Chris Aguero – Principal
Firm at the center of all of Mr. Aguero’s beliefs about education is the notion that all students can learn and arrive to school with an array of knowledge from their own life experiences, no matter how young they are and where they come from. Curriculum should begin by acknowledging these experiences and this expertise on the part of the child.
After graduating from UT Austin, where he was active at Chabad, Chris lived in New York City, working for the Union for Reform Judaism Press, taking classes at the Jewish Theological Seminary and Columbia University, and interning with the Department of Education for the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. For two years Chris coordinated a literacy program at the Harlem Branch of the New York Public Library, volunteering as a teacher of English and literacy. In New Haven, Connecticut, he began teaching for Ezra Academy, a Solomon Schechter day school. It was in Connecticut that Chris earned a Master’s degree in education. In 2012, he moved to Austin to begin a doctoral program in education at UT. In that year, Chris also began teaching at the AJA. He later spent two years teaching at ACE Academy, a K-8 school specializing in gifted education, receiving training in the Renzulli Learning System through the University of Connecticut. Chris has taught Hebrew school for over a decade and currently serves as a tutor for children and adults preparing for b’nei mitzvah.
Robin Littrell – Director of Administration and Development
Robin grew up in Buffalo, Wyoming and recently moved to Austin, Texas from Dallas where she worked as Member Services Director at Congregation Shearith Israel. She has been engaged in the non-profit sector for over 18 years, 15 of which have been in Jewish communal work. Robin attended Mesa State College in Grand Junction, Colorado before moving to Wyoming and beginning her family. In June 2014 Robin received her Non-Profit Management certificate through CNM Connect. She has a passion for people and enjoys working together with a like-minded team to bring an idea to fruition. Robin has three children and four grandchildren, and enjoys spending as much time as possible with them.
Stacey Eisenberg – Program Administrator
Stacey grew up in Brooklyn, New York and has been in Austin for almost five years. She is a proud parent of two wonderful children who attend AJA and one who has graduated from our school. She brings to the school a wealth of experience in early childhood education and a passion for helping AJA grow and thrive.
Emily Thompson – Office Manager
Born in Dallas, Emily spent her youth advocating for her peers by volunteering in the local court circuit. After finishing a B.A. in psychology at Texas A&M University, she moved to Austin as quickly as she could, learned to grow succulents, and found her favorite brunch spot at Bouldin Creek. Emily worked with children and adolescent survivors of dating violence at Loveisrespect/NDVH for almost two years, and during this time, she fell in love with Congregation Agudas Achim, where she is now an active member. She is an avid reader, and her two cats enjoy snitching challah and lox from the kitchen. Emily is very excited to work with the students and families that call AJA their home.
Aileen Duncan – Kindergarten
Aileen Duncan, grew up on a dairy farm in Canada with seven siblings and has seven children of her own, and now eight grandchildren. Mrs. Duncan, who holds a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from Brigham Young University, has been nurturing and teaching AJA kindergarten students since 2000. Before joining AJA she taught many of the same children in the JCAA’s Early Childhood Program. Mrs. Duncan loves teaching children and loves teaching in the Jewish Community. She was recently honored with an Excellence in Jewish Education Award bestowed on her by the Jewish Community Association of Austin. She feels being an educator has given her valuable lessons about herself and what it means to be in a community of learners. She recognizes what a great responsibility she has in helping to shape young children’s hearts and minds and enjoys the challenge of trying to help each child move forward no matter where they are when they enter her classroom. “Although,” Mrs. Duncan adds, “teaching academics is very important, teaching life lessons is essential to help inspire these young children who will have the opportunity to make a difference in our world.” Aileen was AJA’s teacher honoree at the 2013 Gala.
Kayla Solomon-Lane – First Grade and Middle School Math
Kayla Lane is new to our staff this 2017-2018 year and is very excited to be a part of the AJA community. She earned a BA from Baylor University in Piano, Classics and Philosophy. She joined Teach for America after college, and has a cumulative of 11 years of tutoring and teaching experience, including public school systems in Texas and California; SAT/GRE preparation classes; private piano instruction; teaching English abroad in the Republic of Georgia; and teaching college students during graduate school at UCSC. Kayla enjoys composing music- even songs for her students- and she is passionate about infusing rhythm, melody, and dance into all areas of academic study. Her pedagogical philosophy includes conscious discipline, as well as incorporating mindfulness, guided meditation, the multiple-intelligences, and yoga around inquiry-based, reflective learning. In her spare time, she relishes traveling with her fiancé, reading, enjoying the performing arts, exploring the outdoors with her pug/chihuahua puppy- and, of course, beating everyone she can at board games and trivia.
Kelly Hill – Second Grade
Kelly was born and raised in Amarillo, Texas. She is new to the AJA community this year, bringing over 20 years of teaching experience with her. She received a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts from the University of Texas and a Masters in Counseling Psychology from Naropa University in Boulder, CO. Kelly is certified in the State of Texas to teach Elementary Education EC-6, Special Education EC-12, and Art EC-12. She has taught children of all ages but her focus has mostly been in elementary schools. In her free time, Kelly enjoys making pottery and spending time with her children Jack, 18, and Stella, 16. She has traveled to 14 countries around the world and has started art programs in orphanages in Mexico and India. Kelly’s entire career has been dedicated to teaching while always learning from children in return. Her goals in every class are to instill a love of learning in her students and help them succeed academically, emotionally and socially. Kelly is thrilled to be a part of the AJA Community and looks forward to engaging her students in every aspect of their classroom learning.
Marissa Faris – Third Grade
Marissa earned a BA in psychology and a master’s degree in horticulture. During her graduate studies at Texas A&M University, she interned at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University and upon completing her degree made the move to Chicago where she worked as a horticulturist at the Chicago Botanic Garden. She later returned to Texas A&M University where she served as Program Coordinator for Experiential Education, working to increase student participation in undergraduate research, service learning, internship, and study abroad opportunities as well as contributing as webmaster for the Department of Horticultural Sciences. During that time, she also earned a teaching certification. Marissa served as the first grade general studies teacher at AJA for three years. Before joining our school, she taught first grade at Wells Branch Leadership Academy in Austin. Most recently, Marissa has worked as Environmental Education Coordinator for the Wild Basin Creative Research Center of St. Edward’s University, coordinating outdoor education programming and developing curriculum. Marissa is the proud mother of a student in our current fifth grade class.
Tim O’Brien -Third Grade Assistant
Tim was born in Washington D.C. and received his BFA in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College. After graduating, Tim went on to pursue a career in child care and education with a focus on special needs students. Tim joined the AJA community in 2018 as a teacher’s aide in the second grade, where it became immediately clear that AJA provided a thriving community experience unprecedented in Tim’s career. He has lived in Austin for four years and is passionate about providing an engaging introduction into literature, sustainability, and the arts. Tim is humbled and excited to advocate for his students and go above and beyond to provide them with a diverse and thought provoking learning experience.
Meridith January – Fourth Grade
Meridith is excited to join the AJA family this year! She is from Plano, TX where she grew up doing gymnastics. From there she went on to become a gymnastics coach, then eventually director of several programs at a gym here in Austin. While she thought her path was leading her to become a gym owner, she realized her love for teaching. She went back to school and graduated from The University of Texas at Dallas with a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies with Teacher Certification. She, also, holds a certification in ESL (English as a Second Language). She has lived in Austin for about 12 years and absolutely loves it. Meridith is thrilled to be starting her teaching career at AJA.
Karen Hidalgo – Fifth Grade and Project Based Learning Team Leader
Mrs. Hidalgo holds a Bilingual Teaching Certification from the University of Texas along with Gifted and Talented (GT), English as a Second Language (ESL) and Bilingual Certification. She has 17 years of teaching experience in grades 3rd-6th, with most of her years focused in 5th grade. Mrs. Hidalgo has appreciated the uniqueness of the Austin Jewish Academy, where fifth grade highlights have included Environmental TED TALKS, working for an extended period of time on a farm, as well as having an annual 5th Grade Poetry Slam. With relevant and meaningful themes each year, Mrs. Hidalgo is committed to providing a differentiated, stimulating and rigorous instructional approach in which she infuses technology, and inquiry based exploration as her tools for learning. Mrs. Hidalgo is fluent in both English and Spanish and is also a certified yoga instructor and mother of three girls. She graduated on the Dean’s List with a Bachelor degree in Family Studies from the University of Arizona and then went on to the University of Texas to receive her teaching credentials. She is happy to be entering her 7th year at the Austin Jewish Academy and always excited for all that her future students will accomplish.
Kathy Rosenmann – Middle School Science and Project Based Learning Team Leader
Mrs. Rosenmann, has a strong desire is to help children fall in love with learning and, in turn, to see them become life-long learners. Raised in the north, Mrs. Rosenmann first attended the University of Wisconsin where she studied psychology and French. After studying for a year at L’Universite d’Aix-en-Provence in France, Kathy moved to San Francisco to work in the social services. There she met her husband of twenty years, Yoav, and subsequently moved to Israel. Ready to return stateside, the Rosenmann’s moved to Austin, Texas where Kathy attended the University of Texas and earned her BA in psychology. It is in her position as a counselor for troubled youth that Kathy first became interested in working with young people. After the birth of her son, Izzy, Kathy began teaching preschool at the ECP. She later went back to UT, earned an honors degree in elementary education and a Gifted and Talented certification, and then began her career as an elementary teacher. She has been teaching at AJA since 2006. When she is not educating and entertaining students, Ms. Rosenmann enjoys reading, traveling, surfing, running, and spending time with her husband and son Izzy. Kathy was AJA’s teacher honoree at the 2014 Gala.
Risa Ferdman – Middle School Humanities
Upon learning that AJA was opening in 1997, Risa and her family ended their search for a new home and decided to settle in Austin. Risa has worked as a volunteer at AJA since that first year. She co-founded our Parent Association, served on the Board of Directors and has been an avid volunteer fundraiser for AJA. Risa is a Jewish day school graduate, earned her B.A. from Wellesley College and has over 20 years of experience as a teacher and school administrator. She and her husband have two sons, both of whom attended AJA.
Michael Baum – Middle School Math
Mike comes to AJA with over 40 years of experience in applied mathematics with government and private industry. He grew up in New Hampshire and has a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics from the University of New Hampshire, a Masters in Science in Operations Research from Case Western Reserve University, and a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering (Operations Research) from The University of Texas at Austin. Mike was a B-52 strategic bomber instructor pilot in the United States Air Force (USAF) and held numerous analysis positions at two major command headquarters, Air Staff and with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He concluded his Air Force career as the director the analysis division at Air Mobility Command Headquarters. Along the way he tutored students in junior and high school mathematics and was an adjunct professor at St. Louis University. After his first career in governmental work, Mike worked in the telephony field with two Fortune 500 companies using math and operations research techniques to improve both company’s bottom line. During his ‘second career’ Mike facilitated seminars for Jewish Women International for 8th graders teaching about anti-Semitism, discrimination, and stereotyping for the Prejudice Awareness Summit and with ADL in their “No Place for Hate” program. Mike is married to Sigrid Levi-Baum and has one daughter, Toni, who lives in Austin.
Ann Marie Girardot – Middle School Math
Ann Marie grew up in the Clear Lake area, between Houston and Galveston, during the Gemini and Apollo NASA missions. She graduated from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio with a double major in History and Mathematics, and minors in Music and Psychology. She has over thirty years of experience teaching at Reagan High and Anderson High School, where she sponsored the National Honor Society and also taught PSAT and SAT prep classes. She received her National Board for Professional Teachers Certification in 2006, and recently renewed her National Board Certification, valid through 2026. Mrs. Girardot’s goal as an educator is to develop problem solving and critical reasoning skills in her students, so they can explain concepts, interpret data and text, synthesize and apply what they know, and demonstrate perspective and empathy. Ann Marie has three wonderful children: her son plays trumpet and keyboards with The Revivalists out of New Orleans; one daughter works for Engineer Your World at the Pickle Research Campus; and her youngest daughter is in college studying vocal performance.
Heather Kantrowitz – Head of Jewish Studies Department and Jewish Studies Teacher
Heather Kantrowitz was born and raised in Tallahassee, FL, where she graduated with honors from Florida State University with a BA in Religion. She then went to Brandeis University where she earned her MA in Teaching Tanakh. After working as a Youth Director in St Paul, MN, for 2 years, Heather moved to Jerusalem, Israel to learn at the Pardes Institute for Jewish Studies in their Educators Program. Heather couldn’t be happier about moving to Austin and joining the AJA family; she wants each of her students to find a personal connection to Tanakh and Judaism that will foster a strong Jewish identity and a lifelong love of learning. Heather loves baking, traveling, jogging, yoga, meeting new people and exploring new places!
Maya Fela – Hebrew and Jewish Studies
Maya was born and raised in Israel. Maya graduated from Bar-Ilan University with a BA in Criminology, Sociology and Anthropology, with honors. As part of her MA in Clinical Criminology, she was an intern for two years in a psychiatric hospital. In Israel, she was a teachers assistant with children from a disadvantaged socio-economic background. At Bar-Ilan, Maya tutored college students with learning and/or physical disabilities in order to reach their full potential. She volunteered at ‘ELEM’, Israel, as a personal mentor with at-risk youth, toward achieving their High School Diploma. When she moved to Austin, she worked as a Sunday school teacher at the Austin Community Hebrew School.The great educator, Janusz Korczak inspired Maya’s educational philosophy: “Children are not the people of tomorrow, but are people of today. They have a right to be taken seriously, and to be treated with tenderness and respect. They should be allowed to grow into whoever they were meant to be. ‘The unknown person’ inside of them is our hope for the future.” Maya lost her leg and has used a wheelchair since 2006. She Enjoys being outdoors with her dogs, swimming, and reading.
Dr. Zilla Goodman – Hebrew and Jewish Studies
Dr. Zilla Goodman received her doctorate in Hebrew language and literature at the University of Cape Town. She has published many scholarly articles on Hebrew and Jewish literature and culture, and has taught at a number of universities in the US and abroad. In 2017 she retired from the University of Colorado, Boulder where she was a founding member of the Program in Jewish Studies, and after the institution of a major/minor program served as Director of Undergraduate Studies there. She then returned to Austin, which she had left in 2004, and joined AJA in August 2018 as a Hebrew teacher and coordinator of the Hebrew language program at the school.
Lori Kline – Hebrew and Jewish Studies
Lori Kline, a celebrated children’s book author and a long-time Jewish educator, is an active member of the Jewish community and a lay leader at Congregation Agudas Achim. Lori credits her preschool teacher, Mrs. Heller, for her passion to make Judaism enticingly fun and bring students to form lifelong attachments to Jewish life. Lori has served on the board of the Austin Chapter of Hadassah, and enjoys volunteering for Refugee Services of Texas. Lori and her husband, David, love camping and hiking, as well as fostering dogs for Wee Rescue and the Central Texas SPCA. Lori will share her love of Judaism with our kindergarten and first graders this year.
Carly Fox – Student Advocate And Librarian
Carly was born and raised in El Paso, Texas, and received her B.S. in Communication Sciences and Disorders from the University of Texas at Austin. After graduating, Carly returned to El Paso to complete her M.S. in Speech-Language Pathology, and later moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, where she spent three years as a school-based Speech-Language Pathologist. In this role, Carly worked with K-8th graders with a wide range of speech, language, and social communication needs, and frequently provided speech therapy within her students’ classrooms to support daily learning. She became motivated to earn her teacher certification while working closely with parents, teachers, and administrators to help students succeed academically and socially. Carly is thrilled to be a part of the AJA team and looks forward to creating a welcoming and engaging classroom community that instills joyful Jewish identities for her students.
Deborah Graham – Learning Specialist
Deborah Graham grew up in Bay City, Michigan and received her B.A. in Human Resources at Michigan State University. Deborah began her teaching career as an assistant pre-school teacher in East Lansing, MI while attending college there. Afterward, she obtained her Masters of Special Education and dual teaching certifications (elementary education and special education) from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, AZ. Since then, Deborah has acquired ten years experience as the director of special education programs and working with students, families, faculty, and staff in regard to the best practices for diverse learners in grades K-12. She finished her PhD program in May of 2016 in Exceptional Students with Northcentral University in Prescott, AZ. Deborah is very excited to be part of the AJA community and to have the unique opportunity to work with students, teachers, and families at every grade level!
Meredith Prukop – Music Specialist
Meredith Prukop graduated from the University of Texas-Pan American with a Bachelors in Music Education. Prior to moving to the Austin area, she was an orchestra director for McAllen ISD. During her tenure, her orchestras grew in size, consistently earned division I ratings at UIL competitions, and her students regularly won chairs in the region Orchestra. She has 20 years experience in teaching music and is excited to begin the musical journey here at AJA.
Anna Bull – Physical Education and Athletics Coach
Anna Bull has been at AJA since 2009 as PE teacher and athletic director. Before arriving in Austin from Jacksonville, Florida, she taught PE and health for the Duval County Public Schools. Prior to that position, she served as the Aquatics Manager at the Jacksonville Jewish Community Alliance where she organized a year round youth swim team. To everything that she does, Coach Bull brings a big smile and infectious enthusiasm.
Susan Slomowitz – Art Specialist
Ms. Slomowitz has been AJA’s school wide Art Specialist since 2010. Ms. Slomowitz received her degree in Fine arts, (specializing in printing techniques and graphic design), from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. She worked as an Artist and Designer in South Africa and Israel for many years. Ms. Slomowitz and her family moved from Israel to Austin in 2002. Since then, she has been actively involved in both Art and Jewish education locally. Ms. Slomowitz is fluent in Hebrew and has also taught at Bais Menachem Hebrew Academy and the Early Childhood Program at the JCC, both as lead teacher. Her daughter Emily is in Middle School at Austin Jewish Academy. Susan received the Grinspoon-Steinhardt Award for Excellence in Jewish Education in 2013. This national award was designed to recognize teachers in communities across North America who have made a commitment to the field of Jewish Education and who demonstrate leadership abilities, serve as role models in Jewish education, and who implement outstanding curricular initiatives.