklyn College in order to share my enthusiasm for the arts and play with the next generation! I live in Crown Heights with my husband Jay, daughter Abigail (Co-op K), and infant son Caleb (future Co-op student!). I relished spending quality time with my recently expanded family of four this summer. My favorite things to do include going to see live performances, exploring Brooklyn by bike, practicing vinyasa yoga, reading, and spending quality time with my family.

Eddie Laguna

I was born in Queens and currently live in Bedford-Stuyvesant with my wife, my two sons, Oliver and Finn, and three cats named Lily, Loki, and Mogwai. I have been teaching at The Co-op School since 2010. I studied secondary education/English at City University of New York–Queens College, and in 2019 I received my Master’s of Education. I love to skateboard, run in Prospect Park, take long road trips, eat outside, do woodwork, and spend time with my family. I play several instruments, including guitar, which I play regularly in the classroom!

Claire Loutfi

I have a Bachelor’s in sociology and social work and have worked with children in various capacities over the last decade. I have yet to find an environment more joyful and fulfilling than a preschool! Originally from Atlanta, I moved to Brooklyn just a few months before the pandemic and currently live in Windsor Terrace with my husband and two dogs, Jude and Chowder. I spend most of my time at Prospect Park, working on art projects and thrifting with friends! I also love camping, stand-up comedy shows, traveling around the US and spending time in coffee shops.

Lelia Mangham

I was born and raised right here in New York City along with my two younger brothers and still happily reside in Brooklyn. I’ve been at The Co-op School for 15 amazing years and have grown so much from my interactions with both the staff and the families. I received my Bachelor’s degree in communications from Brooklyn College and enjoy reading, writing, and cooking in my spare time. I particularly enjoy bringing my love of cooking into the classroom to share with the preschoolers. I loving every minute of teaching. Being able to watch how quickly and hugely these little people grow has been such a blast, and I hope to be a part of that wonderful process for many more years to come.

Fabiola Mejia

I have been at The Co-op School since 2017 where I began as a summer camp and after-school teacher. This will be my third year teaching Pre-K, Go Crickets! I have a Bachelor’s degree in childhood education with a concentration in English. I plan to pursue a Master’s degree in special education this fall. In the classroom, I love to practice my Spanish, create art, play pretend, and read fun books. When I’m not in the classroom, I love to explore the city, read, spend time with my family and my four cats.

Sayyid Adam Mohammed

I was born and raised in Queens, New York. I have been with The Co-op School for over five years, where I’ve taught in the classroom and at the summer camp. I recently graduated from Queens College with a Bachelor’s degree in English. I plan to start my Master’s degree in early childhood education at Brooklyn College next year. I am passionate about decolonizing education and making school a liberatory experience for students by centering BIPOC voices and celebrating each and every student’s unique self, family, and history.

Eric Paucar

I have a Bachelor’s degree in social work from Saint Francis College. Prior to joining the Co-op community, I taught classes online, and during my last semester of college, I worked at another preschool. Last year I worked as a floater/after-school teacher and had an awesome time and am looking forward to another great year! Having grown up in Brooklyn my whole life, I have a deep admiration for people, culture, and different types of music all around. During my free time, you can catch me biking around Brooklyn or across the Williamsburg Bridge.

Jose Rios

I was born and raised in the Lower East Side of New York City. I went to college in New Hampshire and upstate New York, where I majored in graphic design and photography. In 2011, I started working at The Co-op School. The part of my job that I enjoy the most is witnessing a student’s growth—for example, when the shyest one in the class becomes the one who constantly tells me about their favorite movie.

Laura Scatena-Romero

I was born and raised in Puerto Rico before moving to Philadelphia at the age of 12. I received a Bachelor of Arts in Dance and Film from The New School. After graduating, I became a nanny and that led me to discover the joy of teaching! I have been teaching at The Co-op School for more than seven years. Every year, I hope to bring joy and laughter to the kids and lots of dance parties!

Freddie Southwick

I have three years of experience working with children at Shire Village Camp, a sleep-away camp in the Berkshires. When I am not at school, you can find me playing piano, mandolin, or accordion, or exploring Brooklyn on my longboard!

Holly Squashic

Being an assistant teacher is what I feel strongly I am meant to do! Each year, I look forward to getting to know my students; helping them learn and grow in a new environment, gain independence and confidence, build friendships, develop in a new social environment, and learn new things! I have a 10-year-old daughter, Olivia, and have lived in Brooklyn for 12 years. I love museums, art, reading, music, movies, theater, and karaoke!

Tenashia Taylor

I grew up in Brooklyn with my four sisters and one brother, who I enjoy hanging out with. As a teacher, I value my responsibility to help promote joy in learning with the children in my classroom and very much enjoy collaborating with other teachers, who share that vision. I enjoy challenging myself to do new things in my spare time—whether it is trying new foods or a new place.

Shandra Vega

I was born and raised in Lower Manhattan, and I love New York City. I have a Bachelor’s degree in childhood education from St. Francis College. After graduating, I started my journey at The Co-op School as an after-school teacher. I then became a substitute teacher for the school. I love to be creative, sing and go on adventures in the city.

Ayanna Wright

I graduated from Brooklyn College with a Bachelor’s degree in child and youth studies and a minor in sociology. I have been working with children in various environments for over seven years. A few fun facts about me are that I love to hang out with my family, friends, and my dog Skylar; I play the steel pan during my free time; and I love doing science experiments.

Lower School Teachers

Sarah Yunus
Fifth Grade

I am a native New Yorker from Queens. Prior to joining The Co-op School, I taught as a Special Education teacher for third through fifth grade in Brooklyn. I earned my Bachelor’s degree in Childhood/Special Education and History and recently earned my Master’s degree in International Education—both from New York University (a whole lot of Violet Pride!). When I’m not teaching, I enjoy spending time with my huge extended family, trying out different restaurants around New York City, listening to interesting podcasts, and traveling. I strongly believe in an education that values students’ diverse backgrounds and encourages students to engage in activism for themselves and others.

Jacob Cohen
Fourth Grade

As a young adult, I aspired to be an artist. Needing to pay the bills, I had the opportunity to work with children as a preschool assistant teacher. To my surprise, I discovered a greater joy and creativity in education than I did in the hours spent toiling alone in a dusty studio. Fast forward, a decade later, I received my Master’s degree in childhood education from Bank Street College and moved on up to working with the big kids in elementary school. I love to foster a love of learning and a positive sense of self with the children that I work with. Outside of the classroom, I enjoy riding my bike, playing sports, exploring nature, and hanging out in Prospect Park. I may even bring out the watercolors every now and then.

Samantha Santiago
Third Grade

I come from a background in childhood and special education and five years of teaching in both public and private schools. I was born in New York but lived the majority of my life in Florida before moving back three years ago. Do I miss the beach? Every day. But would I trade it for drinking a perfectly made mocha in the park, on a crisp and cool New York City day? No way. If you don’t find me in the classroom, you’ll most likely find me at a concert or making the best cauliflower gnocchi you have ever had. I enjoy embarking on new adventures, big or small. I strongly believe in fostering an inclusive student learning atmosphere and supporting all students’ needs in the classroom.

Tess Cohen
Second Grade

I grew up in New Jersey, attended Columbia University, and moved to Brooklyn in 2009 after graduation—and I’m never leaving! I received my Master’s degree in early childhood and childhood general education from Bank Street College in 2019. I worked as an Associate Teacher at City and Country, first with four-year-olds, and then two years in first grade. I believe that learning should be fun, immersive, meaningful, and should help students understand their own identities, as well as those of others, to help them navigate the world in the future. I spend most of my free time cooking, trying to learn the ukulele, singing nonsense songs to my three cats, and binge-watching good TV with my husband.

Shelby Savidge
Second Grade

I grew up on the West Coast, however, I have made my home here in Brooklyn. It is with devotion to progressive pedagogy and experience working in New York City independent schools that I’ve come to teach at The Co-op School. Through the years, I’ve worked with children in grades two to six as a classroom teacher and math/science specialist. I believe new knowledge is built on prior experience, meaningful learning occurs when working with authentic problems, quality work requires high standards, and diversity among learners must be celebrated. I have a Master’s degree in education from Bank Street College, alongside a Bachelor’s degree in environmental science and mathematics from the University of California, Santa Barbara. The outdoors, basketball, jokes, games, and the people in my life bring me great joy.

Noémie Grenier
First Grade

I was born in Québec and lived in Montreal for many years, where I received my Bachelor’s of Arts in translation before moving to New York City 16 years ago. I then worked as a french translator and a cultural consultant until my volunteering work inspired me to become a teacher in French immersion schools four years ago. I am currently pursuing a Master’s degree in childhood education at Hunter College and am thrilled to guide our first graders through their joyful investigations and explorations. In my free time, I enjoy cooking and baking (mostly because eating is my favorite activity!), reading, going on hikes with my family, practicing tae kwon do and teaching my children French.

Seth Levy
First Grade

I am from White Plains, New York. I like to read, watch television, and hang out in Central Park. I have an undergraduate degree in political science and a Master’s degree in elementary education from the Bank Street College of Education. In summers, I spend a bunch of time outside hiking, reading, and relaxing.

Emily Silver
Kindergarten

I was born and raised in Brooklyn. I feel so lucky to be working with students during their most formative ages. I have degrees in dance and interdisciplinary arts for children and a Master’s degree in early childhood education. Within the past few years, I have traveled to Ghana, Mexico, and Israel, exploring new cultures, dance styles, and different languages. I believe strongly in a learning environment that fosters joy, celebrates beautiful mistakes, and allows students to take risks while learning and growing into their identities

Carolyn Hart
Kindergarten

I was born in Port Washington, New York, and have lived in Brooklyn for over five years. After completing my undergraduate degree in urban studies, I worked in education and fundraising for Brooklyn institutions like the New York Transit Museum and the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy. I have over ten years of experience working with children and have a Master’s degree in elementary education. I strongly believe that the classroom should be a joyful, inclusive environment that encourages children to find their own unique strengths. When I’m not teaching, I love to read, cook, and explore Brooklyn by bike.

Middle School Teachers

Manuel Fergus
Spanish Teacher

I am the youngest of three children and was born in a military hospital in the wonderful country of Panama. At the age of two, I moved with my family to the United States where I lived for the next three years until my family was reassigned to a new post in Berlin, Germany. In all, I have enjoyed living in seven states and four countries, which has made me appreciate cultural diversity. This appreciation has shaped my approach toward working with young people in the classroom.

I graduated from Beloit College in May 2006 with a Bachelor’s of Arts in education youth studies with a teacher certification in Spanish from the state of Wisconsin. The following year, I began pursuing a Master’s of Arts in Educational, Leadership, Policy and Politics from Teachers College, Columbia University. Since then, I have worked with families and their children as a classroom teacher, researcher, and private tutor for almost a decade.

When I’m away from the classroom, I enjoy reading, cooking, watching horror movies, playing chess, hiking, and playing Ultimate!

John Kuckens
Science Teacher

After studying history at Wheaton College, Massachusetts, I went on to pursue my teaching credentials at Bank Street College but not before teaching math in Hartford, Connecticut, and later working with students on the autism spectrum in Manhattan. After student teaching at Brooklyn New School and then two years as an assistant teacher in the Fourth Grade at Brooklyn Friends School, I’ve amassed quite a range of experiences to draw from while now teaching at The Co-op School. My favorite parts of teaching Fourth Grade are creative and narrative writing. I like to play guitar, see live music, swim, run, write, complete the crossword, and spend time with my son, John, and wife, Kate, as well as other family and friends here in the city.

Ian Wharton
Humanities Teacher & Advisor

After studying American history at Brooklyn College, I worked as a teacher in various school settings. I have experience teaching nearly all grades—from kindergarten to eighth grade. I  love of teaching, and I am invested in the growth of all students. I love the community here at The Co-op School. It has truly become a family to me.

Specials Teachers

Joanna Best
Science Teacher

I have been teaching at the Lower School level in Brooklyn for the past five years. Prior to my time in Brooklyn, I taught first and third grades in Manhattan, while getting my Master’s degree in museum education from Bank Street College of Education. I am a born and raised New Yorker, who loves bagels, science, museums, working on engineering projects with children, and reading a great book. In my free time, I can often be found going on walking tours, learning new animal facts, or working on a puzzle with a cup of tea in hand.

Pamela Laws
Music Teacher

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Sacramento. I graduated from UC Berkeley with a Bachelor’s in English literature. While in college, I began a career as a professional musician. I enjoyed a busy time in the music business writing, recording, and performing on tour around the US and Europe. I moved to New York City and began working as a session singer. I became a mentor for tween and teen girls in the Lower East Side. I loved the work and especially the collaboration with the public schools in Alphabet City. I decided to formalize my work with children and entered NYU Steinhardt. I graduated with a dual master’s in special education and general education for grades 1-6.

Benjamin Rojas
Art Teacher

I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area to parents who had immigrated to California from El Salvador. I attended San Francisco State University, where I earned a Bachelor of Arts. in arts education, then moved to Brooklyn in 2004. After almost eight years of teaching high school art and design, I entered New York University Steinhardt School and earned a Master of Arts in arts education. I have exhibited my artwork and painted murals nationally and internationally and I continue to practice my art in Brooklyn, where I live with my wife, Adia, and our two beautiful children (currently at The Co-op School!)

Thomas Stokes
Movement Teacher

I am a Brooklynite born and bred, straight from the heart of Bed-Stuy! I have been in education since 2001; teaching pre-K, Kindergarten, First Grade, and High School over that span. I have a Bachelor’s degree in psychology from Emory University in Atlanta. I taught there for two years after I graduated, then I returned to New York to earn my Master’s degree in childhood education from CUNY Hunter College School of Education. I have coached a number of sports, including soccer, basketball, flag football, and track. I am also a certified personal and group fitness instructor. I love teaching exercise and movement and am looking forward to spreading this love throughout the Co-op community!

Student Support Specialists

Vanessa Drake-Johnson
Literacy Specialist

I’m originally from Minneapolis but spent much of my childhood in Vancouver, British Columbia. I earned a Bachelor’s degree in history at Duke University and worked in book publishing before then earning a Master’s degree in childhood education at Bank Street College of Education. I have taught First and Second Grades in Manhattan and New Jersey, and most recently worked in Literacy Intervention at the Brooklyn New School. I live in Clinton Hill with my husband, two daughters, and our Havanese dog. I love that my role as Literacy Specialist at The Co-op School combines the joys of working with children and teachers with my lifelong love of reading!

Magdalena Sariwati
Counselor

I am originally from Indonesia and moved to New York City at the age of seven and have been here since. My career began after I graduated from Hofstra University with a Master’s degree in health education. After deciding to pursue another life-long passion in counseling, I received my Master’s degree in mental health counseling and school counseling from Long Island University. I have over ten years of experience teaching and counseling students at all levels and abilities. I believe in the power of creative expression in helping students express their uniqueness and to discover their individual strength. I am passionate about my work and most of all, I enjoy my interactions with students. I enjoy walks in the parks, exploring museums, and trying different types of food and restaurants.

Jenna Vitale
Learning Specialist

I am a New York native and grew up on Long Island. I have a Bachelor’s degree in childhood education from Oneonta State College and a Master’s degree in special education from Hofstra University. My journey at The Co-op School began in 2013, when I started working with preschool students as a SEIT. My love for the community was instant—so much so that I moved to Brooklyn from Long Beach. In my free time, I enjoy traveling, exploring local neighborhoods, and trying new restaurants. I am so proud to be part of the Co-op community!

Adrianne Wallace-Bearak
Math Specialist

I am a Bank Street graduate coming from P.S. 235, where I worked as a classroom teacher, math teacher, math staff developer and coach, and, finally, as an assistant principal for the last 30 years!

Staff

Lennox Acque
Security Guard

I grew up in a little-known country called Guyana which is located on the northern tip of South America bordered by Brazil, Venezuela, and the Atlantic Ocean. I immigrated to America in 2006 and started working at The Co-op School in 2009. During my time here, I have enjoyed the camaraderie and the hospitality of the parents and staff members. My favorite pastime activities are reading, watching sports, listening to music, and going to social events.

David Green
Maintenance Manager

I was born and raised in Brooklyn. I am the youngest of three siblings. I have been in the facility maintenance field for over 10 years. I have been at The Co-op School since November 2019 and always look forward to another great year with some of the most amazing people. During my free time, I enjoy playing video games with my son, listening to music, and traveling.

Spencer Eagle
Custodian Assistant

I was born and raised in Queens, but I also spent some time in Alabama where I learned a lot about how people view the world through the eyes of others. I enjoy watching and attending sporting events; spending time with my daughter, family, and friends, concerts; going to museums, and dining. I joined The Co-op School in 2020 as part of the Facilities Department, and it’s been a delightful experience thus far. I’ll continue to work hard at keeping the building clean and safe for students and all faculty members. I hope to continue seeing the wonderful smiling faces for the ongoing future.