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.
Cynthia Bell joined CUNY Prep as a Math teacher in the fall of 2011. She comes from a background of teaching math at the Pre-GED, GED and college preparatory levels.
"The desire to be a lifelong learner is what inspires me to teach everyday -- whether or not I'm in a formal classroom," she says.
Bell received her B.A. in English from Florida International University and then completed her M.A. in English Education at New York University. She says that while her degrees are in English, Math had also been a talent and a favorite subject throughout school. She stumbled into a math-teaching job upon graduation and over the years has had a chance to hone her craft.
"I really love teaching Math," says Bell. "I like to help the students discover that anyone can learn Math if you approach it the right way.
Beyond her teaching life, Bell is the proud mother of two girls and has a passion for cooking cuisines from around the world.
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.
College Success Coach
Ms. Galvez joined CUNY Prep in August 2011 as a College Success Coach. Most of her time is spent at the Hostos College campus, ensuring CUNY Prep alumni are on track to graduate with their Associate's degree and transfer to a university to earn their Bachelor's.
Ms. Galvez was born and raised in the heart Los Angeles. She holds a B.A. in History and Chicana/o Studies, with a minor in Political Science from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). After working with Community College students as the Transfer Admission Counselor at a Liberal Arts College in L.A., she decided to return to school to earn a Masters. Ms. Galvez made the trip across the country for school and now holds an M.A. in Organizational and Leadership Development in Higher Education.
Her community involvement while in college grounded her in understanding the value of higher education as a resource for low-income and working class communities. She is passionate about issues of access and retention in college, advocating for undocumented students and student empowerment.
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 Mathematics Teacher
Robert Guerra, the lead math teacher, came to CUNY Prep in September 2009. He teaches pre-college math as well as “At Home in College Mathematics,” a course designed to help students test out of college remediation.
Guerra grew up in the Bronx and holds a master's degree in adolescent education from Mercy College. He says building his students’ confidence is the center of his educational philosophy.
“Students sometimes walk into my class for the first time with a major fear of mathematics,” he says. “I take pride in changing this perspective.”
Guerra also has a fascination for video games, playing and collecting video games. Also, he’s a baseball fan.
Student and Program Data Administrator
Since coming to the school in February 2004, Bill Hans has been in charge of processing the data for enrollment, scheduling, attendance and grading of CUNY Prep students.
Hans earned a bachelor of science degree in math from the City College of New York, a master of science degree in math and computer science from the Courant Institute of Mathematics at New York University.
He’s had a varied career, which has included 17 years of software development and five years as an IT consultant. He also completed the requirements for certification in teaching secondary-school math, at Lehman College. Hans has taught courses in private and public secondary schools, colleges and graduate schools in math and computer science.
He says the best part of his job is the challenge of solving a variety of problems everyday. Hans enjoys spending time with his four grandchildren.
Assistant Director, College Access, Retention & Success
Todd Herrell, one of CUNY Prep’s founding faculty members, joined CUNY Prep in August 2003. After teaching humanities for several years, he became assistant director of college access and retention.
Herrell holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a master’s degree in secondary education from Hunter College. He worked in the corporate world for several years before pursuing a career in education.
“I really like working with young adults," he says. “They are very informed, and when they learn something new that they can apply to their lives, you can see the excitement in their eyes.”
In addition to his administration duties, Herrell is an adjunct faculty member at Hostos Community College. He teaches criminal justice and government courses for College Now, which allows students to earn college credit while in high school.
“It’s important to me that students explore how they know what they know and for them to develop a love of learning,” he says.
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.
Public Safety Officer
Antoinette Lowe joined the Public Safety team at CUNY Prep in spring 2009, and says she cannot get enough of the school's family-oriented atmosphere.
"There is always someone in CUNY Prep willing to help and listen no matter what the problem might be," says Lowe. "The teachers are great. They know when to have fun, but they also known when it is time to set fun aside and focus."
Public safety officer Lowe was born in Kinston, Jamaica but was raised in Brooklyn, New York. She graduated from Brooklyn College in 2007 with a degree in political science and sociology.
"The whole concept of CUNY Prep is wonderful⎯helping kids who have dropped out of school get their life back on track and giving them the opportunity to compete in the world," she says.
Outside of work, Officer Lowe enjoys being part of her extended family and taking care of her two kids. She also enjoys cooking and watching Dr. Phil.
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.
Jenna Martinez joined CUNY Prep as a humanities teacher in the fall of 2012. She has worked in grassroots and non-profit educational programs, teaching literacy and adult education.
"My goal is create a class of critical thinkers," says Martinez. "Creating an environment where students feel safe to voice their ideas is my priority. I want students to leave my class as informed citizens. That is so powerful."
Martinez was born in San Antonio, Texas but has called New York City home since 2010. She loves traveling and has spent time living abroad in Guatemala, Mexico and Spain. She holds a bachelor’s degree in photojournalism from the University of Texas at Austin and a master’s degree in international relations from Alliant International University.
Outside of teaching she likes to read, drink coffee, explore Brooklyn, and love on her dog, Pocket. She is a certified political junkie.
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.
Steve Netcoh joined CUNY Prep as a humanities teacher in 2012 after working as an adjunct professor of english at St. John’s University.
"I believe in the transformative power of education," says Netcoh, "and I am excited about the opportunity to help students become lifelong learners and critically conscious citizens."
Netcoh was born and raised in central Connecticut and earned a bachelor’s degree in english at Trinity College in Hartford. He moved to New York in 2009 to earn a master’s degree in English at St. John’s University where he also worked as a graduate assistant in the departments of english and theology.
Netcoh specializes in the teaching of writing but believes in an interdisciplinary approach to education. In the past, he has integrated the historical, social, and cultural study of hip hop into his english curriculum.
Outside of CUNY Prep, Netcoh is an avid reader and sports fan. If he’s not catching up on the news or reading the latest social and political commentary, you will probably find him watching a basketball or football game on TV.
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.
Ann Marie Rivera joined the CUNY Prep staff in 2010. In her role as administrative assistant, she supports the College Access department, doing everything from student data entry to fielding phone calls.
"I am thankful for the opportunity to work at CUNY Prep." says Rivera. "I love the unity, passion and dedication that everyone has here, no matter what position they hold."
Rivera is a life-long Bronx resident. She studied Secretarial Science and Business Administration at Borough of Manhattan Community College.
"CUNY Prep has a great program and gives opportunities to students that otherwise, may have not known were available to them," says Rivera. "They give students hope and show them that no matter what their circumstances, they can achieve their goals and persevere."
Rivera enjoys spending her free time with her family and her dogs. Her hobbies include listening to music, reading and cooking.
Assistant Director of Curriculum and Professional Development
Rondi Silva, one of CUNY Prep’s founding faculty members, has a special connection with CUNY Prep students because she dropped out of school on her 16th birthday.
“I always loved learning—real education—but always hated school,” she says. “I guess I hoped to do it better and not let so many students like me slip through the cracks.”
Silva, who taught humanities at CUNY Prep until she moved into her staff development role in 2009, says it is the job of educators to figure out how to help young people open up to and get excited about education.
“I strongly believe not only that all young people can learn but also that they want to learn even if they say they don’t.”
After a few years of working dead-end jobs, Silva returned to school, earning a bachelor's degree and then a master’s in art history at Hunter College. She’s currently completing her doctorate in the urban education program at the CUNY Graduate Center.
“I figured out that the secret to doing well in school and in life is that there is no secret,” she says. “You just have to work hard and push yourself, and eventually you actually learn things, people notice and opportunities open up.”
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.”
Michael Weinberg joined the staff at CUNY Prep in June, 2011 as a Research Associate. He is in charge of analyzing student data including attendance, test scores, and enrollment and retention in college. He helps develop reports on the achievement of CUNY Prep students for various outside agencies.
Weinberg is originally from Atlanta, Georgia and has earned a bachelor of arts degree in education and psychology, a master of arts in literacy education and a doctorate in educational measurement. He has worked on a number of educational research studies involving issues facing LGBT students in K-12 settings. As well, he has worked on teams studying medical education.
He taught in public schools for 11 years, and has also taught undergraduate level statistics classes. He finds the mission and success of CUNY Prep inspiring and hopes to help CUNY Prep disseminate its model to other programs for out of school youth.
Outside of work, he enjoys swimming, cooking and traveling.
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.
Katie Wilson joined the CUNY Prep faculty during its first year of in 2003, but took a hiatus to get her master's in public health degree in San Francisco. She returned in 2009 and teaches a course in public health.
“In my classroom, performance expectations are set very high, and the tone aims to be serious but also flexible and engaging,” she says.
Wilson, who was born and raised in Ottowa, Canada, also has been a cancer researcher and international wilderness guide. She’s also been a yoga instructor, and has put that talent to work at CUNY Prep, teaching elective yoga classes.
Wilson says her educational philosophy is based on the belief that all students have the capacity to succeed at CUNY Prep and in life.
“It’s incredible to witness the transformations that students go through from their first day at CUNY Prep to graduation day,” she says.