Our Mission

Our mission is to create a world-class K-8 school where all children are prepared for college, career, and life.

Catalyst Academy Charter School is a college-preparatory K-8 public charter school in Pittsburgh, focused on serving families in the Hill District, Garfield, East Liberty, Larimer, Lincoln-Lemington, Homewood, and East Hills communities as well as families from across Pittsburgh and neighboring communities that are looking for a great school.

We opened as a K-1 school in the fall of 2020, and will grow a grade each year to eventually serve kindergarten through 8th grade. As a public charter school, Catalyst Academy is a tuition-free, open-enrollment school for any student, including students with special needs and English-language learners.

Catalyst Academy is the first new K-8 charter school in Pittsburgh in 6 years and is located in the Lincoln-Lemington neighborhood, in the former Lemington school building.

Our Approach
Catalyst Academy classroom

Our Team

Brian Smith
Brian SmithFounder & CEO
Brian Smith is the Founder & CEO of Catalyst Academy. Brian started Catalyst Academy based on his deeply-held belief that all children, and especially historically disadvantaged children, should have access to a great education, one that can be a catalyst for changing the lives of their family and community. Brian was formerly the Executive Director of Strategic Priorities at the Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS), where he led the district’s strategic planning process, and the development of K-2 literacy, and STEAM initiatives. Prior to his work at PPS, Brian’s career included a variety of roles in technology, corporate strategy, and online media. A native of Pittsburgh, Brian has a bachelor’s degree from Carnegie Mellon University and a master’s degree from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He also completed a two-year urban education leadership program through The Broad Center. Brian is the proud father of two wonderful children.
Darren Gray
Darren GrayFounding Principal
Darren Gray is the Founding Principal of Catalyst Academy. Darren is an experienced educator who started his career as a Teach for America Corps member serving at Simmons Junior-Senior High School in the Mississippi Delta. As a corps member Content Leader, Darren led professional development for teachers across the region. Darren later moved to Nashville, TN to serve as an 8th Grade Literacy Teacher at Liberty Collegiate Academy. After working as a teacher, he transitioned to the role of Assistant Principal. In this role, Darren led the coaching and development of teachers across several content areas. His leadership resulted in Liberty Collegiate having the highest increase in student growth across the seven school Republic Charter School network. Liberty Collegiate was also recently recognized as having student growth in the top 5% of schools in Nashville. A native of Alabama, Darren is a graduate of Samford University.
Monica Cooper
Monica CooperFounding Director of Scholars
Monica Cooper is the Founding Director of Scholars of Catalyst Academy. Monica began her career as a first grade teacher and later taught Kindergarten. As Monica developed her practice, she became a teacher leader and coached other teachers across first through fifth grades at Village Prep Woodland Hills Campus in Cleveland, Ohio. Monica’s passion for building strong relationships with students to ensure their success, both academically,socially, and emotionally led to her elevation as the Dean of Scholars at E-Prep Middle School, Woodland HIlls Campus. In this position Monica assisted in the redesign of the school discipline system,routines, and procedures. Monica later transitioned here to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and served as the PBIS Coordinator and member of the Student Support Services Team at Urban Academy. In this role, Monica directed the implementation of the first tier of PBIS. This PBIS implementation resulted in a 67% reduction in Level 1 referrals between November and February. Monica was raised in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Cleveland State University.
Laura Lerand
Laura LerandFounding Dean of Instruction
Laura Lerand is the Founding Dean of Instruction of Catalyst Academy. She began her work as an educator as a Teach for America Corps member in the Rio Grande Valley. As a corps member, she taught dual language kindergarten at an International Baccalaureate public school in McAllen, Texas, where she developed a passion for teaching young students the fundamentals of literacy. After Teach for America, Laura joined IDEA Public Schools as a founding bilingual kindergarten teacher, grade team leader, and instructional coach at IDEA Bluff Springs Academy in Austin, Texas, where she was recognized as Teacher of the Year. Most recently, Laura served as the Education Director for Reading is FUNdamental Pittsburgh.
She is a graduate of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and was born and raised in Wisconsin.
Carrie Potter-Murray
Carrie Potter-MurrayFounding Director of Inclusive Learning
Dr. Carrie Potter-Murray is the Founding Director of Inclusive Learning at Catalyst Academy. Over the past decade, Carrie served first as a paraprofessional before moving into instructional roles in Learning Support, Autistic Support, and Emotional Support. Carrie loves “school;” from the excitement of the first day of school to continuing education opportunities, Carrie considers herself a lifelong learner. She has degrees from Point Park University, the University of Pittsburgh, and Slippery Rock University. Carrie defended her doctoral thesis, a study proposing the original contextual feminist leadership theory, in July 2020. With a passion to promote equitable outcomes for all students commensurate with their abilities, Carrie is a fierce advocate for her school community. A Pittsburgh native, Carrie and her husband (who is also an educator) strive to raise their three children to be curious and welcome chances to improve our world for a more inclusive future.
MaLisha Scott
MaLisha ScottFounding Front Office Manager
MaLisha Scott is the Founding Front Office Manager for Catalyst Academy Charter School. MaLisha has worked in a variety of administrative roles in Pittsburgh for organizations that include The Bridge of Pittsburgh, which helps bridge the gap between the end of education and adulthood for foster care youth, Pressley Ridge, Propel Charter Schools, and UPMC. Malisha is a Christian, wife, and mother, who is
passionate about ensuring all children are seen, heard, supported, and loved.
MaryBeth Fisher
MaryBeth FisherFounding Kindergarten Teacher
Mary Beth grew up in Lancaster, Pa and studied at Millersville University. Graduating in 2011, she then moved to Roanoke, VA for a volunteer opportunity with Brethren Volunteer Service. She next spent seven years teaching in urban Roanoke; one year in 3rd grade, two years in 1st grade, and four years in kindergarten. MaryBeth became an educator because she was not always the best student but she had a few teachers that still saw her and made sure she was getting what she needed. She wants to be that teacher for her scholars!
Maeve Hendricks
Maeve HendricksFounding Kindergarten Teacher
Maeve was born in Pittsburgh. She has a lifelong love of education and has always known she would be a teacher. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and a Reading Specialist certification. “As an educator, I seek to ensure that every student feels both challenged and successful and builds an identity as a learner.” Maeve enjoys working with elementary students because of their sense of curiosity and wonder! It drives exploration in the classroom, which is how she loves to teach.
Brandon Howe
Brandon HoweFounding Kindergarten Teacher
Brandon has a Bachelors in Fine Art from University of Michigan, a Masters in Elementary Education from Peabody College (Vanderbilt University) and this is his fourth year in education. Brandon feels all children deserve not only an outstanding education, but a teacher who believes in them as a person, and is willing to put in the hard work to nurture their unique identity and talents.
Yaz Dalsimer
Yaz DalsimerFounding First Grade Teacher
Yaz was born in Mexico and moved to Texas when she was six years old. She attended the KIPP Academy in Houston in middle school. Her teachers helped her gain access to incredible opportunities, including attending a private high school. Afterward, she attended Pitzer College in California and graduated with a Bachelor’s in Psychology in 2007. Next, Yaz joined Teach For America and moved to New York City. There she taught middle school math in the South Bronx for 10 years. In 2017 she and her husband moved to Pittsburgh. As an educator, she seeks growth and opportunities to learn and improve her craft by reading and watching master teachers work.
Jennie Smith
Jennie SmithFounding First Grade Teacher
Originally hailing from the Greater Pittsburgh area, Jennie attended Geneva College and after graduating moved to Memphis, TN as a Teach for America Corps member. She stayed in Memphis and taught there for five years while also earning her masters degree in education from Christian Brothers University. Jennie has recently begun her second masters degree at Slippery Rock University in K-12 Reading and Literacy. Jennie is an educator because of her brother. She says, “School was always easy for me, but it was hard for him in ways I will never understand. I saw firsthand how some teachers made his life amazing and some teachers made his life hard. I am an educator for all of the kids who, like my brother, just need a chance.”
Hilary Wareham
Hilary WarehamFounding First Grade Teacher
Hilary has been teaching for nine years in and around the Pittsburgh area. Her teaching experiences range from being an early childhood PreK classroom teacher to being an education director for Kindergarten through second grade. She is thrilled to be a founding first grade teacher here at Catalyst Academy Charter School. Hilary is an educator because of one very special teacher who showed her that education wasn’t about the grades or the information that was being taught, but the relationships between the students and the teacher.
Dorothy Killmeyer
Dorothy KillmeyerFounding Inclusive Learning Teacher
Dorothy Killmeyer is originally from Pittsburgh in the South Hills and attended Upper St. Clair School District. She went to Indiana University of Pennsylvania for undergrad where she received a dual major magna cum laude in Early Childhood and Special Education in 2014. She then went on to attend St. Thomas University for her masters in Special Education and graduated in 2016. Starting her career in Education as a paraprofessional for the Upper St. Clair School District, she then moved on to Wesley Spectrum continuing her passion for Special Education. Next, Dorothy and her husband moved to Arizona for three years where she taught in both traditional public and public charter schools and expanded her knowledge of Special Education as an emotional support teacher and a Special Education Coordinator. Dorothy recently returned to Pittsburgh and is determined to reach all of our scholars and help them belong, grow and achieve. The small setting is great to reach each child and provide more individualized and exciting opportunities.
Morgan Lovely
Morgan LovelyFounding PE Teacher
Morgan is from a small town called East Hampton, Connecticut and she is a proud first-year teacher! Her background is in exercise and nutrition after-school coordination, female-empowerment programming and youth coaching in soccer, running and Zumba. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science: Human Performance from Southern Connecticut State University and her Master’s degree in K-12 Health and Physical Education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania where she also served as a graduate assistant from the homeschool and adapted physical education programs. She is a Physical Education teacher because she enjoys motivating and challenging her students through experiential learning, movement and life skills.
Elise Neill
Elise NeillFounding STEM Teacher
Elise graduated from Ohio State with a B.S. in Computer Science Engineering. She worked for many years in the software field, specializing in manipulation and integration of data with other applications. She completed her elementary education certificate from the University of Pittsburgh and is now finishing up her Master’s degree in Integrative STEM Education at California University of Pennsylvania. She has three children who are active in chess, tennis, soccer, arts, and music. She plays oboe in a community organization called the North Pittsburgh Symphonic Band. She is also a Girl Scout Troop leader and a Girls Who Code facilitator. Elise is excited for scholars to experience STEM in the classroom multiple times per week. This provides ample opportunity to explore different topics as well as try out many engineering challenges.
Emily Newman
Emily NewmanFounding Art Teacher
Emily Newman, an artist and teacher, was born in Singapore in 1977, raised in the UK and has lived in Pittsburgh since 2010. She received her MFA from The California Institute of the Arts in 2004, and her MAT from Chatham University in 2020. She received a Fulbright in 2006 and spent three years teaching at The Finnish Academy of Fine Arts and at St Petersburg University (Russia.) Most recently she was an art teacher at Manchester Academic Charter School which is located in the Museum Lab/Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, for three years. She is devoted to the prospect of giving the children at Catalyst a rigorous, experimental and joyful arts education and is so grateful that Catalyst’s commitment to the arts means that our young artists practice EVERY DAY!

Families interested in applying at Catalyst Academy please visit our enroll page.

For general inquiries about Catalyst Academy, please email us at info@catalystacademy.org or call us at 412-684-2400.

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