Evan Markowitz

Mr. Markowitz is a native Floridian and was born and raised in Winter Haven, Florida. As a student, Mr. Markowitz was active in the performing arts, including being selected for the Florida All-State Ensemble on saxophone at both the high school and collegiate level. He attended Florida Southern College for a BA in Music Education and Nova Southeastern University for a Masters in Educational Leadership. Mr. Markowitz has been part of the Athenian family since 2012.

Mr. Markowitz believes in the spirit of adventure. It is his goal that the team will always guide each student through the incredible adventure ahead. Mr. Markowitz has a passion for working with children and truly enjoys working with the school's chorus program to put on fantastic musical productions each year. He strives to help each student achieve his or her dreams and challenges teachers with the following thought, “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.”

"Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do."


Office Staff

Traci White
Office Manager

Mrs. White is a native of Pittsburgh, PA. She is a graduate of Saint Vincent College and earned a B.S. Degree in Business Management. Mrs. White relocated and became a resident of Florida in May 2001.

Having spent many years in the business world as a Manager combined with a vested interest in education, it was a seamless transition when she elected to establish herself professionally in the school systems in Florida. Mrs. White joined the Athenian Academy Family in 2014.

Jeanne Albuquerque
Office Assistant

Ms. Jeanne is a native of New England, born and raised in Rhode Island before relocating here to Florida in 2007. She has been involved here for many years with our Athenian Family. Ms. Jeanne was previously a Manager with Verizon Communications in New England, where she also studied Business Management.

Ms. Jeanne has a daughter Alexis, who is a student here at Athenian Academy. She also has two adult children and several grandchildren up North whom she adores immensely.

Marla Neubaum
Office Assistant

Mrs. Neubaum is originally from Michigan and moved to Florida in 2016. She graduated from Detroit Business Institute and worked as an Administrative Assistant for the State of Michigan Commission for the Blind for 14 years, retiring in 2015.

This is Mrs. Neubaum's second year working at Athenian Academy. She looks forward to continuing this new chapter in her life.

Kellee Iannucci
Data Entry Operator

Mrs. Iannucci is a native of Buffalo, NY. She is a graduate of Buffalo State College where she earned a BA in Psychology. Mrs. Iannucci relocated to sunny Florida in 1998. She previously worked in a private school setting.

Mrs. Iannucci enjoys spending time with her husband, Troy, and her two children, Natalia and Alex. She is very excited to join the Athenian Academy Family.



Heather DeCourcy
Kindergarten Teacher

Mrs. DeCourcy was born in Pennsylvania, but has spent the good majority of her life in Florida between Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. She received her Bachelor's degree from the University of Central Florida in Elementary Education with an ESOL endorsement. She graduated with a Master's degree in Educational Leadership a few years later. This is her 13th year teaching.

Mrs. DeCourcy enjoys beaches, swimming, hiking, reading and spending time with loved ones. She is very excited to be joining the Athenian family.

Wendy Racer
Kindergarten Teacher

Mrs. Racer was born and raised in Germany as a military dependent till the age of 10. She moved around the United States quite a lot until the age of 18. She graduated with honors from Temple University and received her bachelor’s degree in Education. She spent a lot of her college years volunteering in foreign orphanages helping children or teaching wilderness skills to underprivileged children in upstate New York. She also helped run children’s camps teaching high and low ropes courses.

Mrs. Racer moved to Florida two years ago from Alaska and has recently joined the Athenian family. Her philosophy of education is centered around a quote from her favorite philosopher Rudolf Steiner which says, “Receive the children in reverence, educate them in love, and send them forth in freedom.” Mrs. Racer believes in building strong classroom community, giving each child a sense of value, strengthening the will of the child, and bringing joy.

Mrs. Racer spends her free time with her husband, four children ranging from ages 12-19, and all of her many pets. She loves reading her favorite poet Mary Oliver, singing with her husband, being outdoors, hiking, swimming, running, and family bike rides on Sundays.

Dawn Applegate
Kindergarten Teacher

Ms. Applegate has been in education for 27 years, focusing on primary grades. She holds a Bachelors Degree in Communications/Art from The University of California, San Diego. Ms. Applegate earned her teaching credential from Cal State Hayward. She has nearly completed her Masters Degree in Curriculum Design.

Ms. Applegate is a Californian native and grew up in the wine country near San Francisco. She spent the last twenty years in Southern Oregon. She has two daughters; her eldest daughter is a chef at The Magic Kingdom (she works in the castle), her youngest lives in Oregon and is finishing her undergraduate degree in criminology.

After relocating to Florida in 2017, Ms. Applegate spent two years working with Pasco County Schools in third grade. She is highly trained in trauma informed methodologies and prefers to focus on the whole child when forming connections. One of her passions is traveling and experiencing other cultures. In fact, Ms. Applegate spent a year in Europe in her twenties. In addition to travel, Ms. Applegate enjoys spending time outdoors. In Oregon she spent most of her time high in the mountains on her horse. Here in Florida, you can find her in a kayak, exploring nature parks, spending time with her Mom, or smiling ear-to-ear at Disney!


First Grade

Barbara Cinelli
First Grade Teacher

Barbara Cinelli was born and raised in Massachusetts and moved here to sunny Florida 16 years ago with her husband and 3 children. She is a graduate of Salem State College where she received her degree in Education. She also holds a degree in Human Services.

Mrs. Cinelli has been working in the field of education for over 30 years and has been teaching at Athenian Academy since its infancy. When she is not busy in the classroom, she enjoys reading, cruising, and spending time with her family, especially the grandchildren!

Stephen Thompson
First Grade Teacher

Mr. Thompson was born and raised in St. Petersburg, Florida. He has a B.S. Degree from Florida State University. Mr. Thompson lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Lisa, and his daughter, Angelina.

He has taught for 10 years. Mr. Thompson enjoys art, traveling with his family, and spending time with his three dogs.

Alaina Youngs
First Grade Teacher

Ms. Youngs was born in California; however, she shortly after moved to Utah. She lived in Utah most of her life, where she received her bachelors from Weber State University. Ms. Youngs taught third grade for four years at a dual immersion charter school in Layton, Utah. Ms. Youngs decided to get away from the snow, and moved to Florida in 2017. Ms. Youngs decided to go back to school and received her masters degree in November of 2017 in curriculum and instruction.

Ms. Youngs wants all of her students to feel comfortable in her classroom. She is excited to get to know each student and figure out what works best for them to learn. Every student will get the chance to set goals and strive their best to meet them. Ms. Youngs loves spending time with her two dogs and taking them to nature parks and the beach together. She recently bought a kayak and is excited to go explore in the water.


Second Grade

Carissa Farrell
Second Grade Teacher

Ms. Farrell is very happy to be a part of our Athenian Academy family. She has a very cheerful personality and is very passionate when it comes to educating young minds. Ms. Farrell has her Bachelors of Science Degree in Prekindergarten-Primary Education with Reading and ESOL endorsements from St. Petersburg College. She remained on the Dean’s List all throughout her program and enjoyed every moment she spent in various classrooms.

Being a resident of sunny Florida, Ms. Farrell loves spending her free time at the beach. She also enjoys keeping up with the latest fashions, trying out new recipes, traveling, spending time with her friends and family and building relationships with people in her community. She also enjoys concerts, sporting events and a good movie.

Jennifer Ponterio
Second Grade Teacher

Ms. Ponterio was born and raised in Florida. She absolutely loves the Sunshine State and everything it has to offer, including the beaches, nature preserves, beautiful sunsets, and great weather. This is Ms. Ponterio’s second year teaching at Athenian Academy. She is a passionate educator who loves her job.

She earned her Bachelors degree in Education from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg with certifications in all subject areas from kindergarten to sixth grade and Exceptional Students Education along with endorsements in English for Speakers of Other Languages and Reading.

Ms. Ponterio loves photography and cooking. She can cook the best Italian dishes you will ever eat and can take awesome photos to capture the best moments in life. Outside of school, Ms. Ponterio likes to go to concerts and spend quality time with her loved ones.


Third Grade

Mary Vaughn
Third Grade Teacher and K - 3 Team Leader

Mrs. Vaughn was born and raised in Safety Harbor, Florida. She graduated from Countryside High School in 1994. In 2015, she earned her Bachelors of Science in Elementary Education from St. Petersburg. Mrs. Vaughn is certified in Elementary education with endorsements in ESOL and Reading.

Mrs. Vaughn and her family currently reside in New Port Richey, where she has a daughter who is a sophomore at Gulf High School. This is Mrs. Vaughn’s fourth year as part of our Athenian family and she is very happy to work with the students at Athenian Academy.

Ashley White
Third Grade Teacher

Ms. White was raised in Tampa, Florida where she participated in marching band, chorus, and theater in school. Following graduation, she attended St. Petersburg College where she received a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education.

Ms. White enjoys reading, writing, and helping students discover their own love of literature. She is appreciative to live right near the beach in Pinellas County, Florida. When she isn't swimming, boating or walking, you can find her spending time at home with her pets! Ms. White is thrilled to be embarking on her 4th year as an educator and is excited to teach at Athenian Academy!

4th Grade

Jami Weissman
Fourth Grade Teacher

Mrs. Weissman is a native Floridian, born and raised in Palm Harbor, Florida. She attended Florida Atlantic University for two years and then transferred to the University of Central Florida, where she received a Bachelors degree in Education and Human Performance.

Mrs. Weissman has been a part of the Athenian Academy family for three years. Her philosophy for learning is that each child learns his/her own way and that they deserve an equal opportunity to learn! Mrs. Weissman believes that students should be able to utilize resources and work hands on whenever possible. Mrs. Weissman’s goal is to provide a fun and safe learning environment.

Mrs. Weissman loves spending time with her husband, dog, and family. She also enjoys fishing, boating, and all things Disney!

Tiffany Brunton
Fourth Grade Teacher

Mrs. Brunton is origninally from New Jersey where she graduated from Monsignor Donovan High School. In High School she participated in gymnastics, cheerleading, and track and field.

Mrs. Brunton is a graduate of William Paterson University. She started teaching at Athenian Academy in 2009 and loves teaching math. She also loves the NY Giants, going to the beach, and spending time with her family.


5th Grade

Susanna Birdwell
Fifth Grade Teacher and 4 - 8 Team Leader

Mrs. Birdwell was born and raised in New England where she enjoyed growing up with 4 siblings. She moved to Florida in 2012 for college where she attended Clearwater Christian college until its untimely closing after her junior year. She transferred to Warner University in 2015 to complete her senior year. She graduated in April 2016 with a BA in elementary education, Cum Laude with an ESOL endorsement. Mrs. Birdwell has had a passion for teaching children from a very young age.

Mrs. Birdwell and her husband, an EMT for Pinellas County, reside in Clearwater. She enjoys the beaches, swimming, cooking, photography, spending time with family, and discovering new local restaurants. She is very excited to be part of our Athenian family.

Jannette Rivera
Fifth Grade Teacher

Mrs. Rivera is originally from Brooklyn, NY. She moved to Puerto Rico with her family at the age of 12. Mrs. Rivera received her Bachelors Degree in Elementary Education at the University of Puerto Rico. and has been teaching since 2004. This is Mrs. Rivera's fourth year as part of our Athenian Family.

Mrs. Rivera has been married since 2003. and has an 11 year old daughter. Mrs. Rivera enjoys listening to music and spending time with her family.


Middle School

Sharon Long
Science Teacher and After Care Director

Ms. Long was born in Chicago, IL. She moved to Tuscaloosa, Alabama when she was three. Ms. Long attended Hillcrest High School where her high school chemistry teacher solidified her love for science.

Ms. Long moved to Florida in 2005 to attended Barry University where she received a Master’s in Biomedical Science. She moved to Tampa in 2007. She has been teaching middle school science at Athenian Academy for 9 years. When not working, Sharon enjoys reading, playing video games and watching movies.

Steven Burney
Math Teacher

Mr. Burney is a native Floridian, hailing from Bartow, Florida in Polk County. Mr. Burney received his Bachelors of Music Education Degree from Florida State University. While at Florida State, he performed with the World Renowned Florida State Marching Chiefs, the FSU Symphonic Band, the FSU Summer Band, and the University Symphony Orchestra.

Mr. Burney loves to share his enthusiasm and passion for math and music with all the students here at Athenian Academy. Math was a subject Mr. Burney struggled with while he was in school. He decided to obtain his math certification so he could help students build confidence and a love for math.


Nicole Swidarski
ELA Teacher

Ms. Swidarski was born and raised in Miami, Florida and moved to Deerfield Beach for high school, where she was a cheerleader and a member of the best buddies club. She ultimately made the move to Tampa to attend USF, where she received her Bachelor's of Science in Secondary English Education. While at USF, she joined the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority during her first fall semester and is now an alumna of the great organization.

Ms. Swidarski realized she wanted to be an ELA teacher when she was young and her music teacher entered one of her poems into a national writing contest, which she ended up winning an award for. Ms. Swidarski's music teacher helped her recognize the potential of her writing of all kind. Ms. Swidarski now hope to help her students recognize their own greatness and potential in their writing and help them fall in love with reading as she has. As such, she loves reading, as well as attending concerts and music festivals, exploring the outdoors, spending time with her large and spread out family, and seeing as much of the world as she can. Her hope is to provide her students with the necessary skills and tools they need to succeed as individuals and as members of society in this great, big world!

Benjamin Hitzig
History Teacher

Mr. Hitzig is an educator with a wide range of classroom experience that spans half a decade. He currently holds a Bachelors Degree in Secondary Education with a focus on Social Sciences. Since he was younger, his passion for history and his desire to educate the next generation has propelled him forward in his career. Mr. Hitzig joined the team at Athenian Academy of Technology in January of 2020.


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Alexis Silva
Music Teacher

Mrs. Silva is a native Floridian, born and raised in the Tampa Bay area. She attended the University of Tampa and received her BA in Music in 2017. Mrs. Silva has always been an avid fan of music. In the fifth grade, that passion grew to wanting to be the one who created the music to bring joy to others. She began playing the alto saxophone in the sixth grade, playing for enjoyment as well as with the school band. She continued her proficiency to all the saxophones, clarinet and French horn. While in college, she continued to expand her musical horizons, not only as an instrumentalist but as a vocalist as well.

Mrs. Silva has a passion for music that she wants to be able to share that with her students to let them experience the joy that it brings in every facet. Outside of music, Mrs. Silva enjoys crafting, seeing historical sights, and is a lifelong Tampa Bay Lightning Hockey fan.

Melinda Russek
Art Teacher

Melinda Russek is a graduate of Barron G. Collier High School in Naples, Florida and of the University of West Florida. She is currently working on her Master’s degree in reading. She is also an animal wrangler, writer, and photographer, but also a collector of scarves, rocks, seeds, books, coins, hats, gloves, and artifacts. She has great hopes for the future of our students with a focus on nature, science, math, and the arts. She has been working as an educator for more than 10 years but is pleased to be teaching art. She loves spending time with family, going on adventures such as hiking, kayaking, white water rafting, and looking for wildlife.

Sarah Parris
Physical Education Teacher

Coach Parris was born in Curacao, which is a small island in the Dutch Carribean. Growing up in a different country taught her a variety of things such as speaking 4 languages fluently. After high school, she then decided to make the big move to Tennessee where she attended college and now holds a BS in Health, Physical Education. She has always been passionate about sports and teaching to where she combined her two passions and came with the best career choice. Coach Parris believes that every student should have a positive experience in doing their activities, which can lead to future lifestyle changes. Coach Parris loves incorporating fun into every physical activity where the students see the time fly by. Her goal is to make kids passionate about being physically active and being able to incorporate it in their daily lives.

Coach Parris loves soccer and has played soccer since she was 7. You can always catch her watching or playing soccer at any time of day if possible. She also enjoys the beach, visiting her family abroad, and hanging out with her two little rescue dogs.


Support Staff

Teresa Godfrey
ESE Teacher

Mrs. Godfrey was born in Lansing, MI but moved to Florida when she was 8 years old. She currently lives in St. Petersburg with her husband, Greg and her youngest son, Ryan, who is a senior at St. Pete High School and in the DEP with the Navy. Mrs. Godfrey also has an older son, Nick, who is the Coordinator of Community Outreach for the Tampa Bay Rays. Outside of school, Mrs. Godfrey spends time with family and loves watching Marvel movies and sports, especially the Bulls, Dolphins, and Rays.

Mrs. Godfrey received her Bachelor’s in Science in Elementary Education with a Reading Endorsement, English 5th-9th, ESE Certification, and ESOL Certification for K-12 from the University of South Florida. She has been teaching since 2008, the first four years as a substitute and the rest as a classroom teacher. She is very excited to team up with Mrs. Barrett in the ESE department this year, and being able to work with the students at Athenian. Aside from teaching, she also manages the school's morning show, yearbook, and Safety Patrol. Her philosophy in education is that every child has the ability to succeed when given a positive, enriching, and nurturing environment and teamwork is essential to building character development.

Emiko Takahara
ESE Teacher

Mrs. Takahara was born and raised in Japan. After graduating from high school, she decided to come to the United States to study. She received a bachelor's degree in International Trading and Marketing from the Fashion Institute of Technology/State University of New York and worked in the apparel industry where she was responsible for product development and textile merchandising for women’s ready to wear apparel. When Mrs. Takahara and her husband decided to start a family, she decided to be a stay at home mom. Being a parent of two boys, she is very involved in their school activities, and realized her passion for education. She decided to go back to school and earned a Master’s Degree in Special Education from North Carolina State University. She also worked with children providing ABA (Apply Behavior Analysis) Therapy in private school settings. Previously, she taught at Hillsborough County Public Schools.

Mrs. Takahara lives with her husband, their two beautiful sons, a cat, and two guinea pigs. During the weekend, they enjoy fishing and the great outdoors. Mrs. Takahara believes in the philosophy of “Every child can learn.” She recognizes that each child is unique and has different abilities and strengths. She will ensure to provide supports that cater to each child’s needs to promote the importance of lifelong learning.


Maria Temple
Support Teacher

Mrs. Temple was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts. In 2015, she graduated from Lesley University with a Master's in Elementary Education. Craving to live in a warmer environment, Mrs. Temple moved to Florida in June of 2015.

Mrs. Temple found her true calling in teaching when she realized the best way to make a difference and inspire others is to become a teacher. Her other passion in life is photography. Mrs. Temple loves taking film, digital, and Polaroid photographs.

Kenneth Ames
Support Teacher

Mr. Ames was born and raised in Buffalo, New York. He is a graduate of St. Petersburg College of Education with a B.S. degree in Elementary Education. Mr. Ames relocated to Florida in 1988 from Palm Springs, California where he was a Food and Beverage Director in the Hospitality Industry.

Mr. Ames has found his true passion in life as an educator. He enjoys spending time with his family, traveling and fishing.

Sandy Colado
Support Teacher

Mrs. Colado graduated from the University of South Florida where she received her B.A. in elementary education and her Masters in Varying Exceptionalities. She has been teaching in Pasco County for many years. Mrs. Colado feels fortunate to have been a part of the faculty who opened Deer Park Elementary School and Longleaf Elementary School. She retired from the county school system five years ago and has been happily working at Athenian Academy ever since. Mrs. Colado loves her family, golden retrievers, horses, and gardening.


Renee Hicks
Cafeteria Assistant

Renée Hicks was born and raised in New Jersey and relocated to Florida in 1999. She enjoys being a mom to her two beautiful children and is currently a student at St. Petersburg College.

Renée and her family love the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and they attend a game at least once a year at Raymond James Stadium! In her spare time, she loves spending time with family, painting, crafting, visiting water parks, attending concerts, reading, and traveling to Savannah, Georgia for weekend getaway trips.

Yarieli Rodriguez
Cafeteria Assistant

Yarieli Rodriguez grew up in Massachusetts and graduated from Whittier regional vocational technical high school. She also completed a course on Child Growth and Development at Northern Essex Community College.

Yarieli has a wonderful husband, two beautiful daughters, and a fur baby named Benji. Yarieli and her family relocated to Florida in 2002. They love to go hiking and bike riding on the weekends. She also loves weekend getaways and spending time with her family.

Heidi Askew
After Care Assistant

Ms. Heidi was born and raised in Rhode Island, where she went to Providence College. She survived 2 life threatening illnesses and then retired from the Cranston School District, moving to Florida in 2004.

Ms. Heidi a son, daughter, 3 grandchildren, and yes, Ms. Jeanne really is her sister. Ms. Heidi loves being part of the Athenian family. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family, ceramics, crochet, and making people smile.


Nigel Ruiz
Bus Driver

Mr. Ruiz is originally from the Island of Trinidad in the South Caribbean, and moved to the U.S in May of 1995. Mr. Ruiz recently joined our team in early October as one of our dedicated bus drivers and looks forward to contributing to the success of the students and Athenian Academy.

Mr. Ruiz is currently pursuing his studies to obtain his Para Professional Certification to be of greater assistance as needed to the educational development of students.

Shariza Rentas
Bus Driver

Mrs. Rentas was born in New Haven, C.T. She was raised in Connecticut and Puerto Rico, where she studied and graduated in the medical field focusing on the elderly and children with disabilities. Mrs. Rentas became a school bus driver, which gave her the opportunity to drive her own children to school and continue to work with children.

Mrs. Rentas has been a driver since 2010, loving every hug and smile that the kiddos give her. Mrs. Rentas moved to Florida in 2016, where she now enjoys Florida's warm weather and walking in the beautiful weather.


Rob Albuquerque
Plant Manager

Mr. Albuquerque (Mr. Rob) was born and raised in Rhode Island before moving to Florida in 2007. Before joining the Athenian Family, he worked as a Correctional Officer for several years. Mr. Albuquerque adores his daughter Alexis who is a student at Athenian Academy.

Mark Paris
School Officer

Mr. Paris was born and raised in Harrisburg, PA. After High School he received an Associates Degree in Criminal Justice. He immediately pursued his life long dream of becoming a PA State Trooper and honorably retired with 25 years of service in July, 2017.

Mark and his wife Kym followed their hearts to sunny Florida. Mr. Paris proudly joined the Athenian family as our School’s Security Officer. His desire is to serve our school, faculty, and children with the same care and professionalism as he did throughout his 25 years as a law enforcement officer.