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Our Staff

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JOINED 2021-2022: Kevin is a Greenpoint resident who is in his 12th year of working in education. Born and raised in Los Angeles, California, Kevin earned his BA in English Literature from Boston University and his MA in Education from Relay Graduate School of Education. He began his teaching career at Achievement First before becoming a teacher and grade level leader at Uncommon Schools. He has previously worked as a curriculum developer for companies like Amplify and Teach Like A Champion, crafting high quality ELA units of study for middle schoolers across the country.

CONTACT:

kgrijalva@bkindependent.org

Kevin Grijalva

8th Grade Humanities and Humanities Chair

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JOINED 2020-2021: Everton has been a Math teacher at the middle school level for the past 5 years and is a resident of Bed-Stuy. Born and raised in Spanish Town Jamaica, Everton attended Ardenne High School in Kingston before moving to Connecticut to attend Wesleyan University. There, he earned a BA with a major in Biology, as well as specializing in classroom technology as a campus job. While at Achievement First in Connecticut and then Brooklyn, he taught 6th and 8th-grade Mathematics, as well as Regents Algebra I, driving exemplary proficiency growth every year. Everton was a member of the Achievement First Leadership fellows program and also led the school's soccer program for 4 years.

CONTACT:

elaidley@bkindependent.org

Everton Laidley

7th Grade Math

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Kevin has worked in education for the past 9 years, and is a resident of Astoria, Queens. Kevin joined BKI in the Fall of 2021 as the Latin teacher, and joined the Science Department in the Fall of 2022. Kevin earned their B.A. in Classical Studies from Wesleyan University, where they were the recipient of the Ingraham Prize for Excellence in Ancient Greek, and their M.A. in Theological History from Union Theological Seminary in New York City, where they were the recipient of the Wyn Wright Prize for Biblical Languages. Kevin utilizes their background in languages, history, and theology to teach science as a subject of exploring and understanding the unknown, and as a tool for challenging antiquated narratives concerning knowledge. Kevin's classroom is a laboratory where students are taught to hone their skills of observation, critical thinking, and deduction—a place where students are encouraged to discover their own voices and talents, and how they can uniquely contribute to their communities and the world at large.

CONTACT:

kmckeown@bkindependent.org

Kevin McKeown

7B and 8th Grade Science

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JOINING 2022-2023: Ahtivah, a Fort Greene native, has spent her last five years as an ELA educator. She attended Benjamin Banneker Academy High School where her yearn to teach was originally developed. She then attended CUNY College of Staten Island where she earned her BA in English (Writing Concentration). She pursued and earned her Masters in Teaching at Relay Education Graduate School. She has worked in both charter & public school settings, and is passionate about all scholars receiving an education that is inclusive and private equity to all.

CONTACT:

alawton@bkindependent.org

Ahtivah Lawton

7th Grade Humanities

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Vanessa holds a BA in Political Science from Montclair State University, a MAT in Secondary Education from New York University, and an Advanced Certificate in Special Education from Relay Graduate School. With five years of teaching experience, she has taught History, ELA, and SETSS while serving as a case manager for students with IEPs. Vanessa is excited to bring her knowledge into her role as a Learning Specialist and Student Support Services Teacher at BKI. In her inaugural year in this position, Vanessa is committed to delivering personalized, high-quality education. She prioritizes equity, inclusion, and addressing biases, particularly in supporting neuro-divergent students. Together with the team, she aims to creative a transformative, inclusive, and differentiated academic environment.

CONTACT:

vsoriano@bkindependent.org

Vanessa Soriano

Student Support and Learning Specialist

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JOINED 2021-2022: Etta opens the line of communication between clients, customers, and businesses to get projects done. She specializes in communication, coordination, and is responsible for using progressive systems and applications, including accounting software, mass communication procedures and organizational apps. Etta is a powerful force in the workplace and uses her positive attitude and tireless energy o encourage others to work hard and succeeed. She is inspired daily by her daughter. In her free time, Etta focuses on developing her herbal tea business, cooking, and spending time with family.

CONTACT:

ops@bkindependent.org

Etta Waddell

Operations Manager

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JOINING 2022-2023: Kadidiatou’s love for math began the day she was born. Numbers served as the vehicle that allowed her to break barriers for her family. This year, Kadidiatou is committed to pouring her love for math into her students in a way that develops them academically, emotionally, and socially.

CONTACT:

kwague@bkindependent.org

Kadidiatou Wague

6th Grade Math
 

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Meghann has been both a teacher and leader in New York City for the past 17 years. Originally from Iowa, Lauren earned a BA in Philosophy from the University of Iowa and moved to New York City in 2006 to serve as a Teach for America corps member. She holds a Masters in Childhood Education and Special Education from Relay Graduate School of Education and has taught grades 3rd – 8th. Meghann served as an Instructional Leader, Dean of Curriculum and Instruction and Middle School Principal at Uncommon Schools from 2012 – 2022. She joined Brooklyn Independent in 2023 as the Interim Head of School during Kelsey Jones’ maternity leave. She is excited to be stepping into this new role at Brooklyn Independent and working closely with BKI families and kids again!

Meghann Fallon

Dean of Students and Academics

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Joel has been working in education in various teaching and leadership roles for the past 14 years. Originally from outside of Baltimore, MD, Joel earned his BA in American History from Brown University and his MS in Education from Hunter College (graduating with distinction based on the performance of his 8th grade History students). Joel also completed the National Principals Academy Fellowship at Relay Graduate School of Education. In addition to his teaching experience, Joel has served as Dean of Culture and Community, Dean of Curriculum and Instruction and Principal. Joel is a resident of Fort Greene and the proud father of two kids: Charlie and Quinnie.

Joel Tracy

6th Grade Humanities

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Emily has spent the past 8 years teaching math in Brooklyn. Originally from Long Island, Emily earned her undergraduate degree at Vanderbilt University, and pursued her Master’s in Education from Relay Graduate School of Education. She is passionate about providing equitable opportunities for all students within the classroom and cultivating a genuine and open love for math.

Emily Specht

8th Grade Math
 

Gisselle has worked in education for the past 3 years, and is a resident of Brooklyn, New York. Gisselle earned her B.A. in Environmental Studies from the State University of New York at Buffalo and her M.A. in Sustainability Studies from Hofstra University. Gisselle became the 6th Grade Level Leader in her second year of teaching and received the Shirley Chisholm Freedom Fighter Award for Excellence in Teaching. Gisselle joined BKI this fall as the 6th and 7th Grade Science teacher. Gisselle’s classroom is a safe space where students may thrive while learning, and are encouraged to approach unfamiliar topics with an open-mind as they continue to discover and unlock the world around them. Gisselle’s goals as a teacher are to empower all students to feel confident in their innate ability to actualize their dreams and to explore new and challenging topics with strong collaborative skills.

Gisselle Taylor

6th & 7A Science

Patricia Mensa was born and partially raised in The Bronx, NY. She spent five years of her formative years in Ghana, West Africa split between Takoradi and Kumasi. She has always felt most happy and impactful in the helping profession, and knew she would pursue something in that field. She has a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Union College, and a Master of Social Work degree from Fordham University. Patricia has worked in a variety of fields including: criminal justice, mental health and substance use; she has also worked with underrecognized folks and neurodivergent students. She has always known that she enjoys working with students but was unsure of how she could do so without being in a classroom. Her prior years working alongside marginalized folks confirmed the importance of mental health support and inspired her to transition to the education sector as a school counselor. In her free time, Patricia can be caught reading anything by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie or watching reality television shows. She has recently discovered a love of baking and is enjoys experimenting with lemon squares. Lastly, she is a proud godparent of an adorable goldendoodle named Franklin, AKA Frankie!

Patricia Mensa

Social Worker

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