Meet the Staff


Claudia Zuorick


Claudia Zuorick received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Elementary Education from William Patterson University, after which she began her teaching career in the Jersey City Public Schools. Mrs. Zuorick earned her Master’s degree in Elementary Education from Seton Hall University and continued her education at Fordham University where she obtained certification in student personnel services. She studied at New York University, and later obtained certification in child development from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Mrs. Zuorick also studied at the New Jersey Institute for training in Psychoanalysis for seven years.

After years as a teacher in the Jersey City Public schools, Mrs. Zuorick went on to become a guidance counselor. Eventually, she was offered an opportunity to train teachers how to systematically build constructive relationships with children. Her work was so well received that teachers, on their own time, came from schools throughout Jersey City to train with her, some of whom work with her to this day.

Mrs. Zuorick and several other public school educators wrote the charter and founded Soaring Heights Charter School. Over time, Mrs. Zuorick has received invitations from all over the state to present workshops for teachers and administrators.

Hilary Battes


Hilary Battes graduated from SUNY New Paltz in New York State. Shortly after graduating, she joined the Soaring Heights team in 2007. She has taught many different grades, but her current passion is working with the youngest Soaring Heights students in kindergarten. Mrs. Battes finds joy in using a variety of methods to teach her students, including group and partner work, technology with iPads and the SMART board, kinesthetic learning, and even singing.

When she is not teaching, Mrs. Battes enjoys reading books and spending time outdoors. Her favorite place in Jersey City is the public library. What could be better than to be able to read books for free? And the great outdoors is the perfect place to read one of those books. Mrs. Battes loves going on walks, collecting pine cones, and even fishing.

Mrs. Battes finds inspiration in many different places: classroom visits to kindergartens at other schools, observing teachers at Soaring Heights, and teaching the students themselves. Seeing so many alumni of Soaring Heights achieve such success in high school and college is a reminder that what is learned in kindergarten stays with a person for a very long time.

Samantha Berman

Teaches Middle School English Language Arts

Mrs. Berman graduated from Kutztown University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education and a minor in Early Childhood with a concentration in Reading. She decided she wanted to be a teacher while in first grade, and her love of reading was instilled in her by her first grade teacher. Today, she seeks to impart that same love to her students. 

Mrs. Berman began her career at Soaring Heights Charter School in 1998. She has taught all grades, kindergarten through eighth, with the exception of first grade.

In her spare time, Mrs. Berman loves to read, especially at the beach or pool. She also enjoys spending time with her family.

Renata Bigbie

Middle School - Social Studies Teacher

Ms. Bigbie joined Soaring Heights Charter School in the fall of 2013, and while employed at the school she graduated from New Jersey City University with a Bachelor of Arts in History. She is currently enrolled at St. Peter’s University working on a graduate degree. In her spare moments, Ms. Bigbie enjoys spending time with her family and reading.

When asked what inspired her to teach, Ms. Bigbie pointed out the lack of African American teachers in neighborhoods where African Americans are the majority. She believes young students should have role models who look like them and who can relate to their background.

Jennifer Black

School Secretary

Miss Black graduated from City University of New York with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Liberal Arts with a concentration in film. After working various administrative jobs in the corporate sector, she found her way to Soaring Heights Charter School. Miss Black is grateful and appreciative not just of where she works, but also for whom she works.  She enjoys everyone she works with, and she strives every day to improve her skills in the office and with the entire student body.

In her spare time, Miss Black likes cooking, photography, going to the movies, spending time with family and friends and of course reading (especially mysteries!).

Hilary Bowden

5th Grade Teacher

Mrs. Bowden was born in Montana and raised in Nebraska. She attended St. Peter’s University in Jersey City where she received her degree in Political Science. At St. Peter’s, she was also a four year starter for the Division I softball team. She continued her education at St. Peter’s and received her Master’s degree in Education while serving as the Graduate Assistant for the softball team.

Mrs. Bowden’s favorite subject is social studies. She loves to discuss government and how laws are made. Her mother, aunt, and grandmother were all teachers, and this inspired her to enter the field of education.

She has two daughters with whom she spends much of her free time. She enjoys reading, outdoor activities, going to sporting events, and choral singing.

Frank Chelbian

Health and Physical Education Teacher

Frank Chelbian graduated Montclair State University and received his Bachelor of Science degree with a concentration in Exercise Science. After graduating, he worked unfulfilled in the corporate fitness world before deciding to change his career path. He decided to bring his passion and instructional abilities to Health and Physical Education. Now entering his thirteenth year at Soaring Heights, Mr.Chelbian continues to passionately and creatively shape future generations of young minds. This passion remains fueled by his desire to provide students with the knowledge and tools they need to succeed in an increasingly competitive world.

Joanna D’Auria-Prokop

Resource/In-class Support Teacher

Joanna D’Auria-Prokop attended Saint Peter’s University where she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology before going on to graduate school and receiving her Master’s degree in Education. Mrs. D’Auria-Prokop then taught at a parochial school, but eventually returned to graduate school and obtained Special Education Certification at Bloomfield College.

Mrs. D’Auria-Prokop joined the faculty at Soaring Heights in September 2001 and has held various positions within the school. She was a Teacher’s Assistant and then taught general education classes. Currently, she provides resource services throughout all grades. Working at Soaring Heights has inspired her to explore the field of human behavior with special emphasis on how people build better relationships through effective communication.

Lisa Dinallo

3rd Grade Teacher

Lisa Dinallo attended Muhlenberg College, a small, four-year Liberal Arts college in Pennsylvania. There she studied Psychology and Elementary Education and received her teaching certificate for both Pennsylvania and New Jersey. After graduation, Ms. Dinallo moved back to New Jersey to pursue a teaching career which began at Assumption School in Bergen County where she taught for several years. Shortly thereafter, Ms. Dinallo joined Soaring Heights Charter School as kindergarten teacher for 10 years before moving on to second grade at the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year.

Seeing children grasp concepts being taught while displaying an eagerness to learn inspires Ms. Dinallo. Her driving force is to improve instruction and comprehension.

Ms. Dinallo enjoys reading and camping in her spare time. She loves reading books and discussing them with friends. Camping gives her the opportunity to read throughout the summer.

George Hodnett

Music Teacher

George Hodnett is a life-long member of the Jersey City music community. He has traveled throughout the country and abroad, and has shared the stage with such great artists as Betty Carter and Sheila Jordan (gospel legends); Timothy Wright, Marvin Winans, Donnie McClurkin, Hezekiah Walker; and with Jersey City greats including Gerald Alston, Kool and the Gang, The Spirit of Life jazz ensemble, and Kiss FM Community Choir (Judah Voices of Praise). Mr. Hodnett presently plays with Smooth Jazz artist Jeanne Ricks, the Gospel group “The Sounds of Faith,” and his two bands, “Instruments of Praise” and “Daddy O’s.” In collaboration with the great music producer Benny Diggs, Mr. Hodnett has been associated with HBO TV and has composed music for stage and film productions.

Mr. Hodnett attended Jersey City State College (now New Jersey City University), and he has been music teacher at Soaring Heights Charter School for 19 of the 20 years the school has been in operation. For more than 20 years, Mr. Hodnett has been a music teacher at Primary Prep, as well as a Community Awareness Series instructor for more than 30 years.

Natalie Hopp

School Counselor

Mrs. Hopp is a school counselor at the Soaring Heights Charter School. She obtained a Master’s of Arts degree in Counseling from Manhattan College and has worked in educational settings as a substitute teacher, athletics coach, swim instructor, and counselor since 2007.  Mrs. Hopp always knew she wanted to enter a career where she would be able to assist people achieve their goals.  Her hobbies include watching and playing sports, spending time with her friends and family, cooking, and traveling.

Myra Ibarra

School Nurse

Mrs. Ibarra attended Blanca Malaret High school in Sabana Grande, Puerto Rico, and graduated from Catholic University of Puerto Rico with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. Mrs. Ibarra has worked in Puerto Rico, Florida and New Jersey, and has experience in Multidisciplinary Intensive Care. She also worked as a Visiting Nurse Field Supervisor, and in 2006, she earned Certification in School Nursing. From 2001 to present, she has worked at Soaring Heights Charter School as the School Nurse.

Mrs. Ibarra’s interests include studying history, collecting coins and stamps, and designing arts and crafts. She loves traveling with her family, and during her trips, she enjoys learning about cultures, languages, customs and architecture. She always says, “Traveling is like opening a book: You get to enjoy yourself, learn, and create beautiful memories that will last a lifetime.”

Joan Incognito


Mrs. Incognito earned her Bachelor of Science degree from New Jersey City University. She is certified to teach Elementary Education, Pre-K and K, and Special Education. Mrs. Incognito met Mrs. Zuorick when they worked together in the Jersey City Public School District. She and other teachers that studied with Mrs. Zuorick believed that working together in one school would be an ideal situation.

They were delighted when charter school legislation was passed in 1995 and Soaring Heights Charter School opened two years later. Mrs. Incognito is one of the founding members of Soaring Heights. She taught kindergarten during the first year of the school’s operation and has taught many other grades since then.

Mrs. Incognito finds that teaching at Soaring Heights is a continual learning experience. She is inspired by teaching with her colleagues and watching them teach.

Stephanie Mastropaolo

Teaches Middle School English Language Arts

Stephanie Mastropaolo graduated from Gettysburg College with a Bachelor of Arts in English. She continued her education at Montclair State University and earned her Master of Arts in Teaching. Ms. Mastropaolo has taught at Soaring Heights since 2007, for the last four years in the middle school as English Language Arts instructor. She loves to watch her students become completely enthralled in a book, and to see their curiosity and excitement grow. As the product of a strong public school education, she believes education is life-changing and wants to bestow the same gift she received upon her students.

When she’s not teaching, Ms. Mastropaolo enjoys reading, the beach, playing sports, and spending time with her family.

Barbara J. McGrath

Kindergarten Grade Teacher

Barbara McGrath, a native of Jersey City, began her career in the Jersey City Public School District after graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Early Childhood. She later completed her Master’s degree as a Reading Specialist. Wanting to become an integral part of education reform in Jersey City, she became one of the founders of Soaring Heights Charter School in 1997.

Miss McGrath has taught a diverse range of grades from first through eighth. She loves learning and strives to inspire the children with that same love. When she is not teaching, Miss McGrath enjoys lazy days at the beach, reading, photography, and both domestic and international travel.

Miss McGrath is inspired by a quote from Nikos Kazantzakis: “True teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross; then, having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create their own.”

Heather Petersen

3rd Grade Teacher

Mrs. Petersen is a first grade teacher at Soaring Heights Charter School and has been with Soaring Heights since 2013. Prior to joining Soaring Heights, she worked at The Ellis School for Girls in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She graduated from Loyola University in Chicago with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and History, an she received her Master of Education degree from the University of Saint Thomas in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

One of Mrs. Petersen’s favorite moments is seeing her students’ faces light up when they grasp a difficult concept. Mrs. Petersen enjoys reading, skiing and spending time with family.

Jacqueline Quagliana

Teaches Middle School Math

Jacqueline Quagliana, who teaches middle grade math, began her career in 1990 at St. Paul’s Greenville in Jersey City. She is a graduate of New Jersey City University where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mathematics. Ms. Quagliana was inspired to become a teacher in order to share her love of mathematics with her students and to support their dreams.

Ms. Quagliana is a proud founder of Soaring Heights Charter School where she is part of a community that helps both teachers and students to grow and learn. In her free time, she enjoys being with her family and watching the Mets.

Eugenia Robinson

2nd Grade Teacher

Eugenia Robinson graduated from New Jersey City University with a degree in Psychology and a certification in Elementary Education Kindergarten – Fifth Grade. She joined the Soaring Heights Charter School family in 2013, and also volunteers as a coach for a nationally-ranked track and field team.

Mrs. Robinson enjoys music and sports, and she shares that love with students whenever the opportunity presents itself. She is inspired everyday while working with the students and believes that creating a productive learning environment is vital to the growth of every student and teacher. For both, every day is a new opportunity to learn and grow.

Stephanie Vargas

1st Grade Teacher

Stephanie Vargas earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from New Jersey City University. She began her teaching career substituting in several school districts before accepting a Teacher’s Assistant position at Soaring Heights Charter School in 2008. Throughout her tenure at Soaring Heights, she has taught first, second, third and fifth grades.

Mrs. Vargas always knew she wanted to be a teacher and yearned to inspire young minds at an early age. As a young girl, she would pretend to be a teacher and practice her “teaching skills” on her younger siblings. Inspired by the teachers she had while growing up, Mrs. Vargas works to inspire her students in turn.

When Mrs. Vargas is not teaching or planning lessons, she spends quality time with her husband and two children. Some of her personal interests include reading, baking, and vacationing.

Ashley Cappiello

Resource / In-Class Support Teacher

Ms. Cappiello is a graduate of the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature, a concentration in Women’s Studies, and a minor in Philosophy. After graduating, Ms. Cappiello worked for a non profit organization - Citizen Schools - which offers extended day programs in low-income areas where achievement gaps in education exist. Additionally, she worked for the College of Saint Elizabeth as an athletics coach of Softball, Cross Country, and Tennis.

In 2012, she came to Soaring Heights as a Teacher’s Assistant, and she fell in love with the school’s collective form of governance which supports a structured and rigorous learning environment for all of the students to grow as well as her own personal and professional growth. In 2016, she received her Masters of Arts in Teaching and Dual Certifications in Secondary Education English and Teacher of Students with Disabilities. Following, she left Soaring Heights to pursue full-time teaching opportunities, but she returned without hesitation when a full-time Special Education teacher position opened in 2018.

During her free time, Ms. Cappiello enjoys reading non-fiction books that address sociological and psychological topics. When the weather is nice, she enjoys time spent outdoors especially at the beach. Most importantly, she loves to spend time with her two dogs - Barley and Riley - and her nieces - Georgia and Keira.

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