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Organizational Leadership

Organizational Leadership

Executive Leadership Team

Elijah
Sugay

Chief Business Officer

Contact
Elijah Sugay

Contact

esugay@brightstarschools.org

Elijah Sugay

Chief Business Officer

Elijah Sugay grew up in the San Fernando Valley near our Valor Academy schools and was the first employee hired at Valor Academy Middle School (VAMS). Elijah became the Founding Director of Finance and Operations for VAMS and helped the school launch and grow into the successful institution it is today. 

After serving at VAMS for four years, Elijah became Senior Director of Operations for Bright Star Schools and then Vice President of Facilities and Finance for Bright Star, where he oversaw facilities and finance for all 9 Bright Star schools and helped build permanent campuses for Valor Academy Middle School, Valor Academy High School, and Stella Middle Charter Academy.

As Chief Business Officer, Elijah leads all facilities projects for Bright Star Schools, as well as Bright Star’s fiscal health. He supports school leaders to develop sustainable budgets that meet their schools’ highest needs, priorities, and visions for how they want to achieve our mission on behalf of the students we serve.

Elijah holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from UCLA.

 

Contact

esugay@brightstarschools.org

Hrag
Hamalian

Chief Executive Officer

Contact
Hrag Hamalian

Contact

hhamalian@brightstarschools.org

Hrag Hamalian

Chief Executive Officer

Hrag Manuel Hamalian currently serves as the Chief Executive Officer of Bright Star Schools. Hrag has strategically grown Bright Star Schools from four to nine schools, and created a community-based schools model that provides a transitional kindergarten to 12th grade education, plus 6 years of higher education support, for over 3,500 students across Los Angeles.

Prior to joining Bright Star, Hrag founded Valor Academy Middle School, a high performing 5th through 8th grade charter public school in Los Angeles. In 2013, Hrag helped lead the strategic merger of Valor and Bright Star, the first merger between two successful charter organizations in Los Angeles.

In 2011, Hrag was the recipient of Boston College's prestigious Gold Award, honoring him as alumnus of the decade. Hrag holds a double-major bachelor’s degree from Boston College in biology and honors English, a master’s degree in secondary education from Loyola Marymount University, and a master’s in business administration from UCLA.

Hrag is a Broad Academy Fellow, Aspen Institute Fellow, an Achievement First Accelerator Fellow, a Building Excellent Schools Fellow, and a Teach for America Corps Member. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for ExEd and Building Excellent Schools.

Contact

hhamalian@brightstarschools.org

Kaitlin
Foe

Chief of Staff

Contact
Kaitlin Foe

Contact

kfoe@brightstarschools.org

Kaitlin Foe

Chief of Staff

Kaitlin Foe has served Bright Star Schools since 2016, first as Director of School Development and Strategic Initiatives and then as Vice President of Strategy. As Chief of Staff, Kaitlin oversees numerous Bright Star functions, including marketing and communications, educational compliance, fundraising, and organizational strategy.

Kaitlin started her career as an elementary school teacher for the East Baton Rouge Parish School System in Louisiana with Teach For America. After her time in the classroom, she served at both City Year, Louisiana and later as a Teach For America staff member for four years. Kaitlin was selected as both an Education Pioneers Fellow and a Broad Resident, both prestigious and selective programs that identify and support the further development of promising education leaders. Kaitlin holds a bachelor’s degree from UCSD, a master’s degree in public policy analysis from USC, and a master’s degree in educational leadership from The Broad Residency.

 

Contact

kfoe@brightstarschools.org

Leeann
Yu

Chief Operations Officer

Contact
Leeann Yu

Contact

lyu@brightstarschools.org

Leeann Yu

Chief Operations Officer

Leeann Yu currently serves as the Chief Operations Officer for Bright Star Schools where she leads strategic operational initiatives across the network and oversees the student data, school operations, human resources, and information technology teams.

Leeann joined Bright Star in 2011 as the School Operations Manager for Stella Middle Charter Academy and Bright Star Secondary Charter Academy and has since held a variety of operational roles as the organization has grown from two to nine schools.

Prior to joining Bright Star, Leeann was an Education Pioneers Fellow at PUC Schools, an English teacher in Taiwan, and a financial advisor for Ameriprise Financial. Leeann holds a bachelor’s degree in international development with a minor in education from UCLA and a master’s in business administration from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.

 

Contact

lyu@brightstarschools.org

Melissa
Kaplan

Deputy Superintendent of Education

Contact
Melissa Kaplan

Contact

mkaplan@brightstarschools.org

Melissa Kaplan

Deputy Superintendent of Education

Melissa Kaplan currently serves as the Deputy Superintendent of Education at Bright Star Schools, where she leads school growth, culture, and performance, and oversees the Heads of Schools and the Vice Presidents of Family and Student Services, Curriculum and Instruction, Inclusive Education, People Development, and Academic Initiatives in their management and guidance of school staff.

Previously, Melissa was the Chief Academic Officer at ICEF Public Schools, where she was responsible for managing the academic program at 14 schools serving 4,500 students in grades 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 been involved in the Los Angeles charter school movement since 2003, and has served in a variety of leadership roles including district and site administration, demonstration teacher, and teacher coach. She has also worked extensively as a consultant assisting districts and charter management organizations 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 Unified School District and Oley Valley School District in Pennsylvania. She holds a bachelor’s degree in education and theater from DeSales University and a master's of education from UCLA.

Contact

mkaplan@brightstarschools.org

Heads of Schools

Dr. Eliza
Kimly

Head of Schools, Bright Star Schools

Contact
Dr. Eliza Kimly

Contact

ekim@brightstarschools.org

Dr. Eliza Kimly

Head of Schools, Bright Star Schools

Dr. Eliza KimLy is the co-Head of Schools for Bright Star Schools, and the former founding principal of Rise Kohyang Middle School. As co-Head of Schools, she leads the development and execution of a rigorous instructional program that serves all students and supports principals to achieve their schools’ goals.

Dr. KimLy joined Bright Star Schools as a science teacher in 2004. After teaching both science and English Language Arts for three years, she served Bright Star Schools as assistant principal, principal, and director of instruction.


A Los Angeles-born native who grew up in Koreatown, Dr. KimLy wanted to give back to her “kohyang” (“hometown”). She founded Rise Kohyang Middle School in 2012 to serve the educational needs of families who live in Koreatown.

Prior to joining Bright Star Schools, Dr. KimLy served as a teacher, substitute teacher, student teacher, and teacher’s assistant for the Los Angeles, Culver City, and Beverly Hills Unified School Districts.

Dr. KimLy holds a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism with a minor in American Studies from the University of Southern California; a teaching credential and master’s degree in education; and a Doctorate in Organizational Leadership from Pepperdine University. Her administrative credential was completed at Loyola Marymount University’s Institute of School Leadership & Administration.

Contact

ekim@brightstarschools.org

Olivia
Martinez

Head of Schools, Bright Star Schools

Contact
Olivia Martinez

Contact

omartinez@brightstarschools.org

Olivia Martinez

Head of Schools, Bright Star Schools

Olivia Martinez is the co-Head of Schools for Bright Star Schools, and former principal of Stella Middle Charter Academy (Grades 7-8). As co-Head of Schools, she leads the development and execution of a rigorous instructional program that serves all students and supports principals to achieve their schools’ goals.

Olivia joined Bright Star Schools in 2008 as a teacher and taught physical science, life science, biology, and earth science to students in grades 7 through 11. She became assistant principal at Bright Star Secondary Charter Academy in 2011, and principal at Stella Middle Charter Academy in 2013.

Olivia began her teaching career with a student teaching position at David Starr Jordan High School in Watts through Teach For America.

Olivia holds a bachelor’s degree in psychobiology from UCLA and two master's degrees in urban education and in educational leadership from Loyola Marymount University.

Contact

omartinez@brightstarschools.org

West Adams / Baldwin Village and South Los Angeles School Leaders

Darryl
Garris

Principal, Stella High Charter Academy

Contact
Darryl Garris

Contact

dgarris@brightstarschools.org

Darryl Garris

Principal, Stella High Charter Academy

Darryl Garris is the principal for Stella High Charter Academy, and he leads the school to ensure all Eagles achieve academic excellence and grow their unique talents so they find joy and fulfillment in higher education, career, and life.

Previously, Darryl served Bright Star Schools as principal of Stella Middle Charter Academy (Grades 5-6) and as assistant principal of Stella Middle Charter Academy. Darryl also taught pre-algebra, algebra readiness, and Algebra 1 at Stella Middle Charter Academy and Bright Star Secondary Charter Academy.

Prior to joining Bright Star Schools, Darryl was a teacher at Dorsey High School as a Teach For America corps member.

Darryl holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and a bachelor’s degree in environmental economics from UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources. He also holds a master’s degree in urban education, a master’s degree in school administration, and a certificate in charter school leadership from Loyola Marymount University's School of Education.

Contact

dgarris@brightstarschools.org

Gene
Castro

Principal, Stella Elementary Charter Academy

Contact
Gene Castro

Contact

gcastro@brightstarschools.org

Gene Castro

Principal, Stella Elementary Charter Academy

At Stella Elementary Charter Academy (SECA), Gene Castro leads the school to ensure all Lionesses achieve academic excellence and grow their unique talents so that they find joy and fulfillment in higher education, career, and life. His mission is that SECA students are able to build a strong foundation in literacy, mathematical practice, social-emotional competencies, and social justice education before continuing onto middle school.

Previously, Gene served Bright Star Schools as Stella Elementary’s Assistant Principal of Instruction. Under his leadership, Stella Elementary improved its English Language Development program and increased the English learner reclassification rate from 1% to 14%. The school also launched its first after-school tutoring program for students with the highest academic needs.

Prior to joining Bright Star Schools, Gene joined Teach For America and taught upper elementary on the East Coast. During this time, he received training on leadership and coaching, and eventually served as a Corps Member Advisor at the Teach For America National Philadelphia Institute. In 2015, he helped found a charter school in South Los Angeles where he served as a classroom teacher and then Dean of Culture. He holds a Bachelor's degree in international/global studies from UC Santa Barbara and a Master’s degree in elementary education from Wilmington University.

Contact

gcastro@brightstarschools.org

Jane
Han

Principal, Stella Middle Charter Academy

Contact
Jane Han

Contact

jhan@brightstarschools.org

Jane Han

Principal, Stella Middle Charter Academy

Jane Han is the principal for Stella Middle Charter Academy, and she leads the school to ensure all Gryffons achieve academic excellence and grow their unique talents so that they find joy and fulfillment in higher education, career, and life.

Previously, Jane served Bright Star Schools as Stella Middle Charter Academy’s assistant principal of instruction, and as a math teacher, department leader, and mentor teacher where she coached teachers to elevate student achievement. As a math teacher, Jane taught courses ranging from pre-algebra through AP Calculus, in charter public schools in Los Angeles.

Jane holds a bachelor’s degree in history and sociology with a minor in mathematics from Columbia University and a master’s degree in teaching of mathematics from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education.

Contact

jhan@brightstarschools.org

Koreatown School Leaders

Cynthia
Trigueros

Principal, Rise Kohyang High School

Contact
Cynthia Trigueros

Contact

ctrigueros@brightstarschools.org

Cynthia Trigueros

Principal, Rise Kohyang High School

Cynthia Trigueros is the principal of Rise Kohyang High School, and she leads the Tritons to achieve academic excellence and grow their unique talents so they find joy and fulfillment in higher education, career, and life.

Cynthia has served Bright Star Schools for over 15 years. She previously served as a founding biology teacher, an assistant principal, and interim principal at Rise Kohyang High School before being named principal in 2021. Cynthia was also a founding science teacher at Rise Kohyang Middle School, where she taught for nearly six years.

Cynthia holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from California State University, Northridge, a master of arts in bilingual elementary education from Loyola Marymount University as well as a master and credential in educational leadership and administration from California State University, Dominguez Hills.

Contact

ctrigueros@brightstarschools.org

Kaitlin
Allen

Founding Principal, Rise Kohyang Elementary School

Contact
Kaitlin Allen

Contact

kallen@brightstarschools.org

Kaitlin Allen

Founding Principal, Rise Kohyang Elementary School

Kaitlin Allen is the founding principal of Rise Kohyang Elementary School, and she leads the school to ensure that the Dragons experience positive relationships with their teachers, a supportive and relevant curriculum, social-emotional learning, and joy.

Previously, Kaitlin served Bright Star Schools as assistant principal of instruction and as a high school English teacher for Valor Academy High School. Prior to joining Bright Star Schools, Kaitlin taught middle and high school English for four years in Memphis, TN.

Kaitlin holds a bachelor’s degree in English language and literature from Shepherd University, and a master’s degree in applied linguistics from Georgetown University.

Contact

kallen@brightstarschools.org

Ruth
Kim

Principal, RIse Kohyang Middle School

Contact
Ruth Kim

Contact

rkim@brightstarschools.org

Ruth Kim

Principal, RIse Kohyang Middle School

Ruth Kim is the principal of Rise Kohyang Middle School, and leads the school by empowering the Phoenixes with compassion to learn and grow to give back to their own kohyang (hometown). She encourages students to achieve academic excellence and grow their unique talents so they find joy and fulfillment in higher education, career, and life.

Ruth started with RKMS in its founding year in 2012. Previously, Ruth served Rise Kohyang Middle School as Assistant Principal and an English Language Arts teacher for eight years. During that time, she was also the 6th grade-level chair and ELA department lead, and she became a National Board Certified teacher in 2018. Ruth transitioned to her principal position in 2020.

Ruth holds a bachelor’s degree in English from UC Irvine, multiple-subject and administrative credentials from Cal State Fullerton, and a master’s in educational administration from Cal State Fullerton.

Contact

rkim@brightstarschools.org

San Fernando Valley School Leaders

Brian
Perry

Principal, Valor Academy Middle School

Contact
Brian Perry

Contact

bperry@brightstarschools.org

Brian Perry

Principal, Valor Academy Middle School

Brian Perry is the principal of Valor Academy Middle School, where he leads the school to create an environment where all students can see academic success, engage with their individual interests, and participate in experiences that will help them grow as people.

Previously, Brian served Valor Academy Middle School as the assistant principal of instruction and curriculum for five years, and helped bring new and exciting programs and initiatives to drive student learning. He joined Valor Academy Middle School as a fifth grade English language arts teacher in 2011.

Prior to joining Bright Star Schools, Brian taught in schools in Miami, FL; New Haven, CT; and Inglewood, CA. He began his career as a high school English teacher as a Teach For America corps member. As a third grader in St. Louis, MO, Brian made the commitment to become a teacher as impactful as the ones he had encountered in his early education.

Brian holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri. 

Contact

bperry@brightstarschools.org

Evelyn
Licea

Principal, Valor Academy High School

Contact
Evelyn Licea

Contact

elicea@brightstarschools.org

Evelyn Licea

Principal, Valor Academy High School

Dr. Evelyn Licea is the founding principal of Valor Academy High School and leads a rigorous, accountable, and supportive school community where students become high achieving, self-advocating, responsible scholars engaged in their community.

Dr. Licea wanted to found and lead a high school in the community where she grew up, and she became the founding principal of Valor Academy High School in 2013.

Dr. Licea has been involved in the Los Angeles charter public school movement since 2006. As a Teach For America Corps member, she helped found a math and science high school in the community of East Los Angeles, and was a teacher for three years. She later served as an assistant principal for Alliance College-Ready Public Schools.

Dr. Licea holds a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and Chicano/a studies from UCLA, a master’s degree in secondary education, and a doctorate of education in educational leadership for social justice from Loyola Marymount University. Dr. Licea is a school board member of a charter elementary school in the city of Pacoima, and also serves as an adjunct professor at Loyola Marymount University.

Contact

elicea@brightstarschools.org

Jennifer
Anaya

Assistant Principal, Valor Academy High School

Jennifer Anaya

Contact

janaya@brightstarschools.org

Jennifer Anaya

Assistant Principal, Valor Academy High School

Contact

janaya@brightstarschools.org

May
Oey

Principal, Valor Academy Elementary School

Contact
May Oey

Contact

moey@brightstarschools.org

May Oey

Principal, Valor Academy Elementary School

May Oey is the founding principal of Valor Academy Elementary School, and she leads the school’s dynamic community to cultivate an environment where students achieve and believe in themselves and their school.

May has dedicated her entire life to educating students. Prior to joining Bright Star Schools, she served in various roles in education throughout the Los Angeles area for 11 years. As a school leader for a local charter public school, May learned a great deal about running and implementing successful school programs as well as maintaining a healthy and happy school community.

Previously, May taught for nine years, including teaching 3rd and 4th grades for three years in Hollywood, where her school was recognized as the highest performing school in Hollywood.

May holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from UCLA, a master’s degree in elementary education and teaching from Pepperdine University, and a credential in educational leadership and administration from California State University, Dominguez Hills.

Contact

moey@brightstarschools.org

Founding Leadership

Ari
Engelberg

Founding Board Chair and Executive Director Emeritus

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Ari Engelberg

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Ari Engelberg

Founding Board Chair and Executive Director Emeritus

Ari Engelberg was the founding Board President when Stella Middle Charter Academy first opened its doors in 2003. In 2007, not long after Bright Star Secondary Charter Academy was opened and the name of the organization was changed to Bright Star Schools, he made a transition into the Executive Director role. For over a decade Ari played an instrumental role in shaping Bright Star Schools into a vibrant, kid-focused organization that is helping to close the achievement gap in Los Angeles. Ari holds bachelor’s degrees in political science and psychology from UC Berkeley and a juris doctor and masters of business administration from UCLA. Ari has participated on a range of nonprofit boards and advisory committees, and continues to be involved in uplifting Los Angeles as a board member of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and the Girls Athletic Leadership School. 

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Jeff
Hilger

Founder

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Jeff Hilger

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Jeff Hilger

Founder

Jeff Hilger attended St. Paul the Apostle School and founded and named the first Bright Star School, Stella Academy, in honor of his K-8 school Principal, Sr. Stella Maria Enright, D.M.J. After attending Loyola High School ('88) and Georgetown University ('92), he joined Teach For America and spent several years teaching in bilingual classroom throughout Los Angeles. He later attended UCLA Law School ('98) and earned a Master’s Degree in Urban Planning before being selected for a U.S. District Court Clerkship and becoming an attorney. While working for Proskauer Rose LLP, he worked on a pro bono project to help open the Los Angeles Leadership Academy. He also visited KIPP Houston several times and, in partnership with Fr. Ken Deasy and many people from St. Agatha’s Parish Family in mid-city Los Angeles, was able to raise funds and engage community interests to found and open the Stella Middle Charter Academy in 2003 as its first Principal Teacher. In 2006, with the help of Sr. Ramona Bascom, O.P., who served as the first principal of the high school, Bright Star Secondary Charter Academy, Jeff became the first Executive Director of Bright Star Schools.

The founding of Stella Academy and Bright Star grew out of Jeff’s desire to give students in the mid-city Los Angeles community the same educational opportunities he himself had benefited from while in school. Jeff and Bright Star parted ways in 2013 after he spent a yearlong sabbatical in Tarragona, Catalunya, Spain while working on projects for the schools. He is currently the Director of Education for the New Opportunities Organization, which serves adult students – both inside county jails as well as throughout Los Angeles County at multiple community partner locations – who return to school to earn a high school diploma. He is also a practicing attorney focused, in part, on clients who are underserved by traditional legal services models.

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School Support Leadership Team

  • Jonathan Escobar, Vice President of Data Management
  • Lilianna Gonzalez, Vice President of Inclusive Education
  • Jaime Hernandez, Vice President of Information Technology
  • Sunil Kewalramani, Vice President of Fiscal Services
  • Alexandra Lee, Vice President of Academic Initiatives
  • Pablo Olivares, Vice President of Inclusive Education
  • Marni Parsons, Senior Vice President of Student and Family Services
  • Kendra Racouillat, Vice President of Marketing and Communications
  • Jennifer Simmons, Vice President of Instruction
  • Sebastian Valdes, Vice President of Operations
  • Ana Vargas, Vice President of Human Resources
  • Nicole Wellman-Noble, Vice President of People Development
  • Matt Williams, Vice President of Inclusive Education

Board Of Directors

Directory

Bright Star Education Group Board Members

Directory
  • Dean Indot - Interim Board Chair, Bright Star Education Group
    Senior Vice President & Senior Relationship Manager, Torrey Pines Bank
  • Scott Layfield
    Attorney, DLA Piper Global Law Firm 
  • James Min
    Managing Partner, Telos Advisors 
  • Michael Solomon
    CFA, Partner, Leonard Green & Partners, L.P.

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In our small, joyful schools we provide students with excellent academics, holistic and inclusive support, personal attention, and rich life opportunities beyond the classroom so they thrive from kindergarten through high school.