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2022-2023 New Principals

October 19, 2022
By admin

2022-2023 New Principals

Get to know some of our new principals across STRIVE Prep

A new school year comes with a lot of new faces, new classes, new challenges, and new opportunities.  Principals are no strangers to that fact. Here at STRIVE Prep, principals not only inspire but empower every single one of our students to be the best version of themselves every day regardless of background or previous academic success and struggles. From late nights to early mornings, they work endlessly to make sure students receive a top-tier education that meets them where they are and pushes them to their full potential. Get to know your new principal below! 

Nate Mullen - Principal at STRIVE Prep - Westwood

Q: Who are you and what have you done? Tell us about yourself and your career thus far!

A:  My name is Nate Mullen and I am starting my 4th year at STRIVE Prep -Westwood. I started my journey at STRIVE Prep as an Assistant Principal of Instruction from 2019-2021. In 2021 I completed the Year 2 Principal Fellowship and moved into the Principal seat in January of 2022. Prior to STRIVE Prep, I served in the US Peace Corps, taught English Language Arts in New York City, and earned a Master's Degree in Leadership and Policy. 

Q: Why STRIVE Prep?

A: STRIVE Prep holds a high bar and serves the specific demographic of students I am passionate about working with. STRIVE Prep consists of separate schools, but the cross-school collaboration makes it feels as though I am a part of something really special. From the Central leadership team to fellow principals, to teachers, I am thankful for the sense of connection and belonging. 

Q: What do you value most in education/teaching?

A:  School buildings have the power to transform. The opportunity that exists in front of us every day to change the lives of students is energizing.

Q: Who has helped shape who you are today and who you want to become?

A: My grandfather was a teacher in Kabul, Afghanistan. He went on to become a principal and eventually was a professor, working with aspiring principals to be successful. He showed me the impact that a principal has is profound. 

Q: What excites you the most about this year? What is your primary focus for your staff, students, and families?

A: Growth, growth, growth. We are entering a post-pandemic phase, and the opportunity to build off of our strong foundation, and provide students with a world-class education is in front of us! 

Q: When not at school, what do you do for fun? What are your hobbies?

A: Running, fly-fishing, spending time with my wife, Olivia, and daughter, Claire. 

Q: Would you rather fight 1 elephant-sized duck or 100 duck-sized elephants? Why?

A: I’d rather fight 1 elephant-sized duck. I'm a big fan of the underdog story! 

Q: What is your fandom? (Star wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, etc.) 

A: Game of Thrones all day!

Chelsea Yondo - Principal at STRIVE Prep - SMART

Q: Who are you and what have you done? Tell us about yourself and your career thus far!

A: I found my way to education after working for a non-profit organization in Peru that secured adult voting rights and provided 2 days of education each week to children workers. I learned that cultivating one's voice and critical thinking skills in school is what enables them to secure the future of their choosing. I moved back to the US with a newfound passion for K-12 education and began my work as an English and History teacher. It has been an immeasurable gift to work toward and have the opportunity to serve as SMART's principal this year and positively impact over 500 students as they journey toward future opportunities that excite their hearts and minds.

Q: Why STRIVE Prep?

A: Personal and organizational mission alignment is important to me in this work. STRIVE Prep's commitment to serving all students matches my own commitment to do the same. We work each day diligently to better fulfill our promise to every student and provide them with the necessary tools and support to thrive in college.

Q: What do you value most in education/teaching?

A: The opportunity to prove what is possible for the students I serve.

Q: Who has helped shape who you are today and who you want to become?

A: Most nights, I lay awake considering the words a student has shared with me. I am inspired and challenged by our students each day. I am driven to improve because our students deserve high-quality leaders.

Q: What excites you the most about this year? What is your primary focus for your staff, students, and families?

A: I am very excited to transition from STRIVE Prep - Federal to STRIVE Prep - SMART with the class of 2026! My primary focus this year is to continue to build the bridge between our school and families. Our starting point is biweekly communication home from advisors and cafecitos with the principal on the first Tuesday of every month! I know that if we leverage the strengths of all the adults who care about our students, we can make big things happen.

Q: When not at school, what do you do for fun? What are your hobbies?

A: I enjoy being in the backcountry, rock climbing or skiing, with my dog (Dyno) and husband (Matt).

Q: Would you rather fight 1 elephant-sized duck or 100 duck-sized elephants? Why?

A: 100 duck-sized elephants -- because I've learned we can overcome obstacles best if we break the process down into manageable parts.

 Q: What is your fandom? (Star wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, etc.) *optional*

A: Every year, my husband and I choose a weekend to watch all of Star Wars -- including Solo and Rogue One!

Robert “Berto” Barrett - Principal at STRIVE Prep -  Federal

Q: Who are you and what have you done? Tell us about yourself and your career thus far!

A:  My name is Berto Barrett.  I am originally from Phoenix, AZ.  After college, I did Teach For America Milwaukee and taught middle school special education, both mild/moderate, and as Affective Needs Center Director.  I then moved back to Colorado and have been at STRIVE Prep - Federal ever since as a special education teacher, Assistant Principal of Student Services, and now as principal!

Q: Why STRIVE Prep?

A: STRIVE Prep has helped develop me as a teacher and leader and I greatly appreciate it.  I specifically love my STRIVE Prep - Federal campus and am a resident of Athmar Park (less than 2 miles away from STRIVE Prep - Federal).  I love seeing our students and families in the community in which I serve.

Q: What do you value most in education/teaching?

A: The relationships.  Whether it is with students or my faculties, I love being a part of someone's journey and supporting them in accomplishing their goals.

Q: Who has helped shape who you are today and who you want to become?

A: My parents, definitely.  My mom was about the kindest person on the planet and showed me how far kindness can get you.  My dad taught me to keep my head down and make it through and those two lessons have really stuck with me.  Both had great senses of humor and showed me that the toughest people smile when things get hard.

Q: What excites you the most about this year? What is your primary focus for your staff, students, and families?

A: Supporting our students with Individualized Education Programs and our Multilangual Learners.  We have done student services well as a school for many years and I want that to continue.  We want to make sure that all students are supported when they come to STRIVE Prep - Federal.

Q: When not at school, what do you do for fun? What are your hobbies?

A: I like to run, swim, read and spend time with my wife, Jessie, and our fur babies (Stevie Nicks & Autumn).

Q: Would you rather fight 1 elephant-sized duck or 100 duck-sized elephants? Why?

A: 100 duck-sized elephants, obviously.

Q: What is your fandom? (Star wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, etc.) *optional*

A: I am a huge Marvel movie fan.

Aisha Williams - Principal at STRIVE Prep - Green Valley Ranch

Q: Who are you and what have you done? Tell us about yourself and your career thus far!

A:  I started my career in education in 2001 as a Teach for America teacher in North Carolina; just south of my home state of Virginia. As a social studies and reading teacher, I was proud of the gains my students made in their academics as well as introducing them to (at the time) non-traditional yet necessary topics of African and African American Studies and politics in addition to their general content area. Over the span of my 20 years in education, I have been a teacher, dean of students, non-profit leader, associate head of school, and network director of school culture, and am honored to now serve as principal.

Q: Why STRIVE Prep?

A: I lived in NYC for more than 17 years and decided to make some different career and personal moves after the pandemic. So, my family and I packed our bags and made an epic road trip to Colorado. STRIVE Prep's mission and anti-racist vision were most attractive to me and in line with my educational philosophies.

Q: What do you value most in education/teaching?

A: It is important to me that every student knows that they are able to supersede any obstacle set before them, that they are bright, beautiful, and courageous in more ways than the world tends to show them, and that our main focus in life is to help each other by making each other and our world better.

Q: Who has helped shape who you are today and who you want to become?

A: My grandfather had a third-grade education and was the biggest champion for my education. He always encouraged me to push myself to go to college and to always strive to persevere through challenging circumstances. As a first-generation college student, I was so proud to dedicate my undergraduate degree to him, and although he passed just before my graduation, I knew that he would have been proud of that moment as well.

Q: What excites you the most about this year? What is your primary focus for your staff, students, and families?

A: I am excited to see the level of growth and achievement students will have. I am eager to see them engage in deep, meaningful work, and feel pride in themselves for all that they will achieve. Our focus is to place our graduate aims at the center of our work and prepare students for high school.

Q: When not at school, what do you do for fun? What are your hobbies?

A: I enjoy exploring new places in Colorado with my two children. I also like volunteering.

Dr. Thomas Velasquez -  Co-Principal at STRIVE Prep - RISE

Q: Who are you and what have you done? Tell us about yourself and your career thus far!

A:  My name is Dr. Thomas Velazquez. I have been in education for 20 years as a teacher, assistant principal, principal resident, and now Principal at STRIVE Prep - RISE. I grew up in the inner city of Chicago, where gangs and violence negatively impacted my neighborhood. My experiences during these formative years of my life have left me with a deep conviction and value to ensure that schools are safe spaces for learning, where all students feel like they belong and are visible. As a result, I wake up every day determined to ensure that every student has opportunities that I did not. I am a school leader to ensure that we graduate all students and that they have equitable opportunities and choices when they leave our schools. 

In 2019, I completed my doctorate in Leadership for Educational Equity: Challenges to Opportunities to Achieve in Latin@ School Communities. During my studies, I conducted extensive research on Latino student graduation rates, systemic bias, restorative practices, and culturally responsive teaching.  I also completed coursework for my principal license at UCD and I have an MBA from CSU-Pueblo. My education has been a form of empowerment for me personally and for the schools that I lead. The MBA lens has helped me to see schools as systems that can be operationalized to better meet the needs of our community. My doctorate degree allowed me to extensively study what works in schools across the country to meet the needs of our students and ensure a culturally inclusive and sustaining education for them. 

Q: Why STRIVE Prep?

A: I chose to work at STRIVE Prep -  RISE because this is the exact community that I wanted to work in. I wanted to work in a majority-minoritized community, where outcomes for scholars exceed both state and national results. I came to STRIVE Prep - RISE because I believe in the values of the STRIVE Prep network as an anti-racist institution. I believe that when we come together as a community, we are going to achieve great things together. 

Q: What do you value most in education/teaching?

A: Graduating 100% of students with equitable opportunities and choices in their life.  

Q: Who has helped shape who you are today and who you want to become?

A: I have had so many positive role models in my work in education that have allowed me to be a principal. My parents and family have always had high expectations for me. My father was a principal of the Christian school that I attended in Chicago in elementary school.  My family in Mexico are mostly teachers and principals and they influenced me in becoming an educator as well.  I have had multiple principals and mentors that have supported my leadership journey and education and I am deeply grateful for all of their help and support in my development. 

Q: What excites you the most about this year? What is your primary focus for your staff, students, and families?

A: I am most excited to set up systems at STRIVE Prep - RISE that provide opportunities for our scholars and ensure that we graduate all of our students with them being college ready. My primary focus this year is on instruction and ensuring that scholars receive the best first instruction every day that prepares them for college, the SAT, and Accuplacer, for life and to be productive participants in the real world that are able to actualize their hopes and dreams because we did our job well. 

Q: When not at school, what do you do for fun? What are your hobbies?

A: When I am not at school, I am with my family. I have two daughters that are in 6th and 3rd grade. They are involved in a lot of different activities. I am a very proud dad and enjoy seeing their development. I like to garden, cook, go to church, and travel. I try to visit my family in Mexico at least every other year in Queretaro, Mexico. My parents live in Pueblo and we enjoy traveling there to spend time with them. Once in a great while, I may have some spare time to play a video game or two. 

Q: Would you rather fight 1 elephant-sized duck or 100 duck-sized elephants? Why?

A: This is a very interesting question. I am an educator, not a fighter, so I would rather train, educate and develop an elephant size duck or 100 ducks than fight with them. When you fight, there is always a winner and a loser, but when you collaborate and work together, everyone can win.

Catherine Dance - Co-Principal at STRIVE Prep - RISE

Q: Who are you and what have you done? Tell us about yourself and your career thus far!

A:  My name is Cate Dance and I am a born and raised Denverite and University of Oregon graduate. This year is my 12 year in education. I started in the education sector teaching 7th-grade science at Atlas Prep in Colorado Springs. In 2013 I moved up to Denver and started teaching 7th-grade life science at STRIVE Prep - Montbello. When I heard that the Far Northeast would be opening a STRIVE Prep high school, I couldn't miss the opportunity to teach some of my students again, so when STRIVE Prep - RISE opened in 2016, I moved there to teach biology and was able to teach many of the students I had taught in middle school!

Q: Why STRIVE Prep?

A: I began at STRIVE Prep due to the strong leadership both at the network level, and at my school. I have continued at STRIVE Prep because of the people - students, staff, and families included. STRIVE Prep works hard to ensure that we are improving as a network each year and I truly believe that if we are asking students to learn and get better, then we should be doing the same!

Q: What do you value most in education/teaching?

A: Helping students: find their passions, explore new opportunities/interests, and challenge themselves. I also value all the learning I get to do from my students, their experiences, and their families.

Q: Who has helped shape who you are today and who you want to become?

A: A lot of people! My family mostly - three of whom are in education. They have always encouraged and supported me. I also want to give a lot of credit to many of the former leaders I have worked with: Jen Troy, Tomi Amos, Elisha Roberts, Audrey Porter, and Chris Gibbons. Additionally, the fabulous educators I've gotten to know throughout this journey.

Q: What excites you the most about this year? What is your primary focus for your staff, students, and families?

A: What excites me the most is the opportunity to support STRIVE Prep - RISE in reaching our school-wide vision! My ultimate focus is creating the systems and culture to promote high academic engagement in classes. 

Q: When not at school, what do you do for fun? What are your hobbies?

A: I have always been an avid soccer player and athlete so you can often find me playing a sport or working out. Some other hobbies are reading, baking, spending time with my family, friends, partner and pets, laughing, and eating food other people cook!

Q: Would you rather fight 1 elephant-sized duck or 100 duck-sized elephants? Why?

A: As an Oregon Duck, I would become friends with the elephant-sized duck and we would live happily ever after cheering on Oregon!

Q: What is your fandom? (Star wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, etc.) *optional*

A: I am a total sucker for many fiction/fantasy series, including Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and Lord of the Rings.

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