Our Founding Staff

Our staff do the hard work of shaping our students every day and are the foundation of our school. 

Learn more about how you can be part of this amazing team.


Jasmine Banks is the Principal of Excelencia Charter Academy.

After completing her undergraduate degree in Los Angeles, Jasmine relocated to Phoenix, AZ as a 2010 Teach For America Corps member. She was a kindergarten-fourth grade special education teacher at Solano Elementary where she also served in multiple roles ranging from mentor teacher, after-school program coordinator, and coach of the boys' soccer, basketball, and volleyball team. 

During her four years at Solano, Jasmine's students achieved on par with their typical peers on state assessments and achieved an average of 1.5 years of reading growth. She was then selected to serve as an instructional and leadership coach to corps members in both the Greater Las Vegas Valley and Los Angeles area, where she coached and developed on average 30 teachers per year for a total of 4 years from both charter and district schools.

Jasmine plans to maximize student learning by supporting and uplifting the talent of our team to meet and reach the full potential of each and every student at Excelencia.

Jasmine holds a B.S. in Business Administration from the University of Southern California and an M.Ed. in Special Education from Arizona State University.


Mirella Dumas is Excelencia Charter Academy’s Office Manager.

While at San Diego State University, she participated as the Community Youth Organizer for an organization on campus where she promoted higher education for at-risk youth. After her undergraduate eduction, she went on to serve two years with City Year Los Angeles, an education based non- profit that focuses on bridging the education gap. She was a tutor, a mentor, and role model for her students.

In her spare time, she likes to read, dance, try new foods, and perform arts and crafts. Mirella is looking forward to working and giving back to her Boyle Heights community.

Mirella holds a B.A. in Psychology and a minor in Child and Family Development from San Diego State University.


Kashaokiwaki Wahpepah is a founding teacher for Excelencia Charter Academy. 

While completing a Summer Teaching Fellowship with Uncommon Schools, she developed her passion for teaching. She moved to Newark, NJ where she taught first grade for two years with Uncommon Schools, North Star Academy. Kasha received her M.A.T. from Relay Graduate School of Education. Kasha grew up in Northern California and moved out to Los Angeles in 2017 to be closer to family.

She is a member of the Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma. Her experience in school being Native American shapes how she teaches. Kasha works to ensure that all student voices are heard and celebrated. 

Kasha received her B.A. in Studio Art from Dartmouth College.

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Danielle Smalls is a Special Educator at Excelencia Charter Academy.

Danielle is originally from Seattle, Washington and came to Southern California to pursue her Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Analysis with an emphasis on urban landscapes. After completing her Bachelor’s she joined the education non-profit, City Year Los Angeles where she served a year as an AmeriCorps member, and a second year as an AmeriCorps Team Leader. In 2016, Danielle joined Teach for America as a Special Educator serving in South LA where she has spent the last two years supporting middle school students in a full inclusion school setting.

Danielle is passionate about helping students with learning disabilities find academic and socio-emotional success at school, and is excited to bring this passion to Excelencia.

Danielle holds a B.A. in Environmental Analysis from Pitzer College and a M.A. in Special Education from Loyola Marymount University.


Diana Cardenas discovered her passion to make a difference through teaching after working with elementary children at Lewis Palmer Elementary in Monument, Colorado, while in high school, and then volunteering as a mentor while she was taking classes at Colorado State University, Fort Collins.

Diana is dedicated to making a difference in this world through the impact that she has with her students. She understands the importance of every student receiving a quality education. 

Ms. Cardenas graduated from Colorado State University, Fort Collins in 2015. She taught kindergarten at Primrose School in Colorado Springs from the Summer of 2015 through the Spring of 2016. In the Fall of 2016, she accepted a position teaching first grade in Southern California, returning to the area she calls home.

Diana is excited to be a part of Excelencia Charter Academy’s launch and looks forward to implementing a program that will take education to a new level!


Amber Lewis is a member of the highly qualified teaching staff at Excelencia Charter Academy.  Amber was raised in Whittier, California, a small suburb of Los Angeles County.  Amber knew at a young age that she wanted to become a teacher someday.  She has always been passionate about working with children in order to improve their educational outcomes.

Amber is very excited to work with the community and help guide the students in a strong college-oriented path that nurtures rigorous curriculum in Literacy and Mathematics.

Amber attended California State University, Fullerton where she earned a double Bachelor’s Degree in Child and Adolescent Studies along with an American Studies Degree.  While she was completing her courses at Fullerton, Amber was present in the classrooms as a preschool and toddler teacher.  Once Amber graduated from Fullerton, she worked as a Co-Teacher and Teacher’s Assistant at a Dual Language Immersion School in Alhambra.  Amber felt it was time to pursue her teaching career so she attended Azusa Pacific University to complete their highly competitive Preliminary Multiple Subjects Teaching Credential and a Master’s Degree in Education. 


Margaret Kathryn LaFountain was born and raised in Southern Maine and moved to California to attend Santa Clara University.  During her undergraduate studies, she spent a semester at the University of Cape Town in Cape Town, South Africa where she focused on Political Science.  In addition, she participated in the Washington Semester Program at American University where she served as a Special Project Intern at the US Department of Commerce.

Her desire to teach was solidified following her experience as a Jean Donovan Fellow where she served as a Programs and Communication Intern at The Telling Room in Portland, Maine.  Through the fellowship, she organized and taught writing workshops for students age 6-18 and aided students in editing work in preparation for publications

In 2018, she joined Teach for America as an Early Childhood Educator.  At Excelencia Charter Academy, Margaret Kathryn looks forward to working with students in the Boyle Heights community and providing a challenging classroom experience that leads to positive development and growth for all students. 

Margaret Kathryn holds a B.S. in Political Science and a minor in Arabic, Islamic, Middle Eastern Studies from Santa Clara University.


Viviana Ramos is a Los Angeles native who is returning home to the city after spending four years teaching in the East Las Vegas Valley. She began her education journey mentoring college-bound high school students with the CollegeSpring program during her time at the University of Southern California. After graduating with her bachelor's degree in psychology, she joined the Teach for America corps in the Las Vegas Valley. She taught mixed-age preschool at a Head Start program for two years while earning her master's degree in early childhood education from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She then became a founding teacher at Futuro Academy Public Charter School, where she taught kindergarten, first grade, and served as a first-grade grade level chair. She joins the Excelencia Charter Academy family this year and is excited about working closely with the students and families of Boyle Heights to create a strong foundation for a lifetime of learning while continuing to grow her toolkit and passion for teaching our youngest scholars. When she's not teaching her favorite hobbies include spending time with family, camping, cooking and crafting.


Kassandra Hernandez is one of Excelencia's Behavior Intervention Specialists (BII). During Ms. Hernandez's years at California State University, Dominguez Hills she worked as a Tutor for the Youth Policy Institute (YPI). While working with YPI, she discovered that she had a passion for working with children. During her sophomore and junior years of college she worked as a Teacher's Assistant and then as an Adult Assistant at a school in Hollywood. That is when she discovered her ultimate passion of working with students with special needs.

In her spare time Ms. Hernandez loves to spend time with her family. She also loves going on road trips with her husky, Nas. Ms. Hernandez joined Excelencia because she admired how hard the school's teachers work with their students. She is excited to contribute to the school's work and ensure that all students continue to excel!