Head of School
Sue Belcher is leading the creation of a school that will uniquely equip students to ask important questions, generate creative solutions, and act from a sense of agency to implement their ideas – all key skills to attaining goals in education and in life.
Sue combines a deep commitment to Seattle and the Pacific Northwest with teaching and administrative leadership experience in independent, public, and international schools. Originally from the Midwest, she earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics education at University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s in library and information science at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Sue has taught at Brookfield Central High School in Wisconsin, the Friends School of Baltimore, and at the International School of Prague, where she worked with students from around the world. In 2008, she joined Lakeside School, where she was head of the Upper School library department, led Global Service Learning trips to India, and directed Summer School Programs. Since 2015, Sue and Lakeside’s Head of School Bernie Noe have been developing the concepts and framework of The Downtown School based on a new model of schooling called the micro-school, which focuses on affordability, accessibility, and serving a small student population.
Where do you find joy? “One of my joys as a leader is to empower others – teachers, students, and families alike – to do their best work.”
What’s your secret talent? “Dancing! Particularly to Moana radio with my kids in the living room.”
Math and Computational Thinking, Registrar, Service Learning Coordinator
Ananya Rabeya focuses on cultivating curiosity, empathy, resilience, and humility in her students. She has nearly two decades of professional teaching experience at colleges, universities, middle, and secondary schools in Washington and abroad. Born and raised in Bangladesh, Ananya fell in love with teaching at age 18, when she taught middle school at the Willes Little Flower School. For her K-12 education, she studied under both the Bangladesh National Board and the UK-based GCE curricula. Recipient of The STARR Foundation scholarship, Ananya transferred to the U.S. while pursuing a bachelor's degree in computer science at North South University. She completed a bachelor's in science at the University of Central Oklahoma, an associate degree in mathematics at Oklahoma Community College, and a master's in applied mathematics at Eastern Washington University (EWU). Ananya was the first person at EWU to be awarded both the Outstanding Graduate Instructor and Student of the Year. She is currently working on her master’s in educational psychology from the University of Washington. For the last several years, Ananya has been on the mathematics faculty at Edmonds Community College, North Seattle College, and the Oregon Institute of Technology, teaching a wide range of undergraduate math courses. She has also taught high school math in Lakeside’s Summer School Programs for five years beginning in 2009. A staunch advocate for social causes, including poverty alleviation and human rights, Ananya has served as the Seattle chapter president of the Spreeha Foundation; sits on the Community Advisory Council of the Wing Luke Museum; has been on the Board at Tasveer; and has helped facilitate the development of programs at the Seattle Housing Authority’s Youth Tutoring Program, at Spreeha Diversity Academy and at the South Asian Women’s Focus Festival, Aaina.
What do you think students need to learn? “To me, the most valuable education is one that involves challenging assumptions, being willing to listen to every side of a story, recognizing and then overcoming one’s own biases, distinguishing between facts and opinions, seeking new solutions and areas for growth, and admitting to lack of knowledge when needed.”
What’s a question you don’t know the answer to? “I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don’t know the answer.” [from Douglas Adams’ “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”]
Data and Operations Manager
Ashleigh Harper joins us this fall as the new Data and Operations Manager. Hailing from Oklahoma, Ashleigh moved to New England to earn a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Boston University. After graduating, she began working as a teaching assistant at a small, residential school in Brookline, MA for adolescents with brain injuries. While the job was rewarding, Ashleigh found she wanted to move out of the classroom and shifted into an administrative role at the school. While she was in that role, her love for working in a school environment continued to grow, and she went on to get a master’s degree in Educational Studies from Wheelock College. Shortly after getting her degree, Ashleigh moved to Loomis Chaffee in Connecticut, where she worked in the admissions office and served as a dorm affiliate. It was there that she gained extensive experience in admission processes and database management. She is excited to bring her skills to The Downtown School!
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in education? Make mistakes. If you’re afraid to make mistakes, you can’t learn and improve your skills. I didn’t understand this myself when I was in high school, but working with and teaching adolescents has taught me just how important it is to be comfortable making mistakes in learning.
What’s the first concert you ever went to? “N*Sync! Back in the glory days of boy bands. N*Sync just might be greater than The Backstreet Boys!”
English, Director of Communications, Student Government Coordinator, Parent-Guardian Liaison
Author and educator Brian Crawford draws on his professional writing and multicultural experiences to guide his students toward becoming reader-centered writers. Born and raised in Athens, Georgia, Brian received his undergraduate degree in French and German from the University of Georgia. He spent a year studying at the Université Jean-Moulin Lyon III in Lyon, France, as part of his undergrad experience, and while earning a dual master’s in French literature and modern German culture at Indiana University, he served as the student director of a summer program for American high school students in Brest, France. Brian began his teaching career at Charles Wright Academy in Tacoma, where he taught French. From 2009 to 2018, he taught 8th-grade Language Arts at Seattle Country Day School, where he was head coach of the debate club. Brian is a founding member and former president of the Pacific Northwest Middle School Debate League. A strong proponent of the value of global education, Brian uses literature as a window into diverse viewpoints and has led nine international trips for students. He is an award-winning author of fourteen novels, a curriculum guide, and a culture and etiquette guide to Rwanda.
How do you approach teaching English? “My role as an English teacher is to coach students on how to use meaning - both producing meaning as writers and speakers and consuming meaning as listeners and readers.”
What’s your favorite cookie and why? “White chocolate and macadamia nut. It goes so well with coffee, and offers a break from chocolate chip.”
History and Social Science, Director of Facilities, Dean of Students
George Heinrichs inspires students to see history as an evolving mix of stories, ideas, and arguments. An avid outdoorsman, George found his path to teaching in the mountains of New England. After earning a bachelor’s degree in religion at Middlebury College in Vermont, he worked as a hut master at five mountain hostels in New Hampshire, educating hikers on the region’s rich story of humans and the environment. There he saw the deep connections among listening, teaching, and supportive leadership. George began his formal teaching career as a History Teaching Fellow at Phillips Academy Andover, returning as a summer session teacher. Most recently, he was a history teacher at Community School in Sun Valley, Idaho, where he taught 9th-grade World History and two senior electives, Islamic Fundamentalism and Modern Middle Eastern Politics, and Debate and Persuasion. He earned his master’s degree in military history from Norwich University in summer, 2018.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given? “‘If you're going to run, be ready to fall.’ My dad said that to me when I would run down mountains as a little kid. I think that learning has that same element: failure, even when it’s painful, can be part of growth.”
What do you do best? “Eat. If you really are what you eat, every great meal lets you literally absorb a culture.”
Mathematics, Internships Coordinator
This fall, Hudson Harper brings his love of solving puzzles and mathematical thinking to The Downtown School. He is excited by the challenge of making math more accessible and relatable to students' lives. As an undergraduate, Hudson earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics from the University of South Carolina. Hudson continued learning advanced mathematics at Boston University, where he completed a master's degree with a focus on number theory. After lecturing courses on calculus, differential equations, linear algebra, and number theory, Hudson moved to Connecticut to serve as a residential faculty member at The Loomis Chaffee School. While at Loomis Chaffee, Hudson served in various roles ranging from being a Dorm Head and Assistant Department Head to supervising the ultimate Frisbee club team. During his time there, Hudson's appreciation for students as holistic individuals grew as well his conviction that education should be student centered.
What do you hope students take away from your classes? I hope that my students realize the idea that some people are just "math people" is just a myth. I want them to feel empowered and view themselves as the authority on their own mathematical experiences.
What are your favorite pizza toppings and why? Being from the south where BBQ is king, I've always been a fan of pulled pork and onion. Pineapple is also a good, and I'm prepared to defend that choice!
Kelsey Van Dalfsen, Ph.D.
Science, Director of Admissions
A Seattle native with deep connections to the city’s scientific and arts community, biologist and teacher Kelsey Van Dalfsen is passionate about inspiring future scientists as well as promoting the development of a scientifically literate general population. Kelsey holds a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Elon University in North Carolina and received her doctorate in molecular and cell biology in 2018 from the University of California, Berkeley, where she held a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and received the Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor Award. Throughout her career, Kelsey has participated in programs that bring the sciences to students from a diversity of backgrounds. Among her favorites are volunteering with the Bay Area Scientists in Schools program and co-coordinating at UC Berkeley the NIH Bridges to the Baccalaureate Program, a summer research internship for community college students from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in the life sciences. While originally intending to teach at the college level, as Kelsey accumulated experience in research, teaching, and volunteering with young people, she found that her passion lay in teaching high school students how to think like scientists and embrace the joy in learning.
What has surprised you most about teaching high school students? “I'm continually amazed by the quality of the questions high school students ask. I find myself starting my responses to student questions with, ‘Hmm...I've never thought about that before!’ more frequently than I did when I taught undergraduates. I think this might be because I get to know my students better and they feel more comfortable asking creative questions that provide an avenue for us all to think about the material in new ways.”
What would be your “entrance music” song? "Maybe that DJ Spekulation remix of Marshawn Lynch at the Super Bowl media day, 'Bout that Action.'"
Spanish, Technology Coordinator
At the center of Lupe Fisch’s professional practice are collaboration and interdisciplinary work, exemplified by her dedication to both STEM and the humanities. Born in Argentina, Lupe moved to Seattle with her family when she was in middle school. She attended the University of Washington (UW), where she earned a bachelor’s in science, majoring in chemistry with a teaching minor in mathematics. Her STEM studies led her to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center to join a research team in a genetics laboratory. But when faced with a choice – pursuing scientific laboratory work more deeply or following a long-held dream of being a teacher – Lupe chose teaching. Lupe returned to the UW to earn a master’s in Spanish language and Hispanic literature and culture. After teaching at the college level for several years, she joined Lakeside School in 2004. In addition to teaching every level of Spanish, from beginning language to advanced Spanish literature and film, Lupe has served in a variety of leadership roles, including languages department head and advisor for Lakeside’s gay straight alliance and Latino student affinity group. And for Lakeside’s Summer School Programs, she taught a six-week biology intensive with one week of fieldwork on Bainbridge Island.
What’s something you love about teaching? “Working with adolescents is one of the things I most cherish. They come to us thinking that we will teach them, not realizing that they also make us better, keep us flexible, and enrich our lives. The four-year process of maturation that high school students go through is a privilege to witness.”
If you had a superpower, what would it be? “Making the earth spin backwards to gain an extra 4 hours a day. I would have better sleep habits.😊”
Director of College Counseling and Student Support
Sarah Murphy serves as The Downtown School’s College and Student Support Counselor. Sarah helps students navigate the social and emotional challenges of high school, including the college admissions process. Sarah is a northwest native; she grew up in the San Juan Islands and has dedicated her career to working with youth. Sarah holds a bachelor’s degree from Stanford University and a Master’s from the University of Oxford in the UK, both in anthropology. Sarah comes to us with a wealth of many years’ experience in independent schools; she has taught every grade 5-12 at schools including San Francisco Day School, Telluride Mountain School, and the Annie Wright School. Most recently Sarah served as Assistant Director of the Middle School at The Bush School here in Seattle. Sarah took a leave from her work in education to earn a Master’s at UW in child and adolescent psychology and has spent the past two years in a professional counseling capacity as a private practice adolescent therapist. She has also served on a number of boards for educational non-profits.
What do you value about working in schools? I love the community that forms within and around a school. Even in a big city like Seattle, a school community feels like a small town where people look out for each other, support one another, and celebrate accomplishments together.
What was one of the craziest things that happened to you in college? Showing up to my dorm and learning that my roommate was the Princess of Bhutan.