Dr. Melanie Hayes
Founder and 2e Expert
She holds a Doctorate in Educational Leadership with a focus on Twice Exceptionality, a Masters of Arts in Gifted Education, a Masters of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy, a California Teaching Credential, and a licensed LMFT. Melanie has over 25 years of experience teaching, mentoring, coaching, and advocating for 2e persons. She won the Innovations 4 Entrepreneurs National Award for her work using adaptive technology for twice exceptional students, and the Jefferson Award in recognition of her contributions to the 2e community. She also received SENG’s Educator of the Year Award for her groundbreaking work in educating gifted and twice exceptional children.
Melanie is a certified SENG Model Parent Group Facilitator and supports parents to help them develop their parenting skills. She also works with various other professional associations, such as the IECA, where she serves as the Affinity Group Co-Chair for Gifted/Talented and Twice Exceptional. You can read her book, We Tried Normal at no cost on Medium and find her latest book Being Twice Exceptional on Amazon.
Rianna Bensing Ma. Ed. Executive Director
Rianna has been in accessible education for over 22 years. She has held various roles during her time including Special Education Teacher for 9th-12th grade, Resource Specialist for K-5, Assistant Director of a Non-Public school for students with intensive Social-Emotional needs, Program Specialist at the Contra Costa SELPA, and Program Specialist in a Bay Area school district. She holds a special education credential, a Masters Degree in Special Education, and a California Administrative Credential.
She is a Bay Area native and lives with her family and dog locally. She loves to cook, travel, and enjoys concerts and the outdoors. Rianna is proud to be part Big Minds team and is passionate about being able to serve our students who are 2e. She believes our students are some of the best humans you will ever encounter and she carries that attitude with her in her daily interactions with our community.
Operations & Development Director
Billy Bouzos is an educator, musician, community organizer, and 2e person. He has a diverse background uniquely suited to support the growth of our students and our school – spanning from being a pillar of the Oakland and Berkeley underground art and music scene for more than a decade to heading departments of multi-million-dollar start-ups. He has a bachelor’s degree from Santa Clara University (both in business and in music, as well as a minor in Latin). Billy began his career with Big Minds in 2016 as a part-time driver for several of our former students between lengthy tours with his various bands and projects. He formally began working at the school as a literacy coach in 2018, and became the director of our flagship Pinole program in 2019. He now oversees the school's day-to-day operations as it relates to development, fundraising, growth strategy, budgeting and financial management, software development and implementation, human resources, and compliance.
He is passionate about his students, community, social justice, and music - and often finds these passions to be deeply interconnected. In his free time, he runs a boutique record label and art collective that organizes vinyl and cassette releases and produces events.
With a degree in Computer Science from UC Davis, Matt has over 8 years of experience as a software engineer and has been working at Big Minds since 2020. He is responsible for building and maintaining the organization’s frontend and backend systems, including our distance learning platform, billing system, CRM, enrollment pipeline, parent portal, website, and iOS app.
Matt’s expertise extends to providing complex automation within these systems to streamline the work of academic directors and integrating them with various third-party APIs. As the system administrator, He ensures that servers and databases are scaled correctly and remain accessible at all times. He also acts as the primary IT and tech support resource for the Big Minds faculty.
Matt is dedicated to making sure that all systems are efficient, reliable and user-friendly. His expertise in code testing and debugging makes sure that Big Minds systems meet the organization’s compliance and safety requirements.
Matt is also a professional trumpet player and is actively involved in the Sacramento music scene, regularly playing with brass bands, jazz and rock groups in Sacramento.
Maddie Chadwick: Head of Counseling
Maddie is currently a registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapist (AMFT). Since the 2021-2022 school year, she has been Big Minds’ Counseling Intern in partnership with Summit Center in Walnut Creek. Maddie was a Big Minds Literacy and Math Coach from January 2019 until the end of the 2020-2021 school year. She graduated from Willamette University in 2015 with a B.A., majoring in Politics (focus on International Relations) and minoring in German, Women’s and Gender Studies, and American Ethnic Studies. After graduation, Maddie worked in a public elementary school in an RSP program for three years before entering a graduate program. In May of 2021, she graduated from the University of San Francisco with a master's degree in Counseling Psychology. Maddie is passionate about art, music, philosophy, political theory, black feminist thought, social justice, disability justice, education, 2e learners, and mental health.
Pinole Site Director
Sarah spent the majority of her childhood in the Midwest, where she was identified as gifted as a kindergarten student. As a child, she developed both an ability and a passion for vocal music, and began taking lessons at a nearby college. She enjoyed performing, touring, and competing for many years. Her family moved to the Bay Area when she was in high school, just before her senior year. Sarah returned to the Midwest for college, where she continued to study music, foreign language, English, and religion, among many other things, and graduated with a liberal arts degree. She met her husband there, however, they chose to make their home in the East Bay, where they currently live with their two sons.
Sarah loves learning new things, and loves people, which has given her an extremely eclectic collection of interests. She owned a successful photography business for over 15 years, has worked as a marketing coordinator for a real estate office, and as a technician for a neurofeedback office, among other endeavors. Sarah has both volunteered for and been employed by her local school district for several years, and most recently worked at the district office in the student services and special education department. It was her experience there that led her to Big Minds, where she has found that she feels like she has discovered the most amazing community of humans that is an absolute honor to work with and serve.
Pleasanton Site Director
Jessica has worked in the field of accessible education for over 22 years. Since earning her undergraduate degree in elementary and special education, she taught special education classes (SDC, inclusion, and Non-Public School) for almost 10 years. Since that time, she has provided leadership as a special education program specialist or coordinator in Oakland USD, Mt. Diablo USD, and Benicia USD where she has focused on programs and support for students with social, emotional, and behavioral needs. She holds a special education credential, multiple subjects credential, administrative credential, and a Master’s Degree in Special Education. Jessica is originally from the East coast and has lived in the Bay Area for 20 years. She enjoys spending time with her husband and young children swimming, traveling, and playing outside.
Amy Fox believes that the most important ideas in any school come from its students, and she has spent years enacting this educational philosophy. She has a degree from The Ohio State University in Education and Child Development, with an emphasis in child-centered, project-based learning and mathematics. Her early career was spent teaching in a thematically-integrated First Grade classroom. She also developed and implemented programs in art and math for experiential learning at a prominent children’s museum. During this time she, with her husband, raised and guided their four 2e children to adulthood.
Amy has spent time as a professional ceramic artist and a fitness instructor, both of which inform her approaches daily. She lives with her husband, her little dog, Piper, and a bunch of wacky chickens. She is grateful every day for the opportunity to work with our amazing students.