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Founders and Directors

Donna Hulsey and Karen Langdon founded and co-direct ACE Academy.

Donna B. Hulsey

Donna Hulsey

Co-Founder and Head of School

As an undergraduate at Rhodes College and a graduate student at the College of William and Mary, Mrs. Hulsey pursued a strong foundation in the classical liberal arts, linguistics, literary analysis, rhetoric, and composition. Mrs. Hulsey has worked as a senior technical writer, publication editor, and project manager in business; a freelance writer in banking and healthcare; and an instructor in writing in elementary and college classrooms. Outside academics, she has enjoyed teaching in several realms, but her favorite challenge has been coaching teams in creative problem solving (Odyssey of the Mind and Destination Imagination) since 1990. Led by the needs of her own children into advocacy for gifted children, Mrs. Hulsey trained in best methods for teaching gifted learners; she regularly authors articles on gifted education, presents at professional conferences, and offers assistance to professional and parent groups. In 2005, she and Karen Langdon founded ACE Academy with eight students and a commitment to growing a flagship school and non-profit organization serving gifted learners and matching the entrepreneurial energy of Austin. A veteran of several startups, Mrs. Hulsey has been a founding member of several professional organizations and publications. Outside of ACE, she enjoys her investment and book clubs, volunteer work, dance aerobics, and Texas survival gardening.

Karen Langdon, M.Ed.

Director of Admissions and Assessment, Counselor

Mrs. Langdon graduated from Emory University with a double major in Biology and Psychology and completed her Masters in Education at the University of Arizona, with a specialty in counseling and parent education. Employment in several medical hospitals followed, where she did parent education and training, therapy, marketing, and served as a consultant and speaker on a range of medical topics. Mrs. Langdon completed all coursework for a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of South Carolina and finished her internship at Austin State Hospital. When she struggled to find gifted services for her own children, Mrs. Langdon changed directions. In 1999, she co-founded Summer Wonders, a summer program for gifted students, and completed an internship at the Gifted Development Center in Denver, emphasizing assessment of gifted children and counseling families on the social and emotional needs of this population. She serves as a community resource and public speaker on the needs of gifted students, conducts teacher training, and helped found the Austin chapter of the American Creativity Association.

Elizabeth Lay

E Lay

Assistant Director, Admissions Counselor

Ms. Lay holds a Bachelor of Arts in History from Grinnell College, and has completed additional liberal arts studies with the Libera Universit Internazionale Degli Studi Sociali Guido Carli in Rome, Trinity College in Dublin, and The University of Texas at Austin, including the Shakespeare at Winedale program at UT. Ms. Lay believes strongly in the value of learning through performance and is passionate about the growth of Shakespeare programs at ACE Academy, and her presentations at TAGT conferences have covered the role of play in the development of gifted learners and the importance of physical education in GT schools. Ms. Lay joined Austin Gifted in the spring of the school’s third year as the Program Coordinator for both ACE Academy and Summer Wonders; prior to that, Ms. Lay worked in the e-learning industry, education outreach programs, and as a freelance actor, director, and performance coach. Her productions of St. Mathilde’s Malady (2010) and The Blissful Orphans (2013) each won Best of Fest in the Hyde Park Theater FronteraFest. Ms. Lay‘s other interests also include fencing; she has worked as the Assistant Coach with the University of Texas Fencing Club and holds the title of Assistant Moniteur d’Escrime (Fleuret) with the United States Fencing Coaches Association. Ms. Lay teaches Mythology classes at ACE Academy and has previously taught Shakespeare, Latin, and Fencing as well.


Amy Gilbert

Amy Gilbert

Office Manager

Ms. Gilbert is a 7th generation Texan who has been lucky enough to call Austin her home for over 13 years. She received her bachelors degree in Anthropology with a focus in Mesoamerican Cultures from Texas State University in San Marcos- and will be quick to remind you that Mayan and Aztec are not interchangeable. During her time as a student she tried her hand at archaeology at the Mayan ruins of Cahal Pech in San Ignacio, Belize. It was there that she discovered her intense love of temperature controlled environments, handling artifacts and cataloging. Upon her return she put these newfound passions to work as an assistant to the South Western and Mexican Photography curator at the Wittliff Collections and also served as an intern to the Latin American Art curator at the San Antonio Museum of Art. Having worked as an assistant teacher and as a nanny prior to college, she found herself missing her days spent with the little guys and recently made the decision to return to an educational environment; in hopes of one day having the best of both worlds and working in museum education. Amy enjoys spending her free time collecting vintage treasures, re-watching Twin Peaks,and creating intricate cards for each holiday. Today you can find her at the front desk happily answering your phone calls, emails and questions.


Michelle Messick

ACE Administration; Saturday Wonders Program Coordinator, Summer Wonders Program Coordinator

Michelle Messick joined ACE Academy in October of 2013 after making the move from her West Texas hometown of El Paso. Prior to ACE, she spent five years working as a journalist for Investor Publications, Inc., publisher of El Paso's only business journal, El Paso Inc., and What's Up, a free weekly entertainment magazine. During this time she penned various pieces, from celebrity interviews and reviews to stories on the ins-and-outs of her city, and had the honor of seeing a compilation of her work appear in an annual book published by El Paso Inc. In her free time, Michelle enjoys baking cupcakes, reading, mastering the art of cooking Mexican cuisine, and watching all Netflix has to offer.


Kristyn Meyer


Administration, Development Officer, History Teacher, High School Advisor

After 7 years teaching exclusively in a collegiate setting, Ms. Meyer is pleased to be returning as a Middle School and High School history teacher. Before returning to school for her graduate education, she was a middle school and high school history and English teacher in a charter school in North Austin. Ms. Meyer has a strong commitment to service-learning and critical thinking in the classroom, and believes that learning is a life-long process. She is a Ph.D. candidate in the Rhetoric and Language department at the University of Texas at Austin, and received her M.A. degree at Illinois State University. When she's not in the classroom or working on her doctoral dissertation, Ms. Meyer enjoys spending time with her husband Brandon, her pet bird and her puppy; reading voraciously; and listening to Top-40 radio.


Magali Pijpers


Publications and Design

Ms. Pijpers is Dutch by origin but was raised internationally, living in Singapore, Belgium, Hong Kong, New York, and London before arriving in Austin and joining ACE Academy in 2010. She received her BA in Liberal Arts/Writing from New School University in New York and has a background in publishing, having worked at magazines and publishing firms. Her heart, however, lies in education and, prior to ACE, she worked with 826nyc in Brooklyn and the Austin Bat Cave, both non-profit organizations dedicated to teaching creative writing to kids. In her free time, Ms. Pijpers enjoys volunteering, exploring her city and community, working on various creative projects, and being outside.


Dr. Nance Riffe


Administration, Development Officer, High School English

Dr. Nance Riffe received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication and Women’s Studies at George Mason University. There, she was one of 25 students selected to receive a full tuition scholarship as a member of the Mason Scholars Program, an academic honors and learning community. She was awarded the University’s highest distinction, Senior of the Year. At George Mason, Dr. Riffe competed for the GMU Forensics Team (competitive public speaking and acting). Her senior year, she broke the national record for highest number of events in final rounds at the national tournament. She received her Master of Arts degree in Communication Studies at the University of Alabama where she was awarded a TAG Fellowship, a Graduate Teaching Assistantship, and a Research Assistantship. Dr. Riffe completed her coursework toward her Ph.D. in Communication at the University of Texas at Austin and received her Ph.D. from the University of Alabama where she was awarded the Department of Communication’s highest graduate school honor, Outstanding Doctoral Student. Her Doctorate is in the field of Communication with a concentration in Critical, Cultural, and Rhetorical Studies with a cognate in Qualitative Research Methods through Education Research. She has received several Top Paper awards at national and regional communication conferences including her field’s largest conference, the National Communication Association. After completing her doctorate, Dr. Riffe was awarded a professorship at the University of Alabama. Dr. Riffe is a performer at heart; here in Austin, she was recently awarded Best of the Fest 2011 at Frontera Fest for an original monologue and enjoys occasionally performing in Austin’s Encyclopedia Show. She volunteers as a coach for the UT Forensics Team.


Arianne Thompson

Arianne Thompson

Program Coordinator

Colorado native Arianne Thompson serves as program coordinator for ACE Academy. Holding both Masters degree in Public Health Education, specifically non-profit curriculum and program planning, and a BA in Studio Art and Psychology from Lake Forest College, she has coordinated educational programs for 11 years. Arianne has designed, managed and implemented out-of-the-box curriculum for enrichment programs, coordinated events and fundraisers for public and private schools. She has planned events for non-profits, city programs, film festivals, Landry’s Downtown Aquarium, and Chicago’s Gallery 37, and she managed many education programs for community art centers in Colorado. Outside of work, Miss Thompson is a working artist inspired by visual art, dance and quantum physics. She loves hiking, kayaking and mountain climbing with her fiancee. Miss Thompson has a personal passion for studying the emotional root of disease and immune system; when not coordinating programs, she has a private practice to teach clients transformational expressive arts and healing workshops. She looks towards a future PhD to pursue her research in the field of psychoneuroimmunology, which blends the fields of psychology and neuroscience.





Caroline Poe

Little Rockets Teacher

Caroline Poe has been working with young children for over a decade. Most recently, she taught at St. David's Episcopal Day School for three and a half years. She enjoys facilitating exploration and discovery, as well as establishing a positive relationship with school for the youngest of students. As the parent of gifted children, she understands the need for a specialized educational environment. When she's not teaching preschool, Mrs. Poe works as a professional photographer. She puts these talents to use working with the middle school students on the ACE Academy year book. Mrs. Poe has two daughters who currently attend ACE.

Robin Bethea

Robin Bethea

Little Rockets Teaching Assistant

Ms. Bethea holds a B.A. in Psychology with a Minor in Dance from Texas State University. After graduation, she developed a passion for working with young children as a dance teacher in San Antonio. She later became a Recreation Activity Specialist for the City of Austin where she assisted in the preschool classrooms and led activities for the elementary after-school program and summer camps. In her experience with preschoolers, Ms. Bethea has learned the value and joy of creating a safe, loving environment for children to learn and try new things. Outside of ACE, she teaches ballet and performs on the trapeze at Sky Candy.


Melinda Rincon

Director of the Primary School, Primary Blue Teacher

Melinda Rincon began her teaching career after graduating from Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. She has a B.S. and minored in Education and Child Development. Before coming to Austin, she spent seven years in Houston teaching at Westchester High School in the Spring Branch School District. After her husband, Don, was transferred to Austin, she worked for DHL Airways as an Account Executive, selling International Service to high-tech companies. When her daughter Lauren was in elementary school, Mrs. Rincon decided to go back to her first love: teaching. After successfully completing certification in elementary education, pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, and gifted education training, she was hired by AISD to teach first grade. Mrs. Rincon taught first grade for four years and pre-kindergarten for one year before starting the Primary 1 classes at ACE. This is her third year at ACE and she loves that she is able to incorporate all of her past experiences teaching these children. Mrs. Rincon especially loves teaching children to read and instilling the desire in them to learn and love school.

Lindsay Wagenhofer

Lindsay Wagenhofer

Primary Blue Coteacher

Mrs. Wagenhofer attended the University of Texas at San Antonio where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Studies, with a focus in Early Childhood.  In addition, she holds teaching certifications for Early Child Generalist, English as a Second Language, and Gifted and Talented Supplemental. While employed with the Houston Independent School District for five years, Lindsay taught grades second, first and kindergarten.  The experiences of educating diverse, inner city students has been extremely rewarding and provided Mrs. Wagenhofer the skills and tools needed to impact children from various backgrounds. This will be Mrs. Wagenhofer’s first year at ACE Academy, and she is thrilled to be in an environment that emphasizes individual learning styles and creative, hands-on approaches.  She will be assisting in Mrs. Rincon’s Blue Pod. Outside of school, Mrs. Wagenhofer enjoys cooking and outdoor activities with her husband and German Shepherd, Atlas. 


Karin Asplin

Primary Blue Teacher

Ms. Asplin received her degree in Early Childhood education from the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas. Previous to that, she attended Centenary College of Louisiana in Shreveport for a year and a half to play volleyball for the Ladies. She began her work at ACE Academy in 2007. Ms. Asplin is delighted to be a Blue Pod teacher this year, and has now been teaching the Pre-K through first grade age group for 8 years and has a passion for children this age! In her free time she enjoys hanging out with friends and listening to live music, preferably Texas Country, and plays in several volleyball leagues around the Austin area throughout the year. As time allows, she likes to visit her parents at home in Katy and on vacation in Colorado, and to dote on her beautiful nieces, Isabella and Olivia, in New Braunfels.

Stephen Riesenberg

Stephen Riesenberg

Blue Pod Teaching Assistant

Mr. Riesenberg graduated Valedictorian from Truman State University, a liberal arts college in Missouri, where he studied English and Environmental Studies. After following promises of live music and breakfast tacos to Austin, he spent a year working in the field of Water Conservation. But his heart was always in Education, especially Gifted Education, so he followed his heart to ACE Academy. He has worked many summers with the gifted high school students of Missouri at the Missouri Scholars Academy and also taught English and Environmental Studies classes at the college level. The proudest moment in Steve's teaching career so far was being compared favorably to Professor Dumbledore. He is very much looking forward to a magical year with the Blue Pod.


Claire Hermes

Primary Yellow Teacher

Ms. Hermes graduated Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in Music Industry Studies and minors in both Mathematics and Business from Loyola University New Orleans. She has over 10 years of experience working with elementary students in both suburban and inner-city schools, the latter through Our Next Generation (Milwaukee) and Boys Hope Girls Hope (New Orleans). She has also run her own business. Ms. Hermes joined ACE in 2012 as Ms. Aiello’s Yellow Pod teaching assistant, taught in Austin Gifted’s Saturday Wonders program, and was a lead teacher for both sessions of Summer Wonders 2013. Ms. Hermes believes in fostering an environment for curiosity, experimentation, and adventure, and she has a wild enthusiasm for learning about everything and is dedicated to passing that on to this amazing population. She adores that the student interests at ACE are as deep as they are broad, and that challenges are met with open arms. and couldn’t be more happy to teach at a school that embraces the same ideals.


Elisa Farrell

Primary Yellow Teaching Assistant

A Texas native, Ms. Farrell graduated from University of North Texas with a Bachelor of Arts in Radio Television Film and a minor in Psychology in 1995. After graduation she assumed the role of coordinator for a children’s film festival called KidFilm and worked in programming for KERA, the PBS affiliate in Dallas. Ms. Farrell moved to Minneapolis/St. Paul for ten years and while there learned to rock climb, ice climb, sail, snowboard and ice skate. During her stay in The Twin Cities she tutored and cared for two different sets of gifted and talented children, worked as a climbing coach and as a teaching assistant in a kindergarten classroom. Ms. Farrell obtained her teaching certificate for K-6 and 5-8 Social Studies and a Masters in Teaching from Hamline University, which included attending the Rivers Institute. Missing warm weather and her family, she returned to Texas in 2011, settling in Austin. In her spare time she kayaks the rivers and lakes, hikes, dances and occasionally teaches the Austin Two Step.



Rebecca Aiello

Becca Aiello

Primary Yellow Teacher

Rebecca Aiello has been with ACE Academy for three years now, and is thrilled to be returning to the Yellow Pod. She graduated from UT in 2006 with bachelor degrees in psychology and philosophy, and returned to obtain her teaching certificate in 2008. She is certified to teach PreK - 4th grade, as well as ESL classes. In her spare time, she likes to run and compete in half marathons and marathons.

Amanda Mitchell

Amanda Mitchell


Primary Yellow Teaching Assistant

Austin native Ms. Mitchell graduated from Texas State University where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Interdisciplinary Studies with a focus on Early Childhood Education. She holds a Texas teaching certification and substitute taught grades PreK-12th in Round Rock, Leander, and Austin before and during completion of her college degree. After graduation she headed to Utah where she taught First Grade, played in the snow, and hiked mountains. Utah was beautiful, but she sure did miss Texas. Once back in Austin she taught four- and five-year-olds at a private preschool in downtown and nannied for friends and family. In her spare time Ms. Mitchell likes to go for walks near Lady Bird Lake and on the Barton Creek Greenbelt, catch an improv show, and attend the Austin Film Festival. She has heard many good things about ACE Academy and is so excited to be working for such an amazing school


Sara Protzmann

Primary Red Teacher

Sara Protzmann graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a Bachelor of Science degree in Education, specializing in Early Childhood Education. She began teaching in the Red Pod in 2011 and has many years of experience teaching preschool through elementary-aged children. Her passion lies in recognizing the individual needs of each student and helping them blossom as young learners. Sara is raising three gifted children, two of whom have attended ACE. In 2013, Sara was a nominee for SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted) Honor Roll and has experience identifying and supporting students with heightened social learning needs. She is also a writer, focusing on middle-grade fiction. Her other interests are reading, jewelry making and walking the family dog, Goose.


Adam Soto

Adam Soto

Primary Red Teaching Assistant

Adam Soto holds a Master of Fine Arts in Fiction from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a Bachelor of Arts in Art History from Knox College. In 2012 he won the Michener-Copernicus Society of America Award, a prestigious fellowship given annually for an outstanding novel-in-progress, and spent five months living and writing in a secluded cabin in The White Mountains of New Hampshire. A former college educator, Adam returned to civilization with the hopes of teaching again, and is excited to have been given the opportunity to do so at ACE Academy. Transplanted from his native Chicago, Adam currently resides in East Austin, where he’s busy completing the final draft of his novel, writing an album, and tending to a cat named Napoleon.


Ralph Hardesty

Primary Red Teacher

Mr. Hardesty earned an MA in Communication Studies from the University of Alabama before going to lecture at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. Mr. Hardesty was a coach of the Forensics programs at both schools coaching several national champions and numerous national finalists and semifinalists. He is thrilled to return to teaching after taking a short break to focus on writing and performing, most recently on his monthly variety show, The Encyclopedia Show, which was named a Critics' Pick for the Austin Chronicle's 2010 Best of Austin.


Rimma Aguirre

Rimma Aguirre


Primary Red Teaching Assistant

Mrs. Aguirre is excited to join the ACE staff this year, having recently relocated from Chicago. Certified as an elementary and middle school teacher in Illinois, she is working to transfer her license to Texas. Mrs. Aguirre earned a M.Ed. in Reading Curriculum and Instruction from Concordia University in Portland, OR, and a double B.A. in Psychology and Music from Lake Forest College in Lake Forest, IL. She has spent the summer teaching SAT classes and has worked for years as a private academic and test prep tutor. Born in Ukraine, Mrs. Aguirre speaks Russian fluently. In her spare time, she spends time with her husband and young son, plays in a roller derby league, plays piano, sings karaoke, and reads voraciously.


Rama Sreekantham

Rama Sreekantham

Primary Science

Raised in Chicago, IL, Mrs. Sreekantham' sense of adventure and love of science led her to California for a Bachelor's degree in Cell, Molecular, and Developmental Biology from the University of California. Wanting to learn more, she pursued a Master's degree in Biotechnology from Penn State. She has been a tutor in both chemistry and biology. Mrs. Sreekantham has worked for 10 years for the Department of Public Safety since marrying and coming to Austin, but her love of children and belief in excellent education have brought her to ACE Academy. In her spare time, she loves to read, bake, and play with her own two kids.



Upper School



Akina Adderley

Director of the Fine Arts Department, Music, Theatre

Mrs. Adderley (a.k.a. Mrs. A) gleefully joined the ACE community in 2007. Mrs. A's educational background includes a BA from Yale University, graduation from New York's LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts ("the Fame school") as a drama major, classical voice training at Manhattan School of Music, and post-bac studies in piano, music theory, and vocal performance at Mannes School of Music and The New School. Mrs. A has been teaching music, drama, choir, voice and piano lessons, and directing children in plays and musicals for over a decade, including two years and several summers at the family business, The Adderley School for the Performing Arts in Los Angeles. In addition to her education and years of teaching, her expertise in music and theater comes from many years of professional experience acting, singing, conducting choirs, songwriting, and band leading. Mrs. Adderley is a dedicated vocalist, songwriter, performer, and educator, and is excited about continuing to share her love of music and theatre with your children. At ACE, Mrs. A heads the Fine Arts Department and teaches Primary Music, Elementary Music, Upper School Choir, and High School Theatre, as well as directing and co-directing the school plays. Outside of ACE, Mrs. A leads a soul band called Akina Adderley & The Vintage Playboys, sings with various jazz ensembles, loves to read and watch movies, and enjoys walks through the park with her dog, Rudy. This summer, Mrs. A and her husband, Todd, joyfully welcomed their first child, Amelia, into their family.
*Mrs. A is currently offering private voice and piano lessons after school. Feel free to contact her for more information.

Véronique Amblard

Veronique Amblard


After graduating from high school in France, Véronique Amblard did two years of intensive academic training (mostly mathematics), known as classes préparatoires at the Lycée Chateaubriand in Rennes, France. She passed the entrance exam for one of the grandes écoles, higher education establishments, and enrolled in the National Graduate School of Chemistry of Montpellier, France, known as École Nationale Supérieure de Chimie de Montpellier (ENSCM). She holds a Master of Science in Chemistry from ENSCM and a Master of Science in Plastic Process from the University of Montpellier, France (Université des Sciences et Techniques du Languedoc.) She worked 13 years as an R&D Engineer and Quality Manager, developing new packaging materials for the food industry in France. After moving to the U.S., she began working in the translation/localization industry, translating and reviewing technical documents from English to French.

To return to her passion for math, Mme. Amblard decided to embark on a new career as a mathematics teacher. In the course of becoming a Texas certified educator in mathematics (grades 4 – 8,) she did her student teaching at ACE Academy last spring, where she was delighted by this wonderful community of learners. As the daughter of a math teacher and the mother of a gifted 10 year-old son who loves math, she is extremely delighted about teaching math to gifted students at ACE Academy.

Libby Banks

Elementary Teaching Assistant

Ms. Banks graduated with a degree in Philosophy from Pomona College in Claremont, California. She received her initial teaching license from Hamline University in 5-12 Communications/Literature, and is currently completing a Master's thesis on developing culturally relevant Shakespeare curriculum. She previously worked as a political organizer in Oregon and as an English teacher in Minneapolis. After almost eight years away, she returned to her home state of Texas. Ms. Banks also is a private SAT and ACT tutor. In her spare time, she enjoys karaoke, trivia, and long strolls with her adorable dog.


Brad Barry


Director of the Elementary School, Language Arts, Journalism

Brad Barry is looking forward to his fourth year working with ACE students. A graduate of the University of Texas at Austin with degrees in Rhetoric & Writing and the Plan II Honors program, his passions are exploring language and inspiring interdisciplinary connections. When he’s not teaching, he continues to write about music and culture for various online and print publications, copy edit articles, and host an occasional radio show. In the classroom, his focus is on clear communication and honing the skills necessary to share complex ideas in a wide variety of rhetorical situations. Mr. Barry's other passions include experimental music, conceptual art, and college football.

Isabelle Bettler


Elementary French

Teaching has always been a passion for Isabelle Bettler and already in high school and university, in France, she was tutoring in math. After graduating with a Master of Science in Bio-Engineering, she led technical and financial negotiations of large industrial projects for close to 10 years in France. With already an extensive travel experience (Europe, Iceland, Malaysia, Turkey, Bolivia, India), she moved to Germany first and the United States in 2001 and began exploring the power of a differentiated education with her first gifted child. Volunteering at her children’s school reignited her passion for teaching: she taught Spanish for 5 years to elementary children and led her son’s Destination Imagination team for 2 years. Since 2010, Mrs. Bettler has focused all her skills and personal experiences in teaching her own language and culture. She has founded French2U in 2010 and she has been teaching year-long classes to committed children, teenagers and adults, since then. A lot of her students are gifted homeschoolers. She is also one of the founders, the curriculum coordinator and a language art teacher of EFA (Education Française Austin) where she teaches weekly classes to native French speaking teenagers with a strong emphasis on writing skills and French literature.


Dr. Deanna Buckley

Deanna Buckley

Director of the High School, Science Department Head, Math

Dr. Deanna Buckley, B.S.: M.S.: Ph.D., Science Education, Biology / Chemistry has over 70 hours of upper-level, formal university science content and 27 years of teaching experience, including public middle and high school,  private elementary, middle school and high school,  community college, and two universities. She has been trained by the National Science Foundation's Institute of Inquiry at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, and in DNA analysis from Cold Spring Harbor’s vector team. Her publications include curriculum research completed in designing a new course in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Texas (2007): A Translational Bioengineering Course Provides Substantial Gains in Civic Scientific Literacy in the Annals of Biomedical Engineering (p. 1324). She worked for 4 years with Research Methods in the UTeach program preparing pre-service mathematics and science teachers for the College of Natural Sciences at The University of Texas which has been recognized by The Committee on Prospering in the Global Economy of the 21st Century (2006, p. 117) and awarded federal funding for 21 replication sites across the country. Dr. Buckley has designed and delivered elementary science teacher professional development using digital microscopes in six different regions throughout Texas for the Texas Educational Agency and Girlstart. She also has worked as a science writing consultant to Anaxos and ENZOology. Other fieldwork includes experience as a science and math teacher coach in the NSF funded Delta Rural Systemic Initiative for regions in Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas.  In 2009, she presented original science curricula field tested at ACE at the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented and has had subsequent contact with other schools interested in implementing it. She has delivered national presentations for the National Science Teachers Association, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and the National Association of Biology Teachers and is currently a reviewer for several of their professional journals. She believes that science as a way of knowing should be experienced by students collecting data, analyzing results using frequentist statistical methods, and proposing original explanations based on direct observations and logical inference. Dr. Buckley's classes are fully hands-on, often using advanced technologies such as spectrophotometers for measuring the loss of beta carotene during cooking in carrots, or aseptic techniques for culturing and studying micro-organisms, or, genetically engineering E.coliDH5a with pBLU to produce betagalactosidase and antibiotic resistance, or, on a larger scale, field testing ecological growth factors which may enhance food crops. These scientific techniques and strategies can be understood and used successfully with gifted students at a much younger age than is currently practiced in many mainstream classrooms. ACE students often have to be coerced out of the science classroom (or the outdoor classroom garden).

David Dean-Jones, Ph.D

Latin, Philosophy

Dr. David Dean-Jones (DD-J) is beginning his first year at ACE teaching Latin and Greek. He is also currently an Adjunct Professor of Foreign Languages at Austin Community College. Dr. Dean-Jones graduated from Wichita High School South in 1979 and served in the US Marines from 1979 to 1983. He studied Latin, Greek, Ancient Philosophy, and Ancient History at The Wichita State University and graduated with a BA Summa Cum Laude in May of 1987. In 1988, he earned his MA Magna Cum Laude in Classical Languages and Literature from the University of Texas at Austin, where he continued his studies and earned his Ph.D. Summa Cum Laude in 1993. Dr. Dean-Jones also studied Business Management and Computer Information Sciences at Austin Community College from 2002 to 2005. From 1993 to 2011, Dr. Dean-Jones taught Classics and was the Middle School Dean of Students and Academic Scheduler at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School in Austin, Texas. He served in the Texas National Guard in 1990-1991 and was activated into the US Army for Operation Desert Shield/Storm in January of 1991. He is married to Lesley Dean-Jones, Associate Professor of Classics at the University of Texas at Austin, and has two sons Aidan and Ciaran, both of whom are students at UT. Dr. Dean-Jones also has one dog, Oreo, and three Ball Pythons, Speedy, Swifty, and Fluffy. He enjoys reading, bees, British and Irish Literature (particularly James Joyce), travel, and teaching the Classics. Dr. Dean-Jones is planning a novel based on his twelve years of experience as a Middle School Dean of Students: And If You think that’s Wacky, Wait Until You Hear This: The Life and Times of a Middle School Dean of Students.


Swapna Deepak

Swapna Deepak


Mrs. Deepak holds a Bachelors degree in Chemistry, a second Bachelors degree in Physical Science, and a Masters degree in Environmental Chemistry from the University of Calicut in Calicut, India. She is a graduate of the University of Texas UTeach certification program and obtained her Texas Teaching certification for K-12 science in 2012. Mrs. Deepak began her teaching experience in southern India, where she taught middle and high school science. She also organized two science fairs and set up a chemistry laboratory for a newly opened high school in collaboration with Oisca International, a Japanese organization for nature conservation. Mrs. Deepak has taught at all levels in AISD, and is excited for the opportunity to test her mettle among the discerning learners at ACE Academy in an inquiry-based, generative, and project-based learning environment.


Mary Hannah Duhon

Elementary Aide

Ms. Duhon graduated from Hampshire College with a B.A. in Political Philosophy in 2011. She subsequently completed a year of service mentoring and tutoring underprivileged 3rd - 5th graders in East Austin for AmeriCorps. She also tutored international high school students from Mexico in history and english and taught visual studies and martial arts classes. As for her academic interests, she cannot stop reading about political theory, cultural studies, and history. In her spare time, she likes to paint, run, read novels, and improve her Spanish by watching poorly dubbed episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.


Carolyn Frances

Math, Science

Carolyn Frances holds a BA in History from Southwestern University and a BS in Computer Science from St. Edwards University. Her background is in developing software for education, as well as a twelve-year history of tutoring students with a wide range of levels and abilities. She is an active volunteer with Reglue, an organization dedicated to distributing computers with open-source software to students and low-income families in Central Texas. She has a real passion for finding models and systems from real world scenarios, and looks forward to bringing this enthusiasm to ACE's science and math classrooms. Whether it's the projectile motion of a grasshopper or the growth rate of a social network, the application of mathematical concepts to the world around us inspires Ms. Frances and her students to find real-world relevance in abstract ideas. Ms. Frances's other interests include homebrewing, carpentry, and taking things apart. Sometimes she puts them back together, but not often.


Amanda Gane

Amanda Gane

Emotional Intelligence Teacher

Ms. Gane is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who was born and raised in South Africa. She completed her BA and a graduate degree in Clinical Psychology in her native country before embarking on a world adventure travelling through parts of Europe, Asia, Africa, Central and North America. She earned her Master’s degree in Social Work from Smith College in Massachusetts. Drawing on her experience working in a psychiatric hospital, therapeutic school, and an outpatient mental health setting, Ms. Gane works in private practice here in Austin; she has taught Emotional Intelligence classes at ACE since 2012. In her spare time, she enjoys running, horseback riding, snowboarding, and travelling.

Robin Grace

Fine Arts Instructor, Middle School Advisor, ODIM

Robin Grace Thompson (Ms. Grace) graduated Magna Cum Laude from St. Edward's University with a Bachelor of Arts. Ms. Grace was also a member of the 2005-2006 Actor's Theatre of Louisville Acting Apprentice program. For the past four summers she has served as the Associate Director and Counselor of Camp Shakespeare at Winedale through the University of Texas. Ms. Grace is a founding member of the DA! Theatre Collective, whose interactive show for kids, Heron and Crane, was accepted to FringeNYC 2010 as a part of FringeJR in New York. Last summer, Ms. Grace had the honor of performing in the Edinburgh International Fringe Festival in Scotland. Most recent stage credits include Hedda Gabler in the Palindrome Theatre production of Hedda Gabler and Elizabeth Proctor in the Mary Moody Northen Theatre production of The Crucible. Ms. Grace has been teaching for the past ten years in a variety of educational settings and is certified to teach Theatre and Early Childhood through Sixth grade. This is Ms. Grace’s third year at ACE Academy and she is thrilled to be a part of such a diverse community. Outside of the classroom, you can find her working in the theatre, painting with watercolors, or learning how to play the baritone ukulele!


Randy Hollensbe

Director of Technology, Robotics and Computer Programming Instructor

Mr. Hollensbe was part of the gifted program in Picayune, Mississippi, graduated a year early, attended Pearl River Jr. College for two years followed by Mississippi State University, where he majored in Computer Engineering with a minor in Computer Science. While at Pearl River Jr. College, he led a team of programmers to win the first title for the college in a programming competition at the University of Southern Mississippi. After college, Randy was hired by Cincinnati Bell Information Systems (later renamed Convergys) as a Programmer. He stayed with the company for almost 20 years, holding titles of Programmer, Lead Programmer, Senior Programmer, Program Manager, Project Manager and Manager - Information Technology, and Senior Manager - Information Technology. While at Convergys, Randy also received his Project Management certificate from George Washington University. Randy was also educated in ITIL, ITIL 3.0, Lean Processes, and was a certified Change Agent. In his spare time, Mr. Hollensbe enjoys coaching girls’ soccer. He coached travel soccer for girls in Florida for 7 years, winning many titles. He has also been actively involved with the Board of Deltona Youth Soccer, holding positions of Secretary and Vice President of the club.

Andie Jew


Mrs. Jew is originally from a Chicago suburb that has always been very creativity driven. She absorbed as much as possible having the opportunity to learn from some of Chicago's local artists. Mrs. Jew studied at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design for a short time before devoting many years to the art of silkscreening. While raising her 4 children, Mrs. Jew took many courses expanding her artistic knowledge. Beginning in 1999 she fulfilled a life long dream working as a library assistant. This will be the 4th year Mrs. Jew has been teaching at ACE..

Linden Kueck

Linden Kueck

Teacher, Upper School Language Arts and History

Linden Kueck graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a BA in English UTeach and a minor in German. During her time at UT, she became involved with the Shakespeare at Winedale program, spending a spring semester and two summers studying Shakespeare’s plays through performance. After earning her bachelor’s degree, Ms. Kueck spent three years teaching Sophomore English at McNeil High School in RRISD where she served as the Pre-AP English II team lead and led several workshops training teachers to teach Shakespeare through performance. Eager to extend her education, she went on to pursue an MLitt and an MFA in Shakespeare and Performance at Mary Balwin College in Staunton, VA. As a student at Mary Baldwin, Ms. Kueck acted in and assisted with a broad range of early modern plays; wrote a thesis exploring gender theory in modern performance; was elected and served for two years as the Student Representative, a liaison between students and faculty; and, for her MFA project, directed a feminist, fairytale, pop-up book production of Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well. Renewing her relationship with the Shakespeare at Winedale program at UT, Ms. Kueck spent two summers serving as the Assistant Director where she worked closely with undergraduate students as they learned about and performed in Shakespeare’s plays. She has spent the past year working on the administrative staff of the English Department at UT while writing a novel, and is thrilled to be back in the classroom teaching ACE students.


Chris Lay, M.Ed.

Art, Reading Assessments

Ms. Lay comes from a large extended family of gifted teachers, so she grew up in the midst of conversations about learning. Holding a M.Ed. from the University of Texas and several Texas teacher certifications, she has taught students ranging from pre-kindergartners to high school seniors in private and public schools. Working with gifted children, though, is her primary passion because of the joys and challenges she encountered while rearing two gifted children. Art, native plants, historic structures, books, classical music, healthy food, textiles, tools, and trails attract her attention, but people come first.

Dr. Claudia Legarreta

Emotional Intelligence

Dr. Legarreta holds a B.A. in Psychology with a minor in Spanish from The University of Texas at Austin, a M.A. in Counseling from St. Edwards University, and a Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision from St. Mary's University, where she is a member of the Chi Sigma Iota Honors Society. She comes to ACE with a background in child development, child and adolescent counseling, and international diplomacy..

Tabitha Molett, M.Ed.

Director of Middle School, ODIM Facilitator

Ms. Molett completed her undergraduate work at the University of Arizona and University of Texas at Dallas. She graduated with a B.A. from the school of Humanities and continued her education at Southern Methodist University, graduating with Honors and obtaining a M.Ed., Master Reading Teacher Certification, and a Gifted and Talented Endorsement. With over thirteen years of experience in the classroom and in program development, Ms. Molett has experience writing curriculum as well as piloting innovative programs that target the nature and needs of gifted learners. She is a co-creator of the signature ACE Academy program ODIM (Open Door Interdisciplinary Modules), a course designed for students to explore their passions in greater depth and involve them the process of problem solving. Recently she presented this program at the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented annual conference, with a call to action for other educators to incorporate more authentic learning experiences, critical thinking, and innovative strategies in their schools. Ms. Molett has been actively involved in Destination Imagination, No Place For Hate, ACE Innovation, and various other academic and creative thinking organizations. Her students can be found holding Socratic discussions, having philosophical debates about literary themes, and laughing – a lot! When she's not working, she enjoys traveling, writing, and keeping up with the extraordinary accomplishments of her students.

Robert Moncrieff

Spanish, Filmmaking, Claymation

Robert Moncrieff is excited to be returning for his third year at ACE. After two greatly enjoyable years of working primarily in the primary classrooms, he is diversifying to the upstairs, teaching elective classes to the elementary, middle school, and high school in filmmaking and claymation. He will also be teaching primary Spanish. In his free time, he enjoys watching and making films, going to see plays, and discovering new Vietnamese restaurants.


Pam Nicholas

Pam Nicholas

Elementary Language Arts, Math, Global Languages

Happily teaching at ACE since 2011, Mrs. Nicholas is once again, honored and excited to have the opportunity to facilitate ACE's lower elementary group in their exploration of language arts, math, history, and global languages. Mrs. Nicholas graduated Cum Laude from the University of Arizona with a degree in Media Arts. After working in video production and web design, she realized that her true passion lies in having a career that helps spark a sense of wonder and self-confidence in children as they make important connections about themselves and the world around them. Since becoming a teacher, she has received a Master's in Education with an emphasis in Curriculum and Instruction. Mrs. Nicholas feels very strongly that every student she works with is a new opportunity for her to continue to learn and grow as an educator. She has worked with children for over a decade, teaching multiple subject areas in kindergarten through sixth grade. Mrs. Nicholas has a son who attends ACE Academy.


Dr. Shane Pitsch

Dr. Shane Pitsch

Middle/High School Band

Dr. Shane Pitsch holds a degree of Doctor of Musical Arts in Trumpet Performance and Literature from The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He also holds a Master’s degree in Trumpet Performance from Eastern Illinois University and a Bachelor’s degree in Trumpet Performance (jazz concentration) from The University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Pitsch has performed with artists such as Willie Nelson, Sam Moore (Sam and Dave), The Drifters, The Shirelles, Maria Schneider, Wayne Shorter, Rufus Reid, Steve Turre, Bobby Shew, Marvin Stamm, Hugh Fraser, Johnny Bush, Spoon, and the Walkmen. Dr. Pitsch currently teaches lessons at several schools in the Austin area and is a co-founder of the Austin Jazz Project, a summer jazz improvisation workshop for middle school and high school aged students. He is the founder and leader of the Smokestack Horns, a horn section for hire that performs regularly with several area bands, including K Phillips and the Concho Pearls, Nakia, Akina Adderley & The Vintage Playboys, The Wheeler Brothers and more. In 2013, Dr. Pitsch released his debut cd with his own band, Shane Pitsch & The Smokestack Revue. His teachers have included Ray Crisara, Ray Sasaki, Ronald Romm (Canadian Brass), Dr. Michael Ewald, Dr. Parker Melvin, Dr. Thomas Wirtel, Henry Butler, Rick Lawn, Jeff Hellmer, Dr. Zack Browning, Mark Maegdlin, Rick Horn, and Lee (Sparky) Thomason.

Alex Ritzenberg, M.Ed.

Alex Ritzenberg

Language Arts, Social Studies, Art

Alex Ritzenberg teaches ELA, social studies and art at the middle elementary level. She earned her Masters degree in Art Education from the University of Texas at Austin in 2011 and worked simultaneously for three years as the Artist Educator at Mexic-Arte Museum. Her graduate research focused on art education television programming.

Prior to her work in museum education and classroom teaching, she received her BA in Art History from the College of William & Mary. In addition to teaching, she is a working artist in the community, specializing in large-scale oil painting, pastel and charcoal drawing


Dr. Frank Ruzicka

Physics, Math, Science



Dr. Mo Yazdi

Head of Math Department, Science, Math Instructor

Mo Yazdi, MS; PhD, is a former postdoctoral student and research associate scientist at UT/Austin, and has taught math, biology, physics, medical sciences, molecular biology/biotechnology and chemistry for more than 25 years. Following college years spent in three different countries, Dr. Yazdi has taught medical students at The Imperial Medical Center of Iran in Tehran, and at various schools in Austin, Texas, including work with students of different ages, talents, and strengths at Rawson-Saunders School, the gifted and talented population at Summer Wonders, and with the GATE program at Hill Country School of Austin. Dr. Yazdi has been trained in Gifted and Talented Education in Region XIII Texas education. He has enjoyed taking his students on a variety of field trips, such as visits to the Nanotechnology Institute, virus-battery pioneer Professor Angela Belcher’s lab at MIT, and the medical school at Harvard University.


Wyatt Constantine

Wyatt Constantine

Fencing Instructor and Coach

Mr. Constantine is a graduate of Texas State University with a BA in International Studies and a minor in German, with his undergraduate honors thesis in 19th century French Gastronomy. He began fencing his freshman year at Texas State under John Moreau and quickly began competing locally at tournaments and in the Southwest Intercollegiate Fencing Association, where the team earned multiple first-place finishes. Within a semester he assumed presidency of the organization and served as coach, tournament administrator, and armorer, integrating all the aspects of running a competitive team and club. He continued to compete regionally, nationally, and internationally, and in his senior year focused on coaching and learning how to work with individuals of different ages, styles, and levels of ability. In addition to fencing, Mr. Constantine has spent many years working in restaurant kitchens; he enjoys cooking and playing classical double bass.


Coach Bob McLucas

Coach Bob

Physical Education

Owner and Director of Stretch-N-Grow of Central Texas, Coach Bob uses games and exercises to teach sportsmanship and skills while students learn about the body, proper alignment, and nutrition.