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Dr. Delane has been the Executive Director of the Life Learning Academy since its inception in 1998. As Principal and Executive Director of Life Learning Academy for the last 20 years, she has provided a community for hundreds of young people – primarily youth of color from low-income families, living in neighborhoods where violence and instability are commonplace – propelling them into a productive adulthood. Dr. Delane credits the Delancey Street Foundation with saving her life in the early 1970s, and teaching her how to create a healthy community. Dr. Delane has over 30 years of experience working with substance abusers and ex-convicts in jails, prisons, and community programs. In 1997 she started a highly successful in-custody substance abuse program, Choices, which is still in operation in the men and women’s jails in San Mateo, California. Dr. Delane has a Masters Degree in Public Administration from Golden Gate University, is a licensed psychologist, and holds a PhD. in Clinical Psychology from the Wright Institute in Berkeley, California.
Mr. Miller has been at LLA since the school opened in 1998. He served as the U.S. History teacher for seven years; 11 years as Vice Principal, and has been the Chief Operating Officer for the most recent two years. He was a member of the planning team that designed LLA. Prior to opening the school, Craig worked with Delancey Street for six years, during which he developed and evaluated juvenile and adult criminal justice system reforms. Craig served as the basketball coach, tutor and mentor at Balboa High School in San Francisco and site coordinator at the Bayview Safe Haven. He has a Teaching Credential in Social Studies and a Masters in Education from San Francisco State University with an emphasis on teaching disengaged adolescents, as well as an Administrative Services Credential.
Allyson joined LLA in 2021 as its first Chief Advancement Officer. She has spent her career in nonprofit management and philanthropy, specializing in mission-driven organizations that are starting up and/or at a critical stage of growth. Immediately prior to LLA, Allyson worked at educational nonprofit 826 Valencia, where she helped the organization triple its contributed income, amass a significant financial reserve, expand to two additional sites, and double its student reach. She has a degree in Writing, and a Masters of Public and Nonprofit Management, both from Carnegie Mellon, and, as of fall 2021, a Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy (CAPⓇ) via American College.
Dr. Blazer brings 20 years of experience in program development, implementation, and evaluation in the education and health sectors. She has designed, implemented, and assessed multimillion-dollar programs in the United States and abroad, from South America to sub-Saharan Africa. Cassie taught health for LLA in 2008-2009, and has been part of the development team since August 2013. She earned a Doctorate of Public Health (DrPH) from UC Berkeley, a Masters of Public Health (MPH) from Boston University School of Public Health, and a BA Sociology & BA Critical Gender Studies from UC San Diego.
Kelly Baker has been at Life Learning Academy since 2017. She supports both the School and Development Program as Director of Administration and Operations. Kelly attended the University of Oregon where she was a sociology major. Kelly is new to the Bay Area having moved recently from Arizona, where she worked for a practice of orthopedic surgeons. She enjoys working in the school environment, especially LLA, where the unique education model supports the individual challenges their student population has.
- San Francisco State University, M.A Education
- Mills College, Teaching Credential Program
- University of Santa Barbara, B.A. Psychology
Elena joined LLA in 2021, as the Chief Academic Officer. She is an educator with over 15 years experience in the Bay Area, and has been a teacher, an instructional coach, and an administrator. Elena enjoys supporting students and teachers in creating dynamic learning environments, where students are inspired and encouraged to dream big and set meaningful goals. She adds, “I believe it is our job as educators to help students set goals and then build on their skill sets in order to meet those goals. Nothing is more powerful or satisfying than empowering students to have ownership of their learning environments.”
Why I Teach at LLA
As a child, I was educated in an environment that had a clear vision for education that prioritized building relationships, experiential learning, and fostered critical thinking skills. In that environment I was able to really develop my academic identity, relationship building and problem-solving skills, and building strong relationships. The lessons I learned at my elementary school I still put into practice today. I see the same dedication to educating the whole child at LLA and I am thrilled to join the LLA community because of this commitment to providing students with a comprehensive education that allows students to thrive. I am excited to help design learning experiences and foster skills that allow the LLA students to realize their potential and foster a love of learning. I feel lucky to work with such a dedicated team of staff and students who really believe in the power of community and change.
- San Francisco City College
“Change the way you see things, and the things you see will change.”
As a graduate of the Delancey Street Foundation, I am a firm believer that every child deserves a champion: an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists they become the best they can possibly be.
Why I Work at LLA
Having an employer say to me that in all her years in working with student interns, our student from Life Learning Academy who recently worked with her during the Fall Semester, had shown the most improvement of any student that she had worked wiith and really benefited from her mentorship. And this is why she does what she does, by offering internships to youth, particularly underserved youth. It made me feel very proud to be a part of that particular youth’s work experience.
- College of San Mateo
I am a Graduate from the Delancey Street Foundation where I spent 13 years developing the best of myself working my way up to become the Administrative Assistant and Personal Secretary for the President, Dr. Mimi Silbert. Throughout those years I learned every skill that is needed to run an office of a busy executive from keeping her calendar, making travel arrangements and setting up meetings to with CEO’s of large Corporations as well as facilitate meetings with dignitaries in Congress and the White House. Along with my primary duties in the office, I worked in many of the Delancey Street training schools that ranged from the Crossroads Café and Delancey Street Restaurant to our intake department and interviewing of new residents. Along with the work I did in the office, I learned how to become a counselor who has both the warmth and empathy to feel what others feel and with the ability to provide a kind strictness that allowed others to fix the things that work against them.
Upon graduation of Delancey Street, I was fortunate enough to work with those in the Criminal Justice field where I ran a drug and alcohol program for 4 years that was within the San Mateo County Jail in Redwood City, Ca. I used my skills as a counselor to deal with the behavior of those who were incarcerated and who wanted to change by learning that if they change their habits and behaviors that would help them internalize within to become productive members of society.
Why I work at LLA
When LLA reached out asking if I would be interested in becoming the dormitory oversight coordinator, without hesitation and not knowing what this entailed, I said yes. I felt that this was an opportunity to help and give back what was given to me. I believe that a student’s job is to get the best education possible and by helping those students who may have slipped through the cracks of the larger schools by giving them the support need in a home where they feel safe, feel supported and get an opportunity to thrive.
- BA – Graduated from San Francisco Culinary Academy Le Cordon Bleu in 2003 with a degree in Hospitality restaurant management
At the peak of my culinary career I was Executive chef at Thomas John Events, a premier catering company in San Francisco specializing in weddings, large galas and on-site corporate lunches. During my time at TJE I began to consult for two well respected small businesses in San Francisco. I advised my clients on how to manage inventory, employees, business flow and menu development. When I began to start thinking about my next steps in my career I moved onto The Boys & Girls Club of the Peninsula as the executive chef/Instructor. I created clubhouse curriculum, including job placement, job training and launched an in-house catering department where we executed events from 20 to 300 people.
Why I Teach at LLA
It had always been a lifelong dream of mine to be a teacher to those students who slipped through the cracks of our education system. In my time at The Boys & Girls Club I had begun my journey into making that dream a reality. Working closely with who would eventually be the chief academic officer at LLA I began to learn and implement project based learning. Using PBL as the backbone of the culinary program at BGCP I began to solidify my teaching style. When I was presented with the opportunity to join the LLA team I realized that my lifelong passion was becoming a reality. Within my first week at LLA I made connections with students that I know will last a lifetime. Teaching students how to nourish themselves safely in the kitchen is a tool that they will use for the rest of their life. In addition to teaching basic life skills I began exposing our youth to possible career opportunities in a the fastest growing job sector (hospitality) in the US. Teaching our youth to be confident young adults through food is exactly why I am elated to be a member of the LLA team.
- BA Religion – Whitman College
- Teaching Credential – Cal State University, East Bay
I began working at Life Learning Academy in 2019. I was born and raised in Oakland where I still live. I have taught at all kinds of schools in Oakland, Richmond, San Francisco, San Lorenzo, and the Dominican Republic. I love working with students of all ages, from preschoolers to high school seniors and beyond. I love supporting high school students enrolled in college classes as I'm inspired by anyone who is committed to their learning. I have a particular interest in history, anthropology, writing, music, languages, drama and puppets.
Why I Teach at LLA
As a student in my youth and as a teacher in my professional life, I struggled to find a community in which I felt like I fit. I had read about LLA in the Chronicle and knew it was a special place, but I didn't know just how special until I began working here and passed under the words "Welcome To Change" emblazoned on the front entryway. I was ready to welcome a change in my own life, but more than that, I wanted to be in a place that embraces, encourages, and teaches the transformational value of change. What LLA teachers and administrators do for the students every day is astounding. The faculty and staff at LLA treat students and each other with the compassion, patience and love that I missed at practically every other school. To me, teaching lifelong learning requires much more than just instruction in skills and knowledge- to become lifelong learners, students must feel safe and honored in their own identities, celebrated for their successes, cared for, worthy, and loved. I am equally overjoyed and proud to teach at LLA.
- BA – San Francisco State University
- MA Special Education – Dominican University
- MS Educational Administration – SFSU-UC Berkeley Urban Leadership Program
- K-9 Multiple Subjects
- K-12 Mild Moderate Learning Handicapped
- K-12 Severely Handicapped Services
- Educational Administration Services
It has been my privilege to serve as an educator working with students in San Francisco and the Bay Area for over 38 years. During this time I have assumed a variety of roles within the SFUSD: Special Education Teacher; Resource Specialist; Program Consultant for the Gifted and Talented Program; Special Education Content Specialist; Assistant Principal and K-8 Principal. In 1998, I provided instructional and technical support to the students and staff at Life Learning Academy in their extended day learning program. I knew from my very first days at LLA, that this unique program changed lives one student at a time. Following my retirement from SFUSD seven years ago, I was elated to resume my tenure as a teacher at Life Learning Academy, doing work that I love, with students and staff I admire, at a school that I firmly believe provides the educational program ALL students deserve.
Why I Teach at LLA
Some years ago I had a student who was completing her probation with SFJPD. She was a bright girl with a tough life who really took advantage of the services and resources offered through probation and LLA. I worked with her numerous community allies to provide a comprehensive program to meet her unique and challenging needs. When her probation ended, she was one semester away from graduation. However, with the end of her probation, her services away from school dropped, her support system collapsed, she was homeless and she began to falter. She would disappear from school for prolonged periods of time. But then she would call, and we would talk, and she would ask if she could come back to school. The answer was always Yes. Because that is what LLA does best. If a student wants to try, the answer is always Yes. Over the next 2 semesters she called and came back 4 times. She was welcomed and supported. Each time she made incremental progress toward reaching HER GOAL of a high school diploma. In May 2015, she graduated from LLA on stage in cap and gown. Diploma in hand, she thanked the school for believing in her and then claimed her victory for herself. She was the change she wanted to be. That’s what we do at LLA.
- BS: Plant Sciences: Colorado State University
- Professional Educator’s License: Biology, Health, Environmental Sciences, & Agricultural Sciences: Northeastern Illinois University
My teaching career began by growing food for my local community. While working at a community ranch and garden on the Colorado front range, I had the opportunity to hold an ecology and agriculture science class for the kids who lived on the ranch. While working with the kids, I began to realize the most valuable things we were growing were community and genuine curiosity. My passion to teach continued as I got to host a variety of educational seminars and programs while working at a nursery and greenhouse in Fort Collins. When I decided to commit myself to education, I returned to my home city of Chicago. In Chicago I got to teach personal health and lifestyle wellness while instructing classes at a gym that focuses on individual health choices and lifestyle harmony. Meanwhile, I was volunteering at the Wildlife Discovery Center, where I worked my way up to the hired position of Educational Director. As the Educational Director at the Wildlife Discovery Center, I got to develop educational camp programs that focus on the conservation and rehabilitation work done at the Wildlife Discovery Center. While in school at NEIU, I was able to student-teach at two alternative high schools in Chicago Public Schools. I continue to grow as a teacher and as a person with the great teachers I have gotten to know in Chicago Public Schools. Upon completion of my program at NEIU, I moved to the bay to teach at LLA!
Why I Teach at LLA
Every staff member I have met at LLA expresses a genuine passion for their work and a genuine compassion for their fellow staff. I have found that people who express these two qualities know the value they are bringing to the world and feel valued as a person. That is the kind of team that I want to be a part of.
When I first visited LLA, I saw students planting a garden and painting murals on the walls. The students were actively learning and proud to be leaving their learning legacy on the school. Life Learning Academy teaches life-improving skills. Life Learning Academy is itself a living and growing learning environment. I want to work in a growth-mindset environment. I want to work with a team that knows the value they are bringing to the world and is grateful for the opportunity to do so. That is why I have chosen to teach at Life Learning Academy.
- B.A. Mathematics - University of California, Berkeley
Minor - Math and Science Education
- Teaching Credential, Single Subject (Math) - University of California, Berkeley
Growing up in Fresno, I always appreciated the concreteness of math and the way it all fit together. Every problem was like solving a puzzle, and every problem is connected to some bigger picture. I enjoyed honing in on the critical-thinking and processing skills that each equation required and discovering the web language that described our physical world. But I am well aware that not everyone feels the same way. I went on to major in mathematics and earn a teaching credential at UC Berkeley because I believe that all students deserve to experience math in a creative and encouraging environment. I was inspired to develop a classroom for students where math had a personality. Students use their hands and minds to build their own understanding of numbers relative to the real world. The hope is that one day, math becomes tangible, practical, intriguing, and dare I say, gratifying.
Why I teach at LLA
It always felt to me that school had the potential to be so much more than it was. I dreamed of a place where kids from all different backgrounds would be encouraged to walk diverse paths of life. They would be inspired to support and lead one another, and their lives outside of academic walls would be seen, heard, and considered. A place where academics would be more than grades and growth in all areas would be celebrated. LLA is that place. That place where a student says “I hate to admit this, but it is kind of like a puzzle! I see it” and I get to smile and reply, “Next step, building a bigger picture!”
- BA Political Science – San Francisco State University
- MA Political Science –San Francisco State University
- Teaching Credential, Social Science – San Francisco State University
- Certification, Yoga Teaching, 200-hour
A Bay Area native, Diana Gradstein is a 15-year veteran of teaching. She began her teaching career at San Rafael High School in 2003 teaching Social Studies to English Language Learners. She has been teaching at LLA for 7 years and loves working with teenagers. Her favorite subjects are United States History as well as American Government. Diana loves teaching and practicing yoga as well, and leads yoga retreats during the summer all over the world. Diana lives in the East Bay with her husband and 4-year old daughter.
Why I Teach at LLA
I had a young woman in class who really resisted yoga for the first month of the class. She finally began to let go of her resistance and embrace the calm that yoga brought to her mind and body. Over the course of the semester, I was able to watch a complete transformation. Her attitude toward yoga, and her ability to practice self-awareness was incredible. She began to learn how to quiet her mind, connect to her breath and body and relax. That was incredibly empowering to her and a beautiful thing to witness. This practice helped her in all aspects of her life, not only on her yoga mat but in dealing with challenging situations off of her mat as well. Here is an article about that student.
- MPH Student – San Francisco State University
- BA – University of California, Berkeley
I started college with the intention of becoming an interpreter. I have always loved learning languages and working with others, and I knew that I wanted my career to involve me connecting people to the resources they need no matter what language barriers they face. During my second year of college, I started working with an organization called Peer Health Exchange (PHE), which trains college students to deliver a skills-based, medically accurate health curriculum to high school students. I began teaching in schools all over the Bay Area and discovered that this information was not only important for my students to learn, it was also extremely relevant to me. I continued volunteering with PHE for the rest of my college career and also began facilitating workshops with Shalom Bayit, a Jewish Domestic Violence Agency that provides prevention workshops to students of all ages. Health literacy and basic communication skills was extremely lacking in all of these classrooms, and that I knew that I could use the skills I learned in my linguistics classes to create health workshops that empowered students with the language and skills that they need.
Why I Teach at LLA
During my last semester at UC Berkeley, I was placed as a peer health educator at Life Learning Academy for a small class of boys. Our class had an immediate connection. We talked about extremely personal topics, and still, the students were open, trusting and asked thoughtful questions. They were willing to share their experiences with me, and they wanted ideas and suggestions for how to navigate difficult situations. These classes showed me that students want to have these conversations. They want to talk to someone about things that are happening in their lives, and I am so grateful that I get to be that person. I teach at LLA because the students prove to me every day that they are committed to empowering themselves with the tools that will serve them for the rest of their lives.
- B.A. English, University of Massachusetts
Adam moved from Boston, Mass to San Francisco in the summer of 2000 to pursue a career in the music industry as a recording/performing artist. Fate intervened and brought him to the Delancey Street Foundation where the founder, Mimi Silbert, offered him an opportunity at a then Delancey program, the Life Learning Academy. Adam began teaching American Literature, and Music Appreciation and Entrepreneurship. His current administrative position as Student Affairs Director has him working closely with the students who continue to inspire him. Adam still writes and records music, and has released five studio albums.
Why I Teach at LLA
I attended a field trip with about 25 LLA students to a digital arts college in Berkeley. We had two students on the trip who were from rival territories in San Francisco. Soon after the tour of the facility began, we started to sense tension between the two. I grabbed one of the students and took him back to my car. We left the facility and began driving home. During the ride, the student expressed to me all the frustration he was feeling. He explained that he wanted to make something of his life, and that it would be difficult for him to separate from the street life he grew up around and was so familiar with. He was still in defense mode from what had happened on the trip and I could feel him getting angrier and angrier, unable to let go of his inner turmoil as we traveled over the Bay Bridge and made our way back to Treasure Island. Suddenly I realized that I hadn’t come prepared with enough money to pay the tolls. I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to pay a steep penalty. But given that my student was still in the throws of emotion, I didn’t bring up the dilemma in conversation. Just as we approached the tollbooth, he became apparent to him that I didn’t have the proper amount. This student, who did not have much money himself; a 15 year old fighting deep internal conflict, in the blood boiling aftermath of a near confrontation minutes earlier, reached into his pocket and gave me the money for the toll. He told me not to worry, that he just didn’t want me to have to pay a penalty. It reminded me of who hides under these tortured exteriors…underneath the disillusionment; the scowls, the paranoia and strong defenses are loyal, thoughtful, compassionate teens that have simply lost their way. It has affected and informed my approach to Life Learning students ever since.