Kristina Howard

Executive Director 

Ms. Howard comes to Excel Public Charter School as an experienced school leader with a strong record of results. She is an instructional leader that values collaboration, hard work, and has an unwavering belief that ALL students can succeed. Ms. Howard was the first to graduate from college in her family and understands the importance of education both to and through college. Ms. Howard graduated from Oakland University with a degree in Mathematics and joined TNTP’s Texas Teaching Fellows in Austin, Texas. While in Austin, she taught high school Mathematics to struggling students and brought math to life by creating engaging, inquiry based, and real-world lessons. In Ms. Howard’s class, ALL students were held to high expectations and she worked with both students and families to ensure student achievement. Early in her teaching career, Ms. Howard realized that she wanted to enter school leadership so that she could impact more students through coaching teachers. After graduating in 2012 with her Master’s in Education Administration from Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, Ms. Howard started her career in school leadership. Ms. Howard was a high school Administrator in Dallas Independent School District from 2013-15 where she achieved significant gains in student achievement in the areas of Mathematics, Social Studies, ELA, and SPED. During the 2015-16 school year, Ms. Howard was a middle school Administrator at an International Baccalaureate (IB) World School in Round Rock Independent School District where she focused on coaching Teacher Teams (PLCs) within all core content areas. In her personal time, she enjoys spending time with her fiance, traveling and exploring new places, and trying new things.

Joe Calise

Dean of Operations and Finance


Mr. Calise comes to Excel from most recently working as the founding Operations Manager at Democracy Prep Harlem High School in New York City. He spent two years in his role there developing systems and procedures to manage the schools growth and support teachers in their mission to educate students. Mr. Calise made the decision to uproot from New York, where he grew up, and start a new adventure in the Pacific Northwest.
Prior to working in schools, Mr. Calise worked for Apple and IKEA where he developed his experience with technology and operations and tackled some unique challenges. Two years ago he decided to move back into education and went to work for Democracy Prep, where he was able to use his operations and technical skills to help found a new school. He is excited by the prospect of building another new school and working with the Kent community to make the school a success.
Mr. Calise earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Adolescent Education at New York Institute of Technology after transferring from an Engineering program. He further pursued and earned his Masters Degree from New York University in Social Studies education. He is also passionate about animal welfare and is an avid board game player.

Eric Murphy

Dean of Culture

Returning for Excel’s second year, Mr. Murphy will be transitioning from 7th grade Humanities to lead as the Dean of Culture.  Mr. Murphy is excited to embed Excel’s Core Values into all facets of our program. Mr. Murphy first became interested in education when he served as a Rural Economic Development Volunteer for the United States Peace Corps in Paraguay.  During his service he was able to teach entrepreneurship and English to local high school students, and he quickly realized the need for a more specialized and focused curriculum. Following his two years in Paraguay, Mr. Murphy taught English in Japanese public middle schools through the JET Programme.  It was after three years of living abroad that Mr. Murphy found a home with Uncommon Schools in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn where he has taught both History and English Language Arts for three years. In addition to his unwavering desire to help close the achievement gap, through rigorous coursework and character development, Mr. Murphy enjoys coaching both Basketball, spending his weekends outdoors – at the mountains or the beach, and catching up on the latest films.

Denise Frias

Operations Manager

Ms. Frias is a Filipina native who grew up in the foothills of Western Canada. Upon graduating from Trinity Western University with a B.A. in Sociology and a specialization in Human Services, she pursued a career in the non-profit sector. This brought her to Southeast Asia working with schools, orphanages and community centers to provide educational camp programs for local youth and children. What followed was a journey of diverse experiences in non-profit: logistics and operations with Invisible Children; volunteer coordination with United Way of Calgary & Area; teaching English at community centers in Miyagi, Japan.

Most recently, Ms. Frias was the Operations Manager for pre-pave, the pre-kindergarten program at PAVE Academy Charter School. She enjoyed working in Red Hook, an under-served neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, because of the partnership that developed between the school and the community. As the founding Operations Manager at Excel, Ms. Frias has loved seeing a similar collaboration develop between the school, Excel families, and the surrounding Kent community.


When she’s not at work, Ms. Frias loves exploring the PNW mountains and lakes, the diverse eats in and around Kent, and enjoying downtime with her husband and their fur baby (a goldendoodle named Queso!)

Jerrell Starling

Behavior Support Specialist

Mr. Starling comes to Excel Public Charter School with twelve years of public/private teaching and counseling experience. He also served in the United States Navy and is a proud veteran. Mr. Starling earned his Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Chaminade University of Honolulu, HI and his Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology from City University of Bellevue, WA.

Mr. Starling’s long-term goal is to improve teacher-student relationships and to create a classroom environment that is conducive to teaching and learning for all students by implementing behavioral strategies and solutions that work!

Deanne Hilburn

Parent Engagement Coordinator

Ms. Hilburn is a parent of a scholar at Excel Public Charter School. She was a volunteer last year and spent many hours in Olympia advocating for public charter schools. She is very passionate about the charter school model and has witnessed the transformation that takes place not only in her own child, but many other children as well. She is looking forward to getting to know our scholars and their families as well as building a strong “Parent Steering Committee”. Ms. Hilburn will be at the front desk part-time warmly greeting staff, scholars and families as well as answering the phone. She is very excited to be working at such an amazing school.

Jessica Youmans

Parent Engagement Coordinator

Ms. Youmans is a parent of 2 scholars at Excel Public Charter School and a younger daughter in the Kent School District. This is her first year at Excel and she is returning to the workforce after being a stay-at-home mom for 12 years!  She has been extremely happy watching her sons thrive at Excel.  Ms. Youmans enjoys working at the front desk, even when it’s crazy,  and has loved getting to know the students as well as their families. She is very  proud to be a part of such an amazing school!

Eli Sheldon

Computational Thinking Program Manager

Mr. Sheldon was born and raised in Northampton, Massachusetts. He relocated to Seattle after earning a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Olin College of Engineering. He spent the past four years working as a Program Manager at Microsoft and is beyond excited to be bringing his extensive background in technology to the students at Excel. Mr. Sheldon got hooked on working in education at the ripe old age of thirteen, when his camp theater director decided he was ready to have the title of Assistant Director bestowed upon him. After four summers teaching by her side, he honed his budding skills teaching video game development and writing curricula for iD Tech Camps during his college summers. As engineering jobs took over, he eagerly maintained his connection to education through a wide range of volunteer activities. He’s four years into mentoring his Little Brother, Maks, through Big Brothers Big Sisters. He taught a digital photography course to pre-teens recently reunited with their parents through the YWCA. He helps local education-centric nonprofit Zeno run their twice-annual Math Fests, where hundreds of elementary school kids swarm tables to compete in math and science games. Most recently, he led a volunteer team to an orphanage in the mountains of Cameroon, where in addition to sustainable infrastructure improvements he implemented a solar-powered computer lab, introducing dozens of children to Microsoft Office and the internet. Outside of work and volunteering, Mr. Sheldon spends his free time entrenched in the Seattle music scene, kayaking on nearby lakes, making short films and playing guitar.  

Taylor Williams


Mr. Williams is thrilled to be part of the team at Excel. He has great passion and experience in helping students of all grades explore concepts in STEM fields like math, computer science, and engineering.  After growing up in Ohio, Mr. Williams moved to Seattle. He has lived and worked in Washington State for the past three years. He began teaching in Federal Way, WA, supported by Teach For America – Washington and the University of Washington. Mr. Williams has helped start two new courses in Federal Way, AP Computer Science and Pre-Engineering. In addition, he has worked to find innovative ways to help Algebra students find success in the high school setting. Mr. Williams has worked hard to invite both students and their families to appreciate and understand how STEM education can be meaningful for everyone.  Mr. Williams has strong convictions about the potential in all students. Our society often mis-characterizes math intelligence, only labeling some people as “math people.” Mr. Williams believes that all students are smart at math and that his job is to recognize this in students and help them build off of their unique skills and creativity. In addition, Mr. Williams believes that all students can benefit from a broad exposure to core STEM disciplines, including computer science.  Mr. Williams earned both a B.S. and M.S. degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the Ohio State University. He received his teaching endorsement from the University of Washington. He is a current teaching Fellow with the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation. He continues to search for new ways to bring his engineering expertise and passion into every class he teaches. In his spare time, Mr. Williams enjoys exploring the Pacific Northwest, listening to music, and running. 

Alex Mehling

School Counselor

Alex believes that all students deserve a chance to receive accepting and supportive counseling in their learning environment. Before coming to Excel Public Charter School to provide counseling services, she received her bachelor’s degree from Seattle University in Clinical Psychology and her master’s in Counseling Psychology from Northwest University. Alex has experience working with children, adolescents and adults in the school, clinic and private practice settings. She looks forward to meeting all the new faces at Excel Public Charter School this year.

Erin Galloway

Academic Intervention Specialist 

Erin is dedicated to helping all students succeed in the general education environment. Erin strongly believes that all people have the ability and right to be contributing members of their school community. Before starting at Seneca Family of Agencies, Erin served as a Special Education teacher and Social Skills instructor for students with moderate to severe disabilities in Sammamish, Washington.  She also worked in conjunction with King County School to Work to pilot programming helping students with disabilities achieve their goals of paid employment.  Erin received her bachelor’s degree in Social Studies and Secondary Education from Western Washington University, and has a Washington State Professional Teachers certificate in both Social Studies 6-12 and Special Education K-12. She is currently enrolled in a Master’s in Counseling program with an Advanced Applied Behavior Analysis concentration. In her free time she enjoys knitting, sewing, and playing with her nieces.

Kyle Berry

Orchestra Director

Mr. Berry found his love for music, appropriately enough, in a middle school Orchestra classroom. As a young violinist he learned the values of teamwork and perseverance which he now hopes to instill in his students at Excel! Kyle attended the University of South Carolina School of Music where he received a B.M. in Music Education and a Performance Certificate in Vocal Music. While at USC he was the primary composer, arranger and keyboard player for several indie rock bands and held several Choral Scholarship positions at some of South Carolina’s leading institutions of worship. After his undergraduate Kyle worked as interim Band Director for E.L. Wright Middle School in Columbia, South Carolina before moving to the UK where he earned a M.Mus. in Music Composition from the University of Edinburgh Reid School of Music. His compositional interest lie primarily in miniatures and chamber music. Mr. Berry is excited about the great musical potential at Excel and looks forward to sharing his passion for music making with all of his students!

Molly Olsen


Ms. Olsen will be starting her first year at Excel teaching Computer Science. She started pursuing the teaching field as an undergraduate at the University of Washington when she was tutoring middle and high school aged refugees in south Seattle. It was there where she saw that the curriculum and educational system hindered certain groups, particularly in the field of math. Ms. Olsen went on to get a Master’s in Teaching Mathematics from UW where problem solving and computational thinking techniques were emphasized for the purpose of allowing all students to enjoy and feel successful in STEM subjects. She continued to implement these techniques and grow after teaching for 3 years at Garfield High School. With hopes of having more experience with English Language Learners, Ms. Olsen moved to Spain where she taught at a bilingual secondary school. She spent the past year there teaching English and various science classes. Now back in western Washington, Ms. Olsen is excited to be part of the Excel team!  Ms. Olsen loves to travel to new places and spends the rest of her spare time hiking, camping, kayaking, or doing anything else outdoors.

Caresse Fernandez


Ms. Fernandez is excited to be joining the Excel team from the East Coast.  Originally from New Jersey, Ms. Fernandez earned her B.S. in Chemistry from University of New Haven in Connecticut and M.S. in Environmental Chemistry at SUNY Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse.  Shortly after graduating, she found her passion for teaching, and merged it with her love of science, joining Teach for America in New York.  In NY, Ms. Fernandez taught three years of Science at Uncommon Schools in Brooklyn, engaging in fun experiments and instilling in her students the impact humans have on our world.   Now that she’s in the PNW, Ms. Fernandez can be found doing her favorite outdoor activities – hiking, snowboarding, camping, and exploring all the diverse environments that Washington has to offer.

Junius Lofton


Originally from Seattle (Garfield grad) and veteran Mr. Lofton has spent time in 14 different countries and is excited to come back to teach ELA at Excel.  Mr. Lofton earned his BA in History at Central Washington University and later earned his Masters from Brandman University in Organizational Leadership. He looks forward to bringing his experience into the classroom. Mr. Lofton’s love of education leads him to the classroom through Teach fo America and he’s excited to be a part of the Excel ELA team.

Elliot Scaife


Mr. Scaife is an average sized hominid from a dense terrestrial planet located on the Sagittarius arm of the Milky Way Galaxy approximately 25,000 light years from its center. This hominid was born a little over 416 moons ago, on the Asian subcontinent of India. He grew up in Vancouver, WA, and as his cells went through mitosis for 18 years he grew up and eventually moved to Los Angeles to attend USC in 2002. There he earned degrees in International Relations and Cultural Anthropology. After USC, he began teaching and also earned his Master’s Degree in Education from LMU. He studying Science methodologies and pedagogy at UCLA and he holds a WA Teaching Credential, CA clear teaching credentials for both Multiple Subjects and Single Subject Science, as well as being Nationally Board Certified in Early Adolescent Science. He has been teaching the fascinating subject of science for going on 11 years now and loves it even more today than when he started. Through his teaching and leadership, Scaife helped to promote a KIPP: LA Prep charter school in to become the number one school in Los Angeles. He helped to found Valor Academy Charter Middle School which rocketed to the number 2 school in Los Angeles and the number 1 science program; earning the CA Distinguished Schools awarded and CA Outstanding STEM Program award. He is very excited to join the already amazing work being done at Excel and is eager to both learn from the past successes of Excel and be a part of its continued growth and development into a top performing school for all children. The thing that, Scaife loves to do more than anything in this world is breath, because if he did not do that, then he would not be able to do his second favorite thing which is teach! When he is not teaching, you can probably find him trying to build or experiment with something new (because that is the best way to learn), or else you might find him out fighting crime with his favorite super heroes, so… do not be worried if he is not around; he is just out fighting crime.

Molly Hagan

Physical Education

Ms. Hagan is thrilled to be joining the Excel team this year! Originally from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Ms. Hagan most recently taught World Cultures and U.S. History in Houston, Texas. She also coached 7th and 8th grade basketball and soccer during this time, and is looking forward to bringing her passion for athletics, wellness, and physical fitness to her job as Excel’s P.E. teacher! Prior to her work in Texas, Ms. Hagan graduated from Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts where she studied Social Work and International Affairs. During her undergraduate career, Ms. Hagan was able to work, study, and volunteer in countries such as El Salvador, India, Indonesia and Nepal, which activated her passion for teaching. In her free time, Ms. Hagan enjoys running, traveling, spending time with friends and family, and anything outdoors!

Kynan Warren


Mr. Warren can’t wait to start this year with Excel! He’ll be teaching 7th grade Humanities, however he feels he has large shoes to fill following Mr. Murphy! Mr. Warren attained his BA in History & Politics from Sheffield Hallam University in England and then went on to earn his teaching certificate from Leeds Trinity University in high and middle school History. Being from England he, of course, loves a good cup of tea, (real) football (Liverpool FC – YNWA) and pronouncing the word ‘tomato’ the correct way. Last year he taught first grade at Spokane International Academy, so this year will be sure to pose many different challenges! In his spare time he enjoys films, television, cooking and remembering to drive on the right side of the road.

Peter Spangler


Mr. Spangler will be the 6th and 8th grade Humanities teacher at Excel and is tremendously excited for the opportunity to teach here. He is from Chicago and a proud graduate of the University of Missouri. He previously taught at a high school on the far south side of Chicago but is thrilled to be transitioning to a middle school. Mr. Spangler believes that a Humanities classroom can be a great stimulant to personal growth, it is where your child will be introduced to historically prominent philosophers, intellectuals, politicians, and events that shaped our world. Students will be exploring what has previously happened as well as what potentially can happen in his classroom. Outside of the school, you can find Mr. Spangler wandering the Pacific Northwest, coming from the Midwest he is unfamiliar with mountains and gorgeous nature. He also enjoys supporting Chicago and University of Missouri sports (except the White Sox), The Fast and The Furious movie series, being reminded that his glory days of athletic excellence are long gone when he plays recreational softball, and traveling.

Maggie Braswell


Ms. Braswell was born and raised in North Carolina, where she earned her B.A. in English Literature and Secondary Education at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Ms. Braswell worked as a student support counsellor at Rainier Beach High School for the 2015-16 school year and most recently as a teacher at Rainier Beach’s summer literacy program, CDF Freedom Schools. Because she is so passionate about closing the opportunity gap, Ms. Braswell will be entering a graduate program at Seattle University to earn her Master’s of Education and endorsement to teach English language learners. Outside of school, you can find Ms. Braswell riding her cool red bike around Lake Washington, buying some produce at the Columbia City farmer’s market so she can finally make all those vegan recipes she’s been hoarding on Pinterest, and maxing out her library card with books that she probably doesn’t have the time to read.

Denise Leiby

Academic Intervention Specialist

Denise is excited to join the team at Excel!  Before coming to Excel, Denise received her bachelor’s degree and a master’s in teaching from the University of Washington, as well as an Ed.S in Special Education from Seattle University.  Denise’s educational experiences include working for ten years managing an independent school in Seattle, as well as serving as a director of special education, overseeing district-placed students in a non-public agency capacity, and volunteering with local under-served children and young adults.  In her free time, Denise is an avid reader and loves to dance.

Lindsay Summers

Computer Science

Ms. Summers comes to Excel Public Charter School with a wide array of teaching experiences: She is originally from the east coast, where she completed her Master’s Degree in Secondary Math Education and has taught full-time for three years in a public middle school. She has since taught math and science to home-schooled children ranging from elementary school to college level, has taught math at Cascadia Community College, and most recently, has taught English, math, and science overseas (in Mallorca, Spain).

The love of education, traveling the world, and personal growth runs deep within Ms. Summers. She has traveled to about 50 countries throughout her life and has even traveled around the world for over one year, consecutively! She truly loves learning about new cultures and experiencing new things.
Following with personal growth, Ms. Summers finds computational thinking fascinating and has dabbled a bit with computer programming, but has always wanted to dive deeper into this practice. This year, at Excel, she will be taking her love for learning to a whole new level and will be our new Computer Science teacher!

Ashley Wilson

Student Support Specialist

Ashley Wilson believes education is the foundation of positive change. Before working with Seneca she worked with children in a variety of capacities. Ashley spent three years helping students on the Autism spectrum gain social and emotional skill sets, as well as spending a year volunteering in an elementary school with Americorps through City Year Seattle. She also taught Martial Arts to a variety of ages. Ashley is excited about her role with Seneca and providing middle schoolers with the support they need to be successful in their education.

Morgan Williams

Student Support Specialist

Morgan enjoys working with people and believes that everyone deserves the tools they need to succeed. During her last quarter at The Evergreen State College in Tacoma, she supported a primary school and tutored students daily at a children’s home in Ghana. It was there that she found out how much fun it can be to get to know students and help them discover how to be successful. In her free time Morgan likes to play with and train her puppy, spend time with family, and explore new places. Morgan is excited to be joining the excel team and looks forward to getting to know everyone.

Gaby Zumaeta-Santiago

Student Support Counselor

Ms. Gaby was born in Lima, Peru but has spent most of her life in Utah. She received her Bachelor’s in Social Work with a minor in Health from the University of Utah. She recently moved to Seattle, Washington to pursue her passion in social work and child welfare. Her experience includes leading after-school programs for at-risk youth and group home recreational activities and she is happy to continue her work in middle schools. Ms. Gaby is excited and grateful for the opportunity that Seneca has given her to work at Excel. She looks forward to sharing, learning and growing with the incredible staff and students here.

Kellyn Traenkenschuh

Student Support Counselor

Kellyn has always found herself drawn to help others .  After graduating from the University of Washington,  Kellyn became TESOL/ TEFL certified and was hired to teach at Insituto Estelar Bilingue in  Costa Rica.  She spent a year teaching students of all ages , some as young as 2 years old! Kellyn volunteered weekly in Costa Rica, and ran a community ‘kid’s club’ dedicated to teaching English to students who could not afford English classes.  Returning back to the states, Kellyn knew she wanted a profession that continued to help others, and found just that through Seneca Family of Agencies.  Kellyn is very happy to be a part of the Excel team.  The students and staff at Excel make her smile everyday!

Allison Steinberg

Student Support Counselor

Ms. Steinberg was born and raised in Seattle and graduated from Garfield High School. She then moved to Los Angeles to attend UCLA where she earned her B.A. in Sociology and minored in Public Affairs. After missing the PNW too much, she moved back to Seattle to pursue her passion of working with at-risk youth. She started working at a small nonprofit to run after school and mentoring programs for elementary, middle and high school students in South Seattle and Renton. Ms. Steinberg was then offered a position with Seneca and got the opportunity to work at Excel as a Student Support Counselor. She is excited to join the Excel family and build great relationships with the students, families and staff! In her spare time she loves playing and coaching lacrosse, traveling and enjoying the outdoors in the PNW.