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James Gagner

Position:
Principal & Executive Director
Email:

I am honored to be part of the Phoenix Academy Family. Each year, I look forward to meeting our students and their families. The success of your child depends on us working together, and it is a responsibility I take seriously. As the principal of Phoenix Academy, I embrace the opportunity to partner with you to provide our students with challenging, engaging and memorable school experience. As I enter my 29th year in education, I am fortunate to have had a variety of opportunities to prepare me: After seventeen years of teaching elementary grades, my career path led me into administration. I have spent time as a principal, executive director, and program coordinator. My Master’s Degree is in School Leadership through the University of Sioux Falls, with my Bachelors's Degree in elementary education from Southwest Minnesota State University.

I recently retired from the Air National Guard after 30 years of service. I enjoy time as a sports official while refereeing to basketball and football. On a more personal note, I am the father of two beautiful daughters. Tiffany, who is married to my son-in-law Eric, lives in California. My daughter Ariel was silently born on the 17th of September, 2012 and is my little angel. I love both of my daughters like crazy.

I look forward to building strong relationships with parents, students, and community partners. I am committed to ensuring that every Phoenix Academy student is safe, loved and cared for when they reside in school here. Please know that my door is always open. Feel free to stop in, call, or email me to discuss any concerns, suggestions or ideas to help make this year the best year yet! I feel truly blessed to be part of such a special school community.

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Mia Rollins

Position:
Front Office Manager
Email:

Hi! My name is Mia Rollins and I am the Front Office Manager at Phoenix. This is my second year here as an employee, but my third year here as a parent. I am a mother to 4 humans, 3 dogs, 7 chickens, 3 ducks, 1 miniature horse and a cat. We moved to Minnesota in 2013, from Lincoln, NE. However, Tulsa, OK is my hometown. While the winters are difficult, my family has grown to love the North Branch community and we are happy we made the move. I can assure you, as parents, that the faculty and staff here at Phoenix Academy strive to do what is best for our students and that everyone cares deeply for all children. I see it first hand every single day.

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Johanna Puelston

Position:
Administrative Assistant
Email:

I am glad to be working at Phoenix! My husband and I have lived in the North Branch area for fifteen years, and all of our five kids have gone or go to Phoenix currently. When I'm not working or trying to tame the laundry mountain at our house, I like to cheer my kids on at their activities, read a good novel, or take my paddleboard out on a lake. I love sunshine, mountains, coffee, and cookies, and I'm glad to be supporting the staff here!

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Jessica Beuning

Position:
Kindergarten Teacher
Email:

Hello, I am Jessica Beuning. I am the kindergarten teacher at Phoenix this year! Just a little information about my family and myself. I grew up in the Chisago Lakes Area. My Husband and I live in Lindstrom with our 3 kids and dog. We like to spend our free time at our cabin up North or on the lake/ river with family. We enjoy spending time doing things outside like going four wheeling hunting and fishing or other outdoor activities.

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Hannah Jakubowski

Position:
1st Grade Teacher
Email:

Hi! I am Hannah Jakubowski but almost everyone I know calls me Ms. Hannah. I grew up here in North Branch and attended Bethel University where I obtained my Bachelor of Arts degree in Elementary Education and Early childhood. I have been teaching for the past six years and my favorite part is meeting new students and their families! Speaking of families, I have a very encouraging and patient husband named Johnny and three amazing kids, Nora, Isaac and Calvin. Nora is in her second year of preschool, she loves super hero’s and gymnastics. Isaac is a busy two year old who loves trains and dinosaurs. Calvin is loving his toes and rolling over, he is so close to crawling! In my free time I love crocheting and listening to my audio books!

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Sonja Govednik

Position:
2nd Grade Teacher
Email:

This is my 23nd year in education. I have taught grades K-6 and have enjoyed all age levels, however, primary grades are my favorite. During my prior teaching career, I spent the majority of my time teaching Language Arts and Math Skills. I love being a teacher! This is my 5th year at Phoenix Academy of Art and Science. The kids, parents and teachers are a wonderful family at Phoenix and definitely make being a teacher worth it! On a personal note, my amazing husband James always makes me laugh. I also have three fantastic kids. Zachary, who will always be my 18 month old little boy that watches us from above each day; Abbie, who loves to play softball; and Owen, who loves to play soccer and football. In my free time I am driving my kiddos to sports and school activities, but I always try to squeeze in time for a good book.

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Joe Peterson

Position:
3rd grade teacher
Email:

Hello! I am Joseph Peterson. I am excited to enter my second official year as a teacher! I graduated December 2019 from Saint Cloud State University with a Bachelor's degree in Elementary Education. I am excited to teach at Phoenix again this year! I have 2 brothers and 4 sisters, all of whom are younger than me. My mom is the reason I got into teaching. She is a Kindergarten teacher in the Anoka-Hennepin school district! Both she and my dad are really supportive and have helped me become who I am today. A few of my interests include: video games, music (fun fact: I have an unofficial music minor), reading, movies, science, summer, food, and learning, just to name a few!

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Liana Emery

Position:
3rd/4th Grade Teacher
Email:

Hi! My name is Liana Emery and I teach 3/4! This is my 20th year teaching and second year at Phoenix. I am so happy to be part of this amazing school!

I am originally from California, and started my career there. I went to California State University Chico and also Bemidji State University and graduated from each with Education degrees. Most of my experience has been in Charter schools and I have had the opportunity to be involved in starting two! I love teaching!

My other career is MOM! I have three amazing children. Sierra and Trevor are twins in 9th grade. Autumn is a sixth grader. They are involved in clubs, music and sports at school and are all
Around great humans that are always hungry. :) We are alway busy but in a good way! We love to camp, go on road trips, mountain bike, swim, sail, kayak and anything outdoors!

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Mary Stamm

Position:
4th Grade Teacher
Email:

I am so excited to be working at the Phoenix Academy of Arts and Science. After being a substitute for many years, this is my fourth year teaching fourth grade here, and I love having my own classroom. I graduated with my Bachelor's degree in secondary education (Social Studies w/ an emphasizes in history) from St Cloud State University. I recently earned my Masters of Teaching degree in Elementary Education from Concordia University, St. Paul. This is my third year at Phoenix and I am having a blast. On a personal note, I have an awesome husband named Jason, and a sweet daughter named Emma. My favorite activities include: watching my daughter dance, spending time with my nephews, having coffee with my mom, and hanging out with my fur babies (two dogs named Scruffy and Mika).

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Brandon Frenette

Position:
5th Grade Teacher
Email:

Hi! I’m Brandon Frenette and am teaching 5th grade. I grew up here in North Branch and graduated from North Branch High School in 2012. After graduating, I moved to Saint Paul to attend college at Hamline University, where I graduated from in 2017 with a degree in German. I previously worked at the Twin Cities German Immersion School as an aftercare attendant and loved it! Due to this, I decided to go back to get my Master’s in Teaching as well as my K-6 license from my alma mater, and worked as a paraprofessional during those two years. I student taught at Salem Hills Elementary in Inver Grove Heights. This is my third year teaching, and I’m happy to be back teaching in my hometown! It feels so familiar, but also so different at the same time! When I’m not teaching, I enjoy spending time playing video games, learning languages (I speak German and French fluently, and can bumble my way through Swedish and Dutch), embroidery, drawing, and spending time with my mom, sister, brother-in-law, and my two nieces, Ruby and Nora.

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Joe Worwa

Position:
6th Grade Teacher
Email:

Hi, I'm Joe Worwa - the 6th Grade Teacher at Phoenix Academy. I graduated from Minnesota State University with a degree in marketing, and received my teaching license from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. This is my fifth year at Phoenix and I'm glad to be here. Spending time with my wife and kids, and playing golf and guitar are things I like to do in my free time. My favorite subject to teach is math and I enjoy traveling and learning new things.

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Gayle Matuke

Position:
Special Education Teacher
Email:

I have worked in the education field in many different capacities for quite some time! My passion is to connect with students, parents, and staff to provide creative educational lessons where students grow in all areas: educational, social, and emotional. I have been blessed with two amazing daughters who I adore, and have learned many lessons from. I have always had animals in my life and think they are able to teach us many things. Right now, I have two horses, three dogs, and three cats. I am excited to continue to learn and grow from the students, parents, and staff at Phoenix Academy!

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Heather Mench

Position:
Title 1 Specialist
Email:

All my life I have wanted to be two things, a mom and a teacher. I have been married to my husband Mike for the past 24 years, and have been a mom to Nick, Maddy, and Joey, which has and continues to be an adventure. My husband and I moved our family to North Branch in 2005 from St. Paul, we were heading back to my family's roots, as my dad was a graduate of NBAHS. I have worked with children since I was 10. I babysat, worked as a student aide at a Montessori school, nannied, and then when I had my children I did home daycare and was able to be home to raise my children, as well as taking in others. When I ran my daycare I always subscribed to curriculum to help get the kids a head start on their learning.

In May of 2018 I went back to college to earn a 2-year degree. In October that year, I was asked if I wanted to interview for a para job here at Phoenix. Walking up to the school, I knew that I was where I was meant to be, seeing many students I knew when I worked in NB Schools. Working at Phoenix has been and continues to be an amazing experience. We have had highs and lows, and no matter what we come out working together and rising above any challenge sent our way. While working here, I have earned a 2-year Associates Degree in Teacher Education. Loving being back in school, I decided to continue on (with Mr. Gagner's encouragement) and go for my 4-year degree in PreK-Elementary Education (K-6), with a minor in SPED. I am hoping to be done with everything in the fall of 2022! I love working here at Phoenix, our staff and students make coming to work each day something to look forward to. I love the fact that we have a school that has a family feeling and everybody knows everyone.

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Holly Pedersen

Position:
Art Specialist
Email:

I am Ms. Holly the Art Specialist here at Phoenix Academy. I have two children, my son Sevren, and daughter Zayda. I have an AMAZING mom that made sure that my love for the arts flourished. I went to City of Lakes Waldorf Art Academy as a youngster, had some amazing experiences there (it was the best school I ever went to, until I started teaching at Phoenix Academy). At 14, I started volunteering at Nursing Homes, which made me realize that I love helping others. I went to school for my MA, worked in hospitals, nursing homes, and homes for disabled adults. I have always loved art, which is why I started my own art business, selling my work. I also love horses, swimming, figure skating, and camping. I am always in the mood for coffee—the more shots of espresso the better! And the students can all tell you: my favorite color is teal!

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Sarah Johnson

Position:
Music, Band, and Choir Teacher
Email:

I am Sarah Johnson, the classroom music, band, and choir teacher at Phoenix Academy of Art and Science. This is my fifth year at Phoenix, and my 14th year teaching music overall. I grew up in Richfield, MN and graduated from Richfield High School. I earned my Bachelor of Arts degree at Gustavus Adolphus College, and I am currently working on earning my Masters Degree in Music Education at the University of St. Thomas.

I am currently living in Cambridge, and make frequent treks to the cities to visit my family and friends. My mom still lives in Richfield, and my brother and his wife live in Woodbury. In my free time I like to read, play my ukulele and sing, cook, play games, and take my dog Maggie for walks.

I am really looking forward to a great school year!

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Charlie Linder

Position:
School Substitute Teacher
Email:

Hey everyone! My name is Charlie Linder, the kids call me Mr. Linder. This is my first year here at the Phoenix Academy and I am the full time Substitute Teacher and I also run some of the after school programs. I was born and raised here in North Branch and graduated from the high school in 2015, then went and got a degree in psychology from Augsburg University while playing baseball for them as well. I learned about this position through my sister who worked here as a Kindergarten Teacher in past years and I am so thankful she introduced me to this school! When I am not at school, I love being active and keeping busy. Whether it is at the golf course, playing baseball, or frisbee golfing, I always find a way to be outside!

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Holly Anderson

Position:
Librarian/Homework Help
Email:

I have been a nurse (46 years) for most of my career and I also hold an elementary education degree for K-6th grades. I love children and enjoy teaching. This is a new experience for me as a librarian, and I have never had such enjoyable employment. I am married and had two children. Our daughters' 3 youngest children go to Phoenix, and I love seeing them frequently. Our son, unfortunately, was killed in an automobile accident in 2016. We remember him with great love. I have a border collie which has really challenged my dog training abilities, but she is the cutest and funniest dog we have owned. I love horses and have a beautiful and gentle buckskin paint horse that I ride frequently. I thank Phoenix Academy for the opportunity to be the librarian and interact with the students. I look forward to seeing their accomplishments in the future.

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Dave Nelson

Position:
Facility & Maintenance
Email:

Mr. Dave is our favorite! He's our custodian and a wonderful grandpa figure to our students. He keeps our school in tip-top shape! He has been a part of the North Branch community for decades and he and his family do so much to serve this area. We're thankful for Mr. Dave!

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Kelly Flores

Position:
Food and Nutrition Coordinator
Email:

Somehow I started my career early on in life, not knowing this is where I would be! Since I was fifteen I've worked in kitchens, restaurants, and grocery stores. Not only was I good at cleaning and washing dishes, I have always had talent with cooking and baking. So I am grateful that I get to manage the Phoenix kitchen! Also, being a mom of three girls, I understand the importance of making healthy meals a priority so that they have the potential to be their best in school.

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Brenda Chilson

Position:
Kitchen Manager
Email:

Hi! I am Miss Brenda, and I enjoy being in the Phoenix Kitchen! My goal is for the students is to eat well, so they can also do well in school! Picky eaters are my challenge! I like to find out what they like to eat and how they will eat it. I have 3 children, 12, 18, and 30. I am involved with North Branch Scouts. Activities I like to do are camping, sewing, cooking, and canning.

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Ashlie Shinler

Position:
Paraprofessional/Kitchen Support Staff
Email:

Hello! I am Miss Ashlie! I am a part time Paraprofessional at Phoenix Academy. This will be my 2nd year as a staff member and my 4th year as a parent! I graduated from high school here in North Branch in 2007! After that, I lived in Stillwater MN then started my family in Hudson WI, and now I’m back with the whole crew! I have two amazing little boys, Maddox, 8yo who is my calm, and Memphis James, 5yo who is my crazy wild! I spend most of my time in the kitchen making sure your kids eat their veggies! I have also been the scooter & yoga coordinator and I am a great hand holder when traveling to buses!

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Sue Hefta

Position:
Before Care
Email:

Hi, my name is Sue Hefta. I am married and have two wonderful grown sons and a beautiful daughter-in-law. Besides spending time with my family, I enjoy photography, camping, painting, and spending time with my mom and my sisters. I have worked with students for over 20 years in different districts and I have to say, that working here at Phoenix Academy has been the most wonderful school I’ve worked at. With an amazing staff and such special students, I have to say that I am truly blessed to be here!

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Brittney Anderson

Position:
Paraprofessional
Email:

Hello everyone! My name is Brittney but most of the students call me Ms. Britt. I started my journey working with kids at the age of sixteen. Early on in life I knew working with kids was my calling. It has been an honor to be apart of all your kids learning experiences. Watching them overcome challenges they face and grow as individuals is a reward in itself. I honestly couldn’t think of a more rewarding job. I’m proud to call Phoenix Academy my home away from home. On a personal level I have three amazing boys: Jason, Jameson, and Jaxson. I also have a fiancé named Josh. We love spending time together going on adventures and creating fun memories with our kids. A dream of mine would be to travel to Hawaii and explore the ocean. My second dream job was to be a Marine Biologist. Hopefully traveling will be my next adventure!

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Frankie Hurtado

Position:
Paraprofessional
Email:

Hello! I am Mrs. Frankie, and this is my second year here at Phoenix! I grew up and still currently live in North Branch! I graduated North
Branch High School, and I never thought that I would end up working in a school, but I
absolutely love it! I grew up babysitting since I was a young teen and have always enjoyed
working with kids. I am so blessed to be a part of an awesome staff at Phoenix Academy, but
even more blessed to be involved with so many kids, and continuously learning from them,
while also assisting them to learn and grow!

On a personal note, I am married to my wonderful husband and we have a 9-year-old son, and a 7-year old daughter, who also attend Phoenix Academy. In my free time I enjoy photography, being involved in my church, thrift store shopping, and spending time with my family. A fun fact about me: I have a twin sister! I lived in Mexico for 7 months, and am fluent in the Spanish language, and love the language and culture. I am so excited to be a part of the Phoenix Academy family, and I look forward to continue to work with the kids, and assist in providing a loving, caring, and positive environment, while learning and growing together through the school year.

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Michelle Leland

Position:
After-Care/Paraprofessional
Email:

I am so happy to call myself part of the Phoenix family! I am Michelle Leland, para and aftercare coordinator. My husband and I have lived in North Branch for the past 14 years, which I have spent raising 3 wonderful boys, ages 12, 14, and 20. We have spent 6 1/2 of those years living on a small hobby farm where we have our own cows, chickens and a rescue dog named Sonny. Included in the chaos of our farm, is a large garden, which I like to can and preserve our own food. When I am not running around like a chicken with my head cut off (punny haha), I love spending time with my 6 nieces and 1 nephew, visiting my parents or visiting my hometown in northern MN. I am so blessed to get to interact with all the amazing children here at Phoenix Academy and especially the ones I get more one-on one time with in Aftercare. They have brought out the child in me and I adore each and everyone of them!

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Cyrena Lehmann

Position:
Paraprofessional
Email:

Hello! I’m Ms. Cyrena and I’m so blessed to be a part of the Phoenix family. I’ve already had the best time working with the kiddos here at school. They truly make me feel joy and I look forward to seeing them each day. Working with kids has always been a passion of mine. I absolutely love helping them learn and also learning from them. Outside of work, I enjoy being with family, friends, and my Great Dane, Letti (she is the same size as me!). Activities I love include: watching movies, playing Nintendo games (especially Super Mario), thrift shopping, spending time with my nieces and nephew, sitting outside by the fire, and agate hunting!

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Kristen Lucchesi

Position:
Paraprofessional
Email:

I’m Kristen but your kiddos refer to me as Mrs. Kristen. I’m the Online Advisor for 7th and 8th grade here at Phoenix Academy. I’ve worked with children for the past 5 years. (Before this, I was a stay at home mom until my youngests started Kindergarten) 3 of those 5 years as a Lead Preschool teacher and then I took a year away to homeschool my own children before coming to Phoenix Academy. Watching children learn and grow brings such joy to my heart. I look forward to continuing this year supporting each of your kids and watching them achieve their big goals! Because we know here at Phoenix, our kids are capable of achieving anything they put their hearts and minds to.

A little glimpse into my life away from school. I’ve been married to my husband for 10 years. Fun fact, I met my husband when I was just 4 days old! How cool is that!? We grew up together as family friends and have so many fond memories together as children. We have 3 incredible sons ages 12 and 9 (twins) and our rescue doggy Tucker. Our family dream is to one day own a hobby farm with goats, ducks, chickens, 1 cow, 1 donkey, barn cats and a puppy friend for Tucker. Our family motto is: Shoot for the moon! Even if you miss you’ll land among the stars!

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Kristen Durham

Position:
Paraprofessional
Email:

Hello, I am Ms. Kristen! I grew up and currently live in North Branch. I also lived in Colorado for seven years, then three years in Alabama, until I made my way back home to Minnesota! I have always loved working with and being around children. I was a Teacher’s Aide for 3 years, then I worked at a Daycare Center for 2 years. I nannied my niece for 2 years. I have a 10 year old daughter in school here at Phoenix, she loves it! I am grateful to be a part of such an amazing group of staff, as well as all of these wonderful students. I can’t wait to get to know each student, watch them learn and grow.