Our K-8 Staff. 

Staff Profiles

K8T_0038_reduced-shalisaShalisa Arnold has worked as a teacher, principal, and director for over 20 years to positively impact children in Arizona’s charter school system.  Shalisa has a Bachelor of Arts in Education from Arizona State University and a Master of Education in Educational Leadership from Northern Arizona University. She holds a current Standard Professional K-8 Arizona Teaching Certificate as well as a current Standard Professional Principal PreK-12 Arizona certificate.

As the Principal, Shalisa is excited to bring her classroom, leadership, and organizational experience to the new Heritage Academy Gateway K-8 campus and add to the successful traditions and reputation that Heritage Academy enjoys.

Click on the link below to read a message from Ms. Arnold.

Meet Ms. Arnold

Assistant-Principal-Jessilee-StaggieMy name is Jessilee Staggie, and I am thrilled to be the Assistant Principal of Heritage Academy Gateway K-8! I started my education with a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Brigham Young University – Idaho. I quickly fell in love with learning and the field of education while working with students who had disabilities at the college level. This love increased as I found myself teaching kindergarten, and I saw firsthand students developing a love of learning. Desiring to make a larger impact than one classroom of students each year, I obtained my master’s degree in Educational Leadership from Western Governors University and have been working in administration since. I am excited to work alongside the best of the best to create an environment of positivity and learning that will change the lives of many scholars each year.

Registrar-Paris-Clark-1-scaledMy name is Paris Clark, and I have the privilege of assisting students and families as the Registrar. I hold a Bachelors of Arts in Business Administration and a Masters of Science in Organizational Psychology – both of my degrees are from Vanguard University in Southern California. I have been a teacher aide at a preschool, substituted at the elementary and junior high level, and most recently I have worked in administration at several universities. I am a wife and mom of three children, and believe it or not, four little people call me Gigi. I have been at Heritage Academy for about a year, and I absolutely love everything about it. When I’m not at work, I enjoy reading, putting together jigsaw puzzles, riding bikes, playing board games, and hanging out with my family. I am extremely excited to be working at the new school!

Heather-WintersMy name is Heather Winters, and I have the opportunity to serve the families and students of Heritage Academy as the Receptionist. I have been a teacher aide for kindergarten and first grade for the past four years. Prior to this I ran my own daycare for over 10 years.  I am a wife of 16 years and a mom of 3 beautiful children who keep me very busy. When I am not working I enjoy the mountains, working out, puzzles, crafts, and being with my little family. I am very excited to work at the new school, and I look forward to getting to know the amazing scholars and parents at Heritage Academy.

Veronica-ChuggI am Veronica Chugg, and I am excited to serve Heritage Heroes and their families in the front office. I count it as one of my best life experiences working at Heritage Academy K-8 in its first year of school as a playground worker. We are truly building heroes, and our future is in capable, courageous hands. I have a bachelor’s degree in communication. I dearly love reading and writing. My husband and I have been married for 16 years. We have two children and one labrador. My favorite things include dogs, the beach, Payson, tacos, thrifting and Jane Austen. I am looking forward to getting to know our families when I see you in the office.

K-Rose-Arellano-1My name is Rose Arellano, and I am so excited to be teaching kindergarten at Heritage Academy this year! I am looking forward to seeing my scholars grow and experience all of those wonderful AHA moments. We are going to have an amazing year! I was raised in the cold state of Utah and moved to Arizona to attend college. I fell in love with everything about Arizona. My hubby and I have been married for 23 years and have two amazing boys, two dogs, and a snake……yikes!. I absolutely love the outdoors, crafting, and spending time with my family and friends. Can you guess what my favorite flower is? 

I have a bachelor’s degree in Accounting and a Master’s in Early Childhood Education. This is my 10th year teaching and my first year at Heritage Academy…my new home! Teaching is MY JAM! I can’t wait to see what we all accomplish this year!

My name is Stephanie Johnson, and I am so excited to teach Kindergarten at Heritage Academy this year! I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Early Childhood Education and Early Childhood Special Education. It is hard to believe this will already be my 12th year in education. I spent my first 10 years teaching in Texas before moving out to Arizona a year ago. Prior to coming to Heritage Academy, I taught PreK, PreK Special Education, Kindergarten and served as a PreK Intervention Specialist. I am a huge Dallas Cowboys fan, and I love being active and enjoying the outdoors with my family. We do not have any kids yet, but we do have a very large Anatolian Shepherd named Bruce that thinks he is a giant baby! Working with young learners is truly my passion, and I am so excited to grow and learn with my students each day!

K-Heather-StutsmanMy name is Heather Stutsman, and I am from colorful Colorado. I love to go back and visit whenever I can! I moved out to Arizona for college and met my husband. We have an adorable one year old daughter, Tegan, and a crazy dog, Peanut. We love watching sports, especially the Golden State Warriors and KU basketball. I graduated from GCU with my degree in elementary education, and this is my third year teaching kindergarten. I love teaching kinder bugs and getting them ready and excited for the rest of their educational journey! I cannot wait to see how much your kiddo grows this year!

K-Tracy-Whittaker-scaledHello, my name is Tracy Whittaker, and I have the amazing honor of teaching kindergarten. I have taught kindergarten through third grade throughout my career, and kindergarten is my absolute favorite! I am delighted to be part of this new adventure at Heritage Academy. I am looking forward to meeting all of our new students and families. When I am not at school, you will find me spending time with my family. We love to travel, hike, kayak, and spend time at the beach!

1-Jackie-AlexanderI am Mrs. Jackie Alexander. I am originally from North Carolina. I lived twelve years in California before moving to Arizona nine years ago. I attended North Carolina A&T State University, where I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education with a minor in Psychology. I have happily dedicated twenty-six years to teaching. When I am not teaching, I enjoy watching movies, curling up with a good book, painting, and spending time with my loving family, which includes my husband and three children. My educational philosophy is that I firmly believe to be an effective teacher you must have high expectations, provide a classroom that not only nurtures intellectual development but also fosters self-confidence, pride, strong character, and a love of learning. I am thrilled to be a part of the Heritage Academy family as a first grade teacher. I look forward to what the school year holds and helping my young Heroes have a successful year in first grade.

Shauna-DjibretHi! I’m Shauna Djibret. I earned my bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education in 2006 from ASU. I was so happy to get my first teaching job, and since then I have taught for 13 years in kindergarten through 2nd grade classrooms; got my master’s degree and taught for three years in special education; and then completed one year as dean of students. I have loved and learned so much in every position I have had in education, and I am so excited to be going back to the classroom to teach first grade! Besides work, I love to spend time with my family, play board games, listen to music, and do crafts. This year is going to be wonderful, and I look forward to all the amazing things it will bring.

1-Staci-GaddieI am excited to be teaching first grade at Heritage Academy Elementary at Gateway. This will be my eleventh year teaching elementary students. In the past nine years, I split my time between the computer lab and first grade. I am an Arizona native, and I love our great state of Arizona! Prior to moving to San Tan Valley in 2014, I spent all of my life living in Mesa, Arizona. I have three daughters ages 22, 21, and 18. I am a Disneyland fanatic and cannot wait until my next trip to the “Happiest Place on Earth.” When I am not in the classroom my favorite hobbies include traveling, reading, crafting, and spending time with my family. I am excited about teaching and making memories with my new class of heroes this year!

My name is Stacy Horlacher, and I am so thrilled to be teaching first grade at Heritage Academy. I just completed my 20th year of teaching with 8 of those years being in first grade. I was born and raised in Globe, AZ and graduated with my Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education from ASU. My husband and I have two children. Our daughter Abigail is 17 and our son Nash is almost 16. We love Maui, Hawaii and enjoy vacationing there as often as we can. Teaching is my passion, and I am so excited to watch my scholars learn and grow. I feel so lucky to be a part of this amazing school!

2-Emily-BoxleyMy name is Emily Boxley, and I am a second grade teacher at Heritage Academy Gateway K-8.  This will be my 11th year teaching and 8th year in second grade. I received my Bachelor’s of Science in Health as well as my General Education and Special Education Certification from State University of New York College at Brockport.  After graduation and student teaching, I moved to sunny Arizona for the amazing weather and opportunity.  Once there, I met my husband and we have now been married for 5 years with a sweet and rambunctious 3 year old.  I am beyond excited for what we are going to build together at Heritage!  Let’s make our dream school a reality together!

Hey, y’all! My name is Sarah Buys, and I am excited to be teaching 2nd grade at Heritage Academy Gateway K-8. I am a proud Texan who was an Idaho transplant for a few years while I earned my Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education with a minor in teaching English as a second language. The Idaho cold drove me to Arizona for the sunshine and beautiful sunsets! You will often find me at the movies, my favorite place! I love dogs, Dr. Pepper, crafting, and spending time with my family. I am so excited to learn alongside the scholars and participate in Heritage’s rich tradition and culture. It will be a fantastic year.

2-Ashlee-GibsonHello! My name is Ashlee Gibson. I am an Alumni of Heritage Academy, class of 2005, and am excited to become a Heritage Hero once again!  I began my teaching career in Kindergarten and then found my home in second grade, where I have been for the past 9 years. I have my BA in Early Childhood Education and my  Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction. I love teaching and connecting with my students and their families. When I am not at school I am spending time with my husband, our 6 year old daughter, Henley, and our dogs, Archer and Bauer. We are total homebodies but enjoy going on family hikes, spending time at Disneyland, and I definitely love solo trips to Target. I am excited for this new adventure and to be a part of the Heritage family.

2-Krissy-PreshawMy name is Krissi Preshaw, and I am a 2nd grade teacher. I am originally from Washington State, but have been here in Arizona for 10 years now, and we love it! My husband and I have a 14-year-old son and an 8-year-old daughter, as well as 2 dogs, Lexi and Rusty. I absolutely love to hike, camp, swim in my pool, and do anything outdoors! I also enjoy reading, cheering my kids on at wrestling and Jiu-jitsu, and simply hanging with my family. I have my bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education, a minor in Special Education, and a minor in Psychology. This will be my 4th year teaching 2nd grade, and I feel so blessed to be a part of this amazing school.

3-Leslie-Abney-scaledMy name is Leslie Abney, and this will be my 13th year teaching. I taught second grade for five years and have been in third grade for the last seven. Before that, I stayed home raising my four children. In my free time, I find joy in spending time with family, being involved in my church, and shopping for the latest, greatest bargain. I am obsessed with children’s literature, pilates, and all things decorating. As a teacher, I love to help children find joy in reading and learning. I believe it is important to instill in students diligence, hard work, neatness, and respect for others and their country. I am absolutely thrilled to be a part of the new Heritage Academy Gateway K-8 teaching third grade!

Hello! My name is Heather Briggs, and I am excited to be teaching 3rd grade at Heritage Academy. I grew up in Queen Creek, Arizona and love the desert. I played volleyball for Southern Virginia University, where I met my husband. We lived back east for a few years while he attended law school, and I completed my bachelors degree in elementary education from Western Governors University. This will be my fourth year teaching.  My husband and I have four children and a giant mastiff named Brutus. In my spare time, I love to play volleyball, create art, work on DIY home projects, and spend time with my family!

Hello Heritage families! My name is Linda Chandler, and I am excited to be joining the 3rd grade team! I have been teaching for 13 years – 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade. I love working with children, and I have a passion for helping them grow by meeting each one where they are at. Although I am new to Heritage Elementary, I am a proud Heritage parent. Both of my kids graduated from Heritage Academy Mesa, and they are now attending ASU. When I am not spending time with my family, you’ll  find me at the “no judgment zone“ gym, having adventures in the yard, creating something from nothing in my sewing room, or just swimming with the dogs! I’m excited to be a part of this amazing school, and I look forward to getting to know you and your child.

3-Melissa-Pavlicek-scaledMy name is Melissa Pavlicek, and I will be teaching third grade this next year. I received my Bachelors of Science in Elementary Education from Brigham Young University. Upon graduating, I moved back to my home roots in Queen Creek. I am so eager to be joining Heritage Academy for the opening of their elementary campus. This will be my fifth year teaching third grade. My desire is that each student can become a lifelong scholar and learn to love learning! Curiosity should be pursued until one can be satisfied in having learned something new. I want scholars to leave the third grade with the confidence to know that hard work, problem solving, and a positive attitude can take them anywhere they want to go! Outside of the classroom, I love spending time with family and friends, traveling, listening to music, seeing the latest movies, and reading a good book.

GreerHello, my name is Kelly Greer, and I will be teaching fourth grade. I was born and raised in Arizona, growing up in the Tucson area. My family and I relocated to the Queen Creek area about 19 years ago. I have been married for 23 years, and I have 2 daughters. I have been an educator for 15 years and spent 10 of those years teaching 4th grade. Recently, I have been focusing on furthering my knowledge of Dyslexia as well as working with students who have diagnosed reading difficulties. In my spare time, I enjoy traveling and spending time with my husband and daughters. I am thrilled to be a part of the new Heritage Academy Gateway K-8 school, and I am looking forward to an exceptional year.

4-Lori-ManhaMy name is Mrs. Manha, and I am so fortunate to have been able to teach at Heritage Academy for the past three years.  I love this school, our scholars, and I am thrilled with this new adventure of 4th grade!!  I am also a Heritage parent!  Both of my sons graduated from Heritage, and my daughter is currently in 11th grade.   I am originally from Louisiana, but  I have lived in Arizona for most of my life, having moved here in 1980.  I graduated from ASU with a BS in Education.  I have taught all ages from the littles on up! I have been married for 28 years to my college sweetheart.   When I am not teaching I am probably reading, watching soccer, or going to Disneyland!!  Looking forward to a great year!

4-Elizabeth-RyanMy name is Mrs. Ryan, and I am excited to teach 4th grade at Heritage Academy! There is something special about getting to work at a new school right from the beginning. I have been a teacher for over twelve years and have taught many grades, but 4th grade has always been one of my favorites.

I was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, so green chile and spicy foods are a necessity. I have lived in Arizona (on & off) since high school. I graduated from the University of Arizona and Arizona State University. Even though I went to both schools, I am a Wildcat at heart.

I have been blessed with a patient husband, Steve, and two amazing children: Tabitha and Ace. I cannot wait to cheer them on during their school journey at Heritage Academy and see the school through their curious eyes.

When I am not teaching, I like to visit new restaurants, watch movies, read, hang out with family and friends, attend yoga classes, and travel. My husband and I are trying to visit all 50 states and are about halfway to our goal. One of the best things I have ever done was live and teach abroad in South Korea. I cannot wait to go back and visit someday!

LaVinia-VegaHello! My name is LaVinia Vega, and I am excited to begin a new adventure teaching fourth grade at Heritage Academy! I am thrilled to be moving up to fourth grade after teaching third for the past five years. I am happy to grow with Heritage, and I look forward to being part of a positive learning environment. My son will be starting third grade as a Heritage Hero as well. I am from California and graduated from San Diego State University with a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Arts and Sciences Liberal Studies. My husband, myself, and our children moved to Arizona in 2007 where I began my teaching career. We enjoy spending family time together, eating at different restaurants, and traveling. I can’t wait to explore this new journey with my scholars!

5-Rachelle-AllenMy name is Rachelle Allen, and I am very excited to be one of the fifth grade teachers for the new Heritage Academy Gateway K-8. I received my bachelor’s degree in Marriage and Family Studies from BYU Idaho. After receiving my bachelor’s degree, I went on to get my Master of Education at GCU. I enjoy learning, and I love sharing the knowledge I gain with others. It is wonderful seeing the moment on a child’s face when they learn a new idea or concept that they have been struggling to understand. 

I originally came from Idaho, but I call Arizona my home. I am the mother of eight children and the grandma of one. I have been teaching for four years. I love date nights with my husband, game nights with my family, reading, working out, sleeping in on the weekends, and helping children know how great they can become!

5-Kellie-Bowers_smallMy name is Mrs. Bowers, and I grew up in Southern California, but have been living in the Phoenix area since 2013.  After graduating with my BA in Psychology with a minor in American History from the University of Southern California, I was accepted to the Teach for America program. I spent the first two years in the valley teaching fifth and sixth grades while completing my master’s in Elementary Education from Arizona State University.  In 2015, I moved to Gilbert with my husband, Stephen, and have spent the last six years teaching elementary school at two different charter networks in the Gilbert area.  I have two young children, Lily (who will start Kindergarten at Heritage in the fall), and Luke(2).  I am so excited to be a part of the founding team at Heritage Academy Gateway K-8 where I look forward to upholding the values Heritage has established for the upper grades and creating a positive culture and love of learning for my fifth graders.

Katie-CardewMy name is Katie Cardew and I am thrilled to be part of the Heritage Academy family. I have taught fifth grade for thirteen years and am excited to be part of the fifth grade team. I grew up in Minnesota, but Arizona has been my home since 2000. I attended Arizona State University, where I received my Bachelor of Elementary Education degree and then went on to obtain my Master’s of Curriculum and Instruction at Grand Canyon University. I have been married for fifteen wonderful years and we have an amazing son who is in middle school in the Mesa School District. We also have two dogs and a parakeet. As a family, we love to camp and travel. One of my favorite things to do is to go to the movies and try out new restaurants! As a teacher, my goal is to support the needs of my students and to guide them in their success as a student. Confidence is an important element in learning and my hope is for all of my students to feel confident in their abilities each day they leave our classroom. I am inspired daily by my students and strive to be a positive, respectful, and responsible role-model for them. I look forward to meeting my new fifth graders this year and to begin a year full of memorable
learning experiences!

379097F5-F2B8-4F91-844C-890FEF5B7344-1Hello, my name is Mrs.Tasha McMorrow. I have been a teacher for over eight years. I received my Bachelor of Science Degree in Elementary Education with a minor in Art from the College of Saint Scholastica in Duluth, MN. I am currently working toward my Master’s Degree in Educational Technology. I have lived in Minnesota all my life and recently made the move to Arizona to be closer to family who have all moved out of the snow to the sunshine. My husband, Tommy, and I enjoy traveling and spending time with family. I am a proud dog mom to our Mini Goldendoodle named Bubba. I love all things Disney and spend many of my vacations at Disneyland or Disney World. Teaching has always been a passion of mine, and I am so excited to be a member of the Heritage Academy community. I look forward to helping our scholars be heroes and learn together every day.

K-5-Reading-Specialist-Rosalyn-Pieczynski-1-scaledI am Rosalyn Pieczynski and will be the Reading Specialist. I have been in education for over 13 years and hold a Master’s Degree with a Reading Specialist Endorsement. I am an Executive Trainer with Spalding and have seen the incredible success gained through this program, both professionally and personally. I am passionate about helping scholars become confident readers and instilling a love for literature. I have 4 children, ranging from 6th grade to a freshman in college, GO ASU! When not at school; I love traveling with my family, playing games, or reading by the pool.

Janelle-EmoryMy name is Janelle Emory, and I am the Gifted and Talented Education teacher at Heritage Academy Gateway K-8. In addition to GATE, I will also be providing STEAM enrichment for all our K-5 scholars! This is formally my 9th year in education, but I have spent many more years in education as a substitute, a preschool teacher, and even the child of two educators. I have a Master’s in Elementary Education and a Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction, both from NAU! Currently, I am working towards a Gifted Education endorsement from ASU.  I have a love of learning and a passion for inquiry, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to share those with our scholars!

My name is Heather Buck, and I have the privilege of being the librarian at Heritage Gateway Academy. I am an Arizona native with 26 years of teaching experience. I earned my Bachelor’s of Arts degree in psychology and elementary education from Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA. I earned my master’s degree in early childhood education from the University of Phoenix. One of my proudest accomplishments is becoming a National Board Certified Teacher in 2010 and again in 2020. I am married and have two amazing children, one of which attends Heritage. In my spare time, I love to travel and spend time with my family. I am looking forward to joining the wonderful staff at Heritage!

K-5-Music-Megan-RodriguezI am Megan Rodriguez, and I am excited to be the K-5 music teacher at Heritage Academy Gateway. I have been an elementary music teacher for ten years. Elementary music is my passion, and I love to create engaging, fast-paced, and fun music lessons that allow all students to engage and explore music. I have a Bachelor of Music Education Degree from Baldwin-Wallace College and a Master of Music Degree from ASU. I have completed my Kodaly level I, II, and III training and Orff level I which have heavily influenced my teaching. I play French horn in the Chandler Symphony, and I enjoy traveling, cheering for the Green Bay Packers, and spending time with my husband and three daughters. 

K-5-Physical-Education-Wendi-CancholaMy name is Wendi Canchola! I was born and raised in Gillette, Wyoming. I played basketball and golf from high school into college. I have a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education and a master’s degree in Physical Education from Arizona State University.  I taught first grade for seven years, and I have taught elementary physical education for five years. I love to hike, travel, read, golf, hang out with my husband, and work out in my spare time. I am so excited to be a part of Heritage Academy! I look forward to teaching physical education and helping my scholars succeed in and out of the classroom.

4-Vanessa-MotroniMy name is Vanessa Motroni, and I am honored to be teaching computer literacy at Heritage Academy Gateway this year! This will be my sixth year teaching. I graduated from Northern Arizona University with a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary and Special Education. Teaching is my passion and what I was born to do! I am an Arizona native and love being able to call this incredible state my home. When I am not in the classroom, my hobbies include spending time with my family, trying new restaurants, reading, and shopping at Target. I am so excited for the new traditions and memories that we will make together this year!

My name is Rachel Bennett, and I will be teaching K-5 ESS this year. I graduated from Brigham Young University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education with an emphasis in mild/moderate disabilities. I am originally from North Salt Lake, Utah. I taught in Alpine School District in Utah County for five years and have lived and taught in Arizona for the last four years. In my spare time I love reading, mountain biking, boating, playing games, or spending time with family and friends. I am so excited to be joining the Heritage team for my 10th year of teaching and can’t wait to meet the scholars and families I will be working with this year.

HollidayI am so excited to join the team at Heritage! I have been an educator for 30 years. I am originally from Nevada. I received my Bachelor’s of Science in Elementary and Special Education from the University of Nevada, Reno. After graduating, I spent 26 years teaching in California, prior to moving to Arizona. While in California, I received my Master’s of Science in Reading from California Baptist University. I have taught special education grades K-12, both in resource and self-contained. I have two children who are grown and successful in their own lives. My daughter is an equine veterinarian in Central California, and my son is currently pursuing his Master’s Degree in psychology and criminal justice. When I am not teaching, I love spending time with my horses, dogs and family.

KearneyHello!  My name is Mrs. Aschenbrenner, and I am thrilled to join Heritage Academy as a Latin teacher for the Junior High.  I hail from snowy Michigan, where I earned my BA in English and History from Hillsdale College in 2016 before moving to Steubenville, OH where I earned my MA in theology in 2019.  I came to Arizona in 2019 where I taught 3rd grade for three years, then embraced the opportunity to do something totally different – teaching middle school Latin!  

I love sharing the why with my students, helping them discover the value and beauty of what we’re pursuing together.   I think this passion and dedication to the why will serve my students well as we study what is often considered a “dead language” but is in fact a key to understanding the Western/Judeo-Christian tradition that formed the Founding Fathers and shaped early America.  Through studying this ancient language, we will become deeply connected with our Western heritage, with the great figures whom the Founding Fathers strove to emulate, and ultimately with our own identities as citizens of modern-day America.


Ms. Bellgardt first earned a Bachelors degree in English and a Masters degree in Public Administration, and worked for the Arizona Legislature. While her children were young, she worked from home with the first company to create digital scrapbooks, and then earned a Masters degree in Education. She has taught English since 2008, and Yearbook since 2015.Ms. Bellgardt joined Heritage Academy in 2019 and has come full-circle, combining her love of teaching with her appreciation for our nation’s government. She is an avid reader of historical novels, and has compiled photo histories of her family’s immigration to the United States. She is currently editing her 93 year-old uncle’s memoirs into a historical non-fiction novel.

Angelique-Bodine-JH-Choir-and-DramaAs a Heritage alumnus, I am so excited to be teaching at Heritage Academy for the first time this year. I will be teaching middle school choir and drama. I graduated with a master’s degree in Music Education with a choral emphasis in 2020, but have been in education and loving it for over 6 years teaching private voice, piano, flute, and guitar lessons to all ages. I have directed community choirs for the past 3 years, have led children’s music groups on and off over the past 4 years, and taught choir in the public schools for the past year.

I love to create and have written pop music, theater music, and enjoy writing any chance I get. Most recently, I wrote and performed music for a local theater production for Tempe Arts in the Parks initiative. I also love to perform and have been in many local choirs, performed in local theater productions, and performed as a solo artist in local venues. I am so excited to teach students to be independent musicians, actors, and artists.

Aside from being an artist and teacher, my family is my life. I am happily married with 4 children in elementary school.

Jesse-Brown-profileMy name is Jesse Brown and this will be my 15th year teaching Physical Education. My first 5 years were as the K-8 PE teacher at San Tan Elementary and the last 9 years at Sossaman Middle School in the Higley Unified School District.  During my time at HUSD I had the privilege to start the district’s first middle school Unified sports program in 2016 for special needs students, I earned the Teacher of the Year award in 2017, and the past school year was one of the first teachers to start the Higley Virtual Academy teaching Health Opportunities through Physical Education at the high school level.   I graduated from ASU with my bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education with a specialization in K-12 Physical Education in 2007. On top of teaching P.E. I have coached basketball, football, and track at both the high school and middle school levels.  During my time as a basketball coach at SMS my teams have finished in the top 4 multiple times in a very competitive East Valley Conference.  As a track coach my hurdlers placed in the top 2 each and every year.  

My wife and I have four children, Jackson, Callie, Mason, and Miller. We love our home town teams and are big fans of the AZ Cardinals, Suns, Sun Devils, and D-Backs! I grew up with lots of my family working in sports! My grandfather was an NCAA basketball official, college baseball coach, ESPN commentator, and sports talk radio host in Denver. My uncle was an assistant coach for many different NFL and D-1 college football teams and is currently a coach for Colorado University.  My father is and has been a high school football and track coach for over 25 years in AZ. When not teaching or coaching, I enjoy spending time with all of them, watching a sporting event (especially ones involving our Heritage Heroes and my own children!), hiking, mountain biking, participating in a good mud run, and of course playing all the sports!

image_123650291-1Mrs. Burgess began her art teaching career at age 15 as a private studio instructor. She earned her BA in Art Education (K-12) from Brigham Young University and has taught artists of all ages in a variety of settings. Mrs. Burgess grew up near Seattle and has enjoyed living in the Arizona sun for the past few years. Her favorite artist is Frida Kahlo, and she loves drawing inspiration from the world around her. Mrs. Burgess enjoys using all mediums but has a soft spot for charcoal drawing and oil painting. She is excited to join Heritage Academy and to create and explore with the Heritage Scholars!

Teagan-Condie-2My name is Coach Condie. I was born in Rochester, New York. I started swimming competitively at the early age of 4. At the age of 10, I joined a club team in Maryland and began swimming year-round. During this time, I participated in Junior Olympics, Metro Honors (Watkins Mill HS), and helped lead my high school swim team (Mountain View HS) to the State Championships in both individual and relay events . After graduating from high school, I was offered scholarships to swim for several Universities. More recently, I have run several successful swim clinics out of my house. I have a real passion for swimming and helping others succeed. When I am not working with the swim team, I spend most of my time with my husband of 20 years and my three amazing children. I am very excited about my role at Heritage Academy and look forward to helping our scholars reach their full potential both in and out of the pool.


 I have been dancing as a performer and competitor for most of my life- but instead of pursuing a dance career, I originally attended the University of Arizona for biomedical engineering. It wasn’t until after college that I  became a professional ballroom dance instructor and competitor in 2014 and I realized that my calling is to help others find confidence and strength in themselves.

I was professionally trained and certified by the only 12-time undefeated US Rhythm Dance Champions, who are some of the most sought after coaches and judges in the ballroom industry. I currently hold 3 professional teaching certifications to teach beginner, bronze, and silver dancers in 12 styles of American dancing. I continue to compete nationally and train with my partner; we just began dancing together in 2019 but have already received a first place title in Rhythm Multi-Dance from the New England Open. When not competing, I absolutely love social dancing whenever possible!

I am thrilled to share the joy of partner dancing to the Heritage scholars by encouraging them to be confident, empowered dancers

Email: elizabeth.davi@heritageacademyaz.com


My name is Rachel Ekstrom, and this is my first year at Heritage. I’ve been teaching music for 9 years and am in my 4th year in a classroom setting. I started playing violin and piano around the age of 3 and knew by middle school that I was going to pursue music. I loved sharing my passion for music performance with others, which led me to start teaching. I’m excited to bring my performance experience to our elementary and middle school orchestras and teach music to our kindergarteners. I hold a Bachelor’s in violin performance from Northern Arizona University and a Master’s in violin performance pedagogy from Arizona State University. Some of the groups I’ve had the privilege of performing with are the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra, ASU Symphony Orchestra, and Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra. My favorite performance memories are when I toured around Italy, France, and Spain as a violin soloist with multiple orchestras. When I’m not performing, I’m either watching tv with my cat or checking off travel destinations from my bucket list.
D.-Duke-e1509478198588I love teaching Kenpo at Heritage Academy; I have been a Black Belt since 1996. I absolutely love my Kenpo Instructor (he happens to be my husband) and I speak three languages: French, English and Laotian. I love fitness, hiking and being with my family.

Email:  dduke@heritageacademyaz.com

My name is Nicole Figgins, and I will be teaching Jr. High Resource for the 2023-2024 school year. This is my 11th year teaching! I am dual certified in special education and general education. Prior to this position, I have taught high school at a private Autism school, 2nd grade, K-8th self contained, 3rd grade, 5th grade and K-8th Resource Writing. Truly a little bit of everything! I am married to my high school sweetheart and together we have 5 children, ages 10-19 years old. The youngest of the bunch are my twins, Kael and Kolette, who will be attending Heritage as well. As a family we love to travel. We are all huge American History buffs, so Boston, Chicago, and Washington D.C., are some of our favorite cities to explore. I am so excited for this new journey and to serve my new students and families at Heritage Academy Gateway!


Heather Forcey has 20+ years of experience teaching technology and business education in the east valley. Originally a business administration major in college Mrs. Forcey worked in the accounting field before obtaining a Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction.  Her goal in the classroom is to make the learning process enjoyable and challenging, while motivating scholars to want to learn more.

Mrs. Forcey has four grown children, two accountants, an ICU Nurse and the youngest an elementary teacher.  Originally from Southern California Mrs. Forcey prefers the desert heat of Arizona,not to mention the lighter traffic.  When not teaching you can find her with her 1 year old grandson, or playing Pickelball nearby.

Email: heather.forc@heritageacademyaz.com

Hello, I am David Haller. I was born in Arizona and love to brag about being an Arizona native. I am married with 5 children and 2 grandchildren that are the cutest ever. I received my first degree from ASU in history and ended up starting a career in the construction business with big companies that built new homes. I always wanted to be a teacher, so I got my second degree, a Master’s in Secondary Education from GCU, and moved into teaching 8 years ago.

I am very excited to be joining the Heritage Academy team! I enjoy developing relationships with my students and teaching them in fun and exciting ways. I have been teaching 6th grade for the last seven years and have had amazing growth and development with my classes. With my construction background, I bring real life experiences and applications into the classroom often. Many of my students changed their favorite subject to math after being in my class! I can’t wait to teach math and history this year.

Hayley-Hansen-6th-Science-and-MathHello, my name is Hayley Hansen, and I will be the new 6th grade Science and Math teacher. I graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in STEM Education. I have taught middle school Science the last two years and absolutely love it! My love of science began in my 7th grade Heritage science class. I’m thrilled to be rejoining the Heritage Academy team as a teacher.  In my free time I enjoy hiking, camping, reading, etc. I love being outdoors whenever I can.

Jen-HardingHello, I am Jennifer Harding. I will be teaching 6th grade English Language Arts and History. I graduated from NAU with a degree in Elementary Education. I have worked with students of all ages. Most recently, I have taught middle school history and home economics. I worked for Mesa Public Schools for eleven years and am very excited to be joining the Heritage Academy team. I am passionate about teaching and learning and look forward to sharing that with my students. I love travel, cooking, animals, reading, music, and spending time with my family and friends.

Huston 23/24 Staff PhotoAngela Huston received her Bachelor’s Degree in History with a minor in English from Brigham Young University.  She has taught English in the middle school ages in Utah and Arizona.  As a parent of Heritage scholars, she is passionate about the quality of education provided at Heritage Academy and thrilled to be a part of it.

Email: ahuston@heritageacademyaz.com

Webpage: Mrs. Huston’s Webpage

Brandon-Kiesgen-JH-HS-BandBrandon Kiesgen began his journey into music in the fifth grade playing the Euphonium. Since then, his adventure has been rewarding. He attended the Curry Summer Music Camp at Northern Arizona University for 6 years while participating in his school band programs through high school. In 2003, Brandon was the principal euphonium player for the Arizona All-State Band. From 2002-2004 Brandon performed with The Academy Drum & Bugle Corps during the ensemble’s first years. Brandon received his Bachelor’s degree in Music Education from Arizona State University in 2008 and Master’s degree from Kent State University in 2013. From 2008 to 2022, Brandon instructed high school marching, concert, and jazz bands at Basha and Perry High School in the Chandler Unified School District. Brandon’s performance experience consists of prior membership with the Salt River Brass Band of Arizona from 2007-2013 and various community and solo performances. Brandon continues to fulfill his lifelong passion for music by sharing the experience with his scholars at Heritage Academy. Brandon enjoys spending his precious spare time with his loving wife Carrie and three children, Grayson, Liam, and Elizabeth.

Profile-PicMy name is Kim Little, and I love math! I have a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics Education with a minor in PE/Coaching from Brigham Young University. I am excited to be back in the classroom after spending some time at home with my 4 kids and tutoring individual students in every subject from 3rd grade math to Pre-Calculus. Outside of the classroom, I love to participate in physical activity, spend time in the sunshine, and spend time with my husband and children.

Email: kimberly.litt@heritageacademyaz.com

Webpage: Mrs. Little’s Webpage

8th grade Science is the place to be! I am so excited to start a new chapter here at Heritage. I am Andraya Lyons. I was born and raised in Tucson, and about ten years ago my family moved to Queen Creek! I earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona in Elementary Education, GO CATS! I hold a master’s degree in Higher Education Administration from United States University. I love to learn by exploring how the world works and why. I have taught a variety of ages and subjects but always seem to find my way back to junior high.  I look forward to this year and the adventure we will go on together.

meffanI grew up in a small town in Ohio and am new to Arizona! I can still remember horses and buggies traveling down main street when I was a child. I began my teaching career in 2013 after graduating with a dual certification in both Science and Language Arts. Both of my parents were teachers and my twin sister is currently working as an optometrist.  I love the energy and enthusiasm scholars bring to the classroom and can’t wait to start a brand new year in a brand new state! 

Email: allen.meff@heritageacademyaz.com

Tonya-Nelson-8th-Grade-HistoryWelcome to 8th grade US History! I am so excited to experience the adventure of this year together! I am Tonya Nelson. I was born in Wyoming and have lived in Utah, Michigan, and Idaho. My family moved to Arizona in May 2020 and we love the sunshine! I earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Utah State University with an emphasis in Mathematics. In 2022, I completed a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Western Governors University. I love America and the principles of liberty that form the foundation of America’s constitution. I love to learn the stories of history and learn, over and over again, that good always conquers in the long run! I also thoroughly enjoy teaching and have taught in a variety of settings, including homeschooling my 6 children for many years before joining the Heritage family. It is a joy to work with the amazing scholars at Heritage Academy.

Welcome to General Math and Number Sense! I am confident we will have a fun and successful year together here at Heritage. Having many decades of teaching experiences I have taught at  Mesa Heritage, Heritage Gateway High School and now at Heritage Gateway K – 8. I also taught for Mesa Public Schools teaching at Franklin Northeast, Franklin at Brimhall, Smith Junior High, and Zaharis.

I have earned a B.S. in elementary education, M.Ed. in Educational Leadership from Northern Arizona University, and a M.Ed. in Counseling from Ottawa University. I also hold a middle school endorsement (7th – 9th) and have passed the math Arizona Educator Proficiency Assessment to ensure I am a highly qualified teacher.

I was born and raised in Mesa, Arizona. I have been married to my beautiful bride for 31 (ASL teacher at Heritage Gateway HS) and we have four children, our youngest is currently enrolled at Heritage Gateway.

I am excited to start another school year! Yeah! I am thrilled to be part of the Heritage family. I am impressed with how Heritage teachers are able to instill a love of learning and our country’s heritage into the hearts and minds of our most precious treasures (our children). The support of the parents always makes a little sacrifice on my part all worthwhile!

Thanks for entrusting your children to us, and I look forward to educating the young minds of our future leaders

Email: dpassey@heritageacademyaz.com

I’ve worked at Heritage Academy for collectively 10 years as the collaborative pianist for choirs plus a class piano instructor.  I have taught private and group piano lessons for over 25 years and helped perform in the pit for multiple musicals in the Heritage Academy drama department. My passion for music and education is a life-long pursuit. Now that all my children are old enough, I am enjoying finishing my Bachelor’s Degree in Applied Business Management through BYU Idaho. All year long, I treasure going on dates with my husband, hanging out with my kids, and running a summer music camp for one week. My choice to teach is to not only share my passion with these amazing scholars, but to learn from them as well. I am honored to associate with such outstanding youth.

Mr. Shaw holds a master’s degree in Classics from the University of Arizona. He has taught Latin, Greek, and Classics for eight years. A Navy veteran, Mr. Shaw has lived all over the world, which travels have shaped his perspective. He reads in Biblical Hebrew, ancient Greek, and Latin and the Western literary tradition. Mr. Shaw generally prefers spending time at home with family, surrounded by books or in his garage lifting weights.

My name is Andria Timmons, and I will be teaching dance this year. I have always been into the arts in one form or another. Throughout my childhood, I was a competitive figure skater and dancer. Dance became a more prevalent art form for me because of its freedom of self-expression. This led me to pursue dance in college and obtain a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with an emphasis in dance choreography from Arizona State University. I have danced with several companies including Off Center Dance Company with Mesa Arts Center, coached a varsity pom team for years, and have choreographed numerous musical theater productions. I am heading into my 17th year as a teacher, having taught a range of grades from pre-k through high school. Teaching dance is my favorite! When I am not teaching, I enjoy spending time with my family and doing anything artistic. I am excited to join the Heritage Academy team and share my passion for dance with my scholars!

S.WilliamsMy name is Sarah Williams, and this will be my eighth year as an educator. This year, I will be 6th grade ELA at Heritage Academy Gateway K-8. I graduated from NAU in 2016 with my Bachelor’s in Elementary Education. In 2018, I earned my Master’s Degree in Instruction and Curriculum Design. I have quite a full house! I have been married for four years and have three beautiful boys(Liam-4, Hudson-3, and Shawn-1) and two dogs! I have an obsession with Star Wars and Elvis. Come check out my classroom and see for yourself! Since I was in second grade, I knew that teaching was my passion and what I was meant to do. For my dissertation, I wrote pages upon pages about how significant parental involvement is in the classroom. Therefore, I believe that every child has the right to a successful and thriving education with the help and involvement of their team: parents and educators. When we work together, children can excel through life and have a positive and beautiful education. This is going to be a terrific year! I am so excited to meet my new students and build positive relationships with each and every one of them. Each new year brings new opportunities for success. I cannot wait to get started!

To reach Mrs. DeChristina, please call the school office (480-461-4440) or email her: stasi.dech@heritageacademyaz.com

Please join us in welcoming

Janean Bodell

Stephanie Jimenez

ReeAnn Olson

Christina Travis

Please join us in welcoming

Brigette Brown

Leah Enriquez

Renee Granzow

Christy Jarvis

Thank you to our awesome playground staff!

Kylie Eaton

Tamara Mowers

Kristin Smith

Yvonne VanBoxtel