Villa Bella Expeditionary School is a free, public charter elementary school in Pueblo District 70. We currently serve grades K-4th and will be fully operational in 2021-2022 as a K-5th grade school.
Our waitlist is now open for students entering grades Kindergarten to 5th Grade.
Our waitlist is now open for students entering grades Kindergarten to 5th Grade.
Our Crew: VBE Faculty & Staff
Meet the dedicated educators and staff excited to be a part of our Explorers’ educational journey.
Mr. Logan Gogarty is a strong entrepreneurial and educational leader. He has served as an operations manager at a high performing charter school in Denver, taught at a bilingual elementary school with Teach for America in San Antonio, and served as a principal at an alternative K-12 school. Mr. Gogarty has a BA in Spanish from CSU-P, a Masters in Education and Entrepreneurship from the University of Pennsylvania, an Ed.S in Superintendency and is nearing completion of his Ph.D in Education Leadership.
Director of Operations
Originally from Illinois, Mrs. Elizabeth Plinske moved to Pueblo in July 2018. She has a BA in Sports Management and Communications from the University of Michigan and an MBA from the University of Illinois. Mrs. Plinske has held positions in college athletics administration with numerous NCAA Division I schools along with financial management and operational roles for several organizations. She is responsible for the budget, enrollment and daily operations for VBE. Mrs. Plinske is a mother of two and, with her family, loves to hike, bike and attend CSU-Pueblo sporting events.
Director of Instruction & Curriculum
Mrs. Jessica Ortiz has a BA from the University of Northern Colorado & is working towards a Master’s from CU, Boulder. Within VBE, Mrs. Ortiz facilitates data-driven and equity-focused teams, leads in the development of high-quality, learner-driven, & purposeful curriculum and instruction and supports the curriculum adoption implantation process. Mrs. Ortiz is the mother of three and enjoys traveling as well as hiking, kayaking, and camping with her family.
Mrs. Pam Pettijohn has been in a District 70 school office for the last 10 years. She has a BA in Interior Design but has really enjoyed working in schools getting to know the students, parents, and greater Pueblo community. She is married with two sons who love to rodeo. Originally from Wisconsin, they moved to Colorado when the boys were little and they love the winters in Pueblo. Mrs. Pettijohn enjoys taking care of her family, getting together with friends and an occasional concert. She looks forward to meeting new students, and parents every year.
Health Tech/Office Aide
Mrs. Stephanie Coy was born and raised in the San Luis Valley. She is happily married to her husband, Steve, and together they have four children and two grandchildren. Mrs. Coy has several years experience working in the medical clerical field and enjoys such things as baking, sewing, camping, fishing and simply being with her family. She is anxious to continue to serve the needs of the Explorers!
Mr. Cliff Payne has nearly 30 years of experience as owner and operator of a painting and home remodeling business. He recently moved to Pueblo from Sikeston, MO with his wife to be near his eldest daughter and grandson, who attends school at VBE. Mr. Payne loves being outdoors, camping, razor riding, and being with his family and friends. He enjoys working alongside the amazing staff, students, and parents at Villa Bella Expeditionary.
Mr. Dylon Ortiz graduated from Colorado State University-Pueblo with his Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Studies and a minor in Elementary Education. As a Crew Leader, he wants to help students experience success. This includes educational growth but he also focuses on helping students become successful teammates, leaders, and community members. He works hard to develop students who are respectful, responsible, compassionate and have integrity. Mr. Ortiz is married to a fellow elementary education teacher. He loves to travel and enjoys fishing as well.
From Lafayette, CO, Mr. Quinn McNierney has a Bachelor’s Degree in History from the University of Northern Colorado. He has a teaching certificate from CSU-Pueblo Teaching in Residency program and is working on a Master’s Degree in Teaching and Learning (Educational Leadership) from Colorado State University Global. He is a father to two awesome kids and family is a staple of his life. Quinn also enjoys traveling (12 different countries and counting!), reading, and playing video games.
Mrs. Leann McIntire is native to Pueblo. She holds a BA in Liberal Arts & received a Master’s degree in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Education. She has been teaching elementary grades for 16 years. Mrs. McIntire & her husband, Matt, spend much of their time with their three boys, whether at home, or out in the community. The family loves scouting, baking and cooking together. She is excited to inspire & grow with the 3rd grade crew.
Originally from Florida, Mrs. Casey Christenson has called Pueblo her home for the last 10 years. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Education from Adams State University and has been teaching in Pueblo for the past six years. Her mission as an educator is to inspire and encourage students to reach their fullest potential, while instilling kindness, compassion, and leadership. When not in the classroom, Casey enjoys spending time with her husband (Jacob) and two young children (Jaycie and Colton). She also enjoys baking, gardening, hiking, and traveling back to the beaches of her hometown.
Ms. Carrie McDonald was born and raised in Indiana. She vacationed in Colorado while in college and fell in love with the mountains so she left everything behind and moved here and has now been here more than half her life. Ms. McDonald graduated from CSU-P in 2006 and also received her Master’s in Education, Learning and Technology in 2018. She has spent 11 years teaching kindergarten and one teaching 2nd grade prior to joining VBE. Ms. McDonald has three teenage kids who keep her busy every day. She loves spontaneous drives to nowhere, hiking in the mountains, and paddleboarding at the reservoir.
Ms. Alvarez was born and raised in Midland, Texas. She attended Texas Tech University and graduated in 2017. Ms. Alvarez is in her fourth year of teaching at the elementary level. When not at school, Ms. Alvarez enjoys spending time with family and friends. She truly believes that every student learns in different ways, and at Villa Bella they have the ability to do so. She enjoys the love for learning that Villa Bella instills in herself and the students at the school. Ms. Alvarez considers her truly blessed to be a part of the VBE Crew!
Ms. Kayla Fisher, a Pueblo native, proudly can say that she instills curiosity in the children that cross her path. Her goal in life is to educate the future generations to be self-sufficient community members. When not teaching, you can find Ms. Fisher hiking, biking, cooking, gardening, taking photos, or making jewelry. She is a certified yoga instructor and loves to incorporate this practice into the classroom when possible. She enjoys being able to work with students, yet she has a love for all children.
Ms. Halie Lane was born and raised in Pueblo. She graduated as a student-athlete from Colorado State University-Pueblo with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Elementary Education. Halie loves to dance and is a high school dance team coach at East High School as well as a recreational dance coach at Stuntz Academy. Her hobbies include camping, dancing, and spending time with her family and friends. She loves the hands on learning within the expeditionary curriculum and enjoys watching her students grow as learners.
Ms. Karlee Gradisar was born and raised in Pueblo and loves working with children because, “they are unapologetically themselves and (she) hopes they never lose that.” She is inspired by people who are fearless. She said, “Being fearless doesn’t mean that you’re not afraid, but rather recognizing the fear and jumping anyway. I root for those that follow their heart and change their minds a million times until it finally feels right.
Ms. Rachel Tracy is a California native that has been in Pueblo long enough (15 years) to call it home. She has a bachelor’s degree in Applied Exercise Science from Azusa Pacific University and a master’s in Teaching from University of Northern. Her greatest ambition is to instill the qualities of lifelong learners in the students under her care. When not teaching, Rachel can usually be found singing, performing in musical theater and being outside in nature on a kayak or on foot. She also loves learning in any form, whether it be reading a good book or exploring a new museum.
Wesley Geyer is originally from New Mexico. He completed a BA in Anthropological Linguistics at New Mexico State University in 2008 and is currently working on a Master’s Degree in Special Education at CSU-Pueblo. Mr. Geyer’s first year teaching was in an established Expeditionary Learning School in California. This will be his 5th year teaching, four of which have been in Special Education, working with many different groups and ability levels from Kindergarten through 8th grade. Mr. Geyer enjoys gardening, skiing, cooking, painting, and traveling in his free time.
Ms. Melanie Steves has an A.A.S Business degree from Pueblo Community College and a B.S. in Exercise Science, Health Promotion, & Recreation from CSU-Pueblo. She is currently finishing her Master’s in Education, Learning, and Technology. Ms. Steves brings her outdoorsmanship, athletic, and wellness experience into an Adventure PE curriculum that is challenging, creative, unique, has lifelong application, and is always full of fun! Every day is overflowing with wonder and adventure as she spends most of her time outdoors with friends and family.
Mr. Trigo is a district 70 student alumni. He graduated from Pueblo West High School in 2001. His background in instrumental music and the visual arts extends over 20 years. In 2012, he went back to school where he graduated Cum Laude from Colorado State University-Pueblo in 2015. He has been teaching art and music at the district level for the past 4 years. His hobbies include biking, snowboarding, climbing, pretty much anything outdoors, and of course, art and music. He enjoys spending time with his family and teaching students of all ages.
Born and raised in Pueblo Colorado, Ms. Celine Jones graduated from CSU Pueblo, with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology, and a minor in Sociology. She is currently working towards a master’s degree in School Psychology. As an Educational Assistant, Celine is excited to join the VBE staff in building relationships with students and encouraging them with their hands-on learning. She enjoys the outdoors and attending sporting events with her family and friends. One of her most favorite hobbies is spending time with her warm-hearted golden retriever who recently was certified and honored as a Caring Angel therapy dog.
Board of Directors
Committed to bringing innovative & rigorous educational opportunities to Pueblo, Colorado
Stacie Shirley is the newest attorney to join BuxmanKwitek, P.C. and a lifelong Pueblo resident, serving on many boards. She graduated from South High School and CSU-Pueblo, where she earned a BS in Political Science. She graduated magna cum laude from Creighton University School of Law in 2010.
Dr. Donna Souder Hodge
Dr. Donna Souder Hodge is the Chief Strategy Officer at Colorado State University Pueblo. She oversees economic development, university advancement, and external projects designed to enhance student learning, campus strategic and master planning, and faculty/staff professional development. She manages a budget of more than $40 million. She holds a Ph.D. in Rhetoric (2008) and Master Degrees in English and Women’s Studies.
Janelle Andrews is the President/CEO of the YMCA of Pueblo where she has worked for over 20 years. She is a Pueblo native and graduate of Colorado State University, Fort Collins. Janelle currently serves on the Dean’s Advisory Board for the Hasan School of Business and is the Secretary for Rotary Club 43. She believes strongly in the success that can be gained when like-minded partners work together for the betterment of the community.
Burnie Zercher is the Chairman of Industrial Constructors/Managers, Inc. He is actively involved in the community. He cares deeply about all children having access to high-quality early childhood education and is a founding board member and current chairman of Executives Partnering to Invest in Children-Pueblo.
Lee Meisner, a Sterling native, earned a Bachelor’s & MBA from CSU-Pueblo. Lee works closely with the Friends of Football on projects dedicated to the Pueblo area. Lee currently serves on the Dean’s advisory board for the Hasan School of Business and the Land Holdings Committee for the CSU-Pueblo Foundation.
Dawn Daurio is Vice President of Drury Brothers Roofing, a family owned business. She has a B.S. in Computer Science and worked as a Software Developer until 2010 when she went back to the family business. Living in Pueblo most of her life, she has a passion for the Pueblo community and has volunteered extensively in the educational system. She enjoys quilting, refinishing furniture and working on wood projects.