Our Staff

rising leaders academy

Dr. Suha A. Jaber, Founder/Executive Director

Dr. Suha Jaber founded Rising Leaders Academy in 2012. She served as the Principal until January 1, 2019 then become the Executive Director. She comes from the state of New Jersey where she was a full time university instructor. She is ranked among the top 25 professors in the country out of one million according to a popular rating website by students. Business Insider named her as one of the best 25 professors in America. In addition, Princeton Review named her as one of the best 300 professors in the country. She received an Excellence in Teaching Award and was recognized for her accomplishments as a Course/Curriculum Coordinator.


Dr. Jaber holds two Bachelor’s Degrees in Mathematics Education and Computer Science, a Master’s Degree in Applied Mathematics, and a Doctoral Degree in Educational Leadership with specialty in Curriculum and Instruction (Summa Cum Laude). She also completed Beacon courses in Gifted, Exceptional Students Education (ESE), and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL).  She is a certified Heroic Imagination Project workshop trainer and is certified in High Performance Collaboration: Leadership and Teamwork through Northwest University.


Dr. Jaber brings pioneering ideas to the school and provides an education model based on sound research and proven success. She created a public charter school accessible to all children of Bay County that offers an exceptional learning environment and innovative educational solution.


Mrs. Amber Perryman, Principal

Mrs. Amber Perryman is a driven educational leader with a professional background working collaboratively with business and community stakeholders. She is experienced in all levels of the educational field including classroom teacher, department chair, school accreditation, special project teams, school safety, and leadership. Mrs. Perryman also brings extensive experience in program fundraising and grant writing.

Mrs. Perryman holds a Bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Social Sciences with a dual emphasis in Economics & Sociology (cum laude), and holds a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership & Administration (M.Ed.). She is a Florida certified Professional Educator in English (6-12), Social Science (6-12), and Educational Leadership (K-12), and has additional training in: Crisis Intervention, CRISS, Ruby Payne, Kagan, Fred Jones, Charlotte Danielson Framework, Harry Wong Classroom Management, Reading Intervention, Exceptional Students Education (ESE), and English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL).

Mrs. Perryman is very excited to be part of the Rising Leaders staff and looks forward to serving the students and families of Rising Leaders Academy.


Mrs. Shelia Murphy, Office Manager

Mrs. Shelia completed secretarial studies at Haney Vocational School and has completed various courses at Gulf Coast State College. Shelia’s previous office experience includes providing support to top level corporate executives, managing an office of a local non-profit organization, and office work in the construction and medical fields. Shelia is excited to be a part of the team here at Rising Leaders and enjoys working with our staff and students.





Mrs. Deborah Skaggs


This will be Mrs. Deborah Skaggs’s 7th year teaching kindergarten at Rising Leaders Academy, where she been recognized as a highly effective educator. She takes her students on exciting learning expeditions, in which they apply their learning to real life and complete real-world projects. Her students have written books about their expeditions, which are found online and in the school. Mrs. Skaggs earned her Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Illinois State University and graduated in the top 10% of her class. As a part of her student teaching she had the opportunity to study and teach in Eastbourne, England, UK. She holds Florida certificates in Elementary Education, Mathematics, and Social Sciences. Mrs. Skaggs educational philosophy is that through education each student will receive the vital skills and tools that are necessary to build a life that is successful!


Mrs. Kristen Woodruff

Mrs. Kristen Woodruff has a Bachelors in Elementary Education with endorsements in ESOL and Reading. This will be her 4th year teaching Kindergarten. She has experience in project-based learning and feels students learn proficiently when working hands-on with the Florida Standards. She is proficient in making goals for all skill levels. She has gone to many trainings, such as meeting students’ needs, differentiating instruction, classroom management, and many others vital to the classroom. Mrs. Woodruff also has experience with teaching English to students who live in China through telecommunication. She loves teaching and her goal is to make learning fun and help students grow!


First Grade:

Ms. Katelyn Screws

Ms. Screws has more than 6 years experience working for Bay District Schools as a paraprofessional, substitute teacher, and full time teacher.  She received a WJHG Golden Apple and Bay District Starbucks teacher of the week awards, and was a Bay Education Foundation Grant Recipient in 2017/2018.  She holds a Bachelors in Elementary Education from FSU and has certificates in Elementary Education, Reading, ESOL, and ESE. Ms. Screws is a dedicated elementary teacher with a passion for education and an unwavering commitment to optimizing student success and achievement.


Mrs. Carrie Murchison

Mrs. Murchinson has more than 5 years experience working for Bay District Schools as a paraprofessional, substitute teacher, and full-time teacher. She has a BA in Family and Child Development and understand how important parental participation is in the development of the students and would love to incorporate this into her the classroom. She holds a Masters Degree in Education.  Mrs. Murchison sees how important project-based learning, as well as STEM, is in order to improve students’ problem solving abilities, and plans to incorporate that in her future classroom.


Second Grade:

Kaothar El-Far

Ms. Kaothar El-Far relocated back to Panama City from Arlington, Virginia. She served as a network administrator in the Air Force from 2001-2007, and was stationed on Tyndall Air Force Base during that time. While stationed at Tyndall, she received the John Levitow Award for outstanding leadership during Airman Leadership School. Ms. El-Far has also served in South Dakota, Germany, and Iraq.  This will be Ms. El-Far’s second year teaching at RLA.  She has also worked in Bay District Schools for the past three years as a paraprofessional and a teacher. She holds certifications in Early Childhood Education (age 3 – 3rd grade), Elementary Education (K – 6), and Exceptional Student Education (ESE). Ms. El-Far is recognized as a highly effective teacher.  Ms. El-Far is very excited to be at Rising Leaders Academy, where she can facilitate students’ natural strengths and help them to become exceptional leaders.


Ms. Ursula Gray

Ms. Gray has been working in Bay District Schools as a paraprofessional, teacher’s aid, and clerk for 5 years.  She has a Bachelors Degree in Journalism and worked at WJHG New Channel as a production assistant, as well as Clear Channel Radio 93.5 as a Radio Host/Representative.  She has her Elementary School Certificate and is excited to teach our Rising Leaders the academic subject with application to real-life.


Third Grade:

Mrs. Tamara Brillard

Mrs. Brillard believes that each child is unique, special, and capable. She wants to help each child discover this within themselves, so they become a respectful, confident, and active member of the community. Mrs. Brillard has been working at Bay District Schools as a paraprofessional, substitute teacher, and the last 5 years as a full time teacher. She has a Bachelors Degree in Psychology (Summa Cum Laude) with a focus on child development from Troy University. She has completed her coursework on a Masters degree in Counseling from Troy University and currently holds her professional certification in K-6 Elementary Education. She recently completed her ESOL and Reading Endorsements. She is very excited to create a collaborative hands on environment where students thrive and grow by learning to listen and work together.


Fourth Grade:

Ms. Kristen Kelly

Ms. Kelly has been working as a paraprofessional, tutor, and fourth grade teacher for 3 years.  She has a Bachelors from Emory University and Credential of Readiness from Harvard Business School.  She holds a K – 6 Educational certificate.  In addition to teaching 4th grade, she served as her school’s grade 4 liaison and received an evaluation rating of Highly Effective.


Middle/High School Social Studies:

High School Language Arts:

Julia Arafa


Mrs. Julia Arafa has been teaching in Bay District Schools for the past 15 years, with the past 5 years at Rising Leaders Academy. She holds four teaching certifications in: K-6, 6-12 English, 6-12 Social Studies, and Gifted education. Mrs. Arafa was awarded “Teacher of the Year” in 2013-2014. She believes in life-long learning, evidenced in over 2000 hours of additional courses through Beacon to work on ESOL, Reading, and Gifted endorsements. She has also attended many workshops and in-services such as ESOL, Reading, Fred Jones, CRISS, Sopris-West conference at Bay Point, National Issues Forums, PAEC summer training in High-School History, ASPIRE training, and have incorporated ideas from these conferences and workshops into her lessons. She sets an example of enthusiasm for open-ended projects to challenge students at all levels and learning styles. She believes that incorporating parallels between current world events, field trips and classroom lessons provides more meaningful learning experiences. She enjoys teaching in a respectful, positive environment.


Middle School Language Arts:

Ms. Polly Schaefer

Ms. Schaefer has a Bachelors in English 6-12 and Masters in Teacher from the University of Maryland with a 4.0 GPA. She has been teaching for 5 years. Ms. Schaefer had applied to teach at RLA prior to moving to Panama City from Maryland, but there was no English teacher opening available. She worked as a teacher-intensive Reading/English/Language Arts teacher at Bay High School and North Bay Haven Charter School. When an opening for an English teacher was available at RLA, she was excited to transfer. She believed in the RLA model and philosophy of the school. She believes that her experience connects to the Expeditionary Learning principles and looks forward to applying the EL model with her students. She sets an example of enthusiasm for open-ended projects to challenge students at all levels and learning styles. She believes that incorporating parallels between current world events, field trips and classroom lessons provides more meaningful learning experiences. She enjoys teaching in a respectful, positive environment She has additional training and endorsements in: Crisis Intervention, CRISS, Kagan, Fred Jones, Charlotte Danielson Framework, Harry Wong Classroom Management, Reading Intervention, Exceptional Students Education (ESE), English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL).


Middle/High School Math:

Roland Hankins

Mr. Hankins is a certified teacher who has taught every grade level and over 14 years of teaching experience in Bay County. Every year, he received a High Impact award for his students’ great success. His students consistently score the top in Bay District Schools and among the top in Florida. Most of his experience has been in middle school science and mathematics in Bay District Schools. He is certified in Middle School Mathematics Education, as well as K-6. He also completed training in STEM at Gulf Coast College, which include programming and robotics. In addition, Mr. Hankins completed a Beacon course in teaching Exceptional Students Education (ESE). This will be Mr. Hankins’s 6th year at Rising Leaders Academy, where he gained experience in Expeditionary Learning and looks forward to taking our students on exciting learning journeys. He plans to apply his knowledge and experience with STEM to provide our students with the 21st century skills they need to excel in the future.


Middle/High School Science:

Stephen Theberge


Stephen Theberge is a scientist with over 20 years of experience in marine and fisheries education, program development and community outreach in the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic and Pacific regions. He has excellent teaching skills as a naturalist, interpreter, and educator for grades K though graduate school, and general public. He has expertise in integrating science, research and resource management issues into biology, seafood and fisheries education programs. Mr. Theberge co-authored “Along Fairhaven Shores,” a three volume curriculum guide that focused on marine biology and commercial fisheries and the “Rookery Bay Marine Science and Lab Manual”. He is nationally recognized expert on decreasing release mortality in fish suffering from pressure damage (Barotrauma). Mr. Theberge will take students on a yearlong expedition to study marine biology and look for ways to help our environment.


Math & Science Teacher:

Mark Gregory

Mark Gregory is a recent graduate of FSU-PC where he received his Bachelors of Science in Elementary Education.
He has worked as an instructor in private education since 2003. Mr. Gregory and his wife have four children ranging in ages from 5 to 18. He enjoys writing poetry, playing the piano and guitar, and singing with his family. As a child Mark struggled with a condition called Erb’s Palsy which resulted from a broken nerve in his left shoulder. The support of his parents and teachers helped him to develop a positive “can do” mental attitude toward lives difficulties. Mr. Gregory looks forward to working with the team at Rising Leaders Academy 2018-19.


Physical Education Teacher:

Nancy Tilley

Mrs. Tilley recently relocated to Panama City from Louisiana where she was a PE teacher and director for over 12 years. She is a certified PE teacher with a Bachelors in Physical Education from Louisiana. She has experience in the development and administration of physical education curriculum and was responsible for providing a positive learning experience in PE by supervising and educating the students in a supportive culture to help them develop fitness, skill, and attitude.


Wellness Director:

Jennifer Heilmann

Mrs. Heilmann is a social worker with extensive experience as a yoga instructor. She has great interest in wellness and looks forward to working with our students and families on overall wellness that includes physical, mental, behaviorial, and emotional. She will engage students, parents, and staff in developing, implementing, monitoring, and reviewing school wellness policy, goals, and practices for comprehensive school health.


Arabic Teachers:

Fatma Elemam

Mrs. Elemam has a Bachelor of Education in Arabic Language and Masters of Education from Bloomsburg University. She has 20 years of experience in teaching Arabic. She taught all levels from kindergarten to university level, where she taught at Bloomsburg University. She has been teaching at Rising Leaders Academy for 4 years.


Dina Swidan

Mrs. Dina Swidan holds a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Cairo, Egypt. She is working on earning her teaching certificate through EPI program at Gulf Coast State College. She has been a teacher for the past 5 years at Panama City Advanced School and taught Arabic as a second language for the past 10 years. Mrs.Swidan loves seeing her students enjoy learning. She loves teaching Arabic and enjoys seeing her students learn something new everyday while they grow. Her daily goal is for each student to learn one new Arabic word everyday!


Spanish Teacher:

Patricia Perkins

Mrs. Perkins started her career in education more than ten years ago. After two years as a para-professional for Bay District Schools, she began working as a Spanish teacher. She was awarded an Excellence in Teaching Award the four years she taught at her previous school, Panama City Renaissance School. Over the years she has taken several courses on education and has fulfilled all the requirements to obtain her Professional Education Certification. She holds a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Her background as an architect has made it easy for her to visualize and plan lessons that incorporate different forms of expression.This will be Mrs. Perkins’s 7th year at Rising Leaders Academy.


Creativity Teacher

Cynthia Kolawole
Mrs. Cynthia Kolawole holds an Associates Degree in Theatre Arts from Gulf Coast State College. In 2005, she won the college’s, “Most Outstanding Theatre Student Award.” Mrs. Kolawole continued her studies in art and theatre at Baylor University and the University of Mobile. In college she has been a part of plays such as, “The Secret Garden,” “Taming of the Shrew,” “10 Little Indians,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” and “Crazy for You.” Mrs. Kolawole has been a part of the Panama City Passion Play locally, the past 15 years, and the last 10 years she has co-produced/directed the play. In the past, she has also been a paraprofessional for Bay District Schools. She has loved working with childrens’ theatre and loves to bring out the shyest of students’ talents. She believes that art and creativity can transcend all different kinds of people, inspire them and bring them together for the greater good.