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Organizational Leadership

Organizational Leadership

Executive Leadership Team

Ana L.
Martinez

Lead Executive Officer

Ana L. Martinez

Ana L. Martinez

Lead Executive Officer

Ana Martinez launched her career in education in the same district she attended the majority of her K-12 career, the Los Angeles Unified School District. She is a Teach For America alumni corps member who began teaching in a large comprehensive middle school. She also served as a Dean of Students at another LAUSD middle school, where she embarked on turnaround work and grew her background with culture and systems change at her school.

In 2009, Ana transitioned to Aspire Public Schools where she continued her work as a Dean of Students and then as the Assistant Principal in their Huntington Park middle school. Her most impactful and humbling role was that of a founding Principal in South Los Angeles where she opened up an Aspire school under LAUSD's Public School Choice Model. She led that school for eight years before becoming the Chief of Staff to the Chief Schools Officer and focusing on strengthening home office communication with schools, as well as the professional development offerings for leaders.

Most recently, she served as the Chief Academic Officer and Superintendent at a charter management organization serving a large rural community in the Central Valley of California. 

She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara, a master’s in education from Loyola Marymount University, and is also a Pahara fellow.

 

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Elijah
Sugay

Chief Business Officer

Elijah Sugay

Elijah Sugay

Chief Business Officer

Elijah Sugay grew up in the San Fernando Valley near our Valor Academy schools and was the first employee hired at Valor Academy Middle School (VAMS). Elijah became the Founding Director of Finance and Operations for VAMS and helped the school launch and grow into the successful institution it is today. 

After serving at VAMS for four years, Elijah became Senior Director of Operations for wý and then Vice President of Facilities and Finance for Bright Star, where he oversaw facilities and finance for all 9 Bright Star schools and helped build permanent campuses for Valor Academy Middle School, Valor Academy High School, and Stella Middle Charter Academy.

As Chief Business Officer, Elijah leads all facilities projects for wý, as well as Bright Star’s fiscal health. He supports school leaders to develop sustainable budgets that meet their schools’ highest needs, priorities, and visions for how they want to achieve our mission on behalf of the students we serve.

Elijah holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from UCLA.

 

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Kaitlin
Foe

Chief of Staff

Kaitlin Foe

Kaitlin Foe

Chief of Staff

Kaitlin Foe has served wý since 2016, first as Director of School Development and Strategic Initiatives and then as Vice President of Strategy. As Chief of Staff, Kaitlin oversees numerous Bright Star functions, including marketing and communications, educational compliance, fundraising, and organizational strategy.

Kaitlin started her career as an elementary school teacher for the East Baton Rouge Parish School System in Louisiana with Teach For America. After her time in the classroom, she served at both City Year, Louisiana and later as a Teach For America staff member for four years. Kaitlin was selected as both an Education Pioneers Fellow and a Broad Resident, both prestigious and selective programs that identify and support the further development of promising education leaders. Kaitlin holds a bachelor’s degree from UCSD, a master’s degree in public policy analysis from USC, and a master’s degree in educational leadership from The Broad Residency.

 

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Leeann
Yu

Chief Operations Officer

Leeann Yu

Leeann Yu

Chief Operations Officer

Leeann Yu currently serves as the Chief Operations Officer for wý where she leads strategic operational initiatives across the network and oversees the student data, school operations, human resources, and information technology teams.

Leeann joined Bright Star in 2011 as the School Operations Manager for Stella Middle Charter Academy and Bright Star Secondary Charter Academy and has since held a variety of operational roles as the organization has grown from two to nine schools.

Prior to joining Bright Star, Leeann was an Education Pioneers Fellow at PUC Schools, an English teacher in Taiwan, and a financial advisor for Ameriprise Financial. Leeann holds a bachelor’s degree in international development with a minor in education from UCLA and a master’s in business administration from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.

 

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Heads of Schools

Dr. Eliza
Kimly

Head of Schools, wý

Dr. Eliza Kimly

Dr. Eliza Kimly

Head of Schools, wý

Dr. Eliza KimLy is the co-Head of Schools for wý, and the former founding principal of Rise Kohyang Middle School. As co-Head of Schools, she leads the development and execution of a rigorous instructional program that serves all students and supports principals to achieve their schools’ goals.

Dr. KimLy joined wý as a science teacher in 2004. After teaching both science and English Language Arts for three years, she served wý as assistant principal, principal, and director of instruction.


A Los Angeles-born native who grew up in Koreatown, Dr. KimLy wanted to give back to her “kohyang” (“hometown”). She founded Rise Kohyang Middle School in 2012 to serve the educational needs of families who live in Koreatown.

Prior to joining wý, Dr. KimLy served as a teacher, substitute teacher, student teacher, and teacher’s assistant for the Los Angeles, Culver City, and Beverly Hills Unified School Districts.

Dr. KimLy holds a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism with a minor in American Studies from the University of Southern California; a teaching credential and master’s degree in education; and a Doctorate in Organizational Leadership from Pepperdine University. Her administrative credential was completed at Loyola Marymount University’s Institute of School Leadership & Administration.

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Olivia
Martinez

Head of Schools, wý

Olivia Martinez

Olivia Martinez

Head of Schools, wý

Olivia Martinez is the co-Head of Schools for wý, and former principal of Stella Middle Charter Academy (Grades 7-8). As co-Head of Schools, she leads the development and execution of a rigorous instructional program that serves all students and supports principals to achieve their schools’ goals.

Olivia joined wý in 2008 as a teacher and taught physical science, life science, biology, and earth science to students in grades 7 through 11. She became assistant principal at Bright Star Secondary Charter Academy in 2011, and principal at Stella Middle Charter Academy in 2013.

Olivia began her teaching career with a student teaching position at David Starr Jordan High School in Watts through Teach For America.

Olivia holds a bachelor’s degree in psychobiology from UCLA and two master's degrees in urban education and in educational leadership from Loyola Marymount University.

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West Adams / Baldwin Village and South Los Angeles School Leaders

Darryl
Garris

Principal, Stella High Charter Academy

Darryl Garris

Darryl Garris

Principal, Stella High Charter Academy

Darryl Garris is the principal for Stella High Charter Academy, and he leads the school to ensure all Eagles achieve academic excellence and grow their unique talents so they find joy and fulfillment in higher education, career, and life.

Previously, Darryl served wý as principal of Stella Middle Charter Academy (Grades 5-6) and as assistant principal of Stella Middle Charter Academy. Darryl also taught pre-algebra, algebra readiness, and Algebra 1 at Stella Middle Charter Academy and Bright Star Secondary Charter Academy.

Prior to joining wý, Darryl was a teacher at Dorsey High School as a Teach For America corps member.

Darryl holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and a bachelor’s degree in environmental economics from UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources. He also holds a master’s degree in urban education, a master’s degree in school administration, and a certificate in charter school leadership from Loyola Marymount University's School of Education.

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Gene
Castro

Principal, Stella Elementary Charter Academy

Gene Castro

Gene Castro

Principal, Stella Elementary Charter Academy

At Stella Elementary Charter Academy (SECA), Gene Castro leads the school to ensure all Lionesses achieve academic excellence and grow their unique talents so that they find joy and fulfillment in higher education, career, and life. His mission is that SECA students are able to build a strong foundation in literacy, mathematical practice, social-emotional competencies, and social justice education before continuing onto middle school.

Previously, Gene served wý as Stella Elementary’s Assistant Principal of Instruction. Under his leadership, Stella Elementary improved its English Language Development program and increased the English learner reclassification rate from 1% to 14%. The school also launched its first after-school tutoring program for students with the highest academic needs.

Prior to joining wý, Gene joined Teach For America and taught upper elementary on the East Coast. During this time, he received training on leadership and coaching, and eventually served as a Corps Member Advisor at the Teach For America National Philadelphia Institute. In 2015, he helped found a charter school in South Los Angeles where he served as a classroom teacher and then Dean of Culture. He holds a Bachelor's degree in international/global studies from UC Santa Barbara and a Master’s degree in elementary education from Wilmington University.

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Jane
Han

Principal, Stella Middle Charter Academy

Jane Han

Jane Han

Principal, Stella Middle Charter Academy

Jane Han is the principal for Stella Middle Charter Academy, and she leads the school to ensure all Gryffons achieve academic excellence and grow their unique talents so that they find joy and fulfillment in higher education, career, and life.

Previously, Jane served wý as Stella Middle Charter Academy’s assistant principal of instruction, and as a math teacher, department leader, and mentor teacher where she coached teachers to elevate student achievement. As a math teacher, Jane taught courses ranging from pre-algebra through AP Calculus, in charter public schools in Los Angeles.

Jane holds a bachelor’s degree in history and sociology with a minor in mathematics from Columbia University and a master’s degree in teaching of mathematics from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education.

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Koreatown School Leaders

Cynthia
Trigueros

Principal, Rise Kohyang High School

Cynthia Trigueros

Cynthia Trigueros

Principal, Rise Kohyang High School

Cynthia Trigueros is the principal of Rise Kohyang High School, and she leads the Tritons to achieve academic excellence and grow their unique talents so they find joy and fulfillment in higher education, career, and life.

Cynthia has served wý for over 15 years. She previously served as a founding biology teacher, an assistant principal, and interim principal at Rise Kohyang High School before being named principal in 2021. Cynthia was also a founding science teacher at Rise Kohyang Middle School, where she taught for nearly six years.

Cynthia holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from California State University, Northridge, a master of arts in bilingual elementary education from Loyola Marymount University as well as a master and credential in educational leadership and administration from California State University, Dominguez Hills.

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Kaitlin
Allen

Founding Principal, Rise Kohyang Elementary School

Kaitlin Allen

Kaitlin Allen

Founding Principal, Rise Kohyang Elementary School

Kaitlin Allen is the founding principal of Rise Kohyang Elementary School, and she leads the school to ensure that the Dragons experience positive relationships with their teachers, a supportive and relevant curriculum, social-emotional learning, and joy.

Previously, Kaitlin served wý as assistant principal of instruction and as a high school English teacher for Valor Academy High School. Prior to joining wý, Kaitlin taught middle and high school English for four years in Memphis, TN.

Kaitlin holds a bachelor’s degree in English language and literature from Shepherd University, and a master’s degree in applied linguistics from Georgetown University.

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Ruth
Kim

Principal, RIse Kohyang Middle School

Ruth Kim

Ruth Kim

Principal, RIse Kohyang Middle School

Ruth Kim is the principal of Rise Kohyang Middle School, and leads the school by empowering the Phoenixes with compassion to learn and grow to give back to their own kohyang (hometown). She encourages students to achieve academic excellence and grow their unique talents so they find joy and fulfillment in higher education, career, and life.

Ruth started with RKMS in its founding year in 2012. Previously, Ruth served Rise Kohyang Middle School as Assistant Principal and an English Language Arts teacher for eight years. During that time, she was also the 6th grade-level chair and ELA department lead, and she became a National Board Certified teacher in 2018. Ruth transitioned to her principal position in 2020.

Ruth holds a bachelor’s degree in English from UC Irvine, multiple-subject and administrative credentials from Cal State Fullerton, and a master’s in educational administration from Cal State Fullerton.

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San Fernando Valley School Leaders

Brian
Perry

Principal, Valor Academy Middle School

Brian Perry

Brian Perry

Principal, Valor Academy Middle School

Brian Perry is the principal of Valor Academy Middle School, where he leads the school to create an environment where all students can see academic success, engage with their individual interests, and participate in experiences that will help them grow as people.

Previously, Brian served Valor Academy Middle School as the assistant principal of instruction and curriculum for five years, and helped bring new and exciting programs and initiatives to drive student learning. He joined Valor Academy Middle School as a fifth grade English language arts teacher in 2011.

Prior to joining wý, Brian taught in schools in Miami, FL; New Haven, CT; and Inglewood, CA. He began his career as a high school English teacher as a Teach For America corps member. As a third grader in St. Louis, MO, Brian made the commitment to become a teacher as impactful as the ones he had encountered in his early education.

Brian holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri. 

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Jennifer
Anaya Sanchez

Principal, Valor Academy High School

Jennifer Anaya Sanchez

Jennifer Anaya Sanchez

Principal, Valor Academy High School

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May
Oey

Principal, Valor Academy Elementary School

May Oey

May Oey

Principal, Valor Academy Elementary School

May Oey is the founding principal of Valor Academy Elementary School, and she leads the school’s dynamic community to cultivate an environment where students achieve and believe in themselves and their school.

May has dedicated her entire life to educating students. Prior to joining wý, she served in various roles in education throughout the Los Angeles area for 11 years. As a school leader for a local charter public school, May learned a great deal about running and implementing successful school programs as well as maintaining a healthy and happy school community.

Previously, May taught for nine years, including teaching 3rd and 4th grades for three years in Hollywood, where her school was recognized as the highest performing school in Hollywood.

May holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from UCLA, a master’s degree in elementary education and teaching from Pepperdine University, and a credential in educational leadership and administration from California State University, Dominguez Hills.

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Founding Leadership

Ari
Engelberg

Founding Board Chair and Executive Director Emeritus

Ari Engelberg

Ari Engelberg

Founding Board Chair and Executive Director Emeritus

Ari Engelberg was the founding Board President when Stella Middle Charter Academy first opened its doors in 2003. In 2007, not long after Bright Star Secondary Charter Academy was opened and the name of the organization was changed to wý, he made a transition into the Executive Director role. For over a decade Ari played an instrumental role in shaping wý into a vibrant, kid-focused organization that is helping to close the achievement gap in Los Angeles. Ari holds bachelor’s degrees in political science and psychology from UC Berkeley and a juris doctor and masters of business administration from UCLA. Ari has participated on a range of nonprofit boards and advisory committees, and continues to be involved in uplifting Los Angeles as a board member of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and the Girls Athletic Leadership School. 

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Hrag
Hamalian

Founder and Executive Director, Valor Academy Middle School; wý Executive Director Emeritus

Hrag Hamalian

Hrag Hamalian

Founder and Executive Director, Valor Academy Middle School; wý Executive Director Emeritus

Hrag Manuel Hamalian previously served as the Chief Executive Officer of wý. Hrag strategically grew wý from four to nine schools, and created a community-based schools model that provides a transitional kindergarten to 12th grade education, plus 6 years of higher education support, for over 3,500 students across Los Angeles.

Prior to joining Bright Star, Hrag founded Valor Academy Middle School, a high performing 5th through 8th grade charter public school in Los Angeles. In 2013, Hrag helped lead the strategic merger of Valor and Bright Star, the first merger between two successful charter organizations in Los Angeles.

In 2011, Hrag was the recipient of Boston College's prestigious Gold Award, honoring him as alumnus of the decade. Hrag holds a double-major bachelor’s degree from Boston College in biology and honors English, a master’s degree in secondary education from Loyola Marymount University, and a master’s in business administration from UCLA.

Hrag is a Broad Academy Fellow, Aspen Institute Fellow, an Achievement First Accelerator Fellow, a Building Excellent Schools Fellow, and a Teach for America Corps Member. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for ExEd and Building Excellent Schools.

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Jeff
Hilger

Founder

Jeff Hilger

Jeff Hilger

Founder

Jeff Hilger attended St. Paul the Apostle School and founded and named the first Bright Star School, Stella Academy, in honor of his K-8 school Principal, Sr. Stella Maria Enright, D.M.J. After attending Loyola High School ('88) and Georgetown University ('92), he joined Teach For America and spent several years teaching in bilingual classroom throughout Los Angeles. He later attended UCLA Law School ('98) and earned a Master’s Degree in Urban Planning before being selected for a U.S. District Court Clerkship and becoming an attorney. While working for Proskauer Rose LLP, he worked on a pro bono project to help open the Los Angeles Leadership Academy. He also visited KIPP Houston several times and, in partnership with Fr. Ken Deasy and many people from St. Agatha’s Parish Family in mid-city Los Angeles, was able to raise funds and engage community interests to found and open the Stella Middle Charter Academy in 2003 as its first Principal Teacher. In 2006, with the help of Sr. Ramona Bascom, O.P., who served as the first principal of the high school, Bright Star Secondary Charter Academy, Jeff became the first Executive Director of wý.

The founding of Stella Academy and Bright Star grew out of Jeff’s desire to give students in the mid-city Los Angeles community the same educational opportunities he himself had benefited from while in school. Jeff and Bright Star parted ways in 2013 after he spent a yearlong sabbatical in Tarragona, Catalunya, Spain while working on projects for the schools. He is currently the Director of Education for the New Opportunities Organization, which serves adult students – both inside county jails as well as throughout Los Angeles County at multiple community partner locations – who return to school to earn a high school diploma. He is also a practicing attorney focused, in part, on clients who are underserved by traditional legal services models.

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School Support Leadership Team

  • Angelina Calderon, Vice President of Outreach and Engagement
  • Jonathan Escobar, Vice President of Data Management
  • Lilianna Gonzalez, Vice President of Inclusive Education
  • Jaime Hernandez, Vice President of Information Technology
  • Sunil Kewalramani, Vice President of Fiscal Services
  • Alexandra Lee, Vice President of Academic Initiatives
  • Pablo Olivares, Vice President of Inclusive Education
  • Marni Parsons, Senior Vice President of Student and Family Services
  • Kendra Racouillat, Vice President of Marketing and Communications
  • Jennifer Simmons, Vice President of Instruction
  • Sebastian Valdes, Vice President of Operations
  • Ana Vargas, Vice President of Human Resources
  • Nicole Wellman-Noble, Vice President of People Development
  • Matt Williams, Vice President of Inclusive Education

Board Of Directors

Directory

Bright Star Education Group Board Members

Directory
  • Dean Indot - Interim Board Chair, Bright Star Education Group
    Senior Vice President & Senior Relationship Manager, Torrey Pines Bank
  • Scott Layfield
    Attorney, DLA Piper Global Law Firm 
  • James Min
    Managing Partner, Telos Advisors 
  • Michael Solomon
    CFA, Partner, Leonard Green & Partners, L.P.

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In our small, joyful schools we provide students with excellent academics, holistic and inclusive support, personal attention, and rich life opportunities beyond the classroom so they thrive from kindergarten through high school.