Our teaching community is very stable with a low turnover rate. Our staff includes credentialed special education teachers, instructional aides, licensed clinical social workers, and a speech therapist. Credentials vary from Learning Handicapped Specialist, Clear Level-II Education Specialist, and Preliminary Level-I Education Specialist. Staff members share the teaching philosophy that all children and troubled teens, regardless of their mental illness and learning disability, can learn in the appropriate setting. Our teachers are continually finding new ways to adapt the special education curriculum to relate to a student’s background, interests, and needs.
Lupe Gonzalez, M.A.
Lupe Gonzalez brings 20 years of experience at Hillsides to her role as the director of Hillsides Education Center. In this position, she oversees the daily operation of the school, supervises the staff, and is responsible for planning, coordinating, and directing the activities. She supervises the school liaisons and educational staff members in the residential program and is responsible for personnel administration of the school, including recruiting and hiring, among other duties. Previously Lupe was the academic dean of Hillsides Education Center.
Lupe began her career at Hillsides as a teacher in grades 5 – 8. While in this position, she began a functional skills program at the school and since then, has contributed to Hillsides Education Center in numerous ways. She helped create and launch a school-wide behavior system, researched and helped implement the school curriculum, was crucial in getting the school ACS WASC accredited, oversaw and helped the school pass a state-wide audit, and played a key role in creating a trauma-informed school environment. In addition, she helped launch and teach the high school computer-based credit recovery program and was responsible for bringing the Girls on the Run program, which teaches girls through life skills through running, to the school.
Lupe graduated from Northern Arizona University with a Bachelor of Arts in English education and Spanish, and received a master’s degree from Northern Arizona University in special education. Previous to Hillsides, she taught special education for three years. Lupe was also professional dancer in Persian and ballet, and has used her skills to begin a cheerleading group at HEC and put on a Day of the Dead school assembly.
Puja Chhabra, LCSW, RYT-200
Puja Chhabra is the clinical director of Hillsides Education Center. In this position, she oversees the implementation of clinical services provided to students and families of the school and contracts services with various school districts She also develops interventions to help students and families achieve both emotional and academic success, and provides clinical supervision and training for staff.
Puja began her career at Hillsides 12 years ago as a residential clinical social worker at Canyon Cottage. Since then, she has held positions as a school-based clinical supervisor, a clinical supervisor for the Full Service Partnership program at Hillsides Family Resource Center in Echo Park, and most recently, a clinical supervisor with Hillsides Education Support Services. Previously she worked as a psychiatric social worker at Steinway Child & Family Services, Inc. in Long Island City, New York.
Besides her duties at Hillsides, Puja provides individual, group and couples’ therapy at the Rowan Center for Behavioral Medicine in Burbank, specializing in cognitive behavioral therapy, psychodynamic and mindfulness approaches. She is also the owner of Puja Therapy and Yoga, offering yoga and therapy as a way for clients to cope with depression, anxiety and trauma. Puja received a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and political studies from Pitzer College in Claremont and a master’s degree in social work from New York University. She became a licensed clinical social worker in 2007 and a registered yoga teacher in 2014, specializing in trauma informed practices both in yoga and therapy.
Jimmy Fernandez, J.D.
Jimmy started out as a classroom assistant and then returned to school to receive an education specialist credential. He has taught fifth through 10th grade at HEC, and worked as a lead teacher, running his own program that focused on individualized instruction to a small group of students. Jimmy holds a law degree and worked in the legal field for many years before making a career change to education.
Robyn Wehrly, M.A.
Robyn has taught special education for 14 years, 12 of them at Hillsides Education Center. In addition to her role as a teacher, she is the guidance counselor at the school. She creates the master schedule for all the high school students, maintains transcripts, and completes credit and graduation checks for each high school student. Robyn received a bachelor's degree in English and psychology from the University of Michigan and a master’s degree in special education from George Washington University.
Other support staff includes:
- Credentialed teachers
- Physical education teacher
- Music teacher
- Teaching assistants
- Behavioral specialist team
- Social workers
- Speech and language therapist
- Office manager/billing manager