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Our Teachers

Hagit Ayalon, Hebrew and Judaics Teacher

Ms. Ayalon loves working with students of all ages at CCJDS!  This year she will be welcoming our youngest students to the joys of Hebrew and Judaics – teaching both subjects in Kindergarten and First Grade. Ms. Ayalon’s warmth and creative energy are a great fit for our eager learners. Prior to moving to the United States, Ms. Ayalon taught both middle school and high school in Israel.  She graduated with honors, BA in English Linguistics and a Masters in Education from Hebrew University. Joined CCJDS in 2011.

Daniel Baselj, 3rd Grade General Studies Teacher

Mr. Baselj came to CCJDS from Northern Lights School in Oakland, where he taught for two years.  He loves teaching at CCJDS because he loves the sense of community he feels from the families he meets each new school year. He also feels that the work his class does in SHIR HaLev service learning and the impact it has on each student can last a lifetime.  Previously, Mr. Baselj served four years as a classroom teacher at the Highlands School in Birmingham, Alabama. He entered teaching through his eight years of experience as a Learning Specialist in Pittsburgh, PA. Colleagues, parents, and supervisors describe him as a gifted educator, strong team member and delightful person. His classroom has a rigorous curriculum which values creativity in a child centered environment. His BA and MA are both from the University of Pittsburgh.  Joined CCJDS in 2016.

Gal Ben Shushan, Teaching Assistant/Office Support/Early Care

Ms. Ben-Shushan works in the Front Office, provides classroom support and one-to-one student support, and is our Early Care Director.  As we begin the 2020-21 school year in distance learning, she is excited to focus on providing full-time support in the 1st grade. Born in Israel and raised in the U.S. since age 10 by Israeli parents, she is bilingual and loves working with young Hebrew learners.  She is also known for her tremendous organizational skills and attention to detail. The students call her “Ms. Gal” – which is fitting because our Hebrew teachers have a tradition of going by title and first name, and also because “Ms. Ben-Shushan” is our fabulous art teacher (and Gal’s mother) Racheli Ben-Shushan. Ms. Gal is the first full-time CCJDS employee who is also a graduate! CCJDS Class of 2009.

Racheli Ben Shushan, Fine Arts Specialist

Ms. Ben Shushan is a talented artist and dedicated teacher.  Born in Israel, she worked in the Iriyah Matnas V’Votizor V’Naamat – a highly regarded children’s art program – until moving to the US.  Since arriving in the Bay Area in 2005, Ms. Ben Shushan has taught art at Jewish Day Schools.  At CCJDS she has taught art and Hebrew.  Currently, she teaches our Fine Art Elective in Middle School, our K-5th grade art classes and a popular after-school art enrichment program.  Trained at the Michlelet Oat Art School in Jerusalem. Joined CCJDS in 2006.

John Buschiazzo, Music Specialist

Mr. Buschiazzo brings tremendous experience, creativity and enthusiasm to his work as our K-5th grade music teacher. For 27 years prior to joining CCJDS, Mr. Buschiazzo was the music specialist at John Swett Elementary School in Martinez, CA. He taught students from Transitional Kindergarten through 5th grade. He is a Master-level music teacher and created the curriculum and activities to serve hundreds of students. Mr. Buschiazzo uses the Orff Schulwerk philosophy of teaching. Upon completion of the Orff levels training, he became involved in the Northern California Chapter of Orff Schulwerk by serving as the registrar, vice-president and president. From 2012-2015 he was elected to the National Board of Trustees for the American Orff Schulwerk Association (AOSA). In addition to teaching, John is an active musician. He has played or conducted for over 80 musical theater productions throughout Contra Costa and Solano Counties. He performed with the Diablo Symphony Orchestra, Brazzissimo Brass ensemble, and many Big Band groups. Joined CCJDS in 2019.

Laura Carpenter, Teaching Assistant/Aftercare Director

Ms. Carpenter is a recent graduate from the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she earned her BA in both Intensive Psychology and Environmental Studies. Previously, Ms. Carpenter worked as a summer camp counselor through the Livermore Area Recreation and Park District for five years, leading campers, ages 4-13, through all sorts of fun under the sun. As camp coordinator, she created engaging and educational daily activity schedules for her campers. Ms. Carpenter’s enthusiasm for learning coupled with her desire for children to simply have fun have brought her to the Aftercare Director and Teaching Assistant positions here at CCJDS. Joined CCJDS in 2020.

Lawrence Delaney, Assistant Principal and Humanities Teacher

Mr. Delaney, originally from Wales, taught second through sixth grades in Oakland, Germany, and Dubai prior to coming to CCJDS. He brings great enthusiasm for teaching, as well as musical and athletic talents as leader of our rock band program, a physical education instructor and grade-level advisor. Mr. Delaney enjoys introducing the students to cricket and non-contact rugby. He authored a children’s book, “Detective Sniffer Investigates,” a best seller on Amazon. Visual Cultures (Magna cum Laude), University of Derby in England; MA Media and Cultural Studies, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia; Post-Graduate Certificate in Education and MEd Education, Open University, England. Joined CCJDS in 2006.

Inbal Elbaz, Hebrew and Judaics Teacher

Ms. Elbaz, originally from Israel, began teaching Hebrew and Judaic Studies at CCJDS in 2002.  After a break of a few years in which she had 3 children and moved back to Israel, CCJDS welcomed Ms. Elbaz back as a Hebrew and Judaics teacher in both Lower and Upper School.  She also enjoys teaching electives like cooking and mosaics as well as serving as a grade-level advisor. Previously, Ms. Elbaz worked as an English teacher and advisor at Amirim High School in Kfar Vradim.  BA in Education from HaKibbutzim College major English. Joined CCJDS in 2002.

Michael Filice, Teaching Assistant

Prior to working at CCJDS, Mr. Filice worked for several years as an outdoor educator with children of all ages, teaching environmental science curriculum and team building. He first worked at CCJDS starting in 2018 as a substitute teacher and in the aftercare program, in conjunction with working as an active travel guide. He has a strong passion for the outdoors and helping students feel engaged. B.S. in Earth and Planetary Sciences from  the University of California, Santa Cruz.  Joined CCJDS in 2018.

Ann FinneAnn Finne, 5th Grade General Studies Teacher

Ms. Finne graduated with a B.A. in Justice, Community and Leadership as well as a Master of Arts in Education from Saint Mary’s College of California in 2019. Her thesis focused on social-emotional learning through the act of gardening. She is inspired by garden-based learning and enjoys being in the outdoors. Last year she taught first grade at a Title 1 school. She is excited to join the CCJDS community this year and looks forward to teaching fifth grade as it has a focus on supporting literacy. She may also extend the tremendous work the 4th graders do with gardening and sustainability into the 5th grade experience. Ms. Finne joined CCJDS in 2020.

Dovrat Forte, Hebrew and Judaics Teacher

Teaching has been Ms. Forte’s biggest passion since she started to work as a teacher in 2010. Born and raised in Israel, Ms. Forte earned a B.Ed. in Education and a teaching credential from the Kibbutzim College of Education and completed her M.A. in Education at Tel Aviv University, majoring in learning disabilities and ADHD. During that time, she also completed an Israeli credential in assessment and diagnosis of learning disabilities and ADHD. Throughout her years as a teacher, Ms. Forte has taught many students from preschool level to the 9th grade, primarily Hebrew, Jewish Heritage, Science and advanced learning strategies. In her last position before joining CCJDS, Ms. Forte worked as a 4th grade Judaic Studies teacher at Pressman Academy in Los Angeles. She recently moved to Lafayette with her family and is very excited to join CCJDS. She says, “I truly love teaching and believe that paying personal and genuine attention to each student can make a substantial impact in the journey of transforming the students into independent and successful individuals.” Joined CCJDS in 2020.

Adeelee Fox, 4th Grade General Studies Teacher

Mrs. Fox brings warmth, enthusiasm, humor and an open mindset to the classroom in order to help facilitate meaningful relationships with students. She comes to CCJDS with 10 years of Jewish Day School teaching experience at Ronald C. Wornick Jewish Day School in Foster City. Mrs. Fox is a graduate of UC Santa Cruz with a B.A. in Language Studies and is a graduate of the DeLeT program for Jewish Day School Teaching. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she loves languages and was raised bilingual by her Israeli parents. Mrs. Fox is passionate about storytelling, music, dance and board games! Joined CCJDS in 2020.

Sani Kia, Teaching Assistant

Prior to joining CCJDS, Ms. Kia worked for seven years in an aftercare program, facilitating enrichment activities and providing academic support to elementary and middle school students.  Ms. Kia first came to CCJDS in 2017 as a substitute teacher and aftercare assistant.  For the past two years, she has been a full-time Teaching Intern, supporting Lower School teachers and students in the classroom. She is excited to be one of the Kindergarten Teaching Assistants this year. Ms. Kia has a BS in Biology from San Francisco State University.  Joined CCJDS in 2017.

Courtney Lazzara, 1st Grade General Studies Teacher

Mrs. Lazzara start started her career as an educator here at CCJDS. She served as our lower school teaching intern for two years. She built wonderful relationships with her students and demonstrated a natural gift for nurturing their personal and academic growth. Parents and colleagues praised her warmth, energy and creativity. Mrs. Lazzara then led her own classroom at Queen of All Saints School, where she was a Kindergarten teacher for three years. In the fall of 2019, Mrs. Lazzara was delighted to return to CCJDS, and we were delighted to welcome her back, as our 1st Grade General Studies teacher. Mrs. Lazzara has a BA in Sociology, with a minor in Italian Studies and Music Performance, from Gonzaga University. She received her Teaching Credential and MA in Teaching from St. Mary’s College of California.  Joined CCJDS in 2014.

Orli LoewenbergOrli Loewenberg, Hebrew and Judaics Teacher

Ms. Loewenberg teaches Fifth and Sixth Grade Judaics and Level I Hebrew for 5th-8th grades. She is excited to be teaching at CCJDS because students get to embody the Jewish values they learn about by putting them into practice in their SHIR HaLev service learning.  Ms. Loewenberg taught previously at Tehiyah Day School in El Cerrito, Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, Oakland Hebrew Day School, and Yavneh Hebrew Day School in Los Gatos. She also worked in the Life Lab Science Program promoting resource conservation and environmental stewardship. She has a BA degree in Cultural Anthropology from McGill University.  Joined CCJDS in 2018.

Cesar Martinez, Spanish Teacher

A native of Toluca, Mexico, Mr. Martinez studied Accounting at the Instituto Politécnico Nacional in Mexico City.  Mr. Martinez also has experience teaching illiterate adults how to read and write.  At Viva el Español Mr. Martinez has taught a wide range of ages and proficiencies, from 1st grade beginning students, to bilingual elementary school students, to Los Chavos (teens), with whom he has a particularly great connection.  He loves to teach and says “I feel like I’m a child again when I work with children.” Joined CCJDS in 2010.

Aliza May, Hebrew and Judaics Teacher

This year, Ms. May teaches Hebrew and Judaics in 2nd grade and Hebrew Level 2 in 7th and 8th grades. She is also a grade-level advisor. A native of Israel, Ms. May loves bringing Israeli culture (and food!) into her Hebrew curriculum. She also excels at helping her students to make connections between modern life and ancient texts and to put values into action through our SHIR HaLev service learning program. Ms. May was educated primarily in Israel and received specialized training for teachers of Hebrew at the Tal Am Language Institute, Jerusalem campus. Joined CCJDS in 2016.

Michal Mayara, Teaching Assistant

Ms. Mayara moved to the United States from Israel in 2013. There she worked as a pediatric physical therapist in a children’s hospital and in kindergartens for children with special needs. After being a stay-at-home parent for several years, the distance learning experience sparked an old dream of being an educator. She decided to join our school as a first step in a career change. Now, as a full-time Teaching Intern, she supports Lower School teachers and students in the classroom. Joined CCJDS in 2020.

Zivile Otero, Director of Math Education and Math Teacher

Ms Otero teaches 5th-8th Grade Math and serves as Director of Math Education. She was born and raised in Lithuania, where she started working as math teacher in 1986. She also has work experience in the Ministry of Education and Science, and the National Examination Centre of Lithuania. In 2013 Ms. Otero moved to the United States and started to work at the Russian School of Mathematics. Her goal is to make every student feel successful, and she prefers to show different ways to a solution to accomplish this. BA in Math, MA in Education (diplomas evaluated in USA). Joined CCJDS in 2014.

Renée Penegor, Drama and English Teacher

Ms. Penegor graduated with an MFA from A.C.T. and has over 15 years of experience acting, teaching drama in private and classroom environments, producing and directing K-5 performances and cultivating meaningful experiences for students that go beyond theatre. Most recently before coming to CCJDS, she taught at Strandwood Elementary School in Pleasant Hill, where she helped to develop a curriculum integrating the arts with core academic subjects. Ms. Penegor also has a BA in English Literature, Theatre, and Women’s Studies (Dean’s List) from the University of Wisconsin, LaCrosse.  Joined CCJDS in 2016.

Hadas Rave, Director of Jewish Life and Hebrew/Judaics Teacher

Ms. Rave grew up in a Hebrew-speaking home in the American Midwest with her Israeli parents. In 1997, she made Aliyah, moving to Israel, where she taught for nine years at the alternative Meitar School. In addition to being our Director of Jewish Life, Ms. Rave leads our SHIR HaLev service learning program and Israel education program. She also teaches Hebrew and Judaic Studies.  In 2017, Ms. Rave was awarded the Helen Diller Family Award for Excellence in Jewish Education. Studied Communications at Drury University; BA Elementary Education, Warren Wilson College, North Carolina. MA in Jewish Education through Hebrew Union College.  Joined CCJDS in 2008.

Michele Spitulnik, PhD, Dean of Faculty and Director of Science Education

Dr. Spitulnik taught high school chemistry and physics in Michigan before pursuing a doctorate in science education from the University of Michigan. In 2002, she joined the faculty at the Graduate School of Education at UC Berkeley, designing middle school science curriculum and implementing professional development courses for science teachers. She helped to design the scope and sequence of the K-8th grade CCJDS science curriculum, which is unparalleled in our local schools.  As our Dean of Faculty, Dr. Spitulnik mentors all of our General Studies, Hebrew and Judaic Studies teachers, helping them develop and implement innovative and dynamic curricula.  She also loves to work directly with students and currently teaches 7th and 8th grade science.  In July, 2021, Dr. Spitulnik will be leaving CCJDS to become the Head of School at the Julia Morgan School for Girls in Oakland, CA.  BA, Chemistry, Vassar College; MS, Materials Engineering and PhD, Science Education, University of Michigan. Joined CCJDS in 2008.

Catie Warburton, 2nd Grade General Studies Teacher

After a professional career in the field of scientific instrumentation, Ms. Warburton taught science in the Lafayette School district for five years and spent two years as a second grade Instructional Aide at Lafayette Elementary School.  Ms. Warburton has a BA degree in Biological Sciences and German Language and Literature from UC Santa Barbara and her Multiple Subject Teaching Credential from Notre Dame De Namur University.  Joined CCJDS in 2018.

Lauren Weisbaum, Kindergarten General Studies Teacher

Ms. Weisbaum brings abundant warmth, creativity, and wisdom – as well as 14 years of experience – to her vital work as our Kindergarten General Studies teacher.  Prior to joining CCJDS, Ms. Weisbaum taught in Chicago, IL and in El Paso, TX, has served as a Literacy Coach at the Chicago Public Schools, and has taught at the University of Texas, El Paso. She has her B.A. in English and American Literature from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana and her M.Ed. as a Reading Specialist from the University of Texas, El Paso.  Joined CCJDS in 2019.

Kenny Widmann, Middle School Humanities Teacher

Mr. Widmann is a professional writer who returned to teaching after starting a family. Earlier in his career, Mr. Widmann taught Middle School History in both Tennessee and South Carolina. He has a BA in History from Connecticut College and an MA in American Civilization from Brown University. Joined CCJDS in 2017.

Sharone Wiezel, Hebrew Teacher

Ms. Wiezel, born and raised in San Francisco to an Israeli family, grew up speaking Hebrew at home and attended the Hebrew Academy. She moved to Israel after high school graduation and joined the Israeli Defense Forces, serving in the paratroopers. After teaching English as a Second Language for nine years in Israel, Ms. Wiezel enjoys bringing Hebrew and Israel to life for our students here in the Bay Area. She has a BA in Education, specializing in ESL, from Seminar Kibbutzim in Tel Aviv. Joined CCJDS in 2009.

Marci WinerMarci Winer, Science Teacher and PE Coordinator

Ms. Winer develops and leads our Physical Education curriculum, teaches science to the 5th and 6th Grades and serves a grade-level advisor. Prior to CCJDS, she worked for nine years in the Lafayette School District, teaching General Studies subjects and leading the Physical Education Program at Springhill Elementary. She also served as a CCJDS substitute teacher, capably stepping in for several long-term assignments. Ms. Winer has her BA degree in Political Science and Business from the University of Arizona.  Joined CCJDS in 2018.

Enid Zimmerman, Teaching Assistant

Ms.  Zimmerman is returning to teaching after working in the non-profit field for five years. Before that, she served as an educational therapist for over 10 years, where she worked one-on-one with students with learning challenges.  She is looking forward to getting back into the classroom as a Teaching Assistant.  Ms. Zimmerman grew up in New Jersey and she holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Michigan and a Master’s Degree in Education from the Bank Street College of Education with a specialization in Reading/Literacy. Joined CCJDS in 2020.