Our Faculty and Staff
Our innovative educators bring passion and creativity to their teaching and aren’t afraid to do things differently. Most of our students come from schools that were not structured to enable them to succeed. We believe that with the right mix of challenge and support, young people who have left school can get back on the path to college, and at CUNY Prep, we make sure they do.
Elvin Aviles joined the CUNY Prep as a Humanities Teacher in the Fall of 2011. He has spent much of his career working with underserved youth in various capacities, but Aviles says CUNY Prep's program is unique.
"The philosophy of this school really drew me in," says Aviles. "Every student has their own story on how or why they left school, but here they are respected as individuals and truly get a second chance."
Aviles was born in the Bronx, New York and attended New York City Public Schools through high school. He attended Baruch College in Manhattan where he earned a degree in History. After college, he began a career in education in the Jersey City public school district where he taught for nearly five years.
Currently, Aviles is working toward a graduate degree at The New Jersey City University in the Master of Arts Degree in Educational Technology program. He believes in relevant and meaningful infusion of technology into instruction as a means to motivate and foster learning in 21st century students.
Frantz Barbier, a math teacher at CUNY Prep since 2004, prides himself on helping math-phobic students over their greatest hurdles.
“The best part of my job is the sense of satisfaction I get each and every day knowing that I have helped my students master a specific skill or finally understand a content area that defeated them before,” he says. “It’s a great feeling to watch them light up when they get their tests back.”
Barbier was born and raised in the northeast Bronx, where he lives with his wife and young daughter. He holds a bachelor of arts in English language arts and elementary education from Hunter College.
“Teaching isn’t just a job for me; it’s my life’s work,” he says. “I am driven by my students’ ambition and determination to achieve the goals that they have set for themselves.”
He is also in charge of special events.
CUNY Prep social studies teacher Leannette Perez felt called to education because she is hoping to be a role model for her students like many of the teachers in her own life.
“I have always had a passion for teaching secondary education because not too long ago I was in the same position as many of our students,” says Perez. “Thanks to a lot of help and support from the faculty and staff in my high school, I graduated and made it through college.”
Perez holds a BA in History degree from Lehman College and is New York State certified as a social studies teacher for grades 7-12.
“I feel strongly that education is the key to success in life, says Perez. “I believe that teachers with great passion and dedication can truly help put their students on the right path.”
Besides her social studies classes, Perez is also teaching a seminar in art and is co-leader of the Salsa club. She joined the CUNY Prep faculty in the fall of 2014.
Bronx Native Stefanie Dejesus joined CUNY Prep as a College Success Coach in the Fall of 2014. She finds joy in making a difference within her community and has held numerous positions in the field of higher education throughout her career.
Dejesus believes in her civic duty as a productive member of society. “CUNY Prep allows for me to play a significant role in my community, which is all that I have aspired to do my entire career," says Dejesus. “The Bronx has so many issues and even so, so many talented adolescents call this borough home; however, some fall through the cracks. CUNY Prep allows for me to facilitate the students’ transition back into school and furthermore into college."
Dejesus attended John Jay College where she earned a BA in Criminal Justice and later her MPA with a dual specialization in Management and Operations and Criminal Justice Policy and Administration. She is in the process of applying to post-graduate programs for Doctoral candidacy. It is Dejesus’ belief that guidance plays a key role in the success of the students in college. "It is our responsibility to help the student discover, develop and hone their skills for lifelong success."
In addition to his passion for teaching, CUNY Prep writing teacher Kyle de Ocera, who joined our staff in the Fall of 2014, is also an actor, poet, vocalist, and musician. De Ocera hails from Project 8, Quezon City, Philippines and the San Francisco Bay Area and has performed and collaborated with theatre groups and arts organizations such as Kulintang Arts and Brava theatre’s HipHop ensemble Colored Ink.
De Ocera has also served as a program coordinator and teacher with Pinoy/Pinay Educational Partnerships where he initiated a bilingual lunchtime program for high school students in the Excelsior District of San Francisco.
“It is a triumph for me to be able to help students realize they have talents and abilities that they may have never imagined,” he says. “Being able to be a part of that discovery process every day helps contribute to their success and really keeps me going.”
De Ocera received his Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing and Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University and is currently pursuing his Master of Fine Arts at Long Island University in Brooklyn, New York.
CUNY Prep math teacher Ngoc Duong believes that math should be a hands-on learning experience with real-world relevant concepts.
“My top priority is to create a positive classroom environment where students will be confident to use mathematical language to explain their work and to assist their peers,” says Duong. “I want them to realize that learning math is not only about solving problems but also about applying it in their real lives.”
Duong, an immigrant from Vietnam, graduated from Hunter College with a BA/MA in Adolescent Mathematics Education. She joined the CUNY Prep teaching staff in the fall of 2014, and says she is sold on the schools college-bound focus.
“Higher education gives people greater choices in life and helps open the door to your future,” says Duong.
She enjoys spending free time with her family, reading in Vietnamese and English, and swimming.
Coordinator of Recruitment and Admissions
Kris Foreman is typically the first contact for prospective students at CUNY Prep. As the coordinator of recruitment and admissions, he screens students to make sure they are a good fit for the school.
“If they don’t have college as a goal, than this is not the right place for them,” he says.
Foreman, who grew up in the Fordham section of the Bronx, down the road from CUNY Prep, says he feels personally responsible to help students reach their educational potential.
“I believe my job is to create opportunities for students that enable them to value knowledge, respect themselves and push them to strive for higher education,” he says.
Foreman joined CUNY Prep in 2006. He holds a master’s degree in social science in educational counseling and a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Binghamton University. His hobbies include basketball, baseball, paintball, golf and collecting watches.
Fiscal Administrator and Budget Analyst
Aileen Giustra works largely behind the scenes at CUNY Prep but has perhaps one of the more important roles. As the school’s fiscal administrator, she makes sure that staff members get paid and that classrooms are stocked with supplies.
“I really enjoy all the relationships that I’ve formed, not only with CUNY Prep staff, but also with CUNY’s central office and even our vendors,” she says. “I'm very grateful for their support and hard work.”
Giustra joined CUNY Prep in 2006, but she’s worked in the CUNY system since 1996. She has a varied and diverse career history that has covered everything from maintaining databases to Spanish translation services.
Giustra enjoys playing with her dog and birds and tending to her plants. She’s also a huge fan of Salsa music and loves going to concerts.
College Access Counselor
Travis Grantham does a little bit of everything at CUNY Prep. As a college access counselor, he helps students complete college and financial aid applications. But he’s also available to help students with their day-to-day problems.
“I really enjoy getting to know our students on a one-to-one basis,” he says. “They look up to you as someone who can help guide them toward college.”
Grantham, who holds a bachelor of arts degree in English from SUNY Albany and is working on his master's in counselor education, also helps manage school and student data at CUNY Prep.
Another of his favorite part of his job is running the school store. “It gives me a chance to interact with a lot of our students during the lunch break and check in and see how they are progressing,” he says. “Watching these same students walk across the stage during graduation and seeing how far they’ve come—it’s a great feeling.”
Lead Science Teacher
Tracy Hill, lead science teacher, joined the CUNY Prep faculty in 2006. She teaches the innovative "Cooking and Chemistry" course in which students learn science concepts through analyzing and preparing food. She also teaches fashion elective classes that give students the chance to design their own clothing.
“The best part of my job is recreating myself and seeing my students re-create themselves,” she says.
Hill says teaching gives her and her students’ continuous opportunities to learn.
“Education can help bring our community together because our weaknesses will be strengthened, and our strengths will be challenged,” she says.
Hill started her career as a senior laboratory scientist for a global corporation, working on projects for pharmaceutical companies, oil refineries and even NASA. But she switched to teaching because she wanted a profession where she could see the direct results of helping people. She taught science at Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn for six years before coming to CUNY Prep.
Information Technology Assistant
CUNY Prep relies heavily on technology in the classroom, and it is Andre Larmond's job to keep our growing inventory of high-tech tools in top working order.
Larmond, who first joined CUNY Prep in 2004, is responsible for everything from software updates on the computers to assisting in keeping the network running smoothly.
“I really enjoy supporting the staff here as they help our students build a better future for themselves,” he says.
Larmond has a degree in Digital Media Arts from TCI College. He is enrolled at New York City College of Technology, pursuing a degree in computer engineering technology. He’s a parent to a very busy little girl and a new baby boy; in his spare time, he enjoys reading, going to the gym and taking in a movie or comedy show.
Public Safety Officer
Public Safety officer David Lewis, who joined the staff in 2007, says he enjoys his work at CUNY Prep because the atmosphere is less like a school and more like a family.
"This is a place where everyone knows you by name, students and staff alike," says Lewis. "It’s an easy place to feel supported and accepted – and I think for many of our students, that’s a rare experience."
Lewis understands the students’ goals of succeeding in college. He is also currently in school, studying technology at the Borough of Manhattan Community College.
"I consider myself to be one of those Jack of All Trades, Master of None types," he jokes. "I’ve always loved learning about new things and think it’s something I’ll continue my whole life."
When he is not on the Internet researching a new interest, Lewis is a die-hard sports fan - basketball, baseball and football. He also enjoys using his free time to work out.
Public Safety Officer
Lieutenant Mario Lopez is a commanding presence at CUNY Prep – both in his physical size and strength and also in his daily interactions with students.
"It’s really important to sweat the small stuff,” says Lopez, Director of Public Safety at CUNY Prep. "We set very high standards in terms of both dress and conduct and my part of my job is holding our young people to these standards.
Lopez joined CUNY Prep in 2006, but has more than 14 years of public safety experience on CUNY Campuses. But he feels a particular connection to the students here.
"I love seeing success stories at CUNY Prep,” he says. "Growing up in the same area and under the same conditions motivates me to try my best to help students work toward a successful future.
Outside of CUNY Prep, Lopez travels extensively and enjoys sports, technology and sharing an interest in the martial arts with his sons.
Assistant Director of CUNY Prep at Night
Jamal Mantin supervises our College Success office at Hostos Community College, which helps support CUNY Prep graduates attending classes there.
“For our students, having someone on site to help them while they are making the transition to college can make all the difference in their level of success,” he says.
Mantin, who was born and raised on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, holds a bachelor of arts in black studies from SUNY New Paltz and a master’s degree in sociology. He joined the CUNY Prep faculty in 2006 to launch CUNY Prep at Night, a part-time program for adults that is on hiatus.
“The best part of my job is working with motivated learners who want to ascend academically as well as professionally,” he says.
Mantin is an avid fan of the arts as well as an NBA/college basketball fanatic. His hobbies include reading and traveling.
Anthony McFadden, or "Mr. Mac" as he's known to students, hands out breakfast, lunch and a heaping dollop of positive energy each day at CUNY Prep. McFadden, who joined the staff in the Fall of 2008, also serves as a tutor and mentor to students. He enjoys his job because he can really relate to the students.
"I also left high school and later earned my GED," says McFadden, who just this year returned to school as a Hostos Community College student. He plans to pursue a degree in education and wants to become a teacher or counselor.
McFadden is very motivated by the college prep atmosphere at CUNY Prep.
"I had been out of school for a long time and had my doubts, but I'm starting to catch up," says McFadden. He has some advice for students who are on the same path. "We must not let ourselves be discouraged by our assumptions," he says.
When he's not working or studying, McFadden loves sports, especially basketball. He's also trying to make reading a daily habit.
Glenmore Reynolds joined the CUNY Prep faculty in 2005. He’s been living in the United States for 20 years, but was born and raised in Jamaica, where he saw the positive effects of education firsthand.
“I saw many people lift themselves and their families out of poverty through education, so I know it can be done,” he says.
Before coming to CUNY Prep, Reynolds worked in the corporate world, the health industry and was a science teacher at a boys boarding school in Jamaica. He earned his bachelor's degree in the adult degree program at Lehman College.
“I stand as a living witness that a person from humble beginnings need not succumb to colorless dreams and dwarfed goals,” he says.
Reynolds says the best part of his job is watching the hearts and minds of his students change as they transform themselves at CUNY Prep.
Reynolds enjoys reading, traveling, cricket and soccer.
Principal and Director
Jenny Ristenbatt was appointed director and principal of CUNY Prep in fall 2010. Before that, she spent three years as associate director, working alongside Derrick Griffith, the school’s founding principal.
“I am very proud and honored to lead CUNY Prep,” she says.
She believes in the power of CUNY Prep’s educational model, which is based on the core concepts of resilience, reflection and success.
“We don’t judge our students on whatever led them to leave school, but we ask them to reflect on their patterns and behaviors as they start a new pathway with us,” she says. “We show them how to bounce back from their past struggles and develop a new way of thinking that is key to their becoming successful college students in the future.”
Ristenbatt began her work at CUNY Prep as a forensic science teacher in 2004. She earned her bachelor of science degree in forensic science then got a master’s degree in supervision and administration. During her career, Ristenbatt also has been a New York City public middle school science teacher and adjunct instructor for The City University of New York.
Assistant Director of College Success
Cindy Spector, who joined CUNY Prep as a humanities teacher in 2004, was appointed director of operations in October 2010. In her current role, Spector oversees everything that keeps the school up and running, from the physical building to the day-to-day happenings inside.
“After many years of working in various capacities at CUNY Prep, this job allows me to combine all of my experience to improve things at a systemic level,” she says.
Born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, she holds a bachelor's degree in history and education from Bradley University and a master’s in human resources from Georgia State.
Throughout her career, Spector has worked with students in a variety of settings, including community centers and juvenile prisons.
Before assuming her current role at CUNY Prep, she was the college faculty liaison helping students navigate the transition to college.
“I believe that students need a supportive, safe environment in order to thrive,” she says. “As part of that, we really need to encourage them to grow socially and emotionally as well as academically.”
Spector enjoys cooking, music, travel and spending time with her young son, Levi.
No matter what’s going on at CUNY Prep, Shannon Taggart is likely to be somewhere in the background capturing it on video. She joined the CUNY Prep staff in 2007 as the resident documentarian. She tells the stories of the schools and our students.
“We use video here for everything from staff development to building school culture and also simply helping our students understand that they are a part of something very special at CUNY Prep,” she says.
Taggart is a professional filmmaker and says her career has allowed her to see lots of interesting places and meet many talented people, including the students and staff at CUNY Prep. She's been a TV news reporter and producer, worked in corporate public relations and done a variety of film projects in different parts of the world, especially Central and South America. Taggart is a former elementary school teacher and has taught writing and filmmaking at CUNY Prep.
“I really enjoy working with our students,” she says. “They are some of the brightest and most creative young people around, and I love helping them tell their stories.”
Assistant to the Principal
Tamika Wilson is a big part of the school's central nervous system, handling everything from student Metrocards to scheduling and event planning, to fielding phone calls. Like most staff at CUNY Prep, she wears a lot of hats in her role as Assistant to the Principal.
"I really like the fact that every day is a little different," says Wilson. "I especially enjoy interacting with the students and watching them grow during their time here."
Wilson, who joined the staff in 2005, says she continues working at CUNY Prep because she appreciates the opportunity students have here.
"I really see a lot of myself in the students," says Wilson. "I'm proud to be part of a program that recognizes that sometimes young people get off track and all they need is a second chance."
Outside of work, Wilson is a busy mom of two boys and loves to roller skate and sing. In fact, you'll often catch her humming in the hallways of CUNY Prep.