Our Teachers

Charles Debelak

Head of School
8th Homeroom
8th Ben Franklin Initiative
5th-8th Math

Bio: Charles Debelak is co-founder and head of Birchwood School of Hawken. With a Bachelor of Science in education from Valparaiso University and a Master of Education in curriculum and instruction with an emphasis in gifted education from Cleveland State University, he and his wife, Helene, founded Birchwood School in 1984, together with a small group of parents, to give their own children the best education possible. Prior to the school’s founding he taught in public and private schools as well as Seoul, South Korea, and designed the gifted program for Willoughby-Eastlake schools. Mr. Debelak teaches mathematics to fifth through eighth grade students. He and his students have earned local, state, and national recognition including being recognized as an Impact Educator by Northwestern University's Midwest Academic Talent Search in 2019, receiving the 2012-13 Math Olympiads Highest Team Award, being named Ohio’s MATHCOUNTS Coach in 2011, and being a three-time recipient of the Ohio Governor's Award for Excellence in Math and Science.

Helene Debelak

Director of Curriculum
8th Homeroom
7th-8th Reading
7th-8th Leadership Program
7th-8th Future Problem Solving/Thinking Skills
5th-8th Avid Readers Club
Mrs. Debelak's blog

Bio: As director of curriculum and co-founder of Birchwood School of Hawken, Helene Debelak worked with teachers to develop a curriculum in line with the school’s mission. She holds a Bachelor of Science in education from Valparaiso University and a Master of Education from Cleveland State University with a focus on the education of gifted students. She co-authored National History Standards K-4, published in Social Studies and the Young Learner, and authored “Literature for Building Character” (now a blog). Valparaiso awarded her an honorary doctorate in 2016. Service includes workshops for the Ohio Council for the Social Studies, Midwest Archives Conference, National History Day, and Ohio Future Problem Solving. She served on the state board of Future Problem Solving and the National History Standards project. Awards include The History Channel Teacher of the Year and Ohio History Day Teacher of the Year. She teaches reading to seventh and eighth grade students. Her students have earned state and national recognition, including Ohio Celebration of Poets Honor School recognition and Future Problem Solving team state finalists.

Sarah Alicea 


Bio: Sarah Alicea holds a Bachelor of Science in early childhood education from The Ohio State University and graduated magna cum laude with a Master in Education from John Carroll University. Sarah started her teaching career at Birchwood School of Hawken in 2006 as a reading teacher for grades 3-5. She thoroughly enjoyed teaching at Birchwood and came to cherish the students, parents, and faculty. In 2009 after the birth of her son and a move to Columbus, she decided to leave the classroom in order to raise her family. Sarah continued her passion as an educator and was a private reading and math tutor for students in the Columbus area. In 2017, Sarah moved back to Cleveland and a year later had the opportunity to return to Birchwood as a kindergarten aide. She says that after returning to Birchwood nine years later, much has changed, yet the heart of Birchwood has remained the same. Sarah is thrilled to have the opportunity to teach kindergarten and to instill a love for learning within each child! Sarah and her husband, Jose, have three children who attend Birchwood School of Hawken. 

Bethany Baldwin 97

6th-8th Art

Bio: Bethany Baldwin holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science with a concentration in art history from Hiram College and a certificate in architectural plaster working from the American College of the Building Arts. She is the sales and marketing manager with Hyde Park Mouldings, Inc. of Hauppauge, New York. Her training with the organization includes ornamental sculpting and model-making. She serves on the board of directors of the Ohio and Lake Erie Chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art. As a Birchwood School of Hawken alumna, she is enjoying her return to the school to share her love of the fine and decorative arts with Birchwood students and to be inspired by their natural creativity!

Michelle Bottini

5th Homeroom
5th-8th Science

Bio: Michelle Bottini graduated cum laude from Ohio University in December 2014 with a degree in integrated science education, grades 7-12. During her college years she participated in the Ohio University National Science Teachers Association and a volunteer organization called Live Healthy Appalachia. She completed her student teaching at Lakewood High School and after graduation she taught at Whitney M. Young Gifted and Talented Leadership Academy in Cleveland. Ms. Bottini joined Birchwood School of Hawken for the 2015-16 school year. She teaches grades 5-8 science, assists with coaching the Science Olympiad team which has placed first in the Elementary Division, and enjoys leading the Character Committee to help drive our school mission. She received her master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from Ohio University in May 2020 and is eager to begin to incorporate her new set of knowledge and skills into her classroom. Ms. Bottini has helped her students achieve success, including awards from the National Chemistry Week sponsored by the American Chemical Society, the BEST Medicine Engineering Fair, the Northeastern Ohio Science and Engineering Fair, District Science Days, Young Astronauts Day (NASA), Science Olympiad, and more.

Rana Bottino

2nd Homeroom
1st-4th Science

Bio: Rana Bottino holds a Bachelor of Science from Rutgers University and Master of Science from New Jersey Institute of Technology. She worked as a scientist and project manager in environmental consulting before becoming an environmental educator at the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes. Over the next six years, she taught and developed a variety of science and environmental curriculum designed to educate and inspire students in pre-kindergarten through grade 6. In 2015 she completed the Intensive Pedagogical Training Institute through the Ohio Department of Education and received her certification in integrated science and earth science for grades K-12.

Todd Boyer

2nd Homeroom
1st-4th Social Studies
1st-4th Creative Problem Solving

Bio: Todd Boyer graduated summa cum laude from Cleveland State University with a Bachelor of Science in early childhood education and holds a reading endorsement (K-12). Todd is a member of the National Council for the Social Studies, National Council for History Education, Ohio History Connection, and Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Todd takes part in Teaching Cleveland Institute professional development workshops, volunteers for the Cleveland Restoration Society, and has served as a regional judge for National History Day. Todd is currently working toward receiving a National Geographic Educator Certification. Todd cannot wait to share the culmination of stories of those who have come before us, guide students towards reflection of their own lives, and help children craft their own historic tales.    

Pam Brady

Preschool Lead Teacher

Bio: Pam Brady holds a degree in early childhood education and has been teaching children since 1991. She has served as a lead and assistant teacher in preschool and pre-k classrooms in both public and private schools. Pam has been an active member of the National Association for the Education of Young Children for many years. She presented at Cleveland conferences sharing curriculum with other early childhood professionals.  She believes that learning should be exciting and that each child should be recognized as an individual. A student with good self-esteem feels pride in their accomplishments and can achieve anything in life.  

Linda Brown

5th Homeroom
5th-8th Science

Bio: Linda Brown holds a Bachelor of Science in education from the University of Alabama. She has been with Birchwood School of Hawken since its planning stages. She is responsible for laying the foundation for Birchwood’s exceptional mathematics and science curriculum. Since 2002 she has dedicated her time exclusively to teaching science in grades 5-8. Her classes brim with enthusiasm as students are engaged developing projects, using the scientific method, working on lab experiments, doing research, and studying content at various levels. Her students have won multiple awards at Young Astronaut Day, Western Reserve District 5 Science Day, Northeastern Ohio Science and Engineering Fair, OhioView Satellites Geospatial Technology Conference, National Chemistry Week, Earth Day posters, and The Ohio State Science Fair. She is a three-time recipient of the Governor's Award for Excellence in Math and Science.

Ester Chen 91

Lead Teacher

Bio: Ester Chen holds a Bachelor of Arts in Asian studies from Case Western Reserve University and a Master of Education in early childhood from John Carroll University.  She taught English at Kuei Shan School in Taipei, Taiwan and was integral in developing their bilingual program through enriching the reading, language arts, math, and science curriculum. She also developed and taught an engaging Madarin Chinese curriculum to pre-kindergarten students at Hathaway Brown as well as their after school Chinese club. Mrs. Chen was honored to begin teaching kindergarten at Birchwood in 2012 and is a proud parent of a current eighth grader, sixth grader, fourth grader, and a new preschooler. Her hope is to instill in her students a lifelong love of learning, discovery, and a passion about what they are doing. When students possess these skills, they are able to do anything they set their minds to; they are able to do the impossible. They are on their pathway of becoming

Esther Chin

K-5th Art

Bio: Recognized as a talented young artist, Esther Chin won many awards and competitions during her teenage years in Taiwan. She received a scholarship and came to the U.S. to study fine art, specializing in oil painting at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she earned a degree. She worked as a freelance graphic designer for many years while also teaching children ages 8-14 drawing and painting. She believes that although not all students are destined to be artists, each has the potential to develop the ability to observe, to imagine, and to create through the process of making art and learning to appreciate art.

Esther Chu

Music Director
1st-5th General Music
Choir & Ensemble Director

Bio: Esther Chu's teaching career spans 24 years and extends from teaching preschool to college-age students. At the age of five she began formal training and by nine years old she was winning piano competitions. Three years later she was winning vocal competitions. After graduating from the Chinese Culture University in Taiwan, she received her Master of Arts in piano pedagogy from California State University. In addition, she studied at music education at California State University and Cleveland State University, and computer music at Cleveland State and Oberlin College & Conservatory. Some of her students have been winners in the American Protégé International Piano and Strings Competition in 2006-2019 and performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City. In addition, under her guidance a Birchwood quartet won best Bach & Brahms performances at the International Great Composers Competition in 2018.

Nermin Elsady

1st-4th Remote Math
3rd-4th Remote Reading/Language Arts

Bio: Nermin Elsady holds a medical degree from Kasr Al Aini, Cairo University, Egypt, and a Master of Education from Cleveland State University. Dr. Elsady started her career as a medical doctor. She worked as a clinical researcher in the pediatric gastroenterology and dehydration field under the supervision of the World Health Organization in Egypt. Dr. Elsady is a Birchwood parent alum. While her two children attended Birchwood, she discovered her love and passion for teaching, and decided to enter the field of education. She completed her Master of Education and began teaching at Birchwood as a substitute teacher.  Later she served as an assistant teacher for math and science. Dr. Elsady believes in the schools mission and is very happy to be part of Birchwood School of Hawken.

Nicole Gregory 

8th Homeroom
5th-8th Math
7th-8th Leadership Program

Bio: Nicole Gregory holds a Bachelor of Science in middle childhood education and a Master of Education in gifted education from Cleveland State University. While at Cleveland State, she tutored and assisted in undergraduate mathematics courses ranging from college algebra to multivariable calculus. Nicole is central district director of the Greater Cleveland Council of Mathematics, which has led to her speaking at numerous conferences around Northeast Ohio, and is an Ohio Teacher Council of Mathematics 2019 Conference Scholarship recipient. Nicole states that teaching at Birchwood is a pure delight and a wonderful place where each student has the opportunity to reach their full potential. Nicole and her husband, Matthew, live in Lyndhurst with their daughter, Clara.

Kimberly Grogan

5th-8th Reading

Bio: Kimberly graduated magna cum laude from Case Western Reserve University and holds a Bachelor of Art in cognitive science, as well as a Master of Art in English, with a focus on cognitive linguistics. While attaining her MA at Case she was a writing instructor, taught introductory English classes, and worked with students for whom English was a second language. She is deeply invested in the way that story and poetry have the ability to instruct, empower, and transform, and is excited to join the Birchwood community.

Casey Hallett 

Lead Teacher

Bio: Casey Hallett graduated summa cum laude from Cleveland State University with a Bachelor of Science in early childhood education in 2010. After graduating, she moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, where she taught kindergarten in a public school for four years. While there, she was nominated twice for an “Honor a Teacher” distinction, once for "Teacher of the Year," and was selected as a district “Teacher of the Month.” Casey moved back to Cleveland in June of 2015 and joined Birchwood School of Hawken in August 2015 as a lead kindergarten teacher.

Catherine Haskins, Ph.D.

5th-8th Math
7th-8th Latin & Ancient Greek

Bio: Catherine Haskins holds a bachelor’s degree in Russian from Harvard, a Master of Social Work from Boston University, and a doctoral degree in economics from the University of Massachusetts. Once her daughter enrolled at Birchwood, Dr. Haskins became progressively more involved with the school over the years, first as a 5th-8th math aide, then as a Latin teacher, filling in here and there as needed. Two years ago she was thrilled to put her love of explaining math and coaching students into action on the 5th-8th math team. Dr. Haskins believes in the power of consistent and focused efforts toward success and is delighted to be part of such a robust and growing community of learners!

Maysan Haydar, Ph.D.

6th-8th Remote Language Arts 
7th Remote Reading/Language Arts/Social Studies/Science

Bio: Maysan Haydar holds a doctoral degree from the Department of History at The Ohio State University. Before her graduate education, she worked as a writer and editor and her work has been published by, among others, HarperCollins, Seal Press, Rowman & Littlefield, and St. Martins Press. Dr. Haydar is a big fan of Birchwood School and its teachers and is thrilled to have joined them.

Sally Ann Higginbotham

1st-2nd Master Reading & Literacy Specialist
Preschool Support 

Bio: Sally Ann Higginbotham graduated cum laude from Cleveland State University with a Bachelor of Science in early childhood education and a Master of Education in reading and literacy instruction. Throughout her career, she has taught Head Start pre-K, kindergarten, first grade, and third grade.

Becky Hoelter

Preschool Assistant Teacher

Bio: Becky Hoelter is a graduate of Bowling Green State University with a Bachelor of Science in education, with a focus in special education. She has worked with students of all abilities in preschool through eighth grade in a variety of settings. She joined our staff in 2012 and has served as an early childhood after care teacher and preschool aide. She enjoys working in a collaborative environment and being a part of children's initial school experiences.

Nancy Isherwood

Before and After School Coordinator

Bio: Nancy Isherwood holds a Bachelor of Arts in French from Cleveland State University and she completed post-graduate studies at the Alliance Francais in Paris, France. She has worked as a substitute teacher and for a Montessori preschool. Her son is a graduate of Birchwood and Hawken Upper School.

Shelley Kokitka

Kindergarten Support Teacher

Bio: Shelley Kokitka graduated from the University of Toledo in 1992 with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. While in college she worked as a lead preschool teacher. Upon graduation she served as a lead preschool teacher at Horizon Activity Center before joining the staff of SS. Cyril & Methodius School as a sixth through eighth grade reading, science, and computer teacher where she developed a biology curriculum and established a middle school science fair. She has also served as a substitute teacher in the Olmsted Falls City Schools. In 2015, Mrs. Kokitka joined the Birchwood staff as a kindergarten aide and she couldn’t be more thrilled.

Laura Mamone

1st Homeroom
1st-2nd Reading/Language Arts

Bio: Laura Mamone graduated cum laude from Bowling Green State University with a double major in history and sociology. After raising her children, she earned her teaching license and Master of Education, along with a K-12 reading endorsement, from Baldwin Wallace University. From 2010-14, Ms. Mamone taught at Madison Community Elementary School, working with kindergarten through third grade students as a math and reading Title I teacher. She was excited to become a member of the Birchwood family as not only a parent but also a teacher.

Connie Miller

6th Homeroom
5th-8th Social Studies
National History Day

Bio: Connie Miller joined the Birchwood community in 1993 when her oldest son entered the first grade. Her first year teaching seventh and eighth grade Social Studies marked her first year of taking students to the national level of the National History Day competition. Every year since 1999, Birchwood students have qualified for the national competition, totaling 250 students, many of whom earned place finishes and special recognition. For her work she has received the Ohio Historical Society’s Ohio History Day Teacher of Merit award, the David Van Tassel Award for outstanding contributions in mentoring students in history, and the Ohio Humanities Council District 3 Teacher of Merit award. Mrs. Miller is fully committed to teaching students the historical method and introducing them to the excitement of studying history, having seen the impact on students of undertaking such a rigorous, yet rich curriculum. Mrs. Miller is currently a member of the National Council for the Social Studies, the National Council for History Education, and the Western Reserve Historical Society.

Lauren Miller

2nd Homeroom
1st-4th Science

Bio: Lauren Miller graduated cum laude from The College of Wooster with a degree in biology. After graduating, she worked as a field technician, netting and banding grassland birds and performing population surveys, but she had always had a heart for teaching. Mrs. Miller became an environmental educator, most recently, at the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes for five years and in 2018, she joined Birchwood’s team, teaching science to first through fourth grade students. In 2020, Mrs. Miller was awarded the Elizabeth Abernathy Hull Award given by the Garden Club of America for the work she and Mrs. Bottino did in helping students design and plant a pollinator garden at school, present testimony at the Ohio Statehouse in support of a bill to designate April as Ohio Native Plant Month, and convince a bee-hating local news anchor that bees really aren’t so bad! Mrs. Miller is thrilled to have the opportunity to help students discover their own passion for experiential science in the classroom each day at Birchwood.

Jessica Moore

2nd Homeroom
1st-4th Social Studies
1st-4th Creative Problem Solving

Bio: Jessica Moore graduated cum laude from Cleveland State University with a degree in early childhood education. In college, she enjoyed being a cheerleader as well as coaching high school cheerleading in Parma. Prior to Birchwood, she taught first grade at Stepstone Academy in Cleveland. Mrs. Moore is a member of both the National Council for the Social Studies and Ohio History Connection. She loves being able to teach about Cleveland and Ohio to her students. Mrs. Moore is excited for another year of teaching her favorite subject, social studies. She is also thrilled to officially become a Birchwood parent this year.

Maggie Mulloy


Bio: Maggie Mulloy joined Birchwood School of Hawken in 2017 as an aide for the After School Care, lunch, and recess programs in grades 1-8. Over the next few years, she rediscovered her passion for working with preschool aged children when, under the guidance of the Early Childhood teachers, she began caring for 3-5 year olds in preschool After School Care, and as an on call substitute during the school day. Maggie is happiest when she is working with young children. It was this passion which led her to study under Monica Bassett, a leading expert in education for professional nannies, at Nannies of Cleveland. Upon graduating at the top of her class, Maggie continued her studies at Cuyahoga Community College, where she was also inducted into Phi Theta Kappa. For nearly 15 years, Maggie worked with young children in their homes, helping them discover their world through learning and play. Maggie is thrilled to have the opportunity to become a part of Birchwood’s Early Childhood team, and looks forward to working, collaborating, and sharing with them as they prepare children for their academic journey at Birchwood.

Diane Owen

8th Homeroom
5th-8th Reading
7th-8th Future Problem Solving/Thinking Skills
7th-8th Leadership

Bio: Diane Owen holds a Bachelor of Arts in romance language and literature from The University of Chicago and a Master of Science in genetic counseling from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. She began her teaching career in post-Soviet Russia by facilitating the sixth through ninth grade education of the children of several American and British families using the Birchwood homeschool curriculum. Upon returning to the U.S., Diane taught algebra, U.S. history 11, U.S. government 12, biology, reading 8, English 9/10, and served as the English Department chairperson during her 15 year tenure at Acaciawood Preparatory Academy, a small private school in Southern California. In addition to her years at Acaciawood Prep, Diane spent five years at the Walworth Barbour American International School in Israel where she taught ELL humanities and math in the middle school. Diane feels privileged to be a member of the Birchwood faculty and is excited to interact with her students each day on their journey together through literature.

Joe Parrino  ‘90

6th Homeroom
5th-8th Social Studies

Bio: A Birchwood alum, Joe Parrino graduated summa cum laude from Case Western Reserve University with dual Bachelor of Arts degrees in history and Asian studies. Fascination with Eastern societies led him to a school in Taiwan where he started a bilingual program. During those years, he served as the programs head teacher while also writing curriculum for reading, language arts, math, and science. When the time came to repatriate, Mr. Parrino attended the University of Illinois where he completed a Master of Science degree in journalism. He wrote for several newspapers and then decided the teaching profession offered more opportunities. He earned a Master in Teaching from Austin Peay State University. From there, he taught history and geography for five years at a public high school in Kentucky. Finally, he moved his family back to the Cleveland area and joined the Birchwood School of Hawken faculty. Mr. Parrino is a National Geographic Society certified educator and a member of both the National Council for the Social Studies and National Council for History Education. 

Noemi Rodriguez

K-8th Spanish
After School Enrichment Coordinator

Bio: Noemi Rodriguez began her career as a kindergarten teacher in Argentina and quickly gained the attention of the administration with her innovative approach to early childhood education, synthesizing the methods of Maria Montessori and the theory of Jean Piaget. She was asked to develop kindergarten curriculum for the Buenos Aires public school system. When she moved to the U.S. she trained with the Berlitz School of Languages and began tutoring children and adults in Spanish. In 2002 she started teaching Spanish at Birchwood. After several years she was asked to organize the school's kindergarten program before returning her full-time focus to Spanish as well as serving as the coordinator of Birchwood's After School Enrichment program.

Jennifer Seward

5th-8th Language Arts

Bio: Jennifer Seward earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Bowling Green State University in 1997, which was followed by many years in newspapers as a reporter, an editor, and a writing coach for other professional writers. As a reporter, Mrs. Seward was recognized by the Associated Press as one of the Best News Writers in Ohio, among many other awards from the AP and other Ohio news organizations. After starting a family, Mrs. Seward opted to work part-time as a freelance writer and editor, composing feature and economic development stories and polishing everything from greeting cards to books. During this time, she also began volunteering with children through Boy Scouts of America and working in classrooms as a teacher assistant and as a long-term language arts substitute. These experiences led to the joyful realization that teaching was where she was meant to be. Mrs. Seward is honored to serve the students of Birchwood and to be a member of the BIrchwood family. 

Michael Sprau

3rd Homeroom

Bio: Michael Sprau is a graduate of Cleveland State University with a Bachelor of Science in elementary education. He and his wife, Birchwood teacher Rhonda Sprau, are the parents of two Birchwood alumni. He began teaching at Birchwood in 2003 after four years experience in public and private schools. He piloted the primary mathematics classroom, in which he is a full-time math teacher for students in grades 1-4. His dedication and hard work have made the program a success. His students regularly earn top distinctions in national math competitions, such as the Noetic Learning and Continental Mathematics League contests. He also holds weekly after school math clubs for students who wish to improve their problem solving skills and prepare for math competitions. Although he acknowledges that math can be hard work, he believes that when given the appropriate tools all students can succeed.   

Rhonda Sprau

1st Homeroom
1st-2nd Reading/Language Arts
1st-4th Avid Readers Club
Mrs. Sprau’s website

Bio: Rhonda Sprau holds a Bachelor of Arts from Case Western Reserve University and is a Birchwood alumni parent. A Birchwood teacher since 2002, her classroom exudes a love of reading and has a library of more than 2,000 books, a listening center, and multiple learning activities. She is certified by the Junior Great Books Foundation as a Great Books basic leader and is a member of the International Literacy Association. Mrs. Sprau created and maintains the blog mrstreasures.edublogs.org which helps parents choose quality books for their children. Her Facebook page, Mrs. Treasures, provides children's book recommendations, articles about children's literacy and inspirational quotes for parents. Her students have had work published in Spider magazine and have won local and national awards in the PBS Young Authors and Illustrators Contest.

Sara Syed

1st-4th Remote

Bio: Sara Syed worked as a LPN for three years at Southwest General Hospital and Akron General Hospital prior to attaining her teaching degree. Mrs. Syed graduated magna cum laude from Cleveland State University in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in middle school math and science education, and a minor in anthropology. She has taught sixth grade science at Horizon Science Academy, grades 1-4 science and kindergarten support at Birchwood, and grades 6-7 science and 11-12 genetics at the Universal Academy of Florida. After taking a few years off from teaching to help her elderly parents, Mrs. Syed is very happy to be back at Birchwood. She is a Birchwood parent alum of two children and currently her youngest daughter is attending Birchwood.

Shannon Tagliarina

3rd-4th Language Arts
3rd-4th Reading

Bio: Shannon Tagliarina graduated summa cum laude from John Carroll University with a Bachelor of Science in early childhood education. After teaching at the Lorain Gifted Academy for two years, she joined the Birchwood community as the first through fourth grade science teacher. To best equip her to meet the unique needs of the learners at Birchwood School, Shannon earned a Master of Education in curriculum and instruction with a focus in gifted education from Cleveland State University. After six years at Birchwood, she took time to broaden her horizons through travel. Shannon is now eager to return to the Birchwood family, both as a parent of a preschooler, and as a third and fourth grade reading and language arts teacher. Shannon completed the requirements for a reading endorsement during her undergraduate years; however, she has again begun the course of study at Cleveland State University in order to refresh her skills, continue to grow as a professional, and provide the best possible experience to the young readers and writers in her classroom.   

Lorraine Tzeng

7th Homeroom
6th-8th Language Arts
7th Reading
6th Future Problem Solving/Thinking Skills

Bio: Lorraine Tzeng began teaching language arts when Birchwood opened its doors in 1984. After taking time off to raise her four children, all of whom are Birchwood alumni, she returned in 2004 to continue to develop Birchwood’s writing program. She has incorporated the pedagogy of writing pioneers like Peter Elbow, Donald Graves, Donald Murray, and Lucille Payne and continues to evolve as she learns from her students, many of whom have distinguished themselves in local, state, and national writing levels. Birchwood students consistently place as award winners in Letters about Literature, Power of the Pen, the Scholastic Writing Awards, and Future Problem Solving Scenario Writing. The Future Problem Solving Junior team has represented Ohio in the International Competition numerous times. Mrs. Tzeng earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Case Western Reserve University and is a member of the National Council of Teachers of English. She is also a veteran judge for all levels of Power of the Pen and Ohio Future Problem Solving Program.  

Marianne Uechi 87

3rd Grade Homeroom
1st-4th Math

Bio: Marianne Uechi graduated from Cleveland State University with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. In the process of finishing the engineering program at Cleveland State, Mrs. Uechi realized that her passion was actually for math. Last year she helped teach fifth and sixth grade math at Birchwood. This year she is thrilled to be working with the first through fourth grade math team.

Emily Waldal 94

K-8th Computer/Programming
Director of Technology
Mrs. Waldal’s website

Bio: Emily Waldal is a proud Birchwood graduate who has brought her expertise in technology and understanding of the Birchwood ethos our school. She holds a Bachelor of Business Administration in information systems from Cleveland State University. Kindergarteners and grades 5-8 students learn computer/technology skills in Mrs. Waldal’s classroom, while first through fourth grade grade students benefit from her supervision. She finds it exciting when students discover how technology can enrich and support their life and learning, and has developed waldal.com to provide students with safe and engaging online learning tools.

Joanna West 99

4th Homeroom
3rd-4th Reading/Language Arts
7th-8th Future Problem Solving/Thinking Skills
7th-8th Exercise Program

Bio: Joanna West graduated cum laude from Otterbein College with a degree in early childhood education and a reading endorsement (K-12). She began her career teaching at Fit by Five and then the Goddard School. When the opportunity arose to return to her alma mater, she was ecstatic and began by assisting in kindergarten and teaching third and fourth grade reading. Ms. West has now been teaching at Birchwood for over a decade. She is a member of the International Literacy Association and the National Council of Teachers of English. Her passion for literature makes her an ideal person to bring reading and language arts to our young learners. Currently, she is a fourth grade homeroom teacher, third and fourth grade reading and language arts teacher, co-leads the seventh and eighth graders in their fitness and exercise program, and teaches Turbo Kick after school.