Ruth Wilson - Director of Student Achievement
Richard Kelly - Head of School
Our school is unique, because our teachers are subject matter experts rather than special ed generalists. Our faculty and staff is also unusual because everyone on staff has a family member, either immediate or extended , with a disability. We have walked the walk, and genuinely love living and educating in community with our students. Our quality of service mission is really a "quality of people" statement.
Faculty & Staff
Richard Kelly has committed his life to professionally assisting teenagers and college students who are struggling socially and academically due to developmental disorders such as Aspergers, Tourettes and learning disabilities. In the past he has served with HopeReach, an organization in Greenville, SC. Project HOPE’s pilot program, Hope Academy included children with autism in classrooms with typical peers, using “shadow” aids as necessary. With this background he came to Focus Initiative in 2007, serving as Social Coach and Director of the Academy. He founded Launch Academy in 2011 as a response to an overwhelming need for kids to be able engage in tutorial style, hands on education that emphasizes real life skills. He completed his MBA at North Greenville University. He has a certificate in Leadership for Non-profit Excellence and a certificate in Wrights-law Special Education and Advocacy sponsored by Texas Parent to Parent. He is also a Certified Autism Specialist (Certification# CAS194333.) Richard resides with his wife and family in Richmond, Texas.
Our Director of Student Achievement, Ruth Wilson, comes to us from the VAST Academy at Houston Community College Spring Branch where she served for the last ten years as a full time instructor for students with learning differences. In 2017, she recieved the Chancellors Award for Diversity and Inclusion, and in 2019 she recieved the Excellence Award from the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development. The VAST program serves students transitioning from high school to a college environment. She received her Bachelors of Curriculum and Instruction from Texas A&M and her Masters in Clinical Mental Health from Lamar University. Ruth has had more than 20 years of experience working with students who have special needs and spectrum challenges. She is a mother of three. Her oldest just graduated from Stephen F. Austin with a Bachelors of Arts and Theater. Her eighteen year old twins (one on the Autism spectrum) just graduated high school and are attending Blinn College in Brenham.
Dr. Hiergesell received her Bachelors in Chemistry from Transylvania University and her PhD in Physical Chemistry from Virginia Tech. She has many years of experience as a project and marketing manager in product development for several corporation including Xerox Corporation, Reichhold Chemicals
Baker Hughes, and Reliant Energy. She has supervised numerous engineers, chemists, and technicians in the development of new products and quality testing. Dr. Hiergesell was awarded “The Certificate of Teaching Excellence” presented by the President of Virginia Tech. She also completed the Smith Management Program at Smith College. She is also currently an adjunct faculty member at Wharton County Junior College teaching higher level chemistry. Dr. Hiergesell currently teaches upper level math and science.
Dr. Sharon Hiergesell - Science, Math
Frank Matta- History, Music
Frank worked as a drafting engineer full time while also completing a masters in music and leading worship in his free time. Frank currently plays in a worship band at a church in downtown Houston. He also worked at Worley and Parsons and other firms as an engineer for over 25 years. He is able to use extensive experience from both fields to teach art, music and math. He also teaches guitar and bass privately though his schedule is currently full. Frank also enjoys performing in a variety of settings from restaurants to art shows. He continues to be involved in and connected to church music and training church musicians when he is not at Launch.
Steven Zelaya- Coffee Shop Director, Physical Education
Steven was born in Houston and raised in Minnesota. He is a graduate of James Madison High School. He is currently attending Houston Community College seeking a degree in Audio Production. Steven has many years of experience playing and teaching music in small and large venues. He genuinely enjoys helping students explore their musical talents by engaging and supporting them through a variety of creative methods. In his role, he will be assisting with leading students to develop their creativity, hone their artistic skills, and engage their imagination through music. In Steven's spare time, he enjoys playing and watching sports, and playing, making & listening to music..
Angie's life motto is "choose happiness ever day." She is relentlessly positive and brings a sparkle to everything she does. She will be serving as our "Impressions Director" for our front office as well as lending her creative talents to our coffee shop to improve the baking and foodservice side of things. She will be our person on site to help interface between parents and our accounting department. She loves making a difference in young peoples lives and wants to continue doing this with Launch Academy. During her free time she enjoys many diverse creative endeavors, and is thrilled to be able to spend her time doing this with such a driven group of students.
Mr. Obi Ehieze, Math
Next year will be Mr. Obi’s 20th year in education. An Economics graduate from a family of business graduates, he got bitten by the teaching bug after volunteering as an aide after college. His early training was as a reading and language specialist. This served him well when he got into special needs education after his sixth year. Special needs became his true passion. The opportunity to make a difference in children ranging from the gifted and talented to the moderately intellectually disabled has been the most fulfilling thing in his life. He spent over a decade at Crossroads School in Houston where he helped develop their social coaching, redirection and math programs. After Crossroads he spent several years working as an independent educational consultant where he provided academic support and developed similar social support systems for individual families. He also created workshops for parents and schools that dealt with social skills and social development. When he’s not teaching, he enjoys partaking in and watching sports and spending entirely too much time at Barnes and Noble.
Ms. Lauren Jaggers - English, Art
Lauren Jaggers is a SPED certified teacher and animal lover! Her passions are teaching Art and SPED English! She graduated from Texas A&M with a bachelor’s degree in Special Education, has three teaching certifications, is a Certified Autism Specialist and is currently working on her Masters in Mental Health Counseling. She loves being able to introduce new concepts to students, challenging them to think outside of the box and cultivate natural curiosity in the world around them. She has previously taught in Katy ISD and currently provides private social skills instruction through Stokan Jaggers of Katy.
Dara Steinberg specializes in remedial academics for students working at the third through fifth grade academic levels. She completed her undergraduate degree through Kent State University in Ohio. She also completed the Texas Teachers program to obtain her teacher certification and has been working with children in public and private educational settings for twenty years. She has a son who was diagnosed with Aspergers as a child, so she understands on a personal level, the day to day work required to nurture a young person on the spectrum. In her free time, Dara likes to spend time with her family, walking her dogs, and enjoys going to concerts with her husband and son.