Faculty & Staff

Sequoia Pathfinder Academy at Eastmark Principal Mia Damiani

Hello Griffin Families,

My name is Mia Damiani and I am excited to introduce myself as the new Principal of Sequoia Pathfinder Academy at Eastmark!

My career in education began 16 years ago as a 3rd and 4th grade teacher in Tempe, AZ. After spending 7 years in the classroom, I became a Structured English Immersion Coach and then went on to Grand Canyon University in 2013 as a faculty member in the College of Education. I joined Edkey, Inc. in 2017, where I served as the Assistant Principal at Pathfinder Academy in Mesa.

I was raised in the east valley and attended Arizona State University, where I received a Bachelor’s Degree in Multilingual/Multicultural Education in 2002 and a Master’s Degree in Educational Administration in 2007.

When I am not at school, I am a mom to four pretty cool kids! My son and daughter are both in college (almost off the payroll! :-) ) and my younger daughters are 9 and 12. In my “free time”, I love to grill on my patio, spend time with my family, and travel as much as possible.

I am so thankful to have the opportunity to be a part of this innovative, dedicated and caring community. I look forward to getting to know you all!

Please feel free to introduce yourself to me by email: mdamiani@edkey.org or feel free to stop by the school any time after July 2nd!

Sequoia Pathfinder Academy at Eastmark Teaching Staff

Daney Cepeda, Kindergarten TeacherDaney Cepeda

Kindergarten Teacher | Kindergarten Grade Supply List

Hola, my name is Daney Cepeda and I am honored to be part of the SPAE team this year. This will be my first year teaching Kindergarten and I am looking forward to an exciting and successful year. In the past, I have taught dual language for first grade; I also taught preschool for two years, and I have worked with special needs students as well. I possess a Bachelor’s Degree of Science in Psychology and I am very passionate about the well being and individual success of all of my students.

I was born in Panamá and raised in Puerto Rico and Spanish is my native language. I have lived in Arizona for three years and I love the beauty the desert has to offer. I have a ten year old son and we are a very active family who enjoy being outdoors. I love hiking, kayaking, skiing, and watching soccer.

I am excited for this year and I can assure you that I will strive to provide a fun and safe learning environment for every student. Expect your child to experience new challenges, while developing new written and oral skills from bilingual education immersion.

Erin McDonald, Kindergarten TeacherErin McDonald

Kindergarten Teacher | Kindergarten Grade Supply List

My name is Erin McDonald and I’m very excited to be a part of the Sequoia Pathfinder Academy at Eastmark learning community. I pursued my life-long love of science while attending Arizona State University where I studied anthropology and geology. I have enjoyed using my background while helping young learners pursue their own scientific and self-discoveries. I have taught preschool for 2 years and this will be my ninth year as a kindergarten teacher. I am very excited to be at a school that embraces a project approach to learning. Be prepared for your child to take charge of their own learning as they learn reading, writing and math skills through exploring topics that interest them!

Julia DeRose, First Grade TeacherJulia DeRose

First Grade Teacher | First Grade Supply List

Hi, my name is Julia DeRose and I am very excited to be joining the SPAE team this year as a 1st grade teacher! This year will be my 12th year as a teacher; I have previously taught both Kindergarten and 2nd grade. I am very happy to be starting a new adventure in 1st grade!

I am originally from Illinois; however at this point, I have lived in AZ longer and consider it my home. I graduated from The University of Arizona with my degree in Elementary Education.

I currently live in Tempe with my husband and two daughters, Anya (7) and Keira (2). We also have a puggle named Spike. When I am not teaching, I enjoy spending time with my family, reading, watching movies, and going on walks (when it isn't too hot).

I am looking forward to a fantastic year at Sequoia Pathfinder Academy at Eastmark!

Melissa Sandberg, First Grade TeacherMelissa Sandberg

First Grade Teacher | First Grade Supply List

My name is Melissa Sandberg. This will be my fourth year teaching at Sequoia Pathfinder Academy at Eastmark, and I am really looking forward to an awesome year! I have lived in Arizona since 2008, but I am originally from Highland Park, Illinois. I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2001 with a Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education and received my Master’s degree in Education (Reading) from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in 2006. I was a public school teacher in Chicago and Wisconsin for several years, and I also taught Kindergarten for three years at a school in East Mesa. Spending time with my family is my favorite thing to do, but I also enjoy reading, watching movies, and going to garage sales.

Angela Sermeno, Second Grade TeacherAngela Sermeno

Second Grade Teacher | Second Grade Supply List

Hi, I’m Angela Sermeño and I am thrilled to be a member of SPAE staff! Originally from Texas, my family moved to Arizona to gain opportunity and adventure. I joined the Edkey Charter School Organization in 2009 and have teaching experience in kindergarten, first and second.

I received my Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Arizona State University East. In addition, I earned a Master’s degree in Teaching and Learning from Argosy University, Phoenix College of Education.

I have been together with my high school sweetheart, Eddie, and we have two energetic dogs that we rescued. Personally, I enjoy gardening, traveling, hiking, making natural remedies, and spending quality time with family and friends.

I see each day as an opportunity to learn something new! I hope to empower students and instill the motivation for lifelong learning. As a teacher, I truly believe that every child will be known and will strive to offer positive school experiences so that children continue to have an innate desire to learn and the power to grow. In my classroom, I create a stimulating environment that helps to enable students to reach their fullest potential. I am looking forward to another amazing year at Sequoia Pathfinder Academy at Eastmark!

Loralee Panagakis, Second Grade TeacherLoralee Panagakis

Second Grade Teacher | Second Grade Supply List

Hello, my name is Mrs. Panagakis. I’m excited to welcome and integrate your child’s ideas to the classroom. My husband of 22 years and our two children moved to Arizona last year from coastal North Carolina. Although I was born and raised in Albuquerque, NM, I have lived in different places while my husband served and recently retired from the U.S. Navy. I was fortunate enough to begin my teaching career 18 years ago as a Pre-K teacher in San Clemente, CA, and since then, teaching has been a part of my journey.

I am a certified and highly qualified educator. I received my BA degree in Elementary Ed. from the University of North Carolina Wilmington, and my Masters in Ed. -Program Reading Specialist from Liberty University.

On my spare time I enjoy the beach, traveling, running, reading, painting and spending time with my family. Some of my favorite things are: coffee, Chicago Cubs, plants, Skittles, and all shades of blue.

I’m excited to be a part of SPAE’s mission and vision, and I’m looking forward to another wonderful year together!

Christa Dandoy, Third Grade TeacherChrista Dandoy

Third Grade Teacher | Third Grade Supply List

Hello, my name is Christa Dandoy. I am originally from Utah, but have lived in Arizona so long I consider it home. I graduated from Arizona State University with a Bachelor’s in Elementary Education. I am a certified and highly qualified teacher that also holds an Early Childhood Education endorsement. I completed my Master’s in Education from Walden University with an emphasis in technology integration in the K-12 classroom. I have taught for nine years and love it! In my spare time, I enjoy reading, listening to music, and watching soccer. I also love traveling to new places and sharing my experiences with my students. I have been at this school from the beginning and have loved seeing our school grow. I am so excited for this year and helping every child realize their full potential!

Patty Luft, Third Grade TeacherPatty Luft

Third Grade Teacher | Third Grade Supply List

My name is Patty Luft and I am so excited to be starting my second year at Sequoia Pathfinder Academy at Eastmark. This year I will be moving from second grade to third grade.

I have taught at the elementary level for the past twelve years. I was a first grade teacher for seven years and then I moved to second grade for the past four years. Last summer, my husband and I moved to Eastmark in Mesa from Oshkosh, Wisconsin. I love that I can walk to work!

I have two sons. Matthew is 22 and a recent college graduate. He works in the Accounting Department at Artesyn Embedded Technologies in Tempe. My youngest son, Jacob, is a sophomore at the University of Oklahoma. He will be 20 this fall. Jacob is studying Industrial Engineering.

My husband, Rod, and I love to explore our new state. We enjoy hiking and sightseeing. When we have time off together, we love to travel around the country.

Alicia Burrows, Fourth Grade TeacherAlicia Burrows

Fourth Grade Teacher | Fourth Grade Supply List

Hello, my name is Alicia Burrows, and I am excited to be teaching fourth grade for my second year here at Sequoia Pathfinder Academy at Eastmark. I grew up in Orange County, California where I got my Bachelors and credential at California State University, Fullerton and enjoyed the ocean and mountains that California provides. I have taught small groups of students from second grade through fifth grade for five years. A couple years ago, I had the opportunity to move to the beautiful state of Arizona and teach third grade. Some of my hobbies include cooking and hiking as well as oil and watercolor painting. Last year in fourth grade, we had fun creating circuits, visiting the Capitol, and researching famous people to write our own biographies. I look forward to meeting my new students this year and seeing them grow.

Prudence Sanders, Fourth Grade TeacherPrudence Sanders

Fourth Grade Teacher | Fourth Grade Supply List

Greetings! My name is Prudence Sanders and I am honored to join the Sequoia Pathfinder staff this year as a fourth grade teacher. I am fortunate to have realized my ambition of teaching which I first discovered very early in life. I have now been teaching elementary education for over twelve years. I was born and raised in Champaign, Illinois where I also attended college at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. There I obtained both a Bachelor’s Degree and a Master’s Degree in the field of elementary education.

Currently, I reside in Mesa with my husband of 17 years and two children, Brooke and Grant. Brooke is 11 years old and will be starting seventh grade this year and Grant is 6 years old and will be starting first grade. Both my children were born in Portland, Oregon and after being there for 11 years I have really appreciated how amazing the three hundred plus days of sunshine are here in Arizona!

When not teaching, I enjoy spending quality time with my family, cheering for my alma mater in sports, and reading. I am committed and passionate about education and look forward to inspiring the next generation of lifelong learners!

Kelli Teskey, Fifth Grade TeacherKelli Teskey

Fifth Grade Teacher | Fifth Grade Supply List

Hello! My name is Kelli Teskey and I am excited to be teaching fifth and sixth grade again this school year. I was born and raised in Indianapolis, IN and moved to Arizona in 2016. Arizona is a beautiful state and I love living here. In my spare time, I enjoy hiking, reading, and playing with my dog Koda.

I received my Bachelors of Science from Purdue University and I have a strong passion for animals and science. I can’t wait to explore these areas with my students this year. My goal is to inspire students through hands-on experiences in science and math and show them that they are subjects that can be fun and exciting! I look forward to another amazing year here at SPAE.

Al Pajak, Sixth Grade TeacherAl Pajak

Sixth Grade Teacher | Sixth Grade Supply List

Hello! My name is Al Pajak (AKA Mr. Al) and I am excited to teach social studies and science this year at Sequoia Pathfinder Academy at Eastmark. I have taught the past three years at SPAE as the STEM Instructor from the Arizona Science Center. I’ve centered life and career around science and education. In college, although I majored in Geology, at the University of California, Riverside, I worked in the Biology department cleaning bones for the comparative anatomy collection. After graduating with a B.S. in Geology, I worked for the San Bernardino County Museum, recovering fossils in construction sites. In 1992, I entered Quaternary Studies Program at Northern Arizona University to study mammalian fossils from the last 1.5 million years and received my M.S. in 1997. In the summers, with John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon, I researched fossil remains and presented public interpretive ranger programs. In 2002, I completed the educational credential program at the University of Nebraska and began teaching with a strong constructivist guiding philosophy and a flair for inquiry teaching. “Those who do the doing, do the learning.” In 2009, as a Pathway Pioneer, I was one of 120 Nevada educators leading the way in the use of technology in the classroom. With the Arizona Science Center, I became a STEM instructor in the Fall of 2011 and then a Professional Development Facilitator in January 2015. During this time, I presented with the 2013 APS Back to School Fair, the 2013 CUE Nevada, 2014 and 2016 ISTE, and the 2014 Arizona STEM Club Conference and facilitated many educator workshops, 2016 AzSTA Integrate to Innovate and many educator workshops. Recently, I became a 2016 PBS Digital LearningMedia Digital Innovator. This fall, I began my dissertation work at Prescott College with a focus on STEM Integration and Sustainability Education. I am currently developing integrated STEM and Maker curricula with a multidisciplinary focus and workshops focusing on problem / project based learning. I presented at ASTA 2017 on Student Sustainability Scorecards and Project Based Learning. I am the father of an amazing 15 year old daughter. I also enjoy cooking, photography, and distance running. My wife and I celebrated our 20th anniversary this May.

Tricia Peterson, Sixth Grade TeacherTricia Peterson

Sixth Grade Teacher | Sixth Grade Supply List

Hello, my name is Tricia Peterson and I am thrilled to teach fifth and sixth grade again this year! During college, I had incredible experiences as a volunteer teacher overseas where I discovered my love for traveling and helping others learn. I graduated Summa Cum Laude from Arizona State University in 1998 and taught several years at a school in Mesa and this is my third year at SPAE.

My husband and I just celebrated 21 years of marriage! We have three teenagers and two adorable schnoodles. Our family enjoys watching movies, visiting California, and cheering on ASU. My goal is to encourage students to achieve both academic and personal excellence. We will have a wonderful school year together!

Sequoia Pathfinder Academy at Eastmark Support Staff

Jocelyn Aley, SecretaryJocelyn Aley


Hello! My name is Mrs. Aley and I am thrilled to begin another year at SPAE (my 5th!). I keep busy as a wife to Jeremy and mom to three happy children-- Milo (6), Katherine (5) and Eleanor (almost 2). I will have two kids at SPAE this year! I also have two dogs named Piper and Copper. I graduated summa cum laude from Arizona State University with my Bachelor’s degree in English in 2012. In my spare time, I enjoy going to Disneyland, redecorating my home, swimming, and spending quality time with my family.

Penny Boyd, Lunch ManagerPenny Boyd

Lunch Manager | Lunch Application

My name is Penny Boyd and I am excited to be coming back to Sequoia Pathfinder Academy as the lunch manager and paraprofessional. These last couple of years, I have been blessed to be a part of the SPAE family and I have the advantage of working in the kitchen and meeting all of our students.

I am a mom of two boys and I’ve been married for fifteen years to my college sweetheart. We are an active family. We love hiking, camping and being outside. I graduated from CAC with my Bachelor’s in Business and Financing and I am a new graduate from GCU receiving my BS in Psychology- majoring in Domestic and Substance abuse along with my Associates in Nutrition Counseling. I look forward to a great 2017-2018 school year!

Danielle GauaniDanielle Gauani

Art Teacher

A very warm hello! My name is Danielle Gauani, and this is my third year teaching art at Sequoia Pathfinder Academy at Eastmark. Originally from the Netherlands and New York, I made my way to beautiful Arizona to attend Northern Arizona University. My husband and I have three children together.

I have had a lifelong love, devotion, and respect for the Visual & Literary Arts. While volunteering extensively over the past 7 years in preschools and elementary schools, it became clear to me, that my greatest passion is to introduce students to Art from around the world… and to invite them to journey deeper into their own imagination. Inspiring each child to see that, in fact…. they are the Masterpiece!

Suzanne Marciniak, ParaprofessionalSuzanne Marciniak


Hello, my name is Suzanne Marciniak. This will be my second year as a paraprofessional at Sequoia Pathfinder Academy at Eastmark.

I am from Seattle, Washington but I have lived in Arizona for the past 15 years. I am married to a wonderful husband of 20 years and have an amazing daughter who is 11 years old and in sixth grade here at SPAE.

Before joining the SPAE team, I studied accounting and business management and have worked in this field for over 25 years. I have also had a career in loan processing and underwriting, working for various financial institutions.

When my daughter entered kindergarten I decided to take a break from the workforce and become a stay at home mom. I wanted to devote my time and energy to raising my child. It was then I started volunteering at her school, working in her classroom and assisting her teachers with reading centers, math and spelling. That’s when I realized that I loved working with kids and helping them learn. I have volunteered at my daughter's school every year since. I feel so fortunate that I have had the opportunity to be a part of her classroom and educational experience. And now I have the fortuity to be working with all the amazing children at SPAE. It is truly rewarding.

In my spare time I love to read, spend time with my family and work on arts and crafts projects.

I am looking forward to seeing all the familiar faces of the children that I have grown so fond of last year, and I am excited to meet all of the new students that will be joining us this year.

Jessika Murillo, Health AssistantJessika Murillo

Health Assistant

Jessika was born in Puerto Rico and moved to Mesa, Arizona in 1993. As a kid she always knew she wanted to help people. She has worked as a Registered Medical Assistant for 7 years. She graduated from Apollo College in 2007 and is looking forward to returning and continuing her education in the medical field. She hopes to attain her BSN and specialize in holistic and natural medicine. She recently was a Paraprofessional, where she worked in the Special Education Department in the Kindergarten Autism classroom. In her free time, she enjoys her time with her husband of 15 years, 4 amazing children and her dog. Her personal interests include spending time outdoors, reading, and drinking coffee. Jessika is a great believer in the Sequoia Pathfinder Academy at Eastmark Mission and is excited about being part of the SPAE family.

Angelita Padilla, Para-professionalAngelita Padilla


Angelita (Angel) Padilla was born and raised in the small town of Silver City, New Mexico. She moved to southern California to attend the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising where she received a degree in Merchandise Marketing. Angel moved to Arizona with a job promotion and loved the area. She later became a stay at home mom when her son Vincent was born. When Vincent was going to start kindergarten, the family specifically relocated so he could attend Sequoia Pathfinder Academy at Eastmark its inaugural year. Angel found a passion for helping teachers and students starting at a young age. Her mother and grandmother are both retired teachers and Angel was always eager to help in the classroom throughout their many years of service to children. Her volunteerism extended to the SPAE community. Last year, Angel was asked to join the SPAE staff and was thrilled to have that opportunity. Along with her husband John, daughter ,Alisha, who will be in 8th grade, and Vincent, the family enjoys baseball, traveling, helping the homeless, and having family game nights. She is excited to be returning to SPAE for another great year of learning, growing and of course fun!

Tammy Shaw, PE TeacherTammy Shaw

PE Teacher

Hello, my name is Tammy Shaw and I’m an enthusiastic and energetic teacher with a passion for health and fitness who strives to make a positive change in the lives of my students.

I have over 15 years of teaching experience throughout all grade levels from pre-school through adult learners. I have a history of successful coaching in several sports including tennis, cheerleading, and gymnastics, where I’ve coached several state, regional, and national competitors.

My family and I love to travel and explore new places. Being outside and especially in or by the water is my “HAPPY” place. After spending the first half of my life on the east coast of the United States (Florida and the Carolinas) my family decided to take a leap and move to the desert. I have been here almost 3 years and although there is no beach, there is endless beauty and new places to explore.

I’m excited to be joining the SPAE staff and am super excited to meet all of my new students and join my children as a GRIFFIN!!

Lyn Wetzel, Curriculum SpecialistLyn Wetzel

Curriculum Specialist

Lyn Wetzel received her Bachelor's degree in Elementary Education from University of Arizona. She is a certified and highly qualified elementary teacher that also holds an Early Childhood Education endorsement. Lyn has spent the last four years teaching gifted in the Chandler district in a First and Second grade combination classroom. Prior to Chandler, she taught First grade in the Madison School District for 6 years. During her time there, she was an active member of Madison's gifted committee and participated in curriculum mapping at the district. Lyn began her teaching career in the Scottsdale School District at an Integrated Thematic Instruction school, where she worked with Kindergarten and First grade students for 5 years. She is thrilled to blend her integrated curriculum experience with her gifted training, as Sequoia Pathfinder Academy's Curriculum Coach. Mrs. Wetzel can't wait to know you and your child.

Parents that would like information on our teachers' qualifications can contact our front office
or use the Contact Us link in the navigation bar.

Parents that would like information on our teachers’ qualifications can contact our front office or use the Contact Us link in the navigation bar.