Skip navigation

Ricks Center for Gifted Children

mixup PK12

About Us

Faculty and Staff Directory

Our faculty members are extraordinarily creative and passionate about education. We recruit and hire individuals who are certified professionals and who have special training, experience, or advanced degrees in gifted education. Our faculty members are active in both regional and national organizations for gifted education.

Learn more about the incredible individuals who make up our Ricks Center faculty and staff by selecting the grade/program level below.

Early Childhood Teachers

Preschool and Pre-Kindergarten

Madeleine McCreary
B.A. English, Georgetown University
M.A. Teaching Early Childhood Education, American University

Madeleine's passion is teaching young children she has taught children from preschool, to kindergarten, to first and second grade. She recently moved to Denver (in 2015) from Washington D.C., where she was receiving her education. Madeleine grew up in New Jersey, and enjoys practicing yoga, snowboarding and soaking up the Colorado sun in her spare time.

Shelby Vukich
B.S. Psychology and Child Development, Minnesota State University, Mankato 2018
M.A. School counseling (In progress)

Shelby was born and raised in Forest Lake, Minnesota with her parents and younger brother. After graduating with her B.S. degree in 2018, she moved to Denver to pursue graduate school. She is working hard receive her masters degree in school counseling. She is passionate about play-based learning and advocating for students' successes. Shelby has been a part of the Ricks community since 2018 and is looking forward to continuing to grow alongside the students. When Shelby is away from Ricks, she enjoys trying new restaurants, spending time in the mountains, going to sporting events, travel, and exercising.

Inger Gustavson
B.A. Elementary Education, University of Kansas
M.S. Curriculum and Instruction, Concordia University

This is Inger's 7th year at the Ricks Center. She has been teaching for 15 years. During her career, Inger has taught kids from Kindergarten all the way to 5th grade. Formerly, Inger has experience teaching in the Chicago and Atlanta areas. Inger was a stay-at-home mom with her young children before coming to Ricks. In her free time, Inger enjoys spending time with her kids, at the golf course, and has a passion for cooking.

Ellen Mueller

Sarah Howell
B.A. Psychology, University of Denver expected June, 2020

This is Sarah's 3rd year at Ricks, but her first year as an Associate Teacher. She has worked at Ricks as a Student Worker, and a Teacher Assistant. All 3 years, Sarah has been working in the preschool classrooms. Sarah enjoys going to out to dinner, going to Rockies games, and relaxing at home with her dog, Bentley.

Tiffiny Schrandt
B.A. History, University of Colorado
M.A. Early Childhood Special Education, University of Denver

Tiffiny has been teaching young children for 18 years. She has taught in both early childhood classrooms and primary classrooms. She has been teaching in the early childhood level at the Ricks Center since 2010. IPrior to teaching at Ricks, she taught first grade in Los Angeles. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her kids and husband, doing yoga, and visiting family on both coasts.



Katherine de la Houssaye Communication Studies, University of Georgia
Teacher Preparation and Certification Program, Tulane University

Katherine was born in Atlanta, GA and raised in Asheville, NC. After graduating from the University of Georgia, she moved to New Orleans and attended Tulane University. Over the next 6 years, Katherine had the opportunity to teach Kindergarten, Pre-K, Talented & Gifted Courses, 1st grade Science, 2nd grade, and 4th grade. This is her second year at Ricks. She loves literacy and has taught intensive reading programs over the summer. She is passionate about the social-emotional piece of learning and is energized when students become confident, self-advocating learners. She got married this June and is enjoying her second year in Denver with her husband, Chase, and her puppy, Beignet.

Jordan Germain

B.A.Early Childhood Education, Auburn University
AmeriCorps Internship Program

Jordan has teaching experience as a bilingual (English/Spanish) pre-kindergarten teacher in Denver Public Schools, middle school Language Arts through AmeriCorps, and teaching English in Ecuador. She is passionate about teaching children and forging relationships that allow students to build a sense of self-confidence and enable them to grow as learners. Jordan was born and raised in Austin, Texas and moved to Denver three years ago. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her husband and dog, exploring Colorado's hiking trails, and listening to live music.

Claudia Nuci

B.A. Early Childhood Education with an endorsement in Special Education, Iowa State University
M.A. Early Childhood Special Education, University of Denver (in progress)

Claudia spent the past three years teaching 3-4 year olds and loves watching children learn and grow. She graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Early Childhood Education with an endorsement in Special Education. She is currently a graduate student in the Early Childhood Special Education program at the University of Denver. In her free time she enjoys spending time with family and friends, working out and watching Iowa State basketball and football games!.



Audrey Dellgren
BA in European Studies, Heidelberg, Germany

Audrey Dellgren joined Ricks as a Kindergarten Teacher for the 2017-18 school year, as well as having worked at Ricks nearly twenty years ago in an administrative position. She will continue next year in a full-time role. Audrey has been an avid volunteer in her children's schools and has worked as the Volunteer Coordinator for East's Speech and Debate program. In her free time, Audrey loves yoga, cooking, and long walks with her Golden Retriever Pippi. Audrey holds a B.A. in European Studies (Schiller International University) and completed the Urban Community Teacher Education Program at CU Denver.

Amy Biro
B.S. Political Science & Journalism, Ohio Wesleyan University; M.Ed. Teaching and Learning, DePaul University
Professional Teacher Certification –Elementary Education k-6, Social Studies 7-12, Special Education Generalist 5-21
Gifted and Talented Specialist 5-21,
2015 Social Emotional Scholarship award winner RAK
Leadership Academy Cohort 2016: University of Denver.

This is Amy's 7th year at Ricks. She has been in education since 1996 when she started her career teaching 3rd grade in Chicago Public Schools. It is here where her love for learning and a passion for understanding the developmental and social emotional needs of children began. Amy has taught children from kindergarten to high school. She has had teaching opportunities in Chicago, New Haven, CT, and Veracruz, Mexico before returning to Denver in 2008 where she was born and raised and feeling at home! After school she spends time walking her two little dogs, doing yoga, and laughing with her husband, family and friends.

2nd grade

Torey Holzer
B.A., University of Northern Colorado
M.A. Elementary Education

Torey has teaching experience at Sunflower Hill, in the Denver Public School District, and in the Englewood School District. While her teaching experience covers a diverse population of students of different ages, her last two years have focused on mixed age preschool and being a student advocate for the Englewood School District. Torey has lived in Colorado most of her life, moving here from Kansas City, and her love of the outdoors has become an integral part of her life. In her free time, Torey enjoys spending time with family and friends, as well as her husband and their two black rescue dogs and cat. She also loves spending time in her vegetable garden and remodeling her home.

3rd grade

Sara Jeffers
B.A. Behavioral Science, Metropolitan State University of Denver
M.A. Curriculum and Design, University of Phoenix
Early Childhood Education License

During her career, Sara has become a member of the National Association for Gifted Children and the Colorado Association for Gifted and Talented. Through her advocacy for gifted children, she has been an advocate for kids to have hands-on, critical and creative thinking education, and incorporates new teaching methods and technologies to provide a stimulating and safe learning environment for kids. Sara has been a teacher at the Ricks Center for 11 years now. In her spare time, Sara enjoys exploring Rocky Mountain National Park with her husband and two daughters. She also enjoys going to Bronco games, reading great books, and cooking for her family and friends.

4th grade

Megan Ryan
B.A. History and Spanish, University of Denver
M.A. Curriculum and Instruction, University of Denver
Gifted Endorsement (in progress)

Megan was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska. She attended DU and is very excited to return to campus. After graduation, Megan spent four years in Houston, Texas where she taught 4th grade in public school. Megan holds her B.A. in History and Spanish, University of Denver and M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction, University of Denver. She is passionate about project-based learning, loves teaching math, and is working towards her gifted endorsement. Megan recently moved back to Denver and is thrilled to be back skiing and enjoying the mountains. She also likes running with friends, trying new restaurants, and exploring historical sites.

Jenny Trettel
B.S. Spanish and Psychology, University of Denver 2015

Jenny grew up in the small town of New Prague, Minnesota with my parents and four brothers. In 2012 she moved out to Colorado for school and graduated from the University of Denver in 2015 with degrees in Spanish and psychology and a minor in biology. She is currently pursuing her masters in Natural Resource Management with a certificate in Environmental Policy and is on track to graduate in June of 2019. Over the past four years Jenny taught at Fisher Early Learning Center. In her spare time Jenny loves to run, hike/climb and travel.

Upper School

Upper School

5th-8th Grade

Kevin Walton
Middle School Science
Athletic Director
B.S. Biology, University of Colorado at Denver
Teacher Certification Program, Secondary Science Endorsement

Kevin has experience teaching science (biology, chemistry, and general science) in Denver Public middle and high school classrooms. He has also taught math and physical education in addition to developing and coaching the Ricks Center's athletic teams. This is Kevin's 24th year at Ricks. Over the past 20 years, Kevin has served as an official for professional, collegiate and recreational sporting events across the country, as well as coaching at the high school and collegiate level in California and Hawaii. He was assigned by the National Association of Professional Baseball to umpire the league championship series for seven years.

Elizabeth Bailey
Middle School English
B.A. in English from St. Mary's College of Maryland
M.A. Teaching with a focus on Secondary English Education, Grades 5-12 from St. Mary's College of Maryland

Elizabeth comes from Maryland, where she previously taught middle school English in Maryland Public Schools and coached High School swimming. She currently holds a Master's degree in Secondary English education, with an endorsement in teaching English as a Second Language. She believes fully that education should be dynamic, inclusive, and geared to the whole child. In her free time, Elizabeth enjoys reading, cooking, hiking, and exploring the local trails.

Jennifer Matteson
Middle School Math
B.A. in Architectural Engineering, Wentworth Institute of Technology
M.A.. in Curriculum and Instruction with a Leadership Area in Elementary Mathematics, University of Colorado at Denver

Jennifer joins us with a diverse range of experiences. She has been an elementary math coach, a private tutor, a Montessori lower elementary co-teacher and a structural engineer. Jennifer holds a B.S. in Architectural Engineering (Wentworth Institute of Technology), an M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction with a Leadership Area in Elementary Mathematics (CU Denver). She enjoys combining all of these experiences to help make meaningful connections for the children in her classroom.
Jennifer and her husband have 3 children. They enjoy music, reading, and anything having to do with the outdoors. Fun Fact: As a structural engineer, she was the project lead on the University of Denver's Daniel's College of Business building.

Sarah Steele
Middle School Math
B.A. in Elementary Education
M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction, the University of Denver (in progress)

Sarah was born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma where she attended Oklahoma State University and got her Bachelor's degree in elementary education. This is her second year at Rick's in the Upper School Math department, and her 4th year of teaching overall, prior to working at Rick's Sarah taught 6th grade math in Denver Public Schools. Sarah is currently working on her Master's in Curriculum and Instruction at DU and will graduate in June. She is passionate about bringing the real world into her math classroom and creating an innovative and fun environment for her students to engage in learning. Outside of the classroom, Sarah loves to hike, run, and all the outdoor things Denver has to offer.

Alan Sumler
Social Studies and Latin Teacher
Ph.D. in Classics, Graduate Center City University of New York

Alan is a Latin professor at CU Denver. He also teaches classics at CU Boulder and philosophy at MSU Denver. He has been teaching at the college level for about twelve years. He is an avid publisher in his field. His current research agenda includes a study of mythology in ancient Greek tragedy and comedy. When he is not teaching and researching, Alan works as a barista for two craft espresso shops and serves as an expert on espresso extraction.



Linsey Olesiak
Art teacher
B.A. Art, Bemidji State University
DPS Art Award Winner- Concept Integration (2015)
M.A. Arts and Culture Management, University of Denver (in progress)
Advanced Graphic Design Certificate (in progress) Digital Workshop Center

Linsey was born and raised in Hermantown Minnesota just outside of Duluth. Her grandparents owned a dairy farm where Linsey and her cousins worked and played throughout her childhood. She played division two soccer at Bemidji State University, eventually becoming captain of the team. While at Bemidji Linsey studied art education. After graduating in 2011, Linsey took her first teaching job at Ellis Middle School in Austin Minnesota. Even though teaching was her passion, Linsey continued to play semi-professional soccer in Minneapolis and Seattle and coached the high school girls' team. Always an outdoor enthusiast, Linsey followed her sister out to Denver where she again taught middle school art at McAuliffe International School. This year is Linsey's tenth year in the classroom. When she isn't teaching, she can be found running her art business, working on her master's degree in Arts and Culture Management through the University College, or enjoying mountain activities with her family.

Dorothy Lee
B.A. Arts & Humanities: Spanish, University of Denver
M.A. in Education Curriculum & Instruction University of Denver

Bouchra Rifki
French Teacher
B.A. French and English Linguistivs, Caddi-Ayyad Univeristy (in Morocco)
M.A. in Educational Psychology, Univeristy of Colorado at Denver

Bouchra is originally from Morocco and moved to France as a young child, where she lived for seven years.  Since coming to the United States, Bouchra has taught French at the elementary, middle and high school levels.  She likes to help students experience the joy of learning a new language while also accumulating a strong knowledge about the French culture. Bouchra is trilingual in French, Arabic and English. In her spare time, Bouchra likes to spend time with my family and travel to other countries experience the cultures different from my own.

Alan Sumler
Latin Teacher
Ph.D. in Classics, Graduate Center City University of New York

Alan is a Latin professor at CU Denver. He also teaches classics at CU Boulder and philosophy at MSU Denver. He has been teaching at the college level for about twelve years. He is an avid publisher in his field. His current research agenda includes a study of mythology in ancient Greek tragedy and comedy. When he is not teaching and researching, Alan works as a barista for two craft espresso shops and serves as an expert on espresso extraction.

Carol Smith
Music Specialist
B.A., Piano Performance, Carthage College

This will be Carol's seventeenth year teaching at Ricks. Along with her twenty years of music-teaching experience, Carol has studied graduate level piano and choral conducting at Florida State University, as well as DU's own Lamont School of Music. She is a licensed Muskigarten instructor and participates in Orff teacher training workshops. Carol also has exclusive experience in specialized training in gifted education. She owns and operates her own music studio, Carol Smith Music Studio, where she offers private piano and vocal instruction.

Student Support Team

Student Support

Peggy Jurgs
Reading Specialist

Prior to coming to Ricks, Peggy spent a long and successful career with Denver Public Schools. She spent the earlier part of her career as a first grade bilingual teacher where she delivered instructional content in Spanish while her students acquired English. Peggy then became an Instructional Coach enhancing teachers' knowledge and performance in the areas of English Language Acquisition and Elementary Literacy strategies in Reading and Writing. Peggy has a strong passion for reading and helping students become strategic readers through a balanced literacy approach. She is trained in Reading Recovery, F.A.S.T. and Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes; all are approaches to helping students refine their ability to decode the printed word. Peggy is also knowledgeable with Readers and Writers Workshop model, which places emphases on students' comprehension abilities. When not working with students, Peggy can be found walking the local golf courses, reading debut novels and spending time with her family.

Ana Candelaria
School Psychologist
PhD. Child, Family and School Psychology  University of Denver

Ana has spent her entire career working with children, teens, and young adults in various educational roles. She started as a coach for sports camps, then became an early childhood educator, including four years at the Fisher Early Learning Center on the DU campus. After teaching at Fisher and finishing her school psychology training, she began her career as a school psychologist in Denver Public Schools and worked in elementary and middle schools throughout the Denver area for eight years. During her time in DPS, she became incredibly passionate about restorative justice approaches, mentoring, and helping schools to establish strong home-school connections. After several years in DPS, Ana returned to teaching; this time at the graduate level, training future school psychologists as a clinical assistant professor in the Child, Family, and School Psychology program in the Morgridge College of Education at DU. Originally from California, Ana has made Colorado her home; in her free time, she enjoys spending time with her husband, son, and daughter, doing yoga, and watching sporting events. Ana is excited to return to DU and to join the wonderful Ricks community!

Heidi Mary
Occupational Therapist
MS in Occupational Therapy, Thomas Jefferson University

Heidi Mary MS, OTR/L is a dedicated pediatric occupational therapist who has enjoyed 20 years of serving children and their families in hospital, community, and educational settings. Passionate about her work, Heidi has a collaborative and creative problem-solving, outcomes-oriented approach with students, staff, and parents to support students to achieve their highest potential, and beyond. Her educational background includes an MS in Occupational Therapy from Thomas Jefferson University, and a wide breath of continuing education courses. A Philadelphia native, Heidi has lived in Colorado for the past 11 years with her husband and three teenage children.

Administrative Staff

Craig Harrer
Director of Ricks Center
B.S. Business Administration and Marketing, University of Northern Colorado
M.A. Curriculum and Instruction, University of Colorado at Denver

Admin license from the University of Denver, Ritchie Program for School Leaders
EdD, University of Denver (in progress)

Craig is a lifelong innovator, teacher, coach and champion for change in the field of education. He specializes in creative solutions that exist "outside the box." Craig's passion is the implementation of shared leadership structures that create socially just, equitable and sustainable school teams. He is a student focused and community driven leader. A Denver native, Craig's visionary approach helped develop and run the Denver Green School, an innovation school in Colorado for over 6 years. As a consultant he has collaborated with Denver Public Schools to create new school leadership competencies and implement growth and guidance systems. He is currently pursuing his doctoral degree in the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies program at the University of Denver. Craig has served in many roles throughout the education sector, including working as a paraprofessional, technology and special education teacher, assistant principal, principal, lead partner and leadership consultant in his over 25 years of educational service.

Franky Wade
Upper School Associate Director 
B.S. Education, Secondary Science, Mississippi State University
M.A. Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, University of Denver

Franky has been an educator for almost 20 years. He has taught science in grade levels
5th grade through 12th grade and 6th grade math in both the private and public sector.
Most of his teaching experience occurred in the South. He has taught in Memphis,
Tampa, New Orleans and Louisville, KY before moving to Colorado. He was a teacher
leader and science instructional coach in Denver Public Schools and was a teacher and
administrator in Aurora Public Schools. While at Aurora Central High School, Franky
was the gifted and talented coordinator for the sophomore class, where he tested and
monitored students' advanced learning plans. Franky has leadership experience as a
content department head, Dean of Instruction, teacher leader and Culture TOSA. In the
spring of 2018, Franky completed his principal licensure program and master's degree
at the University of Denver. In his free time, he enjoys working out and spending time
with his two dogs, Bella and Patrick, traveling with friends and watching Mississippi
State sports.

Jessica Kennedy
Lower School Associate Director
B.A. Psychology, University of Denver
M.A. Early Childhood Special Education, University of Colorado at Denver

Jessica comes to Ricks early childhood program, after having spent 11 years at the Fisher Early Learning Center. For the last seven years, Jessica has been a Master Teacher in preschool and prekindergarten classrooms. She currently lives in Centennial with her husband and 5-year old son and 2 year old daughter.

Amy Jacobs
Assistant Director of Enrollment Management
B.A. Psychology, University of Colorado
M.S.W. Social Work, University of Denver

Amy joined the Ricks Center as the Assistant Director of Enrollment Management in the fall of 2013. Her career has included outreach in both formal and informal educational settings. Amy started as a school social worker in the Cherry Creek School District. She then spent 13 years at the JCC as the Director of Camp and Youth Services. In addition to program supervision, she was responsible for outreach and for the recruitment of all program participants. She also served as the Visitor Services Manager at the CELL where she oversaw the educational outreach for all school and group visits. Outside of work, Amy likes to spend time with her family, ski, workout, cook, and watch anything sports-related.

Ali Struzziero
Technology and Innovation Specialist
B.A. Elementary Education and Human Development, Boston College

Ali Struzziero has been in education for over ten years. She started at Ricks as a classroom teacher, and this will be her 3rd year as the Innovation and Technology Specialists and a member of the administration team at Ricks. She is the system administrator for our learning management system, Schoology, and runs the innovation lab/maker space at Ricks. She works with teachers to facilitate the use of technology in classrooms and to integrate opportunities to use the maker space into classroom curriculum.

Ali is originally from Fort Lauderdale, FL, and has worked at schools all over the world, including a school in Rome, Italy, and a STEM-based school for gifted children in Washington D.C. She is both a U.S. and Italian citizen and enjoys traveling, practicing yoga, spending time outdoors skiing, scuba diving, and backpacking. She also has a passion for baking and cooking. She graduated from Boston College with a degree in Elementary Education and Human Development and is currently a graduate student at the University of Denver pursuing a master's degree in organizational leadership.

Suzanne Pollard
Gifted Coach
B.A. Art and Communication, University of Colorado
M.A. Human Development w/ Emphasis on Early Childhood Development, Pacific Oaks College
Gifted Education Endorsement

Suzanne has been teaching for over twenty-five years. Her experiences have focused primarily on teaching preschool, kindergarten, and first grade in various private and public schools in Denver, CO and Los Angeles, CA. Suzanne has specialized in early childhood gifted education. She studied abroad at the Loris Malaguzzi International Center, delving into the pedagogy of the schools of Reggio Emilia, Italy. Suzanne is originally from Hawaii, has two grown children, and loves reading, exploring, crafting and walking her two dogs. This will be her fifteenth year with the Ricks Center.

Maggie Wright
B.A in special education, University of Northern Colorado

Maggie has been the Extended Day and Summer Programs Manager at Ricks since August, 2017. She came to Ricks from Denver Public Schools' Department of Extended Learning where she spent five years developing inclusive inquiry-based programming. At DPS, she quickly discovered that youth development is her passion.  As the Summer Programs Manager, Maggie and her team of graduate students from DU have created inquiry-based programming that challenges students to find and explore their passions the world around them . This summer we are proud to explore delve into the worlds of treasure hunting, kitchen chemistry, rockets, conspiracy theories, and up-cycling, to name just a few.

Bernadette Howell

Bernadette Howell brings with her 20+ years of clerical/administrative experience and knowledge as well as nearly 10 years in a school setting. Her journey through life has taken her everywhere from a bookkeeper trainer to a CFO to working in schools. She brings a wealth of knowledge and experience with her, including her devotion to superior customer service and an appetite to always learn! Her most rewarding journey has been the one she started with her husband, Joe, 23 years ago. They have been blessed with two children. When she is at home, she enjoys cooking and hanging out with her four fur babies!