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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."
Having worked in several roles in education as a pre-K teacher, school counselor, mentor, principal and adjunct college professor, Wendy Fuller is excited for her next role as CAST Lead Principal. Opening in August 2020, the East Central ISD school will connect students to leadership and management positions in some of the fastest-growing industries in the city — retail, hospitality and tourism, and e-commerce. A product of the East Central Independent School District, Wendy learned her colors and the alphabet at the same campus that will be renovated for the college and career-focused high school. “It’s exciting that it’s my home district,” she said recently. Over the next year, she’ll work with industry and community partners to create course pathways, plot out learning experiences outside of the classroom, and identify potential mentoring and internship opportunities for her future students. “Every milestone that I’ve accomplished is because someone I admired believed in me,” she said. She’ll create the same support system for her students. Wendy has a Doctoral degree in Education from Capella University, a Master’s Degree in counseling from the same university, and a Bachelor’s Degree from UTSA in Education.
Ericka Olivarez is guided by a mission to serve as part of a diverse community of learners and leaders striving to ensure that all students have equitable access to educational experiences that will help them succeed. She has dedicated her career in education to growing and empowering others, serving as a teacher, instructional curriculum and assessment specialist, academic dean, district content coordinator and a district leadership specialist. Forever a teacher, she believes that the best way to create a community of leaders is to create a truly equitable environment where all stakeholders are empowered to explore, question, collaborate, and problem-solve in a supportive environment.
A first-generation college graduate, Ericka Olivarez earned a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies from the University of Texas at Arlington, as well as a Master’s Degree in Political Science from the University of Notre Dame and a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and English Literature from St. Mary’s University of San Antonio. She leads and serves on various state, city and district committees dedicated to building culturally responsive schools where all students and staff are healthy, safe, supported, engaged and challenged.
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.
Ravae Villafranca Shaeffer’s 23 plus years of experience includes facilitating professional learning communities and project-managing cross-sector design teams to create, implement and evaluate innovative education solutions, such as Future Ready SA Digital Badging and Guiding Pathways to Dual Credit Secondary/Postsecondary partnerships. She also facilitated multi-agency partnerships with PreK-12, Higher Education, and Workforce entities to achieve educational goals while designing and coordinating customized research-based, data-informed professional development for teachers and administrators. Prior to Region 20, Ravae served as both a high school and middle school teacher for nine years. She also served on the CAST STEM industry advisory board.