Our Staff

rising leaders academy

Dr. Suha A. Jaber, 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).

This is Mrs. Perryman’s second year as Principal serving the students and families of Rising Leaders Academy.


Mrs. Julia Arafa, Instructional Coach

Mrs. Julia Arafa will be the Instructional Coach at RLA supporting teachers and students with project-based learning expeditions. Julia Arafa, native of Ithaca, New York, has earned a B.A. in German at the University of New York, with credits earned overseas at the Universties of Oldenburg, Bonn, and Wuerzburg, Germany. Mrs. Arafa has three FL Teacher Certifications in K-6, 6-12 (English), 6-12 (Social Studies). She has completed additional classes and earned her Gifted, ESOL, and Reading Endorsements. She has over 17 years teaching experience in elementary, middle, and high school, and additional teaching experience in pre-K and early childhood (infants/toddlers). Her hobbies include photography, travel and family activities, and her educational philosophy is that learning is a lifelong learning process. Her passion lies in Civics. Mrs. Arafa was recognized as a High Impact Teacher by the State of Florida and was awarded Teacher of the Year twice. She was rated Highly Effective every single year and had 100% proficiency on every FSA test her students took in Language Arts and Civics every single year. She had among the top scores in the District and State. Mrs. Arafa’s excellence in teaching and exceptional project-based expeditions led RLA to promote her to Instructional Coach to support the teachers and ensure they are providing academic excellence and implementing rigorous and meaningful learning expeditions, where learning is applied to the real-world to make a positive impact on our community and planet.


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.

Victoria Cordell, Cafeteria Manager

Miss Victoria Cordell has been delivering nutritious school meals since 1999. She worked at several counties throughout the state of Florida. She started her food service career with Bay District Schools and had been elected Employee of the Year. She came to Rising Leaders Academy from Monroe County where she also received Employee of the Year Award. She is Serv Safe certified and holds several certificates from the Florida Department of Education Division of Food Nutrition and Wellness. She made her way back to Bay County after Hurricane Michael so she can support family and friends. She loves encouraging children to choose healthy.





Mrs. Crystal Lee

Mrs. Crystal Lee is excited to join Rising Leaders Academy as a Kindergarten Teacher. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Social Science with a concentration in Sociology and History from Florida State University. She is certified in Elementary K-6 Education and Middle Grades Social Science. This is her fifth year with Bay County Schools. She has served as a paraprofessional, front office clerk, as well as taught Fifth grade Language Arts and Kindergarten. Prior to joining the education field, she worked in radio broadcasting as an on-air personality in Panama City and Fredericksburg, Virginia. She is married, has 5 kids, and a 70 pound fur baby named Pious. Outside the classroom she enjoys watching her beloved Seminoles win or lose, playing Scrabble & UNO, and being anywhere with her family.

Mrs. Reba Hazzard-Williams


Mrs. Reba Hazzard-Williams has been teaching in Bay District Schools for the past 6 years,  and was a para for 4 years previous. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from FSU and certifications in: K-6, K-12 ESE, and PreK-12 Counseling and Guidance. She has also completed 2 years of professional development with the Cognitively Guided Instruction research study through FSU to continue developing her math instruction.  Mrs. Hazzard has achieved Highly Effective rating. She enjoys working with all students to find their strengths and passions. Working in Title One and ESE has broadened her understanding of students and their abilities. Mrs. Hazzard believes in using real life events to inform student academic and social development in her classroom.


First Grade:

Ms. Katelyn Screws

Ms. Screws has more than 7 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. This is Ms. Screws second year at RLA.


Mrs. Carrie Murchison

Mrs. Murchinson has more than 6 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. This is Mrs. Murchinson’s second year at RLA.


Second Grade:

Mrs. Liberty Goetz

Mrs. Liberty Goetz and her husband moved to Panama City Beach after serving 30 years in the Air Force. Her military life enabled her to experience different cultures and develop tolerance with different people in the world. She is a seasoned teacher with nine combined years of experience in special education, pre-school, pre-kindergarten, elementary education, and middle school. She taught middle school ESOL and 3rd grade in Hawaii. She worked as para and sub prior to teaching in Bay District, where she taught 2nd grade and Pre-K for five years. She attended multitudes of training, such as the FSU STEM Training, Differentiated Instruction, MFAS, Reading and Math Framework, SRA, Crisis Intervention, Alternate Assessment, Strategies for Working with Autism, Classroom Management, Charlotte’s Danielson Framework for Teaching, Standard Based Lesson Planning, Extending Mathematics, Targeted Administrator Training, and USAF 15th Air Force Training Modules for Preschools and Youth. She possesses a B.A. in Business from Saint Leo University and a Master’s in Education from the University of Phoenix. She is licensed to teach in Hawaii and Florida and currently holds Florida Certification in Elementary K-6, Pre-K-3rd, ESE K-12, and ESOL Endorsement. She was rated highly effective and was a recipient of the Presidential Volunteer Award. She is excited to be a part of a high caliber staff where the focus is to deliver rigorous, authentic, innovative, creative, and globally competitive curriculum. She will be teaching 2nd grade Math and Science/Social Studies.


Mrs. Melanie Herriges

Mrs. Melanie Herriges has almost two years of experience in Bay District Schools as a Paraprofessional, Substitute Teacher, and Classroom Teacher. She is committed to student learning and success both inside and outside the classroom and has a Bachelors Degree in Social Science, Cum Laude, from Troy University. In addition, she believes that working with children to attain their educational goals, sets a solid foundation for their success in life. She will be teaching 2nd grade Reading and Writing.

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 6 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. She will be teaching 3rd grade Reading and Writing.

Mr. Mathew Bunnell

Mr. Bunnell joins us for his 4th year of teaching from Jacksonville, Florida. He holds a bachelors degree from Asbury University and is certified to teach Kindergarten through Sixth grade. He has experience educating in diverse settings utilizing Individual Education Plans and Behavioral Accommodations. He got his start in education as a para-professional in a special needs classroom and as a assistant at an outdoors Waldorf Kindergarten and pre-school. In the past 3 years Mr. Bunnell earned his professional teaching licence, the rank of highly effective and was also voted teacher of the year buy his fellow staff at Love Grove Elementary. Mr. Bunnell is passionate about managing his classroom with a goal of making it a family. He holds student self worth and confidence as ultimate goals in his profession. He also uses his training in acting and improve comedy to keep students engaged through creative methods of instruction. His ultimate goal is to create an educational setting where students feel valued and uplifted while being prepared for the future. He will be teaching 3rd grade Math and Science/Social Studies.


Fourth Grade:

Ms. Kristen Kelly

Ms. Kelly has been working as a paraprofessional, tutor, and fourth grade teacher for 4 years.  It’s her second year as a 4th grade teacher in Rising Leaders Academy. 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 at Bay District Schools and Rising Leaders Academy.


Fifth Grade:

Mrs. Amanda Spillane

Mrs. Spillane has been an elementary school teacher for over 12 years. She holds a K – 6 Educational certificate, ESE certificate, and ESOL certificate.  She has been teaching at Rising Leaders Academy for 4 years and was ranked Highly Effective. She was also recognized by the state of Florida as a High Impact teacher. Mrs. Spillane taught in Texas, Alabama, and Florida in Grades K – 8. She also spent a year in Japan teaching English to Elementary-Adults and taught 2 years of high school drama. She maintains high expectations for her students and cheers them on as they meet them.


Middle School Science Teacher:

Mr. 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 taught both math and science at RLA last year. He is certified in Elementary Education K-6, Earth-Space Science 6-12, and English for Speakers of Other Languages Reading. His 8th grade science FCAT scores had 100 percent proficiency. 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.


Middle/High School Math:

Dana Sullivan

Mrs. Dana Sullivan comes to us from North Carolina where she taught for 9 years. At her last school, she was awarded “Teacher of the Year” in 2017-2018. She was a coach for the Math Counts competition and helped support the Math Club. She also coached her Algebra students for two regional competitions. She enjoys teaching math and likes to collaborate with her colleagues to incorporate math in cross curricular projects and activities. She is a life-long learner and constantly seeks to enhance her knowledge through her study and experiences. Mrs. Sullivan holds a bachelors degree from Appalachian State University and completed her teaching certification classes at Peace College. She has attended additional courses such as Supporting Math Talk I and II, and The Summer Math Institute. She is an enthusiastic and happy individual who encourages questions and provides a positive learning environment. She believes the best way to learn is through projects and experiences. Mrs. Sullivan is very excited to teach at Rising Leaders Academy.


Middle/High School Social Studies & School Counselor:

Laurie Herring

Ms. Herring teaches Social Studies at Rising Leaders Academy. She has been a classroom teacher for five years and a High School Guidance Counselor for two years. Ms. Herring has her Bachelor’s Degree in Communication and her Master’s in Counseling Psychology. She holds Professional Certification in Social Sciences 6-12 and Guidance PreK-12. Prior to a career change to Education, Ms. Herring worked for the State of Florida in Substance Abuse and Mental Health and as an Education Counselor. As a life long learner, Ms. Herring believes that learning never stops and recognizes the importance (and joy) of growth in all areas of life and shares that passion with her students.


Middle/High School Language Arts Teacher:

Brandi Glover

Mrs. Brandi Glover is the new ELA teacher for our middle school here at Rising Leaders Academy. She is honored and ecstatic to be joining our wonderful staff and school. Her philosophy is to help every student reach their full potential in education. She also believes that education is the foundation for life goals. She is from Eufaula, Alabama where she grew up and raises her family. Mrs. Glover is relocating here to the Bay county area with her husband and two children. Mrs. Glover attended Troy University where she graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Minor in Sociology. Mrs. Glover also holds a Master’s degree in School Counseling from Troy University. She was TEFL instructor certified in 2017. As a TEFL instructor, she and her family relocated overseas in December 2017 to Yiwu, China. She taught abroad and implemented new strategies and critical thinking skills to the English department for grades 2-6 at an international school. When she returned to her hometown in Eufaula, Alabama in 2018, she started teaching English online to Chinese students in grades 2-10. In her off time from education, she enjoys spending time with her two children and husband. Mrs. Glover can’t wait to meet all her students and kick off the new 2019/2020 school year.


Physical Education Teacher:

Nancy Tilley

Mrs. Tilley recently relocated to Panama City from Louisiana where she was a PE teacher and director for over 13 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. This is her 2nd year as Wellness Director at RLA.


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 5 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 6 years and taught Arabic as a second language for the past 10 years. This is her second year at Rising Leaders Academy. 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 8th 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.” She was nominated for Florida’s best theatrical lighting design in 2005. Mrs. Kolawole has been a part of the Panama City Passion Play locally, the past 16 years, and the last 11 years she has co-produced/directed the play. Last year she directed RLA’s 1st theatrical play, “The Lion King.” 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. Under her leadership this past year, many of her students’ creative art work has been showcased in the local News Herald and won various awards state-wide. She looks forward to teaching Creativity her second year at RLA!


Technology Assistant/Paraprofessional

Michelle Dupasquier

Ms. Michelle Dupasquier is excited to join Rising Leaders Academy. She relocated from Madison, AL, where she worked for more than 10 years in the Madison City School System as a Technology Assistant. At RLA, Ms. Dupasquier will serve as a paraprofessional and technology assistant. She holds an Associate’s degree from Central Texas College.