Kelli Pryor - Executive Director
Ms. Pryor began her career early—as a sixteen-year-old reporter at her hometown newspaper. From that lucky jump-start, she developed a keen respect for the power of letting young people do the real work of the world. That respect is what attracted her to being part of the founding board that secured Baxter Academy’s charter and helped open the doors for students ready to get their hands on projects they love.
After graduating summa cum laude from the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Ms. Pryor pursued her career in New York City, where she worked as everything from an intern at Life magazine to head of the research department at New York Magazine. She was on the start-up team for Entertainment Weekly, an experience that deeply informs the work she is doing at Baxter in its rigorous early years. Kelli is the author of both nonfiction and fiction books and is also a Sundance Screenwriting fellow, writing for studios such as Dreamworks, Warner Brothers, and Sony Pictures Entertainment, as well as for television.
Since 2002, she has also been the director of the CAFAM Chinese School in Portland, where she has helped engineer a program that inspires learning through meaningful explorations of Chinese innovation, art, language, and culture. Her work at the Chinese School was inspired by her twin daughters’ love for Chinese culture, and it was their interest that first brought Baxter Academy to her attention. Her daughters will be part of Baxter’s second graduating class in 2017.
Michele LaForge - Head of School
Michele LaForge is an exemplar Baxter Academy’s mission. The Head of School needs to be someone naturally sees the interconnectedness of one subject to another and that is Ms. LaForge. She has a background in both math and Russian literature. She is an avid reader who has worked in academic publishing. She is a creative and versatile educator who brings math alive in the world around her students by using her own curiosity to engage theirs. She is also a highly competent leader who inspires the confidence and trust of teachers and administrators alike. Parents revere her.
Bob Strong, principal at Freeport High School, says of her: “Michele is a natural leader. She has great ideas and presents them well, and brings people along. She has faced tough challenges but has moved her team by example. Her interpersonal skills are just remarkable.”
Her former principal at Freeport (now at USM), Tom Edwards, adds that “one fantasizes about who might be a successor, and I would’ve loved if Michele would have considered that [when I left four years ago]. Now she’s ready.”
Chris L’abbe, principal at Holy Cross, worked with Michele for many years at Freeport and says of her: “In Michele, you have a great leader who will bring your staff, students, and community together. She is one brilliant person who has leadership and people skills. She doesn’t shy away from anything hard. She is the best of the best.”
Michele herself states her philosophy best: “Everyone can learn. Learning is a product of the activity of the learners. Teachers are the guides, they create the best conditions for learning, they set guideposts, they ensure the standards are being met. They are model learners. They are professionals who act on the research in the field.”
Ms. LaForge lives with her husband and two daughters in Brunswick, close enough to walk to the bakery.
Fun facts about Ms. LaForge: She quilts. She likes to read Jane Austen and science fiction and fantasy. She is learning to play the banjo. She likes new music better than she likes old music. She does not like peppers.
Angela Taylor - Dean of Students
Ms. Taylor comes to Baxter as not just an experienced high-school teacher and elementary principal but as a designer of new approaches to education. At Poland Regional High School, where she taught humanities for eleven years, she also designed the student judiciary board (the model for Baxter’s j-board). She proposed and designed an alternative school within the school that allowed students to work at their own pace while meeting the same standards as mainstream students. And she designed a standards-recovery program for students who didn’t meet course standards.
At Poland, she taught humanities integrated with math, science, and special education. She created an SAT prep curriculum that was embedded in her classes and also in an after-school prep course. She created a standards-based summer school. One of her specialties is implementing standards-based curriculum and assessment, and she has taught other teachers about standards-based education at UNE, Kaplan University, and USM (her alma mater for both a bachelors in history and a masters in education).
Ms. Taylor says, “I am excited to teach at Baxter because I think embracing contradictions and loving ambiguity should be part of every school.”
Ms. Taylor grew up in southern California and now lives with her family in Raymond, Maine.
Fun facts about Ms. Taylor: She was in the Navy but gets seasick. She thought she didn’t like cats but is now in love with one named Picasso. She loves hot weather, even though she doesn’t get much of it in Maine.
Katherine Driver - Director of Guidance and Counseling
Ms. Driver has spent the last six years working as a school counselor in the American International School of Rotterdam and at Gray-New Gloucester High School, where she has been the Director of Guidance. She grew up in southern Maine and pursued a BA in psychology at Skidmore College, and then a Master of Science in Counseling at the University of Southern Maine.
Working with students from diverse backgrounds, Ms. Driver emphasizes helping young people plan for their lives beyond high school and college: “My hope is that all students will leave high school with the skills to make healthy decisions in many areas of their lives,” Ms. Driver says. “I like to help students feel empowered.” She has helped hundreds of students navigate the college admissions and financial aid process. Her approach involves creating a four-year academic plan with students, as well as working with them to develop necessary skills, such as writing college essays and interpreting test scores. Many of her students have participated in dual-enrollment programs at local colleges and universities to earn college credits while still in high school. She has also advised students interested in other post-secondary opportunities, including AmeriCorps, gap year programs, vocational training, and military options.
As schools nationwide begin the transition to standards-based grading, Ms. Driver has already been instrumental in working toward a proficiency-based transcript and diploma. She has created master schedules, working to ensure all of her students’ credits are in order for graduation.
To provide targeted support for struggling students, she works closely with teachers, parents, and administrators, and she has deep experience coordinating necessary referrals to alternative education programs and resources. She takes a proactive approach to individual and small-group counseling, as well as academic and crisis intervention.
Ms. Driver says, “I like a challenge. I believe in public education, but I also believe that continuing to do the same thing and expecting different results is madness. I’m ready to try something different. Baxter Academy's student-centered environment, collaboration between faculty, parents, and students, and passion for learning are inspiring, and I'm very excited to be a part of the community.””
Fun facts about Ms. Driver: She plays bass in various bluegrass ensembles and is learning to play old-time banjo. She likes to cook, boogie board, and tend to her urban garden. “I am most excited about my tomatillo plant,” she says, “but I keep that quiet because I don't want the other veggies to get jealous.”
Tia Wilson - Operations & Admissions Manager
Tia joins us from the Yarmouth School Department, where she worked for ten years as the Special Education Assistant in their central office. Before working in Yarmouth, Tia spent five years as an administrative assistant at a fabrication mill in Lisbon Falls working on environmental protection and safety procedures. She brings with her a wealth of experience in business and technology. She graduated from Beal College in Bangor with an AS degree in Travel and Tourism & Business Management.
“My favorite part about Baxter is the community feel. On my very first day here, I actually felt like I had found my place… This is one of the most fascinating journeys I have ever been on, and I am loving every single second of it!”
Fun facts: Tia is a taphophile* (definition: someone who takes interest in cemeteries, tombstones, graves, funerals, or memories of past lives). In her free time she works as a Paranormal Investigator and has been interviewed by Downeast Magazine for an article on her cemetery restoration work with the town of Durham. She also enjoys being an Urban Explorer and photographing abandoned locations. Her work has been featured in several online publications. She is a member of her local Historical Society and Cemetery Committee and is the Durham Town Historian specializing in genealogy. She is also obsessed with chickens and owns 42 of them!
Amos Cooper - IT Manager
Mr. Cooper graduated from Gorham High School and studied Broadcast Communications and Film Studies at Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania. He is now back in Maine, serving as the IT Manager for Baxter Academy.
At Susquehanna University, Mr. Cooper was the Technical Director for the student-run radio station, where he helped keep the station running smoothly and dealt with any computer and audio issues. In addition, he was the treasurer for the Model United Nations Club. He managed all of the club’s funds and organized fundraisers.
Mr. Cooper came to Baxter after doing in-home computer work for clients of Techport, a technology company in Portland. He loves the environment at Baxter, especially how it encourages self-taught learning, critical thinking, and personal responsibility. He is constantly impressed by the outstanding work that students do, especially on their Flex Friday projects.
Fun Facts: Mr. Cooper really enjoys playing music, especially the bass guitar. He has been in several bands with friends and plays gigs in pit bands for musicals. In the winter, he loves to snowboard at Sunday River, and in the summer, he enjoys fishing at Pine Point. Mr. Cooper loves to read for pleasure; his favorite authors are Stephen King and Kurt Vonnegut.
Donna Schwarz - Front Office Manager
From the welcoming face in the front office to the woman who is behind the wheel of one of Baxter's School buses, Donna is always there to greet the staff and students with a warm smile and a boisterous laugh! She's the voice behind tracking down absent students and making sure your kids get their lunch orders in on time! Her dedication and organizational skills are a huge assets to the Baxter community!
Donna grew up in South Portland, ME and graduated from South Portland High School. She married her high sweetheart Steve and had three daughters, two of which are twins. She is also a brand new Grammie to a beautiful baby girl! She looks forward to the day when she can take her shopping and spoil her with goodies!
Fun fact about Donna: Donna loves to travel! She has been to Aruba, Jamaica, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. She would love to someday venture outside of the Caribbean Islands and visit Ireland and Scotland where her Grandmother originated from.
Heather D’Ippolito - Partnership and Outreach Coordinator
Ms. D’Ippolito is a fifth-generation Mainer who last year returned home after a long stint teaching in New York City—five years in Brooklyn and three in the Bronx. At the Bushwick School for Social Justice, she was a tenth-grade English teacher who used project-based learning to explore texts ranging from Persepolis to Senegalese poetry to news articles on how social media played a role in the Egyptian revolution.
Her work wasn’t confined to the classroom in Brooklyn. She developed and implemented programs to help struggling students while aligning their work with the Common Core Learning Standards. She worked on a team to develop the school’s standards-based grading policy. She served as a coordinator for student affairs and helped plan college tours and job fairs, as well as workshops on social justice issues.
Most recently she has been the Jobs for Maine’s Graduates teacher at Bonny Eagle High School. Led by student interest, she has guided service projects with local elementary schools, the Ronald McDonald House, and USM Enactus Club.
She holds a bachelor of arts in English literature with a focus on environmental literature from Saint Michael’s College in Vermont, and she also studied at the School for International Training in Jaipur, India. She has a master of science in education from Herbert H. Lehman College in New York.
Why does she want to be part of Baxter? “This is a great time to call Portland home. The city's landscape and its community members create an ideal setting and cast of characters for the kinds of collaborative work students and staff are creating at Baxter. I feel very fortunate to be involved in education right now!”
Fun facts about Ms. D’Ippolito: If she weren’t a teacher, she’d probably be a pastry chef. (Her favorite iced treat she’s made to date: vanilla bean ice cream pie with raspberry compote and fudge swirl...in a graham cracker crust.) She has knitted since high school and recently started avidly watching birds.
Heather Neal - Business Manager
Bio Coming Soon!