Head of School
Josh Brody is Head of Sequoyah School, an independent progressive school in Pasadena, California.
Throughout his career, Josh has been involved in education and human rights in the U.S. and internationally. After graduating magna cum laude from the University of Colorado with a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology, Josh worked in Jacaltenango along the border between Guatemala and Mexico coordinating human rights education workshops on behalf of local NGOs in partnership with the U.N. peacekeeping mission MINUGUA. Returning to the United States, Josh started a high school summer enrichment program for program students from racial and ethnic backgrounds underrepresented in gifted and talented programs in the Pasadena Unified School District.
Following his interests abroad again, Josh taught social studies and language arts, and became the principal, at a school in eastern Nepal. Josh later earned his Master’s in Education from The Harvard Graduate School of Education where he focused on decentralization of school governance. As an Echoing Green Fellow from 1999-2002, Josh created community-based education programs for people living in the isolated communities near the Nepal-Tibet border. These programs included curriculum development, adult literacy classes, and facilitating the education of young women in the project area in order for them to become teachers in their own communities.
Josh earned his Ed.D from the UCLA Educational Leadership Program. His dissertation research was on socioeconomic diversity in independent high schools.
During his years in Nepal, Josh was given the name Gajab Bahadur Gurung Lama (which translates as “strange wonderful thing”). His love of Nepali folk music led to the surprising result of national pop stardom. Known by his Nepalese name, Gajab Bahadur, Josh became the first foreigner to record original Nepali songs. He has released a CD and a number of music videos in Nepal.
Josh has served on the boards of the Transformative Action Institute and Educate the Children International.
Assistant Head of School
Azizi Williams has served as assistant director at Sequoyah School since 2006. Azizi worked as a K-1 teacher at Sequoyah before joining the administration. She previously taught with the Child Study Center at UC Berkeley upon graduating from the university with a BA in sociology. Azizi is currently working on completing a Masters in Educational Leadership from the Klingenstein Center at Teachers College Columbia University. In her free time, Azizi enjoys baking and going to the beach with her two daughters.
High School Director
Marc Alongi is the high school director at Sequoyah. A native of New Mexico, Marc completed his BA in religious studies and his MA in Teaching at Brown University. He has taught high school world and U.S. history, and was most recently the Director of Curriculum and Student Support at Sequoyah. Marc has also enjoyed his time during the last five years coaching the debate team. Marc holds a doctorate in Educational Psychology from USC. His research focused on how teachers help students to apply history concepts to their experience beyond the classroom. In addition to his work at Sequoyah, Marc is a co-founder and advisor to Ashram Paryavaran Vidyalaya (APV), a model school and teacher training center in Uttarakhand, India, dedicated to project-based learning, mindfulness, and music.
Director of Curriculum and Student Support
Emily Singer earned her BA in English from Binghamton University and her MA in English Language and Literature from the University of Chicago. Emily is interested in how the discourses of popular culture, mathematics, science, history, folklore, etc., create and maintain culture. As a graduate student, she studied the intersections between literature, history, and science in the Nineteenth Century. However, her schooling in education started in the Sequoyah-like progressive elementary school she attended in Upstate New York.
Emily enjoys camping, hiking, contra-dancing, knitting, and watching old movies. “I feel so fortunate to have found Sequoyah. It’s a wonderful teaching environment that encourages me to do what I love best.”
James comes to Sequoyah with 23 years experience in independent schools. He started his career as the Director of Information Technology at the Brooks School in Andover, MA, moved west to become the Director of Finance and Operations at the Archer School for Girls in Brentwood, CA, and most recently has been the Business Manager at the Walden School in Pasadena. James currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Association of Business Officers in Independent Schools (ABOIS), National Business Officers Association (NBOA) and the California Independent Schools Business Officers Association, where he serves as Chair of the Statistics Committee. James has served on many National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) task forces and California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) accreditation teams. James holds a BS in Information Technology, an MBA, and a Graduate Certificate in Business Leadership for Independent Schools from Johns Hopkins University.
Outside of the business office, James has coached varsity football and taught Computer Science and Senior Ethics classes at the Brooks School. He enjoys finding time to spend with family and friends, playing golf and flag football, and serving underrepresented communities in the Greater Los Angeles and Pasadena areas.
Director of Development
Elena Phleger is the director of development and communications at Sequoyah School. In her position, she oversees internal and external communications including marketing and public relations, annual and special initiative fundraising, and she assists the director and board of trustees in identifying and developing strategic opportunities while addressing long-range challenges. For several years, Elena served as chair of the board of Pacific Oaks College and Children’s School.
Elena loves to hike and wishes she was a better birdwatcher. She is a graduate of Stanford University with a BA in art history. Her art historical background gives her a firm grounding in the power of visual arts, and a reverence for effective architecture. When Elena retires she intends to resume writing poetry.
Director of Operations
Director of Field Studies
Brian has been working in outdoor education for the past decade, involved with numerous independent schools in Los Angeles and the YMCA BOLD/GOLD program in Seattle. Brian is certified as a Single Pitch Instructor through the American Mountain Guides Association and is also a Wilderness First Responder. He has a Bachelor of Architecture and a Bachelor of the Arts from Iowa State University. Brian’s primary focus is making the outdoors approachable for everyone, regardless of their background, by creating an environment that provides opportunities for personal growth and discovery. He built OutdoorBlueprint.com, a starting point for folks who want to explore the outdoors, which features simple gear tutorials, travel guides, and interactive lessons. Brian has visited all 50 states and 33 of the 59 National Parks… and counting.
Jean-Philippe Fontaine provides teachers and students with support in integrating the latest technology tools and best practices into the classroom. He works with faculty during the planning process and helps support students’ project work in the classroom. Jean-Philippe envisions teaching with technology as a means to support the development of life skills. Jean-Philippe is also our resident Thinkering Tank Technician. “The Tank” is Sequoyah’s mobile makerspace/fab lab where he teaches students to code, program micro-controllers, 3D print, build robots, create video projects, and much more. He holds an MA in Learning Technologies from Pepperdine University where he focused on developing collaborative models for teacher-centered technology professional development. He earned his BA in Community Studies from the UMass Boston’s College of Public and Community Service.
Dornel has a Master’s of Library and Information Science and 35 years experience in a variety of library settings. For the past 20 years she has worked with children and teens in school and public library settings.
Justin Tagawa has been involved in sports teams for more than 20 years as a player and a coach. He has coached teams from the 5th-grade level through high school varsity, including basketball at Sequoyah. He has been certified as a coach by the NFHS and attended PGC Clinics to develop relationships at the college level. Justin believes that participation in athletics teaches life lessons. His goal is to prepare kids to become young adults that can be outstanding members of the community.
Director of Social Innovation
RJ Sakai, a Sequoyah alum, is a design researcher who crafts tools and activities to facilitate insightful conversations for governments, nonprofits, startups, and classrooms. RJ’s work has led to immersions in Uganda, Cuba, small-town Massachusetts, East Harlem, and Los Angeles. After graduating from Hampshire College, where he studied cultural anthropology and graphic design, RJ pursued a variety of interests: helping independent bookstores survive in the face of online book buying; mapping the politics of souvenir supply chains; interviewing international students about their relationship to credit cards; and fostering collaboration, creativity, and innovation amongst professors and students. While earning his MFA in Media Design Practices at ArtCenter College of Design, RJ used workshop facilitation, systems thinking, and pinball to create new forms of communication between city governments and residents. He has a goal to visit all the U.S. state capitals (35 down).
Elsa von Heydenreich
Director of College Counseling
Elsa von Heydenreich has more than 25 years experience as a college counselor in independent schools and has served as president of the Western Association for College Admission Counseling, board member and coordinator for Multicultural Concerns (National Association for College Admission Counseling), and member of the College Board National College Scholarship Service Committee.
K-8 Daycare &
Working with children has always been a passion of Mason’s. He has been a Sequoyah Daycare and Summerhouse staff member since 2016. Before that, Mason worked for the Eliot Institute intergenerational Unitarian family camp (253 campers, 30 staffers) in Washington for 16 years where he was the director of the middle school program, director of the high school program, and most recently the director of the entire camp. Mason studied music composition and film at Occidental College, then earned his MFA in writing music for movies at Columbia College Chicago. In addition to working with schools and camps, he has worked in the entertainment industry writing music for movies, and conducting recording sessions for other composers as well. He’s excited to be at Sequoyah and loves being in Pasadena. His father was born here, and his great grandfather was chief of obstetrics at Huntington Hospital, just across the street from the K-8 campus.
Student Support Coordinator
Carolina obtained a BS degree in Psychology, but soon discovered her passion for teaching and pursued Education studies in Integrated Curriculum, Differentiation, Language teaching, Bilingualism, and 21st-Century skills, among others. Carolina completed a RelaxKids Coach certification, which focuses on helping children and young adults manage their emotions and gain self-awareness and self-control skills. She recently moved to Pasadena from Bogotá, Colombia, where she first taught in an elementary classroom in a K-12 school and was then appointed Head of Elementary. She is committed to maximizing individual student performance through differentiated teaching and believes in instilling compassion, empathy, and self-confidence in all students.
Lee Michael Krieger
Field Studies Specialist
Lee Michael started out pursuing environmental engineering and quickly discovered his interest in outdoor education, earning a BA in Park and Recreation Management from Northern Arizona University. Since then, he has combined his love for the environment with the inspiration he gets from leading youth on trips and has led trips and outdoor programs with diverse groups in a variety of settings. With Outward Bound, Lee worked with students from Boston’s inner city, focusing on developing students’ integrity and self-reliance. With SoulStainable Adventure group, Lee led adventure and service learning trips to Ecuador.
Development Associate &
K-8 Admissions Associate
Kay Yamamoto has been working at Sequoyah in Development and Admissions since 2005. She graduated from Reed College with a degree in anthropology. She is the proud mother of two Sequoyah graduates, Akira (’09) and Ethan (’13) Abderrahman.
Prior to coming to Sequoyah, Eileen Lee was a preschool teacher, the Head of Production at Harpo Films, a production supervisor on feature films, and a music video producer. Eileen is a graduate of New York University with majors in Psychology and Radio Broadcasting. She has two children in high school and enjoys meditating, cooking, and going to the beach.
Dennis Escobedo, Administrative Assistant, has enjoyed working at Sequoyah since 2000. He has been the coach of the girls’ basketball team for four years.
K-8 School Secretary
Betty Chavez is the K-8 school secretary and unofficial school nurse at Sequoyah for the last 20 years. She truly enjoys her work, especially because she gets to interact every day with students, parents and staff.
A New Yorker at heart, Patricia Han moved to the Los Angeles area with her husband, Rob, and their young children in 2007, where she adjusted to year-round sunshine. She has worked in several independent schools in the NYC area as a teacher and a school counselor. Her last position was as Counseling Psychologist in Brooklyn where she provided counseling and crisis management to middle school students diagnosed with language-based learning disabilities. Patricia received her BA from Smith College in Education and Child Study, and Italian Language and Literature and earned her MEd in Counseling Psychology at Teacher’s College, Columbia University. She is inspired by the dedication and passion of Sequoyah’s teachers and is grateful for the supportive and loving friends they have become during her years in the Sequoyah community.
Debbie Deems is thrilled to be a part of the team at Sequoyah’s high school. She spent 14 years at Sequoyah with her children – Kathleen, Rory, and Maeve. As a parent, she volunteered countless hours doing everything from co-chairing the auction to sitting in for Betty Chavez in the K-8 main office; and she brings the organizational skills she demonstrated as co-chair of the Parent Resources Committee for eight years. Debbie is also very involved in National Charity League and has volunteered over the last six years with her daughter Maeve for more than 100 hours annually at local philanthropies. In her previous life, she was Executive Director of the California Commission for Economic Development and Finance Director of Leo McCarthy’s U.S. Senate Campaign.