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.
Brianna Gifford, Special Education Coordinator
Brianna 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.


Anita Lesko
Anita just turned 54, and was only diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome 2 years ago, only by chance. She had not ever heard of the word Asperger’s, until a co­worker’s son was diagnosed with it and gave her a handful of information about Asperger’s. As Anita read on, she realized she had Asperger’s. That very night she stopped at the bookstore on her way home from work and purchased Tony Attwood’s “COMPLETE GUIDE TO ASPERGER’S SYNDROME.” All of the pieces of the puzzle of her life fell into place and made a picture. She finally knew why she never fit in, why she was different. She had gone her entire life without knowing she had a syndrome that affected every aspect of her life.


Anita graduated from Columbia University in New York City in 1988 with a Master of Science in Nurse Anesthesia, and has been working full time ever since as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist. Her specialty is anesthesia for neurosurgery, trauma, and transplants.


While still working full time as an anesthetist, she became an internationally published military aviation photojournalist, and wrote articles and did photography for numerous military aviation magazines, including Combat Aircraft, Wings of Gold, Naval Aviation News, Air Sports International, and more. She’s flown in fighter jets and helicopters.


Anita is an accomplished equestrienne, and has competed in jumping competition at the Grand Prix level, and has made a lifelong passion of horses.


Anita spent 7 years ice dancing, and skated in numerous ice shows and competitions.


After learning about Asperger’s and receiving her formal diagnosis, Anita Wrote a memoir, ASPERGER’S SYNDROME: When Life Hands You Lemons, Make Lemonade. Anita then teamed up with the world’s leading Asperger’s expert, Dr. Tony Attwood, and Craig Evans of Autism Hangout (dotcom) to create a soon ­to ­be ­released book from Jessica Kingsley Publishing, Been There. Done That. Try This! The Aspie Mentor Guide To Life On Earth. This first ­ever book contains life’s wisdom from Dr. Temple Grandin, Anita Lesko, Jennifer O’Tool, Liane Holliday­-Willey, Dr. Stephen Shore, Dr. Lars Perner, and many more! It is set for release in February 2014.


Dr. Temple Grandin’s book, DIFFERENT…NOT LESS features Anita Lesko in Chapter 7: Anita Lesko, Nurse Anesthetist & Aviation Writer.

Anita can also be seen on The Autism Channel on the documentary, Born With Asperger’s.


Anita Has just started a not-for-profit organization, The Flying High With Autism Foundation. The first event is an Autism conference to be held at the University of West Florida in Pensacola, Florida, June 7th & 8th, The Flying High with Autism Conference, with world-­class speakers. After the conference, Anita is planning an international school for children on the spectrum, ages pre-­school through 22. Anita is also planning the Flying High Asperger’s Institute for teens through adulthood. Anita’s goal is to make Pensacola, Florida, the Autism Mecca of the world!


Anita also is a consultant for Life Coaching and job-related issues for adults on the spectrum.


East Hill Academy is proud to have Anita serve as one of their board members.


Anita is the author of the Born with Aspergers Blog.


East Hill Academy is proud to have Anita serve as one of their board members.