Timothy A. Smith, President, and Co-Founder
Timothy Smith has been operating and managing charter schools in Arizona since 1996. He has successfully written three charter school applications in Arizona, and two charter school petitions in California. He has assisted other groups in receiving their charters and has written numerous grants, including a national dissemination grant in 1998 for establishing a center for international education. Mr. Smith has led several school improvement teams and has sat on school improvement visitation teams. He led the International Studies Academy to become accredited through NCA in 1998 and assisted E-Institute Charter High Schools in becoming accredited, authorized by the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools and a member of the Arizona Alternative Education Consortium. Mr. Smith has led administrative and leadership teams in the following initiatives: Strategic Planning, NCLB, Curriculum Mapping, International Baccalaureate Authorization, policies and procedures adoption and implementation, school and district level budget planning and authorization, professional development planning and implementation, and virtual and blended learning teams. He has a bachelor’s degree in Asian studies and a bachelor’s degree in the Korean language, from Brigham Young University. Mr.Smith has a Masters in International Management from Thunderbird Global School of Management. He has completed coursework toward his Ed.D. in Educational Leadership at USC Rossier School of Education.
Shannon Creamer Smith, Executive Vice President, and Co-Founder
Shannon Creamer Smith has been an educational leader since 1996. She has played a vital role in the growth and development of Learning Matters Educational Group and the schools that they manage. Shannon specializes in professional development, committee, and team building and mentoring. Additionally, she has experience in the design of curriculum and instruction with an emphasis on literacy and assessment.Shannon has taken a lead role on employment policies and procedures and board development. She serves on several boards in Arizona including E-Institute Charter Schools and the Calibre Academy boards.Shannon is an advocate for young people and is actively involved in parent educational programs including the PTA of Sierra Verde Elementary School, the Renaissance Gifted Program of Highland Lakes School, and various committees of Mountain Ridge High School. Shannon has also led training of special education staff and has led and been involved with many student study teams related to student Individual Education Plans. Shannon had also led many student clubs and activities and spearheaded the Calibre Academy student outdoor leadership and environmental camp. Shannon has a degree in elementary education with an emphasis in reading instruction from Ottawa University.
Vicki McFarland, Director of Federal Programs
Vicki McFarland has served as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction since 2007 at Learning Matters Educational Group. Her current project involves leading administrators and teachers in systemic change utilizing data to drive instruction. Vicki has led several professional development sessions on the topic of new educational standards in math and language arts, and just completed the National Institute for School Leadership program. Her past projects have included curriculum mapping and standards-based report card systems that are aligned to curriculum maps. Vicki has served as a capacity building coach for the Arizona Department of Education Comprehensive System of Personnel Development working with teams on the state improvement grants in reading and intervention, math, and Arizona high achievement for all (behavior). Previously, she served for 3 years as the Special Education Coordinator for Calibre Academy and E-Institute Charter High Schools was a consultant for homeschooling parents in Arizona, and a Stanford test administrator. Vicki taught special education in New Mexico for fifteen years before moving to Arizona.
Benoni Pantoja, Vice President of Schools
Benoni Pantoja received his bachelor’s degree in United States History from the University of California, San Diego and later completed his master’s degree in secondary education from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. In addition to his teaching and administrative credential, he is Bilingual Cross-cultural Language and Academic Development Certified. He is passionate in closing the achievement gap and has led initiatives in the following: Strategic Planning, Instructional Leadership, Professional Learning Communities, Teacher Evaluations, WASC, Curriculum Development, SDAIE, and RTI. This is Benoni's 9th year as an administrator and he is proud to serve as the Vice President of Schools for Taylion. Previously he worked at Taylion San Diego Academy, Vista High School, Animo Venice Charter High School and was a founding faculty member at Animo South Los Angeles Charter High School. Benoni also worked in Lennox Unified School District and began his education career at the San Diego Unified School District working with the AVID program. Currently, Benoni assists with supervising and supporting the Taylion Academy schools in North County San Diego, San Bernardino, Victorville, and Adelanto.
Amy Riggs, Director of Academics
For the past ten years, Mrs. Riggs has worked as an administrator and teacher at the middle and high school levels. Currently, she serves as the Director of Academics for Taylion, supporting six locations across southern California. Mrs. Riggs began her career teaching at Jehue Middle School in the Rialto Unified School District and has additional experience working with private schools and after-school programs. As an educator, her subject focus has been History, Economics, World Literature, and Speech & Debate.Mrs. Riggs has been with Taylion Academy since 2011, first beginning as a teacher, and then moving into an administrative role as the Principal at Taylion Academy in San Bernardino. She graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Political Science from Vanguard University of Southern California. Mrs. Riggs holds a Master of Arts in Education and a Master of Arts in Educational Leadership from Azusa Pacific University and retains her administrative and single-subject credentials.
Brenda G. Congo, Special Education Director & School Psychologist
Brenda has worked in education for over 12 years as an instructional assistant, teacher, school psychologist, and administrator. In 2002, Brenda Congo received her Bachelor of Art’s degree in Spanish: Language & Literature from California State University, San Bernardino and received Sigma Delta Pi Spanish Honors. Brenda focused on teaching middle and high school students in Victorville for eight years in the areas of: Spanish, English Language Development, and Special Day Class Spanish. While working with elementary students in the ELD program for a year and a half, Brenda completed her Master of Art’s degree in Teaching from Azusa Pacific University in 2013 while concurrently beginning her School Psychology program. Brenda received her MA in Educational Psychology in 2014, and then her Educational Specialist degree in School Psychology in 2015. Brenda has guided and organized staff trainings with the intent to inform personnel of current special education topics, and legal issues. Brenda presently holds both valid and clear Pupil Personnel Services Credential and as well as Single Subject Teaching Credential in Foreign Language: Spanish. Brenda enjoys currently serving students within her own community of San Bernardino, as well as the High Desert where she was raised and within San Diego County where she was born.
Emilie Luck, Human Resources Manager
Emilie Luck joined Taylion as Human Resources Manager in the spring of 2017. For the past 20 years Human Resources has been her career and passion where she developed a deep love for people’s performance and happiness in the workplace. Serving as an HR executive for more than a decade, Emilie has advised small and medium sized corporations on HR strategies, employee benefits and wellness, payroll, performance, and legal/regulatory compliance and management. Spending the majority of her work in small businesses where relationships and connection to community drove results, she came to Taylion excited to further Taylion’s mission in enriching the lives of the kids in our neighborhoods.
Karen Ruffner, Director of Compliance
Karen Ruffner has been with Taylion Academies since 2014. Her roles with the school have included being a teacher - her favorite position of all. Additionally, she is testing Coordinator and Compliance Director while also serving as Taylion's resident BTSA/Induction mentor.
Rosario Zepeda, English Language Specialist
Rosario Zepeda came to Taylion Academy after 14 years with the Migrant Ed program. She brings her skills and knowledge to benefit Taylion's English Language Learners as well as their families and the rest of the Taylion community.
David Wiessner, Internal Compliance Specialist
David Wiessner is the Internal Compliance Specialist at Taylion Academy. He holds a Bachelors of Arts in Human Development from Azusa Pacific University. He excels in math and enjoys creating policies and procedures that create a systematic guideline for our organization. His main duties are auditing the compliance files that provide all of the funding for Taylion. He also audits other areas of importance such as student cumulative files. David loves fishing, golfing and spending as much time as possible with his wife and 2 teenage kids. He will soon be a first-time grandpa and looks forward to his fishing days with his grandson.