SySTEM Phoenix was founded in 2014 by two Teach For America alumni, Angelica Cruz & Nicole Fernandez, both of whom taught in Central Phoenix and witnessed firsthand the need for students to learn how to think critically, problem-solve, and become active in their communities. After traveling the country to visit the best STEM schools, Ms. Cruz & Ms. Fernandez opened SySTEM Phoenix in August 2014 to bring the opportunity for a rigorous, project-based, college-prep school to Phoenix students. The school currently serves students in grades 6-10 in the 2017-2018 school year and will add grade levels each year to eventually serve students in grades 6-12.
SySTEM Phoenix Leadership Team
Angelica Cruz, M.Ed., Founder, Chief Executive Officer
Angelica Cruz is passionate about ensuring students have access to an excellent STEM education that teaches critical thinking and problem solving skills to prepare them for active engagement in the 21st century workforce.
Angelica became passionate about STEM when she attended her first Nanotechnology Conference as a 7th grader. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Tufts University with a double major in Child Development and Community Health.
After graduation she joined Teach For America, working in some of Phoenix’s most poverty-stricken neighborhoods, raising reading proficiency rates in her Kindergarten classroom from 30% to 100% passing the DIBELS Reading test. After six years as a classroom teacher, Angelica was honored as a Rodel Aspiring Principal and received an Excellence in Teaching award from the Creighton School District Governing Board for significantly raising student achievement in her school. During that time, Angelica completed a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction, as well an additional master’s in Educational Administration in 2011 as a recipient of a Teach For America-ASU Fellowship award.
Although she began her journey toward educational leadership in a traditional district, she transitioned to the charter school system to help turn around a failing high school as the Director of Assessment at Girls Leadership Academy of Arizona.
While there, she led the school to raise proficiency rates on the AIMS Reading test from 34% to 94% and the AIMS Math from 18% to 82% and spearheaded the creation of an all-girls robotics team.
In the 2012-2013 school year, Angelica served as the Business Operations Manager at Empower College Prep and was instrumental in establishing effective and efficient systems to ensure a successful first year of operation while also managing the $1.1 million budget for the school.
In May 2012 Angelica was accepted into the first cohort of the Aspiring Leaders Fellowship, followed by acceptance into the Charter Starter Program in December 2012, where she participated in intensive professional development focused on effective charter school operations.
During this time, she visited the best STEM schools throughout the United States to research best practices and bring them back to Arizona students by opening SySTEM Phoenix. In her spare time she enjoys yoga, hiking, and spending time with her family.
Dayna Gilmore, Director of Special Education
Mr. Gearing, Middle School Humanities
Mr. Howell, Middle & High School Humanities
Mr. Richards, Mathematics
Ms. Thomas, Science
Mr. White, Project-Based Learning
Mr. Vargas, Office Manager
Our Governing Board
The Governing School Board is comprised of individuals from across the valley with expertise in a variety of areas of charter school governance, including finance, operations, marketing, STEM instruction, and community engagement.
Current Board Members
Megan McWenie is a career educator who passionately believes that all children have a right to an excellent education and that every student in Arizona can and should achieve college and career readiness. As a native Arizonan, she benefited from great public schools in this state beginning in kindergarten and continuing through her experience as an undergraduate student at the University of Arizona. She currently works as the Move On When Ready Learning Collaborative Coordinator at the Center for the Future of Arizona, coordinating the efforts of school leaders at public charter, public district, and private schools across the state who are implementing a new performance-based high school education model designed to increase academic achievement and prepare all students for college and careers. She began her career in education as a Teach for America corps member in Las Vegas, Nevada where she taught high school reading intervention courses. Upon returning to her home state, Megan worked for the Phoenix Union High School District as a reading teacher, professional development specialist, and Cambridge coordinator for five years. She has also contributed to building the pipeline of great teachers serving Arizona students as a Teacher for America summer institute staff member for the past four years. Megan holds a Bachelor of Arts in History and English. Ms. McWenie brings strong leadership in curriculum development, integrated instruction, and student assessment to the Governing Board of SySTEM Phoenix.
Francine Hardaway, Ph.D is a serial entrepreneur and seasoned communications strategist. She co-founded Stealthmode Partners, an accelerator and advocate for entrepreneurs in technology and health care, in 1998. Prior to Stealthmode, she owned two marketing companies, and served as Director of Worldwide Press Relations for Intel and the CMO of Innovative Environmental Products. Francine was an Entrepreneurial Fellow of the Eller Entrepreneurship Center at University of Arizona, and was a founder of Social Media Club Arizona and the Arizona Software Association. She is co-founder of the blog USHealthCrisis, and blogs for Fast Company, Huffington Post, and the Stealthmode Blog.
Doris Roman is a seasoned educator with over 25 years in STEM education with many years working with K-12 programs sponsored by universities and industry. Doris has held various positions such as Coordinator, Director, Assistant Dean, and faculty at several colleges and universities with many positions also serving K-12 programs with a focus on college and career readiness. She has served as a key player with the national MESA (Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement) program and served as part of the team to start the first community college program, as well as the Director during her tenure at Arizona State University (ASU). Doris retired as an administrator from higher education to take care of her terminally ill mother. She returned to the K-12 arena in 2006 with the state chapter of Communities in Schools, a national dropout prevention program serving Title 1 schools. She held positions at Excelencia Elementary and Riverside Elementary, where she worked closely with their science fairs and designed, developed, and delivered a Weird Math Club (WMC) to help students improve in math. During the 1st year of WMC operations, the students increased their math skills by over 60%. Doris has taught business and STEM courses at various colleges and with K-12 programs. In addition, she has served as a Principal Investigator on several contracts and grants helping ASU secure over $4 million in grants for STEM education. Doris has won numerous awards throughout her career, including Educator of the Year in New York, Inductee of 100 Hispanic Women, and the Martin Luther King Somos El Futuro award. Ms. Roman is committed to the empowerment of our youth, specifically our underrepresented youth who will become the future leaders of our great nation.
Jeff is a CPA with over ten years of experience in providing audit services. Jeff currently works as an Audit Supervisor for Henry & Horne, LLP with a primary focus on auditing government and non-profit entities including school districts, charter schools, cities, towns, counties, and state agencies. Jeff also performs training presentations both at Henry & Horne and at various conferences including the Arizona Association of School Business Officials (AASBO). Prior to joining Henry & Horne, Jeff was a Senior Accountant for another firm where he specialized in governmental financial and compliance audits of municipalities, school districts, grant schools and state entities. He holds a B.S. in Accounting from the University of Phoenix and Masters in Business Administration with an Accounting emphasis from Utah State University.
Mary Benek, Member
Mary Benek has more than 25 years of marketing, sales and executive leadership experience in Silicon Valley. As a business advisor, she has consulted and provided interim CMO services in market entry/expansion strategy and execution for business-to-business and business-to-consumer technology companies of all sizes and phases. Driving growth acceleration and successful exits, her expertise spans a broad range of technologies and market sectors.
Mary has served on the Board of Directors for the San Francisco Craft and Folk Art Museum, where she was instrumental in developing a ten-year strategic plan that won the museum one of the largest grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. She has also provided pro bono strategic planning development to the Fort Mason Foundation in San Francisco that resulted in a significant government funding grant. Mary holds a bachelor of science with honors in marketing from the University of California, Davis.
Raz Yalov, Member
Raz Yalov is the Co-Founder and CEO of ZCast. Bringing more than 25 years of experience in the software and information technology industries, Raz Yalov has unique expertise in working with large enterprise customers and R&D teams as well as hands on experience and small startup teams.
Mr. Yalov spent close to 10 years at 41st Parameter, a Scottsdale based fraud prevention startup that was acquired by Experian in late 2013. Prior he spent 6 years at Mercury (acquired by HP) in various leading positions within the R&D and Managed Service Operations Groups. Mr. Yalov also worked at Edunetics, an ed-tech company that revolutionized the computerized class-rooms in the early 90s and was acquired by Steck-Vaughn Publishing Corp in 1996.
Mr. Yalov received a Bachelor of Science in mathematics and computer science from the OU University of Israel.