Faculty & Staff Directory
Thomas Cleary has 19 years of teaching experience in Elementary, Middle School, and High School. He taught for nine years at CCS, and nine years in American curriculum schools in India and Mali, W. Africa. He is credentialed and experienced in elementary general education, secondary math, and secondary science. He is also certified as a Master Environmental Educator through the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education. Prior to becoming a formal educator he spent 15 years as an outdoor instructor and wilderness course director.
His commitment to Crestone and experiential education brought him back to CCS with the desire to build upon its mission and core values: stimulating experiential and academic programming that includes nurturing the whole student and their relationships and responsibilities to self, community, and environment. His goal as a school leader is to create a supportive atmosphere where students and staff feel safe to explore, grow, and learn.
Thomas is an avid outdoor enthusiast who enjoys rock climbing, river rafting, skiing, bicycling, and soaking in hot springs with his wife and two young adult children.
Melissa Sladin is the new School Psychologist at CCS. She received her BA in Psychology from the University of Massachusetts, her MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Naropa University, with a concentration in Mindfulness Based and Transpersonal Counseling, and she is finishing her Educational Specialist Degree in School Psychology this December from Emporia State University. She is driven to support students with diverse needs in a way that is non-judgemental, creatively approached, and honors every individual as the unique gift to the world that they are. She has experience with individuals from all walks of life, from kids on the autism spectrum, to youth with disabilities, to resettling refugees and those recovering from addiction. She is ecstatic to reenter the Crestone community in this role (after a 10ish year stint here several years ago) and looks forward to connecting, in service. Please don't hesitate to reach out!
Office and Business Manager
Lynn Nehez is our new office and business manager. She comes to us from Georgia where she spent years working in and directing a Montessori school including securing its non-profit status. She and her husband have dreamt of moving to Colorado and are looking forward to settling on a plot of land out in the valley. Lynn is passionate about education and is excited to support the growth and development of programming at CCS. Her experience with finance, staffing, and running a school is a perfect fit and she is a strong addition to the CCS team.
Restorative Practices Coordinator
During her time at CCS Orca has worked as an AmeriCorps service member, a classroom aide, and the K-8 PE Teacher. In addition to committing her time to better the CCS community, she has also dedicated her life to the youth, holistic healing art, and healthy relationship building. Orca writes “I believe that if we want to change the world, we must change the way we relate to each other, starting with our young ones. We must speak from an honest heart, ready to give and receive love, listen to each other and be responsible for one another”. What she says is in short how Restorative Justice achieves its goal, described on the Colorado Restorative Justice website as “making a concerted effort to support the development of Restorative Practices in Schools that train, implement and practice with fidelity and consistency over the long term”. As Restorative Practices Coordinator, Orca will work with students, teachers, parents, and the community to embody the message and practices of restorative justice in the school.
Jane Elliott has been passionate about learning and teaching her whole life, and has always been interested in alternative approaches to education that include travel, project-based learning, community service, and creativity. She has extensive experience teaching children in the elementary grades, with unique expertise in reading, writing, and math instruction. She’s also trained and certified as a school counselor.
This is how she sums up her teaching philosophy: “The most important gifts we can give a child are the abilities to explore, self-reflect, evaluate, and ask questions and seek answers. As educators, it is our job to lead children toward this.”
Hi, I am Ms. Cary. I am from Minneapolis, Minnesota and I am excited to be here in Crestone, Colorado. I have been in education for 17 years working in primary education as a classroom teacher, literacy coach, writing teacher, also as a reading and math interventionist. I like pie, birds, and the color blue. The river birch is my favorite tree and floating in northern Minnesota lakes sounds like a wonderful day.
Kayden has chosen CCS carefully because they love the mission of the school. Kayden has both the traditional training and ideas beyond the limits of that training. They are experienced at teaching multi-age classrooms and individually meeting the needs of each student. When we pointed out that Crestone is not an easy place to live, the next thing we knew, they drove all the way from Indiana to Crestone to visit. This shows us their commitment, spontaneity, and sense for adventure.
Kayden: “ I am most eager to make connections, develop plans to meet strengths-based goals with my students, and begin a new adventure in the Crestone community. I come to Crestone with a love of the outdoors and multiple years’ experience as a low-ropes and high-ropes challenge course facilitator, which I incorporate in my classroom through implementing collaborative challenges and fostering a culture of teamwork and respect for others. For the past few years, I have served as a residential summer camp counselor for gifted students in fifth through twelfth grades and taught in a multi-grade classroom first through seventh multi-grade classroom for students with disabilities. I look forward to continuing my use of individualized, relationships-based teaching practices with the 4th and 5th grade students at CCS. In my spare time, I enjoy hiking, knitting, crocheting, and playing with our two beagles, Molly and Benny.”
Middle School Language Arts and Social Studies
Denise Vargas comes to us from Pueblo, CO, as the middle school ELA/SS instructor. She earned a master's degree in applied natural science and a bachelor’s in biology. She began her teaching career as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Lesotho, Southern Africa (1987-1991). Her eclectic teaching philosophies range from Paideia which implements socratic seminars to Montessori that allows her to guide the child following their curiosity and natural development. She is thankful for her ability to teach a variety of subjects to a diverse population of students which includes elementary, MS, HS, and the General Educational Development test to adults. Her passion for the natural world allowed her to be an outdoor educator at the Nature and Wildlife Discovery Center in Pueblo/Beulah areas and the love of children granted her the opportunity to create fun programs at the Pueblo Library. Most of all, Denise is connected to Crestone through her spiritual practice and has traveled here since 2002 and considers Crestone as her second home.
Middle School and High School Science
Lee, is our secondary science teacher! Lee comes to us from Leadville with extensive teaching experience both in science and math. In addition, he is a geologist.
Lee lived and taught on Native reservations where he learned restorative practices first hand, long before schools introduced restorative practices into their discipline approach. Lee has a gift for teaching and was recommended to us by one of his students and former LINK-student.
Lee loves to write, to Practice Martial Arts, he loves his pets, and of course loves his mother and two sons, who are going to move to Crestone with him.
High School Language Arts and Social Studies
Sam Goering, HS English Language Arts and Social Studies, comes with four years of experience teaching in Longmont where he used traditional methods but also experiential and integrated approaches. His recent work in environmental education and project-based learning at Wild Bear Nature Center furthers his fit with CCS.
Sam: “I am ecstatic to move to Crestone and work at CCS. I bring a passion for the humanities, the outdoors, and adventurous learning. I am excited to connect with our young adults and utilize democratic, student-centered learning. I put student choice at the center of my teaching practices, I design fun projects that incorporate authentic skills as I plan personalized, blended, and hybrid units. I am also fascinated by game-based and simulation-based learning--I love team-building activities and Dungeons & Dragons. I look forward to hiking and exploring the Sangre de Cristos and skiing Monarch! Last, you might recognize me as the alto saxophone player in The Alcapones.
Middle and High School Mathematics
Hi, I am Fabrício Raimundo Fernandes. I have been teaching Math since 2011 for middle school, high school and some personal classes to college's students. Before I started to teach math I worked as an Electronic Technician. I studied to be a technician during high school. I worked full time when I was18 years old and started to study Math because I have loved math since early elementary school. In 2011 I had my first opportunity to teach, and the experience changed my life forever. I love teaching math, being with the children and teenagers, and passing on my love for math. I decided to be the best teacher that I could be, so I earned a Masters Degree in Math. I also studied to teach in English.
Teaching in Crestone is a dream come true. My goals are to improve myself as a Math teacher and to improve myself as a person. It is a big challenge for me, maybe the biggest in my life, but I love challenges.
MS/HS Math remediation and support
Hello to family, staff, and students! My name is Layla and I'm currently the Mathematics Aid for grades six through twelve. I'm a lover of cats and coffee, and I thoroughly enjoy taking long drives and rainy weather. Before working here, I never would have guessed I'd want to be a teacher, but this job has brought such fulfillment and joy to my life. Working at CCS has been such an honor, as the kids are wonderful and the staff is a guiding hand, helping me through this experience. Mathematics has always been something that I understand and love, and helping the kids to understand and possibly enjoy it makes me extremely happy. I look forward to continuing working with them and working at CCS!
Office Admin assistant
Jennie Joined CCS in 2021 and has come back again to support the running of the office, partiularly financials. She plays a vital role providing stability with the office staffing changes during the summer and fall of 2022. Jennie loves to travel, spend time with her husband, and learn new things.
All School Art and Music
Jordan Gonzalez is our new art and music specialist. She also has a vocal mentorship with a few of our highschool singers. Jordan studied Musical Theater and traveled the world as a performer. She has been teaching music and theater for the last three years. Jordan is so excited to bring her passion for the arts to CCS students.
Yoga Instructor and Classroom Aide
Isa Mary Hill is a Mindfulness Yoga Instructor with her training in Hatha Yoga, Inner City Yoga (Denver-2000), Kundalini Yoga Of Crestone (2005), and Energy/Meridian Yoga Training (Sedona-2015). Isa is also a graduate of MSC, Denver, with her B.A. in Development Psychology (1989). Isa, a Licensed Massage Therapist from Boulder School of Massage Therapy, has created a thriving massage practice since 1991. Isa loves integrating her training & wellness practices for individuals of all ages to help achieve their best health in life. Isa lives in Crestone, with her husband David and loving retriever, Moon. Her daughter Alexandra joyfully graduated from CCS in 2012 and is now a Denver elementary school teacher inspired by her positive CCS experience! You can find Isa hiking with her dog every day and spontaneously pausing to enjoy a yoga posture!
Ned has been an educator for 5 years in both Chicago, IL and Yakima, WA. He studied Human Development and Family Studies at Colorado State University and developed a framework for how the whole child learns and grows from birth through young adulthood. Ned grew up skiing and hiking the Rocky Mountains north of Crestone in and around Fairplay, CO. He sees himself as a lifelong learner, always eager to learn more about the natural world, the stars, psychology, culture, truth, and much more. Ned is the PE teacher and an Academic Coach within CCS. He now lives in Crestone with his wife, and spends his free time reading, hiking, cycling and building a garden from scratch.
April was born and raised in Crestone, and therefore, knows more about the history of Crestone than most people. April has worked at the Crestone Charter School since 2019 because she wants to support our students in every way she can. With her incredible energy and enthusiasm, April gets joy and fulfillment from maintaining a place in order and cleanliness. What a gift April is to our team.
Sammy Prien is CCS’s second custodian. At the risk of over-stating, he is passionate about cleaning. He co-founded a cleaning service in Denver where he worked both on the floor and behind the desk, successfully building a thriving business which he later sold to his business partner. Moving to Crestone has brought his skills to CCS and he has settled into one building, working with April, and getting to know the children and teachers.