New Head of School

We are thrilled to announce Kari Ostrem, a co-founder of Bronx Lab School and former Academic Dean of The Lawrenceville School, as the founding Head of School of the Haile-Manas Academy. Ms. Ostrem’s passion for educating all students, her expertise in designing 21st century curricula, and her forward looking philosophy of education make her the ideal first leader of the Haile-Manas Academy. Ms. Ostrem will be joined on our Debre Birhan campus by her husband Marshall Nicoloff, their son Lincoln (9), and their daughter Luna (3). Mr. Nicoloff, an experienced educator currently at Riverdale Country School in New York City, will also join our staff and will develop leadership programming at the school. 


In conducting the search, we prioritized finding a mission-driven leader inspired by the opportunity to create a transformative model school in and for Ethiopia, and an experienced educator and administrator who combines intellectual rigor with a collaborative, inclusive approach and a love of students. Ms. Ostrem is precisely that leader and educator.

Ms. Ostrem will partner with Tesfaye Kifle, our Deputy Head of School, who has over 20 years experience as a teacher, teaching coach and administrator in Ethiopian and international schools, most recently at the International Community School in Addis Ababa. We are confident that together they will in turn inspire a team of dedicated, collaborative educators to bring HMA’s bold mission to life.

Ms. Ostrem has spent 22 years educating high school students in the most successful public, charter and independent schools in the Northeast. She is currently an adjunct Professor in Mathematics Education at City College, NY and a full-time math and science teacher at Vanguard High School. Prior to that, she was a co-founder of the public Bronx Lab School in New York City where she implemented an innovative curricular vision including integrated math and science and senior capstone projects.

As the Academic Dean at The Lawrenceville School, an elite college preparatory boarding school in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, Ms.Ostrem led and fostered a diverse community of faculty and students. She designed the service learning program and led teams that advanced student opportunities for independent work. She was also a founding faculty member of the Island School, an innovative semester program in Eleuthera, Bahamas focused on sustainability and science research. At KIPP Charter Schools, where she served as Director of Science, Ms. Ostrem formed a team of science teachers who redesigned the vertical progression in science to emphasize creativity, collaboration, inquiry, critical thinking and empathy. In each of these schools, Ms. Ostrem led teams that were invested in how kids learn as much as in what they learn, with beneficial results. 

Ms. Ostrem earned a BSE in Civil Engineering from Princeton University in 1997 and a MS in Environmental Engineering from Columbia University in 2004. She earned a professional certificate in School Leadership at Baruch College.

On a personal note, we had the pleasure of spending four days with Kari and Marshall in Ethiopia over the Christmas holidays, as they explored the country and Debre Birhan in anticipation of making it their new home. We were deeply impressed by their curiosity and intelligence, by their humor and resilience, by their interest in, and genuine kindness to, our children and others, and by their enthusiasm for embracing the unique opportunities presented by HMA and this moment in Ethiopia. We also witnessed the immediate connection between Kari and Tesfaye. We could not be more thrilled to have Kari fulfilling this critical founding head position.

Kari notes, “I am honored and humbled to be given the privilege of leading HMA as the founding Head of School. Rebecca’s vision provided an aspirational idea that will soon be an extraordinary reality as a school full of meaningful work and humor. With the HMA faculty, I will nurture diverse students to prepare them for life as we truly experience it: full of complex problems that require teams of compassionate, critical thinkers. I will bring with my years of experience the open mind of an innovator, the judiciousness of an educator, and the spirit of a mother.”

 We are pleased to share some of the effusive praise Kari’s colleagues offered us:

“Kari Ostrem is, in a word, singular. A marvelous, elegant, and devoted classroom teacher. A proven, inventive, and inspiring leader of adults. An educator and advocate who makes everyone and everything around her better. I’ve had the privilege to lead by Kari’s side and to learn from her what’s possible. She’s singularly the best.” 

Marc Sternberg, K-12 Education Program Director, Walton Family Foundation

“Kari is a champion for students, an inspiring teacher, and a pragmatic and understanding leader. In so many ways, Kari is able to focus on what really matters in education, a key element at the inception of a promising school like HMA.”

Kelley Nicholson-Flynn, Head of Upper School, Riverdale Country School

We look forward to supporting Kari and her family as she and Tesfaye welcome the first group of teachers and staff and the first class of students to the campus, and to watching those students - and the Haile-Manas Academy - grow and thrive under her leadership. This is a truly important and exciting milestone in our journey.



Rebecca Haile

EEI Executive Director and Board Member

Jean Manas

EEI Board Chair

Rebecca Haile