Current Lead Principals and Resident Principals
Hello everyone! I’m Andrea Citchen, the proud founding principal of YES Prep Southside Elementary. I’m concluding my 18th year in education and my 8th year with YES Prep. I am a proud native of St. Louis, MO. Go Cards! I graduated from the University of Missouri and Indiana Wesleyan University. I earned a Bachelors in Elementary Education and a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction and a master’s in educational leadership. I relocated to Houston in 2015 to begin my journey with YES Prep. Prior to joining YES, I held various teaching and leadership positions at KIPP. I also taught elementary school in Indianapolis Public Schools. While at YES, I have served as a High School Dean of Students, Director of Student Support, Resident Principal (cohort 1) and Principal of YES Prep IKE. In my spare time, I enjoy spending time with my husband and sons and traveling to tropical places.
My philosophy and approach to leadership is putting people before work. I care about my staff as people before I care about the role they fulfill on campus. If I take care of my people, they will get the work done.
I do this work because I whole-heartedly believe that all students deserve to be prepared to live a choice-filled life. I want every student that walks through the doors of Southside Elementary to live the life that they deserve and not one that is prescribed for them.
My name is Brian Vannest, and I am finishing my 15th year in education. I feel blessed to have served in elementary, middle, and high schools around the greater Houston area. My journey started after graduating with a degree in Organizational Leadership from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. I taught 2nd and 3rd grades at Gallegos Elementary, less than two miles from YES Prep East End Elementary. Then, I taught 7th grade at YES Prep West for three years and earned my MBA at Rice University before becoming a high school Dean of Instruction. I served as a principal for four years at Valley West Elementary in HISD before returning to YES Prep to be a Resident Principal (cohort 3) and Founding Elementary Principal at YES Prep East End Elementary. Currently, I am pursuing a practitioner’s doctorate in curriculum and instruction from Texas A&M University. I have two boys, Everett and Henry, and my wife Elaine and I are expecting a third boy in September.
My philosophy of education is rooted in the idea that my job is to dismantle the barriers and widen the paths for my teammates, students, and families. I cannot make the journey shorter or the slope of the climb easier. I can help remove unnecessary work and teach and coach those on the journey with me to be more skilled at the trek. I will not rob my teammates or students of the growth they will experience from the hard work by taking it from them and putting it on myself. However, I will always be beside them to coach, partner, and encourage.
I do this work because my mom and dad—both career educators—taught me what it means to live a life for others. When we are gone from this world, our legacy will live on in our young people. Having now seen my students enrolling their children in YES Prep Elementary schools, I am more convinced than ever that pouring into the development of those around you makes a world of difference.
I'm Brittany McGruder, and I am the founding Principal at YES Prep Northline Secondary– Home of the Revolutionaries. Prior to starting the revolution here at YES Prep Northline in 2017, I was the Director of Academics at YES Prep Northbrook Middle School, our partnership middle school within Spring Branch ISD. I also served as the Director of Academics at YES Prep Hoffman from 2013 to 2015. I joined the YES Prep team in 2012 as a founding teacher and Grade Level Chair at YES Prep Northline Middle School. I moved to Houston as a 2010 Teach for America corps member where I taught middle school science at Fondren Middle School. I earned my Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from The University of Tennessee at Martin. I live in the Heights with my very cute chihuahua, Sam. Outside of work, you can find me reading YA fantasy, attempting to learn new hobbies, and finding indoor happy hour spots.
My philosophy and approach on leadership is that people lie at the center of our work. Quality relationships are my top core value, and I believe the tenets of any strong relationship are critical to our ability to do our jobs. Trust and communication are key to any successful relationship, whether it be with your director’s team, your staff, your students, and your families.
I do this work because working with kids is the best work in the world! While kids can certainly be challenging, they are also loving and funny and forgiving, and I think in that way, they are a model for us.
Hi! My name is Jennifer Greene, and I hail from Cleveland, OH. I am an alumnus of American University (c/o ’07) with a BA Justice, Law & Society. I thought I wanted to be a lawyer for many years and ultimately chose education. I joined Teach for America in 2007 and was placed in Houston as a founding teacher at YES Prep Gulfton, where I taught MS Social Studies for four years. In 2011, I returned to OH, where I worked as a Dean of Students at KIPP Columbus for two years. During that time, I earned my Master’s in School Building Leadership from Columbia University. In 2013, I returned to YES Prep. Since my return, I have worked as a HS Dean of Students at East End, and Principal at Hoffman, and have led the YES Prep White Oak Secondary campus for seven years. I am pursuing my Ed.D. in Educational Policy and Leadership at American University.
As a leader, I am very supportive, hands-on, highly present, and honest. Philosophically, I believe in being student-centered and people focused. I believe building strong relationships through effective collaboration is critical to ensure we remain anchored in our core work of pushing students toward optimal learning. Leading a school can be arduous and demanding, requiring effective teamwork to accomplish the successful outcomes we seek. I hope those I work with feel comfortable authentically expressing themselves and their leadership, as we all strive to steer our campuses toward success.
My name is Justin West, and I am entering my thirteenth year in education with YES Prep. I am a proud Georgia native, University of Georgia alum with a bachelors in Broadcast Journalism (Child and Family Development minor) and 2011 Houston Teach for America Corps member. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends near and far to keep me personally grounded.
I originally thought I would move back home after completing my two-year commitment with TFA, but upon joining YES Prep North Forest as middle school English teacher, I became impassioned for the mission and trajectory for each of our students. During my time at YPNF, I had the opportunity to teach, create and teach a MS Seminar curriculum, serve as Grade Level Chair, HS Dean of Students, and Director of Student Support. He served as Resident Principal (cohort 1) at YES Prep Northbrook High School before being named principal of YES Prep Hoffman Middle School in January 2019, where he led for 3 school years. Being able to see my first two groups of students graduate from the campus fueled my desire to impact more broadly by pursuing principal leadership. I completed my Master of Educational Leadership with Principalship Certification in 2016 from the University of St. Thomas (Houston) and was accepted into the School Director Pipeline which placed me in the first cohort of the YES Prep Principal Residency program.
I served as Resident Principal at YES Prep Northbrook High School before being named principal of YES Prep Hoffman Middle School in January 2019. I had the distinct and humbling honor of serving as principal for three years and closed that campus with a dedicated staff and students prepared to advocate and succeed at their new schools for the following year. I now serve as the proud principal of YES Prep Northwest Secondary where we are consistently defining the positive aspects of HAWKS Nation and building a schoolwide brand that all stakeholders are proud to represent daily. I use my experiences and learnings with leading or at schools within all three of YES Prep’s former and current partnerships to continue to expand the trajectories of students at YES Prep Northwest Secondary.
School Leadership is extremely difficult, and I passionately believe that to do it well, you must do so selflessly, serve as the model of all expectations, be clear and direct, and remain dedicated to developing and serving your people. My team understands that I am not going to ask them to do something I am unwilling to do, and they are coached to lead their teams the same. This means, I challenge my team to do the work I have entrusted them to do and give them praise and feedback as they do it. I believe in consistency, high accountability, and creating a safe, warm, and familial work environment. As a leader, I encourage my team to connect with our staff by caring personally and challenging directly. Lastly, as the leader of the campus, I show up for students and families outside of school hours because those stakeholders must see that we care for them academically and personally.
My passion for education is student-centered, rooted in equity and illuminated by the thought that all students can learn and positively impact the world. Reflecting on own my educational experiences, I know the importance of having educators who show their care for students as people and not numbers. We must show up for all our students the best we can to break barriers that persist in their lives.
My name is Michelle LaFlure. I have a bachelor's in Elementary Education from Calvin University and a master’s in education from the University of St. Thomas. I have been passionately dedicated to the North Central Houston community since 2001 when I decided to leave the Midwest and move to Houston with Teach for America. I taught at Barrick Elementary in HISD for 3 years. Year after year I saw my 5th grade students “graduate” from an exemplary elementary school only to go to an underperforming middle school where the quality of their education depended on the teacher in their classroom. I had studied inequities in public education; however, seeing the beautiful faces of my students as the system failed them again and again was so disheartening that I had to make a significant change. I transitioned to YES Prep the following year and taught 6th grade social studies. 50 of my students from Barrick Elementary came with me to YES and I got to experience the 7 years of their middle/high school experience with them before they graduated from high school. I was their 6th grade social studies teacher, a Dean of Instruction and coached teachers, a Director of Academics and coached the Deans of Instruction, and then I became the North Central Secondary Principal. It was an honor to learn and grow alongside my former 5th grade students and all of the North Central Secondary Trailblazers and it is an experience I will never forget.
In 2019, after 15 years in the secondary campus, I became the Founding Principal of YES Prep North Central Elementary. I believe that every child deserves an excellent PK-12th grade education and that despite all the challenges of being an educator, it is my calling to utilize the gifts and strengths I have been blessed with to live this out. This is why I spend weeks teaching small group math instruction alongside my teachers every year to prepare our babies for the rigorous, online STAAR test. This is why I have persisted for 23 years in public education serving underserved communities and why I do whatever it takes to ensure every child on my campus grows academically and socially. While the work is never-ending and extremely challenging, there is nothing more rewarding than seeing children and teachers continuously improve.
My name is Sara Kaveeshwar. I was raised in a small town in Northern Massachusetts and moved to Houston, Texas in 2007 to pursue a bachelor’s degree in health science at Rice University. After graduating, I earned a Master of Public Health degree at Emory University, with a focus in health education. While there, I studied the intricate connection between health disparities, social determinants of health and the opportunity gap. This research drove me to divert career paths and return to Houston as a Teach For America corps member. In my ten years at YES Prep, I have worked at YES Prep Southeast and YES Prep Southside as an 8th grade science teacher, a Science Content Specialist, and a Dean of Instruction as well as served as a Resident Principal (cohort 2) at YES Prep North Forest. I have been the Principal at YES Prep West Secondary since 2020.
During my three-year tenure as the Principal at YES Prep West, I launched YES Prep Public Schools’ most expansive AP for All program and increased the number of AP courses that all students will take from one to five for the Class of 2024 and six for the Class of 2025. YES Prep West has also had one of the highest college matriculation rates and college-readiness rates.
I do choose to lead because I truly love people. I firmly believe that there is nothing that we cannot figure out together and that our students deserve an education that is constantly improving and fulfilling their needs through creativity and innovation. I also know that this work is challenging and that a team must be filled with love, admiration, appreciation, and gratitude to allow us to continue to show up each day.
I do this work because graduating from high school is the single best intervention to improving health and life expectancy. Graduation from high school increases your life expectancy by 6 years; graduating from college adds 6 more years. Every student, family, and community deserves each of their loved individuals, and all their can contribute, for those 12 additional years.
Ashley Handsome is in her twelfth year in the education field. Originally from Durham “Bullcity” North Carolina, Ashley completed her undergraduate degree with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. After graduating as a first-year teacher, she obtained her Master’s degree in Special Education from Grand Canyon University. Most recently, she completed her Texas Principal Certification from Lamar University.
Ashley began her career as a Special Education teacher at High Point Central High School in High Point, North Carolina, where she served as the inclusion teacher for English I and II and Occupational Course of Study teacher. While working in North Carolina, she served as the Special Education Department Chair and served on the district's Special Education teacher advisory board.
After moving to Houston, TX in 2016, Ashley was a Special Education teacher at KIPP Northeast College Preparatory. In the last seven years at KIPP Northeast, Ashley has served as Department Chair, Grade Level Chair, Dean of Special Populations, 12th Grade Dean, Dean of Academic Progress, Assistant Principal, Graduation Lead, Saturday Academy Director, and Summer School Coordinator.
In her free time, she enjoys watching all of the Law and Order Series, is an avid napper, and has two pitbull babies, Deuce and Delilah. Ashley is proud to begin this new pathway with Yes Prep Public Schools.
Ashley Smith, born in Washington, DC and raised in Temple Hills, MD, is a published children’s author and an educator with more than 10 years of experience with a globally diverse population of learners. She attended Temple University, where she became a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., and graduated from the University of Maryland at College Park with a Bachelors in Psychology and a minor in Human Development. While teaching at Bright Beginnings Inc., an early childhood learning center for children ages six weeks to 5 years old experiencing homelessness, she was inspired to pursue a dual master’s degree in Early Childhood Education and Early Childhood Special Education from The Catholic University of America in 2015.
Ashley’s career in education began in 2011 during her child and adolescent development studies in India. In 2012, she began her commitment to serving students and families in underserved communities as she was a Lead Teacher in an early childhood classroom for 2.5 - 3-year-olds and went on to teach in various grades from Pre-K through 2nd across general education and special education, including Life Skills with both DC Public Schools and KIPP: Austin. In 2015, Ashley spent five years as a Founding Teacher and leader at Baton Rouge Bridge Academy, which later merged and became IDEA Bridge through IDEA Public Schools in Louisiana. In 2020, she relocated to Houston, TX, and was a Founding Pre-K4 Teacher, Grade-Level Chair, and Content Specialist with KIPP Texas. Ashley joined YES Prep Southside Elementary as the Founding Assistant Principal in 2021.
Ashley has a passion for education and is determined to set and implement a cross-cultural standard of excellence for those whom she encounters. Outside of school, Ashley enjoys relaxing at home or outdoors, traveling to new places, and spending time with friends and family, especially her husband, Justin, and three children, Lily-Grace, Madilyn, and Preston.
Caroline Thouin-Frederick is a proud French-Canadian, first-generation college graduate, and the first in her family to receive a doctorate degree. Caroline moved to Sugarland with her older brother and parents and grew up attending schools in the Fort Bend Independent School District. After graduating from the University of Houston, she began her teaching career with KIPP Texas Public Schools as a high school social studies teacher in Northeast Houston. In her four years at KIPP Texas, she was the girls head soccer coach, department chair, curriculum writer for AP Human Geography, and received her M.Ed. from Texas A&M University. Wanting to pursue her passion for education research, she completed her doctorate degree in Higher Education Policy and Leadership studies at the University of Houston. During her time in the doctoral program, she wrote publications and presented at conferences on expanding educational opportunities and ensuring educational excellence for incarcerated adults. In 2021, Caroline began her career at YES Prep Public schools as a Dean of Instruction at Southside Secondary and then as a founding Assistant Principal at Airline Elementary! Caroline is also a proud wife and mother to a wonderful little girl named Lina. During her free time, she likes to play soccer, volleyball, and tennis with friends!
Maribel Barrera is a native Houstonian. She graduated from the University of Houston in 2013 with her bachelor’s in interdisciplinary studies and in the same year began her educational career in the Houston Independent School District. From 2013 – 2019 she taught 3rd and 4th grade self-contained and math classes at Bonner Elementary. In 2019 she earned her master’s in educational administration from Texas A&M, attained her principal certification, and accepted the position of teacher interventionist for Almeda Elementary serving as part of the administrative team. In 2020 she joined the team at Hobby Elementary as a teacher specialist for bilingual instruction in all content areas subsequently taking on the position of assistant principal from 2021 – 2023. During her administrative roles, she has also served as assessment coordinator, LPAC administrator, intervention leader, campus discipline administrator, intervention assistance team (IAT) liaison, sheltered instruction coach, and appraiser. She is eager to join the YES Prep team for the upcoming school year and continue her path of being a lifelong learner who continues to grow her leadership practice from direct experiences.
Natalie Garcia is a proud native Houstonian and member of the Latinx community. She proudly represents the Mexican, Cuban, first- generation, and bilingual communities that make up Houston and YES Prep. She joined Teach For America as a bilingual elementary school teacher for Houston Independent School District after graduating from Texas Christian University in 2012. Natalie joined the YES Prep community in 2014 at the Brays Oaks campus. She graduated from Johns Hopkins University with her Master’s in Education in 2015 where she had the unique opportunity to have YES Prep Brays Oaks’ class of 2019 cheer her on as she crossed the stage during their 8th grade Spring Trip. Along with campus-based roles, Natalie has helped plan and execute identity-affirming student summits (Latinx Leadership and APIA Summit) at YES Prep for the last seven years. Natalie has been a proud Cavalier throughout her time at YES Prep and is excited to represent the Latinx community in the next level of leadership. In her free time Natalie enjoys spending time with friends and family.
Veronica Leah’s leadership style can best be described as one who creates a culture of trust, empathy, and collaboration. Leah is originally from McAllen, Texas in the Rio Grande Valley. She currently holds a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice from the University of Texas-Pan American, and a Master’s Degree in Education Administration with Principal Certification from Concordia University-Texas. Mrs. Leah is currently a student at the University of Houston-Main Campus where she is pursuing a Doctorate Degree in Professional Leadership K-12. Mrs. Leah taught 1st and 3rd grade bilingual for 16 years and began her leadership career with the Houston Independent School District in 2017 as a Teacher Specialist at Petersen Elementary. She served as a Teacher Specialist for two years before transitioning to the role of Assistant Principal in 2019 at Petersen Elementary and Rodriguez Elementary. Ms. Leah’s roles as a campus leader included Campus Testing Coordinator, Intervention Assistance Team/504 chair, LPAC administrator, and appraiser. Mrs. Leah enjoys supporting teachers in curriculum instruction, community activities, and providing a caring and inclusive school environment. During her free time, Mrs. Leah enjoys running, traveling, and spending time with her loved ones including her two amazing dogs, Max and Jackson.
Zicuria Ussery is a native of Atlanta, Georgia, and a proud alumna of Spelman College, where she graduated Magna Cum Laude in 2015. Her love for learning sparked an interest in education at a young age. Zicuria’s dream of being an educator became a career goal after completing a summer teaching internship in 2014 with Uncommon Schools. During this internship, she realized that education is a key driver for social advancement and to close opportunity gaps. From 2015-2017, Zicuria served as an eighth-grade teacher and grade level chair at YES Prep Hoffman. In 2017, she joined the YES Prep Southside Giants where she has served as a teacher, grade level chair, Dean of Instruction, and now Director of Academics. Zicuria holds a Master of Arts in Public School Building Leadership from Columbia University’s Summer Principals Academy. When she is not working to close opportunity gaps for students, she enjoys travelling, dining, and strength training. Zicuria is looking forward to learning more about what it takes to be a courageous leader at YES Prep.
Zi is a second-year Resident Principal. She was originally placed at YES Prep Northline Secondary under Brittany McGruder, Lead Principal. At the end of the third semester, she covered a Leave of Absence for the Principal at YES Prep Southeast Secondary. She started this school year at YES Prep White Oak Secondary under Jenn Greene, Lead Principal.