About the Faculty


With nearly 20 years of teaching experience that spans kindergarten to college level courses, Rob has contributed to the field of education in many capacities, as teacher (public and private), tutor, author, researcher, consultant, and guest lecturer. His curricular and pedagogical perspectives are student-centered, constructivist, and simultaneously challenging and supportive. As an educator, Rob’s primary focus is on the advancement of higher-order thinking skills through the development of interdisciplinary curriculum content.

Rob earned his B.A. in liberal arts/creative arts from San Jose State University in 2000 and his M.A. degree in art history with an emphasis in curriculum design and pedagogy in 2010. Two years later, he published a two-book series titled Inference Jones. His award winning books aim to improve critical reading and higher-order thinking by developing a student's’ ability to draw inferences from both written texts and previous life experience.

Rob also enjoys writing music. His music has been featured on MTV, licensed to independent films, and garnered interest from major music supervisors in the movie industry. Most recently his music was used for the films Stepping High, produced by Harmony Gold, and Live and Love It Up which was produced by the nonprofit Ride a Wave Foundation, based in Santa Cruz.

Next to Rob’s deep passion for music is his love for martial arts. Rob has studied Taekwondo, Eskrima, and Krav Maga and spent many years learning the philosophies and practices of Shaolin Kung Fu, Qigong, and Tai Chi. This practice has also heightened his interest in mindfulness. Rob's background in the arts (both physical and mental) is apparent in the classroom.

When his five-year-old and nine-year-old sons are either asleep or completely content building their latest Lego structure, Rob savors his time sipping tea and reading books with his wife.

Lissa Downey, Math & Science

Lissa is passionate about all things related to the field of education, from the most current brain research on how students learn to the study of the physical and natural world through scientific exploration. She is particularly interested in the importance of the student/teacher relationship and how each student needs to feel safe in his or her environment for learning to take place. Lissa is in her 14th year of teaching middle and high school with an emphasis in science. She has taught Earth, Life and Physical Science and believes that each student has an innate curiosity that can be tapped into through creative, fun and stimulating lessons. Her science courses include hands on lab experimentation that encourage collaboration. Students will also learn the necessary skills for writing lab reports and the fundamentals of the scientific method. Lissa was raised in San Diego where she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree and has a four and a half year old son named, Enzo. She runs long distances for fun.

Aaron Clegg, Math & Science

Aaron Clegg joined Pioneer Academy in 2017.  He has teaching credentials in physics and music and fourteen years of combined experience teaching math, science, music, and theater to students from Kindergarten through college.

Aaron grew up in Eureka, California, earned a B.S. in physics at the University of New Hampshire in 2000, then decided to move back to California to teach in an “outdoor classroom” setting.  Although as a self-proclaimed naturalist, he enjoyed this position, he took a job at UC Berkeley's Lawrence Hall of Science doing science assemblies and "Science Discovery Theatre" at schools throughout the Bay Area and beyond.  When this program's funding was cut, Aaron came back to the classroom, teaching math, science, and theater.

Aaron has also enjoyed music for most of his life.  He teaches music classes and also offers private lessons in saxophone, flute, pennywhistle, wooden flute, and voice.  While living in the East Bay, he performed for two years with the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, and now he is a singer and flutist for Santa Cruz based traditional Celtic band Charmas.

Aaron’s philosophy of education:  “Students are like plants.  We don't make them grow by pulling on them, but rather when we give them what they need, they grow on their own. This happens most effectively through fun and curiosity.”


Elijah Pfotenhauer, Art

Elijah was born in Santa Cruz, California. He studied art at Cabrillo College. His works have been shown at a variety of galleries in the greater Bay Area including: The Hide Gallery, The Mill,  Mama Buzz, and 4th Street Triumph.

Elijah personally utilizes painting and visual arts to engage and uplift the community. He believes that through the Arts, the public can actively participate in the transformation of society. Through the creation of public works, the community can take pride in the area and engage in prevalent social issues. Elijah also believes that art is a tool to unite people across lines of age, race, gender and general socio economic background. The Arts open a new doorway for participants to engage in new and unknown opportunities.