Meet the Staff



Barbara G. Leto is the founding Principal of AEA, which opened its doors in 2008.  Before moving into an administrative role, Mrs. Leto taught 3rd and 4th grades for many years.

Prior to beginning a career in education, Mrs. Leto studied Theater, Drama, and Dance at The American Academy of Dramatic Arts in NYC. 

Mrs. Leto holds a BA in Education from Queens College, a MS in Education from Adelphi University; and a SBL from Baruch College.  She has also taught as an adjunct lecturer for the Graduate Education Department at Queens College.

As the principal of AEA, Mrs. Leto has built a school that has the Arts embedded into all curriculum areas.  Through her dedication and hard work, Mrs. Leto has created a place that her staff, students, and families are pleased to call home.

Mrs. Leto lives in Queens with her husband and 4 children.  She enjoys traveling, going to the theater and the ballet, and spending time with her family at their lake house.


Assistant Principal

Susan Gallo is celebrating her 30th year working for the NYCDOE!  She began her career as a Substance Abuse Prevention and Intervention Specialist before becoming an ESL teacher and then ultimately the Assistant Principal of AEA.

Mrs. Gallo holds a BA in Psychology with a minor in Latin American Studies from Marist College; a MS in Education specializing in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages from The College of New Rochelle; and a MS in Educational Leadership from Baruch College.

As a founding member of AEA, Mrs. Gallo works tirelessly for the children and families of our school community.  She is extremely proud of the school and all of the hard work that Mrs. Leto and the entire staff put in everyday to make AEA the wonderful place that it is.

Mrs. Gallo lives on Long Island with her husband, her 3 daughters, and her 2 dogs, Martini & Hennessy.  She enjoys spending time with her family in the Berkshires and is an avid painter.


Parent Coordinator

Jainnie Hackman loves our AEA community!  She brings a friendly smile, a welcoming personality and a “can do” attitude.  She is thrilled to connect with our families.  

She was born in the Philippines, grew up in Queens and lived on Long Island for a number of years.  She attended Adelphi University and earned a Bachelor’s in Sociology and a Master’s in Elementary Education.

Ms. Jainnie spent most of her teaching career in early education where she helped develop curriculum, pioneered center- based learning and incorporated a variety of interactive and fun activities!  She also spent 10 years working with college students at two Long Island universities focused on leadership and organizational development as well as community outreach.  As a certified facilitator, Ms. Jainnie leads face to face and online groups for abuse and trauma survivors. 

Ms. Jainnie currently resides in Queens with her husband and two boys.  They love going to the parks and indoor play areas.  Her boys love the beach as much as Jainnie does and their favorite theme park is Dorney Park.  When they retire, Jainnie and her husband want to enjoy the beautiful islands of Hawaii!


Pre- Kindergarten

Robert De Jesus has been teaching for over 20 years. This is his 11th year at AEA. He has taught Pre-K for 11 years.  Mr. De Jesus graduated from the University of Puerto Rico. He obtained his master’s degree from St. John’s University.  He enjoys reading, movies and listening to music.

Mr. De Jesus loves teaching Pre-K at AEA!!         


Pre- Kindergarten

Lisa Weissbach has been teaching for over 28 years.  This is her 11th year teaching at AEA.  She loves teaching and especially loves teaching Pre-K.

Ms. Weissbach graduated from Baruch College with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration.  Later attended St. John’s University and earned her Master’s degree in Elementary Education and also earned an Administrative Degree from St. John’s University.

In her spare time you can find Ms. Weissbach at the beach or shopping.  She enjoys traveling, movies, and chocolate!



Rachel Amper is extremely excited to be a part of the AEA family! She was born and raised on Long Island. Ms. Amper attended East Stroudsburg University for her undergraduate degree in dual Elementary-General Education and Special Education. She furthered her education by attending CUNY Brooklyn College, and received a Masters degree in Early Childhood Education and Special Education.

Ms. Amper enjoys all the arts and has always incorporated music into her lifestyle.She played the flute from elementary school through her college years. She has played at Carnegie Hall, as well as at Disney World. Ms. Amper was also a member of her high school’s chorus and marching band, and also was a part of East Stroudsburg University’s marching band.
In her spare time, Ms. Amper loves to travel, attend Broadway productions, and spend time with her family and friends. During the summer months, she is a group leader at a local day camp on Long Island. Ms. Amper is very excited to meet her Kindergarten students and have a great school year!



Erika Garger is so excited to be a part of the AEA family teaching Kindergarten.  Ms. Garger was born and raised in Queens, New York, where she still resides.  She went to a performing arts high school where she majored in dance and even performed at the Metropolitan Opera House. She then went to SUNY Buffalo for her Undergraduate Degree in Psychology and Hunter College where she graduated with a dual Master’s Degree in Special Education and General Education.  Ms. Garger enjoys reading, watching movies, and going on vacations.  She loves drinking tea, eating dark chocolate and considers herself a connoisseur of cheese.  Her favorite place to travel is to Walt Disney World and she is obsessed with all things Disney.  Ms. Garger looks forward to an amazing and successful school year! 



Michelle Cifelli is thrilled and overjoyed about joining The Academy for Excellence through the Arts team as a special education teacher working with Ms. Garger!  Ms. Cifelli was born and raised in Mineola, New York where she still resides.  Ms. Cifelli attended Adelphi University and graduated with a dual certification in Childhood Education and Special Education.  She taught in Long Island for three years in a special education setting.  Ms. Cifelli loves reading books, exercising, spending time with her family and planning a wedding with her fiance!  She is looking forward to teaching Kindergarten and bringing all her creativity and enthusiasm into the classroom. Ms. Cifelli can't wait to have a successful and fun school year at AEA!



Timothy Kinane is extremely excited to be a part of the AEA family! Born and raised on Long Island, Mr. Kinane has been a New Yorker his entire life. Mr. Kinane graduated from Hartwick College with Degrees in Childhood Education, Special Education, and Sociology. Currently, he is working towards his Master’s Degree in Curriculum Development and Instructional Technologies through SUNY Albany. When Mr. Kinane isn’t in the classroom, he enjoys playing rugby, riding his bike, making music, and going to the beach. Mr. Kinane is looking forward to Kindergarten and cannot wait to have an amazing school year! 



Hodalis Rodriguez is excited to be joining the AEA team! Ms. Rodriguez is a proud New Yorker! She was born and raised in Queens, New York and doesn’t imagine living anywhere else.

Ms. Rodriguez graduated from Queens College with a Bachelor's degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education as well as Anthropology. In her free time, she enjoys baking all types of sweets, but more importantly she loves to eat them! Ms. Rodriguez is looking forward for all of her wonderful kindergarten students to end the year off strong and ready to tackle first grade!


1st Grade

Rosanna Sferrazza is a first grade teacher at the Academy for Excellence through the Arts.  She has been teaching for the Department of Education for 18 years.  Ms. Sferrazza has been working at AEA since it opened in 2008.  Ms. Sferrazza has a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education and Drama, Theater and Dance.  She has a Master’s Degree in Special Education.  Ms. Sferrazza is certified to be a school building administrator as well.  As a member of the AEA family Ms. Sferrazza has been the Director of Sound for many school productions. Ms. Sferrazza has also had previous professional experience with theater lighting and production outside of her teaching profession.  In her spare time Ms. Sferrazza enjoys spending time with her family, traveling, attending Broadway plays and having dinner with friends.


1st Grade 

Clara Nabavian holds a MS in Early Childhood and Special Education from Hofstra University. Teaching is her second career and she is thrilled to have been in the classroom for the past five years. She is originally from Gibraltar but has also lived in England.  She currently resides in Long Island with her husband and four children.  In her free time, Mrs. Nabavian enjoys traveling, taking nature walks, reading, baking and spending time with her family.

Mrs. Nabavian is a dedicated individual who takes her commitments very seriously.  She loves being part of the AEA team and working with such an outstanding faculty. She is very excited for a fantastic year and a long career at AEA!


1st Grade 

Larraine Hahn is happy to join the AEA family in 1st grade!  This is her tenth year in education and still strives to learn and grow with her peers and students!  She enjoyed the past two years in NYC as a Learning Specialist providing enrichment in ELA and Mathematics.  Since graduating from SUNY Plattsburgh with her Bachelor’s in Childhood Education she has enjoyed gaining experience leading a Pre-Kindergarten class to assisting in a middle school, as well as teaching in a primary school.  Mrs. Hahn received her Master’s from Long Island University in Special Education and continues to pursue her passion and career teaching and nurturing students to the best of their ability.

Mrs. Hahn resides on Long Island with her husband and dog, Lakey.  She loves spending time outdoors running, hiking, gardening, and boating with her family.


2nd Grade

Laura Ugbomah is excited to teach second grade this year!  She has been teaching in the Department of Education for 16 years, and has taught Kindergarten through 3rd grade.  She worked alongside Mrs. Leto, Mrs. Gallo, and Mrs. Bates to found AEA and has taught there since its opening in 2008.  Mrs. Ugbomah loves infusing the arts into her curriculum, and writes original scripts for the AEA productions.  She has a Master’s Degree in Children’s Literature and a Bachelor of Science in English and Elementary Education.  Mrs. Ugbomah lives with her husband, her two sons, Christopher and Jayden, and her dog, Zuko.  She also comes from a long line of teachers! Her mom, grandmother, and aunt are all teachers, too.  She loves reading, drawing, traveling, and spending time with family and friends.  Mrs. Ugbomah is looking forward to a great school year!  


2nd Grade

Danielle Adams Bailey is honored to be a part of the AEA team as a second grade special education teacher working with Mrs. Ugbomah.  This will mark her ninth year as an educator.  She has experience teaching Pre-K, Kindergarten and First grade.  Mrs. Bailey is eager to build a positive relationship with all members of the AEA family.

She was a collegiate athlete while receiving her Bachelor of Arts at Central Connecticut and then pursued her Master's of Science in Education at the University of New Haven.

Mrs. Bailey resides in Long Island where she enjoys spending her time with family and friends.  She also loves photography, cycling and utilizing her creativity.

Mrs. Bailey wishes everyone a successful school year.


2nd Grade 

Andrea Pizzurro is so excited to join the AEA staff this year! She has been teaching in the Department of Education for 18 years and spent 17 of those years in first grade. She has a Master’s Degree in Elementary Education from Adelphi University and a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and Elementary Education from Queens College. She lives in Queens with her husband, who is also a teacher, her two children, Madison and Ryan, and the newest addition to the family, her cat, Lucy. She loves reading, coffee, camping, and cruising and she is very excited to start a great new school year!


3rd Grade

Deana Bates is a founding member of The Academy for Excellence through the Arts, and is thrilled to be teaching 3rd grade!  She lives in Queens with her husband who teaches physical education at a middle school in Forest Hills, and her two children, Abby and Dylan.  Mrs. Bates attended college at Towson University in Maryland, where she earned her degree in Elementary Education.  She then moved back home to Queens, where she obtained her Master’s in Children’s Literature from Queens College. In her free time, Mrs. Bates enjoys reading, going to the beach, traveling, and rooting for the NY Yankees.  She is looking forward to a fantastic year in third grade!


3rd Grade 

Kelly Van Laarhoven is excited to join the AEA community! She began her teaching career in a private school in Long Island. For the last five years, she has been teaching third grade special education in a public school in Queens.

Mrs. Van Laarhoven graduated from King’s College in Pennsylvania with a Bachelor’s degree in elementary and special education. Later, she graduated from Wilkes University in Pennsylvania with a Master’s degree in teaching English as a Second Language. 

Mrs. Van Laarhoven enjoys spending time with her family and friends. She loves reading and painting. Mrs. Van Laarhoven cannot wait to meet her new students and their families! 


3rd Grade

Helen Tsihlas welcomes you to 3rd grade. She has taught in the NYC public school system for over 23 years, and many of those years she spent teaching 4th grade Gifted and Talented classes.  However, her teaching experience ranges from K-4. Mrs. Tsihlas is a Hunter College graduate with a BA degree in English Language Arts and a MA in Education.

She is a very caring, sensitive, patient and hardworking individual that motivates students on all levels.  Her classroom is a home away from home. Her goal is to provide a safe, interesting and nurturing learning environment; one that inspires and challenges all students of different levels as she watches them blossom into independent and responsible learners by the end of the year.  As an educator, she is in a constant rhythm of acquiring knowledge.  Every year she is very fortunate to learn something new from each and every one of her students.  Thus, over the years she has acquired a wealth of lifelong teaching experiences, ones that she cherishes and in turn, continues to share with her upcoming classes.  

Mrs. Tsihlas enjoys traveling, cooking (trying new recipes) and spending time on the beach.  She especially loves spending time with her husband and three children, two sons and a daughter.

She always looks forward to the adventures of a brand new school year.


4th Grade 

Laura King is thrilled to be a new member of the AEA community! She has been a teacher for 15 years, 11 of which were spent teaching gifted and talented students in NYC. Ms. King graduated from Boston College with a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and Hispanic Studies. After moving to New York, she attended Teachers College to earn a master’s degree in Gifted Education. She is looking forward to spending a fantastic first year with AEA’s wonderful faculty and students.

Ms. King lives in Queens with her husband and twin toddlers. In addition to spending time with them, she loves cooking, reading, and doing crossword puzzles.


Drama/ Physical Education

Encore! Encore!

Laura Rizzuto Bonthuys is beginning her 6th year as the drama and physical education teacher at AEA.  Prior to joining the AEA family, Mrs. Bonthuys worked in schools in District 27 and District 28.  She has a true passion for teaching and learning.  Mrs. Bonthuys is a huge supporter of infusing the arts into classroom instruction.  Her ultimate goal as an educator is to encourage her students to become life-long learners.

As a child in elementary school to a teen in high school, Mrs. Bonthuys attended Joe Stanford Dance Studio.  During her dance experience, Mrs. Bonthuys participated in tap, jazz, lyrical, ballet, hip-hop and modern dance.  One of her fondest memories as a child was when she danced competitively with her dance team.

Aside from her love for dance, Mrs. Bonthuys enjoys a good adventure.  She finds any opportunity to travel and engage in high-impact activities.

She graduated from Queens College earning a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Master of Science degree in Elementary Education with a specialization in Language and Literacy.

Mrs. Bonthuys is ecstatic for what’s to come this school year.



Yasou! Anne Marie Vasilakis is thrilled to be working at AEA for her 9th year. This is her 14th year teaching as a New York City public school teacher.  This is an exciting school year for her as she continues her work as the STEAM curriculum specialty teacher at AEA.

She was born and raised in Queens.  Mrs. Vasilakis attended the University of Albany, where she earned her degree in Rhetoric and Communications.  She then moved back to NYC where she worked at MTV and Fuse.  She then received her Master’s degree in Childhood Education at Hunter College.  In her spare time you can catch her at the park playing with her two children, traveling to visit her friends and family in Greece, and rooting for the Mets and Jets!  Mrs. Vasilakis is looking forward to an amazing year.




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