Verdugo Hills High School

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Visual and Performing Arts Academy Magnet » VAPA Magnet Teachers

VAPA Magnet Teachers

The Visual and Performing Arts Magnet at Verdugo Hills High School teaches traditional visual and performing arts: theater, music, dance, and visual art.
Full-time Faculty include Paulina Duran (math), Mike Nakauchi (math/dance), Amy Leserman (English/language arts), Amanda Swann (Theatre Arts), Nancy Meraz (dance/PE), Daniel Lopez (vocal/general music), Barbara Donatella (biology), Joseph Stresino (history), Alejandra Barraza Tostado (Spanish), and Chad Runnels (physics/chemistry). The VHHS school principal is Mr. Arturo Barcenas, VAPA Counselor is Grecelda Lepe, VAPA Coordinator is Amanda Swann. Adjunct or Part-time Faculty include Victoria Lopez (instrumental music), Tina Staley (art), and Tony Potter (Technical Theatre/Film).



Barbara Donatella is a native of Los Angeles who attended Temple City High School and then went on to major in Biology at UCLA. After considering various careers, teaching seemed like an interesting choice, so back to UCLA she went to obtain a teaching credential and Masters of Education. Her first career experience was at Sylmar High School where she taught Biology and Physiology. Upon discovering that her passion was both in the subject of Biology, but, of even more interest, in how to successfully teach Biology to teenagers, she took a position with the then-named Local District 2 as their Science Expert. The position was a huge learning experience in allowing her to observe various classrooms, talk to experts in both science and education and to delve deeply into the study of science pedagogy, resulting in a change in her vision of what a science classroom could look like. After trying out this new vision at Sun Valley High School, she made the move to Verdugo Hills High School as a member of the Visual and Performing Arts Magnet. Although, sadly, having little talent in the arts herself, she is an immense fan of the arts and truly enjoys watching her students perform and produce art.


Paulina Duran (Math/Tennis Coach) As an undergrad she attended California State University of Northridge, where she received her Bachelors in Science for Kinesiology with her focus being Physical Education in 2009. She later continued at Cal State Northridge for her teaching credentials. She received her Physical Education credential along with her mathematics credential in 2011. In 2013 she joined the Verdugo Hills High School family through the new VAPA program. She currently is the Tennis coach for both the boys and girls team. She also Co-sponsors the Class of 2018, where her responsibilities include supervising numerous fundraising activities to help with the Senior Prom. 


Mrs. Lepe has been a counselor at Verdugo Hills High School for over 9 years and with the VAPA Magnet since its inception. She has a BA in Sociology from Mount Saint Mary’s College and a MS in Educational Counseling and Guidance with a credential is Pupil Services Personnel from California Lutheran University.  In high school, she enjoyed participating in vocal ensemble, chorus, dance production and drill team.  Her passion is helping students reach their academic and artistic goals while in high school preparing them for college and beyond. 


Amy Leserman has been teaching high-school English in the greater Los Angeles area since 2005. She has a BA in English Language and Literature from UCLA, a MAEd in Cross-Cultural Instruction, and is credentialed to teach both English and social studies.  Professional affiliations include the National Gallery of Art Teacher Institute, the Ed Snider Enterprise Through Literature Teaching Fellowship, Teacher Action Network Fellowship, Partners in Policymaking for Disability Advocacy, the board of the Association of Jewish Educators, and the Holocaust and Human Behavior Summer Institute. Special interests include reading autobiographies, cooking, discovering public art in Los Angeles, and binge-watching internationally famous drama series on Netflix. During school breaks, she loves traipsing around real ghost towns, such as Bodhi, or the former Manzanar Internment Camp.  She would like to visit Mentryville, which is only 20 miles away from our school.  Once, Mrs. Lesermen tried finding out whether she could see every Shakespeare play produced live, in Los Angeles, in a single year (yes, it can be done!).  Another time, she spent two years finding out how far she could document her family history, which led to reconnecting with second, third, fourth, and even fifth cousins.  

This year, her "bucket list’ includes creating academically themed escape rooms, and eventually teaching her students to create them, on their own.  Currently, she co-advises the VHHS Gender Sexuality Romantic Minorities Club (formerly Gay Straight Alliance). which meets in her room (#13) every Friday at lunch. All are welcome!


Daniel Lopez has been the choir director for four years at Verdugo Hills High School. Prior to working at this school, he was the band director at Belmont High School and Roybal Learning Center. He is a professional musician and music producer. Currently, he teaches Music Technology, AP Music Theory, Sound Recording, and leads the advanced choir Makeshift Harmonies as an extracurricular 5th period class.


Victoria Lopez has a bachelor of arts from Cal State LA and has been teaching at Verdugo Hills High School since 1999. She offers a variety of instrumental ensembles which includes symphonic orchestra, jazz band, concert band, percussion ensemble, chamber music, color guard and folk dance.


Nancy Meraz has been teaching Physical Education and Dance at Verdugo Hills HS for 5 years in the VAPA program. Although she is newer to teaching, this year will mark her 10-year anniversary as the Cheerleading coach at Verdugo. Nancy Meraz's background in dance started at Millikan Middle School where her instructor urged her to join an outside dance company and become classically trained on pointe. After high school, she continued her dance education at Los Angeles Valley College where she was cast annually for the Dance Production program and participated in numerous dance shows. She joined the LAVC Cheer and Dance Team and traveled throughout California to perform. In addition to being classically trained Ms. Meraz is comfortable with other genres of dance including Ballroom, Jazz, Lyrical and Hip-Hop. Some of her coaching accomplishments include 2 National titles, 5 State Titles, and over 30 1st place wins over the course of the Competitive Cheer Season. Last year she created the VHHS Dance Team and they placed 1st at WCC Championship for both the Jazz and Lyrical categories and 2nd at JAMZ Nationals. Ms. Meraz draws inspiration from her formal education at LAVC and California State University Northridge to help guide her through the journey of teaching dance. In the fall, she focuses on the 9th grade students participating in Beginning Dance and preparing the Cheer and Dance Teams for sideline cheer. In the spring, she focuses on Dance Production and prepares the Spring Dance Recital with innovative themes, choreography, costumes, lighting, and music. In addition, she choreographs the Spring Musical and the competition routines for both Cheer and Dance. Dancing is a way of life for Ms. Meraz and she plans to continue to hone her craft and create opportunities for students interested in dance.


Mike Nakauchi has been teaching at Verdugo Hills since 2013.  As a math major and dance minor, he is able to bring elements of both art and critical thinking to his students.  He performed for five years with the Lula Washington Dance Theatre—a Los Angeles company that incorporates elements of modern, jazz, ballet, African, singing, and theatrics as a part of their repertoire.  He was the director of dance department at Van Nuys High School for over ten years, where he produced two award winning dance teams in Jazz and Hip Hop, and became the founding coordinator of the Student Dance Festival which now runs at Glendale Community College.  A former baton twirler, he won the World Championship in 1993 in Marseilles, France, and is often asked to instruct, judge, and choreograph all over the country.


Tony Potter is an ROP Instructor who teaches Video Production and Stage Technology.

Mr. Potter acted professionally from age six, and has worked both onstage and backstage, in front of, and behind the camera, in professional theater, touring concerts, television and motion pictures for over 35 years. Mr. Potter started teaching in 2004, and came to LAUSD in 2015. He is a member of several professional entertainment organizations, including I.A T.S.E., SAG/AFTRA, National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, and the American Society of Lighting Designers. He is also a member of several academic theatrical and skills based organizations, including Drama Teachers Association of Southern California, California Educational Theater Association, the national Educational Theater Association (the Thespians), and SkillsUSA. Mr. Potter holds certificates in architectural drafting, and cinematography, and has a California State Teaching Credential in Career Technical Education.


Chad Runnels is in 23rd year of teaching science and coaching sports, all of those years have been at Verdugo Hills. In fact he is was born and raised in Sunland, where he attended Sunland Elementary, Mt. Gleason, and graduated from Verdugo Hills in 1990. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry from Fresno State in 1995 and started working at Verdugo Hills in October of 1995. He has taught Physics, AP Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and Health. He joined the VAPA magnet in 2015. He has coached football, baseball, softball, basketball, and track and field, and he is currently coaching J.V. Football. He appreciates the arts, and considers himself an artist of football offense. He played the violin in elementary school, the flute in junior high, and was in the glee club and choir as well at Mt. Gleason. Go VAPA. Arts every year.


Kristina Staley has 17 years of teaching experience in every form of art: AP studio art, drawing, painting, sculpture and photography.  She earned her Bachelor Degrees in Journalism and Romance Languages from the University of Oregon as well as an Art Education degree and secondary art education credential from California State Long Beach and a Master’s in Studio Art from California State University Northridge.   She loves teaching art, making art, traveling, skiing with her kids, mountain biking, and playing roller derby. One of her favorite things is organizing the annual school wide Trashion Show where students make outfits out of recycled materials and perform in front of the whole school.  Every year the theme gets more exciting and the students get more extra.  She also loves helping students build their art portfolios to get in to art schools and earn scholarships in the art world. Inspiring students to pursue careers in the arts and create art that is meaningful and inspires others, motivates her to be her very best.


Mr. Joe Stresino (Mr. S.) teaches Government, World History and US History. He is a National Board Certified Teacher in Social Studies. Since 1998 he has taught grades 7 through 12 Social Science classes including World History, A.P. World History, U.S. History, A.P. U.S. History, Government A.P. Government, and Economics. He earned his Bachelor degree in Political Science from UCLA and holds three Master degrees: History, Instructional Technology, and Secondary Education from CSUN. He is completing a PhD in Teaching, Learning and Culture at Claremont Graduate University. His professional interests are social capital theory, college readiness, student engagement, collaborative learning, lifelong learning, and instructional technology. Mr. S. and his wife have two children. His sons are Boys Scouts and in his spare time he likes to be outdoors and spend time with his family. He also enjoys the arts, going to museums, reading, and video games.


Amanda Swann has her B.A. in Theatre Arts from Point Park University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and her teaching credential from California State University Northridge. A 2004 Bravo Award Finalist, Amanda has been a theatre educator for over 20 years, directing numerous productions, sponsoring a Thespian Troupe and entering her students into various festivals and competitions. She began her educational theatre journey at Monroe High School, then became the lead teacher of the Visual and Performing Arts at Birmingham High School before moving to Grand Arts in downtown LA and then happily landing here in 2015 to direct and teach theatre arts in Tujunga. Through the American High School Theatre Festival, her students performed at the Fringe Festival, Edinburgh, Scotland in 2003 and 2011. Her other student achievements include Young Arts Presidential Scholar, as well as top achievements in LA Spotlight, August Wilson Los Angeles & National, English Speaking Union Los Angeles Shakespeare, DTASC, Fullerton College High School Festivalalong with CA Youth in Theatre Day scholarship recipients (Sacramento), and CETA and DTASC Senior Scholarship recipients. As Past-President of the Drama Teachers Association of Southern California (DTASC) and Past-President of the California Educational Theatre Association (CETA), Amanda is also a member of CA State Thespians, EdTA, and the English Speaking Union. In 2016, Amanda received a fellowship to study Shakespeare at the Globe Theatre in London. She enjoys traveling, photography, and spending time with her talented writer-musician husband, Phil and their cats. She knows that Art Changes Lives and she is honored to coordinate the VAPA Magnet at Verdugo Hills for the 2nd year.


Alexandra Tostado ¡Hola! Sra. Tostado is in her 4th year at VHHS. She earned her BA and teaching credential at CSU, Northridge. She is currently a student again at CSUN, this time on a journey to obtain an MA in Education. She teaches different levels of Spanish at VHHS, including Spanish 1, Spanish 2, Spanish Speakers 1, and Spanish Speakers 2. One of her goals as a VAPA magnet teacher is to connect students to the Spanish language and the arts through activities like attending live bilingual performances, participating in culturally relevant art workshops, among other activities done in and out of class. In addition, she is a co-sponsor of the Spanish Club, where student have additional opportunities to learn about the Spanish speaking world. She looks forward to having you in her Spanish classes!