Parent Board of Directors

Parent Board 1970s

Highland Community School is governed by a parent Board of Directors elected from the current body of parents. The Parent Board has legal responsibility for decisions relating to the operation of the school.  It sets and monitors the budget, makes and amends school policies, manages the director, and, in conjunction with the teachers, supports the curriculum. Highland’s experience demonstrates that parent governance of a school can be a critical factor in building school effectiveness.  It is the ultimate parent involvement strategy.

Meetings from previous board meetings can be found here.

If you are interested in serving on the Board of Directors, the application process is as follows:

  • Get involved at Highland by volunteering, serving on a parent committee, helping out in a classroom, chaperoning going-outs, etc. Active involvement in the school is preferred prior to Board service.
  • Complete an application found here.
  • Complete a personality test and submit results with your application. 
  • Reach out to two current board members.
  • Be elected at the Annual Meeting.

The Board Governance Committee solicits applicants annually and as deemed necessary as seats on the Board open up. The Board Governance Committee then reviews applications and recommends candidates to the full Board for nomination. Recommendations are made based on the needs of the Board.

Please read about the Roles and Responsibilities of Highland Community School’s Board of Directors for more information about serving on the Highland Parent Board of Directors. 

If you are a parent at Highland and are interested in becoming a board member, please contact Rochelle Johnson-Bent, Governance Committee Chair, with questions.

If you’d like to get in touch with the Parent Board, please email highlandcommunitybod@gmail.com

Current Parent Board of Directors

Leana Nakielski

President

Number of Children at Highland: Three Year Joined Highland Family: Fall 2008 Year Board Term Began: August 2017 Professional Background: Leana is a Strategic Partnerships Director with American Family Insurance. She is leading on the set up of the Milwaukee corporate office and has a team dedicated to forming strategic partnerships with Milwaukee’s educational/talent organizations to help develop a diverse and tech talent pipeline, building the enterprise’s future workforce. Prior to working with American Family Insurance, she was in the non-profit sector for 16 years having most recently served as the Greater Milwaukee Committee’s first Development Director. Prior to that she was the Operations Director with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin following a role with Highland Community School as the first Community Resources Development Director. Her first ten years of work in Milwaukee was with Growing Power with a 2-year assignment at the Sixteenth Street Community Health Center as a Bilingual Nutrition educator. Leana is deeply involved in the community, serving on the board of directors with the Urban Ecology Center and the Milwaukee Parks Foundation. She is a member of Professional Dimensions, TEMPO, and the Hispanic Professionals of Greater Milwaukee. In 2017, Milwaukee Magazine featured Leana as a “Visionary Leader,” in 2018 she received the “Rising Leader” award from HPGM, and is a 2020 Milwaukee Business Journal 40 Under 40 honoree.
“Honestly, back in 2008 when I was looking to enroll my oldest son in school, I did not know about Montessori education. At the time, I was a single mom, trying to make it on a non-profit salary. I had many other things to think about. I only lived a few blocks from Highland (then it was farther west on Highland Blvd), but did not even know the school existed until a good friend of mine, who also lived in the neighborhood, pointed it out. She had a daughter there who was one year older than my son, Emiliano. She spoke highly of the parent involvement, the community aspect, the diversity, and the authentic relationships she had with teachers, staff, and other parents. One day I decided to walk over and check it out. The school day had just let out and parents were arriving for pick up. There were almost just as many parents on the playground as kids. They stood around chatting it up in circles as the kids played. I watched how kids and adults interacted: with courtesy, respect, comfort, trust, and a real sense of love. I saw genuine acts of kindness, friendship, and real interest between diverse people. I hadn’t even entered the school and I already knew, this was where my little family belonged. Since then, I have learned so much about Montessori education. I love the vision to foster world peace by developing compassionate, global citizens who are empowered to learn, advocate for themselves, yet feel a true sense of commitment to community. As a first generation Latina (my mother’s side), I value that Montessori has an international perspective and deep commitment social justice.”

Rochelle Johnson-Bent

Vice President

Number of Children at Highland: Two

Year Joined Highland Family: September 2018

Year Board Term Began: August 2019

Professional Background: Rochelle, a born and raised Milwaukeean, currently works as a Risk Management/Contract Law Specialist for Milwaukee Public Schools. Prior to joining MPS, Rochelle was the Director of Compliance for Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee, Supervising Attorney for Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee Guardian ad Litem Family Division, and worked in the private legal sector practicing in the areas of family, criminal, civil, and administrative law. Thus, Rochelle has made it her goal to create a legal career that not only allows her to work in areas of law that she finds interesting, but doing work that helps her improve the community in which she lives and raises her family.  Outside of work, Rochelle also serves as a Board of Director for District 2 for the State Bar of Wisconsin since 2018. Her professional associations also include the Family Law Section, Society of Corporation Compliance & Ethics, Young Lawyers Division, and the WI Association of African American Lawyers. Rochelle is also a proud member of Epsilon Kappa Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.  Beyond Rochelle’s professional and community involvement, she is the blessed mother of two Highland students, Seanna and Winston. Rochelle ran and serves on the Highland Board to bring her legal expertise, creative thinking, and dedication to continued improvement for diversity and inclusion for all. 

Jean Tipan Verella

Secretary

Tipan is a Data Science Architect for MGIC and received his Ph.D. in Systems and Information Engineering from the University of Virginia. Prior to working for MGIC, he used his mathematical and engineering skills to developing and optimizing large‐scale analytical algorithms for commerce. His son, Ibo, is currently an Upper Elementary student at Highland. Tipan believes in the power of parent engagement and involvement in the success of children at school. After volunteering in many capacities, from event support to running an afterschool math club, becoming an officer of the Board was a natural choice. He is proud to help guide the school, parents, and students of Highland. T

Devon Pittman

Treasurer

Devon is a Tax Analyst with Jeffrey Morse & Associates and earned her MBA in 2017. She has served the Highland Finance Committee for almost two years and welcomes governance and leadership role at Highland to contribute her skills. For the past decade, Devon has been working in taxes and real estate. With two school‐age children, her children’s education and Highland Community School’s presence in their lives is of the utmost importance and a current priority. The success of the school is critical to Devon, and board service helps achieve
that goal.

Sheena Adams

Director

Sheena is a dedicated business owner who was born and raised in Milwaukee and believes in the value of uplifting the community by supporting women and minority‐owned small businesses. She earned a B.S. in Business Administration from Marquette University and an MBA from Concordia University in Wisconsin. Sheena has held various corporate leadership positions with General Electric (GE), Harley‐Davison, and Kohl’s Corporation. Her leadership style is based on servant leadership principles, which focus on enriching individuals’ lives, building better organizations, and creating a more just and caring world. A strong advocate of Montessori education, her two children attend Highland in a building, she is all too familiar with as a MacDowell Montessori graduate a few decades ago.

Melissa Gibson

Director

Melissa is a researcher of educational justice and equity, a teacher educator, and a former classroom teacher. Currently, she works in Marquette University’s College of Education as an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Policy & Leadership. She has a B.A. in Women’s Studies from Harvard University, an M.A. in Teaching from Dominican University, and Ph.D. in Curriculum & Instruction and Educational Policy from the University of Wisconsin Madison. She is a licensed teacher in Wisconsin and Illinois.  She joined the HCS parent Board of Directors to use her professional expertise in the service of a community that her family loves. She is committed to ensuring Highland continues to live out its mission of racial, environmental, and educational justice at both the macro level and in the day‐to‐day life of students and teachers. She currently has two thriving children enrolled in the school.

Brian Litzsey

Director

Number of Children at Highland: Two

Year Joined Highland Family:

Year Board Term Began: August 2019

Professional Background: Brian is the Manager of Operations/Assistant Director for the Milwaukee Public Schools Department of Recreation and Community Services. Brian received his B.S. in Parks and Recreation Administration, M.S. in Physical Education, and a M.B.A. at Concordia University of Wisconsin. Over the past 18 years, Brian has served in various positions within the Department of Recreation. As Manager of Operations, his chief responsibilities are oversight of the Department’s Finances, Facilities, Technology, After-School Operations, and Human Resources. Brian has helped foster countless collaborations with many of Milwaukee’s community-based organizations, leading to greater financial and human capital resources in many under-served neighborhoods. Brian is a committed advocate for equal access to high-quality enrichment and educational opportunities for all Milwaukee residents.

Tresca Meiling

Director, Chair of Fund Development Committee

Tresca serves as Development Director at Milwaukee Academy of Science and has been a committed educator as a teacher, administrator, and fundraiser for her entire career. Serving on the Highland Board is an opportunity to work with parents to carry out the school’s shared vision. She enjoys problem‐solving, strategic thinking, collaboration, and fundraising. These skills are very much needed as we launch a capital campaign for a new addition in 2021. Tresca is the current Chair of the HCS Development Committee as of 9/2020. Her goal is to contribute to Highland’s future and continue its legacy for all students, including her own children, Samara who is in K5 and Brendan who will start in the fall.

Carla Muñoz

Director

Carla is a Certified Trust Fiduciary Advisor and is currently a Senior Trust Officer at Capital First Trust. She has served different community organization boards as Philanthropy chair and as part of the Grant Advisory Committee for the Women’s Fund of Greater Milwaukee. As a dedicated community member, she continues to look for ways to get involved and contribute. Carla has one toddler entering the pre-k program and joined the Highland Community School board in August 2020.

Amy Nelson Christensen

Director

Number of Children at Highland: Two Year Joined Highland Family: Fall 2014 Year Board Term Began: August 2019 Professional Background: Amy is a nationally certified and licensed school psychologist in the state of Wisconsin.  She is currently a professor in the school psychology program at Loyola University Chicago where she works with the next generation of school psychologists on how to practice from a social justice lens.  Prior to teaching, Amy worked for Milwaukee Public Schools as a school psychologist and researcher, supporting district-wide efforts in trauma sensitive school practices, equity, and improving school culture and climate.  As a result of her efforts to establish trauma sensitive practices across the district, Amy was awarded School Psychologist of the Year in the state of Wisconsin in 2015.  Amy also currently consults with community organizations across the Milwaukee community on research and evaluation of their programs that are focused on improving the lives and educational trajectories of children in the city.    
“Raising our children to be global and compassionate advocates for change is very important to my husband and me.  We were looking for a school that was diverse and that was also able to effectively educate all children.  As a school psychologist, I also was very interested in the Montessori philosophy as I had learned that it helped to foster motivation in children to learn and build a positive sense of self.  I had heard from a friend about Highland’s social justice focus and Montessori program so I reached out to schedule a visit.  I had just finished teaching a summer program with 8th grade students about Freedom Summer and the fight for voting rights of African Americans in the early 1960’s.  It was the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer and there was a traveling photo exhibit around the city chronicling the work people in Milwaukee had done to fight for voting rights. Highland was one of the locations that had the exhibit on display.  When I came for a tour of the school and saw the exhibit, I knew right away that this was the place where my children were meant to be.  In addition to the calm classrooms I observed and the fantastic teachers I spoke with, the clear imagery and celebration of diversity was apparent.  I was excited to become part of a community that didn’t just talk about justice, but also built an environment that celebrated justice.”