Here you can read about your favorite staff members. Take a look at just who those smiling faces are standing at the doorways each period.

For our Staff Directory and Emails, please click here.

Yira Salcedo (Principal) believes all success derives from receiving a quality education. Having come from the Dominican Republic, her appreciation for language learning, culture, and ultimately public service to achieve common ground amidst adversity was paramount. As an undergraduate student, Yira studied abroad in Madrid, Spain and in London, England. Upon graduating from Skidmore College with a B.A. in Business Management & Economics, Yira joined the Peace Corps and found herself working in the mountains of Honduras where she taught mathematics and sustainable business practices to adult learners as a means to spur local economic development and self-sufficiency. She later joined the NYCDOE with a thirst for learning and a zest for public service. As a high school teacher, Yira brought awareness of global and socio-economic issues to her students while earning a M. A. in International Affairs from the New School University, where she conducted research in both Guatemala and Argentina. As a learner-leader Yira also earned a M.S. in Education, and a Certificate of Advanced Study in Education Administration from the Graduate School of The College of Saint Rose at Albany. Yira is also a recent graduate of the New York City Leadership Academy Aspiring Principals Program. Yira sees learning as a way of life. Her leadership journey as a teacher, assistant principal and now principal has always brought her back to the most rewarding community of the Bronx. As an experienced and passionate educator, she is the students’ first advocate for learning, expressing compassion for any obstacles they may face, and serving the families and the communities in which they live. She is privileged to be part of the legacy of Westchester Square Academy where Community, Reflection, Collaboration, and Experimental Learning are the education of life itself.

Simone Hartley (Assistant Principal) is an experienced educator, whose drive and passion is to inspire young people in the STEM fields. Ms. Hartley attended City College of New York, where she obtained a B.S. in Engineering Geology with a minor in Science Education. She later secured a M.S. in Hydrogeology and School Building Leadership. It is her belief that students learn best when directly involved in the planning and delivery of lessons designed to enhance their critical thinking and speaking abilities. She is known for setting high standards to engage students in rigorous instruction through collaborative discussions, inquiry-based activities, and evidence-based writing. In addition, she facilitated opportunities for teachers and parents to work together in Academic Parent Teacher Teams to increase and build a stronger school community. During her tenure as a lead science teacher, she has been influential in the improvement of instruction by sharing best practices, collaborating with teachers to create interdisciplinary units of study, and coordinating and facilitating team meetings as well as professional learning cycles. Ms. Hartley is committed to the success of every learner.

Kristen Schaefer (Assistant Principal) believes that a strong school community is crucial for all students’ success. She is committed to high-quality education for all children and stresses the importance of student voice and access in her work with teachers. Before joining WSA, Kristen mentored new teachers & coached colleagues to further develop their instructional practice. For many years, she taught English at schools in Brooklyn and on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, creating a classroom community that encouraged her students to take risks and find a love for learning. Kristen believes that we are always learning and that for teachers and school leaders, meaningful, collaborative professional learning leads to student success.  After graduating from New York University with her B.S. in Teaching English 7-12/Journalism, Kristen served in the Peace Corps, teaching English to students in Ukraine as well as collaborating with other volunteers to design a summer camp that supported youth in designing community-based health education projects. She earned her M.A. at Teachers College, Columbia University in Curriculum and Instruction and completed the Leadership Advancement Program through the New York City Leadership Academy, earning her New York State School Building Leader Certification. In her free time, she enjoys reading, traveling, trying new recipes, and crafting.

Jonas Abry

Jonas Abry (English) brings his passions for literature and education to Westchester Square Academy, where he teaches English and Drama.  Prior to becoming a teacher, Jonas was a professional actor and voice-over talent.  That background informs Jonas’s philosophy that learning only occurs when students are engaged with the class and the community.  Jonas has previously taught at Peace and Diversity Academy.  He earned his M.A. in Education from Brooklyn College and his B.F.A. in Acting from New York University.

Stephanie Aquino (English) believes that the doorway to opportunity is through education. Similar to WSA’s core values, she believes that creating a community of support while fostering personal reflection and growth are key aspects of a positive learning environment. As a Bronx native and graduate of Herbert H. Lehman High School, Stephanie brings her passion and enthusiasm to the Westchester Square Academy community. After receiving her B.S in English Adolescence Education at SUNY Oneonta, she earned a job as a 9th grade English teacher in the Bronx. Currently she is working on her M.S in Curriculum Development and Instructional Technology (CDIT) at SUNY Albany. Stephanie looks forward to continuing her educational career at WSA this upcoming year while creating lifelong learners in the process.   

Kerrisha Brown

Kerrisha Brown (Mathematics) an advocate for education who truly believes that learning is the key to success. Kerrisha is a Mathematics teacher and an integral part of the community at Westchester Square Academy.  Before joining WSA, Kerrisha worked as a business educator and consultant with NYC Business Solutions (Seedco), a non-profit city run program which helps entrepreneurs start up their business in the five boroughs of New York. She graduated from Hofstra University with a B.B.A in Marketing and  International Business, and is currently working towards an M.S. in Education to teach Mathematics (grades 7-12).

Monika Camovic (History) was born and raised in the Bronx.   She is proud to teach within the community that she was raised in.  She graduated from Iona College and attained her Masters Degree in Education at Lehman College.   Her passion for culture and history led her to a career in teaching social studies.  The joy of watching her students grow and learn made her fall in love with it.  She strives to engage her students in critical thinking and questioning because she believes it is a tool that will help them succeed long after high school.   She is looking forward to being a part of the WSA community.

Stephanie Decicco

Stephanie De Cicco (History) is a native New Yorker. She believes that all global citizens should be proud of their community, and that belief is reflected in her approach to teaching.  She believes that all students can learn and uses a variety of teaching and learning strategies to ensure student success.  Before teaching at Westchester Square Academy, she was a Lead Teacher for Social Studies with a Model Classroom.  She hopes to bring the skills she learned facilitating professional development across the curriculum to the WSA community.

Steven Deep

Steven Deep (History, Dean Team) is a committed educator who believes that the education of values and citizenry is the key to the success of today’s youth. Prior to WSA, Steven served as an educator at Herbert H. Lehman High School. Steven has been a teacher, teacher-director for the Health Careers Small Learning Community, a football coach, and most recently a dean of discipline. He earned his BA from Manhattan College in Secondary Education and History. He is currently earning his MA in History from Western Connecticut State University. Steven is looking forward to bringing his experience,  knowledge and passion to the students of WSA.

Kanisha Ffriend (Special Education, English) was born and raised in the North Bronx. While attending Syracuse University, she studied Education with a social justice focus and Disability Studies.  She was eager to return to her community and invest in the lives of youth, especially at WSA! Kanisha Ffriend is particularly passionate about using media as a platform to discuss the impacts of school policies on students.  She is constantly trying to dig deeper into race and ethnic communities to both create and understand existing lines of intersectionality. Through her continued studies and experiences, she plans to lead classrooms to discussing the hidden messages in America’s curriculum regarding gender identity, gender expressions, ability, class and race.  When she is is not studying media content and teaching,  she can be found watching reality TV and experimenting with recipes. Kanisha is currently pursuing her Masters in Education and Special Education from Relay Graduate School of Education.

Emily Figueroa (Special Education, English/History) is a New York City native who has worked in 9th grade English/Language Arts classrooms for the last five years. She began her career in education as a Blue Engine Teaching Assistant with the educational nonprofit, Blue Engine. She has since completed the New York City Teaching Fellows program and has been working as the Special Education co-teacher in 9th grade ELA and Global History classrooms at WSA for the past three years. Her work in three different New York City public schools and her professional development experiences with the New York City Writing Project, the School Reform Initiative, and training in Restorative Justice Practices and curricula have made her a compassionate and principled educator who strives to reach the needs of all of her students.

Diyanora Garcia

Dayanara Garcia (English) is an energetic, creative and dedicated teacher, known to her students as the Dominican Wonder Woman. Dayanara has completed her eighteenth year teaching English in the New York City public school system, and believes in creating a positive learning environment with academic rigor where all students gain confidence, excel and become college and career ready. Dayanara has also worked as a Staff Developer, Literary Coordinator, Model Teacher, and Mentor supporting colleagues improve best practices in education. She earned a B.A. in English from Hobart & William Smith Colleges in upstate Geneva, NY. She also earned a M.S. in Education Technology from Mercy College, where she worked as an Adjunct Professor. Dayanara is eager to motivate young minds at WSA to express themselves creatively and with confidence, through reading, writing, and speaking.


Jordan Gonzalez

Jordan González (Spanish) is a lover of languages, literatures and cultures.  After he received his B.A. with honors from Cornell University in Spanish Literature, he spent two years in Spain earning his M.A. in Spanish Literature from NYU and teaching English as a Foreign Language to high school students in Madrid.  It was his experiences in Madrid that gave him his calling to teach.  Mr. González returned to New York to earn a second M.A. in TESOL from the New School University and an advance certificate from Hunter College in Adolescent Education- Foreign Languages.  Born and raised in the Bronx and a resident of Throggs Neck, when Mr. Gonzalez is not teaching he is dancing to Merengue, Bachata and, sometimes, Salsa.     

Denise Haynes

Denise Haynes (Social Worker) is passionate about helping young people reach their full academic, social and emotional potential.  As an experienced social worker, she has worked in middle and high schools both in the public and charter sectors.  Denise received her B.A in Psychology and her M.S.W in Social Work from the University at Albany. Denise looks forward to creating a sense of community in WSA by building relationships with students and families.  Besides having a strong faith, she has a passion for travel, and for glazed donuts.

Kimberly Haughton

Kimberly Haughton (Mathematics) has a love for mathematics that bubbles over into her classroom. She grew up in the Bronx, and earned her B.A. in Computer Science from Haverford College. Kimberly is currently getting her M.A. in Education, Mathematics, (grades 7-12) at the Relay Graduate School of Education.

Jonelle Hinchcliffe

Jonelle Hinchcliffe (Mathematics) is a seasoned teacher with ten years experience teaching Algebra and Pre-Algebra in NYC public schools. It is her philosophy that all students can learn anything they set their minds to, especially when they get a taste of success. Her nurturing and motivating approach to her classroom make students feel welcomed and valued every day. As a resident of the Throgs Neck neighborhood she is dedicated to the school and it’s community. She works hard to create an environment of respect and collaboration where students can thrive and grow. She received her Masters in Education from Pace University and graduated Villanova University undergraduate with a dual major in Business Administration and International Business.

Gregory Holness

Gregory Holness (Mathematics) teaches Algebra and Calculus at WSA. He has earned a B.S. in Applied Mathematics, and is currently pursuing a M.S. in Math Education at St. John’s University. He makes it his mission to show the practical application of mathematics in the real world He hopes to foster in WSA students a spirit of fearlessness when it comes to learning mathematics and pursuing careers in which it is used.

Jack McCoy

Jack McCoy (Mathematics) is committed to working with students to help them develop the necessary academic skills and strength of character to succeed in both college and career. Before joining the team of math teachers at Westchester Square Academy, Jack worked as an administrator, creating and managing data systems for an educational non-profit in East Harlem. Jack has lived, studied and taught abroad at different points in his career, most notably teaching in Osaka, Japan. Jack has also worked for the United States Government and for private companies throughout his career, giving him a wide array of experiences that he brings to the classroom. Jack got his B.A. in Business Management with a focus in Entrepreneurial Studies from the University of Massachusetts and is now working towards an M.A. in Education at Relay GSE.

Jozef Mackie

Jozef Mackie (Non-Cow, Physical Education, Dean) is an enthusiastic Physical Education and Technology educator from London, United Kingdom. Jozef has experience in London, Los Angeles and New York City. Most recently, he served as a lead PE teacher for a network of 15 schools in Inglewood, Los Angeles, supporting teacher and curriculum development while being part of a successful extra curricular rugby program for over 300 at-risk students. Jozef’s work was featured in an ESPN documentary, “Scrum The Movie”, highlighting the positive effects of rugby in high risk environments.

Stephanie Massiah

Stephanie Massiah (Counseling) is a certified School Counselor. She received her B.A. from the University of Buffalo and her M.S from Mercy College. She has worked with young people in various schools and community-based-organization settings. Ms. Massiah is dedicated and passionate about helping young people reach their fullest potential and assisting them with being prepared to excel in their post-secondary endeavors. She strongly believes that every student can excel with the right guidance of a caring adult.  In addition to counseling, Ms. Massiah’s other interests include working out, traveling, and spending time with family and friends. Ms. Massiah is looking forward to a great school year with the WSA community.

Jackie Medori

Jacqueline Medori (Mathematics) teaches math at WSA and was lucky enough to be a founding member of the staff. Prior to getting a M.S. in Adolescent Education and Students with Disabilities, Jacqueline studied physics, sociology and community service learning at Stony Brook University. During her undergraduate studies she had the opportunity to study abroad in England, partake in disaster relief in the New Orleans area and help lead environmental initiatives. Jacqueline loves reading, crafts and animals.

Stephanie Murdock

Stephanie Murdock (Mathematics) is a dedicated teacher and a life-long learner.  Stephanie earned a B.S. from SUNY Geneseo and an M.S. in Education from Fordham University.  She makes it her mission to teach others math and make them love it. Stephanie is an avid traveler, and loves learning about people, cultures and languages. She has taught in the United States as well as Japan, Peru and France. She strongly believes in her students’ capacity to achieve and loves working with them in pursuit of their dreams.

Deb Porterfield

Deb Porterfield (Special Education)  teaches ELA and Living Environment at Westchester Square Academy. Previously, she taught ELA, social studies and science at Kappa III Middle School and the Academy of Civic Engagement in the Bronx. She also has worked as a developmental coach for beginning teachers in the New York City Teaching Fellows program. Before joining the teaching profession as a Teaching Fellow in 2008, she worked as a writer and editor for several regional and national publications, including USA Today, where she continues to write a popular column on new technology products. As a full-time journalist, she produced numerous stories on education and personal technology, and also explored a variety of locales, including the Amazon rainforest in Brazil and the technology sector in Japan.  Porterfield received a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from the University of Georgia and a Master’s Degree in Urban Education from Mercy College.   As the parent of two sons, ages 20 and 17, she appreciates the challenges that parents face as they help their children acquire the skills needed to succeed in high school, college and beyond.

Marques Rich

Marques Rich (Science) believes an appreciation for science can allow one to see the world from a different perspective. Both eager and excited to help start a science program at WSA, Marques hopes to teach the students of WSA the interconnectedness of science and the real world. He received his B.S. in Chemistry from The City College of New York and received his M.A. in Science Education from New York University. Prior to becoming a faculty member at WSA, Marques gained invaluable teaching experience while completing a one-year teaching residency at East Side Community High School. He looks forward to joining the WSA community and helping to foster the development of well-rounded young men and women!  

Emma Sausner (Spanish) loves traveling, dancing, and trying new and exotic foods. She discovered her passion for teaching in while living and teaching English abroad in Spain and Ecuador. Before moving to Ecuador, Emma studied Spanish and Latin American Studies at SUNY New Paltz, and she is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Education from The City College of New York. Emma is excited to create a strong classroom community, where all of her students feel comfortable participating, speaking Spanish, and making mistakes. She hopes to inspire her students to use their knowledge of another language to travel, live abroad, and understand other people and cultures.

Leiny Valet

Leiny Valet (English) believes that as educators, one of our greatest opportunities to alter our students’ life prospects comes through teaching them to become better readers and writers. Born and raised in the Bronx neighborhood of Westchester Square and as a graduate of Lehman High School, she is excited to return to the community which has helped shape who she is today. After receiving her B.A in English from Binghamton University, she joined the New York City Teaching Fellows Program while receiving a M.S in English Secondary Education at Hunter College. Leiny taught English to grades 6-8, for six years at William W. Niles Middle School in the Bronx and held positions like Part-time Literacy Coach, MSQI Coordinator (Middle School Quality Initiative), Achieve3000 Coach, and Reading Intervention Teacher. She took part in the NYC DOE Common Core Secondary Literacy Pilot Team in 2010 and had her work of Common Core-Aligned 8th grade Task published by the NYC DOE and is currently on the Common Core Library Site.

Erika Stafne is one of the Science teachers here at WSA. She's a wonderful addition to the team and we love having her here. She can be reached at

Erika Stafne (Science) Erika is a lifelong learner who has had the opportunity to teach science and do field research all over the world, from sailing the Pacific leading college students in oceanographic research to sleeping in an igloo while studying climate change in the Sub-Arctic. She has swum with whale sharks and the elusive oarfish, collected gravity core samples of the sea floor and snow core samples in the Great White North, and facilitated students in the building of their own workable under water remote controlled submarines. The diverse experiences she has had combined with her commitment to hands-on learning make her classroom an engaging space. She is passionate about inspiring curiosity in her students and helping them learn to question, explore, and problem solve. As a founding member of the science team at WSA, she is committed to helping to develop a science program that teaches students to think critically and speak articulately about science and the world around them. Mostly, she wants her students to fall in love with learning and take that passion with them as they head off to college and into the world.

Sophia Suarez

Sophia Suárez (Science) is an inquiry enthusiast whose passion for and curiosity of the natural world spills over into students in her Living Environment class. A lifelong resident of the Bronx, Sophia is not only a lover of science but a strong believer in community and emphasises it as a foundation for education in her classroom.

Maria Swieciki

Maria Swieciki (History) is a creative and enthusiastic educator working at WSA as a Global History and U.S. History teacher. She earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Saint Bonaventure University, and a master’s degree in Adolescent Education from Hunter College. Prior to working at WSA, Ms. Swieciki worked for the New York City Department of Education as a certified substitute teacher. In addition to history, Ms. Swieciki’s other interests include being outdoors, swimming, working out, traveling, and spending time with family and friends. Ms. Swieciki was born, raised, and educated in the Bronx, and she is incredibly excited to be in her native borough, working and growing with the students of WSA.

Mike Toro

Mike Toro (Physical Education) prides himself on being able to work with students of the Bronx, where he was raised.  As a product of the NYC Public School system, Michael is committed to teaching students life skills and how to be resilient through his Health and Physical Education classes.  Michael earned his BS from Lehman College in Health Education and an MS from Canisius College in Physical Education.  Michael is looking forward to a great school year and creating strong relationships with the WSA community.  

Mark Virella

Mark Virella (Counseling) is a licensed school social worker and life-long Bronx resident.  He received his B.A. and M.S.W  from Hunter College. He has worked with young people in various environments including the juvenile justice system, foster care, as well as various school and community-based-organization settings. Mark is passionate about promoting post-secondary opportunities and highlighting the need for mental health services for young people in the Bronx. He strongly believes that one of the greatest gifts a student can receive in school is the presence of a caring adult. An avid film buff and U2 fan, Mark enjoys spending time with his family, especially his three nephews and niece. He resides in the Schuylerville community.