Meet Our Teachers
Cindy Avelar - Kindergarten
Bachelors Degree in Finance, California State University, Long Beach
Cindy was born and raised in Southern California and worked in the banking industry for 10 years before moving to Arizona in 2006 with her family. Cindy has been involved at GEA in many capacities including classroom parent volunteer, substitute teacher, PE instructor, and kindergarten teacher. This will be Cindy's 5th year teaching at GEA.
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Karen Rodriguez - Kindergarten
Bachelors in Urban Studies, Loyola Marymount; Teaching Credential, National University, Los Angeles
Born and raised in Orange County, California, Karen was a kindergarten teacher for 6 years in Los Angeles before moving to Sahuarita with her family in 2006. Her husband teaches in Tucson and she was a stay-at-home mom to their four children until her daughter started kindergarten in 2012. Karen returned to teaching, working throughout the Sunnyside School District, until she became a substitute teacher in the Sahuarita School District. This is her third year at GEA and she looks forward to getting to know her students and working with them to achieve all grade level academic goals.
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Carol Fisk - 1st Grade
Bachelor's in Education, Saginaw Valley State University
Carol was born and raised in Michigan and majored in Physical and Health Education and Recreation. She is certified to teach elementary as well as high school, and after teaching elementary physical education in Las Vegas for seven years, Carol moved to Green Valley in 2011. She taught physical education and reading as well as coaching a variety of sports in Tucson, and was also an athletic director. This will be her third year teaching at Great Expectations Academy, and she looks forward to sharing her love of music, reading, traveling, and hiking with her students.
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Laura Salmieri - 1st Grade
Bachelor's in Elementary Education, University of Nebraska at Omaha NE Laura is originally from Omaha, Nebraska and moved to the Sahuarita, Arizona area with her husband and daughter Hailey. With her family, she enjoys hiking and horseback riding. Laura is looking forward to a great second year at GEA!
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Melissa Dunn - 2nd Grade
Bachelor's in Elementary Education, Cornerstone University
Melissa is from Long Island, New York and has lived in Arizona for four years. She previously taught 4th and 5th grades in Coolidge and Gilbert while also coaching varsity softball. Melissa enjoys all kinds of sports, reading, and spending time with friends and family. She is currently planning her wedding and looking forward to her first year at GEA.
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Lara Smith - 2nd Grade
Lara is excited to be teaching 2nd grade at GEA this year after previously working here as a long-term substitute. She has a very supportive husband and 4 wonderful children that she loves spending time with. Lara moved to Arizona in 2005 and has lived in Sahuarita with her family since 2013.
Leah Lenzi - 3rd Grade
Bachelor's in Elementary and Special Education, Neumann University
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Leah was a Learning Support and Pre-K teacher in Philadelphia before moving to Sahuarita in 2016. She enjoys reading, cooking, and spending time with friends and family. This is her second year at GEA and she looks forward to a wonderful year.
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Tanja Morgan - 3rd Grade
Bachelor’s in Teaching of English, University of Illinois/Master’s in Communication, Spring Arbor University
Tanja grew up in northern Illinois but has lived in Arizona for twenty years. She has worked in technical training, instructional design, and as a corporate lead editor and branding coach. She is passionate about children and has extensive volunteer experience working with children in varying roles. Tanja is thrilled to have the opportunity to teach third grade at Great Expectations. When she is not lesson planning and grading homework, she enjoys reading fantasy novels, crocheting, caring for her assortment of pets, and spending time with her husband and two children.
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Sandra Hunt - 4th Grade
Bachelor's in Education, University of Arizona
Sandra is originally from Phoenix but moved to Arkansas when she was in middle school. She worked with Head Start and was a substitute teacher before earning her degree. Sandra is very excited about her twelfth year of teaching at Great Expectations. She loves being around and working with children and seeing the smiles on their faces when they learn or accomplish something new. Sandra is married and has four children. She and her husband have lived in Green Valley for fourteen years.
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Bachelor's in Education, College of Charleston
Sandra is originally from Houston but has visited and lived in many places including Germany, Holland, Iceland, England, California, and South Carolina. She has taught Fifth through Eighth Grades in addition to coaching boys’ and girls’ basketball and girls’ volleyball and serving as Student Council Sponsor for 3 years. This is Sandra’s thirteenth year teaching at Great Expectations.
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Heather Brannock - 5th Grade
Bachelor's in Elementary Education, University of Arizona
Heather was born and raised in Tucson. She taught in Rio Rico for the six years in both 3rd and 5th grades. Heather and her husband, Billy, have one daughter, Ryleigh, who is five, and one son, Nathaniel, three. Heather enjoys reading, playing the violin, and volunteering in her church's youth ministry program. She is very excited for her sixth year at Great Expectations.
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Rebecca Moore - 5th Grade
Bachelor's in Elementary Education, University of Arizona
Rebecca is a native Tucsonan with roots going back to her great-grandmother. She now lives in Sahuarita and after serving as GEA's Physical Education instructor for six years, Rebecca completed her teaching degree and has been teaching 5th grade for six years. In her spare time, she enjoys exercising, working on her family scrapbook and spending time with her husband and two children.
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Aaron Szabo - Middle School
Bachelor's of Mathematics, San Jose State University
Aaron moved to Green Valley in 2006 from Santa Cruz, California. He spent many years working for Santa Clara County Probation Department and has recently started a new career in education. He enjoys working with adolescent students. Aaron also enjoys playing music and performs in several salsa bands in Tucson. This is his seventh year at Great Expectations Academy.
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Christopher DeWildt - Middle School
Bachelor's in Film Production, Grand Valley State University/Master's in Biology, Western Kentucky University
Chris grew up in Michigan. After college he moved to Bowling Green, Kentucky for graduate school. His educational philosophy is that learning is a lifelong process and that every student is capable of great things with positive reinforcement. In his spare time, Mr. DeWildt enjoys reading all kinds of fiction, writing stories, playing video games, and spending time with his family. He has a wife, two kids, and a dog. Chris lives in Tucson and doesn’t mind the commute to Sahuarita. This is his sixth year at GEA.
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Cassandra Sparrold - Middle School
Bachelor's in English Literature, University of Arizona/Master's in Secondary Education, University of Phoenix
Cassandra is a native Tucsonan and transitioned from the banking industry into teaching to enjoy building relationships within the classroom. This is her seventh year at Great Expectations. She has four cats and two dogs and spends her spare time reading, knitting and hanging out with her critters.
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Matt Salmieri - Middle School
Bachelor of Arts, Rutgers University/Science Education, University of Nebraska This is Matt's second year teaching middle school science at GEA. He previously taught for over 12 years in Omaha as well as long-term substitute teaching while running a business there. Originally from the New York metro area, he lived in Phoenix and Prescott before moving with his family to Sahuarita in 2015. He enjoys spending time with his wife Laura (who teaches 1st grade at GEA) and 10 year old daughter, playing guitar and listening to many genres of music, running, hiking, cycling, skiing, traveling, reading science related publications, math, college football, and the ocean during vacations.
Bachelor's in Art Education, University of Minnesota at Duluth
Ms. Sophie grew up in Duluth, MN where her family owns and operates Karakatsoulis Pottery. Her favorite medium to teach is clay and she hopes to further develop the clay program at GEA. Sophie loves to travel and was fortunate to have the opportunity to teach art at an international school in Vietnam. She is inspired by music, art and culture from all over the world and loves to share this with her students. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking, practicing yoga, and going hiking with her husband and sons.
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Lisa was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico and moved to Santa Cruz, California in her early twenties. After exploring Northern California, she settled in the Bay Area where she met her husband while country dancing. They moved to Arizona in 2003 and are raising a son and daughter, both GEA graduates. Lisa loves the beach, Arizona weather, dining out (especially Mexican food) and the outdoors as well as family time. She also loves being the librarian at GEA, spending time with the students and working with books - her "dream" job.
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Cindy was born and raised in Southern California, and started singing and dancing at age 3 with Kids R Music. She later performed all over the west coast with West Coast Performing Arts Center and after college danced, choreographed and taught at 24 Hour Fitness, earning a Nike sponsorship. She then decided to start her own dance company, Craze Studio LLC, and also started volunteering and working at Great Expectations in 2014....directing the school's first musical along side her sister Diana Prior. This year's musical, "Shrek Jr.", will be the 5th they have directed together for the school. Cindy is now in her 2nd year teaching Performing Arts for K-8 and loves it!
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