"Wonder is the desire for knowledge." St. Thomas Aquinas. At Aquinas Classical Academy we foster an environment of life-long learning among our faculty that overflows into the classroom. Students and faculty journey together on a common quest for knowledge by reading from the same primary sources and gleaning insights from the fundamental teachers of our school: the authors themselves.
MICHAEL PRATO, PRESIDENT
Michael Prato joins Aquinas Classical Academy with 45 years of educational leadership as a teacher, coach, and principal/president in the public and private sectors. He holds an MA in Education from Central Washington University in both Leadership and Program Administration. Mr. Prato and his wife, Laura, have been married for 45 years and have five children, all graduates of Catholic high schools. When asked what Scripture verse has been both foundational to his platform, while motivating throughout his career, Mr. Prato offered: "A zeal for your house consumes me," (Psalm 69:9). He believes this verse encapsulates what must underpin all leadership in Catholic education. "I am excited to move this shared vision to reality. Zeal for our Catholic faith within a classical, liberal arts environment will characterize an ACA education." Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, Pray for Us. St. Thomas Aquinas, Pray for Us.
STEPHEN HOLLAND, HEADMASTER
Stephen Holland joins Aquinas Classical Academy after 12 years of teaching at a Catholic high school in the Archdiocese of Seattle. He was with the school since its inception, helping to build its literature department and its culture. Mr. Holland earned an MA in Teaching from Loyola University Maryland and holds a bachelor degree from Gonzaga University in English as well as minors in history and jazz performance. He and his wife, Amber, both grew up in Olalla and are excited to be returning to Kitsap County. They have six children and currently homeschool in the classical tradition. Mr. Holland is inspired by Pope St. John Paul II's message that "Catholic education is, above all, a question of communicating Christ, of helping to form Christ in the lives of others. The cause of Catholic Education is the cause of Jesus Christ and of his Gospel at the service of man." Above all, Mr. Holland is dedicated to ensuring that ACA is a place where students, parents, faculty, and community members encounter Christ so that we may ever conform ourselves to Him.
Shae Ryalls - History & Latin Miss Ryalls joins Aquinas Classical Academy after having finished her master’s degree in Maritime Civilizations from the University of Haifa. Prior to that, Shae received a double major in History and Catholic Studies along with two minors in Classical Studies and Biology from the University of Mary. Having a travel bug, she has periodically studied or traveled in such far-flung places as Switzerland, Poland, Italy, France, Israel, and England. She hopes to take students on her next trip so that she can share the delights of traveling with them. In addition to traveling, Shae enjoys reading, writing, and martial arts. “Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves, ” is her favorite bible verse. (Matthew 10:16) She has a special devotion to her Guardian Angel and asks for his guidance on this new high school adventure!
Mikaela Hertel - Math & Theology Miss Hertel holds a Bachelors in Mathematics from the University of Washington and earned her Masters in Teaching from the University of Portland through the Pacific Alliance for Catholic Education. She has taught many mathematics courses, though her favorite is Precalculus. She has found that the more she follows where the Lord leads, whether it be teaching in Alaska, hiking the Camino de Santiago, or becoming a Third Order Dominican, the more deeply she experiences his grace and love. One of Miss Hertel's favorite bible passages is from I Kings 19, where Elijah hears the Lord coming as a whisper. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, sewing, gardening, and making or listening to music.
Deacon Mikhail Alnajjar - Chemistry Deacon Mikhail brings a wealth of experience to the classroom as a retired Senior Research Scientist and Chemical Hygiene Officer. He has a PhD in Organic Chemistry, as well as a Master of Science in Inorganic Chemistry. Deacon Mikhail has amassed a prodigious amount of publications, research studies, conference lectures, and patents spanning his 30 plus year career. His many church activities and the Holy Spirit led him to pursue the Diaconate Ministry. He was ordained in September of 2010, and his ordination motto is “Do whatever he tells you.” Deacon Mikhail has a special interest in the early church fathers, especially St. Thomas Aquinas. His favorite saint quote comes from St. Augustine, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” One of his favorite pastimes is watching sports. At one time, he even officiated soccer games at the national level! He is married with three children and five grandchildren.
Mary Castaneda - Music Mrs. Castaneda grew up south of Los Angeles, singing in the South Bay Children's Choir, directing church choirs, and playing piano and organ at church. She earned her Bachelor of Music degree in Piano Performance at California State University, Long Beach and later took one semester of graduate studies in church music at St. Joseph's College (formerly at Rensselaer, Indiana). She has participated in several exciting choral ensembles including the Tampa Bay Master Chorale as a choir member and the St. Jerome Chorale of Largo, FL as the organist on a tour of Italy. After receiving an excellent music education herself, she is now honored to share her knowledge with the next generation. As a Catholic musician, she feels a special pride in the towering tradition of the Catholic Church, as well as an urgency to keep beautiful music alive in today's congregations and schools. She lives in East Bremerton with her husband and son. Besides church music, she enjoys Broadway music, mystery and adventure stories, and cooking and eating Mexican food.
Elisabeth Gates - Art & Art History Miss Gates was born and raised in Western Washington and attended elementary school at Our Lady Star of the Sea. She is an extremely talented artist and has spent the past five years studying drawing and painting, working in mediums such as watercolor, gouache, colored pencil, digital painting, and more. Miss Gates’ love of art extends also to photography, creative writing, and calligraphy. Every illustration and painting tells a story, and woven throughout Miss Gates' art is the expression of her faith. The theme of light runs strongly through her work. “For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6) Miss Gates looks forward to being able to give students at Aquinas Classical Academy the tools to depict the reality and beauty around them, visually express their ideas, and analyze other works of art.
Michael Holland - Theology, Fitness & Health Mr. Holland was immersed in an abundance of fitness and health during his undergraduate years at St. Martin’s University where he ran, threw, and jumped as a decathlete! During this time, he also fell in love with monastic life in the Benedictine tradition and had the incredible privilege of being fully welcomed by the monastic community for the liturgy of the hours, Mass, meals and regular participation in the monastic schola. More recently, he was able to pursue a Master’s in Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. Michael, his wife, and their baby boy live in Port Orchard and attend their family’s long-time parish, St. Nicholas in Gig Harbor. Michael’s desire at Aquinas Classical Academy is to help students learn to keep Christ central to their daily lives, as well as to always seek God’s loving design throughout their lives.
Valerie Shepard - Literature Mrs. Shepard is excited to join Aquinas Classical Academy to teach Ancient Literature this year. Though born and raised in San Diego, CA, she took a leap of faith eleven years ago and moved to Washington, her husband’s home state, where they live with their three children. She is passionate about teaching and with a BA in Liberal Studies, a Minor in Music, and a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential, she is capable of teaching in a variety of capacities. Valerie loves reading, playing the flute, and spending time in the beauty of nature. Her favorite bible verse is Romans 12:5, “…so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another.”
~Thank you to Milrose Basco Photography ~
TEACHER APPLICANTS: We are accepting applications for the 2023-2024 school year. Please email your resume along with a cover letter to: email@example.com. Cover letter should answer the following questions: Why do you want to work at Aquinas Classical Academy? Why would you be a good fit?
MAILING ADDRESS: 11010 HARBOR HILL DR, STE B203, GIG HARBOR, WA 98332