Staff Directory 2019-2020

Ms. Abbene - Social Studies Teacher and Director of Curriculum and Instruction - - 818.583.6229 ext 1006

Ms. Agrafiotis - English Teacher - - 818.583.6229 ext 1007

Ms. Bella - History Teacher -

Ms. Garber - Principal - - 818.583.6229 ext 1000 - direct 818.233.8250

Ms. Kazikhanyan - Special Education Teacher - - 818.583.6229 ext 1004

Mr. Mercado - History Teacher -

Ms. O'Neill- Math Teacher - - 818.583.6229 ext 1008

Mr. Perry - Art Teacher - - 818.583.6229 ext 1012

Ms. Southam - Math Teacher -

Ms. Tersakian - Office Manager - - direct 818.583.6229

Ms. Thorpe - Science Teacher - 818.583.6229 ext 1009


Staff Bios

Rachel Garber - Principal

Rachel Garber is the founding Principal of HighTech LA Middle School. She began her career as a Teach For America Los Angeles corps member at Endeavor College Preparatory Charter School, where she taught and led for 8 years. Rachel was a math, science, and writing teacher, mathematics content leader, Director of School Culture, and Campus Director, where she honed her skills in leadership, instruction, culture, and coaching.  Rachel also spent a year at HighTech LA High School as Assistant Principal preparing to open HTLA Middle School.  She is honored to be a part of this incredible organization and is passionate about providing a high-quality education to all of our students at HTLA.


Sandra Tersakian - Office Manager

It is my pleasure to introduce myself as the Office Manager at High Tech La Middle School!  As a mother of two teenage children myself, I know how important the decision is to enroll your kids into an educational institution in their formative years.  Both of my children attended a small, charter middle school, and I cannot overstate the dramatic and positive impact it has had on their lives. I have dedicated my life to working with children, both my own and others, and I am so excited to foster a community of learning with your kids.  I especially enjoy meeting new parents who want to volunteer, ask advice with homework, or simply wish to discuss the joys of parenting. I look forward to establishing a true and lasting relationship with all High Tech families! Please stop by and say Hi!


Reese Abbene - Assistant Principal and English Teacher

Reese Abbene is a native of the San Fernando Valley. She completed her undergraduate career at the University of Portland, Oregon with a B.A. in Communications. Following graduation, she became a member of AmeriCorps and worked in the public education system in Washington, D.C. The frigid East Coast weather drove her back to sunny Los Angeles, where she earned her Masters in Secondary Education at Loyola Marymount University. She is credentialed in both English Language Arts and Social Science and is currently finishing her Masters in Educational Psychology at Alliant International University in pursuit of her credential in School Psychology. As a founding member of HTLA-MS, Ms. Abbene serves as the Assistant Principal, 8th Grade ELA teacher and Mock Trial Coach.


Iris Agrafiotis - English Teacher

Iris Agrafiotis is a founding English teacher at HighTech LA Middle School. She grew up outside Philadelphia and has had a lifelong passion for education. She attended UC Berkeley where she earned her Bachelor’s degree in Urban Studies with a minor in Sustainable Design. After working for several tech startups, she received her Master’s in Secondary Education from the University of Southern California, specializing in English Language Arts and Gifted Education. Prior to joining the HTLA team, Iris taught English Language Arts at Birmingham Community Charter High School and various electives at New West Charter School. Iris is also a certified Pilates Mat Instructor through the Equinox Pilates Institute and loves teaching Pilates, yoga, acrobatics, and other forms of fitness. She is thrilled to be part of the HTLA team and is committed to providing students with a strong foundation for lifelong learning.


Cathy O'Neill - Math Teacher

Cathy O’Neill is a math teacher at HighTech LA Middle School. She has a BA in applied mathematics and statistics from CSU Sacramento and a MA in education from CSU Los Angeles. She has taught math for grades 7 to 12 Academy for 8 years. In addition, she has taught martial arts and self-defense, robotics, and astronomy. She is passionate about ensuring that all students understand the why behind mathematics and is looking forward to another great year at HTLA Middle School.


Jordan Perry - Art Teacher

Jordan Perry is the Art Teacher at HighTech LA Middle School. Jordan began his career at Clarke Middle School in Athens Georgia where he taught visual art for 7 years. He has run multiple after school programs including yearbook, art club, comic-book club and coached ultimate frisbee for the past 10 years. He is excited to begin his second year at HTLA Middle expanding notions of creativity through the making of art.


Lilit Kazikhanyan - Special education Teacher

Lilit Kazikhanyan is the Resource Specialist at HTLA Middle School. She has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Sociology from Cal State Northridge and is currently finishing her graduate certifications. Prior to HTLA, Lilit worked at Birmingham High School first as a paraprofessional then as a Geometry and Algebra teacher for multiple years. She also has experience in case work and nonprofit development with the City of Glendale and various charities. Lilit is excited to bring her experience and enthusiasm to the students of HTLA!


Melissa Thorpe - Science Teacher

Melissa Thorpe is the science teacher at HTLA Middle School. She has a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Texas A&M-Central Texas. Her experience includes working as a special education paraprofessional for four years, as well teaching 4th and 5th grade science for two years in Copperas Cove, Texas. She also has experience in case work, with the Children's Mental Health Clinic in Temple, Texas providing skills training to students. She is excited to be part of HTLA Middle School, and has the passion to guide students in their science class, connecting to technology and real world applications. She also enjoys photography and traveling.

Molly southam - Math Teacher

Molly Southam, a Santa Monica native, is excited to join the HTLA team this year. She started her teaching career in Philadelphia where she taught at Freire Charter Middle School for four years. After returning to California, Molly taught at Animo James B. Taylor in Watts. This is her sixth year teaching middle school math, and she is excited to work with the 6th and 8th graders. Molly earned her bachelor’s degree in mathematics at Trinity College and got her masters degree in Education from the University of Pennsylvania. Molly is also looking forward to coaching the middle school group for Students Run Los Angeles (SRLA), a running group that will train for multiple races including the Los Angeles Marathon. Molly is passionate about helping students persevere through math problems and gain confidence in their mathematical abilities.

Kyle Mercado - History Teacher

Kyle Mercado is excited to be the new 6th grade social studies teacher at HTLA MS. Kyle was born and raised in the valley and later earned his B.A. in history at the University of Dayton in Ohio. After graduating, he spent a year studying Mandarin Chinese at Beijing Language and Culture University in China. Kyle has spent the past two years working as a long-term substitute teacher at Chaminade College Preparatory teaching various subjects such as 7th grade world history and 8th grade physical science. Kyle is excited to spread his knowledge of Chinese language and culture as well as use the energy of all the students in class to create thrilling and meaningful work.

Nicole Bella - History Teacher

Nicole Bella is a social science teacher and co-teacher of our new Project Civics class at HTLA Middle School. She has a Bachelor of Arts in History from Cal State University, Fullerton. Her experience includes working as a teacher for the past 4 years in Southern California and the Bay area. She has taught various levels of history from 6th through 10th grade. Prior to joining the HTLA Middle School team, she taught at HTLA High School. Nicole is excited to continue her teaching career as a permanent member of the HTLA Middle School squad. Her mission is to guide students through historical investigations and the philosophical questions that come with the field. She enjoys traveling and biking to the beach.