Barbara Barber, Director

As the founder and Director of East Hill Academy it is my goal to meet the challenging needs of our students by seeking new ways of teaching that will improve the skills of students struggling to achieve.  EHA fulfills these goals through a well trained staff that understands the different types of learning disabilities, along with the social, emotional and behavioral challenges unique to each student.  Our students exhibit significant difficulties in learning through traditional teaching methods. Therefore, we must continually find new ways to improve the delivery of our curriculum.


My educational background (BA in Psychology, and MA in Clinical Psychology) enables me to provide our staff with the clinical background knowledge they need to better understand how the student learns. In addition, I have 19 years’ experience working with children in community mental health system, as well as the Juvenile Justice system  who have serious emotional, behavioral and learning disabilities. I also have been involved in developing and successfully implementing school based pilot programs providing education and treatment to children at risk.

Management Team

Jan Soelzer, Director of Operations
Jan Soelzer is the Director of Operations for East Hill Academy.  She has a Master’s in Business Accounting (MBA) and brings with her years of experience working in business finance.  Mrs. Soelzer manages and coordinates the daily operations of all EHA’s school sites. Mrs. Soelzer directs office personnel and assists in the hiring of staff.  She also oversees the student enrollment process.  Mrs. Soelzer supervises the McKay Scholarship tuition funding program, the Gardiner Scholarship as well as the private pay families.
Kolleen Chesley, General Manager
Kolleen Chesley is the General Manager at East Hill Academy. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Business Finance. She is experienced in working with people to help them achieve their goals. Mrs. Chesley is also the founder and director of Powerful Women of The Gulf Coast, a not-for- profit organization that spotlights women’s achievements in our community. She is responsible for coordinating the staffing at all 3 school sites.
Breanna Gifford, Special Education Coordinator
Breanna Gifford is East Hill Academy’s Special Education Coordinator. She has a BA in psychology. She began working for East Hill as a teacher 7 years ago and has worked her way up into administration.

Teachers at EHA have a minimum 4 year degree and complete a rigorous 8 week training program provided by EHA during the summer months.

Most of our Teaching Assistants have a minimum 2 years of college or AA degree and complete the same rigorous training program provided by EHA during the summer months.

Office personnel have the requirements necessary to operate the front office and are fully supervised by the Director and Operations manager.

As East Hill Academy continues to grow and provide more educational services to children with learning disabilities it will be necessary to hire and train additional staff.  At the present time EHA works to keep teaching assistants on staff to help where needed, in addition to the assigned staff.  We try to anticipate our staffing needs at least 1 year in advance.  This allows for the development and proper training of all staff members involved in the classrooms.



Autism Society


Every parent wants their child to have a happy, productive and fulfilling life. When an autism diagnosis is received, all those dreams suddenly seem impossible. The parent feels despair, overwhelmed, and doesn’t know where to begin seeking information, answers, support and guidance. Similarly, when an adult gets diagnosed with autism, they too may seek support and guidance. I have personally heard parents say they fear there’s no hope for their child’s future, and they don’t know where to seek the help they desperately need.


I’ve got great news to share with you! I’m autistic, diagnosed at age 50. I graduated from Columbia University in 1988 with my Master’s in Nurse Anesthesia and have been working full time for the past 28 years as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist. I’m an internationally published military aviation photojournalist, getting to fly in military aircraft including an F-15 fighter jet! I’m an accomplished equestrienne, jumping horses over 6-foot high obstacles in competition. I used to be into ice dancing, skiing, and tennis. After getting my autism diagnosis, I’ve become an autism advocate, author, blogger, researcher, and national speaker. I recently spoke at the United Nations for World Autism Awareness Day 2017. I have a book coming out in September by Future Horizons. I’ve saved the best for last! In just a few months I’ll be celebrating my second anniversary of my marriage to my best friend and soul mate Abraham, also autistic! I’m proof that being on the autism spectrum has no limits on what you can accomplish. I couldn’t have accomplished all that without the support and guidance from my mom. We struggled a lot, especially not knowing I’m autistic until I was fifty. Once diagnosed, I didn’t know where to seek answers. Things would have been a lot easier had I known about the Autism Society of America and the great people working there and all the help they provide to those affected by autism, both individuals and families.


I got to meet Scott Badesch, President and CEO of the Autism Society of America at their National Conference last year in New Orleans. As I quickly learned, Scott is a top rate autism advocate and demonstrates extraordinary leadership of his organization. I also learned all they have to offer to those parents just receiving an autism diagnosis of their child, or a teen with autism wondering how they will transition into adulthood, or an autistic adult worrying how to gain employment or navigate a relationship. The Autism Society’s Mission Statement is “Improving the quality of lives of all affected by autism.”


With their new strategic plan, the Autism Society is focusing on Advocacy, Education, Support, Services, and Research. They are the nation’s leading grassroots autism organization and source of trusted and reliable information about autism, and have a strong national network of affiliates. From the annual National Conference to the Autism Source™ National Contact Center (open Monday to Friday from 9 am – 9 pm Eastern time and staffed by professionals), the Autism Society is where those in need of information, answers, services, or guidance can turn to.


I have the distinct honor of being on the Autism Society’s Panel of People on the Spectrum of Autism. This enables me to be a national advocate and be an inspiration both to parents of children with autism and those on the autism spectrum.