Name: Omar Yanar
Omar Yanar is the Founder and CEO of the El Paso Leadership Academy (EPLA). Prior to forming the EPLA, Yanar graduated at the top of his class at Franklin High School and went on to receive a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and History and a Master’s degree of Education from Stanford University. Yanar then worked as a teacher for six years until he returned to school for a Master’s of Public Policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Yanar believes that combining his educational experience with public policy expertise can provide him with the necessary tools to effect change in his beloved community of El Paso, Texas. The students and citizens of El Paso are a top priority in his life and looks forward to working with the community for the advancement of its youth through innovative curriculum and teaching methods.
In addition to his responsibilities at the El Paso Leadership Academy, Mr. Yanar is also a founding board member and Vice President of Progress321, an El Paso-based organization that works to empower and connection professionals across sectors, disciplines, generations and cultures. He is also founding board member of the National Hispanic Institute’s Alumni Association Board and a member of the Borderplex Alliance Education Task Force.
Name: Andrew Benitez
Hello! My name is Andrew Benitez, and I am the Co-Founder and Principal at EPLA. My goal is to ensure that our amazing team of teachers is coached and prepared to meet the needs of all of our students in the classroom. I have served at EPLA as Chief Operating Officer and worked previously as a social studies instructor at the middle school and high school level. I was born in El Paso and am a proud graduate of Americas High School and Harvard University. I believe in the endless talent and potential of El Paso’s children, and I look forward to working with our dedicated team of teachers and families to ensure that we create a culture and system where college can be a reality for all.
Name: Antonio Vigil
Role: Chief Academic Officer
Saludos de Chuco Town. My name is Antonio Vigil, and I am the Chief Academic Officer here at the El Paso Leadership Academy. Originally from Denver, Colorado, I have worked tirelessly over the past twenty-eight years as a results-driven Public Educator, Administrator, School Founder and Principal to ensure all scholars take their rightful place in the world as four-year college and critically conscious graduates. As a FIRSTGEN college graduate, I am driven by and committed to ensuring high expectations and accountability for the intellectual and character development of our scholars, and it is my responsibility to share and guide this work among our administration, faculty, and staff. My wife, Mrs. Vigil, teaches 6th Grade ELA at EPLA, and my daughter, Romana, is also a proud scholar attending EPLA.
Name: Emily Levario
Role: Chief Financial Officer
Emily Levario currently serves as Chief Financial Officer of the El Paso Leadership Academy with more than 10 years of central administrative experience in public schools. She previously served as the Finance Director for the Anthony Independent School District as well as an accountant at El Paso Independent School District.
Ms. Levario is responsible for planning and managing the charter school’s annual budget and developing long-range budget plans to ensure the school’s financial stability and growth. She also manages the day to day financial operations of the school.
Emily Levario earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Texas at El Paso and she holds an active certified public accountant’s license. She and her husband, Jose D. Levario, have been married 10 years and have two children.
Name: Julian Casillas
Role: Director of Operations
Mucho gusto! I’m Julian Casillas the Director of Operations here at EPLA. El Paso born and raised, proud son of two immigrants, and first generation college student from the University of Texas at El Paso. It gives me great honor to be able to serve a campus whose mission is to ensure that all students, regardless of background or obstacles, have the ability to achieve their academic and life goals.
Before joining the EPLA family I worked in property management and professional school admissions in the San Francisco Bay Area where I pursued a Master’s in Public Administration at the University of San Francisco. I also had the opportunity to serve our comunidad as an undergraduate recruiter at UTEP. My passions are rooted in social equity, and outside of my time at EPLA, I serve as Board President of the Borderland Rainbow Center.
Name: Antonio Morales
Role: Director of Student Services
My name is Antonio M. Morales and I am the Director of Student Services at the El Paso Leadership Academy. I am very excited and happy to serve the students, families, and community of the El Paso Leadership Academy. I have served in various roles as an educator, including Principal, Assistant Principal, Director of Special Education, and Special Education Teacher. I have been blessed to have served in Texas, Washington, and Arizona. I am certified as a Superintendent, Principal, Educational Diagnostician, and Special Education Teacher. I was born in El Paso and recently returned to El Paso after being away for six years. I am a lifelong learner, and I will complete my Doctorate in Education in 2019 through Grand Canyon University in Phoenix. I have high expectations of myself and our scholars. I believe there are no limits to what our scholars and families can accomplish. Together we can achieve.
Name: Selene Fierro
Role: Campus Supervisor
Hello! I am Selene Fierro the Campus Supervisor at the El Paso Leadership Academy, and I am the mother of two current students. I started as a volunteer for crosswalk duty in the founding year. The following year, Mr. Yanar and Mr. Benitez offered me this opportunity, and I gladly joined the team. As a parent, I share your concerns. This helps me as a staff member to be more alert and aware of the scholars here at the El Paso Leadership Academy.
Name: Andrea Vazquez
Role: Office Coordinator
Hello! My name is Andrea Vazquez, and I am the Office Coordinator at the El Paso Leadership Academy. I love working here, and I love the supportive environment we have! Every day is different and exciting, and I am always learning something new from our scholars and parents. I am always motivated by our scholars to accomplish my goals and to become a better person for them. It is simply amazing to see them grow each year.
Name: Knick Gomez
Role: Operations Coordinator
Hello, I am Knick Gomez the Facilities Manager at the El Paso Leadership Academy. My goal is to ensure a safe and comfortable building for our amazing scholars and staff. I have been with EPLA for one year. Born and raised in El Paso and a proud graduate of Socorro High School, I believe I work for our students who are our future leaders.
Name: Mrs. Vigil
Role: 6th Grade ELA Teacher
Born on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in Kyle, South Dakota, I was raised by my Kiyaksa Tiospaye, extended family, who held education dear to their survival and persistence despite the challenge of being forced to relinquish their ties to the land, language and spiritual ways. In their time of despair, my ancestors knew the one resource they had left was the children, prompting the Kiyaksa to create a school with Wiconi, Lakota lifeways.
That dream followed me on my college path away from home to Colorado where I found the love of my life, Mr. Antonio Vigil, whose vision of College for All made that revolutionary dream of my people a reality. 24 years of teaching, 20 years of marriage, 3 children, 1 dog, all our hope and love. This is who we are, and what we bring with us to the El Paso Leadership Academy.
Name: Ms. Mendoza
Role: 6th Grade Math Teacher
Hello Future Leaders! My name is Azereth Mendoza and I teach 6th grade Math. Teaching has been my goal since I graduated from Mission Early College High School and attended the University of Texas at El Paso and Texas Tech University at Lubbock. I started at EPLA as a TAP tutor supporting Math and Reading for 6th grade. I then taught 8th grade Math and now expanding the scholar’s horizons with Computer Coding! I depart from the philosophy that children from the age of 10-14 start their path to who they want to be when they grow up. Encouraging and strengthening their education is vital at this point. EPLA is a great place for any scholar to blossom!
Name: Ms. Alonso
Role: 6th Grade Science Teacher
The El Paso Leadership Academy is the perfect fit for me because together we are the present teaching our future. EPLA is a humble, enthusiastic team which can impact the community to make and create a great future. Being born and raised here in El Paso, I can’t think of a better place to teach than in the heart of El Paso where numerous students have so much to give and are clamoring for a better education, but the rest of the city doesn’t hear. We, however, at EPLA will make sure that our scholars are heard because that is our priority.
Name: Mr. Avalos
Role: 6th Grade Social Studies Teacher
A lifelong learner interested in travel, the cultural traditions of Asia, and exploring new food options. I consider myself to be an academic who appreciates learning subject matter outside of my own realm of expertise. I am an easy-going person who tries to maintain a smile no matter the situation because a simple smile can make any day better.
Name: Mr. Otero
Role: 7th Grade ELA Teacher
In a way, the El Paso Leadership Academy is, in itself, a contradiction by offering both access and excellence. This fits perfectly with my personality and core beliefs–by serving as a “both/and” institution, ELPA chooses not to “think outside the box;” rather, it creates a new “box.” Furthermore, I feel social justice is a full-time job and one which is best performed while young minds are still forming. Returning to EPLA, this year affirms my dedication to optimism over oppression, choice over chains, and future over futility.
Name: Ms. Chavira
Role: 7th Grade Social Studies
My name is Ms. Chavira. I was born and raised in El Paso, Texas, and I love my hometown. I graduated from Valle Verde Early College High School in 2013 and went on to earn my Bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies with a concentration in Education in 2015, and I began my Master’s degree in the summer of 2016. Going to an Early College High School really taught me how to become independent and responsible for my own learning and education. I hope to do the same with my students at EPLA. I chose to become a teacher because I wanted to give back to my community and my hometown. I want my scholars to know that they are capable of success no matter what, and that they can achieve anything they set their minds to.
Name: Ms. Esnayra
Role: 7th Grade Math
A person willing to learn every day from the people around her. Dedicated to her family, work, and scholars, making them her main priorities. Easy going, always trying to find a solution to any problem that arises.
This is my second year at EPLA, and I am very excited to start a new year with new teachers and new scholars. I chose to teach at EPLA because it is a different school, where the connection and commitment with our scholars is our number one priority. EPLA offers different opportunities for learning, not only for us as teachers, but for the community.
Name: Ms. Martinez
Role: 7th Grade Science Teacher
After 17 years of teaching in a huge public school district, I want to finally work for a smaller school system that truly believes in putting children first. I am pretty sure I will find that here…. I am looking for a home away from home… Where I am surrounded by like THINKERS and hard working people.I’m searching for something awesome, where bureaucracy does not get in the way of making children profoundly outstanding people.
Name: Mr. Rall
Role: 8th Grade Math/Algebra Teacher
I was born in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and I was raised in Glendale, AZ and attended college at Arizona State University. While attending ASU, I played trombone in the marching band and was the drum major my senior year. I still play in a local jazz band. I believe that with hard work, teamwork and coffee, you can solve any problem.
I chose to teach at the El Paso Leadership Academy because I enjoy working with students, especially ones who are motivated and dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. I enjoy seeing students grow to continue their studies at college and to come back to share their success stories. I have a passion for taking students to do college visits, and I have taken students to different colleges, including Texas Christian University, University of Texas, University of Texas at San Antonio, and University of Texas at Dallas.
Name: Mr. Monteros
Role: 8th Grade Social Studies Teacher
Born and raised in Chivas Town/Central El Paso, I was raised by a loving single Mexican mother who never spoke a word of English. Working from the age of 11, I quickly learned that if you want anything in this world, especially coming from my socio-economic background in El Paso, you must work twice as hard for it. To this day, I enjoy the beautiful struggle which I share with my wife, family, friends, and EPLA community.
I chose to teach at EPLA for three reasons: 1) Community and location. EPLA is in Central El Paso where my heart is because I grew up in Central and continue to live in Central (I live 4 minutes away from EPLA!). 2) Unique and inclusive school. EPLA is a unique school where students are given a voice and because of the smaller class sizes are allowed more individualized attention. 3) We Build. We Lead. I believe in EPLA’s mission to prepare local youths with an academically rigorous curriculum that will prepare them for college by reinforcing the idea that they WILL attend and graduate college regardless of background.
Name: Mr. Schultz
Role: 8th Grade English Language Arts
I arrive in El Paso motivated and excited to construct as well as be part of a community committed to developing pedagogy that gives students something to do, not something to receive–and the doing will be such of a nature as to demand thinking/application. Out of which learning naturally results. When not reading voraciously, I can be found going up, down, around, and over mountains on foot or via my trusty steed (bike).
Name: Ms. Davila
Role: 8th Grade Science Teacher
Hello, I am Terry Davila the 8th grade Science teacher! I was born and raised in El Paso, Texas. I attended El Dorado High School and proceeded to earn my Bachelor’s degree in Biology from the University of Texas at El Paso in December of 2016. GO MINERS!
My passion for mentoring and working with the youth began my Sophomore year when I was given the opportunity to work as a high school tutor. I worked my way on to other positions that focused on college preparation. I have also worked with multiple educational grants and programs such as GEAR UP, Princeton Review and AVID. This type of experience has allowed me to understand student diversity and promote all students’ learning.
Fall 2017 was my official first year of teaching! As time is progressing, I find myself very thankful to have found an amazing school such as EPLA. The atmosphere at this school is beyond anything I have ever personally experienced. I hope to be able to continue to make an impact in the lives of our young generation through education. My ultimate goal is to motivate and mentor my students to reach their full potential!
Name: Ms. Willis
Role: GameSalad Instructor
Hello! My name is Danielle Willis and I am the 7th grade Computer Science teacher at EPLA. I was born and raised in El Paso, TX and proudly earned my degree in Mathematics from the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). As a first-generation college graduate, the EPLA mission profoundly resonates with me and aligns with my core belief – excellent education should be a right, not a privilege. I have chosen EPLA because I want to take part in building the foundation for future generations of free-thinkers and game changers. In my spare time, I enjoy reading, watching the latest Netflix originals, hiking with my pup, and testing my knowledge of random facts at a weekly trivia competition.
Name: Ms. Brunson
Role: GameSalad Instructor
I would say that I am passionate, whether I am working with scholars, enjoying a hobby, or discussing one of my interests. I am an artistic person and I like to bring that aspect of my personality into the classroom. I chose to work at the El Paso Leadership Academy because of the uniqueness of the school. Prior to becoming a full-time teacher, I worked as a substitute in many schools across the country. They all seemed identical once I walked through the front doors. EPLA feels immediately different and welcoming.
Name: Coach Cruz
Role: Physical Education Instructor
With a passion for physical activity and thriving, I pursued a Bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology with an Exercise Science concentration and minor in Biology, seeking a career in physical therapy. I wanted to provide and support for those athletes who give it their all on the field. My career took a favorable turn, and I was provided the opportunity by EPLA to be the one to find those athletes, teach proper form, engage, challenge and provide foundation for enjoyment and social development through physical activity. I am fortunate to be the 6th and 8th grade physical education teacher.