About Us » STEAM Team


Dinara Bowers- Russian
Здравствуйте! Zdravstvuyte! Hello!
I was born and raised in Kazan, Russia. I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Foreign Languages and Literature from Kazan State University in 2007 and my Master’s Degree in Instruction and Curriculum Leadership from the University of Memphis in 2014. When I lived in Russia, I taught English and Spanish to children of different ages and also worked as an interpreter and translator. I have previously taught Russian in the elementary school and this is my fifth year with Shelby County Schools. I have always been passionate about learning and teaching foreign languages. My goal is to provide engaging lessons in Russian Language and the biggest reward for me is when I hear my students speaking Russian. I spend my free time with my family. I enjoy walking in the park, riding a bike and travelling. I am excited to be a part of STEAM Academy and the opportunity to develop the Russian Program. I am looking forward to starting this exciting school year!
Contact: bowersd1@scsk12.org

Micah Thomas- 6th Grade Science and Social Studies
I am Micah Thomas originally from Little Rock, AR. I have a masters degree in education and over ten years teaching experience. I love learning and enjoying life. :)
​Contact: thomasmd1@scsk12.org

Julian White- Pre-algebra and 7th Grade STEM
Julian White was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee in a household of educators, where he discovered a passion for teaching. Julian received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in History from the University of Memphis, where he was a five-year member of the Mighty Sound of the South Marching Band. While at the University of Memphis, Julian discovered his talent and love for Mathematics when he was asked to tutor peers and local middle and high school students. Julian started his career teaching percussion, history, and mathematics at the Bowie Learning Center, a school for gifted and learning disabled students. Julian’s experience served him well in his two years teaching Algebra 1 and Geometry at Cordova High School. Julian also enjoys playing and teaching percussion groups such as Gateway Indoor Percussion in St. Louis, MO and The Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps from Chicago, IL. When he isn’t teaching or drumming, Julian is spending time with his dog, Ollie and family in Germantown, TN. Julian is very excited to join STEAM where he can share his passion for Music and Mathematics.
Contact: whitej6@scsk12.org

Alysha Bird- 7th Grade CLUE
I earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and a Master of Arts in Teaching degree with a concentration in instructional and curricular leadership from the University of Memphis. I love the city of Memphis and am proud to call it my life long home.
Website: padlet.com/birda1/7

Candy Pollan- Optional Coordinator
I have enjoyed working with students and parents in the Memphis area since 1983! I have taught 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grades, and recently re-certified as a National Board Certified Teacher. I am currently the Optional School Coordinator and PLC Coach for MSSA. I am the proud mom of Lacey, a kindergarten teacher in DeSoto County, and Zack, a junior at the University of Memphis. I also spend a lot of time playing with my grandkids, Lyla and Coleman.

Kelly Nelson- 7th and 8th Grade ELA
Having grown up in Texas, I am proud to have called Memphis my home for the past 10 years. My past teaching experience extends from Shelby County Schools, where I met and taught alongside the awesome Mrs. Pollan. In addition, my most recent endeavor was an 8th grade reading position within a local charter school. I had the opportunity to loop up with my students from 7th to 8th grade at both schools, which allowed me to form strong bonds and see great growth in both cases. Previous to teaching, I have extensive experience working with youth as I served on Young Life Staff as well as Hope church youth staff for a combination of six years. I LOVE building relationships and seeing growth in youth, thus teaching has allowed for a challenging yet VERY rewarding avenue in which to continue this passion.
Contact: nelsonk1@scsk12.org
Heather Lunsford- 8th Grade Science
I am a proud graduate of East Tennessee State University where I earned my Bachelors of Science in Biology in 2008 and my Masters in the Arts of Teaching in 2010. For the past 4 years, I have taught Biology, Environmental Science, and Physical Science in a small, rural school located in the mountains of East Tennessee. As an educator who is passionate about STEM education, I have attended numerous professional learning activities, and I have been trained in STEM best practices. As a newlywed, I am looking forward to embarking on a new journey with my husband as we relocate to Memphis! I am beyond blessed to have the opportunity to work at the Maxine Smith STEAM Academy. This year I plan on providing my students with an opportunity to grow both academically and personally, by engaging them in rigorous activities and lessons as they gain the tools needed to be successful in both the classroom and real world.
Jay Cotner- 6th Grade Social Studies and STEM
I am a graduate of the University of Memphis and a K-8 teacher who is highly qualified in all subject areas. I have been a science and reading teacher for the past nine years in 6th and 8th grades. I strongly believe in providing students with a foundation for learning in a hands-on environment that is filled with a variety of media resources and technology integration. Over the past few years I have sponsored the Technology Team, Lego Robotics, and Guitar Club and have participated in the Computer Explorers program as an instructor of summer computer classes such as Video Game Design, Fungineering, and LEGO Robotics. I enjoy being active, hands-on, and learning new things. In my free time I play the guitar, ride my mountain and road bikes, and play both golf and disc golf. I also like to travel with my wife and explore new places…I especially enjoy the food. I am very excited to be a part of the STEAM Academy and share my love of learning, science, and technology.
Contact : cotnerj@scsk12.org
Tamra Gathright-Billings- 7th and 8th Grade STEM
I am an enthusiastic educator with excitement for Science. With 7 years of teaching experience, I have taught 6th grade science and 8th grade STEM. As a current STEM instructor, I enjoy challenging my students’ creativity and higher order thinking as we use STEM to solve problems. I am a graduate of Tennessee State University where I earned a B.S. in Biology and a M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction. I have also successfully completed STEM training through Project Lead the Way at Northwestern State University of Louisiana.

Nicholas Adams- 7th Grade Social Studies
Noelia Warnette-Jones- Dance and Theatre
Noelia Warnette-Jones is a native New Yorker, who has been dancing since the age of seven. She is a graduate of the Alvin Ailey American Dance School where she trained professionally in dance. She furthered her education and received her BFA in Dance from Marymount Manhattan College and came to Memphis in 2000, to join the University of Memphis Dance Department as an adjunct professor, teaching jazz and beginner ballet. While teaching at the University Of Memphis, she taught Modern dance and beginner Jazz for Midsouth Dance Academy, Jazz and Hip-Hop at Studio B, Jazz at the hope and Healing Center, and is currently a five year full-time dance teacher for Shelby County School system. She is a six year veteran of the Memphis Grizzlies Dance Team. Her first debut in Musical Theatre was at Playhouse On The Square in the production “HairSpray” along with “Ragtime”, “Footloose”, and “Legally Blonde”, in which she was the assistant choreographer at Playhouse On The Square. She was Dorothy in the “Wiz” and Deena in “Dream Girls” at the Hattiloo Theatre, Lilly in “Annie”, Ronnette in “Little Shop Of Horrors”, and Mrs. Brown in the Musical “Camp Rock”. Theatre Memphis “Chorus Line” as Diana Morales and as an Ensemble dancer in Color Purple. Her film credits includes “Malcolm X” as a principle dancer and body double for Jada Pinkette-Smith in the movie “Bamboozled”. She is currently teaching at the Markel Ballet School at the Jewish Community Center from ages 3yrs to 12yrs old. She has a passion for teaching students and developing the whole child.
Allie Marlin-7th Grade Math  
This is my second year teaching, and my first year at STEAM! I hold a degree in Mid-Level Math/Science Education from Harding University in Searcy, AR. I grew up in Memphis and just moved back from Little Rock in August. It's good to be back in the 901!
Contact: marlina@scsk12.org
Padlet: padlet.com/alliermarlin/7prealgebra
​Neil Sanford- CLUE
I have been teaching in Shelby County Schools for 13 years. I have spent my entire career teaching 8th and 9th grade Language Arts and now CLUE. I have taught at STEAM Academy for two years now and have sponsored both Destination Imagination and Student Council. I am married and have no children, but I do have a five year old Dachshund named Argos after Odysseus' dog in The Odyssey.
Padlet: padlet.com/sanfordsn/homepage
Kyle Kuusisto- Physical Education
Kyle Kuusisto is the Physical Education teacher at the STEAM Academy. He has a Master of Public Health degree from the University of Memphis as well as a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education from Augsburg College. Prior to joining the STEAM Academy, Mr. Kuusisto taught at Westhaven Elementary for ten years. Mr. Kuusisto was born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He enjoys running, cycling, swimming, and spending time with his family and friends accompanied with good food and music. Mr. Kuusisto looks forward to serving the students, school and community of the STEAM Academy with a challenging and stimulating physical education curriculum anchored in a supportive, active environment.
Contact: kuusistok@scsk12.org

Steven Spangler- Band and Orchestra
Born and raised in Lancaster, Ohio, I received my B.A. in Music Education at Muskingum University. I then began my teaching career in Lake Havasu City, Arizona where I led the award winning bands and orchestras at Lake Havasu High School. In 2011 I came to Memphis, Tennessee to teach with Memphis City Schools. I have performed with many performing groups and symphonies over my career including the South East Ohio Symphony, the Mohave Valley Symphonic Winds and the Lake Havasu Regional Orchestra, as well as performing with many professional acts in all styles and genres of music. As a musician and educator, I believe that music is essential to the education of a well-rounded individual. I am excited to be a part of the Maxine Smith STEAM Academy and look forward to this upcoming school year.
Yureka Pirtle-Counselor
Born and raised in Holly Springs, MS, I obtained my Bachelor of Science in Educational Psychology, Master of Science in School Counseling and Educational Specialist in School Counseling all from Mississippi State University “Go Bulldogs”. I began working as a Professional School Counselor for Memphis City Schools in 2009, prior to becoming a school counselor I served in several other mental health positions within the Parkwood Behavioral Health System. As a level 5 counselor my goal is to meet the needs of all students. I am elated to be joining the staff of the Maxine Smith STEAM Academy and I am looking forward to an exciting and innovating school year.
Amanda McClusky- Media Specialist
I am so excited to begin my ninth year with Memphis City Schools as the Library Information Specialist at Maxine Smith STEAM Academy. I have a Bachelor's Degree in English and a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Memphis. I taught English for five years before transitioning into the Library, where I have happily been the last four years. I am a Level 5 educator and am highly qualified in Reading K-12 and Language Arts K-12. I am passionate about reading, cross-curricular instruction, and incorporating technology in the classroom. My goal as an educator is to help develop students' curiosity and their commitment to being life long learners. I love to spend my spare time with my husband and our two sons.
Clay Davis
Padlet: padlet.com/davissteam/algebra
Contact: davisc7@scsk12.org

Are you interested in applying for the STEAM Academy?

Shelby County Schools is searching for STEAM teachers (Science, English, Math, CTE, Fine Arts, and Social Studies). STEAM teachers work collaboratively with the instructional team to design and deliver STEAM lessons that are aligned with state and national objectives using technology to enhance student achievement. The STEAM teachers will be located at the STEAM School and collaborate with SCS central office, Christian Brothers University, and other STEM schools. This position reports to the STEAM School Principal. The STEAM educator will have experience delivering content based on their endorsement area.

The STEAM School will allow CBU Department of Education faculty access to all classrooms for professional development purposes, thus creating a professional relationship among CBU Education faculty and the School faculty.

CBU Department of Education faculty will provide the STEAM School faculty with ongoing professional development several times per year as coordinated by the STEAM School administration and CBU Department of Education faculty.

CBU Department of Education Faculty and the STEAM School administrators will meet regularly to discuss progress, concerns, etc.

For more information about applying to teach at the STEAM Middle School, visit: www.teachmemphis.org