Every year, the Thacher community returns to campus and is met with familiar faces—and many new ones! This year, the School is lucky to welcome a new crop of talented, thoughtful, and expert educators to its faculty full-time.
Originally from Bishop, California, Edgar is a 2015 graduate of Kenyon College. While attending Kenyon, Edgar studied psychology and philosophy and played for the Kenyon Lords, where he helped captain the men’s soccer team to their first NCAC Conference title during his senior year. Since graduating, Edgar has worked primarily in education as a tutor, substitute teacher, lead teacher, and college teaching assistant.
Throughout 2016, Edgar traveled the globe, visiting multiple countries on three different continents. During his time in Brazil, Edgar lived and worked in Favela Rocinha, the largest favela (informal urban area, or “slum”) in South America, as a community teacher for English and mathematics. This summer, Edgar will be heading to Malawi in southeast Africa to work with a soccer nonprofit committed to youth development through education and sport.
As he eagerly joins Thacher as a Fisher Fellow, Edgar is most excited, in his own words, about “becoming part of such a vibrant and unique community, dedicated to the cultivation of intentionally resilient, mindful, and kind young people.”
Matt Balano, Director of Diversity and Inclusion and Assistant Dean of Students
Matthew Balano is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Cruz with twenty-two years of experience in education across three continents. A San Francisco native, Matt spent the past 16 years at St. Ignatius College Preparatory, first as a member of the English department and, for the past seven years, as the school's first director of equity and inclusion. He is the founder and director of the Latinx Youth Summit, a weekend-long event that brings together hundreds of Latinx youth from across the U.S. to explore identity, share culture, and develop leadership skills. He has worked extensively with Magis—a San Francisco-based academic enrichment program for first-generation college-bound students—developing curriculum, providing community outreach, and teaching a variety of courses. Matt is also a board director of World Trust Educational Services and co-chair of the White Privilege Symposium by the Bay Organizing Committee. Until recently, he also served on the San Francisco Human Rights Commission’s Equity Advisory Committee and as the National Chair of the Jesuit Schools Network of Diversity Directors. Matt is also a former board director for People of Color in Independent Schools (POCIS) of Northern California and has organized and presented at numerous national and regional diversity conferences and professional development in-services.
Matt is the proud father of incoming Thacher freshman Marcus Balano. Both Matt and Marcus are excited to join the Thacher community and look forward to learning, collaborating, and growing. Despite their move to Southern California, they will continue to be diehard Golden State Warriors fans.
Seth made his first move to the West when he left New Hampshire to attend graduate school at the University of Nevada. In his seven years with Nevada’s English department, Seth completed his PhD in composition and rhetoric, taught humanities and writing courses, captained the department’s woeful intramural basketball teams, and, most importantly, met fellow grad student Melanie Berner, who is now his wife.
Seth’s passion for boarding school education sent him back to the East coast, where he spent seven years on the faculty at The Hill School in Pennsylvania. At Hill, Seth taught English, coached basketball and tennis, served as the advisor to the Honor Council and the student newspaper, and headed the 3rd form dorms. For the past three years, Seth and Melanie have also raised their son, Arlo.
Seth is an avid cyclist. He and Melanie spent the summer after their first year at Hill riding across the country. When he was on campus in March, Seth quickly learned that the question: “Do you ride?” means something very different at Thacher. Seth and Melanie are thrilled to return to the West and join the Thacher community.Gina Greene, History Teacher
Gina’s love of history, literature, art, and writing were all forged while growing up in Los Angeles, where she spent her spare time painting, reading, and plotting her escape. After graduating from Harvard, where she studied English and American literature, she returned to California to pursue postgraduate studies in painting and an MA in art and architectural history. Her MA thesis on late 19th century French luxury brothels allowed her to explore historical issues of gender, space, and architecture. In 2012, she received her PhD in architectural history from Princeton University and has been teaching courses in urban history, history of science, art and architectural history, and politics ever since. At Thacher, Gina will join the faculty of the History Department, serve as an academic advisor, and work with students at the Writing Center. She will be living on campus with her husband, Jake, and two young children, Luke and Greta.
Renee Hawkins, Director of Educational Technology and Library Services
Originally from Miamisburg, Ohio, Renee attended the College of St. Francis (now the University of St. Francis) in Illinois, where she studied music and art. Upon graduation, she taught music and US history at Providence Catholic High School and then worked as a teaching assistant in the English Department at Wright State University back in Ohio. Eventually, taking advantage of the school’s relationship with a sister school in Okayama, Japan, Renee and her husband Russell left to live and teach in Japan. Having fallen in love with Japan and its culture, they remained in the country, moving to Kyoto and joining the staff in a new English language immersion program at Kyoto Nishi High School. Working with an international team of teachers, Renee designed curriculum and taught Japanese high school students. This team of teachers organized the Kyoto Nishi High School Model United Nations project, which will hold its 27th convention this June.
After almost 5 years in Japan and finishing her MEd at Temple University, Osaka, Renee and Russell returned to the U.S. and settled in Baltimore. She started work at St. Timothy’s School, organizing the school’s ESL program and acting as a member of the school’s residential life program. As computing technology became more prevalent in schools, Renee began to explore ways computers and digital technology could be used in the classroom. This interest eventually took her to Garrison Forest School, where she became the technology department chair, then the director of libraries and instructional technology, and finally, the director of technology. After 16 years at Garrison and 22 years on the east coast, Renee and Russell have arrived on the west coast and The Thacher School. They are excited to begin this new adventure.
Iona (Hughan) Popa Cdep 2010, English Teacher
After graduating from Thacher in 2010, Iona attended the University of Notre Dame, where she majored in the program of liberal studies, their Great Books program. During her junior year, she studied English literature and competed on the rowing team at Oxford. When she wasn’t buried in books, she was learning about the world in more concrete ways—mostly through service work. She spent the summer after her freshman year at a children’s home and hospice in rural South Africa and returned the next summer to intern at Educo Africa, an NGO that leads backpacking trips for at-risk youth in the mountains north of Cape Town. During the school year in South Bend, she volunteered with a rock climbing and outdoor program for youth, a therapeutic horseback riding program, and an HIV/AIDS prevention, education, and advocacy center.
At the end of her senior year, she committed to Notre Dame’s Master of Education Program and was placed at Tampa Catholic High School, where she taught English and AP Art History and helped coach the girls’ varsity lacrosse team. She also spent part of last summer teaching with the Global Scholars Program at the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg. Last year, she and her husband, Tyler Popa, taught at Scottsdale Prep, a classical charter school in Scottsdale, Arizona, where she also coached middle school volleyball and high school sand volleyball. She says of her return to Thacher: “I’m thrilled to be joining the English faculty at Thacher and returning to coach the volleyball team I was so proud to lead as a captain. It is with a heart full of gratitude and humility that I return to Casa de Piedra, eager to serve the place and the people that have given me so much over the years.”
Tyler is an Arizona native and, in his own words, a “desert rat gone outdoorsman.” He grew up in a close-knit Catholic family of seven and attended a small Lutheran high school in central Phoenix, which he credits with helping him learn early on the importance of community and serving others before yourself. After high school, he received a degree in business administration accounting from “that liberal arts college you’ve only heard of because of basketball”—Gonzaga University. During his studies in the liberal arts and, specifically, philosophy, his CPA dreams turned upside down. After graduation, he served as a teaching fellow under the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) at the University of Notre Dame, an organization that serves under-resourced and underserved communities. For two years, he taught middle school math and science at St. John Vianney Catholic School in Goodyear, Arizona while simultaneously working to earn his masters in education. It was in the ACE program that he met wife and Thacher alum Iona (Hughan) Popa. Last year, he and Iona both worked at Scottsdale Preparatory Academy in Scottsdale, Arizona. He taught algebra and the eleventh-grade humane letters course and coached a number of different teams.
Tyler loves to hike, bike, run, or play just about any sport. He also loves pursuing wellness—his favorite motto is the Latin phrase cura personalis. He has “a deep connection to [his] own Catholic faith and loves exploring spirituality with others from their own faith traditions.” He looks forward to sharing all of his passions with the Thacher community and learning from so many distinguished and experienced faculty and staff. He says: “It’s a pleasure to be on board and I am looking forward to the future.”
Richard, accompanied by his wife, Cheryl, is returning to the Thacher community as Thacher’s new director of the Horse Program. For over 30 years, Richard and his wife have been operating their own horsemanship business, training and showing horses and instructing riders from around the United States and the world.
Many in the Thacher community remember the Winters from their time as guests of the School several years ago. For 10 years, Richard served as “Artist in Residence” in the Horse Program and as Thacher’s ambassador-at-large to the horse industry. During that time, Richard had a front row seat to the Horse Program operations under the superior leadership of Cam Schryver. Having personally known Thacher icons like Jesse Kahle, Jack Huyler, Chuck Warren, and Cam, Richard is, in his own words, “ready to do his best to continue the great legacy of the Thacher Horse Program.”
Richard and Cheryl have two grown, married children. Joseph is a graduate of Thacher and a rescue swimmer for the U.S. Coast Guard. Sarah, a professional horse trainer, resides with her husband in Texas. The Winters come to Thacher from their previous home in Reno, Nevada.
AJ Yates, Associate Director of Admission
AJ spent his middle and high school years in Seal Beach, California after stops in the Bay Area, Chicago, and upstate New York. After initially enrolling at Princeton University, he spent some time working in software and sports media. AJ then completed his bachelor's degree at Antioch University with a major in African American studies and a minor in mathematics. Upon graduation, AJ had a drastic career change and began teaching, coaching, and dorm heading at Suffield Academy in Suffield, Connecticut. During his ten years at Suffield, AJ taught math, advised the students of color organization, served as a class advisor, and coached football, wrestling, track and field, soccer, cross country, and snowboarding.
After ten Connecticut winters, AJ and his family decided to move to California, where he took a position as an algebra teacher, admissions community liaison, and head soccer coach at Flintridge Preparatory School in La Canada-Flintridge. AJ and his family are excited to return to a boarding school (his wife Carin graduated from the Williston Northampton School) and are especially excited to join the Thacher community.Meet more members of Thacher’s faculty.