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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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Sophia Houle

Position:
Kindergarten Teacher
Email:

I graduated in May of 2021 from Bethel University where I earned my bachelor's degree in Elementary Education. This is my very first year teaching and I look forward to getting to know each student here at Phoenix Academy, along with my Kindergartners, and have thoroughly enjoyed my time getting to work with such a welcoming staff. I got married this August, so I have been enjoying married life with my husband and our golden retriever, Paisley (yes, we are the obsessive dog parents, unfortunately). We both are from, and still currently reside, in North Branch, as well as our families. In my free time I love spending time with my family, traveling up north, enjoying the great outdoors, or reading a good book.

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Delaney Walsh

Position:
Kindergarten Teacher
Email:

Hi! My name is Ms. Walsh! I graduated from St. Cloud State University and earned my bachelor's degree in Elementary Education. This will be my third year of teaching and I am loving every moment of it. Outside of school, I love to spend time outdoors and with my family. I am looking forward to a great year!

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Erica Parrish

Position:
1st Grade Teacher
Email:

I am so happy to be a part of the Phoenix family! I am looking forward to working with you and your child, and I know it will be another fantastic year in First Grade! I graduated with my Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education from the University of Minnesota in 2009. This will be my 9th year of teaching, and my 4th year of teaching First Grade at the Phoenix Academy. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, watching movies, camping, and traveling. I live in Forest Lake, Minnesota with my wonderful husband and fur baby (a cat ironically named “Kitten”). Feel free to stop in, call, or email me anytime to discuss any questions or concerns!

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Sonja Govednik

Position:
2nd Grade Teacher
Email:

This is my 22nd 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 4th 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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Brandon Frenette

Position:
2nd/3rd Grade Teacher
Email:

Hi! I’m Brandon Frenette and am teaching 2nd/3rd 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. Last year was my first year teaching, and I worked at Cedar Creek Elementary School as their art teacher. 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 Peterson

Position:
3rd grade teacher
Email:

Hello! I am Joseph Peterson. I am excited to start my first official year as a teacher! I graduated December 2019 from Saint Cloud State University with a Bachelor's degree in Elementary Education. Last school year, I started as a substitute teacher in Franklin, TN and ended the year as a long term sub for an online class at Lincoln Elementary in Anoka, MN; so I am excited to finally have my own classroom! 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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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 third 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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Kim Payne

Position:
5th Grade Teacher
Email:

I am very excited to be at Phoenix Academy for my first year of teaching! I first started at Phoenix in the Spring of 2021 as a Paraprofessional and I got to know so many wonderful people here. It was a no brainer to join the staff to start my teaching career! I graduated from Western Governors University in 2021 with a Bachelor’s in Interdisciplinary Studies (Elementary Education). I didn’t always know I wanted to be a teacher, but I always wanted to do something great where I could make a difference…so here I am! A more personal side of me: I have a wonderful husband of 14 years and 2 kids, Hailey and Austin. We have chickens, cats, birds, a dog, and a rabbit. My love for animals is almost as strong as my love for travel! On my bucket list is “visit all 50 states,” and I have 39 down. My favorite: Washington. I love to bake, have family game nights, sit by a campfire, and go fishing. I also love to go camping and agate hunting. I look forward to my adventures at work and at home and always try to keep things positive!

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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 fourth 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 learn and grow from the students, parents, and staff at Phoenix Academy!

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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 And Theater Teacher
Email:

I am Sarah Johnson, music and theater teacher at Phoenix Academy of Art and Science. This is my fourth year at Phoenix, and my 13th 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 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 Arizona. In my free time I like to read, play my ukulele and sing, cook, and take my dog Dawson for walks. I am really looking forward to a great school year!

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Katie Piehl

Position:
Front Office Manager
Email:

I am a mom of three amazing sons who either attend or will attend Phoenix. I love gummi candy, kayaking, and solitude. In my free time, I am a creative who likes to sew and craft and bake delicious things. This is my third year at Phoenix as the front office manager, and I'm grateful to work with so many great people and help our students in many ways.

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Heather Mench

Position:
Technology Coordinator/Office
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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Miranda Mickus

Position:
Online Learning Coordinator
Email:

Hello, I am Ms. Miranda, the online learning coordinator. This is my first year with Phoenix Academy, and I absolutely love it here. The staff are so kind and willing to help anyone. The kids are so fun to be around - they can always put a smile on your face. I love working with kids, and I am attending Southwest Minnesota State University to further my education to become an elementary school teacher!

A little about me: I live with my boyfriend Logan, my two year old son Rylan, and our two cats: Pumpkin and Mazie. I enjoy being around my family and friends and enjoy a good Starbucks drink. I also love shopping, watching any crime movie or show, and am always down for a bonfire with friends. I very much enjoy a good Starbucks drink. I hope we have an awesome school year and glad to be able to call Phoenix my family!

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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 two 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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Nicole Resemius

Position:
Paraprofessional
Email:

I'm Mrs. Nicky, and I am glad to be part of Phoenix Academy as a paraprofessional and lunch lady. I began working with kindergarten students in the White Bear Lake school district's Extended Day program while attending high school and studying child development. I have enjoyed working in schools as a school keeper, special Ed paraprofessional, and middle school lunch lady. My most rewarding position was working as a special needs paraprofessional on a school bus. I find being a part of children’s lives very rewarding.

My husband and our family have been North Branch residents for 22 years. I am truly blessed to be the nurturing parent to my daughter Chantelle, and five sons Thomas, Grant, Adam, Trevor, and our youngest son to graduate in 2022, Wade. I enjoy spending time with my children cooking, baking, and fishing and alone meditating in my many perennial gardens. Favorite quote: To the world, you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world. ~Dr. Seuss

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Brittney Anderson

Position:
Before Care/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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Sue Hefta

Position:
Paraprofessional
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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Frankie Hurtado

Position:
Paraprofessional
Email:

I am Miss Frankie, and 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 an 8-year-old son, and a 5 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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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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Terri Grittner

Position:
Paraprofessional
Email:

I’m glad to be part of the Phoenix family. I’ve done lots of things in my life, and working at this school is wonderful - everyone is so kind and helpful. The students are great and I’ve learned so much from them already. I believe lifelong learning and trying new things are so important, so I’ve had many jobs and experiences in life. I was an optician for 13 years, I’ve been a custodian, and I’ve worked in manufacturing as well. I love taking care of people, and worked in hospice care for 25 years. I have one son and two grandkids and have lived in the North Branch area since 2003.

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Becca Hanson

Position:
Paraprofessional
Email:

I'm Ms Becca! I'm glad to be part of the Phoenix Academy staff family. I've lived in North Branch my whole life, and am a parent to a Phoenix Academy student. I'm engaged to marry a great guy, and I love my family. I enjoy hunting and fishing, painting and drawing, and rock and crystal collecting.

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Mia Rollins

Position:
Special Ed Para
Email:

Hi! My name is Mia Rollins and I am a Special Education Assistant/Para here at Phoenix. This is my first 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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Ashlie Shinler

Position:
Paraprofessional
Email:

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Char Plattner

Position:
Paraprofessional
Email:

I LOVE my Phoenix family - I'm so thankful I found this place. I have such wonderful experiences with all of the wonderful children. Originally born and raised in the Stillwater area, I moved to North Branch three years ago. I have five children and sixteen grandchildren with whom I love spending time making memories. My two pooches are sweet - I have a Maggie Mae and Ringo. Some of my interests include traveling, boating, gardening, machine embroidery, and most crafting.

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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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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!