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Grades 9-12

Meet the Staff

Brendon Watchorn

7th Grade Life Science, 10th Grade Biology, HS STEM course, High School

Certification: B.S. Biology
Education: Dordt University
Bio: Hi! My name is Mr. Brendon Watchorn. I studied Biology with at Dordt University in Iowa. My passion is for the biological sciences as they relate to the human body and the medical field.
Room: 209 / #1209
Email: bwatchorn@stepacademymn.org

Theodore Salonek

9&10th Grade ELA Teacher, High School

Certification: B.A. English; M.A. Learning and Teaching; 5-12 English Language Arts Credential; 5-12 Communication Arts/Literature
Education: University of Redlands
Bio: My name is Theodore (Ted) Salonek. I grew up on a cattle farm near Watertown, Minnesota. I've taught in China, Hawaii, California, and Minnesota. My hobbies include cooking, reading, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Room: 210 / #1210
Email: tsalonek@stepacademymn.org

Bill Potts

6-12 Physical Education and Health & K-12 Developmental Adapted Physical Education, High School

Certification: B.S. Physical Education
Education: Saint Cloud State University
Bio: I’m a father of two teenage daughters with my wife of over 20 years. My oldest daughter is going to college at a Community College in the Twin cities and my youngest daughter is a Senior at Blaine High School. I have taught in the Twin Cities for over twenty years and believe Physical Education and Health are two of the most important classes for students. I enjoy the challenges everyday that our students bring to the classroom and look forward to teaching at STEP Academy.
Room: Gym / #1225
Email: bpotts@stepacademymn.org

John Sooja

CCR Teacher, High School

Certification: B.A. M.A. and Ph.D in English Language Arts
Education: Hamline University; University of California-Riverside
Bio: John grew up in the Twin Cities, went to South High School, and graduated from Hamline University. He then finished graduate school in California before returning to MN to be closer to friends and family. He has over 10 years of teaching experience and loves being in the classroom! His interests primarily revolve around soccer, good music, good writing, books, tabletop gaming, and almost anything nerdy.
Room: 214 / #1214
Email: jsooja@stepacademymn.org

Wayne Nelsen

High School ELL Teacher, ELL

Certification: K-12 Language Arts and English Language Learner Education
Education: Saint Cloud State University
Bio: I began my ELL career as a Peace Corps volunteer in Hodeidah, Yemen. After that I taught at Ayutthaya Teachers College in Thailand. In the States I've worked as an instructor for a Family Literacy program, followed by many years of teaching ELL in Minneapolis and St. Paul. I've been with Step Academy for 10 years!
Room: 93 / #1093
Email: wayne@stepacademymn.com

Omar Fiqi

6-12 Math Intervention, High School

Certification: M. Ed. Mathematics; PGDIPL - Actuarial Science; B.S. Statistics
Education: University of Minnesota; University of Waterloo; King Saud University (Riyadh, Saudi-Arabia)
Bio: Fifteen years experience of teaching and tutoring mathematics for different grades (6-12). Collaborated and communicated regularly with families in making educational decisions and use family and community resources to support learning and collaborated with peers to develop, plan and implement best practices based on the needs/abilities of the students.
Room: 100 / #1001
Email: ofiqi@stepacademymn.org

Mariah Gavin

Special Education/DCD Teacher, High School

Certification: 5-12 Social Studies
Education: Minnesota State University Moorhead
Bio: Hello! I'm Ms. Gavin. I love to teach because I love to see my students succeed and I love to learn. Reading, writing, and social studies are my favorite. Outside of school, I love to garden, travel, go hiking, and camping. I like CrossFit too. I have two cats named Thora and the Dude.
Room: 91 / #1091
Email: mgavin@stepacademymn.org

Freedom Hunt

6-8 Reading Intervention & 11th Grade ELA, High School

Certification: 5-12 Social Studies
Education: University of Wisconsin-River Falls
Bio: My name is Freedom Hunt and I’m in my second year at STEP Academy. I’m really happy to work with students at STEP and to support them in fulfilling their goal to attend post secondary education.
Room: 214 / #1087
Email: fhunt@stepacademymn.org

Emma Olson

SPED Coordinator, Elementary

Certification: K-6 Elementary Education; K-12 Special Education: Specific Learning Disabilities; K-12 Special Education: Emotional/Behavioral Disorders; K-12 Admin: Director of Special Education
Education:
Bio: It is my pleasure and honor to introduce myself as the District Coordinator of Special Education at STEP Academy. I am extremely proud and excited to once again serve this school community! I look forward to partnering with you in the education of your child. Feel free to contact me at any time. We are going to have a fantastic school year!
Room: Lower Level Office / #1184
Email: eolson@stepacademymn.org

Mahdi Elmi

Secondary/ Math teacher and RTI, High School

Certification: 5-12 Mathematics
Education: Metropolitan State University
Bio: I am Mahdi Elmi, In April of 2018, I graduated with Bachelors of Science in Apply Mathematics from Metropolitan State University. I am currently enrolled at Augsburg University, pursuing my Master's Degree in Math Education for Secondary. My graduation date is set for May 2022.
Room: 100 / #1001
Email: melmi@stepacademymn.org

John Ritchart

HS Science, High School

Certification: 9-12 Physics and Chemistry
Education: Murray State University
Bio: Science teacher, US Navy vet, fisherman
Room: 211&213 / #1213
Email: jritchart@stepacademymn.org

Luke Olson

HS Math Teacher, High School

Certification: 5-12 Mathematics & Coaching
Education: University of Wisconsin - River Falls
Bio: I enjoy the students' willingness to help each other learn at STEP.  I integrate STEM into teaching every day! Math is 25% of STEM!  I don't remember exactly what made me decide to be a teacher, but I am happy I am doing it.  Outside of school I do woodworking and home remodeling.
Room: 212 / #1212
Email: lolson@stepacademymn.org

Hannah Samuelson

HS Social Studies Teacher, High School

Certification: 5-12 Social Studies
Education: University of Northwestern - St. Paul
Bio: This will be my 6th year teaching at STEP Academy! I have a passion for learning and teaching history and government. If I could time travel back to my favorite time period in history it would be the Medieval/Dark Ages or the Revolutionary War period. I am married and my husband and I live in the Hamline-Midway neighborhood of Saint Paul. Outside of school I enjoy going to the gym, being out in nature, and baking!
Room: 207 / #1207
Email: hhenley@stepacademymn.org

Jessica Chapman

7/8 Grade Reading Intervention & 12 grade ELA Teacher., High School

Certification: B.S. 5-12 Communication Arts and Literature
Education: Saint Cloud State University
Bio: I have been teaching for 9 years (6 at STEP!). I have taught 5th-12th grade in the past 9 years, and currently teach 7th, 8th, and 12th. I enjoy teaching all grades, but these have been my most favorite. I enjoy the energy and excitement in a Middle School classroom, and the maturity and motivation within a Senior classroom. I can't wait to teach in person this year!
Room: 202 / #1202
Email: jchapman@stepacademymn.org

Marwa Borghol

Secondary Arabic, High School

Certification: B.S. Education; K-12 Arabic Education
Education: Al Mansoura University (Egypt)
Bio: Arabic language teacher for non speakers grades K12 in U.S. for about 13 years.
Room: 208 / #1208
Email: marwa@stepacademymn.org