Lisa Zavieh

STEM Dept Chair & Teacher
Pennsylvania State University, PhD
California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, MS
California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, BS
email: lisa.zavieh [at]
phone: (707) 545-1770 x3428

STEM Department Chair Lisa Zavieh brings an engineer’s mindset to all she does, including lesson planning. “I love planning for each class, anticipating how things are going to go,” she says. “And it’s just as satisfying to sit down after teaching that class and have a little debrief with myself. I ask myself, ‘what worked well? What can I tweak to make things run more smoothly? What have I learned?’” This never-ending iteration process makes her job exciting and fun. “Even if I teach the same lesson six times in one day, it’s never, ever boring,” she says. 

While her high school was a bit different from SA on the surface—Lisa attended an all-girls’ Catholic school—there are some similarities. “Good teaching is good teaching,” she says. “But the main difference is that at the time, there was a lot more direct instruction, a lot of learning to take notes and be quiet. Here, our teachers don’t just deliver information; they craft authentic educational experiences. That’s a key difference.” 

Before becoming a high school teacher, Lisa majored in aeronautical engineering (yes, she is a rocket scientist!) and then went on to earn an Ph.D. in Semiconductor Device Processing. “I planned to teach college,” she says, “but in my Ph.D. program, I realized that if I continued to teach at the university level, I’d mostly be developing graduate programs instead of teaching undergrads, which is what I really loved.” 

Lisa left academia and worked as a research engineer for five years. During that time, she also earned her second degree black belt. When she felt ready to leave engineering, she opened a martial arts studio. This led to a fortuitous encounter that led to her teacher career. Lisa was promoting her after school programs at a local middle school. “I had included my resume with the flyer about the martial arts program,” she says. “The school contacted me and said, ‘hey, we don’t have a budget for martial arts, but can you teach eighth grade math?” She was set up with an emergency credential and was teaching within a few weeks. “It was unbelievably hard, but after a year, I knew that I never wanted to do anything else again!” 

After a stint teaching physics at a public high school, Lisa came to SA in 2008, the first year at our Taylor Mountain campus. While Lisa has taught everything from Algebra to Multivariable Calculus, Physics is her favorite subject to teach. “It’s so hands-on and visceral,” she says. “When you’re being pushed, you can actually feel being pushed!” 

She also enjoys the opportunity to step out of the lab and teach an Ice Skating Exploratory class. “Figure skating is so much fun,” she says. “I skated for about six months as a kid, but I really embraced it as an adult. It’s a great exercise in taking risks, practicing, mastering skills. And it’s humbling! I think my figure skating helps me to understand the struggles our students encounter as they take on new concepts.” 

When asked what she likes best about her job here, Lisa says, “the students. They’re our second-biggest asset, after the teachers….it’s easy to teach in an environment that is so positively focused on learning and growth. And I get to bring my dog!” (Reba is a fixture on campus, beloved by students and staffulty alike!) 
2500 Farmers Lane 
Santa Rosa, CA 95404 
(707) 545-1770

Sonoma Academy Is...

...the only private, independent, college preparatory high school in Sonoma County. On our beautiful campus nestled at the base of Taylor Mountain in Southeastern Santa Rosa, our students are able to explore their interests and passions in a rigorous and inspiring environment that develops a lifelong love of learning and prepares them for college and beyond.

Sonoma Academy admits students of any race, color, religion, ethnicity or national origin, citizenship, gender or gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, or disability, to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school. The school does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, ethnicity or national origin, citizenship, gender or gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, or disability in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and tuition assistance programs, and athletic and other school-administered programs.