Departing teachers


Celso Cardenas

By Natasha Speiss

Illustration by Alexa Chang

Upper School Dean Celso Cárdenas will depart from the school after eight years to become the Dean of Students and College Counseling at Avenues The World School.

Cárdenas earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Michigan in 2003. He served as the Social Director of College Counseling at Francis W. Parker School in Chicago from 2006 to 2015, while simultaneously earning his master’s degree in Community Counseling from Northeastern Illinois in 2010. Cárdenas joined the school in 2015 and earned his doctoral degree in Education from the University of Southern California this year.

Cárdenas said he loves how students see his office as a safe space.

“For whatever reason, students have taken my office and made it their own from the moment that I got here,” Cárdenas said. “I recognize how important that is. In high school, I didn’t feel like I had [a safe space]. I didn’t have adults who I could go to, didn’t have the comfort of an office or anything like that, so the idea of being able to create that and have that space year to year with a new batch of students has been super rewarding.”

Cárdenas is the faculty advisor for the LatinX and Hispanic Student Organization (LAHSO), which he helped found at the school in 2016. Cárdenas said working with LAHSO has been an incredibly rewarding experience.

“We didn’t have a Latino affinity group when I first got here,” Cárdenas said. “In my first year, I think given that I was the first Latino dean, students approached me about that. So, I got to talking with students in that first year, and then in year two, we were able to start LAHSO. It’s been great to see [LAHSO] grow from what it was seven years ago to what has become one of the ethnic groups that people recognize and has visibility on campus.”

Cárdenas said one of his fondest memories from his time at the school was receiving a poster from a group of students who spent a lot of time with him in his office.

“I’m not an emotional person, but I ended up getting a little teary-eyed as I read all these messages from students just talking about how much it meant for them to have this space,” Cárdenas said. “As educators, we don’t always hear the good. But I have been lucky where students have been able to reach back or formally tell me in some way just how much I meant to them, for me to just be here and have this space for them.”

Jasmine Sorgen ’25, who is in Cárdenas’ dean group, said she will miss his comforting presence next year.

“I feel incredibly safe with him and know I can go to him for help with anything,” Sorgen said. “I also really love just sitting with him and chatting about all sorts of things. I appreciate him always.”

Sara Miranda

By Hannah Shahidi and Zoe Goor

Illustration by Alexa Chang

Upper School Dean Sara Miranda will leave the school after three years to become the Executive Director of College Counseling at Chadwick School in Rancho Palos Verdes . She announced her departure in an email to her dean group March 13.

Miranda said her new role will be a hybrid of the work she has been doing as a college counselor at the school and her prior position in the college admissions world, where she worked as an admissions officer at Brandeis University. She said she cherishes the relationships she has built while working at the school.

“[I will miss] all of my great families and students, and it’s been so fun getting to know people,” Miranda said. “This is an easy place where college counselors, deans, teachers and administrators can all work together collaboratively and have a work hard/play hard mentality where you get to meet with people by day and be friends with them outside of school and be helpful and supportive of one another’s life endeavors and all of those things. I’m going to miss the community here.”

Miranda said some of her favorite memories from her tenure at the school are the school’s traditions and cafeteria food.

“I love that convocation is the entire school, with the Middle School and the Upper School all in one place at one time,” Miranda said. “I love our ring ceremony for seniors in the fall where seniors are bestowed the highest leadership at the school. We ended in that exact same place with their culminating graduation at the end of the year. I think that that is really special. I’m going to miss Phairot in the cafeteria. I’m going to miss orange chicken day for sure.”

Dean Department Head Chris Jones said Miranda is a valuable member of the dean team.

“For our team, because we tend to be a little bit conversational at times, she’s one of the people who’s able to really make sure that we stay on task with stuff in a way that I think is so important,” Jones said. “She also is always willing to pitch in to do whatever it is, whether it’s getting involved with a presentation to the board, speaking in front of our faculty about stuff, talking to students about things or doing anything that comes up, she’s always willing to say, ‘I can make this work, just give it to me,’ and it’s nice to have that confidence in someone to know you can hand the reins over.”

Zoe Roth ’24 said she enjoyed spending time with Miranda and becoming close with her.

“She really took the time to get to know me and make an effort with me, which I appreciated,” Roth said. “One time, I ended up going to her office just to ask a simple question. I end up staying for 45 minutes just talking.”

Derric Chien

By Davis Marks

Illustration by Alexa Chang

Math Teacher Derric Chien will depart from the Upper School after six years of teaching to have more flexibility in his schedule as a tutor and caretaker of family members.

Chien joined the Upper School in 2017, and during his time at the school, he has taught Algebra II, Precalculus, Calculus and Statistics, Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science A, AP Computer Science Principles and Honors Design and Data Structures. Chien also serves as a faculty advisor for Asian Students in Action (ASiA).

Chien said students and faculty have had a large impact on him and are what he will miss most about the school.

“My understanding of what it means to be an educator has profoundly changed in such a positive way since I came to Harvard-Westlake,” Chien said. “This transformation would only be possible because of the students and colleagues that have challenged and inspired me. I will miss so much about this place, but I will miss most the little community that I have built up here.”

Chien, who often wears a bow tie, said the accessories hold personal significance to him and inspire him to give back to his students.

“Bow ties have always represented to me inspiration, respect and admiration,” Chien said. “The two most influential people in my life wore bowties and mentored me, and my wearing bowties has always been a token of the deep respect and gratitude I have for those two people. I wear the bowties when I teach to remind myself that anything short of my best effort would be an insult to those two people.”

Sophomore Prefect Ellie Borris ’25 said he is grateful for Chien’s unique teaching style and personality.

“I feel beyond fortunate to be able to call him my teacher and friend,” Borris said. “I have never had so much fun in a classroom before, and he has completely transformed the way that I approach problems both in math and in life. I will miss his constant pestering and passive-aggressive emails, as well as his creative, slightly mean pranks that never fail to put a smile on the faces of everyone in the room. Every day with him is special, and I do not think there is another person on this planet who has helped me grow into a better student and a better person than him.”

Stephen Thompson

By Caroline Plunkett

Illustration by Alexa Chang

English Teacher Stephen Thompson will depart from the school after teaching for 6 years to teach at JSerra Catholic High School in Orange County.

A California native, Thompson majored in English Literature at UC Berkeley and then attended Cornell University, where he received his doctorate in 2016. Upon graduating from Cornell, he moved to Los Angeles to begin teaching at the school.

Thompson says his plans to leave with his wife and three kids are motivated by wanting to be closer to his wife’s family.

“I’m excited for the chance to be closer to my in-laws and for my kids to grow up around their aunts and uncles,” Thompson said. “The commute from where we live now [to Orange County] is pretty long and so we don’t get to see them that often now.”

Thompson said he is looking forward to helping design the English curriculum at JSerra.

“At my new position, I get the chance to design a humanities course, which I’m really excited for,” Thompson said.

Thompson currently teaches AP Language and Composition: Utopias and Dystopias for seniors and Honors English III for juniors.

Sophia Vourakis ’24, who is in his Honors English III class, said she thinks what makes Thompson such a good teacher is his connection with his students.

“His ability to get in touch with students is why he’s one of my favorite [teachers],” Vourakis said. “He really values our well-being not only as students but as people.”

Thompson said one of his favorite parts of the school is the students’ intellectual curiosity.

“A student and I were reading Crime and Punishment [in a reading group] together and we just had this big discussion about philosophy and materialism and the big questions of life,” Thompson said. “That’s the sort of thing I’m going to miss about this place. [This] happens really organically here.”

Rowan Jen ’23 said that he has been a part of Thompson’s book club for the past two years and that he loves how literature becomes a jumping-off point for the group to discuss other ideas.

“[The reading group is] great,” Jen said. “We’ll debate, ask [each other] questions, go off on tangents [talking] about faith, love, and meaning. He’s way more than a teacher [to me], he’s a mentor and a friend.”

Jen said Dr. Thompson has had a profound impact on him as a person as well as the school.

“Dr. Thompson has done so much for this community and I’m sad to see him go,” Jen said.

Ryan Pinsker ’23, a student in Thompson’s AP Language and Composition: Utopias and Dystopias class and says that Dr. Thompson is an impactful part of the school community.

“Dr. Thompson is hands down the greatest English teacher I’ve ever had,” Pinsker said. “He’ll be greatly missed [and] I think I speak for all his students when I say he made a mark on all of our lives.”