Our Team

Joseph Zaza

Joseph Zaza is the founding principal of the Lois and Richard Nicotra Early College Charter School (NECCS). Mr. Zaza graduated with an MA in both History as well as Education and Administration before beginning his 32-year career in the Department of Education. Prior to his employment at ICS, Mr. Zaza served as a School District Leader for the Specialized High Schools, an Assistant Superintendent for District 31 (Pre-K – 12), and as principal of the Leon M. Goldstein High School for the Sciences. He enjoys helping to improve teacher practice and working closely with the students of NECCS to ensure that they achieve and thrive. In his free time, Mr. Zaza plays an excellent first base for his men’s softball team, the Staten Island Dodgers!

“If we are to reach real peace in the world, we shall have to begin with the children.” -Mahatma Gandhi

Tracey Rodriguez

Tracey Rodriguez is the principal’s assistant at the Lois and Richard Early College Charter School (NECCS). Once a hairdresser, Mrs. Rodriguez felt welcomed into the ICS family long before her employment. She first felt the support between the staff and students of ICS while her youngest daughter was attending Lavelle Prep. A resident of Staten Island, Mrs. Rodriguez lives with her husband, three children, and her dog, Onyx. Her family enjoys the outdoors as well as watching movies and cooking shows. Mrs. Rodriguez has survived cancer twice and strongly believes in loving her life because tomorrow is not guaranteed.

“All dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” – Walt Disney

Bekim Kacaj

Bekim Kacaj is a teacher at the Lois and Richard Nicotra Early College Charter School (NECCS). Prior to his employment at ICS, Mr. Kacaj earned his M. Ed with a concentration in Social Studies. Born and raised in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Mr. Kacaj currently lives in Staten Island with his wife, Elvira, and children, Edona and Hasan. Mr. Kacaj enjoys working with the staff of NECCS and, in his free time, likes to read comic books and power lift!

“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” – Bernard M. Baruch

Carol Ruiz

Carol Ruiz is a teaching assistant at the Lois and Richard Nicotra Early College Charter School (NECCS). Prior to her employment at ICS, Mrs. Ruiz graduated with an MS in both General and Special Education. She loves the collaborative atmosphere among the teachers, students and support staff of NECCS. Born and raised in northern New Jersey, Mrs. Ruiz currently lives in Staten Island with her husband, three children and three cats, Lou, Angel, and T.J. Her favorite hobbies include singing, writing and performing music as well as working with other artists whenever she can find the time!

“You cannot lead people unless you love people.”
– Cornel West

Victor DiPaolo

Victor DiPaolo is a teaching assistant and testing coordinator at the Lois and Richard Nicotra Early College Charter School (NECCS). Prior to his employment at ICS, Mr. DiPaolo earned a BS in Finance as well as a BS in Economics. He is currently in school for Education with a concentration in History. Born and raised in Staten Island, Mr. DiPaolo lives with his wife, Nicole, and his two daughters, Victoria and Nicolette. He is a huge fan of Disney, sports and music. Mr. DiPaolo plays drums, piano and sings in his band of twenty years. In his music career, Mr. DiPaolo has recorded three albums, played on numerous television shows and performed in some awesome venues!

“Do or do not. There is no try!”

Qaudir Johnson

Qaudir Johnson is a school aide and mentor at the Lois and Richard Nicotra Early College Charter School (NECCS). He describes the faculty and staff of his school as a family. Mr. Johnson graduated from Kean University with a BA in Sociology. Born in Cleveland, Ohio, he was raised in Staten Island with his parents and three siblings. Mr. Johnson played football while attending Port Richmond High School and continued into his college years!

“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”

Gina Luongo

Gina Luongo is an aide at the Lois and Richard Nicotra Early College Charter School (NECCS). Prior to her employment at ICS, Gina earned a BA in WMS and Psychology. Born and raised on Staten Island, Gina lives with her three children as well as her mother, who she describes as a wonderful mother and grandmother. She enjoys helping the children of NECCS in any way she can. A fan of softball, Gina also has experience coaching teams at both West Shore and Snug Harbor!

“Winners are not people who never fail. They are people who never quit.”

Patrick Donegan

Patrick Donegan is a teacher at the Lois and Richard Early College Charter School (NECCS). Mr. Donegan graduated from St. John’s University with a BS in Finance and an MS. Ed in Adolescent Education. A recent addition to the team, he finds the NECCS staff to be warm, welcoming and supportive. Born and raised in Staten Island, Mr. Donegan is an active member of the city’s community. In his free time, Mr. Donegan can be found supporting the Yankees, Jets, Knicks, Red Bulls and any of the teams that St. John’s fields in the Big East. Over the years, he has traveled to three continents and visited 10 countries!

Ryan Benfield

Ryan Benfield is a movement teacher at the Lois and Richard Early College Charter School (NECCS). Prior to his employment at ICS, Mr. Benfield graduated from Penn State University with a BS in Kinesiology. His favorite part of working at ICS is the teamwork among faculty and staff. Born and raised in Pennsylvania, Mr. Benfield currently lives in Staten Island with his wife, Jillian, children, Riley and Jake, and dog, Cocoa. When he isn’t teaching, Mr. Benfield owns a sports performance facility where he works with high school, college and professional athletes!

“The will to win is important, but the will to prepare is vital.”

Nancy Che

Nancy Che is a teacher at the Lois and Richard Nicotra Early College Charter School (NECCS). While in college, Ms. Che studied biology with a concentration in adolescent education. Her favorite part about working at ICS is the friendly, warm and supportive atmosphere created by her colleagues. Born and raised in Staten Island, Ms. Che is the middle child of two siblings and enjoys animals, nature, language, music and spending time with her family. In her free time, Ms. Che watches birds and critically analyzes Japanese visual arts, such as anime and manga. Ms. Che has experience working at the Staten Island Zoo education department and has studied abroad in Japan!

Phillip Coard

Phillip Coard is a teacher and technology coordinator at the Lois and the Richard Nicotra Early College Charter School (NECCS). While in college, Mr. Coard studied history, philosophy, social studies education, and educational technology. In the past, he has worked in schools that focused more on the appearance of learning rather than actual education. Since beginning his career at ICS, Mr. Coard feels supported and encouraged by his colleagues and administration in his journey towards becoming the best teacher he can be. As a teacher at NECCS, he finds that there are more opportunities for growth as an educator. Born in Brooklyn, Mr. Coard currently lives in Staten Island with his wife and pitbull named Sophie. In his free time, Mr. Coard is a DJ and plays several instruments, including bass and the cello!

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”
– Ludwig Wittgenstein

Elizabeth Roman

Elizabeth Roman is a teacher at the Lois and Richard Nicotra Early College Charter School (NECCS). Born and raised in Staten Island, she lives with her husband and her son, Noah. Mrs. Roman enjoys sharing stories of joy, hope, and perseverance. She is a breast cancer survivor and has also spent five weeks backpacking across Europe!

“No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
– Theodore Roosevelt

Hafida Zitouni

Hafida Zitouni is a teacher at the Lois and Richard Nicotra Early College Charter School (NECCS). She has an academic background in studying math education and is inspired by the kind and welcoming community of ICS staff. Mrs. Zitouni was born and raised in Algiers, Algeria and moved to New York when she was 22 years old. She now lives in New Jersey with her husband and three children, Marwa, Tiba and Abdirahman. A few fun facts about Mrs. Zitouni are that she is African, she attended the same university as Albert Camus and she speaks Arabic, French, and English.

“A smooth sea never made a skillful sailor.”

Megan Smith

Megan Smith is a teacher’s assistant at the Lois and Richard Nicotra Early College Charter School (NECCS). Ms. Smith discovered her fascination for aquatic life at a young age during family fishing trips. She pursued her hobby and eventually graduated from the University of New Haven with a BS in Marine Biology. Ms. Smith has experience with numerous domestic and exotic animals, including sharks, groupers, eels, seals, jellyfish, leopards, monkeys, snakes, octopus, etc. She now has coral reef tanks in her home with different types of sea creatures!

“In a world of fish, be a shark.” -Unknown

Vincent Liquori

Vincent Liquori is a teacher and teaching assistant at the Lois and Richard Nicotra Early College Charter School (NECCS). Mr. Liquori graduated from Manhattanville College with a Bachelor’s degree in History and earned his M. Ed at Mercy College. He enjoys the close community of ICS and describes the staff as “family.” Born in Staten Island, he has a love for volunteer work, learning about different cultures and music. In college, Mr. Liquori even had his own radio show! He plays a few instruments already but is always eager to teach himself a new one.
“Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. And, weak men create hard times.”
― G. Michael Hopf

Ivette Dempsey

Ivette Dempsey is a theater arts teacher at the Lois and Richard Early College Charter School (NECCS). She graduated with a BFA in Dance as well as a BA in Theater. Mrs. Dempsey currently lives in New Jersey with her husband and two daughters, Francesca and Alexandra. She loves the supportive community of teachers and students in her school. Prior to her employment at ICS, Mrs. Dempsey has a long career in show business. She performed on film, television and on Broadway. Mrs. Dempsey even toured nationally with acts like *NSYNC and Jessica Simpson!

“The right thing to do is not always the easiest.”

Alexandra Dmytrow

Alexandra Dmytrow is a teacher and teacher’s assistant at the Lois and Richard Early College Charter School (NECCS). Prior to her employment at ICS, Ms. Dmytrow studied and graduated from Wagner College. Her favorite part of working at NECCS is helping her students succeed. Born and raised in Staten Island, Ms. Dmytrow lives with her Golden Retriever named Riley. A few fun facts about Ms. Dmytrow are that she is a twin and she plays the drums!

Nicole Perry

Nicole Perry is a teacher at the Lois and Richard Nicotra Early College Charter School (NECCS). She graduated with a BS in Psychology as well as an MS in General Education and an MS in Students with Disabilities. Mrs. Perry has professional certification in general/students with disabilities with a biology concentration. She enjoys working with the inspiring students of NECCS to help them reach their maximum potential. Born in Brooklyn, Mrs. Perry currently lives in Staten Island with her husband, seven children, two bearded dragons, two goldfish and her 100-pound Mastiff named Bella. Mrs. Perry LOVES Disney!

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” -Albert Einstein

Rebecca Davis

Rebecca Davis is a teacher and a teacher’s assistant at the Lois and Richard Early College Charter School (NECCS). While in college, Ms. Davis studied Secondary Education. She enjoys working in a school with a wonderful staff that treats one another like family. A few fun facts about Ms. Davis is that she loves iced coffee and her Pitbull named Beauty!

“Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance.”

Kareem Fadl

Kareem Fadl is a teacher at the Lois and Richard Early College Charter School (NECCS). Mr. Fadl graduated with a BS in mathematics and enjoys being able to help his students thrive in the subject. Growing up, he always loved the idea of numbers and dreamed of sharing his knowledge in a school like NECCS. A few fun facts about Mr. Fadl is that he is a fraternal twin and enjoys playing sports in his free time!

Tyrone Hambric

Tyrone Hambric is a teaching assistant at the Lois and Richard Nicotra Early College Charter School (NECCS). Prior to his employment at ICS, Mr. Hambric graduated with a BBA in Finance. He enjoys watching his students grow in their academics. Born in the Bronx, he currently lives in Staten Island with his wife and daughters, Genesis and Ava. Mr. Hambric considers himself a Denver Broncos fan!


“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”

Lina Adinyayev

Lina Adinyayev is a teacher at the Lois and Richard Nicotra Early College Charter School (NECCS). Mrs. Adinyayev graduated from CUNY Hunter College with a BA in English Literature, Language and Criticism before she earned her MS in Secondary English Education from CUNY College of Staten Island. She is currently in the process of completing her advanced certificate in TESOL. Mrs. Adinyayev enjoys NECCS because she believes that small schools foster creativity and she is able to watch her students grow intellectually. Born in Baku, Azerbaijan, Mrs. Adinyayev immigrated to America at a young age. She moved from Illinois to New York ten years ago, where she currently resides with her husband, Avi, and two sons, Benjamin and Bradley. Mrs. Adinyayev enjoys traveling. When she was only 21, she visited Israel, Greece, Turkey, and parts of California in one summer!

“Work hard, be kind, and amazing things will happen.” -Conan O’Brien

Rawan Husein

Rawan Husein is a teaching assistant at the Lois and Richard Early College Charter School (NECCS). She graduated with both a BA and an MA in General Education 1-6 and Special Education. Mrs. Husein enjoys the tight-knit community amongst the staff of NECCS and finds that she is always greeted with a smile. Born and raised in Staten Island, she lives with her husband and young daughter. Mrs. Husein is also a huge Disney fan and owns 350 pairs of Disney ears!

“All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” – Walt Disney

Aprilmarie Toennies

Aprilmarie Toennies is a teacher at the Lois and Richard Nicotra Early College Charter School (NECCS). A first-generation college graduate, Ms. Toennies earned Magna Cum Laude honors from the College of Staten Island with a BA in English Writing concentrating in Secondary Education. She has also graduated Summa Cum Laude honors from Berkeley College with an AAS in Criminal Justice. Ms. Toennies is passionate about individuality and believes in the importance of being true to yourself. She appreciates comradery in the ICS community and is excited by arts, crafts, and DIY projects.


“It is better to be hated for who you are than loved for who you’re not.”

Manal Salem

Manal Salem is a teacher at the Lois and Richard Nicotra Early College Charter School (NECCS). Born in Alexandria, Egypt, Mrs. Salem is a member of the TCLP program, which allows language educators to teach Arabic in the United States. Though her work in the US will end in 2020, Mrs. Salem’s favorite part of working at ICS is the diversity and family-like atmosphere for both students and teachers. She believes that there is a place for students of all levels to learn, grow and glow.

Mrs. Salem graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in English before beginning her 22-year teaching career. Mrs. Salem has also taken a course in teaching Arabic as a critical language from the American Council for International Education as well as courses in teaching Arabic to non-native speakers.

She currently lives with a host family in New Jersey and will be returning to Egypt soon to live with her husband, eighteen-year-old son and fourteen-year-old daughter!

“Group work makes the dream work.”

Alvin Hillary

Alvin Hillary is a teacher at Nicotra Early College Charter School. While in college, Mr. Hillary studied biology and neuroscience. His favorite part of working at Nicotra is that the staff acts like a family.

Born in Brooklyn, Mr. Hillary lives in Staten Island with his wife and son. “I am a giant nerd who loves anything from science to superheroes,” he says. Mr. Hillary also likes to travel and has helped teach English and science in the Galapagos Islands for a month!

Carol Halfide-Torres

Carol Halfhide-Torres is a social worker at Nicotra Early College Charter School. She graduated from college with a Master’s degree in social work. Mrs. Halfhide-Torres’ favorite part of working at Nicotra is collaborating with other faculty members to provide children with academic and mental health services.

Raised in Staten Island, Mrs. Halfhide-Torres lives with her husband, her teenage son and their one-year-old Australian Shepard named Montoyo. She enjoys crime shows and cooking!