The Hiawatha Academies Leadership Team ensures that our scholars have the environment and resources to succeed in their education, by providing them with a dynamic and nurturing school community.
The leadership team is comprised of Colette Owens, Executive Director | Rochelle Van Dijk, Chief Academic Officer | Dawn Gunderson Taylor, Chief Talent Officer | Ambar Hanson, Chief External Relations Officer | Catherine Chu Lapiska, Principal, Hiawatha Leadership Academy-Morris Park | Daniela Srini Vasan, Principal, Hiawatha Leadership Academy-Northrop | Matt Toppin Principal, Hiawatha College Prep-Kingfield | Sherene Judeh, Principal, Hiawatha College Prep-Northrop | Nicole Cooley, Principal, Hiawatha Collegiate High School.
Chief External Relations Officer | Hiawatha Academies
Ambar Cristina Hanson, M.P.A., is the Chief External Relations Officer at Hiawatha Academies. Since moving to the United States from the Dominican Republic twenty years ago, Ambar has been dedicated to advocating for immigrant communities and communities of color to have equal opportunity and access to higher education, jobs that provide livable wages, health, housing and safety. Prior to joining Hiawatha Academies, Ambar spent over ten years, advocating for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors through several roles at Casa de Esperanza and National Latin@ Network for Healthy Families and Communities. Currently, Ambar oversees the marketing, communications, family advocacy, policy, and community collaborations work for the Hiawatha Academies network. Ambar serves on the Latino LEAD Board of Directors, the Bigelow Foundation Board of Directors, the Latino Economic Development Center Board of Directors and the UW-Eau Claire, Alumni of Color Association. In addition to her work and volunteer engagement, Ambar enjoys spending time with her partner and two children, dancing, and hosting family and friends.
Principal | Hiawatha Leadership Academy-Morris Park
Born and raised in Minnesota, Catherine is thrilled to return home and join the Hiawatha Academies team after a spell on the East Coast. Catherine earned her undergrad at The University of William & Mary in Virginia, and her M.A.T. at American University. She is a Teach for America alum and taught first through fifth grades in Washington, DC. Catherine also enjoyed several years of teaching teachers at Relay Graduate School of Education in New York City. Catherine is excited to be a part of the Hiawatha Academies team supporting students, families and teachers in achieving and exceeding their goals.
Executive Director | Hiawatha Academies
Colette Owens is the Executive Director of Hiawatha Academies. Previously she served as Director of Academic Strategy and Curriculum for St. Louis Public Schools. In that role, Colette was responsible for the implementation of a performance-based management system to drive school improvement efforts, coordinated cross team collaboration for K-12 curriculum,and managed state and federal programs. Previously, Colette served as a Managing Director of Teacher Leadership Development for Teach For America in St. Louis, MO. Before joining the staff at Teach For America - St. Louis, Colette served as a special education team leader at Long Middle Community Education Center for St. Louis Public Schools. Colette holds an M.A. in Teaching Special Education from Webster University and a B.A. in Philosophy, Neuroscience, and Psychology from Washington University in St. Louis. Colette lives in Southeast Minneapolis with her husband and two sons.
Daniela Srini Vasan
Principal | Hiawatha Leadership Academy-Northrop
Daniela Srini Vasan is the founding principal of Hiawatha Leadership Academy-Northrop. Daniela speaks Spanish and French. She attended the University of Virginia and earned her Master’s Degree in Education from Georgia State University. After graduating, she served as a Teach For America corps member in Atlanta, Georgia where she taught third and fifth grade. Daniela loves to spend time with her family, travel and experience new cultures, study languages, volunteer in the community, and explore the Twin Cities. One of the best parts about working at Hiawatha Academies is working with families and students every day.
Dawn Gunderson Taylor
Chief Talent Officer | Hiawatha Academies
Dawn Gunderson Taylor holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Minnesota State University Moorhead. She was a Peace Corps volunteer in Ethiopia where she taught English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) to tenth grade students and a 2001 Teach For America corps member. She taught high school English for six years in Baltimore, MD, and returned overseas to continue teaching in Istanbul, Turkey. In 2008, Dawn joined the staff of Teach For America where her work focused on alumni affairs for over seven years. Dawn returned to the Midwest in the summer of 2014 and joined Hiawatha Academies as Chief Talent Officer. Dawn's daughter, Neela, is a student at Hiawatha Leadership Academy-Northrop.
Director of Teaching and Learning
Erin Horst is the Director of Teaching and Learning at Hiawatha Academies. Previously, Erin was the Founding AP Language and Composition teacher at Hiawatha Collegiate High School. Erin holds a B.A. in Global Studies and Spanish Language from the University of Minnesota. After completing her undergraduate degree, she served as an AmeriCorps VISTA member with the I Have A Dream Foundation of San Francisco. She then joined the Aspire Teacher Residency program in Los Angeles, California and completed her M.A. in Education at the University of the Pacific. After completing her teaching residency in a fifth and sixth grade classroom, she spent five years as a high school English teacher at Aspire Public Schools, in East Palo Alto, California. Erin is thrilled to work with the Hiawatha community to provide an outstanding education to every Hiawatha student.
Principal | Hiawatha College Prep-Kingfield
Mr. Toppin is the principal of Hiawatha College Prep-Kingfield. After graduating from Gustavus Adolphus College, Matt began his career in education teaching high school math in Miami through Teach for America. After returning to Minnesota, he served as an instructional coach for beginning teachers, then returned to classroom teaching as the founding seventh grade math teacher at Hiawatha College Prep in 2013. His math classes had some of the highest achievement gains our network has seen and in 2016 over 90% of his students reached their growth goals. From 2016-2018 Matt served as the founding Dean of Instruction at Hiawatha Collegiate High School. In his time at HCHS he has helped grow the school from 100 to 290 students and led the efforts to increase ACT scores by an average of 2 points each year. Matt brings a solid 5-12 lens to his leadership and is excited to ensure our middle school program achieves unparalleled academic growth in the years to come.
Principal | Hiawatha Collegiate High School
Nicole Cooley is the founding Principal of Hiawatha Collegiate High School. She began her career in education teaching middle school in St. Louis through Teach for America. She then moved to Chicago, where she worked as a teacher and administrator at Gary Comer College Prep, a campus of Noble Street Charter School, the highest performing high school charter network in the city. While there, she led both students and teachers to unprecedented successes, most notably, 100 percent graduation and enrollment in college. In 2013, she joined the Hiawatha Team as Director of Teaching and Learning. When asked about her work, she shared “I feel amazingly grateful to be part of a network wherein one hundred percent of students will not only graduate from high school, but will be academically and personally prepared to experience both the success and challenge that will exist for them in college.”
Rochelle Van Dijk
Chief Academic Officer | Hiawatha Academies
Rochelle Van Dijk is a proud African-American and Cherokee educator and mother of three. Rochelle graduated from Harvard University in 2005 with a degree in psychology and earned her Master's in Educational Psychology from the University of Colorado. She joined the '05 Teach For America corps and taught science in the Rio Grande Valley. In 2011 she founded the top performing high school in Denver: Denver School of Science and Technology in the Green Valley Ranch neighborhood. Each of the students in her founding class was accepted to a 4-year college, 80% of which were first generation college-students and over 75% qualified for free-and-reduced lunch. Rochelle went on to become Chief of Schools for Denver Schools of Science and Technology and oversee 4500 students across 12 schools. Rochelle now serves students and families in South Minneapolis as the Chief Academic Officer at Hiawatha Academies.
Principal | Hiawatha College Prep-Northrop
Sherene Judeh has been a teacher, school administrator, and advocate for equity in education for over 12 years. She has taught and led in district and charter schools and seeks continuous improvement in service of high expectations, strong community, and strong achievement results for students. Sherene has experience in interdisciplinary learning. social-emotional learning, change management, arts integration, and restorative practices. Through research, collaboration, and design, Sherene has worked with several schools to transform academic programming into authentic, community centered learning experiences for students resulting in dramatically increased student achievement. As the Founding Principal of Hiawatha College Prep-Northrop, Sherene has been responsible for leading the research, development, piloting, and codification of the newest Hiawatha Academies school focused on equity, community and student agency.