Ari Engelberg, Chief Executive Officer
Ari Engelberg is a Los Angeles native. In 1996, while attending graduate school at UCLA, he co-founded Stamps.com, which is now the Internet postage leader, commanding over 85% market share. Ari was responsible for venture capital relationships, regulatory relationships, and strategic partnerships. In 2000, he left Stamps.com to co-found Archive, Inc., a data storage services provider, which was sold in 2002. Ari then returned to his alma mater, Harvard-Westlake School, to teach American history and coach basketball for several years before becoming Bright Star Schools’ first CEO in late 2007. Ari currently sits on the Boards of Valley Charter Schools and 1in6.org. Ari is a founding partner of the Los Angeles Social Venture Partners and has previously held positions on the boards of Bright Star Schools, Ethos Water, eTeamz, CoreObjects Software, the Sherman Oaks Nursery School, the Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund of Los Angeles, the Literacy Network of Greater Los Angeles, and Jewish Big Brothers-Big Sisters. Ari holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in Political Science and Psychology from UC Berkeley and a Juris Doctor and Masters of Business Administration from UCLA.
Jeff Hilger, Cultural and Accountability Officer
Jeff Hilger is the Founder of Bright Star Schools. Jeff graduated magna cum laude from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in 1992. There, he interned at the International Organization for Migration, and spent one summer in Kenya assisting African refugees. After graduation, Jeff joined Teach for America in 1993 and taught for two years at McKinley Avenue School in South Los Angeles. Jeff received a dual degree in law and urban planning from UCLA and, in 1998, earned a clerkship with a federal district court judge. Jeff practiced in the litigation department of Proskauer and Rose for a year and a half before returning to teaching. In 2002, he wrote the charter, and in 2003 opened Stella Middle Charter Academy.
Melissa Kaplan, Head of Schools
Melissa Kaplan has been involved in the Los Angeles charter school movement since 2003, most recently serving as Chief Academic Officer at ICEF Public Schools. There, she was responsible for managing the academic program at fourteen schools serving 4500 students K-12, coordinating and delivering professional development for more than 150 teachers and administrators, and ensuring the alignment of the curriculum with college readiness standards. Melissa has served in a variety of leadership roles including district and site administration, demonstration teacher, and teacher coach; and, she has worked extensively as a consultant assisting districts and CMOs nationally in curriculum development and system building, especially in the area of reading and writing across the curriculum. Before joining the charter school movement, Melissa taught English in Palos Verdes USD and Oley Valley SD in Pennsylvania. She holds a BA in Education and Theater from DeSales University and a Masters of Education from UCLA.
China Habte, Controller
China’s strong passion for the nonprofit community is reflected in her commitment and dedication to the sector. With more than nine years experience working exclusively with nonprofits, she has gained expertise in providing solutions for the unique accounting challenges facing the sector. China began her career as a senior accountant for an international relief organization followed by a position as a controller for a local mental health agency. Making a conscious decision to find a role to serve more nonprofits, China joined a mid-size public accounting firm, where she worked for five years as a senior auditor and an audit manager. In that role, she conducted and managed audits for a variety of nonprofit organizations in the greater Los Angeles area, specializing in government contracts and compliance and evaluation of internal controls. In addition, she organized and presented several in-house trainings and seminars on how to perform audits for nonprofit organizations. China earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting from California State San Bernardino.
Tyler Baier, Director of Strategy and New School Development
Tyler Baier grew up as a dairy farm kid in Wisconsin, but has since followed his passion for youth athletics and character development into the K-12 education space. After completing his MBA at Cornell University's Johnson School in 2010, Tyler accepted an Education Pioneers fellowship and was partnered with ICEF Public Schools in Los Angeles. At ICEF, Tyler worked with the leadership team to help manage the LAUSD Public School Choice 2.0 process and created a 5-year strategic growth plan. He joined Bright Star in September 2010 and has since managed a wide range of strategic projects, from org-wide budgeting to facility development. Tyler has also gained experience as a consultant for the Positive Coaching Alliance, as a collegiate wrestling coach at Cornell, and as a marketing associate for a Chicago based start-up. As an undergraduate, he received his bachelors degree from Cornell's Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, and earned All-American honors as a member of the varsity wrestling team.
Leeann Yu, Director of School Operations
Leeann Yu currently serves as the Director of School Operations for Bright Star Schools. Prior to joining Bright Star, Leeann worked as a financial advisor for Ameriprise Financial. In this role she would evaluate each client’s current financial situation, make recommendations, and implement strategies necessary to reach their respective financial goals. She also spent a year teaching English to elementary and junior high school students in Taiwan. In 2010, Leeann was selected as an Education Pioneers Fellow at Partnerships to Uplift Communities where she conducted a qualitative study on technology usage and identified best practices that could be implemented across the organization. Additionally, Leeann currently serves on the Board of Directors for the National Teen Leadership Program, a non-profit organization that seeks to motivate and empower teenagers to positively change the world around them. Leeann holds a Bachelor of Arts in International Development from UCLA and Master of Business Administration from the University of Minnesota.
Monique Bonilla, Principal, Bright Star Secondary Charter Academy
Monique Bonilla began her journey with Bright Star Schools in 2008 as an Assistant Principal at Stella Middle Charter Academy serving grades 5th-6th. Before joining Bright Star Schools, Monique was employed for eight years as a Juvenile Detention and Probation Officer. It was this experience that sparked Monique's passion for education. During her employment as a Juvenile Detention Officer, Monique witnessed firsthand the negative impact a lack of education can have on a child’s life. At that point she made a commitment to become an educator and began teaching English at the high school level. Having already graduated from the University of Washington with a Bachelors Degree in Psychology, Monique furthered her education at Azusa Pacific University where she earned her Single Subject English Credential, Masters Degree in Education, Administrative Credential and Maters Degree in Educational Leadership. She has served as a Bright Star Administrator for more than four years and is now the Principal of Bright Star Secondary Charter Academy serving grades 7th-12th.
Elysa Vargas, Principal, Stella Middle Charter Academy
A Los Angeles native, Ms. Vargas ventured as far as Pitzer College in Claremont, California to earn a BA in Psychology and a minor in Dance from Pitzer College. More recently she completed a MA in Education and earned her administrative credential through the ISLA program at Loyola Marymount University. Raised in a family of educators she knew early on that her life’s work would revolve around remedying the inequities of the public education system. During her college years, her work centered on developing school readiness lessons for socioeconomically disadvantaged preschool students through Jumpstart. After earning her degree, she opted to further pursue a career in education and applied to Teach for America. After serving at Stella Middle Charter Academy as a fifth grade teacher under TFA, she transitioned into an administrative role as the Assistant Principal of the 5th/6th campus in 2008. Since then, she has lead fundraising initiatives to provide students with an array of life experience lessons off campus, supported teaching staff, and worked to improve the quality of the after school program. As the current Principal of Stella Middle Charter Academy, she looks forward to incorporating more project based learning into the classroom and as always working towards providing students with the highest quality education.
Eliza Kim, Principal, Rise Kohyang Middle School
Eliza Kim is a Los Angeles born native who grew up in Koreatown during the years of her youth. Upon graduating from USC with a BA in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in American Studies in 2002, she worked for LAUSD in various positions as a teacher’s assistant, student teacher, and substitute teacher. In 2004, she first started working for Bright Star Schools in as a science teacher. During the past eight years at Bright Star Schools, she has been a teacher, Assistant Principal, and Principal of both campuses for grades 5-12, along with working at the CMO as Director of Instruction. Wanting to give back to her "Kohyang", or hometown in Korean, she wrote a charter to start a new middle school in Koreatown. This year, she is going to be the Principal at Rise Kohyang Middle School.
Olivia Eagleson, Assistant Principal, Bright Star Secondary Charter Academy
Olivia Eagleson is the Assistant Principal of Bright Star Secondary Charter Academy, focusing on leadership of the 7th/8th grade program. In 2002, while attending UCLA, Olivia joined UCLA Bruincorps, a program dedicated to providing equal access to educational opportunities by tutoring students in under-resourced communities. It was through her work with UCLA Bruincorps that Olivia realized her lifelong passion to close the educational achievement gap. Upon graduation from UCLA with a Bachelor of Science in Psychobiology, Olivia joined Teach for America. Olivia began her teaching career with a student teaching position at David Starr Jordan High School in Watts, and assumed a fulltime teaching position with Bright Star in 2008. Olivia taught Physical Science, Life Science, Biology and Earth Science to students in grades 7-11 before becoming Assistant Principal at Bright Star Secondary in 2011. Olivia also holds a Masters degree in Urban Education and a Masters degree in Educational Leadership from Loyola Marymount University.
Marni Parsons, Director of Student Services
Marni Parsons, Bright Star School’s Director of Student Services, is a PCI Certified Parent Coach®, Certified Positive Discipline Parent and Classroom Educator & Family Consultant. As the mother of two nearly grown girls she understands the challenges inherent in raising children who are self-disciplined, responsible, cooperative and effective problem solvers. She is passionately committed to guiding, supporting, educating and comforting those who work with children and adolescents so that they can experience greater confidence, less stress, and more joy. Adults who work with Marni develop a toolbox of unique skills that are steeped in Adlerian theory and best practices, so that educators and parents alike can be confident that they are doing what’s best for children and teens. Marni is a sought after speaker for preschools, PTA’s, public and private schools, MOMS Clubs, and parenting groups. She holds a BA from Antioch University with a concentration in Child and Adolescent psychology, a graduate degree certification from Seattle Pacific University and the Parent Coaching Institute, and a certificate from the Positive Discipline Association as a Classroom and Parent Educator. With her unique combination of experience and education she fully understands the demands placed on families and educators today. She speaks from her heart with humor and compassion about the realities of working with today’s youth, and strives to make the world a better place one child at a time.
Esther Perez, Director of Special Education Services
Esther Perez grew up in a farm town in Central California. Esther was the first in her family to graduate from a university as she received a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of California, San Diego. In 2004, she joined Teach For America, Los Angeles where she taught multiple subjects in a special day class setting at Nimitz Middle School in Huntington Park. After obtaining a masters degree in Special Education from Loyola Marymount University (LMU), she became a Resource Specialist at Oscar de la Hoya ACHS in East Los Angeles. Through 8 years of teaching, Esther realized both inclusion and high expectations are needed for students with learning differences at charter schools. In working towards preventing ableism (discrimination against people with disabilities), she hopes to improve the educational outcomes of all students through improved instructional experiences, collaboration, dialogue, and reflection. Esther also holds a Masters degree in Educational Leadership & Policy Studies from California State University, Northridge, and is currently working on a Doctorate in Educational Leadership at Loyola Marymount University.