Founding Team

Office Team

Samantha Hanlon Head of School

My name is Samantha Hanlon and I am the Principal for Promise Academy! I am in my 14th year in education. Over the course of those years, I have been a teacher, instructional coach and most recently, a school leader. My biggest professional accomplishment to date was as the Founding Principal of Hollister Prep School, which is a high performing school in Hollister, CA serving a mostly low-income and Latino population. I choose to enter the field of education because of my unwavering belief that all students, regardless of race or socio-economic status, deserve access to a high quality education. I love my job because of the relationships that I am able to build with students, families, and staff. In working to open Promise Academy, I have had the incredible opportunity to hire a positive, motivated and experienced staff. I am very confident that this group of teachers will do amazing things for all of our kiddos!

In my free time, I love to spend time with my husband and my daughter (who will also attend Promise Academy as a TK student). I also love to do crafts, yoga, read, bake, travel, camp and be outdoors!

I look forward to serving the Promise Academy community for many years to come!

Liana Pellegrino Assistant Principal

I started my educational journey in a charter school as a student. I was the first in my family to graduate from college, Saint Mary’s College of California, with a BA. I started as a teacher at Rocketship education, worked as an instructional coach for Alum Rock school district, and am excited to be joining our promise team! I just completed my administrative credential last month, and will be working on my masters this year. Fun facts about me? I enjoy creating rap songs and music videos for our community as “Cardi P”.

Stephanie Gutirrez
Office Manager

Stephanie Gutierrez is the Office Manager at Promise Academy. She has been working in the operations roles since 2016. In that time, she has assisted with the overseeing of school functions including enrollment, compliance, student safety, family engagement and community building. She is bilingual in English and Spanish and enjoys the fast-paced setting of a school environment. She graduated high school from a charter school in San Jose, CA and is still pursuing her college degree. She has a positive attitude and outlook on life which helps her remain optimistic about the future. She loves spending time with her family, learning new things every day, reading, cooking and making memories. She is excited to work with Promise and give our students the opportunity to thrive in the Silicon Valley.

Teaching Team

Gabby Garcia

My name is Gabriela Garcia and I attended University of Portland. I have a bachelors in Elementary Education and Spanish. Previously, I worked as a student teacher year round at Highland Elementary in Gresham, Oregon in a kindergarten classroom. Prior to that, for three years, I worked as a teacher’s assistant in kindergarten and 1st grade classrooms. Some fun facts about me are that I have traveled to 6 countries and that I have broken or sprained all of my fingers.

Brianna Richard

Brianna has been teaching 1st and 2nd grade for the past 6 years.  She strives to make her classroom fun, bright, and hands on so that students can be in charge of their own learning while enjoying themselves.  Prior to teaching, she got a Masters Degree in education and a multiple subjects teaching credential from Loyola Marymount University. Out of the classroom, she loves spending time at home with her husband, daughter, one dog, and two cats. 

Lesley Mayhew

My name is Lesley Mayhew and I am originally from Las Cruces, New Mexico, where I spent most of my life.  I graduated with my Bachelor’s in Elementary Education at New Mexico State University. Although I call New Mexico home, I spent a portion of my life in Japan when I was a baby and years in Germany because of my dad’s job in the army. After graduating college I moved to Phoenix, Arizona and taught 4th grade. There I met my boyfriend who is from the San Jose area. After doing long distance for what felt like forever, I have decided to make San Jose my new home. I now live here with my boyfriend and our sweet cat Meowth who made me a cat person.  I am beyond thrilled to start this new chapter in San Jose and at Promise Academy!

Becky Le

When I was in middle school, I had an after school job tutoring and helping my neighbor’s 8 year old son with his homework. This experience helped me develop a love of learning and working with children. My career in education began at San Jose State University where I received my teaching credential. Immediately after finishing the credential program, I obtained a Master’s degree with a concentration in curriculum and instruction. I first began teaching in a kindergarten classroom at a Catholic school in Hayward followed by time spent teaching middle school and then third grade. What I enjoy most about teaching is being able to make connections with my students so that I can understand them as learners and as individual people. When I am not teaching, I like to read, bake, and dabble in calligraphy. I also like spending time with my family, especially my nephew Max and niece Emma. I am excited to be a part of the Promise Academy team and I’m looking forward to what lies ahead in this first year.

Julia Conklin
Special Education Case Manager

I grew up in Los Osos, on the central coast of California. I studied at San Francisco State University where I earned my undergraduate degree in liberal studies and anthropology, teaching credential and graduate degree in special education (with an emphasis in autism).

For the past 16 years, I have had the privilege of working in the field of special education, serving students of all ages and abilities. I am passionate about creating meaningful relationships with colleagues, students and families. My ultimate goal is to guide students and give them the necessary tools to build confidence and independence. That being said, I always look forward to learning from my students. I am truly excited to work at Promise Academy and am confident that this will be a great year!

Christine Varland
Innovation Lab Teacher

Born and raised in western South Dakota, I’ve taught various Middle School subjects in South Dakota, Missouri, Wisconsin, and California for nearly 20 years. I enjoy seeing my students grow both academically and socially in my class. No matter the grade or the subject I strongly believe that all students can learn; and that it is a teacher’s job to find a way to make this happen. I encourage students to mature and think beyond what may currently seem possible. It’s my daily mission to help students find the joy in learning new things and see the benefits that come from putting in the effort.

I also enjoy spending time away from school with my husband and twin fourteen year-olds. We love traveling the world together, hiking, playing volleyball, and camping.

Teacher Assisstant Team

Yesica Martinez

My name is Yesica Martinez. A fun fact about me is that I have 5 sisters, 3 brothers and 1 step brother. I was the only one to graduate from high school and college in my family. I graduated from San Jose State University with a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science which is the study of psychology, sociology, and anthropology. My emphasis was in sociology. I also got a minor in Mexican American studies and was 1 class away from minoring in Spanish as well. I also took 3 years of French in high school. Furthermore, I have many years of experience helping my 20+ nephews and nieces with homework and giving them academic advice. Lastly, god blessed me with my 3 year old son whom I learn new things from every day. He makes me view the world in a completely different way and motivates me to be the best version of myself as possible. I can’t wait to work at Promise as a teachers assistant and for my son to join me next school year.

Vanessa Tilsdale

I’m Sydney Vanessa Tisdale, I have attended Keller Graduate School of Management of DeVry University graduated of class 2016 with distinction and Perseverance Award with a degree in Master of Business Administration. I have worked as Lead Pre-K Teacher for SJBCDC in San Jose serving low-income families, as a Preschool English Teacher for Little Tree International Chinese Bilingual Montessori School in Campbell. Interim Teacher Assistant for 1st grade at Triumphant Academy Elementary School in Fremont. Our Family have 4 rescue dogs and my hometown is in the East Bay.

Mary Dikitanan

Hello, I’m Mary Dikitanan and I am one of the Teacher’s Assistants. I am super excited to be working with your children! I went to college at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo where I studied Psychology and Child Development. I earned my Bachelors of Science in Psychology in 2017. Since then, I have been working with children. I have nannied elementary aged kids, coached a performing arts program at my high school alma mater, and worked as a Substitute Teacher in many different districts.

Growing up, my family was full of teachers. My mom is a teacher, my sister was a teacher, my aunts and cousin are teachers. Some of my best role models were teachers I’ve had throughout my life. So it’s safe to say that education was something that came natural to me. However, through my experiences working with children hands-on, it quickly became a passion of mine. Which is funny because I remember when I was little, I would play pretend teacher and make worksheets to pass out to my stuffed-animal “students”, so I guess I’ve always that dream of being a teacher.

Currently, I am recently married and raising an adorable 8 month old kitten. My family immigrated from the Philippines and so I was a first-generation college student and now I am aiming to get my Masters and Credentials in Elementary Education. I am so excited to be a mentor for your children and to start this journey!

Rishika Kenkre

I’m excited to be joining Promise Academy this fall. It’s going to be a wonderful year. I’ve lived in the Bay Area all my life and love what it has to offer. For my undergraduate studies, I attended University of California Santa Barbara majoring in Religious Studies and minoring in English. There I worked for the school newspaper writing up articles for the Science and Tech Section. As you can probably tell, I love reading and writing.

After graduating, I worked as a teacher’s aide and a teacher at a learning center. I enjoyed working with kids from all grade levels. Through my experience as a teacher’s aide, I’ve adopted many strategies to deal with kids at all different learning levels. I’m always looking to learn from kids as they always share a different perspective of the world.

I’m looking forward to exploring literature, figuring out how to write clear sentences, and developing strong vocabulary. We’re going to have an excellent year.


Dr. Anthony H. Johnson Founder
Dr. Johnson is an author, public speaker, educator, university lecturer and advocate for students, teachers and families. Born in Mississippi, he has lived in several states and has a wealth of experiences across many aspects of education. He has ten years of experience working in California public schools. He previously taught English and English Language Development (ELD) and has been an administrator for the past seven years. Most notably, he has experience both in school turnaround and founding a new school. He was part of the transformation of an established high school from being under state sanctions to receiving national recognition in the span of three years. He also spent 4 years as the founder of an innovative, comprehensive high school serving 1,600 students with a mastery-based grading system and a 1:1 student to computer ratio. This involved strategic planning, garnering community support, hiring staff, and managing a $90 million dollar budget. Prior to entering the field of education, Dr. Johnson was a minor-league baseball player in the Washington Nationals organization. He holds a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction and a Doctorate in Educational Leadership from Saint Mary’s College of California. Expertise: Curriculum, Instruction, Assessment, Technology & Innovation, School Leadership, Operations, Start-Ups, Community Outreach and Communication

Founding Board of Directors

Dr. Dean Elias, Chair Professor Saint Mary’s College Kalmanovitz School of Education
Dr. Dean Elias started his path toward education working in anti-poverty programs in the 60’s and 70’s. He worked in support of Job Corps and Model Cities programs, first from Washington, DC, then from SF. He founded a small school within a college, Antioch University Seattle, in 1976. He served there for over 12 years and then transitioned to Goddard College as Provost to support a new President dedicated to rebuilding Goddard, and thence to CIIS, where he was invited to develop a new school of Transformative Learning and Change, developing BA and PhD. programs. After a brief stint with WASC, he became the Dean of Saint Mary’s School of Extended Education. Dr. Elias was attracted to the Promise Academy Board because of its commitment to pioneer approaches to working with the most disadvantaged students in San Jose, and to serve as a laboratory for transforming public schools. Expertise: Higher Education, Operations, Start-ups and Community Outreach and Communications
Michael Hexner, Treasurer
Mr. Hexner was Founder, CEO and Chairman of Wheel Works. He sold Wheel Works on Dec. 31st, 1999 when it was ranked the 15th largest independent retail chain in the U.S. He then became President, COO, and CIO of Morgan Tire Company, dba Tires Plus, the 5th largest independent tire retailer in the U.S. He left Morgan at the end of 2002 after he helped build it to the largest independent retail tire chain in the U.S., with over 6,000 employees, and locations in 25 states. After leaving Morgan, he became President of the NCGA Foundation. During this time, he founded Youth on Course, now raising over $1 million per year to provide a green venue for kids to learn values and life skills. He was then elected President of the Northern California Golf Association. In 2007, he co-founded and served as CEO and Chairman of SmartPillars, which developed and sold online marketing software. In 2010, he took over as managing partner of DealerFusion, an online video company. Both companies were sold in October of 2014. He is presently Executive Chairman of Zoomvy, a new communications application with breakthrough co-browsing technology, on the board of Heritage Global, Inc., an advisor to and a mentor to a number of young people. Michael loves the challenge of creating and building solutions and believes there is few greater needs than coming up with a solution help young people in disadvantaged circumstances get the best education possible. Michael is a graduate of Williams College and has a Masters of Mediation and Conflict Resolution from Creighton University. Expertise: Technology & Innovation, Finance, Operations, Start-ups
Dr. Carol Brooks, Secretary
Carol Brooks is an accomplished and seasoned educator with extensive leadership experience in public school educational settings. Her background includes more than 20 years of experience as a teacher and principal serving in large, urban, and public elementary and middle schools in California and Virginia. Carol works collaboratively with multidisciplinary teams and has a talent for mentoring administrators, teacher-leaders, and developing staff to create sustainable professional learning communities. Her dedication to promoting opportunities for equitable access to high quality education for all scholars, particularly students of color, has led her to develop innovative programs to provide all scholars with real-world experiences. As a change agent with a transformational leadership style, she has an established history of increasing student achievement, improving teacher effectiveness through professional development training and coaching, building a positive school climate, and establishing business partnerships to promote equity, access, and awareness for females and students of color through STEM education. Expertise: STEM, Collaboration, Elementary Education, School Leadership
Corrine Satalaya, Member
Corrine Satalaya currently works for Lowe Enterprises Real Estate Group as a Senior Property Manager. Previously, she worked for Balco Properties from 2010-2016, where her role was Real Estate Operations Manager overseeing 60+ properties in the portfolio and managing the day to day operations of the property management team. She worked on acquisitions and dispositions, implementation of capital improvement plans, and was responsible for the preparation of annual property budgets. She began her career in the commercial real estate industry with Mohr Partners – Commercial Real Estate Brokers. Corrine graduated from California State University, East Bay with a bachelor’s degree in English. She has a California Real Estate License, a California Notary Public License and is scheduled to graduate in 2018 with a Master’s in Leadership and a concentration in Organizational Learning & Change. When she’s not working, Corrine enjoys traveling, reading, and spending time with her family. Expertise: Real Estate, Finance, Fundraising, Community Engagement & Outreach
Shirley J. Everett, Member
As the senior associate vice provost for Residential & Dining Enterprises (R&DE), Shirley J. Everett is responsible for employing an organizational model that is dedicated to student advocacy, exceptional customer service, performance benchmarks, professional development, succession planning, staff wellness, sustainable practices and fiscal stewardship and with direct oversight for Student Housing, Dining, Hospitality & Auxiliaries, Conference Services and key business partners.

Beyond serving on the Stanford University President’s Full Cabinet comprised of senior administrators that shape Stanford’s direction, policy, and planning, she also provides strong visionary leadership for an 800+ talented team of employees that houses 12,000 students and dependents, serves18,000 meals daily, hosts 18,500 conference guests and a half-million Athletic concession guests each year. She also administers fiscal stewardship for a $1.7 billion asset portfolio — comprising over 5 million square feet of space equal to one-third of Stanford’s physical plant — and a $204 million annual operating budget. Additional responsibilities includes, overseeing the overall direction and performance of human resources and organizational development, financial management, asset renewal, capital and strategic planning, concept development and facilities design, asset renewal, information systems and IT security, institutional compliance, innovation and sustainability, and public relations for R&DE
Expertise: Fiscal Health, Organizational Growth & Development, Capital and Strategic Planning, IT Security and Public Relations.