Betty BensonUpper School Director
Betty comes to Charles Wright Academy most recently as the Upper School Associate Director at Lakeside School in Seattle, WA. Prior to that, Betty spent 15 years teaching chemistry and serving as an administrator in independent schools around the country. She brings a deep commitment and passion for working with adolescents and a track record of building mission-focused programs in independent schools. The word that comes boldly to mind about the Charles Wright community is “possibility”— a poetic reflection of the lens through which we view and educate children, seeking to nurture and help each student harness their potential in a world of possibility. She is humbled and honored to take on this important work in partnership with the Charles Wright community of students, families, and colleagues.
Noel BlylerDirector of Financial Aid and International Programs
Noel has been an active member of the Charles Wright Academy since 1999, having worn many hats and served in a number of roles. Prior to joining the Charles Wright community in 1999, he served in Assistant Director and Director level roles in Admissions and Financial Aid in higher education institutions for more than 15 years. While at CWA Noel has led numerous Sophomore and 8th grade beach hikes and chaperoned Winterim experiences including college tours in the Northeastern states, the mid-Atlantic, California, trips to Dublin, Bogota, and the famous Civil Rights, Blues, and BBQ trip to TN and AL. He even led a handcrafted Dulcimer Building workshop. Noel loves to cook, plays blues and folk guitar, and has two daughters who graduated from Charles Wright.
Colleen BorstAssociate Director of Development
Colleen has been working in the nonprofit sector since they were 16. They have worked in roles across education, animal welfare, the arts, and more. As a fundraiser, they are passionate about funding work that propels our communities and society forward. Along with their wife Lindsey, and their son Henry (class of 2033), they love living in the South Sound and exploring all it offers. Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, Colleen is a graduate of Annie Wright School. With family roots in Central Washington, Colleen will happily share various recommendations and state history with anyone who asks. Colleen holds a BFA in photography and an MFA in Arts Administration, and in their spare time they can be found drinking tea, slinging Tarot cards, or creating mixed media and/or textile art.
Brennan DignanAssociate Director of College Counseling
Brennan spent the last 16 years in college admissions with roles in both higher education and secondary independent schools. With experiences at large research universities, the progressive liberal arts, visual and performing art schools, as well as project-based learning in an international setting, he brings a multi-dimensional perspective to the table. He holds certificates in the Accidental Counselor program and Harvard’s Project Zero’s Thinking Routines. He has been a blog and thought contributor to the Human Restoration Project, and completed a number of post-graduate courses in Positive Psychology. Outside of school, he enjoys spending time with his two young boys, as well as demolishing various rooms with his wife in their old house with the intent to remodel, but instead living amongst the rubble for indefinite periods of time because contractors in Tacoma are basically unicorns.
Rixa EvershedBeginning School and Auxiliary Programs Director
Rixa is a long-time early educator who is passionate about centering children’s humanity and believes that the role of adults is to work alongside them as facilitators of learning. Rixa has been in the field of early education and care for more than 25 years all over the world. The mother of two children, her son is a wildland firefighter, and her daughter attends Colorado State University. In Alaska, Rixa developed a play-based, outdoor-focused, experiential program for children 6 weeks to 12 years. Her observations highlighted the capacity that children inherently possess to pursue their own curiosity. A graduate of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Rixa brings a deep love of learning, and a commitment to both a child’s right to an environment that is reflective of their unique story, and to joy as the parameter for a child’s learning journey.
Tyler FrancisAthletic Director
Tyler holds a bachelor’s degree from Pacific Lutheran University and a master’s degree in Athletic Administration from Concordia Lutheran-Irvine. Having served as the Director of Athletics since 2016, he served as a coach and Physical Education faculty member since 1996, Tyler has been the Head Coach for both Upper School boys basketball and baseball, has assistant coached the football team, and served in a variety of coaching and assisting roles in Middle and Lower School programs. In fact, he led the Upper School boys basketball team to State in 2008 where they clinched the win! Tyler loves to play baseball and basketball and had the opportunity to play NAIA collegiate baseball at Western Baptist College. Tyler is a Tarrier through and through – he bleeds green! You can often hear him saying to anyone who will listen that “it’s a great day to be a Tarrier.” We couldn’t agree more! Tyler and his wife, Marlus, live in Sumner, WA with their two teenage sons and family dog (Blitz). Tyler also has a daughter and granddaughter who live in the Salt Lake City, UT area.
Holly GerlaTechnology Director
A lifelong Pacific Northwesterner, Holly began her career in education in 1994 after earning her bachelor of arts degree in Politics and Government and a master of arts in teaching from the University of Puget Sound. Technology has always been a passion of hers both inside and outside the classroom. Having taught students from preschool through graduate school, in both public and private schools, she came to Charles Wright Academy in July 2008 and has served in a number of roles in the technology department, most recently as Director. She has attended the NAIS Diversity Leadership Institute and has been an active member of the Association for Technology Leaders in Independent Schools (ATLIS), now serving as a mentor in the ATLIS Leadership Institute. Holly loves being mom to two CWA graduates (’19 and ’21), gardening, and can often be seen solving, seeking, or swapping jigsaw puzzles.
Sam HarrisDirector of Libraries
Sam has chaperoned outdoor education, led the school’s self-study process, coordinated school-wide diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) efforts, and supported student-lead DEIB initiatives and a variety of affinity and alliance groups. She has a passion for books, connecting students to their next great read, real-world and inquiry-based learning experiences, and supporting student advocacy. Sam is the co-creator of the “Raising Kids in the Digital World” workshops presented annually. In her spare time, Sam (unsurprisingly) loves a great book, and exploring the wonders of the Pacific Northwest. She is currently serving as Chair of the Advisory Board for Oasis Youth Center in Tacoma, WA and previously served as a board member and Board President of the Rainbow Center. Sam holds a Bachelor of Science in Anthropology from Santa Clara University, a Master of Education from Loyola University, Chicago, and a Master of Library and Information Science from the University of Washington.
Brooke JudgeAssociate Director of Enrollment Management
Brooke has been a staff member of the CWA community since 2002. Previous to her roles in enrollment, she was part of the Development team, working in alumni relations, fundraising, and communications. Brooke is also a former CWA student and a current parent. She and her husband, Rob, have two children who attend CWA. In her free time, Brooke is often cheering on her children at their sporting events, exploring the Pacific Northwest, playing board games with her family, collecting sea glass, or snuggling with her dogs. One of the things Brooke values most about her work at CWA is partnering with prospective families and sharing the incredible work of our faculty. “Teachers are wonderful colleagues. Sharing their stories and successes and seeing their care for students inspires me every day.”
Jen ReisingerDirector of Counseling and Wellness
Jen has recently joined the CWA community and is eager to dive in deeper as the new Director of Counseling and Wellness. She is excited to further develop programs that connect with the school’s mission and support student endeavors and challenges. Jen is a licensed mental health counselor with experience in providing mental health interventions to individuals and systems in private practice and independent school settings. Jen was previously at Villa Academy in Seattle from 2014-2021, where she developed Villa’s first comprehensive school counseling program for all students, faculty, and families. Jen utilizes evidence-based modalities to develop individualized interventions and social-emotional curriculum development in her mental health and counseling practice.
Susan RiceHead of School
Susan has been engaged with learning, education, and schools her entire life – as a student, an educator, and/or in leadership. Originally from Alaska, Susan is passionate about outdoor education and experiential learning. Having begun her professional teaching career as a performing arts educator, she holds a Bachelor and a Masters of Music. In addition to post-graduate certificates in nonprofit finance and executive leadership from Cornell University, she is currently a doctoral student at the University of Southern California where she is working toward an EdD in Organizational Change and Leadership. A proud mother of two, Susan lives in University Place with her family. When she’s not at school, you can find her and her family traveling to new places, hiking and enjoying all that the Pacific Northwest has to offer.
Rachel RipplMiddle School Director
Rachel joined the faculty at CWA in 2006 as a sixth grade English teacher and has since served in numerous other capacities through the years. Her prior roles include team leader, English department co-chair and Middle School cross country coach, among others. Having grown up in Seattle, Rachel spent two years on the East Coast as a member of Teach for America. During this time, she discovered her passion for working with middle school students and never looked back. Rachel has two children, CWA classes of 2028 and 2031, who love being Tarriers and have grown up on campus. In her spare time, Rachel enjoys getting away with her family to some of their favorite local places like the San Juan Islands and Cannon Beach.
Joe RomanoDirector of Innovation
Joe chairs CWA’s Academic Leadership Team and assists in program design and curriculum development with an emphasis on project-based learning. He also coaches CWA’s Middle and Upper School robotics teams, and facilitates design-thinking experiences with students, educators, and the wider community. With more than 20 years in schools, Joe has taught in community colleges, artist residences, and boarding schools. He’s transformed empty parking lots into classrooms for designing and building tiny homes, and he’s facilitated the redesign of libraries, community spaces, and fabrication labs. As a consultant, Joe has helped launch new school campuses, and has helped schools develop new programs, redefine values, and operationalize strategic plans. In addition to his work with Charles Wright, Joe directs Leadership+Design’s UnMastered program, a seven-week learning experience for school leaders seeking to develop a stance toward realizing the future of teaching and learning in their schools. Outside of his work in schools, Joe enjoys mountain biking, trail running, gardening, and spending time with his wife and two daughters.
Laura RoseDirector of Development and Communications
As the daughter of educators, Laura always pictured herself as working in schools. She believes that in schools like Charles Wright Academy, we are preparing the world’s future leaders, and she is driven to create more opportunities for students. Laura has worked in fundraising, community relations, marketing, and communications for more than 20 years. A graduate of Pacific Lutheran University with a B.A. in Communication and an MBA, Laura got her start in higher education, working at PLU for 15 years. In 2017 she joined the CWA community as the director of development, and her two daughters joined her at school. She received her Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) designation in 2017, and is currently working toward her Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy (CAP) designation. Laura is also active in the Association of Fundraising Professionals South Sound as board president. In her spare time, Laura enjoys going on “adventure days” with her family.
Steve RudolfDirector of Enrollment Management
Steve joins Charles Wright Academy after 14 years at Eastside Catholic School in Sammamish, Washington; 11 of those years working for their enrollment management team. Additionally, while at Eastside Catholic, Steve enhanced the school’s transportation demand management plan and was the lead representative in Sister City conversations with the City and Rotary Club of Sammamish and Macau, China. These conversations inspired the Interact award-winning Peace Pole placed on campus. He received his Master of Education with a focus in Enrollment Management Practice and Policy from the University of Southern California and his Bachelor of Art degree in Economics from the University of Washington. He has coached basketball, tennis and golf for 20 years across many youth levels. In his spare time, he enjoys playing USTA tennis and traveling. In the last five years, he has visited Hong Kong, Macau, mainland China, Portugal, and England.
Katie RyanDirector of College Couseling
Katie has worked in College Counseling at CWA for 24 years, serving as Director since 2010. She has more than 30 years of experience in college admissions and college counseling, including two years as Assistant Director of Admission at her alma mater, Occidental College in Los Angeles, and 10 years as Associate Director of College Counseling at Cate School, a boarding school in Carpinteria, CA. At CWA, Katie has also worked with admissions, advised the student council, run the senior internship program, and served as Academic Dean of the Upper School. She has two adult children who attended CWA in the classes of 2010 and 2015. Katie is an enthusiastic and dedicated practitioner of yoga. She also loves hiking and stand-up-paddle-boarding in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, and playing the occasional round of golf with her husband.
Jonathan SmithDirector of Finance
Jonathan comes to Charles Wright Academy from the prestigious Tacoma Art Museum, where he spent the last 15 years of his career, working as their Finance Manager, Controller, and most recently as the Director of Finance for the last five years. Jonathan graduated from the University of Puget Sound with a degree in International Business. He is a licensed CPA, and enjoys working in the non-profit field and supporting non-profit programs. He is excited to contribute and leverage his experiences in the Charles Wright community. Jonathan was drawn to Charles Wright Academy by the deep commitment both individually and institutionally to the students. The vibrant energy all around campus is palpable and he connects deeply to the school’s focus on experiential education. In his free time, he enjoys cooking, learning new languages and traveling. He speaks fluent Japanese and conversational Chinese from having lived in Asia for six years.
Crysta Swarts-GillisonDirector of Upper School Student Life
Originally from Virginia and West Virginia, Crysta has made the West Coast her home. Crysta holds a Bachelor’s degree in English from James Madison University and Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Washington. She also holds a certificate in Education in Environment & Community and has studied with the International Institute of Restorative Practices. Crysta has dedicated her career to the nurturing and education of teenagers, from adventure-based summer camps to boarding school residence halls to English classrooms, all culminating in a deep focus on student life. When she’s not playing games with students or helping faculty build capacity for powerful advising, Crysta loves to knit, read, go outside, and spend time with her family and friends.
Denise WilliamsDirector of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging
Hailing from the Green Mountain State of Vermont, Denise Williams has held a variety of roles in educational institutions including Spanish teacher, English as a Second Language teacher, affinity group leader, cross country and track coach, and advisor. Denise and her wife co-founded and operate Engaging Across Difference, an organization that provides equity and inclusion training, coaching, and workshops to individuals and organizations nationally. Denise holds a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and Latin American Studies from the College of the Holy Cross and a Master of Arts in Spanish Language and Literature from Middlebury College. She loves to read, travel, watch the sunrise over the ocean, and be in community with others.
Robin WheelerLower School Director
Robin comes to Charles Wright Academy after spending six years teaching and leading in South America. She has more than 36 years of experience as an educator in independent schools both in the United States and internationally. She began her teaching career as a first grade teacher and has served in a variety of roles in the classroom and as an administrator, working with students, teachers, and families from Kindergarten through 12th grade. Robin holds a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from Emporia State University, a Master of Science in K-12 Educational Administration from Michigan State University, and an Advanced Educational Leadership certificate from Harvard. When not at school, Robin enjoys spending time with her family outdoors, hiking, kayaking, and exploring new countries.