Faculty and Staff

Helios cultivates a faculty of gifted learners who can appropriately challenge and meet the needs of our student body. By design, our faculty are innovative, creative thinkers with diverse perspectives and backgrounds committed to working as a cohesive team to build a positive school community.

Patti Wilczek, Head of School

Patti Wilczek has been in the educational field for more than twenty years.  With a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology, she supported children, teens and adults for several years before joining schools, facilitating the social and emotional development of students of all ages.  Patti has taught and developed project based learning Human Development curriculum, and is a passionate advocate for innovative, highly engaging educational programming.  She believes that education isn’t merely about nurturing the intellect, but should challenge children to become their best selves while also learning about the world around them.

Linda Hayer, Head of Lower School

After 25 years in the field of education, serving in independent, public, charter, and parochial schools, teaching at every grade level Pre-K through eighth, Linda has found a home at Helios. Here she is able to use her knowledge and experience to support lower school teachers, students, and parents in their efforts to provide the strongest possible learning environment for gifted children. As a gifted learner who went through school without any services, she is passionate about the individualized learning and camaraderie that students at Helios receive.

Hyonchu Bicoy, Director of Communication

Hyonchu received her B.A. in Sociology at UC Irvine. She lives in San Jose with her husband and two young daughters. She speaks Korean and enjoys cooking and baking in her spare time.


Maija Kelley, Director of Finance and Operations

Degree in Finance and Near Completion B.A. Human Development

Maija is Helios’ Director of Finance & Operations and has over twenty five years of finance experience working in public, non-profit and government sectors. Maija‘s prior experience consists of Finance Manager for a Higher Education University in Palo Alto, Public High School and local City. Maija has been a key contributor within the finance field with audits, budget forecasting, donations, human resource, fiscal operations and community support. In her free time she is an avid soccer player and loves to knit and read.


Daniel Popplewell, Director of Admissions
 
BA in European Literature, Cambridge University, MA in European Literature, Oxford University, PhD in French Literature, Columbia University

Daniel has over twenty years of deep experience in K-12 education, both in the USA and internationally. Daniel was brought up in the UK and came to the USA in 1998. Before settling in California, he worked as a teacher in France, Japan and England. He has served as a teacher, dean, department chair and middle school head at independent schools in California, including Bentley School in Oakland and the Archer School in Los Angeles. In his spare time, Daniel loves learning languages and can get by in Mandarin and Spanish. He also enjoys making ceramics, hiking and camping, and writing detective novels.


Robert Drake, Director of Technology

Rob has experience as a teacher, a trainer, and curriculum developer. He has a Master’s Degree in Critical and Creative Thinking, and spent time working with adaptive learning systems. He has an engineering mindset, and can always be found tinkering with some gadget or building another. Rob enjoys spending time with his family, traveling and occasionally teaching scuba diving classes.


Heather Danforth, Director of Curriculum
Heather enjoys creating innovative curriculum and supporting teachers to improve their practice as Director of Curriculum at Helios. She has worked with wonderful students (and teachers), many of whom are identified as gifted, throughout her career. Starting in a Mississippi Delta classroom as a Teach for America teacher, she went on to work with students and teachers in settings as diverse as Duke’s TIP (Talent Identification Program) in Italy, Denver’s CBK (Center for Bright Kids), a Wyoming public school district, and a school for children from leprosy-affected colonies in India. She loves mathematics, Shakespeare, acting, and interacting with the incredible children and adults that make up the Helios community.

Anne Beneventi, Gifted Education Specialist and Consultant
Anne Beneventi is the educational founder of Helios and gifted specialist. Anne’s passion for promoting the well-being in gifted children has shaped her career. She is a Certified Master Practitioner and Director of the Annemarie Roeper Method of Qualitative Assessment (QA) and uses this method to assess applicants for Helios. She is past chair of the Global Awareness Network of the National Association for Gifted Children, serves on the board of Gifted Homeschoolers Forum and is a member of the Columbus Group of Professionals. Anne was awarded the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award from Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG) and she continues to support the emotional needs of the gifted at Helios.

Carmen Frostholm, Hummingbirds Teacher

Throughout her life Carmen has pursued her passions, from science, to music, to hiking, to art, to scuba diving, and so on. She stumbled into teaching children 7 years ago and hasn’t looked back since. Carmen loves providing children with resources to explore their passions and interests, thrives on creating a safe space for their academic and socio-emotional learning, and pushes them to stretch and grow past their limits. A self-directed learner, Carmen challenges herself to continuously grow as an educator and a person. In her downtime, she loves nothing better than to snuggle on the couch with her husband and dog, sipping a nice cup of tea.

Rachel Bagnani, Hummingbirds Teacher 

Ready to start her 4th year teaching at Helios.
A visual-spatial learner who thinks in pictures.
Continues to collect original artwork even though there isn’t enough wall space in the house.
Has tickets to see the SHNSF production of Aladdin in December!
Enjoys making Ikebana arrangements.
Looks forward to building strong relationships with incoming students and families.

Mary Kate Yaukey, Falcons Teacher

BA in Psychology, specialization in Health and Development, Stanford University

Mary Kate is a Florida native who came to California to study at Stanford University, where she earned her BA in Psychology with a specialization in Health and Development. During her time at Stanford, Mary Kate worked as a research coordinator in the clinical psychology field, was a student teacher at Bing Nursery School, and played Varsity Softball for two years. After graduating, Mary Kate pursued additional clinical research opportunities at Stanford, and after a few years decided to shift her focus entirely to education. She loves her work at Helios, which began in 2015, and has recently begun spending her summers in Belize training other teachers in best practices.

Megan Ryan, Falcons Teacher 

BA in History, Pepperdine University; MEd in Educational Psychology, University of Washington

Megan is a California native who grew up in the North Bay and studied History at Pepperdine University in Southern California. After that, she moved to Seattle to earn her Masters of Education from the University of Washington, where she specialized in gifted education, project based curriculum, and social justice education for elementary school students. During her time at UW, she helped teach courses on child development, worked a substitute teacher, co-authored a book chapter on social justice education for the Roeper Review, and was a research assistant on a team studying literacy development in 5th and 8th graders. Megan joined the Helios team in 2015, and in her spare time enjoys traveling, photography, reading, and playing piano.


Shelley (Michelle) Esposito, Hawks Teacher

Shelley is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but lived and taught at an elementary school in Philadelphia, PA for 6 years after graduate school before moving to California. She has just surpassed her first year of living in California and teaching 3rd/4th grade at Helios. This year, Shelley is a 1st/2nd grade teacher in the Hawks classroom with Jordan. Growing up, Shelley played soccer from when she was 3 years old all the way through college at Duquesne University. She even has her high school jersey and number (#2!) retired and it is still hanging up at her high school today. Some of Shelley’s favorite things to do are to teach children, learn new things, read, play sports, and travel the world.

Jordan Burns, Hawks Teacher 

Jordan is a 1st/2nd grade teacher in the Hawks classroom with Shelley. This is her third year at Helios. Jordan grew up near Lake Washington in Seattle with a younger brother, two older half sisters, her mom and dad, and two dogs. As a child, she loved reading, playing outside, dancing, singing, and camping in the San Juan Islands. Jordan dreamed of being a teacher ever since she was a child, and went on to study education and psychology at Gonzaga University. Before joining Helios, Jordan taught environmental education at Hidden Villa. In her spare time, she enjoys doing yoga, rock climbing, growing vegetables and spending time with friends.


Sacha Chen-Schaab, Ravens Teacher
B.A. International Studies, Central Connecticut State University
M.Ed. Applied Linguistics, University of Southern QueenslandSacha was born and raised in a typical New England town in Connecticut, where his passion was equestrianism. He received his Master of Education from the University of Southern Queensland in Australia, and taught in both Indonesia and Singapore for seventeen years. Sacha comes to Helios after being deputy principal of an international school in Singapore. He moved to California with his spouse, Henry, who is an artist, and their two cats, Archer and Hunter. Sacha is keen on storytelling, puppetry, ceramics, gardening, languages, and correctly using semicolons.

Alyssa Carlson, Ravens Teacher 

Alyssa is a 3rd/4th science teacher in the Raven’s classroom. This is her 2nd year at Helios. She grew up in a small town right outside Princeton, New Jersey and attended college in Upstate New York. While she loved growing up on the East Coast, Alyssa has always dreamed of living in California. She moved to Monterey right after graduating college. There she studied at the Monterey Institute of International Studies earning her master’s degree in International Environmental Policy. Alyssa has been living in California for 12 years. She loves living on the West Coast and enjoys going on road trips near and far. Some of her favorite places to visit are Big Sur, Oregon, and Utah. She loves animals and has 2 cats, 2 chickens, and 1 corn snake.


Christina Chung, Jays Teacher

Christina is originally from Southern California and attended UCLA where she majored in Ecology, Behavior and Evolution. She completed her masters of Conservation Biology at the University of New South Wales in Australia and at Victoria University in New Zealand. Christina got started in education by working as a naturalist for several outdoor schools in the Santa Cruz Mountains. This will be her third year at Helios, and she is excited for another year of adventure and learning!

Amanda Chappell, Jays Teacher 

Amanda was born in Wisconsin, but spent most of her childhood growing up in Atlanta, Georgia. She earned a degree in Early Childhood Education with a minor in Spanish from the University of Georgia. After spending five years teaching 2nd and 3rd grade at a public school and receiving her gifted certification, Amanda got married and made the move out west. This will be Amanda’s third year at Helios; she is looking forward to another year as a teacher and learner in the Jays’ classroom.


Genevieve Greene, Condors Science Teacher

This is Gen’s first year at Helios and she is excited to meet the community and engage with the students. She earned a B.S. in Geology from Brown University and a M.S. in Environmental Engineering from UC Berkeley. Prior to starting her career in education Gen worked as an environmental consultant investigating groundwater and soil contamination. One of her strengths in the classroom is connecting with students and setting clear expectations. In her free time you will find her hiking with her family, reading and working towards earning her black belt in Tae Kwon Do.

Mike Orlando, Condors Humanities Teacher 

This is Mike’s sixth year at Helios, where he teaches Condors language arts and supports our 8th grade families through the high school transition process. Before arriving at Helios, Mike was the head of school at GATE Academy, Marin County’s independent school for gifted K-8 students. He also taught for a number of years at Presidio Hill, a K-8 progressive school in San Francisco, served on the board of Aurora School in Oakland, and spent ten summers as a residential instructor and director at the Summer Institute for the Gifted.Mike grew up in Orange County and can still be found many weekends camping with family in the mountains and deserts of California. He also is (or is led to believe he is) a somewhat accomplished Indian vegetarian cook.


Christie Trott, Condors Humanities Teacher

BA in Political Science from Wesleyan University, CT
JD from Santa Clara University School of Law

After practicing criminal law for a few years, Christie decided to pursue a more optimistic career as an educator which would combine both her passion for learning and for working with children. Christie has over 16 years’ teaching experience here in the Bay Area and on the East Coast. She has taught a wide range of subjects, including: 11th grade AP Language & Composition, United States history, Spanish and 8th grade English and Language Arts.

She is thrilled to be returning to Helios this year to teach 5th/6th grade Social Studies, math, and Spanish. She hopes to help children reach their full potential and to develop their self-confidence. She has a particular passion for helping middle school girls develop their self-esteem and voice in the classroom. When not at school, Christie enjoys spending time with her family going biking or hiking, playing board games and going to see independent films.

Danny Boyer, Herons Science Teacher 

Danny has had a lifelong interest in science and the outdoors. He earned a B.S. in Geology with an emphasis in Paleontology from UC Santa Barbara. He has spent many years leading outdoor expeditions and traveling around the world. He lives in Half Moon Bay with his wife and two boys. His passions include surfing, dancing, photography, political and environmental activism, traveling, and camping.


Melissa Vineyard, Herons Humanities Teacher

Melissa is a Nor-Cal native raised in Humboldt County, where she received her BA in Humanities through Humboldt State University. She has completed two graduate degrees in medieval history (St. Andrews University, Scotland and UCLA). Finally, Mrs. Vineyard completed Sonoma State University’s single subject social studies teaching credential program. She has experience teaching at the middle school, high school, and university level. She cares deeply about history as a discipline and passionately embraces the philosophy of the Stanford History Educational Group (SHEG). This philosophy firmly centers on teaching students not just the discrete facts of history, but how to be historians. Aside from her academic interests, Melissa is a wife and mother, with two amazing boys, ages 5 and 2.


Toni Ratzburg, School Counselor

BS Psychology and Studio Art, University of LaVerne; MA Counseling Psychology, Prescott College. California licensed Marriage & Family Therapist.

After many years of supporting Helios students in her private practice, Toni is excited to be onsite as a resource for all students. As one of four gifted children, Toni grew up witness to the diversity in gifted learners and their unique needs. Bringing personal and professional experience together, she aims to support the biopsychosocial wellness of students. Toni has conducted research on self-esteem and body image in adolescents and has presented at local public and private schools on topics such as perfectionism, anxiety, development of gifted girls, and parenting gifted children.

Andrew “Frosty” Frostholm, Math and Curriculum Support 

Andrew Frostholm, known as Frosty to his students, is now in his fourth year at Helios. He came to Helios with a background in psychology, biology, ecology, and environmental education. This year Frosty is joining the curriculum development team and working on a MA in Science Education at SJSU. Frosty believes the key to good teaching is engaging the students’ passions with his own and always maintaining clear and honest communication. When he is not teaching Frosty spends time with his wife gardening, hiking in the redwoods, and making art.


Radhika Rajgarhia, Education Specialist

BBA Business Management, University of Georgia; MEd Elementary Education, George Washington University

Radhika grew up in Bombay, India and moved to the US to pursue college education.

She discovered her passion for teaching while volunteering at a school in Virginia, which led to a career change from the corporate world to the field of education. She earned her master’s degree in elementary education, followed by teaching first and second grade in public and charter schools in the Northern Virginia/ DC area. She moved to California in 2007 and has taught at public and private schools in the Bay Area. She joined Helios in 2015 and feels fortunate to be a part of such an amazing community! She is passionate about teaching reading and writing to young learners and seeing them grow into confident readers and creative writers.

Radhika’s interests include practicing yoga, hiking with her husband and two beautiful daughters, and traveling to new places!

Kelsey Killoran, P.E. and Garden Teacher and Afterschool Director 

Kelsey is a South Bay native who enjoys local food, birding, singing, writing, and hiking. She can often be found in the woods along the California coast, relaxing and camping in as much of her spare time as possible. She feels at home in educational gardens and wild teaching spaces after spending several years working with California State Parks and the UC Botanical garden at Berkeley. She is passionate about pedagogy which prioritizes innovative hands-on learning, citizen science, and exploration, and at Helios she will draw on her experiences as an outdoor educator and scientist in her work as the coordinator for the PE, garden and aftercare programs.


Nicole Laverty, After School Director

Nicole teaches Spanish and co-manages the after school program here at Helios. After more than fifteen years in the teaching field, she is still excited and inspired by her students. Though she has primarily taught Spanish, she has also instructed English (writing and grammar) and history. In addition, she has directed two after school programs. Nicole loves sharing ideas with her students and learning from one another. She thinks it’s wonderful to see children happy and engaged! Her personal interests include travel, hiking, reading, and baking.

Ina Roy-Faderman, Librarian 

A.B., A.M. Philosophy and Ethics and ABT English, Stanford University; M.D. Stanford School of Medicine; Ph.D., Department of Philosophy, UC Berkeley.

Ina’s first introduction to library work was as the circulation specialist at the Math and Engineering library at Stanford. Having developed the Helios library collection as a volunteer, she has continued to share her love of the written and spoken word as Helios School’s librarian. In addition to library work, she is a part-time professor of medical ethics for Oregon State University, a writer and editor of literary fiction and poetry, a knitter, and the constant walker of a very active Welsh Corgi.


Sean Keenan, I-Lab and Wilderness Village Teacher and Substitute

Sean is the Imagination Lab (I-Lab) director and the coordinator of camping adventures for Helios. Sean draws upon his 5+ years of experience in outdoor science education to craft the camping experiences for each class with the mission to foster a love of, and comfort with, the natural world. In the I-Lab, Sean loves to help students nurture their own curiosity and inventiveness by gently guiding their interests to relevant skill development. When not leading I-lab or wilderness trips, you will find Sean in the Wilderness Village on the Helios School grounds helping students play creatively and cooperatively with their imaginations.

David Silverman, Art Specialist 

David’s approach in the classroom is informed by his personal relationship with the challenges and rewards of process-oriented creative learning. His methodologies for joyful creative inquiry have been forged, over years of real-world experience as a professional performer and artist. One of his mottos for sustaining focused engagement is “ Creating a new answer is good, creating a new question is even better.”


Colleen Vandevoorde, Music Specialist

Colleen Vandevoorde leads the school choir and directs the music for the lively theater program. She lives in Sunnyvale, where she has a private piano instruction practice, leads church choirs, and accompanies at local churches and special events. She has three wonderful children, one of whom graduated from Helios when Helios was a K-5 school. Colleen loves swimming, traveling, dancing, reading, gardening, and of course playing and writing music!

Natasha Gelfand, Math Consultant 

Natasha got involved in teaching math when her son started kindergarten at Helios by volunteering in the classrooms and teaching an after school math circle. She was born in Russia (Soviet Union back then) and moved to the United States when she was fourteen. She went to high school and college in Rhode Island and then moved to California, first for a job and then for graduate school at Stanford. Her degrees are in Computer Science and she worked as a software engineer in various areas of the tech sector, before turning to teaching. Natasha loves the outdoors, especially cycling, hiking and skiing in the Sierras, photography, and is also an amateur dog trainer. She lives with her husband, son, and two black labradors. She is excited to teach at Helios, and is looking forward to sharing her large collection of Zometool with the students.

 

Wren Gray-Reneberg, Support Staff

This is Wren’s fourth year at Helios, where she’s thoroughly enjoyed building relationships with the students, parents, and staff in the time she’s been there. She will graduate with a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology from Santa Clara University in June 2018, and will go on to pursue a license in Marriage and Family Therapy. This academic year, Wren is going through practicum training with CHAC in Mountain View and a Sunnyvale elementary school. She will also continue to train her therapy dog, Penny, who will be making regular visits to Helios. In her free time, Wren enjoys east coast swing dancing, listening to and playing music, and knitting and crocheting, and she hopes to pick up pottery again soon.