With decades of experience in the classroom and at the helm of high-performing schools, Dr. Melissa Alcala is helping to ignite the next generation of entrepreneurs and techies. Dr. Alcala has a background in math and computer science, and a demonstrated history of STEM integration and project-based learning. Prior to founding CAST Tech, the network’s flagship school, Dr. Alcala led STEM Academy, a grades 6-12 magnet school, in the North East Independent School District. She is passionate about student voice and works to infuse student participation into every aspect of CAST Tech. Students regularly participate in industry advisory groups, establish school clubs, and give feedback during annual focus groups. As Dr. Alcala works to create an engaging and dynamic learning environment connected to industry and higher education partners, she values the personalized learning approach with real-world projects that CAST Tech students can pursue. “It helps students stay engaged and ensures that learning is relevant.” Dr. Alcala earned her Doctorate of Education from the University of Texas at San Antonio, where she focused on educational leadership.
Kathy Bieser is an award-winning educator who always dreamed of starting a school from the ground up. In 2016, she got her chance and led the design of the pre-K-12 Advanced Learning Academy, embedding design principles that she knew would give every student an opportunity to find their passion and drive. The vision for ALA continues to evolve but has maintained a unifying focus on creativity, project-based and student-led learning. Principal Bieser served previously as the principal of the International School of the Americas, a magnet school within Northeast ISD. Principal Bieser (and her ALA team) is excited to champion the network’s Raising Blended Learners effort as it offers an opportunity to further extend the school’s emphasis on student leadership and voice, as well as personalized learning. She has a Master of Education in school administration from Trinity University. As ALA Principal, she was named a 2019 finalist for the H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards for principal. “Our goal is for students to grow their critical thinking and problem-solving abilities,” Bieser said. “Designing this school from the ground up has allowed us to examine best practices and to decide which ones make sense for the type of school we want to create."
It was when Dr. Aja Gardner was finishing her medical studies that she realized her true passion was for hands-on project-based learning and providing this opportunity for students in underserved communities. Dr. Gardner has taught and led at almost every level of STEM education. She previously served as director of STEM and Career and Technical Education in South San Antonio ISD, as an assistant principal in North East ISD, and as a science teacher at the John Jay Science and Engineering Academy. At CAST STEM, Dr. Gardner is pushing the envelope in cross-curricular education by integrating project-based learning across all subjects. Students work collaboratively on one project every six weeks, engaging in the material in their science, math and English classes, and then presenting the final product at a parent showcase and industry panel. Dr. Gardner graduated with a bachelor of science in biology and pre-medicine from Xavier University; she earned an M.S.Ph in public health and medicine from St. Louis University, and she holds both master’s and PhD (education, public health and medicine) from Walden University. “The beauty of CAST STEM is we’re focused more on what happens the day after [students] graduate, or as we put it: beyond the cap and gown,” Dr. Gardner said. “We focus all of our energy on what options and choices children have when they graduate from us.”
Dr. Eddie Rodriguez has 28 years in public school education as an educator, curriculum science specialist and administrator. He was the founding principal of Edgewood’s Toltec Academy and Harlandale ISD’s STEM Early College High School-Alamo Colleges at Palo Alto College, where he served for five years prior to becoming the founding principal for CAST Med. He teaches a science methods course at Texas A&M University-San Antonio and has worked as a private consultant for many school districts in the state and across the nation. Dr. Rodriguez believes that because there are no entrance requirements for CAST schools, the model is creating equity within fields that are typically reserved for high achievers. “We take all students through a lottery system, allowing them each the opportunity to achieve their dreams,” he said. Dr. Rodriguez has a lifelong passion for science and has been known to tutor students in chemistry even when he served as a principal. At CAST Med, he is focused on graduating students who will go on to serve communities like the ones they come from, providing a pipeline of bilingual, culturally sensitive doctors and health professionals. In 2008, Eddie received a Fulbright Scholarship from the U.S. Department of State to travel to Mexico City and learn about its schools. He is leading the network’s nascent effort to offer international opportunities to all its students. A San Antonio native, Dr. Rodriguez has a Ph.D. in educational administration from Texas A&M College Station.