Faculty

Shari VarsShari Vars
(Head of School)

Shari first came to AHB as a parent in 2014. Shortly after enrolling her two children, she found herself called back to the classroom (after years as a stay-at-home parent) and spent nearly 3 years teaching Humanities in Delta and Gamma. She loved teaching (and learning!) at AHB, where the nurturing environment supported creativity and curiosity alongside academic rigor. She later left to start a small business, and though much was learned in this detour, she ultimately she found herself missing the spark that comes from working with young people. When the opportunity arose to rejoin the AHB team, Shari jumped at the chance to help serve and lead the community for which she already held such deep appreciation and respect.

Originally from Minnesota, Shari earned her BA in English and Secondary Education from Vanderbilt’s Peabody School of Education in Nashville, Tennessee. She met her husband there and spent the next several years teaching high school English and special education while following his work path around the country. After settling in Austin in 2001, Shari worked as a writer and editor for an educational publishing company and took on the role of Assistant Director when the company started its own elementary micro-school, KAMICO Academy. There, Shari enjoyed the “big-picture” problem-solving involved as she worked to coordinate and best serve the needs of students, parents, and teachers. She looks forward to similar challenges as part of AHB’s administrative team!

When not at school, Shari aims to find pleasure in keeping family life afloat: walking the dog, gardening, playing family games, and sneaking the occasional date night (or Netflix binge) amongst chauffeuring busy kids.


Gretchen FlatauGretchen Flatau
(Interim Executive Director)

Gretchen is a veteran of the not-for-profit world; her career started in Boston as a community organizer in public housing. Since then she has served the Austin community in a variety of positions including Executive Director for Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic (now Learning Ally), the Women’s Advocacy Project, the Mothers’ Milk Bank and College for All Texans Foundation as well as Director of Development & Marketing for the Austin Children’s Museum (the Thinkery). She spent the last 10 years as a nonprofit management consultant and an Interim Executive Director for various local nonprofits.

Gretchen received her bachelors in sociology from Newcomb College at Tulane University and her MPA from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.

Gretchen has two children who grew up in Austin; her son now works as a software developer for the State of Wisconsin and her daughter is in law school at Washington University. When she isn’t working, Gretchen enjoys cooking, hiking and gardening and traveling with her husband, Art.


Eliza WaughEliza Waugh
(Alpha Class)

Eliza loves to be part of a community where creative ideas are free to be explored and where learning is an integrated, joyful, collaborative and encompassing experience.

Eliza graduated with a BA from the University of Arizona in Creative Writing and Fine Arts. She became a teacher in 2005 and has taught, mentored, and developed programs at AHB since 2007 in both the Alpha and Beta classrooms. Her sons, now high school age and beyond, attended AHB and she served several years as a board member, as well. Learning and discovering with children has always been a passion for her. If you’re ever in her classroom for long you’re bound to hear her say, “We are each other’s teachers!” because she believes that children offer insight into living and learning in the moment that demonstrates the true meaning of happiness.

When not at school, Eliza loves to spend her time with her family and pursuing the joys of writing, art, the great outdoors (especially in a kayak or hiking boots), yoga, reading, cooking and being with friends.


Kim LongacreKim Longacre
(Alpha Class)

Kim received her B.A. in English from the University of Texas at Austin. She started teaching in 1983 at Athena Montessori School, one of the original pre-schools in Austin. She and Joe McDermott founded The Phoenix School in 1985, where Kim served as both the director and as a teacher. Kim has 5 sons who have kept her delighted, inspired and a true believer in life-long learning! Kim created summer camps through The Life Empowerment Center, where she designed curriculum and taught students how their brains work and how learning happens.

In 2007 she started teaching at AHBCS in the Alpha room teaching math, science, social studies, Monday Science Lab and all after school classes – ranging from portrait drawing to Greek history, from theatre to intro to music!

In the summer of 2010, Kim became the director of education for HealthStart Foundation, a non-profit whose mission is to create healthy communities starting with early childhood education. Her main accomplishment with HealthStart was writing 9 volumes of curriculum!

Kim returned to AHB in 2013 and is thrilled to be back in the classroom singing and creating with students, alongside inspiring, supportive teachers, administrators and parents.


Kelly LarsonKelly Larson 
(Beta Class)

So much to learn… so much to explore… so many exciting challenges and opportunities.  Kelly has felt so lucky to be able to share her curiosity of the world around her with students throughout her teaching career.  Kelly received her Master’s in Education from the University of New Hampshire. She has taught in the primary grades in Barrington NH, Albuquerque NM, Salt Lake City UT, Los Alamos NM  and finally here in Austin TX as she and her husband raised two boys and her husband pursued a career as a geologist.

Everywhere Kelly has taught, whether public or private schools, small or large communities, she has enjoyed taking children on a path of wonder and excitement about the world we live in. She has investigated forests and fields of milkweed in New Hampshire, and built a garden from scorched earth in Albuquerque. In Los Alamos she created a curriculum for the district to get every child in the school outside at least once a month to marvel at the amazing aspects of nature.

As the Japanese proverb states- to teach is to learn, and there is nothing more amazing than exploring right alongside children. Kelly looks forward to learning and creating memories alongside your children.


Kristen MazzaferroKristen Mazzaferro
(Beta Class)

Kristen grew up just outside Boston, MA and comes from a family of educators! In high school she had dreams of becoming an elementary art teacher, so she took early childhood education classes and worked part time in a kindergarten class. However, these dreams were rivaled by her love of fashion. As college approached she was torn between pursuing her love of working with children by studying to become a teacher, or her love of fashion by studying design.

She chose to study fashion and costume design at Framingham State University but couldn’t give up working with kids, so she worked as a nanny during the summers. After she received her Bachelor of Science in Fashion Design and Retailing her passions amazingly merged as she landed a job at TJX Companies designing clothing for toddlers and girls. During her 7 years at the company, she also sought out volunteer opportunities to work with children, primarily volunteering at children’s community theaters helping to create costumes.

In 2016 she decided to move to Austin and leave the corporate fashion world, focusing instead on growing her own brand and developing her skills as an educator. Finding a place at AHB has been an absolute dream come true. She loves her role as an assistant in the Beta class and being a part of the close knit AHB community. Her favorite part about teaching the Beta students is helping them to discover their talents and strengths and encouraging enthusiasm for learning. She is so excited to grow and learn from the AHB staff and contribute by bringing her creativity and passion for the arts to AHB.


Ansley ThomasAnsley Thomas
(Gamma Class)

Ansley wanted to be a teacher from the moment she met her first teacher in Kindergarten! She grew up in the Carolinas and attended Warren Wilson College in Asheville, NC for her undergraduate degree in Elementary Education. At Warren Wilson College she focused her interests on education, psychology, and art history. She then had the amazing opportunity to teach at a social justice charter school in Asheville for her student teaching experience and her first year in the classroom. This experience propelled Ansley into teaching through a social justice lens which led her to three years in New Orleans.

She came to Austin for graduate school at UT in 2014 and obtained a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction with a focus on Language and Literacy Studies. Her teaching philosophy is founded on three major principles: she believes that children have an inherent desire to push towards growth when learning is joyful, authentic, and experiential; she thinks that highly effective teachers approach their work as a craft; and she believes our classrooms should reflect and value the diverse world we live in.

Ansley has a special interest in social-emotional learning, mindfulness, and making authentic literacy experiences a part of every day in the classroom. She values having a strong community and relationships with her students and their families. Outside of school she loves camping and tries to visit a new national park every year! She also enjoys handcrafts like macrame, needle felting, and more! She has a cat that has traveled around the country with her for over a decade and lives in a tiny house in her best friends’ backyard.


Kandyce WeaverKandyce Weaver
(Gamma Class)

Kandyce is overjoyed to join the AHB community. She graduated from Oklahoma State University in 1992 and has spent 21 years teaching everything from pre-K to 7th grade English. After 18 years in Texas public schools, she grew tired of watching children being reduced to data. She took a leap of faith and resigned, trusting that a more authentic learning environment awaited her. She knew when she met the faculty at AHB she had found her tribe.

Being the youngest in a family of seven kids, Kandyce learned early on the importance of working together, flexibility, and resilience. She developed a high tolerance for chaos and a sense of wonder about the world. These attributes, she believes, are a great recipe for classroom learning.

Kandyce and her husband have raised four children and recently joined the world of empty nesters. She delights in her grandson, Leo, and enjoys painting, sewing, reading, rehabilitating houseplants, occasionally binge-watching TV, and keeping her cat’s food dish full. She is not afraid to get her hands dirty and intends to learn taxidermy. And she once got to join humorist Amy Sedaris on stage to make a pinto bean eye burrito.

Kandyce models curiosity and an enthusiasm for learning to her students—always encouraging them to ask, “What if?” and “Why?” She strives to help them connect their classroom studies to the bigger world. She nurtures an environment of risk taking, independence, and the sheer joy of learning new things. She feels AHB is the perfect place to begin her new adventure.


Amanda SimpsonAmanda Simpson
(Middle School)

Amanda graduated from Texas A&M University Central Texas with a B.S. and M.S. in Mathematics.  She aspired to be a data miner before she became a graduate teaching assistant. Once she was in the classroom she decided to never leave. She is a fourth-generation teacher and teaching is in her blood.  She has teaching experience ranging from 5th grade to University.

She spends most of her spare time watching movies, playing video games, and caring for her fur babies with her spouse. Amanda’s more interesting hobby is volunteering as an official for the Texas Rollergirls, the original modern roller derby league here in Austin.

Amanda believes anyone can learn given quality instruction and a sprinkle of curiosity. She hopes to provide both here at AHB.