Our teaching community is very stable with a low turnover rate. Our staff includes credentialed special education teachers, instructional aides, licensed clinical social workers, and a speech therapist. Credentials vary from Learning Handicapped Specialist, Clear Level-II Education Specialist, and Preliminary Level-I Education Specialist. Staff members share the teaching philosophy that all children and troubled teens, regardless of their mental illness and learning disability, can learn in the appropriate setting. Our teachers are continually finding new ways to adapt the special education curriculum to relate to a student’s background, interests, and needs.
Alicia Jennings, M.A.
Director of Education
In her position as director of education at the Hillsides Education Center, Alicia Jennings is responsible for the organization and operation of the school. She plans, directs, and coordinates all activities and creates and maintains an educational program responsive to the needs of individual students. Alicia is a professional educational advocate and administrator with a 10-year history working with youth who are at-risk, have an emotional disability, or have been in foster care. She has served as the education director in nonpublic schools for the last five years, and previously worked as an academic counselor and lead teacher.
Throughout her career, she has successfully led nonpublic schools through California Department of Education state review and WASC accreditation with a six-year approval. She has also partnered with multiple charter schools and community programs to provide outstanding educational opportunities for youth in foster care and students with an emotional disability, among other career highlights. Alicia received a bachelor of arts in English and communications from Brigham Young University in Laie, Hawaii and a masters of counseling psychology at National University in Los Angeles.
Alicia is dedicated to thoughtful and dynamic educational reform and was attracted to Hillsides because of its cutting-edge work in therapeutic education. “I believe that foster youth and children with emotional challenges have the right to a calm, compassionate, and accepting learning environment that values their voice and encourages them to become leaders in the community,” she said.
One of her immediate goals is to create a project-based learning environment for the students where children take part in hands-on and cross-curriculum projects. “I want to take learning out of the textbook and into the real world,” she said. “Experiential projects develop critical thinking and executive functioning, which is what our student population is here to develop.”
Another goal is to expand the school’s STEM and STEAM curriculum. Alicia’s long-term vision is to create an innovation lab with 3D printers, a robotics program, and computer animation.
She’ll also rely on the ever-growing field of neuroscience as her guide to address the needs of the students. “I look at education not through a behavior-modification lens, but a neuroscience lens,” she said. “We now know that through kindness, compassion, and a strategic approach to brain development in young people, you can actually rewire a child’s brain to recover from trauma.”
Jennifer M. Henry, M.S., LMFT
Jennifer Maristela Henry is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She has been providing public mental health services for the past 11 years throughout Los Angeles County.
An alumna of the University of Phoenix, Jennifer holds a Master of Science degree in Counseling, with emphasis in Marriage, Family, and Child Therapy. Presently, she
is pursuing her Doctoral of Social Work degree at University of Southern California, focusing on the Grand Challenge of Enhancing the Healthy Development for all youth.
She has worked with a diverse population ranging from children, adolescents, families, adults with co-occurring disorders and domestic violence survivors and conducted comprehensive mental health assessments, created individualized treatment plans, and provided holistic individual, family, and group therapy.
Jennifer is trained and certified in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy (TF-CBT,) Seeking Safety (SS,) Multidimensional Family Therapy (MDFT,) Crisis Oriented Recovery Services (CORS,) Matrix Model (MM,) A Window Between Worlds (AWBW,) Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools (CBITS,) Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) and Recovery Oriented Supervision (ROS.) Furthermore, she has undergone and has successfully completed a rigorous training to become a Seeking Safety Champion, which allows her to train in-house trainees/associates. She has evolved in her clinical practice throughout her professional experience. Her field and volunteer experience has also shaped her to be a versatile clinician. She is affiliated with California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT,) Foothill Child Abuse Council and is the President of Humanitarian Organization for People Everywhere (HOPE.)
Her life’s mission is to be a vessel of change to make a difference. An altruistic and humanistic legacy is what she aims to gift this world.
Jimmy Fernandez, J.D.
Jimmy started out as a classroom assistant and then returned to school to receive an education specialist credential. He has taught fifth through 10th grade at HEC, and worked as a lead teacher, running his own program that focused on individualized instruction to a small group of students. Jimmy holds a law degree and worked in the legal field for many years before making a career change to education.
Other support staff includes:
- Credentialed teachers
- Physical education teacher
- Music teacher
- Teaching assistants
- Behavioral specialist team
- Social workers
- Speech and language therapist
- Office manager/billing manager