The staff at Tohoku International School have origins as varied as our students. Although most of our staff comes from the United States, also represented are Australia, Canada, Japan, Singapore, and South Africa. Each member of staff brings many years of teaching experience. Scroll down to get to know them a little better, or choose the appropriate section:

Leadership Team
Office Team
Elementary Team
Secondary Team

Leadership Team

Mr. Nicholas Schirmer

Ms. Hiroko Yoshida

Mr. Jordan Nogaki

TIS Role: Head of School

Mr. Schirmer was born in Dayton, Ohio, USA.
Mr. Schirmer majored in archeology at Western Washington University before being awarded his Masters in Leadership at the University of San Francisco. Before becoming the Head of School in 2019, Mr. Schirmer had taught at TIS since 2006.

In his free time, Mr. Schirmer enjoys baking, biking, and snowboarding.

A book he likes: The Andromeda Strain (Michael Crichton)
A movie he likes: Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Kershner, 1980)

TIS Role: Elementary and PYP Coordinator / EAL Coordinator

Ms. Yoshida was born in Niigata, Japan.
Ms. Yoshida majored in English Linguistics at Niigata University; TESL at the University of Alberta (Canada), and was awarded her Master of TEFL Degree at Brighton University (UK).
Ms. Yoshida has taught in various countries, including Japan, the U.A.E. and Great Britain. In addition to teaching both primary and middle schools, Ms. Yoshida also has experience teaching at the tertiary level. Arriving at TIS in 2018, Ms. Yoshida has taught at PYP schools since 2007 and is also an IBEN member. Ms. Yoshida delivers workshops and conducts consultations and school visits on behalf of the International Baccalaureate®.

Ms. Yoshida’s interests include yoga, drumming, ballet, ukulele, scuba-diving and snowboarding.

A book she likes: The Catcher in the Rye (J. D. Salinger)
A movie she likes: French Kiss (Kasdan, 1995)

TIS Role: Secondary and DP Coordinator

Mr. Nogaki was born in Renton, Washington, USA.
Mr. Nogaki attended Waseda University in Tokyo, where he earned a Master’s Degree in International Relations. Of Japanese descent, Mr. Nogaki arrived in Japan in 2005. He began teaching at TIS in 2014.

Mr. Nogaki’s interests include D.I.Y. projects, History, Sports and Outdoor Activities.

A book he likes: Hondo (Louis L’Amour)
A movie he likes: 君の名は (Shinkai, 2016)
A food he likes: Oreo cookies

Office Team

Ms. Yukiko Kawaguchi

Ms. Sawako Iwamoto

Ms. Saeko Okuse

TIS Role: TIS Office Manager

Ms. Kawaguchi was born in Tokyo, Japan.
Prior to joining TIS in 2008, Ms. Kawaguchi worked in the international hotel industry.

In her free time, Ms. Kawaguchi enjoys cooking, reading and Rusie Dutton (Thai Yoga).

A book she likes: 楽園のカンヴァス(La Toile du paradis)(Maha Harada)
A movie she likes: 日々是好日 (Every Day a Good Day) (Omori, 2018)

TIS Role: TIS Office Staff

Ms. Iwamoto was born in Sendai, Japan. She began working at TIS in 2010.

In her free-time, Ms. Iwamoto enjoys playing the piano.

A book she likes: 人形の家 (Rumer Godden)
A movie she likes: Farinelli (Corbiau, 1994)

TIS Role: TIS Office Staff

Ms. Okuse was born in Hachinohe, Aomori. She began working at TIS in 2020.

Ms. Okuse was a gymnast, and – in her free-time – enjoys surfing, snowboarding and cooking.

A movie she likes: 50 First Dates (Segal, 2004)

Top of the page

Elementary Team

Ms. Lies Van Keer

Ms. Yu Towery

Ms. Rhonda Ong

Get to know Ms. Van Keer Please check back later Please check back later
TIS Role: Kindergarten teacher

Ms. Van Keer was born in Belgium, but considers Turner Valley, Alberta, Canada to be her hometown.
She attended the University of Lethbridge, where she majored in History, Social Studies and Music. Ms. Van Keer came to Japan with the JET Programme in 2009, and has taught English to all ages, from toddlers to adults. She joined TIS in March 2020.

Ms. Van Keer’s interests include steel pan, suzume odori, knitting and crocheting.

A book she likes: Any “Sherlock Holmes” story (Arthur Conan Doyle)
A movie she likes: Bedknobs and Broomsticks (Stevenson, 1971)
A food she likes: Hawaiian pizza

TIS Role: Grade 1 / 2 Teacher

Ms. Towery was born in Sendai, Japan.
Ms. Towery majored in Education and ESL before being awarded her Master of Education.
Ms. Towery taught both elementary school and college in Texas, before joining the TIS family in 2018.

Ms. Towery’s interests include travelling and skiing.

A book she likes: Love You Forever (Robert Munsch)
A movie she likes: The Notebook (Cassavetes, 2004)
A quote she likes: “Don’t give up. I believe in you all. A person’s a person no matter how small.” – Dr. Seuss

TIS Role: Grade 3/4 Teacher

Ms. Ong was born in Singapore. She majored in International business and human resource management, at the University of Queensland. She began her career with the TIS Family in 2017.

Ms. Ong’s interest is sport. She is particularly fond of swimming.

A book she likes: The Singapore Story (Lee Kuan Yew)
A movie she likes: Invictus (Eastwood, 2009)

Ms. Ali Gabrenya

Ms. Jenny Bae

Ms. Yuki Konno

Get to know Ms. Gabrenya Please check back later. Please check back later.
TIS Role: Grade 5/6 Teacher

Ms. Gabrenya is from Lexington, Massachusetts, USA.
She studied Environmental Science at Warren Wilson College and Science and Math Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Denver. Prior to arriving in Japan in 2020 to join the TIS family, Ms. Gabrenya taught in Denver, Colorado for seven years, which included Elementary Science & Engineering for the past five years.

Ms. Gabrenya’s interests include hiking, art, skiing and gardening.

A book she likes: Kafka on the Shore (Haruki Murakami)
A movie she likes: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (Miyazaki, 1984)
A quote she likes: “We can do hard things.” – Glennon Doyle

TIS Role: Elementary School Assistant Teacher / Substitute Teacher

Ms. Bae grew up in Portland, Oregon, USA.
Ms. Bae majored in Environmental Studies at Lewis & Clarke College and earned a Masters in Special Education from Portland State University.
Prior to joining TIS, Ms. Bae has worked in Kentucky, North Carolina, and Texas as a teacher for students with visual impairments.

Ms. Bae’s interests include traveling, studying Japanese, and outdoor activities.

A book she likes: Guji Guji (Chih-Yuan Chen)
A quote she likes: “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.” – Helen Keller

TIS Role: Japanese Teacher

Ms. Konno was born in Sendai, Japan.
Ms. Kono majored in Elementary Education / TESOL, and began her teaching career with the TIS Family in 2019.

Ms. Konno’s interests include doing yoga and playing volleyball.

A book she likes: カラフル(森絵都)(Eto Mori)
A movie she likes: Coco (リメンバーミ―)(Disney, 2017)

Ms. Mayi Lekuona

Ms. Shoko Nogami

Ms. April Sekine

Please check back later. Please check back later. Please check back later.
TIS Role: Elementary School Assistant Teacher

Ms. Lekuona was born in Hondarribia, Basque Country.
Ms. Lekuona majored in Marine Biology and Permaculture.
Prior to arriving in Japan, Ms. Lekuona worked as a marine biologist in Canada.
She joined the staff at TIS in 2021.

Ms. Lekuona’s interests include gardening, board games, creating and exploring.

A book she likes: The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien)
A movie she likes: Delicatessen (Caro, Jeunet, 1991)
A quote she likes: “Create the things you wished existed.” – Kristen Pierce

TIS Role: EAL & Japanese Assistant Teacher

Ms. Nogami was born in Kyoto, Japan.
Ms. Nogami majored in Sociology at Concordia University (Montreal).
Ms. Nogami has been teaching at TIS since 2015.

In her free-time, Ms. Nogami enjoys visiting shrines and temples.

A book she likes: Anne of Green Gables (Lucy Maud Montgomery)
A movie she likes: The Tora San series (1969 – Present)

TIS Role: Librarian / Elementary Support Teacher

Ms. Sekine grew up in Cupertino, California.
Ms. Sekine majored in Liberal Studies at San Jose State University.
Ms. Sekine began her career teaching at a language college, before enjoying being a stay-at-home mum. In 2009, Ms. Sekine became a member of the TIS Family.

Ms. Sekine’s interests include reading, crocheting, and sewing.

A book she likes: Penguin (Polly Dunbar)
A quote she likes: “Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.” – Maya Angelou

Top of the page

Secondary Team

Mr. Joshua Bengtson

Ms. Winnie Chan

Mr. Zane Clifford

Get to know Mr. Bengtson Please check back later Get to know Mr. Clifford
TIS Role: Art Specialist / Secondary Japanese teacher

Mr. Bengtson was born in Akita, Japan.
Mr. Bengtson majored in Modern Art / Art Education at Tohoku Seikatsu Bunka University. He was a student at TIS for three years of high school…! Before returning to TIS as a teacher in 2015, he taught art at a public Japanese high school in Miyagi.

Mr. Bengtson’s interests include Oil Painting, Jomon Pottery, Hiking, Skiing, Rocks and Fossils.

A book he likes: 窓際のトットちゃん (Totto-Chan: The Little Girl at the Window) (Tetsuko Kuroyanagi)
A movie he likes: キツツキと雨 (The Woodsman and the Rain) (Okita, 2011)

TIS Role: Secondary Science / Mathematics

Ms. Chan was born in San Francisco, California, USA and majored in Biology and Chinese Studies at UC San Diego. Prior to joining the TIS family in 2019, Ms. Chan taught high school Biology and Environmental Science in Philadelphia, PA.

Ms. Chan’s interests include reading, exploring, and horticulture.

A book she likes: The Nickel Boys (Colson Whitehead)
A movie she likes: The Farewell (Wang, 2019)

TIS Role: Secondary Math Teacher and IT Coordinator

Mr. Clifford was born in Durban, South Africa.
Mr. Clifford attended University of Kwa-Zulu Natal in Pietermaritzburg, where he majored in Computer Science. Mr. Clifford arrived in Japan in 2011 as an ALT on the JET Programme. He began teaching at TIS in 2018.

Mr. Clifford’s interests include gaming, Go, working out and Aikido.

A book he likes: The Dresden Files (Jim Butcher)
A movie he likes: Inception (Nolan, 2010)
A quote he likes: “Be water, my friend.” – Bruce Lee

Mr. Stephen Messano

Mr. Brian Scadden

Mr. Chris Vassbotn

Get to know Mr. Messano Get to know Mr. Scadden Get to know Mr. Vassbotn
TIS Role: Mathematics / Elementary & Secondary Music / Secondary Drama

Mr. Messano grew up in San Jose, California.
Mr. Messano received his Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Mathematics and Music at the University of California, Davis. He then attended San Jose State University to procure his California Teaching Credentials (K-12 Music and Secondary Mathematics). Prior to teaching at TIS, Mr. Messano taught high school and middle school in California and Japan. In 2003, he began his tenure at TIS.

In his free time, Mr. Messano enjoys Dungeons & Dragons, jazz music, murder-mystery parties, travelling, and spending quality time with friends.

A book he likes: The Chronicles of Prydain (Lloyd Alexander)
A movie he likes: The Dark Crystal (Henson, Oz, 1982)
A quote he likes: “This sentence no verb.”

TIS Role: HSA/HSB English & History

Mr. Scadden was born in Tiburon, California, USA.
Mr. Scadden majored in History and minored in European Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and attained his Masters in TESOL at the University of San Francisco. Mr. Scadden taught in San Francisco for five years before teaching at an international school in Albania. He remained there for two years before joining TIS in 2020.

Mr. Scadden’s interests include surfing, travel, dominoes and trivia.

A book he likes: Doctor Glas (Hjalmar Soderberg)
A movie he likes: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (Anderson, 2004)
A quote he likes: “Learn to forget.” – Jim Morrison

TIS Role: HSC English + Geography / P.E.

Mr. Vassbotn was born in North Bay, Ontario, Canada.
Mr. Vassbotn attended Ryerson University, Toronto, where he studied Film and Media studies. Mr. Vassbotn has fifteen years of international teaching experience in Mexico, Qatar, China and Japan. Before that, he taught Middle School in Canada for a couple of decades. This is Mr. Vassbotn’s sixth year at TIS.

Mr. Vassbotn’s interests include sports and music.

A book he likes: Trainspotting (Irvine Welsh)
A movie he likes: Almost Famous (Crowe, 2000)
A quote he likes: People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day. – Theodor Rosyfelt

Mr. Clayton Noel Wildy

Please check back later.
TIS Role: EAL Specialist

Mr. Wildy was born in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.
Mr. Wildy majored in Literature & Literacy at Griffith University (Nathan) and earned his post-graduate teaching degree in English & History (Sec.) at Griffith University (Kelvin Grove). He then received his TESOL qualification from Trinity College, London. Having taught Primary, Secondary and Tertiary, Mr. Wildy has been a teacher for 25 years. With regards to the deployment of meta-cognition in the classroom, Mr Wildy has been heavily involved in the professional development of secondary school educators. Mr. Wildy was thrilled to arrive at TIS in 2019.

Mr. Wildy is a film-maker and professional musician (vocalist and guitarist) who has appeared in TV, magazines and billboards.

A book he likes: Timequake (Kurt Vonnegut)
A movie he likes: Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941)
A quote he likes: What we think, we become. – The Buddha

Top of the page