Teachers & Leadership

  Our Teachers

MGJMichelle Goldbach-Johnson, Founding Teacher, Co-Teacher with Acorns, Field Day Lead – 2011

Michelle knew she wanted to be in education when her high school English Lit teacher assigned a “Carpe Diem” project. She spent the following days running in sprinklers, writing poems about mud and waking up in time for sunrise. From this exercise, she discovered that THIS is where the real learning takes place and thus what kind of teacher she wanted to be. Years later she earned her BA in Liberal Studies and Multiple Subject Teacher Credential at CSU Long Beach. Michelle has worked as a teacher in several districts in the region and was especially affected by her experience at the Art Zone in Hermosa Beach. Michelle has been teaching for 5 years and continues to be enthusiastic about implementing hands-on-minds-on learning at the Knowing Garden! Aside from teaching, she is a kid at heart and enjoys spending time with her husband, dog, reading, gardening, camping, crafting, practicing yoga, traveling, and occasionally bungee jumping.

Magdalena Garcia – Evergreens Writing Teacher, Head of Education & Founder – 2011

Magdalena is a UC Santa Cruz alum with a bachelors in Psychology as well as a UCLA graduate with a masters degree in Education and a multi-subject BCLAD teaching credential focused on bilingual, crosscultural teaching. She specializes supporting students ages 10-12 with writing from a deep and analytical perspective. She lives in Torrance with her husband and daughter.  Please see Lena’s leadership bio below.

Heather Kornman, Acorns Teacher & Founding Advisor – 2011

Heather has had a love for children since she was a child, and that love has grown into adulthood. She knew early on teaching young children was her destiny. She studied early childhood development in college, completed her non-violent communication training, along with 10 years + of educational workshops to further her knowledge, and understanding to meet the needs of the children she works with as best as possible. Heather has been teaching preschool in NVC, constructivist, play-based settings for the past 8 years. She also spent 2 years co-teaching elementary, and middle school in a project-based setting. Heather lives in Redondo Beach with her husband, 2 children, 2 cats, and dog; where they enjoy gardening, creating, cooking, dancing, making music,

Yvette B. Fenton, Evergreens Teacher – 2012

Yvette finds that the curiosity of children fuels her love of learning. She sees her role in the classroom as a collaborator, learner, and researcher. She received her BA in Child & Adolescent Development from California State University Fullerton. She then attended Loyola Marymount University, where she received her MA in Literacy & Language and multiple subject teaching credential. She has taught in various capacities in Huntington Beach, Santa Monica, Lawndale and Hawthorne. Yvette also enjoys spending time with her husband and daughter. They often spend their time together outdoors, camping, swimming in lakes, building sandcastles and snowboarding and spending endless hours at the beach.

Jennifer Ceci, Evergreens Math Teacher – 2015

Jennifer’s unconventional path to teaching began while she worked as an architectural intern after completing her Bachelor of Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin. She volunteered to lead an after-school program designed to inspire middle school girls to take interest in math and science and realized that her true calling was in the classroom. Since getting her teaching certification in Texas, she has been able to hone her craft for seven years as a Middle School math teacher at public and private schools, deepening her enthusiasm for bringing real-world experiences into the classroom as a source of inspiration for students. She enjoys biking and going to the beach with her husband and two children and exploring her beautiful city and world.

Leticia Barahona, Nature Growers Teacher – 2017

Leticia is a Humboldt State University graduate with a BA in Spanish Education and a minor in Scuba Diving. During her studies, she had the opportunity to participate in a study abroad program in Chiapas, Mexico. That experience ignited her passion for traveling and experiencing the rich culture that Latin America offers. She traveled from Southern Mexico, through Central America to Panama. Most recently, she has been to South America and has plans to exploring Europe next. Leticia feels fortunate that she can use her traveling experiences, when teaching in the classroom, to show children different perspectives from different cultures and places. Her regular travel also includes hiking through the United States. When she’s not backpacking you can find her in a gym, at the beach, or walking her dog.  Leticia is advancing her studies at Grand Canyon University and will be completing her MA in Education in the Spring.

Trevor Graham-Wilcox, Redwoods Teacher & Evergreens Reading Teacher – 2018

Trevor has a passion for deepening our connection to the world and taking on meaningful challenges. This stemmed largely from his seven years as a director and facilitator and an outdoor education center and summer camp in the mountains of San Diego County. It was there he learned to appreciate the point of view of children and work to support their growth as unique human beings on this awesome planet. In teaching he finds that each day is packed with opportunities to explore our minds, bodies and hearts. Trevor earned his B.A. from Wheaton College in Massachusetts and has his Multiple Subject Teaching Credential from Cal State Dominguez Hills. He loves playing and writing music, running while listening to podcasts, and bike rides to Mexican restaurants with his son, Jude, and wife, Ashley.

Allison Kringen, Co-Acorns Teacher – 2018

Bio forthcoming

Leadership & Business

260968_670359911_1210928752_nTrish Valdez, Business Manager & Founder

Trish Valdez was inspired to start TKG when she felt stuck between choosing between “we’re doing the best we can” and “you can’t afford it.” Thinking that a different, innovative and student-centered choice should be available to more families and unwilling to accept the status quo, she began to create opportunities for like-minded parents to help build the vision that was the foundation for TKG. Funneling her skills as a student of sociology (UCLA ’96) and a marketing and PR executive with over 23 years of experience combined with her personal journey as a passionate parent of two boys (13 & 10) and first-generation citizen of the United States, she manages the business logistics & operations structure of our school.

Magdalena Garcia – Head of Education & Founder

In her role as Head of Education, she is responsible for overseeing and mentoring the teaching staff, supporting parent education and developing a proprietary school curriculum. Magdalena has been engaged in educational research and reform over the last 20 years, focused on working with and for children and families from diverse backgrounds. Striving to be of service to a wide variety of people, Lena has shared her beliefs about children and learning as a mentor teacher at both the school and district level. With her strong appreciation for creativity, she has also served as an educational consultant for the Natural History Museum, helping to create project-based, art-infused resources to support museum exhibits. After years of creating and struggling to implement progressive ideas and practices in a public elementary setting, Lena was attracted to helping develop a small, responsive community in its early stages of development. Since her daughter was entering kindergarten, it seemed like a natural fit to join a team of educational activists to co-create a place, TKG, that was more like a home than a school. 

Bria Biesmon-Simons, Bookkeeper

As the Bookkeeper at TKG, Bria helps run numbers for the school. Bria grew up in the South Bay and attended Scripps College in Claremont, California. She graduated summa cum laude, earning a B.A. in Sociocultural Anthropology and a minor in Latin American Studies. Bria also works for Peninsula School of Performing Arts and teaches ballet in Palos Verdes. Each summer, she runs the registration for 250 at risk kids to attend P.S. I Love You Foundation’s annual Day at the Beach Event. Bria is happy to be part of the TKG Community!

2018-2019 Community Board

Shannon Minor

Shannon is the mother of two students at TKG. They have been a part of the community since 2013 and they are grateful for growing as students, as individuals, and as a family through their experiences here. Shannon has an A.S. in Business Management, an A.S. in Business Administration, an A.A. in Administration of Justice, and an A.S. in General Studies with an emphasis in Social and Behavioral Sciences from El Camino College. She is currently a fulltime student at CSU Dominguez Hills, pursuing a B.S. in Public Administration with an emphasis in Administrative Management and a Minor in Behavioral Science. She also continues to take courses at El Camino to complete the requirements for an A.A. in Child Development and an A.S. in Marketing. Shannon serves as Vice Chair of an auxiliary fundraising group that plans events and raises money for Rainbow Services, a local nonprofit that provides services for victims of domestic abuse. Shannon is passionate about nonprofit work and is dedicated to helping to grow TKG’s mission and reach. She believes all children should have access to the type of education TKG provides because, among other things, she fully believes it empowers young people to have healthy relationships with themselves and with others.

MikeDMike Dokmanovich

Mike Dokmanovich is Executive Vice President and head of Middle Market Banking for Comerica Bank, Southern California.

Dokmanovich is responsible for leading all middle market growth strategies, providing business solutions and developing financial initiatives and relationships for companies that have revenue ranging from $20 million to

$500 million. He oversees Comerica’s eight middle market offices located in Los Angeles, Orange, San Fernando and San Diego Counties. Southern California middle market offices service a number of industries and business sectors, including industrial products, business services, consumer products, retail, technology, apparel, and textile, among others.

Dokmanovich has been a Comerica officer in California since 1991 and is a former senior vice president and regional manager for the middle market division in Los Angeles, Calif.

The Ohio native holds a bachelor’s degree in finance and an MBA from Ohio State University. Dokmanovich currently serves on the Board of Directors for AbilityFirst, a Pasadena-based nonprofit organization serving children and adults with developmental disabilities, including autism, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome. He and his family reside in Redondo Beach, Calif.


Monica EvangelistMonica Evangelist

Monica is an independent contractor with over 20 years of experience in operations, consulting and financial planning & analysis in both corporate and non-profit organizations. Hailing from Boston by way of Dallas, Monica earned her MBA from Southern Methodist University Cox School of Business and received a BBA in Operations Management at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.   Her daughters attended The Knowing Garden from 2011-2017.  Prior to her role as a director on the TKG Board, she held the role of Board President.


Adam Barshay

Adam Barshay began investing in real estate over 20 years ago when he formed his first real estate investment vehicle, The Equity Investment Group.  Adam has invested in over 200 properties throughout Southern California, many of which required significant rehabilitation. Adam formed Smith & Barshay Realty, Inc. in 2002, currently Barshay Real Estate, Inc.  The primary purpose for the formation of this entity was to meet the brokerage requirements of his friends and family, while also allowing him to bring this critical component of real estate investments in-house. Since its inception, Barshay Real Estate, Inc. has transacted over $500 million in real estate investment and residential sales on behalf of its principals and clients. In early 2009, Adam formed Anacapa Ventures to capitalize on real estate investment opportunities resulting from the collapse of the real estate market in what turned out to be the beginning of a time, which would later be coined “the great recession.” In early 2011, Adam saw a niche in the market with the federal reserve promoting a historically low-interest rate environment creating a lack of affordability in the residential housing segment and thus, in turn, a limited supply of available apartment rentals. Foreseeing the increase in rental demand, Adam formed Anacapa Realty Investments, which primary focus was acquiring multi-family apartment buildings in the Los Angeles market. Recently, Adam formed Barshay & Peters Management Company, Inc. a real estate management corporation that specializes in managing multi-family, residential and commercial real estate.

Trish Valdez 

Founder and Principal at Elbie Studio, Trish has led award-winning, million dollar marketing and publicity campaigns around the globe. She combines her experience and entrepreneurial energies to develop creative solutions for Independent Producers of Art, Cinema, Culture as well as creative entrepreneurs. A UCLA graduate with over 20 years of communications experience, her scope ranges the big screen to hometown. In her role as Business Manager, Trish oversees administration, marketing, and operations.

Magdalena Garcia 

Believing strongly in human development, emotional intelligence and social justice, Lena (as most refer to her) has worked to bring her values of deep respect for personhood to each of her experiences working in pre-schools and elementary schools, both public and private.  Lena strives to create connection with children through listening and playing and is always looking for an opportunity for collaboration and learning with adults and children alike.

2018 Advisory Board

LauraPLaura Premi, Counsel

Laura Premi has over a decade of litigation experience serving a wide range of clients involved in entertainment, employment and contract disputes. She represents small and large businesses as well as individuals and has extensive experience in multi-party complex litigation. She has worked on matters for banks, government entities, property owners, movie studios and business owners. Laura works hard to achieve the best results for her clients, whether that means resolving a dispute prior to commencing litigation or taking a case to trial or arbitration. Prior to joining Cypress, Laura practiced law for 11 years at Glaser, Weil, Fink, Jacobs, Howard & Shapiro, LLP.

Laura received her law degree from the University of Southern California Law Center in 2000. While at USC, Laura was a member of the Southern California Interdisciplinary Law Journal and the president of the Student Bar Association. She was awarded a summer grant from USC’s Public Interest Law Foundation, which she used to litigate on behalf of tenants to ensure their landlord was providing habitable living conditions. Laura earned her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Jill Vengerik, Education Advisor

With 8 years experience in the MD public school system and 3 years as a private tutor serving the Beach Cities communities, Jill is happy to continue her professional growth with TKG! As a certified teacher with a masters degree in Curriculum and Instruction, she has experience working with kids ranging from ages 3 to 13. The things she finds most rewarding, no matter the age, are the connections she builds with each family and child, and the chance to nurture a lifelong love for learning. Jill lives in Redondo Beach with her husband, daughter, and their awesome cat and dog.

Rick Valdez, Financial/CPA

Richard Valdez, CPA, Sr. Vice President, has over 25 years experience providing financial services to individuals in and throughout the entertainment industry, having participated in the business and financial management of some its most successful members.

As such his experience handling both beginning and established clientele gives him a unique opportunity to help the soon to be successful individual deal with greater financial resources, as well as understand the responsibilities accompanying that wealth.

Mr. Valdez’s area of expertise includes tax planning for high income and net worth individuals. He participates regularly in tax and financial planning courses, has been involved in the planning of major acquisitions and sales of real estate and business assets, having successfully assisted his clients in acquiring millions of dollars of financing for these endeavors. Specific entertainment industry experience includes assistance in the negotiation of the financial structuring of employment-related contracts, in addition to supervising the audits of motion picture profit participation accountings.

He has been a member of the California Society of CPA’s since 1990, in addition to obtaining a California Real Estate Sales’ Persons License in 1998.


Shane Evangelist, Management & Finance

Shane Evangelist has been Chief Executive Officer at US AutoParts since October 2007. From August 2004 to September 2007, Mr. Evangelist served as Senior Vice President and General Manager of BLOCKBUSTER Online, a division of Blockbuster Inc., which he joined in 2001, where he was responsible for leading the creation, development, and launch of Blockbuster’s online movie rental service. Prior to that, from January 2001 to July 2004, Mr. Evangelist served as Vice President of Strategic Planning for Blockbuster Inc., with responsibility for strategy development, mergers and acquisitions, marketing and capital deployment. Prior to Blockbuster, Mr. Evangelist began his career at IBM where he served from 1997 to 2001 as a business executive responsible for media and entertainment accounts. Mr. Evangelist holds a B.A. degree in Business Administration from the University of New Mexico and an M.B.A. from Southern Methodist University.


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