Meet our team
Our teachers are intellectually curious, highly capable, and dedicated to student-centered learning. They are here because they want to help students learn deeply and find success in college and beyond.
All have advanced degrees (often PhDs), and are experts in the subjects they teach. Many have come to Loudoun School for Advanced Studies from fields such as law, engineering, and software development. They draw on this career experience to make memorable connections between course content and the real world.
At Loudoun School for Advanced Studies, students can expect unparalleled access to their teachers. We have a 4:1 student/faculty ratio, and a 3:1 student/adult ratio, so students receive more individual mentorship than anywhere else.
Sylvia Israel, JD - Head Of School
Sylvia received her Juris Doctorate degree from the New England School of Law and is a member of the Connecticut Bar. She graduated magna cum laude from Manhattan College with a BS degree in Economics. In 2008, Sylvia completed certification requirements to become a family mediation specialist in the areas of divorce, elder care and post divorce parenting issues.
For more than 20 years, Sylvia has been an advocate for children with exceptional academic abilities. Her work with students and their families draws on her extensive knowledge and familiarity with homeschool, Montessori, and curriculum design in both private and public schools. She has been a facilitator for the needs of students who require supplemental academic material and differentiated learning techniques. Her passion for academic and personal growth extends to re-educating parents in the methods that will best help their children maximize their learning potential.
Dr. Kevin Oliveau - Academic Director
Kevin received both a B.S. in Computer Science and a Ph.D. in Political Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). As an undergraduate, he worked on graphic displays at the Media Lab and built a computer game machine using only an oscilloscope and TTL logic gates. In graduate school, he researched armored warfare in World War II and analyzed the economic reforms implemented after the 1968 military coup in Peru. His dissertation explored the military uses of space. While pursuing his doctorate, Kevin was also written up in Scientific American for running large-scale Prisoner’s Dilemma games using computers networked together.
Kevin’s distinguished professional background reflects a robust and interdisciplinary intellectual curiosity. He has worked as a micro-coder at Thinking Machines, a super computer manufacturer, where he was awarded a patent for using floating-point chip support hardware to route messages between 65,000 processors. He was the fifth employee hired at WAIS Inc., one of the first companies to create searchable websites, which was bought by America Online (AOL). At AOL, he managed software development for web caching, which, at the time, delivered a majority of residential web pages viewed on the Internet. He founded Lifeline Games, a short-lived online computer game company using dial-up modems. And he founded and built Catoctin Creek Village, a cohousing subdivision in Northern Virginia. (He holds a Class-A Builder’s License).
Kevin is intrigued by global politics, war gaming, movies, history, philosophy, technology, comic books, and economics. His goal in life is to try to learn how everything works. Teaching at Loudoun School for Advanced Studies allows him to share his love of learning. He also gets a tremendous boost from the energy and enthusiasm his students bring to the classroom. When a student corrects him, or shows him something he doesn’t know, he’s thrilled.
Ellen Broetzmann - Operations Director
Ellen graduated summa cum laude from Stetson University in 2016, earning a Bachelor Degree in Music in Vocal Performance. She is an accomplished vocalist in opera, oratorio, musical theatre, and sacred music. Upon graduation, Ellen returned to northern Virginia to teach voice and piano lessons at Bach to Rock in Herndon, and eventually became Assistant Director of the site. Her favorite part of that job was making connections with the students and their families, while helping them find the right lessons. Seeking to expand this experience, Ellen joined the Loudoun School for Advanced Studies team in October of 2018 to provide administrative support to both current and prospective students and their families. Ellen is passionate about education and enjoys working with the Loudoun School for Advanced Studies community.
Outside of school, Ellen maintains a career in music as a professional church and wedding soloist. She encourages students who are interested in the performing arts to pursue every opportunity they can, and she is always willing to offer support, mentorship, or guidance in this area.
Christine Varanelli - Dean of students
Christine received a BS Ed and MS Ed in K-12 school counseling from Bucknell University and worked as a certified public school counselor in Virginia, New York, and Connecticut at all levels ranging from elementary school to alternative education high school. Before joining the LSAS team, Christine worked for four years at George Washington University as an outside reader in admissions evaluating both freshman and transfer applicants. Christine has read and evaluated thousands of essays over the years. She is uniquely qualified to provide guidance to our students as they navigate the admissions process at the most selective colleges and universities. Christine's background in K-12 school counseling prepares her to provide the academic guidance and emotional support all students deserve. Christine has four teenagers and she understands the joy and stress of the academic journey from a parent’s perspective.
Faculty & Staff
Dr. Dan Clinton - English
Dan received his B.A. in English literature from the University of Chicago and his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, where he specialized in nineteenth-century American literature. From 2013-15, he was a Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellow in the English Department at Rutgers, and afterward he was a lecturer in their writing program.
His research has focused on the relationship between literature and mass media, particularly the way that writers reacted to the emergence of photography. His interests include media theory, book history, romanticism, formalism, the works of Herman Melville, comic books, film, and radio drama. His work has appeared in J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists and Nineteenth-Century Literature. He is committed to teaching literature with an interdisciplinary focus, so that students are encouraged to trace the connections between literature, history, philosophy, popular culture, and the arts.
Sarah Derr - Dept. Chair, English
Sarah received dual B.A.s in German Studies and English from Guilford College, where she was a member of the school’s selective Honors Scholarship Program. After teaching soldiers overseas at a U.S. Military base in Germany, she returned to Northern Virginia, where she went on to receive her M.A. in Secondary Education from George Mason University.
Sarah worked in Arlington Public Schools for six years, first as a summer school and substitute teacher, during graduate school, and then as a high school English teacher. She taught a variety of English courses, including AP Language and Composition (for which she is College Board certified) as well as special education-integrated courses. She served as the school’s yearbook advisor for four years, and was chosen by her English colleagues to represent them as Department Chair during her final two years at the school.
After a five-year hiatus in which she stayed home with her young children, Sarah chose to return to teaching only after visiting Loudoun School for Advanced Studies and meeting its students and staff. Sarah sees the combination of warmth and rigor at Loudoun School for Advanced Studies as a complement to her own teaching, which seeks to blend student choice and high standards.
Ashley Gam - Natural Sciences
Ashley received her M.S. from The University of Georgia and B.A. from Oberlin College in Biology. As a biologist, she has worked on numerous studies involving avian stress physiology, behavioral ecology, and population demography. She is a member of the Sigma Xi Research Society; her graduate work earned the Cooper Ornithological Society Student Grant Award, and she has since published her research in a peer-reviewed academic journal. She maintains a Virginia Postgraduate Teaching License.
During her summers in college, she worked for the National Forest Service on a Northern Spotted Owl Demography study. This involved a lot of hooting, hiking, and not getting lost in the dark. She also captured, banded, and took blood samples from spotted owls.
Working in research also exposed her to teaching. Ashley worked as a teaching assistant for three years in both marine and avian physiology undergraduate teaching labs. Prior to her work at the Loudoun School, she also taught math and biology at an independent secondary school in Georgia.
A calling to bring the excitement of research, evolution, and biology to students led her to the classroom. Her educational objective is to actively engage all students in the process of doing science, both inside and outside the classroom. In particular, citizen science data collection and local conservation projects offer exciting possibilities for students to apply what they’ve learned in ways that impact their communities.
Wendy Huth - Mathematics
Deciding to pursue her passion, Wendy began a career teaching mathematics after many years working as an actuary and benefits executive-level consultant. Her professional experience included all facets of the employee benefits field including pension, retiree health, and other group benefit plans. As a consultant, she summarized and presented complex material to clients in a clear and understandable manner. As a mentor and trainer, she developed training programs both locally and nationally for the company. The core competencies that transferred to her pursuit to become a teacher include a strong mathematical background and the ability to bring applications of mathematics into the classroom. Drawing on her professional experience, her combination of theoretical and practical knowledge is unique and enriches the classroom.
Wendy has a Commonwealth of Virginia Collegiate Professional License with a Mathematics endorsement. She has taught for Loudoun County and also as a private math tutor the last ten years since leaving behind actuarial work. She is familiar with a variety of math curriculums. Wendy has B.A. in Mathematics with 15 hours of post graduate credits. Wendy is passionate about teaching math and believes learning should be fun and interesting for students in a classroom fostering trust and respect.
Rita Lahiri - Dept. Chair, Mathematics
Rita started her professional career on Wall Street in the Derivatives Trading Market. After a few years, she transitioned her career to teaching mathematics in hard-to-staff schools with NYC Teaching Fellows while obtaining her Masters in Math Education. She moved to Virginia in 2005 and taught at an IB high school in Arlington, VA. As SOL lead teacher and the Algebra 2 committee lead, Rita participated in designing the Algebra 2 curriculum.
Through the years, Rita has taught subjects ranging from pre-algebra to precalculus and IB math studies. She has worked with a diverse group and range of students from different backgrounds and different levels of ability. She believes everyone can learn to appreciate the beauty in mathematics. As a teacher, Rita’s goal has been to make mathematics come to life and ignite mathematical curiosity for students. Rita encourages students to discover connections in mathematics and develop a conceptual understanding of the foundation of mathematics.
Numbers are everywhere. If we open ourselves up to learning and engaging in the study of mathematics, the opportunities are limitless.
Vanessa Moreno - Spanish, Student Academic Support
Vanessa is originally from Madrid, Spain. She grew up in Madrid and went to Universidad de Alcala de Henares. In 1999, she was granted a scholarship to finish her studies in Germany. Once there, she graduated with Honors in 2000 earning her bachelor's degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management. From 1999 through 2002, she lived and worked in Germany. She worked at Weiterbildungszentrum school, in Ingelheim, as a Spanish teacher.
In 2003, she moved to the United States and worked as an European travel expert consultant, working on the side as a Spanish tutor. Seeking professional advancement and new challenges, she soon made tutoring her full-time job. She took the Spanish praxis exam and became a substitute teacher for Loudon County. She has been working for Hola Kids LLC, teaching Spanish in an immersion program, developing children’s language skills through games and fun activities.
She is a firm believer that learning a second language at an early age has a positive effect on intellectual growth and enriches and enhances mental development. She likes to engage children in speaking right away, as well as helping them develop a better ear for listening.
Jim Percoco - Dept. Chair, History
Jim is a nationally recognized history educator and author. He taught for 32 years at West Springfield High School in Fairfax County.
Jim is the recipient of numerous teaching awards including: Outstanding Social Studies Teacher of the Year at the Walt Disney Company American Teacher Awards, the Archivist's Award for Achievement presented by the National Archives and Records Administration, the Mount Vernon Teacher of the Year Award, and the Civil War Trust's Teacher of the Year to name a few. He has also written a number of books, such as A Passion for the Past: Creative Teaching of US History, and Divided We Stand: Teaching About Conflict in US History. In 2011, Jim was inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame.
A devotee of Thomas Merton, Jim aspires to Merton's conviction, “We do not exist for ourselves alone, and it is only when we are fully convinced of this that we begin to love ourselves properly and thus also love others. What do I mean by loving ourselves properly? I mean, first of all, desiring to live, accepting life as a very great gift and a great good, not because of what it gives us, but because of what it enables us to give others.”
David Romero - DepT. Chair, Science & Computer Science - Physical Computing - Natural Science
David earned his B.S. in physics from Caltech. He is interested in condensed matter physics – specifically systems that demonstrate quantum effects at large scales, like superconductors and superfluids.
David has taught in one form or another since 2006, when he served as an AmeriCorps member at Tenth Street Elementary in Los Angeles and Western New York Maritime Charter in Buffalo. At Tenth Street, he also served as part of Everybody Wins L.A.!, working with English Language Learner (ELL) students, organizing lunchtime read-alouds with downtown Los Angeles professionals, and facilitating a path-to-college workshop for parents. At Maritime, he supported struggling students, organized talks from University of Buffalo engineering students, and collaborated with other service sites throughout the region. For three years, David taught advanced students at BASIS Scottsdale, teaching physics and a fifth-grade algebra course. He coached the Science Bowl team to three state championships, with the team placing in the top ten at the national competition.
David feels the most whole when he is serving others. The joy of watching how quickly young people can learn and grow gives him hope for the future. The Loudoun School’s optimistic and caring atmosphere is what drew him to move across the country just to work here. He hopes to explore what can and should be done to enable students to work hard and enjoy doing it.
Danielle Ferrin - Art
Danielle received a dual B.A. in Professional Writing and Speech Communications from Bethel University in Minnesota. She started her own company, Fun Places, in 2002 creating public and private interactive murals, custom furniture, art and home goods and public art sculptures. Before moving to Virginia, she founded and ran a program, ArtWorks!, which fostered artistic abilities in children and adults with developmental differences, incorporating collaboration and community building.
Danielle now teaches all aspects of art-design, craft, and many art mediums (AP Studio Art certified), and inspires students to reach their full artistic potential. She is a colorist inspired by students, nature, music, wonder and the amazing lessons seen in history, society, and the natural world. She enjoys serving as an example that, no matter what area of study a student decides to pursue, like Benjamin Franklin or Leonardo di Vinci, if they are passionate about something and have a love for learning, deep joy and a full life will follow. A child at heart, Danielle leads fun activities and exciting challenges throughout the year, such as our annual Fine Arts and Talent Night. Danielle has four children and she believes that everyday is a welcomed adventure in a school where students are encouraged to explore materials and ideas, collaborate with one faculty and peers, and discover their individuality within a supportive community.
Dr. Julie Sohl - Mathematics, Science
Dr. Julie Sohl received a B.A. in Chemistry and a minor in Biology from Gustavus Adolphus College. As an undergraduate, she did research in Biochemistry studying enzyme kinetics and protein dye binding. Dr Sohl pursued a Ph.D. in Biophysics at the University of California at San Francisco where she studied protein folding and published numerous papers before continuing post-doctoral research on proteins at UC Berkeley.
Dr Sohl has two children and learned to speak Swedish while living in Sweden for several years. Upon returning to the United States, Dr. Sohl began teaching at the Academy of Science (AOS) in Loudoun where she taught Integrated Science (physics, Earth science and chemistry), and AP Biology, while also mentoring independent student research for over a decade before accepting a teaching position at LSAS. Dr. Sohl most enjoys teaching by answering questions with more questions in order to allow students to experience the joys of self-discovery. Her goal in the classroom is to develop the skills of a lifelong learner by sparking every student’s innate curiosity and then helping them develop the tools to collect and evaluate data in order to answer their questions.
Outside of school, Dr. Sohl enjoys riding her bike. Many years ago she rode through Indonesia, India, Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya (with some flights in between!) and learned that the world is very different from Nebraska where she grew up.
Joe Omspach - Music
Joe has been a music educator in Northern Virginia since 2009. He graduated from George Mason University in 2016 while studying piano under Dr. Anna Balakerskaia. Since graduating, he has worked for many music schools while also running his own private studio, OmspaMusika. Along with teaching, Joe helped develop and write the music curriculum for the Bach to Rock music franchise.
Although classically trained, Joe has a broad interest in many musical styles especially those from the other half of the world: Indian, Middle eastern, African and Javanese. He is very excited to expose new music to his students, help them identify their genre, and show how they tend to fuse in modern pop and electronic music.
When Joe is not practicing classical repertoire, he enjoys experimenting with recording software and synthesizers. If he is not doing that, he is probably hiking on one of the many beautiful trails found throughout Northern VA.