Leadership

 

Terry Larkin
Principal

teresalarkin@choiceschools.com

This is my third year as Principal of New Branches Charter Academy.  I am so thankful to be part of this learning community as we continue to grow together!  I look forward to seeing and greeting you in the halls during the school year.

I have been employed by Choice Schools Associates, our school management company for 11 years, where I have worked in several different roles.  I joined the Choice family as a 5th and 6th grade teacher at West Michigan Academy of Environmental Science where I taught for five years. I went on to serve as their elementary school principal before transitioning into the role as Chief Personnel Officer for Choice Schools for three years.  I missed being in the school and working with students and staff, and have been at New Branches ever since!

My husband, Dave, and I are celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary this year.   We have three children, three grandchildren.  We also have a cat and 11 chickens that we raise. 

 

 

 

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Stan Rathbun
Board Liaison

stanrathbun@choiceschools.com

Stan Rathbun came to Choice Schools Associates in July 2009 from Mt. Pleasant, MI after serving for five years as Executive Director of the Mt. Pleasant Area Community Foundation. Previous to his role with the Community Foundation he had served the Mt. Pleasant community for eleven years in the role of Executive Director for United Way of Isabella County. Working with executive level boards and collaborating with community organizations through the United Way and Foundation grant making systems afforded him experience in bringing people together to address community needs. Included in this experience was working with public schools to develop school foundations and creating permanently endowed funds to benefit their educational programs.

 

 

Office Team

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Caitlin Bowman
Administrative Assistant

caitlinbowman@choiceschools.com

My name is Caitlin, I am long time resident of West Michigan. I have had a small career in the Food industry, that now I put to use serving your children healthy lunches. In my spare time like to travel to places that are warm with my Husband and two young daughters.

 

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Patty Provot
Bookkeeper/Office Manager

patriciaprovot@choiceschools.com

I am a seasoned accounting professional entering the education business for the first time and looking forward to this opportunity at New Branches Charter Academy.  I attended Davenport University. I love to laugh and I am an avid scrapbooker and paper crafter. Gardening is also a great love of mine. 

 

Meet Our Team of Teachers

At New Branches Charter Academy, we believe teaching is more than a profession or career. We consider teaching both as a calling and a gift. Our Teacher Leaders are not just highly qualified, but highly effective masters who ensure students achieve their potential as accomplished learners, thoughtful citizens, and imaginative and inquisitive problem solvers. It's my pleasure to introduce the nation's highest performing teachers.

Amy Elkins
GSRP Preschool Teacher

amyelkins@choiceschools.com

 My name is Amy Elkins, and I am the Director of the GSRP preschool program at New Branches Charter Academy.  I am also one of the lead teachers in a GSRP classroom.  I received my bachelor's degree from CMU in Education, with a major in Child Development/Preschool.  I earned a master's degree in Education at GVSU, with an emphasis in reading.  I have been teaching for over 20 years, and I am excited to be a part of the New Branches team!  In my free time, I enjoy reading, walking, and spending time with family and friends.
 
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Lauren Besaw
GSRP Preschool Associate Teacher

laurenbesaw@choiceschools.com

 My Name is Lauren Besaw. I have been teaching preschool for six years. I graduated from Lake Superior State University with a Bachelors degree in Early Childhood Development and Education with a Minor in Art; along with extensive course work in Psychology. This will be my second year teaching at New Branches Charter Academy and second year working with the GSRP program. Teaching has always been a lifelong passion of mine and when I'm not in the classroom I love to spend my time: fishing, hunting, camping and creating artwork.
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Tess Vincent
GSRP Preschool Teacher

tessvincent@choiceschools.com

I am an Alumna of Central Michigan University, where I received my degree in Early Childhood Development and Learning. I am a third year teacher, and this is my second year with the GSRP program at New Branches. I am originally form Ann Arbor, and recently moved to Grand Rapids. I am the youngest of two girls, with a very big and close extended family. In my spare time I like to stay active, by camping and running. I recently canoed to my campsite on a three- day camping trip. I have been a runner since I was 12 years old, and recently finished my first 10k.
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Tiffany Owens
GSRP Preschool Associate Teacher

tiffanyowens@choiceschools.com

 My name is Tiffany Owens and this is my second year at New Branches Charter Academy, I am one of the Associate Preschool Teachers. I recently received my Associates Degree in Early Childhood Education from Post University, I am continuing my education in hopes to receive my Bachelors in Child Studies. I am happily married to Geoff Owens, we have two boys Isaiah (7) and Elijah (4) who both attend New Branches. In my free time I teach Hip Hop Dance classes at the East Grand Rapids Rec Department and enjoy watching my boys play sports.
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Holly Forbes
Kindergarten Teacher

hollyforbes@choiceschools.com

I am a graduate of Grand Valley State University with a Mathematics Major and Elementary Education and Psychology Minor. This will be my second year teaching Kindergarten at New Branches Charter Academy and I love it!  I am married and have a three year old daughter named Chelsea.  We have a dog named Jake.  I love reading, scrapbooking, and spending time with friends and family. 

 

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Kelsey Huizinga
Kindergarten Teacher

kelseyhuizinga@choiceschools.com

My name is  Kelsey Huizinga, this is my second year teaching Kindergarten at New Branches Charter Academy and I love it!

I graduated from Grand Valley State University in 2014, with a degree in Elementary Education, and Integrated Science. During my teacher assisting, I was able to travel abroad to South Africa and teach there for 8 weeks. It was an amazing experience to be surrounded by a different culture and a way of life. I learn a lot about how blessed we are in the United States with the resources that we have as teachers to help our students learn. After this experience, I worked a year as a writing interventionist, helping students in small groups achieve grade level in writing. 
 
Now that I am at New Branches I love having a classroom of my own. Kindergarten is a wonderful age where children are filled with a sense of wonderment about the world around them. Every moment, is a teaching moment. In my room you will see us learning in unique ways through songs, and crafts, we move our bodies with brain breaks to help us focus. Teaching important character traits help my students work together in groups because they understand one another. Everyday, I learn from my students, just as much as I am teaching them. 

Rachael Murphy
Young 5's/Kindergarten Teacher

rachaelmurphy@choiceschools.com

 
 
 
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Heather Neper
1st Grade Teacher

 heatherneper@choiceschools.com

My name is Heather Neper, I graduated from GVSU with a degree in Elementary Education with an emphasis in Language Arts.  This is my second year teaching first grade at New Branches. I am very excited to share this new adventure of teaching with your child! When not in the classroom I enjoy spending time with my family.  My husband and I have twin girls who are 21 yrs. old and a son who is 20 yrs. old.  I enjoy reading, being outdoors, and spending time with family and friends. 

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Heather Bessinger
1st Grade Teacher

heatherbessinger@choiceschools.com

Hi! This will be my second year teaching first grade at New Branches. I am so excited to be working with my new group of students. We are thrilled to be learning new 1st grade material. I graduated from Ferris State University/Grand Rapids with a Bachelors Degree in Elementary Education and a miner in English Language Arts as well as a minor in Integrated Science. I am the mother of three wonderful sons, Drew, Tyler and Rory. I love being outside working in my gardens, walking and seeing all of the beautiful fall colors. I also enjoy baking, reading and spending time with family and friends.

 

 

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Al Pall
2nd Grade Teacher

alpall@choiceschools.com

This is my 25th year of teaching at New Branches.  Over the summer I volunteered to assist  for our summer school program.  I am very excited about our new language arts curriculum that we are continuing this year.  I am grateful for getting a HoverCam in my classroom.  I feel very fortunate to have a student teacher helping with getting our year off to a great start.  And most of all, I feel privileged to work with the fine students and families that are here!

 

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Hailey Soyka
2nd Grade Teacher

haileysoyka@choiceschools.com

 This is my third year teaching at New Branches. I have taught a few different grade levels, and this year I am excited to move down to second grade! I am loving teaching our new ELA curriculum and getting to know my new students! In my spare time I love to read as much as I can and spend time with my family who lives on the other side of the state. I fell in love with the students and families here, and am looking forward to a new year full of great memories and seeing growth in all my students!

 

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Kady Hernke
3rd Grade Teacher

kadyhernke@choiceschools.com

 My name is Kady Hernke and I am the 3rd grade teacher at New Branches Charter Academy. I graduated from Grand Valley State University in 2011 with a degree in Elementary Education and Integrated Science. My career at New Branches began when I was a student teacher in a first grade classroom almost 7 years ago. I became a long term substitute and then was hired as an assistant. I was thrilled when the opportunity to have my own classroom finally arrived. I taught 3rd grade for 3 years and 4th grade last year. One of the greatest things about working at New Branches has been getting to know the staff, students, and families.

I have been married to my husband, Dustin, for 3 years. When I’m not working in my classroom, you can find us visiting with our friends and family, spending time outdoors (especially at the beach), and also spending time with our two sweet dogs. 

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Rebekah Host
4th Grade Teacher

rebekahhost@choiceschools.com

I am the fourth grade teacher here at NBCA. I graduated from Grand Valley State University with an Elementary Education degree with an emphasis is Science. I have had the pleasure of being at New Branches for four years now and have enjoyed getting to know all of the students and families not only in my classroom, but throughout the entire school. I have been married for close to six years to my husband, Alex. We love to find new adventures. Many of these adventures include hiking, swimming and being outdoors. When I'm not exploring the world around us, I love to read and cook. I look forward to a great year, teaching fourth grade! 

 

 

Landon Bell
5th Grade Teacher

landonbell@choiceschools.com

I am the fifth grade teacher at New Branches Charter Academy. I am new to Michigan and this is my first year teaching at New Branches. For the past two years I taught elementary in Phoenix, Arizona. I have a master in Elementary Education from Arizona State University as well as bachelors from Indiana Wesleyan University and the University of Cincinnati. I am very excited to be joining the New Branches family!

I have been married to my wife Betsy for 11 years and we have two daughters, Kayleigh and Aaliyah. We have also two dogs, Chester and Lucas and just bought a tiny home. I love reading, being outdoors and spending time with my daughters. 

 

 

Missy Widener
6th Grade Teacher 

 

 

Kevin Vande Vusse
7th Grade Teacher 

kevinvandevusse@choiceschools.com

 

 

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Sam Berzins
8th Grade Teacher 

samberzins@choiceschools.com

Hi! My name is Samantha Berzins. I teach Middle School Math at New Branches and have done so for four years! I am originally an East-Sider but came to West Michigan to go to Grand Valley State University. Graduating from GVSU with my Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics and a Minor in Elementary Education, my husband and I decided to stay in West Michigan. We now live in Kentwood with our awesome daughter, Zoey. I love serving the students and families at New Branches Charter Academy and am looking forward to a wonderful year! 

 

Title One Instructional Aides

Carmen Gardiner
Title one Instructional Aide, Grades K–2

carmengardiner@choiceschools.com

My name is Carmen Gardiner.  I graduated from University of Guadalajara (Mexico)  with a Bachelors Degree in Accounting.  I have worked in education for the past 16 years and at New Branches for the last 5 years as the ELL Paraprofessional.  There is nothing more rewarding than using my language skills to help students, parents and my team members. When I’m not at work I love to spend time with friends and family especially with my daughter Isabel.

 

Beth Godleski
Title One Instructional Aide, Grades 3–5

bethgodleski@choiceschools.com

Beth has worked at New Branches Charter Academy for more than fifteen years. She graduated from Aquinas College with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Studio Art. She enjoys helping students develop new skills and most especially, helping them learn to read! During her free time, she likes to spend time with family and friends, read, make art and travel.

LaShonda Slater
Title One Instructional aide, Grades 6–8

lashondaslater@choiceschools.com

I am Mrs. Steward, and I am the Instructional Aid for Middle School.  I am also the Coordinator of New Branches Green Kids Program.  I love working with children and has always had a way of establishing good rapport with children.  I love Math and bowling.  I enjoy spending time with my husband and my son who just turned 1 this year.  We now have a puppy (chow-pit) as well.  I love going above and beyond my call of duty to help when I can because it makes me feel great.  Also, it is rewarding to see the appreciation behind it.

Student Support and Specials Team

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Vonda Mohrmann
Title 1/Assessment Coordinator & ELL Teacher

vondamohrmann@choiceschools.com

Hello! My name is Vonda Mohrmann and I am the ELL Coordinator/Instructor.  I have been part of the New Branches Charter Academy teaching staff for nine years. I received my Bachelor’s degree from Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts and am finishing up my Masters in the Art of Teaching at Aquinas College.

 My husband and I have 7 children…3 girls and 4 boys, and 1 grandson (so far!). I really enjoy gardening, reading, playing the piano, and traveling. I have a fluffy black cat named Lylah and am adopting a Great Dane/Lab mix puppy!

 

Phil Clifford
Technology Teacher 

Philipclifford@choiceschools.com

I received a BA in English and Philosophy and then went back to college to obtain my Elementary Teaching Certificate.  This is my Second year teaching, and I am excited to explore technology with all of my students. I have a seven year old son who is really cool. Otherwise my favorite author is Ralph Ellison.

 

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Melissa Moens
Literacy Coach 

melissamoens@choiceschools.com

Hi!  My name is Melissa Moens and I am the new Literacy Coach. This is my 16th year teaching and all of them have been with Choice Schools.  I have taught middle school the entire time and I have loved it! This year, I will be primarily working with teachers and students in Kindergarten through 3rd grade to strengthen the reading achievement and growth. My husband Chad and I have two daughters, Cara and Alyssa, and we also have a dog named Franklin and 2 cats named Star and Jula.  I love to play softball, bowl, go camping, and spending time with my family and friends.  I love to read and learn new things and am very excited for this school year!

Steve Mercado
Physical Education Teacher and Athletic Director 

stevemercado@choiceschools.com

 

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Kate Hasenbank
Environmental Science Teacher 

katehasenbank@choiceschools.com

I am thrilled to be part of the New Branches team as the Environmental Science Specialist! I have always been passionate about combining my love of the sciences and my love of nature. This passion has led me to earn an undergraduate degree in Natural Resources from Northland College in Wisconsin and a Master’s degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Montana. I have been teaching college courses for the past four years at Grand Valley State University.

I am married and have two wonderful children, an 8-year-old son and five-year-old daughter.  Some of my most memorable moments with my own children have been playing outdoors and seeing their faces light up when we find a new critter to pick up and observe. Their wide-eyed sense of wonder over these discoveries energizes me, and I look forward to having the same amazing experiences with the students at New Branches Charter Academy!

 

Essence Trimble

GSRP Assistant 

essencetrimble@choiceschools.com

 

GSRP Assistant 

 

Food Service Team

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Daria Samsel
Food service director

dariasamsel@choiceschools.com
 
My name is Daria. I am from Grand Rapids. I have had over ten years experience working in restaurants. Two of my children attend New Branches Charter Academy. Some of the things my family enjoys to do are explore the new places in and around town. 

Olivia Montero
School Nutrition Worker

oliviamontero@choiceschools.com
 
 

School Nutrition Worker

 
 
 

Facilities Team

Gordy Hubenet
Custodial Supervisor

gordyhubenet@choiceschools.com

NBCA's Facilities Manger Gordy Hubenet was born in Dearborn, Michigan.  He attended State Technical College for cabinetmaking and relocated to Grand Rapids in 1977, after being recruited by Kindel Furniture.  He met his wife Sharon here, and they were married in 1979.  Gordy and Sharon spent their honeymoon (and later, many family vacations with their son and daughters) in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, a place that holds a special place in Gordy's heart.

Gordy joined the New Branches team in 2010.  In addition to maintaining the facilities and supervising a team of custodians, Gordy is an important part of our school mentoring program.  In his free time, he is a historian and antique collector. He especially enjoys digging up pre-turn-of-the-century bottles on his trips to the U.P. Gordy shares his hobbies with our students by creating displays and visiting classrooms to share his collections and talk about their history.

Gordy and his wife Sharon currently reside in Lowell.  They enjoy spending time with their children and eight grandchildren (four boys and four girls), who all live in West Michigan. 

Tim Everett
Custodian

timeeverett@choiceschools.com

Chris Frank
Custodian

chrisfrank@choiceschools.com

Transportation Team

Lisa Lodenstein
Transportation Supervisor and Bus Driver

lisalodenstein@choiceschools.com

 

 

Michelle Hurd
Bus Driver

michellehurd@choiceschools.com