Zach Verriden, Ed.M., executive director, Wisconsin region
Zach comes to the role of executive director after having served as National Director of People Development and principal of HOPE Christian High School. In his time as principal, the HOPE team increased their student’s ACT average to outperform the city, state and national averages for African-American students and achieved 100% college acceptance in each of those three years (a first in the city of Milwaukee). Furthermore, overall EXPLORE/PLAN/ACT averages during Zach’s tenure with the high school demonstrated more than two points annual growth and this amount of growth led the way among the Schools That Can-Milwaukee cohort of high-performing urban high schools in the city. Zach attributes this achievement to the outstanding team of dedicated professionals at the high school.
In addition to the work of the HOPE team at the high school, Zach has also been instrumental in the creation of the Leading With HOPE internal leadership development series, in addition to The IMPACT Series external leadership development series. Zach also teaches a graduate level class on frameworks for curriculum development at Alverno College.
Prior to joining HOPE, Zach worked in multiple roles with Teach For America-New Jersey and YES Prep Public Charter Schools in Houston where he also earned his business certificate from the Rice University Jones School of Business. Zach has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where he was recently awarded the Distinguished Recent Alumni Award, and a master’s degree in education policy and management from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education.
Melanie Johnson, community relations director, Wisconsin region
Melanie supports the regional team, leading student recruitment, marketing, communications and the building of community relationships across Milwaukee and Racine.
Melanie taught special education as a corps member with Teach For America in Charlotte, NC. During her time in Charlotte, Melanie orchestrated her school’s first annual trip to Washington, D.C. for 68 fifth graders and was a coach for Girls on the Run. Melanie believes deeply that all children, regardless of zip code, deserve an excellent education.
Melanie received her master’s degree in nonprofit management and leadership from the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee and her bachelor’s degree in community leadership and nonprofit management form the University of Wisconsin- Madison.
Kiesha Johnnies, Founding Principal, HOPE Caritas
Kiesha is a native of Milwaukee, WI and her passion for education is derived from a lifetime of experiences, conversations and knowledge about the state of Milwaukee’s educational disparities. In her role as Founding Principal, Kiesha is eager to broaden her impact and change the nation’s largest race-based achievement gap one teacher and one child at a time.
Kiesha completed a two-year commitment with AmeriCorps and is an alumna of Teach For America Milwaukee. She spent two years in the classroom as a kindergarten teacher, and worked as a Founding Senior Corps Member with City Year Milwaukee as their Training project Leader. There she had the opportunity to work with 60 corps members serving six MPS schools.
Kiesha graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a bachelor of arts degree in social welfare.
Edie Martwick, Founding Principal, HOPE Fidelis
Edie is a graduate of Wisconsin Lutheran College where she majored in education. As a college student she was awarded the “Impact Award” recognizing her leadership and contributions to the mission of the college. As a teacher she continued to demonstrate the importance of teacher as leader, serving at St. Marcus, HOPE Christian School, and EAGLE College Preparatory Schools in Arizona. While at EAGLE, she completed her Master’s Degree program in Curriculum and Instruction at Arizona State University (ASU).
Edie moved back to Milwaukee in 2009 to assume another leadership position as Director of Coaching for the Center for Urban Teaching. She mentored first and second year teachers, organized regular small group mentoring meetings, and coordinated the Urban Conference in Milwaukee.
In 2011, Edie returned to St. Marcus where she served as a kindergarten teacher, an instructional coach, Director of Primary, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, and Assistant Principal. In 2015, Edie joined the HOPE team as a Founding Principal. Edie received her master’s degree in educational leadership from Alverno College in 2016.
Chelsea Prochnow, Principal, HOPE Prima
Chelsea Prochnow joined the HOPE team and family in 2010 as a 7thgrade teacher at HOPE Fortis. She remained in the classroom for the next two years serving as the 5th and 6th grade math teacher. While a teacher at HOPE Fortis, Chelsea started a track team, coached the middle school boys basketball team, and led her scholars to win first place in Mad Hot Ballroom and Tap for two consecutive years.
At the start of the 2013 school year Chelsea moved into the role of Dean of Instruction at HOPE Fortis and led the school-wide implementation of rigorous, Common Core aligned instruction as well as differentiated small group work for reading and math. During her two years as Dean of Instruction, HOPE Fortis outperformed peer schools across the city of Milwaukee, and the HOPE network performed on par with some of the highest performing networks in the nation.
Chelsea believes strongly in Nelson Mandela’s words: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” and desires to partner with parents and teachers to provide HOPE scholars a transformational education focused on the three Cs: Christ. College. Character.
Ryan Samz, Principal, HOPE Semper
Ryan graduated from Marquette University with Bachelor of Arts in History and Minor in Criminological Theory/Law Studies. He then joined Teach for America and relocated to New Orleans, LA, where he taught 5th and 6th grade science and social studies over the course of four years at KIPP: McDonogh 15 School of the Creative Arts. During that time he transitioned into the 5th/6th Grade Level Chair and completed the KIPP Teacher Leader Program. Concurrently, he worked with Teach for America as a science content leader, mentoring new science corps members and revamping KIPP’s middle school curriculum.
After four years in New Orleans, Ryan had the opportunity to move back to Milwaukee to help found Rocketship Education’s first school outside of California as a Founding Assistant Principal. During this time, his desire to serve urban education combined with a faith-based institution grew. In the summer of 2014, he left Rocketship Southside Community Prep and joined HOPE Semper as a Dean of Instruction. During this time, he helped revamp the lower elementary ELA curriculum. Ryan stepped into his current role of principal at HOPE Semper in 2015.
Tom Schalmo, Principal, HOPE High School
Tom Schalmo graduated from University of Wisconsin-Madison with a bachelor of arts in journalism. That fall, he joined Teach for America and taught middle school math, science, reading, English, and religion over the course of two years in Milwaukee Public Schools and Messmer Catholic Schools. Concurrently, Tom earned his M.Ed. in teacher leadership and development from Marquette University. In 2011, Tom joined the staff of Teach for America-Milwaukee as a Manager of Teacher Leadership Development, during which time he mentored 26 teachers across various grade levels and school sectors across the city of Milwaukee.
Tom joined HOPE Christian High School as Dean of Instruction in 2012. During his time as Dean of Instruction, Tom oversaw changes to the school’s planning process and teacher professional development. Tom also helped introduce best practices in data driven instruction to the staff, helping to change the instructional culture of the school.
Tom became Principal of HOPE Christian High School in July 2014. Over the past two years, students at HOPE have outperformed peer schools on quarterly interim assessments while progressively demonstrating better mastery each successive quarter. Juniors have outperformed the local, state, and national averages on the ACT the past two years.
Jennifer Torosian, Principal, HOPE Fortis
Throughout her career in education, Jennifer Torosian has had the experience of working in unique and diverse settings. She has a passion for serving children and families who live in communities that have historically been deprived of high-quality education.
Jennifer graduated from Western Michigan University with a degree in education. Her internship was served as a 5th grade teacher in a low-income, urban school in Grand Rapids, MI. Jennifer spent her first two years in Education as a Kindergarten teacher at a private, American school in Shanghai, China. She then took the opportunity to serve as a Middle School Science teacher and Grade Level Chair at YES Prep in Houston, TX. After two years at YES Prep, Jennifer was asked to move back to Shanghai in order to take over her previous school as Principal. While she served in this role in China for two years, she began to pursue a graduate degree in administration.
Jennifer moved back to the U.S. to serve as Dean of Students at HOPE Fortis and began as Principal in 2015. As Principal, Jennifer enjoys fostering the development of teachers and watching them improve their craft in the classroom. Jennifer believes that high quality Christian education will ultimately guide the transformation of many Milwaukee communities.
Castenzio Venegas, Founding Principal, HOPE Via
Castenzio has led the new school startup of HOPE Christian School: Via in Racine.
Previously, Castenzio was the Director of Teacher Development at the Center for Urban Teaching (CfUT) in Milwaukee, WI, where he served as a resource for aspiring urban teacher candidates and beginning teachers, equipping them with the training necessary to be highly effective in the urban classroom. He served as the Assistant Principal of CfUT’s summer school program at Risen Savior Lutheran School in Milwaukee. He started two new CfUT summer school sites at HOPE Christian School: Prima and Sherman Park Lutheran School. He served for three years in Phoenix, AZ as a Teach For America Corps Member, taught abroad in Italy for one year, and taught freshman English at HOPE Christian High School. Castenzio was awarded the “Faith-in-Action” award at the annual HOPE Celebration in recognition of his courageous Christian leadership.
He holds his bachelor’s degree in business administration/marketing from Carthage College and received his M.Ed. in cross categorical special education K-12 at Arizona State University. He also earned a graduate certificate in instructional mentoring through the Southeastern Wisconsin New Teacher Project (SEWNTP).