Meet our team

Kate Dao

Parent & Founder

Kate is a lifelong learner. She believes children should have the freedom to explore their natural curiosity and creativity. When this happens, children are happy. They are self-motivated because learning becomes a joy. Kate founded Acton Academy East Bay to create a space for students to experience an education that encourages critical thinking, imagination, creativity, and exploration. Her mission is to allow all students to test their ideas to discover how and why things work and to find answers to their questions in a caring and nurturing environment.

For the past decade, Kate has worked as an educator developing individualized programs for K-12 students that emphasize critical thinking and problem-solving. Her work has helped countless students succeed academically and realize their full potential. Before her career in education, Kate worked at startups in the tech industry-leading teams in marketing, HR, and business development. She received her bachelor's degree from the University of California at Davis and a master's degree from the California State University of Sacramento.

Bernadette Blanchard


As an educator, Bernadette believes very strongly in the power of the unchartered path. She has a B.S. from UC Berkeley and has spent the past 10 years working in the classroom. In her most recent position, she was a Montessori guide for the Elementary Studio. We are excited to have Bernadette help empower more students to embark on their own unchartered paths.

"Follow the child" is the philosophy Bernadette uses when she is teaching. With 10 years of teaching experience, her greatest strength is building individualized connections with each child. With her playful and energetic nature, she loves to bring out the light in every child. In her years of experience, she has taught an array of subjects and various age levels. To name some, she's taught English, Math, American Sign Language, Photography, Yoga, and Computer Skills. In addition, Bernadette has numerous experience creating the school yearbooks, directing holiday plays, and running summer camps

She looks forward to using her experience and skills and sharing them at Acton Academy East Bay. When she is not working, Bernadette enjoys spending time with her family by boating, swimming, playing the piano, biking, and drawing. She truly loves enjoying the arts and the outdoors as much as possible.

Danielle de Guzman Armstead


Danielle attended a results-focused school as a child, that taught for the test and not for mastery or to discover passions. As an imaginative artistic person, this experience made her seek alternative education models. Danielle is an advocate for creative exploration. Her passion is to help students develop a love of learning and find their best vehicle to learn. Striving to always celebrate each student's uniqueness and individual passions, she is always a champion for self-expression.

Danielle joined Acton Academy because its methodology is deeply aligned with her own. She fully believes that every child should be able to discover and learn how to use their talents to solve difficult problems to change the world and that every child should develop a deep respect for the political, economic and religious freedoms. She is well known for her mindset that each person should always be their most authentic self. She has tutored 4-11-year-olds in writing, reading, and mathematics and received her BA from Mills College in English Literature. She is also a mentor and member of the National CARES Mentorship Movement. In her spare time, Danielle enjoys pilates, hiking, geology, cooking, art, and literature. You can find her exploring her interests in various museums and theaters, fiddling about in her garden or searching for rocks to add to her rock collection!

Kaylee Herrera


Kaylee graduated from Arizona State University with a Bachelor of Arts in Education. She is currently working toward obtaining her Master's Degree in Instructional Design. Her continuous excitement for learning motivated her to focus her future on helping students discover the same passions in education. Kaylee is an advocate for the individual student; she understands that students may learn differently. She holds communication as a top priority when helping students achieve their goals.

In her free time, you can find Kaylee exploring local backpacking trails, completing DIY projects, and cooking large meals in her kitchen. Kaylee often spends her weekends playing with her two dogs and enjoying time with her family.

Jessie Matheson-Thomas


Jessie believes that everyone is capable of achieving their dreams and finding their passions. She also strongly believes that learning doesn't have an age limit, and as curious humans, we owe it to ourselves to be lifelong learners. Jessie has previous experience working with middle school students in underserved communities by helping them find their voice in writing. She believes that the art of storytelling is a powerful form of expression that can connect words, destroy barriers and transcend time.

Jessie graduated from the University of San Francisco with her Bachelor's degree in English Literature. She has many hobbies from camping, photography, writing, reading, and more recently antiquing. She often spends her free time with her family and pets, indulging in podcasts or audiobooks.

Sylvie Salib


I graduated with a bachelor's degree in Accounting. My love for children and my passion for teaching motivated me to change careers and earn my Montessori credential to become a part of the American Montessori Society (AMS). I am a firm believer in children's potential. I believe that the healthy development of children is crucial to the future well-being of any society. It is vital that children be offered meaningful opportunities to individually develop their potential, enabling them to step out into the world as responsible, engaged, competent, and respectful citizens with an understanding and appreciation that learning is for life.

Guiding children, playing with them and getting into their world have always been a source of joy to me. Over my 8 years of teaching different ages, I've learned that children are great teachers and amazing problem solvers.

I enjoy being with my family and friends, meeting new people, cooking, reading, traveling, learning something new, and enjoying all forms of arts.

Afsaneh Noorparvar

Writing Specialist

Children are one of the greatest sources of inspiration for Afsaneh. She believes that their sense of wonder and curious absorption with the world are sacred and need to be kept active. Acton Academy philosophy creates a framework to do just that and Afsaneh has enthusiastically found her way to our team.

She has a Bachelor's degree in English and a Master's in Education and she has spent most of her professional life in classrooms. Her purpose in the field of education is to be open to new ways of harnessing that sense of natural curiosity in children and directing it towards a lifelong passion for learning and development. Her focus will be mostly on our learners' writing skills at Acton Academy East Bay.

Amongst many things, Afsaneh particularly enjoys movies and arts, outdoor living, and socializing.

Prezleigh Colburn

Music Guide

Prezleigh Colburn has been a lover of music her entire life. Having been a professional musician for the past 10 years she views music as a language and hopes to instill a love and passion for music before anything else. She has studied at Berklee College of Music and obtained a B. M. in Commercial Music from Azusa Pacific University. There she focused heavily on classical guitar and audio engineering. She has gotten to mix and master large sound libraries, video game scores, and many live shows. Since moving back to the Bay Area she has been running her private studio with her husband called Good Vibes Music Academy where they both teach music lessons and record students of all ages, backgrounds, and experiences. When she's not playing or writing she loves all of her animals (Guinea pigs, hamster, hedgehog, bearded dragon, dogs), beekeeping and mountain biking. Above all, she cherishes life with her incredible husband Joshua and two kids Jack (12) and Henry (10).

Our Advisors

Laura Sandefer

Laura Sandefer


Laura lived on both US coasts and in between as a child, then settled into Vanderbilt University for her undergraduate studies in the College of Arts and Science.

After being awarded the highly competitive Walter Wattles Fellowship at Lloyd’s of London, Laura worked in the aviation insurance industry in New York City. Deciding to follow her calling into the world of education, Laura returned to Nashville and earned her Master of Education at Peabody College. This led her to her work at the Oklahoma Arts Institute, creating fine arts education programs for teachers and talented high school students.

Laura married Jeff Sandefer and is the happy mother of Sam and Charlie and step-mother to Taite. It is the inspiration of these children that led Laura and Jeff to co-found Acton Academy.

Her greatest hero is her mother who was a Master Teacher. Her wisest mentor is her father who sent her off to college with two words of advice: "Be curious".

Jeff Sandefer

Jeff Sandefer


Jeff Sandefer lives a dual life as an entrepreneur and a Socratic Guide.

As an entrepreneur, he founded his first company at age 16 and went on to found or co-found seven successful businesses.

As a Socratic teacher at the University of Texas, Jeff's students five times voted him the school's Outstanding Teacher and Businessweek named him one of the top Entrepeneurship professors in America. Jeff went on to co-found the Acton School of Business, an MBA program perennially ranked by the Princeton Review among the best in the nation. In 2012 The Economist honored him as one of the top fifteen Business School professors in the world.

Jeff is a graduate of the Harvard Business School, where he served for over twenty years on the school's governing committees. He was a longtime director of the Philanthropy Roundtable and National Review magazine and one of the youngest members ever elected to the Texas Business Hall of Fame.