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Faculty & Staff: Staff




Kindergarten Lead Teacher
Teaching Credential

Gabrielle Smith was born and raised in Santa Barbara County and attended San Diego State University where she earned her teaching credential. Prior to joining the Knox School, she had been teaching for 30 years in both San Diego and Riverside Counties in grades 2, 1, Kindergarten, and Transitional Kindergarten.



Grade 3/4 Lead Teacher

M.S. Marine Biology

Brittany Zarate is a marine biologist with a post-baccalaureate certificate in environmental education from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. For her masters degree, she studied migrating marine birds and the effects of urbanization on wetlands. For six months, she was also a marine mammal trainer for the Navy in San Diego. For many years Ms. Zarate spent time working in outdoor education from coast to coast in the US, including at the Catalina Island Marine Institute. After that she moved to Boulder, Colorado where she worked for the recycling company teaching environmental science to hundreds of students on how to better care for our planet. Her favorite activities are scuba diving and surfing at sunset. She is so excited to bring her passion for the outdoors and problem-solving to the Knox School.



Grade 1/2 Lead Teacher 

B.A. Environmental Studies

Ms. Janes earned her bachelor's degree in Environmental Studies at the University of California Santa Barbara , where she was also a Division 1 student-athlete in Cross Country and Track & Field. A formative experience for Ms. Janes comes from her time in a selective program for student-athletes who traveled to Japan and spent time teaching English to children and coaching sports for them. Here is where she embraced her inner drive to become a teacher and go into education. Ms. Janes’ educational philosophy is a strong match for Knox whereby she seeks to create a nurturing and positive environment that allows gifted students the opportunity to grow their skills and abilities inside the classroom, while also providing a space for them to explore and understand their own social and emotional needs.  Of paramount importance to her is the cultivation of personal connections with each student so that they are provided with the tools to gain self-confidence to work collaboratively with those around them.  For Ms. Janes, the most significant learning happens when connections are authentic and the work inspires students to think creatively. 



Teaching Associate, Lower School

Leigh Ann Gantz is a graduate of State University of Buffalo with a background in Early Childhood Development and Education, specializing in early literacy and social-emotional learning.  Ms. Gantz comes to Knox School from Santa Barbara Unified school district, where she worked with the district’s youngest learners as a T.K. support teacher. In her free time she likes to draw, read, and spend time outdoors with her family.

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Grade 5/6 Lead Teacher


Grade 7/8 Lead Teacher

M.A. Education



Teaching Associate, Upper School

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Advanced Math Instructor
B.A. Mathematical Science; M.A.T. Math Education

Edie Lanphar is a passionate and dedicated educator with a background in psychology and education. Throughout her extensive career, she has focused on improving the lives and educational experiences of all children while acutely aware of the needs of gifted and talented children. Specifically, she has been a teacher from PK through 12th grade, a lecturer at a University, an author, a researcher, a School Principal, and a Director of Curriculum.

In her role of over 10 years as Director of Curriculum, Ms. Lanphar created a K-8 Reggio Emilia (student-centered) program, focusing on social-emotional learning and inquiry-based curriculum. She went on to extend that program to include a full 4-year high school where she helped administer a constructivist and progressive project-based curriculum across the disciplines. She has also presented locally, nationally, and internationally for many years. She has a gifted and talented child of her own so intimately understands what helps them to thrive.

Michael Playford earned his Bachelor of Science in Biology and Chemistry, as well as his English-focused Bachelor of Secondary Education, at the University of Canberra in Australia. Mr. Playford has been teaching high school classes at Gungahlin College in a variety of subjects, including Chemistry, Biology and English. Teaching this variety of classes has allowed him to approach education with a strong interdisciplinary focus.


Before teaching, Mr. Playford worked on designing educational programs that linked modern-day astronomy research with the history behind scientifically-significant sites. This has shaped his approach to education to focus on helping learners engage with ideas and skills not just in isolation, but as pieces of a bigger picture that have real world applications. His educational philosophy focuses on letting students feel confident in asking their own questions. By placing students in contexts where they are surrounded by opportunities to explore, they are encouraged to make connections between what they have already learned and the new ideas they are exposed to. 

Dezerick Reed graduated from the University of Oregon with a Bachelor of Science degree in Sociology. Mr. Reed began his career in education as a Transition Assistant, helping incoming freshmen get acclimated to high-school in Springfield, Oregon. His role varied from assisting with academics, to providing behavior guidance, and mental health and emotional support. Mr. Reed was also a co-facilitator for Black Student Union (BSU). His role at Springfield High School was expanded to include coaching varsity football, as a Defensive Coordinator and DB/WR coach.


Mr. Reed played football at Ventura Community College, before receiving a Scholarship to the University of Oregon. He played American football in Spain, Germany and Mexico. In his spare time he enjoys working out, taking his dog on long walks and coaching football. He moved to Santa Barbara after starting  his graduate program in Psychology to become a marriage/family therapist. 



Ceramics Teacher

Michelle Sakai-Hart earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Aquatic Biology at UC Santa Barbara, leading her to work at CIMI Toyon Bay for a number of years. Her time at CIMI fostered her love of teaching and prompted her to complete her M.A. in Education at Loyola Marymount University. During this time, Michelle took a pottery class on a whim and started to teach pottery. Since then, she has turned her hobby into a small ceramics business, Sakai Harts & Crafts. Michelle has taught wheel throwing and hand building to all ages in L.A. and the Bay Area, most recently at The Community School of Music and Arts, before moving to Santa Barbara. She specializes in functional wheel thrown pieces with colorful hand painted surface design. When she is not making pottery, Michelle loves to spend time at the beach with her husband and golden retriever puppy.

Ms. Chien taught mathematics for ten years at New Trier High School near Chicago. She moved to Santa Barbara when her husband joined the faculty of UC Santa Barbara and has taught mathematics at Anacapa School.



Fine and Performing Arts Teacher

Sage Kimball earned her BFA(hons) in Musical Theater from La Salle College of the Arts in Singapore. After graduating, she completed the two-year Meisner Acting program at William Esper Studio in New York City.


Ms. Kimball was born in Santa Barbara, but spent most of her teenage and young adult years in Southeast Asia and New York City. She has been training in The Arts for most of her life with the help of various teachers from both the US and Asia.Two years ago, Ms. Kimball followed through on a dream she’s had for years and started her own private vocal coaching business called Singing with Sage; through this business she helps children, teens, and adults become the best singers they can be while maintaining the integrity and uniqueness of their natural voices. In her spare time, she also loves writing and recording her own original songs.

Cie Gumucio Poetry Teacher (1)_edited_ed


Poetry Teacher

Cie Gumucio is a Poet/Teacher with CalPoets in the Schools. In 2021, Cie worked with Santa Barbara County elementary students, in collaboration with the Botanic Garden and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art to help bring awareness to the plight of the monarch butterflies. Poetry with Wings engaged more than 1,000 students and won a Santa Barbara Beautiful Award. 


She curated a TEDx event, Rediscovery of the Senses in Los Angeles, and has designed art installations incorporating poetry, video, and dance. 


Working with her poetry students to help each one find their unique creative expression has been one of her greatest joys.

Faculty & Staff: Staff


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Ph.D. Cognitive Neuroscience

Angela Tanner was born and raised in southern California, attending Montessori in the early years and then Viewpoint School in Calabasas, California from 3rd through 12th grade, graduating with full Honors as Valedictorian. She went on to UCLA to study Psychology and Business, again graduating with College Honors, magna cum laude, and Phi Beta Kappa. Before returning to graduate school, she interned at the Kewalo Basin Marine Mammal Laboratory in Honolulu, Hawai'i, conducting behavioral research studying cognition and communication in Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. She returned to UCLA for her doctorate to explore the use of functional brain mapping techniques (specifically functional MRI) to examine the functional and structural topography of the cognitive processes of learning & memory.

The journey that led her to the opening of this school began as a very personal one, born of the frustrations and heartbreak of advocating for her own children. Angela’s experiences have fueled in her an enduring passion for creating an educational environment that honors both the intellectual, academic needs of gifted students, as well as the equally important, and often overlooked, social and emotional needs of this unique population.


Head of School

Ph.D. Classical Art and Archaeology 

Karen Johnson was raised in northern Minnesota in a family whose commitment to educational opportunity was unfailing and inspiring.  She attended Colgate University where she earned a BA in Classical Studies and then went on to take her MA in Latin from the University of Georgia.  Her first teaching jobs were on the East Coast with middle school Latin students; these years were integral in the shaping of her educational philosophy and in identifying her focus on child development and identity for years to come.  From there, Karen went to the University of Michigan where she earned her PhD in Classical Art and Archaeology.  Her dissertation centered on the material culture of children and childhood, a topic which she approached not only from an archaeological angle, but also from cognitive developmental and anthropological perspectives, resulting in genuinely integrated and interdisciplinary research.   


Karen returned to teaching not long afterward—the call of the classroom was too compelling.  She spent nine years as the middle and upper school Latin teacher at the Roeper School in Birmingham, MI—the oldest school for gifted students in the nation.  In that time, she developed a curriculum that sought to study Latin for language awareness and challenge gifted kids in the larger field of linguistics.  For the last five years, Karen was the Upper School Director at the Roeper School, during which time she gained ample experience in independent school administration and governance.  


Her passion for gifted education mirrors the philosophy and practice at the Knox School.  Years of teaching have confirmed for her how students are most receptive to learning when they are relaxed and feeling safe; social and emotional security is the first and foremost element in the classroom. This is especially important for gifted kids, given their intensities and needs for trust and respect.  When this security is in place, the classroom should be full of challenge and playfulness in order for gifted children to flourish.  Karen is a committed advocate for gifted education and is proud and delighted to join the Knox School family.




Director of Operations

Marni Cheverez is a fourth generation native of Santa Barbara. She served as the Dance Director at San Marcos High School for 20 years and has worked as a professional choreographer and performance consultant for 30 years. She has choreographed and directed several professional dance productions, including the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, The NFL Pro Bowl halftime, and the New Year's Day celebration in Paris, France.


Marni has spent much of the last decade working with local non profit organizations in development, event management, fundraising, marketing, and social media management.



Childcare Coordinator & Administrative Assistant

Brittany Soundara, a native of the Central Valley, relocated to Goleta in 2020 amidst the challenges of the pandemic. With a strong commitment to making a positive impact on others, Brittany embarked on a career in Social Work, dedicating her efforts to supporting and advocating for youth who have faced complex trauma.

Throughout her work, she discovered a profound passion for education and its transformative potential. This realization led Brittany to make a career change, enrolling in a Masters program in Special Education to further her expertise in the field. Currently, she is actively pursuing her degree, equipping herself with the knowledge and skills to make a meaningful difference in the lives of students with diverse learning needs.

The transition from Social Work to Special Education highlights Brittany's unwavering commitment to helping others and fostering positive change. She firmly believes that education is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and is dedicated to creating inclusive and empowering learning environments for every student.



Director of Curriculum & Instruction

Marisa is perfectly situated to take on curriculum at Knox as she has spent over 14 years serving gifted learners and their families. Most recently she was an Advanced Academic Resource Teacher in Fairfax County Public Schools in Northern Virginia, where for five and a half years, she taught a diverse range of advanced learners, mentored and coached teachers in weaving meaningful curriculum into instruction, and worked with families to support their children’s unique learning and social emotional needs. Before moving to Virginia, Marisa taught and developed curriculum at The Ricks Center for Gifted Children at the University of Denver in Colorado (where she worked alongside Dr. Ellen Honeck, our former DCI) and at the Logan School for Creative Learning, another stand-alone gifted school in Colorado. During her five years at Logan, she designed and implemented individual, integrated curriculum based on student abilities and interests as well as a class unit. She is passionate about staying on top of new research and practices in education. She delights in philosophical discussions on gifted education and in implementing best practices. Marisa intimately understands, and is aligned with, the mission of The Knox School and can't wait to dive into supporting the teachers and students of Knox!




It is my pleasure and honor to be part of the Knox School family and a program where thinking outside of the box is celebrated! I am committed and dedicated to supporting the continued development of the children and further fostering a positive, engaging, and supportive learning environment. I moved to Santa Barbara from Hillsborough, CA, where, I worked as an elementary school counselor for 9 years. In addition to my 4 years of teaching elementary school, my decade of experience with gifted children as a school counselor solidified in me a deep commitment to the growth of these children. My desire is for children to find joy daily and know each day is a new opportunity for self-discovery. I want them to feel loved, supported, and a sense of belonging and purpose in their daily learning environment, regardless of the academic or social-emotional challenges they might be facing.Kids should be able to just be kids, and they need us to provide them with this opportunity. Education needs to be filled with heart and soul. My mission is always to fill the heart. I aim to support and guide our families, faculty, and staff in the tandem pursuit of inspiring and cherishing our students. 

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