Faculty

Dean Presson

Student Credit Recovery 

He / him

Dean joins Odyssey School to facilitate Credit Recovery for high school students to successfully complete a course of study if not completed during the regular term. 

Dean’s full career is in education with many years as a community college Adult Basic Education and GED instructor. Prior to moving to Asheville in 1988, Dean was a facilitator at the West Area Learning Center of Central Piedmont Community College, tasked with administering entrance exams; then, guiding adult students through college preparation in either reading, language arts or mathematics. After moving to Asheville, he taught for AB Tech as an ABE and GED instructor at the Craggy and Buncombe Correctional Center throughout the 1990s.

In the fall of 1999 until 2006, he worked for Asheville City Schools teaching at the Metro School Program which later became part of Randolph Learning Center. While there, he was honored with a Teacher of the Year award and earned tenure in NC Public Schools. Then, Dean taught for a new credit recovery and long-term suspension program in Asheville called the New Day School. He was the sole teacher in a program that accommodated tuition-free adjudicated, long-term suspended students and after school credit recovery students. Long-term suspended Middle Schools students were able to earn passing grades, and high school students earned credit recovery through the software program. During the summer, Dean ran credit recovery, for all core subjects, summer school sessions using the credit recovery software at the New Day Program.  

Dean was NC licensed and certified in middle and high school language arts, social studies and math. From 2008- 2021, he  taught mostly 11th  grade English and occasional math classes at Buncombe County School’s Community High School in Swannanoa. There, he retired from public schools with twenty years of service. Since then, he has been a part-time GED instructor at the Western Correctional Center for Women in Swannanoa, a program under AB Tech. He is grateful to join the Odyssey School community.


Roz Sweeney

Before Care Coordinator & 1 / 2 Assistant

She / her

After bouncing around from place to place for a while, Roz settled in Asheville to complete her education and be close to family. In her free time she enjoys painting, rock climbing, and reading in a cozy corner.

Roz is currently in her senior year at the University of North Carolina Asheville working towards a Bachelors degree in art history and on track to graduate this spring! She hopes to receive a Masters in Education with the intention of becoming a full-time teacher.

With her background in outdoor education, she has a deep appreciation for hands on and naturalistic learning, not afraid to make messes and have fun! As an artist, it’s important to inspire students to be creative, imaginative, and expressive in everything they do.


Kristina Lunsford

3rd and 4th Grade Homeroom Teacher (they / them)

Kristina loves being from this area and calling these beautiful mountains their home. They believe learning should be exciting, inspiring and engaging for all students of varying abilities and backgrounds. Kristina utilize a classroom model that emphasizes both collaboration and independence, and they are passionate about teaching with a global mindset! Art is also a very important part of their life and they love to bring creativity into the classroom.

Kristina has a BA in psychology as well as a state teaching license from the University of North Carolina- Asheville. They have a certificate in LETRS (a professional course of studies in the science of reading). When they’re not at school, they love traveling, cooking, and swimming at the lake with their wonderful partner Erik and fur-baby, Ottie! Her family can also be found exploring the trails and waterfalls of this gorgeous place. Kristina is elated to bring their experience and love of learning into the Odyssey classroom!


Nica Rabinowitz

K-8th Art Teacher

She / her

Nica has been teaching art and helping people of all ages access their inherent creativity for more than 10 years. After receiving a Masters Degree in Curriculum and Instruction in 2023, Nica joined the Odyssey community ready to develop an integrated art curriculum for elementary and middle school learners to connect, cultivate, and create in kinship with the natural world.

A native-New Yorker, Nica graduated with a degree in Fashion Design with a focus on community-supported textiles from Parsons School of Design, and quickly discovered a love for art education. Nica brings with her many years of experience creating liberating learning environments and teaching children art in classrooms, museums, community gardens, farms, makerspaces, galleries, parks, and anywhere else creativity can flow. 

When she is not teaching, you can find Nica in the weeds, collaborating with plants, mushrooms, microbes, and fiber animals at the Fiberhouse Collective in Marshall, NC.


Rebekah Walker

First and Second Grade Homeroom Teacher Rebekah Walker

First and Second Grade Teacher

she/her

After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education at Central Methodist College in 1997, Rebekah moved to these glorious Blue Ridge Mountains to be closer to her dad. At CMC, she won The Elizabeth Stephenton Award in Art Education for making a four foot Babar hand puppet and discovered the amazing world of children’s literature. Rebekah found ArtSpace Charter School in 2001 and fell in love with art integration. Art is all around us, whether it’s in us or our environment. Looking at the world through the arts allows everything to be seen through a lens of love, creativity and acceptance. Rebekah has witnessed how this benefits children when learning new things and she has seen how it has helped herself and her two daughters. Rebekah has also witnessed the benefits of yoga in herself and in her students. In 2018, Rebekah became a RYT-200 Purna Yoga instructor and brought Sri Aurobindo’s “All life is yoga” concept into her teaching. Art is magnificent, yoga is delightful and Odyssey School, where all humans are valued for their whole self, is the best place to be. Rebekah has found her Ithaca and couldn’t be happier. When not in the classroom you will find Rebekah reading children’s books outside under a tree, creating fiber art in her art room, in the kitchen baking deliciousness, wandering around with her dog, Molly, meditating/doing asana on her mat, or laughing with her friends and daughters.


Andrew Rabin

Summer Camp Counselor Andrew Rabin

High School Homeroom & Science Teacher

he/him

Andrew Rabin has lived in Asheville since 2014, and he has been a high school science teacher since 2001. In previous career incarnations, he was a wildlife biologist studying owls in the desert southwest, an assistant director of an environmental education camp for NY city public school kids, and the head chef of a French restaurant in Tucson, Arizona. Andrew attended Earlham College for an undergraduate degree in Biology, Prescott College in Arizona for his teaching licence, and has a Masters of Ecological Teaching and Learning from Lesley University in Massachusetts. He is a lifelong learner and is passionate about science as a means of understanding the world around us. While teaching in Boston, Andrew created a democratic science classroom as part of an action research project for his Masters degree.

Andrew’s two kids also attend Odyssey’s elementary and middle school. His interests include, bird watching, cycling, playing the banjo, gardening, Magic the Gathering and playing Ultimate Frisbee. He is the proud owner of a pair of eighteen year old Ball Pythons. Andrew has visited and/or lived in 45 different states, but is very happy to call Asheville and Odyssey home.


Carly Penny

Carly
Middle School Program Co-Director & 5 / 6 Math & Science Teacher
she/her

A life-long North Carolinian, Carly grew up in Raleigh, surrounded by artists, inventors, craftspeople, and naturalists. She and her husband made Asheville their home in 2004. Carly is a true generalist, being involved in an array of experiences such as travel (Italy, Greece, Spain, Mexico, Canada, and much of the United States), clothing design, illustration, and flute performance. She sees everything as being connected, believing that an integral education is imperative for teaching the whole child and making meaning that lasts. She brings this foundational perspective to her work with Odyssey’s teachers, weaving together big ideas in education, curriculum, and life, as we teach our students how to think and how to grow into their authentic selves. As an administrator, Carly strives to help Odyssey families have experiences that allow them to feel connected across the community and to know that we are here in support of their children’s journey.

Being an educator from 2000 to 2021, Carly further developed her experience as a gifted specialist for elementary and middle grades. In 2021 she accepted a position as Odyssey’s Curriculum and Programming Director. She has experience teaching Pre-K through twelfth grades with extended time as a fourth-grade and third-grade classroom teacher. Additionally, Carly has taught reading skills, child development, clothing design, and music.

Carly holds her post-baccalaureate undergraduate degree in elementary education, retaining a concentration in design and a music minor. She earned her gifted education licensure on the master’s level and she continues to be an avid learner from thought leaders on issues, new developments, and best practices in education.

When she is not working with teachers and families or listening to education podcasts, Carly spends time with her daughter, Emaline, and her husband, Grant. You can find them laughing, hiking, reading, and creating works of art.


Spanish Faculty

Kristin Erhard
Spanish Teacher

Kristin

The kindergarten through high school Spanish teacher at Odyssey, Kristin has been learning and teaching languages through immersion for several years. After studying abroad in Spain in 2005, Kristin spent six months in Nicaragua volunteering as an assistant teacher in an elementary school and studying Spanish as a Rotary Scholar. Afterwards, she traveled to Mexico to volunteer as an assistant teacher in Asheville’s sister city, San Cristobal.

Upon returning to the United States she sought out more language immersion opportunities by working at a bilingual Spanish-English preschool and later teaching English at a middle school in Greece for a year. Besides teaching K-12 Spanish at Odyssey, Kristin teaches English as a Second Language to Spanish-speaking adults. She loves the intersection of language and culture and strives to incorporate art, music and cultural awareness as much as possible in the classroom so that her students gain the skills, curiosity and appreciation that can take them anywhere in the world as adults.


Music, Art, and Drama Programs

River Guerguerian
Music Director and Teacher

The music teacher for Pre-kindergarten through high school, River brings to Odyssey his rich and extensive experience as a multi-percussionist, composer, and educator. Born in Montreal, Canada to Armenian-Egyptian parents, he received his Bachelor of Music from the Manhattan School of Music Conservatory in 1989. For over 25 years, River has been performing internationally with such groups as the BBC Concert Orchestra, New Music Consort, Grammy and Oscar winning composer Tan Dun, Omar Faruk Tekbilek, Tibetan Singing Bowl Ensemble, Talujon Percussion Quartet, Chuck Berry, and Ziggy Marley/Gipsy Kings project. His compositions have been commissioned and performed by chamber ensembles, universities, modern dance companies, and new music festivals throughout the U.S.

River has performed in concert halls in New York, Berlin, Moscow, Tokyo, Rome, Sydney, Hong Kong, Barcelona, Athens, Istanbul, London, and has recorded on over 150 albums and film soundtracks.  In 1994, River sold all possessions, left civilization, and lived in a wildlife sanctuary in the Himalaya Mountains.   This immersion in nature initiated intense research and experimentation into the physiological effect of sound on brainwave states.

River is the Music Director of the “Creative Technology and Arts Center” in Asheville, NC and conducts rhythm and sound exploration workshops throughout the country.  Visit him at www.ShareTheDrum.com.

Lydia Hearne
High School Ceramics Instructor

At Odyssey, Lydia is also a preschool team teacher. She attended Earlham College, in Indiana, where she received her BA in Fine Art, with a focus in Ceramics. She later completed Haywood Community College’s program in Professional Crafts. “It feels very natural for me to be here at Odyssey,” says Lydia, “and to be able to feed the two main passions in my life, having the opportunity to work with young children and also to work in clay, offering others the chance to explore such an amazing and captivating medium.”

 

Thom Gaines
High School Art Instructor
Middle School and High School Creative Technology Instructor

Thom

Thom Gaines is a graduate of the School of Design at NC State University, where he studied Graphic Arts and Product Design. He worked for many years as an Art Director with Lark Books, designing book layouts and covers, and serving as a photo stylist. If you have visited the photography section of Barnes and Noble, you have seen his work. He is also the author of the book Digital Photo Madness!, which was acknowledged by the Young Adult Library Association as a 2007 top pick for teens.

Thom serves as Odyssey’s High School Art instructor and teaches MS and HS Creative Technology classes.Thom began his teaching career at the International Community School in Bangkok, Thailand, where he lived with his family for three years. He has three lovely children and a Super Woman of a wife.

Melanie Wester
Drama Instructor

Melanie

 Melanie worked in theater and film for fourteen years before becoming a mom.  She has now come out of retirement to teach drama at Odyssey, where her two middle school children attend. She began to teach acting at Southeastern Louisiana University and taught acting throughout her career in theater and film.  She also worked on various films behind the camera in the art department.

Melanie believes that acting, in addition to being a fun, creative outlet, can also help students with self-confidence and communication skills.  Most importantly, she considers it a creative outlet for the many emotions that children experience during their school years.

Pre-K Faculty

Courtney Fincher
Preschool Director and Team Teacher

Courtney Fincher is the director of the Odyssey Pre-Kindergarten program. She values the opportunity to nurture children through the rapid growth of early childhood. She believes it is never too early to instill the concepts of self knowing, communication, compassion, and community.

She strives to support the children in her care in developing self-confidence in balance with interdependence. It is her goal that children leaving her class will have a core understanding of themselves and the skills that will serve them in every aspect of life. Courtney values working in a school where children can experience the developmental spectrum from early childhood through high school.

Courtney holds a B.A. in psychology from the University of West Virginia and has extended her coursework in the field of Early Education Courtney carries her love of service, psychology, and healing arts into her relationships with the children. In harmony with the Odyssey vision, she sees a bright future for the children she teaches today, and looks forward to seeing what will happen as this special community grows. In addition to her work at Odyssey, Courtney is also a massage therapist and herbalist.

Lydia Hearne
Preschool Team Teacher

Lydia Hearne teaches in the pre-kindergarten class at Odyssey. She grew up in the mountains outside of Asheville, where she spent much of her childhood exploring nature, expressing her love of nature through art, and being with her family. She brings her passions for the natural world, for family, and for the beauty and creativity of childhood, to her work at Odyssey Community School.  She says of her experience, “I loved my childhood, and I believe that every child deserves a happy, safe environment to explore their own sense of self, of creativity, and space to figure out how to interact with others in this life.”

At Odyssey, Lydia is also the High School Ceramics instructor. She attended Earlham College, in Indiana, where she received her BA in Fine Art, with a focus in Ceramics. She later completed Haywood Community College’s program in Professional Crafts. “It feels very natural for me to be here at Odyssey,” says Lydia, “and to be able to feed the two main passions in my life, having the opportunity to work with young children and also to work in clay, offering others the chance to explore such an amazing and captivating medium.”

Josh Finkler
Pre-K Team Teacher and After School

Josh

Raised in West Hartford, Connecticut, Josh Finkler is honored to be so warmly welcomed in the Odyssey community, and he looks forward to teaching and learning with your children. He has previously worked as an Odyssey K-1 Teaching Assistant,well as as a Kindergarten Assistant at Jones Elementary. Prior to teaching, Josh worked for several years in mental health a CooperRiis and volunteered with AmeriCorps.  Josh is also one of our after school teachers.

His education includes a B.A. In psychology from Warren Wilson College and a degree in music education from Appalachian State. Josh enjoys singing, mountain biking, learning new things, and communing with friends.

 

Mae Shanley
Team Teacher

Mae Shanley was born in a small Mississippi town surrounded by rolling hills and deep, wondrous forests. A girl scout since the age of six; she was able to explore and learn the importance of a positive community that values and reveres nature as something to be lived in harmony with.

Mae went to the University of Mississippi, where she studied Park & Recreation Science and Art. At school she began to understand the deep rooted connection to nature, creativity, and one’s self. She values working with children above all else, and has volunteered for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.  She has been a Girl Scout camp counselor where she taught canoeing, yoga, and archery.

She loves to experience all the different ways children can learn, whether expressing oneself through interpretive dance, painting a messy masterpiece, or playing make-believe. “It’s truly magical when I can see clearly into the beautiful world that children’s imagination can foster and watch them grow into their sense of self.”

Shirley Rotolo
Team Teacher

Shirley Rotolo grew up in New York City with parents of French and Haitian background. Growing up in New York, she was exposed to many different cultures and was able to experience them . Shirley also lived in Colorado and spent time in Italy and Amsterdam.

Shirley has her degrees in Early Education and Birth to Kindergarten, and has years of experience working with children. When she’s not at Odyssey, she loves gardening, painting, reading, and writing poetry. “As part of the Odyssey family, I’m very excited by all the creativity and family-oriented environment.” She believes that children should be nurtured, and have every opportunity to explore, create, and self express.


High School Faculty

Teshale Byan
Upper Level Math Teacher

As Odyssey’s upper level math teacher, Teshale Byan encourages students to delve fully into the subject. He infuses research, reading, independent studies, and projects into his curriculum, creating a relevant and layered mathematics curriculum. Those of his students coming from public school backgrounds appreciate the freedom they gain in addition to the high expectations Teshale sets. Independent studies are central to the Odyssey experience, and Teshale sees them as vital opportunities for the students to learn and gain independence, following their own interests beyond fulfilling the requirements.

Born in Ethiopia, Teshale attended Addis Ababa University, where he studied civil engineering for four years. In 2006 he left Ethiopia to attend Warren Wilson College as an international student and graduated from there with a B.A. in Mathematics. Teshale finds the size and makeup of the OCS school community to be an enriching environment for the students and the teachers and sees people working together as they learn.

Mark Meiri
High School Science Teacher

As an international seeker, Mark Meiri traveled to Egypt and Turkey and lived in Israel for two years, working on a kibbutz in the mountains of Jerusalem with people from over ten countries around the world. Mark’s insatiable curiosity extends into his classes, where he inspires students to explore the beauty and intricacies of the world through science and connect these experiences to all areas of their lives.

With a B.S. in Education from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and a B.S. in Zoology from the same, Mark has been an educator for over fifteen years. Among other schools, he has taught at the Solomon Schechter High School in Long Island, Franklin High School of Reistertown, Maryland, and the Shoshana S. Cardin Community School in Baltimore, Maryland.

Gabriel Johnson
High School English/Literature

Gabriel Johnson completed a B.F.A in Literature at UNC-A in 2001. As a young man, Gabriel pursued his love of literature in the form of songwriting, by founding and performing in several bands and musical projects here in the US, and also in Dublin, Ireland where he lived after college. As a teacher, Gabriel believes that learning control of language is essential for navigating the modern world. He also believes that learning to appreciate literature is one of the most rewarding endeavors a person can pursue.

When he’s not reading, Gabriel loves exploring the natural world, hiking, playing guitar, biking and gardening. He is especially excited to be a part of the Odyssey community and getting to know the students, staff and parents of this exceptional institution.

Matt Reynolds
Social Studies/History

Matt cultivates his curiosity for the world, and feels the duty of any teacher is to guide his students to do the same.  Through inquiry and discovery in history, he guides his students to create new perspectives on the present.

Matt brings resonant “real world” experience to the classroom, and uses current technology to engage students in active learning.  He graduated with a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Arkansas and holds a NC professional teacher’s license in Social Studies from UNCA.  In 2006, he was hired as a documentary filmmaker and anthropologist for the education department of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma.  Matt has taught English to Haitian children via Skype, worked with special needs children in after school enrichment programs, and taught documentary film making during Upward Bound’s summer program.  In addition, he volunteered for a year with AmeriCorps in high needs schools in the Asheville area and student taught at the School of Inquiry and Life Sciences at Asheville (SILSA).  He has worked with a diverse group of young people and finds inspiration and hope in this work.

When Matt isn’t teaching, he is outdoors raft guiding on two different rivers in the south east, planning his next adventure with his wife and small son, and operating a small urban organic farm in West Asheville.  An avid whitewater kayaker, scrappy mountain biker, and a fun-loving musician, Matt and his family are happy to be a part of the Odyssey family and contributing to the success of the community.


Middle School Faculty

Kalyan Volpe
Middle School Math and Social Studies Teacher

Kalyan

Kalyan Volpe serves as the Middle School Homeroom, Math and Social Studies teacher at Odyssey. He came to teaching after a series of adventures, including travelling and living in Japan and considering monkhood in Nicaragua. When he visited a Long Island alternative elementary school, he was so raptured by their joy and excitement that his life goals shifted from the monkhood that he as pursuing to alternative education.

For example, Kalyan’s classes study greatness. What does it mean to be great? How does a person achieve greatness in life? Kalyan has had poets, artists, and puppeteers visit his class and discuss what moved them to their achievements. He sees these discussions move students who are lukewarm about their studies into having a passion for learning. He encourages students to follow through with their visions.

Kalyan achieved a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Conneticut and an M.A. in Education from Goddard College in Vermont, where his masters thesis focused on the design of holistic elementary schools. After working as a lead teacher in a school in Fukuoka, Japan, and head teacher as PSOLI in Merrick New York, Kalyan came to Asheville and met John Johnson, discovering great resonance in their visions of education.

 

Megan McCarter
Middle School Arts and Fine Arts Teacher

Megan

Megan McCarter is the middle school language arts and fine arts teacher and co-coordinator of the middle school program at Odyssey. She also teaches electives including creative self-expression, ceramics, yoga, and research methods. Megan finds her place in Odyssey’s community to be synchronous with her life, as well as with her professional goals, a sentiment which is strengthened every year through faculty meditations, community building, leadership opportunities, and sharing of best practices with colleagues. Odyssey’s commitment to fostering the growth of the “whole” child, learning through discovery, and promoting the power of collaboration and community resonates deeply within her own relationship to what it means to be an educator.

Along with her love of art, mountains, and word play, a love of learning itself led naturally into her love of teaching; her desire “to guide students in their interaction with the satiating world of words to which they have the ultimate potential to discover and learn how to understand, process, analyze, question, innovate, and communicate in their modern world” is fed by her own curiosity.

Megan attended Pitzer College in Claremont, California and graduated from UNC-Asheville with a degree in literature, concentration in creative writing, and an English teaching license. In 2011, she completed her student teaching, working with English III Inclusion and English III Honors classes at T.C. Roberson. From 2006 through 2008, Megan also taught English as a second language, social studies, and science as well as directed and developed the art curriculum in the international school of Varee Chiang Mai in Chiang Mai, Thailand.