A Better Team!

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Originally on track to become a lawyer, a part time job tutoring kindergarten students during her freshman year at NYU opened Katerina’s eyes to her true passion: Working with children. She immediately switched focus, earning her Bachelor’s Degree from NYU in History, Music, and Education before going on to pursue a Dual Master’s Degree from Teacher’s College, Columbia University in Inclusive Education & Teaching Students with Disabilities. Katerina has been an educator in New York City for over 10 years and has designed the curriculum and program materials for myriad special education programs across the city.

Katerina H Watson, Co-Founder, Special Education Teacher, and Head of School

Katerina H Watson has worked in education for over 13 years, specializing in inquiry-based special education and therapeutic behavioral interventions. As the Founder and Head of School at EPIC Academy, Katerina utilizes a trauma-informed approach to create a rigorous, progressive, and therapeutic educational environment where students receive the academic and behavioral support they need to thrive for the rest of their lives.   

Prior to founding EPIC, where she also served for three years as a lead teacher, Katerina taught for 10 years at increasingly progressive schools. She also worked as Program Director at various special education programs to develop behavioral interventions and continues this work today as a consulting Child Behavior Specialist. Katerina is an author and speaker who shares her expertise on a wide range of topics, such as maximizing student learning, parent strategies for therapeutic deescalation, and social-emotional integration across content areas. 

Katerina has a BA in Education, History, and Music from NYU; An MA in Inclusive Education and an MA in Teaching Students with Disabilities from Teachers College Columbia University; and is currently studying School Leadership at Harvard Graduate School of Education. You can read some of her writing at edutopia.org  and chalkbeat.org

Joshua Askildsen, Co-Founder

Joshua had early insight into special education. Josh is one of four siblings, the youngest of whom has special needs. He watched his parents’ painful struggle to find adequate resources and programs that could appropriately serve his younger brother’s special needs. As an intrinsically motivated, self-directed child, Joshua entered college at the early age of 14, pursuing concentrations in psychology, business/marketing, and philosophy.  After completing his Bachelor’s Degree at Pace University at 20 years old, Joshua decided to enter the nonprofit sector in an effort to satisfy his passion for helping others and making the world a better place. To this end, he chose to work for organizations that provide services he finds ethically important and close to his heart such as All For One Theatre and the National Coalition Against Censorship, two New York City nonprofits, before settling on the cause that resonated with him most: special education. As Joshua began to work in the field, initially as an office manager before taking on a larger role with students, he found that pre-existing programs were failing to meet students’ needs. He also hoped to work for an institution with a different kind of staff culture, one that valued equity, transparency, and collaboration over competition. After much searching, it was clear that a school that challenged students academically while promoting social-emotional growth through validation, empowerment, and unconditional support did not exist. In 2018, Joshua partnered with Katerina H Watson to found EPIC Academy | A Better School, where he currently serves as CFO and Co-Founder.

Katie Midwood, Special Education Teacher

Katie has been with EPIC since its founding in 2018. Before leading a class of her own, she was a Teaching Assistant to Special Education Teacher and Head of School Katerina Watson, who taught her crucial lessons about academic leadership, classroom management, and behavioral support. Katie is a committed lifelong learner; throughout her time at EPIC, she has sought out numerous professional development opportunities, including workshops from Handwriting without Tears and Get Your Teach On. She values EPIC’s close-knit staff and small class sizes, which allow her to form deep relationships with all her students and differentiate the curriculum to meet their unique needs. Katie brings energy, positivity, and fun to her classroom and looks forward to work every day. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, biking, and caring for her 38 houseplants. 

Nick DiCola, Special Education Teacher

Nick holds a dual Bachelor of Arts degree in Italian and Linguistics from New York University. His passion for communication through language led him to secure many teaching positions throughout New York City for people of all ages, and he has spent much of his career focused on teaching English as an additional language. Nick also crossed paths with Katerina Watson for several years when they worked together in a setting that warranted consistent behavioral intervention plans, knowledge of special education best practices, and a sound understanding of therapeutic de-escalation techniques. From his years of experience, he has realized the importance of patience, perspective, and communication in every learning environment. This is Nick’s second year on the EPIC team, and he values the agency he has been given here to foster a safe learning environment where students, teachers, and families can all learn from one another.

Maxine McAleavey, Associate Special Education Teacher

After gaining a BA Hons degree in Philosophy at Middlesex University in London, Maxine pursued a career working with children and adults with a variety of special needs for twenty plus years. This has included completing a Diploma in Learning Disability Nursing (intellectual disability) at De Montfort University as well as working in settings such as an Assessment and Treatment Unit, community nursing, after school clubs and most recently as a Teaching Assistant for transition students in Special Ed. Maxine is a great believer in the philosophy that people do well when they can, so she is delighted to work in such an inclusive community as EPIC, which values each child’s individual needs and she loves her continued opportunities to grow and learn here. Outside of work Maxine loves to travel and immerse herself in other cultures, foster cats, cook, and practice yoga.

Michelle Lubetzki, Speech Language Pathologist

As a licensed and certified speech-language pathologist, Michelle has a variety of clinical experiences helping children, adolescents, and young adults. Michelle is passionate about helping children, and she takes advantage of each child’s unique strengths and interests to make learning fun and successful. She believes that a positive, supportive rapport with the child and a strong working relationship with classroom teachers and the child’s family are the building blocks to successful therapy. Michelle received her undergraduate degree at the University of Delaware in cognitive science with a concentration in speech-language pathology, and her graduate degree is in speech and language pathology from Hunter College. She is level one PROMPT-trained. Additionally, Michelle recently earned her Juris Doctor degree from New York Law School, with the intention of participating in the field of special education law alongside her work as a speech-language pathologist.

Chelsea Bodansky, LMSW

Yael Avnon, Physical Therapist

Yael Avnon is a board certified pediatric clinical specialist. She has trained in orthopedic and lower extremity management, Neuro Developmental Treatment training and aquatic therapy, as well as pediatric pelvic floor dysfunction and treatment. Yael started working at  NYU on the pediatric floor and PICU, Rusk rehabilitation inpatient hospital and at NYU outpatient pediatric clinic ten years ago. After four years, she moved to private practice, as well as doing home and school-based work. These diverse settings have given her extensive training in a broad spectrum of diagnoses, from developmental delays to complex genetic disorders and brain injuries. In addition to general PT, Yael specialize in Aquatic Therapy, which is a fun and effective way to treat kids with sensory and mobility limitations. She also specialize in pelvic floor work, which is designed to treat bowel and bladder related issues (potty training, lack of awareness, bedwetting, constipation etc). 

In Yael’s experience, the best results come from children who are in a warm and trusting environment. She believes in creating sustainable programs for each child, in which they feel comfortable and respected. She collaborate openly with families and other clinicians to provide cohesive care.