William Bernhard

Dr. Bernhard has been on the faculty of the University of Illinois for twenty years and currently serves as Vice Provost for Academic Affairs. He is the parent of two children. On the weekends, he can be found at soccer games, tennis matches, and swim meets across central Illinois.

Bill believes that Academy High has the potential to strengthen secondary education across Champaign-Urbana.


 Margareth Etienne

Margareth Etienne is a mother of two and a law professor. Her areas of expertise include Criminal Law, Education Law and Children and the Law.  Margareth holds a B.A. in History and a Law degree from Yale.  Prior to becoming a lawyer, she taught as a high school teacher, instructing French from Beginner to AP levels.  Most recently, she served as a trustee on the College Board.  Currently, she serves as the Associate Dean for Graduate and International Programs for the College of Law at the University of Illinois.

“I have worked in schools and studied schools for many years.  I was intrigued by the idea of a school that has the commitment and resources to squarely place the development of student’s passions as its core focus.  There are very few independent high schools around the country and even fewer that can ignite passions without sacrificing either academic excellence or access.   Schools like Academy High can never replace the excellent public schools in our communities but, like charters, they provide an opportunity to pilot new ideas in education.”


Jonathan Freund

Jonathan Freund is Head of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Illinois, having joined Illinois as an assistant professor in 2001 upon leaving a similar position at UCLA.  His university degrees are from Stanford University.

He is a father of four — two biological sons and two adopted daughters — and he is excited about the broadening education opportunities in our community afforded the student-adaptive environment of Academy High.



Bhavna Hirani

Bhavna Hirani works at the University of Illinois as a research development professional in the College of Engineering. Dr. Hirani holds an undergraduate degree in engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi and a PhD in Chemistry from USC, Los Angeles. She has lived in Tokyo, Japan for over 2 years where she earned a master’s degree in Polymer Chemistry from the Tokyo Institute of Technology.

Dr. Hirani is a mother of three, is active with engagement of the University with local organizations, identifies learning opportunities for both members of the University and the community, and enjoys healthy cooking for family.

“I believe in the mission of Academy High to inspire students to discover and pursue their passions. I like the existence of modules as a means to supplement the core curriculum. This allows the students to have an opportunity to learn many different applied areas that deepens their basic knowledge and helps them pursue their interests. I am happy to see the school so committed to each individual student and engaged with the community in the interest of students.”

Beth Hogan

Beth Hogan teaches 7th grade English at Campus Middle School for Girls and works as an instructional coach and consultant for The Regional Office of Education in Champaign. Ms. Hogan taught at Centennial High School and Urbana High School from 1995-2015 with one break for a return to graduate school.  She is certified in both English Language Arts and TESOL.   She earned her undergraduate degree from The University of Illinois in Rhetoric and Women’s Studies, her TESOL certification from The University of Illinois, and her teacher certification and M.S. Ed from ISU.  She is a Great Books-trained teacher and in 2003, she became a National Board Certified Teacher.  Ms. Hogan lives in Champaign with her husband and twin boys.

“I admire Academy High’s commitment to small classes, indexed tuition, nimble curriculum design, and student-centered instruction. Many teens thrive within the affiliation and attachment available at a small school. That, along with later start times, can increase the health and well-being of students during adolescence.”

Sarah Laufenberg

Sarah Laufenberg holds degrees in Kinesiology and Health Management and Informatics from the University of Illinois and the University of Missouri, respectively. She utilizes her leadership and project management skills and passion for educating and empowering others through her volunteer commitments in the community.

Laufenberg believes passionately in student-centered education. She believes that Independent Schools are nimble in applying evidence-based approaches to an array of learning styles. She is excited about the prospect of Academy High students conducting deep dives into areas of interest via project-based learning and internships, which fosters passion and engagement in the educational process.


Elissa Libman

Elissa Libman is an attorney who performs legal research and writing for a suburban-based firm, and she formerly practiced Labor and Employment Law for Sidley & Austin in Chicago. Ms. Libman, mother of three, is active in the community, supporting education, athletics, and charitable organizations. She holds a degree in Finance from the University of Illinois, and a law degree from Northwestern School of Law.

“I am honored to be involved with this new, forward-thinking school that helps students connect their work with the outside world. The shared commitment to character, compassion, and community is evident at all levels. The future of education is Academy High, and it is inspiring to be part of it.”

 Duane Nelson

Duane Nelson is Executive Vice President of Westchester Group Investment Management, Inc. Prior to joining Westchester, Duane was Associate General Counsel in the Asset Management Law area of TIAA and general counsel for real estate investments at Citigroup Alternative Investments. He previously served on the Westport, CT Planning and Zoning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals and the Newtown, CT School Building Committee. Duane earned a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center and a B.A. in Economics from Yale University.




Donna Pittman

Donna Pittman is the Director of the Champaign Public Library. In addition to building partnerships over the years with educators related to library services, she has volunteered in classrooms and served as a mentor in Champaign Unit 4 School District.

“New, innovative approaches to education are of interest to me due to my work as a librarian and my efforts to help young people enjoy learning. I support Academy High’s focus on real world experience, creative thinking, and individual interests.”




Tracy Sulkin

Tracy Sulkin is a Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Media at the University of Illinois. My research and teaching focus on American politics and political institutions, particularly the U.S. Congress. Dr. Sulkin has been a part of the Champaign-Urbana community since 2002, and am the parent of two sons, currently in kindergarten and fourth grade.

“I am excited by the work Academy High has done to establish a new and creative secondary school option. The focus on individualized education to cultivate students’ passions and interests, the commitment to experiential learning and internships that integrate them into the community and the world beyond, and the preparation for meaningful participation in an increasingly global and diverse society are innovative and timely.”



Dr. Kashif Ahmad

Dr. Ahmad is a founding faculty and professor at Carle Illinois College of Medicine at University of Illinois Urbana Champaign. He has thirteen years of experience in higher education that includes being at a medical school, health sciences school and liberal arts college. He also has been teaching online with UC Berkeley extension for the last eight years. He is a medical doctor with a PhD from National University of Singapore, and a Masters from Kings College, London.

He has two daughters, older in college at UIUC and a younger one in 7th grade.

“I feel that Academy High can set a model that builds on compassion and intellectual curiosity, providing a curriculum that promotes critical thinking and life long learning”.