Faculty and Staff
Leadership Team

Cassandra Quam - Operations Coordinator                                     

Name preference: Ms. Cassandra, Preferred pronouns: she/her

Why I work at LJA: I love contributing to a community that is so dedicated to equity and empowerment! I learn things every day at LJA - about how to better support students and teachers, about how things work in the education field, and about how our school is unique and amazing in its mission and focus.

More about me: I  received my Bachelor of Arts degree from Gustavus Adolphus College and then completed a year of service with Minnesota Reading Corps as a Kindergarten-Focused literacy tutor at a St. Paul public elementary school.  I have been a camp counselor for six summers, teaching German to kids at Concordia Language Villages in Bemidji, MN.  I have gained further experience with youth by volunteering with Project for Pride in Living, both in the school-year tutoring program and the summer reading program here in St. Paul.  I joined the staff at LJA in 2014, and I obtained my Masters in Educational Policy & Leadership from the University of Minnesota in May of 2018. I live in St. Paul with my husband and our greyhound, and I enjoy biking to work in good weather! I also play violin in a symphony orchestra. cassandraq@laurajeffreyacademy.org

Jacob Bonde - Coordinator of Data & Reporting     

Name preference: Mr. Jacob, Preferred pronouns: he/him

Jacob started teaching at LJA in 2009. The time has gone so fast! He has been really impressed to see the school grow, adapt and improve. Jacob came to teach a tad late, spending a few years as a paraprofessional in Minneapolis charter schools before returning to school. He attended Harvard Grad School of Education, and then in 2009, Mr. Jacob returned home to his native Twin Cities after getting his Masters of Education and teaching certificate. After teaching at LJA for a few years, he transitioned to a part time role supporting teachers and looks forward to another great year working with the brilliant & passionate educators of LJA to continuously improve our students' educational experiences.    jacobb@laurajeffreyacademy.org


Anna Robinson - 7th & 8th Grade LASS (Language Arts and Social Studies) Teacher                  

Name preference: Anna, Preferred pronouns: she/her

Anna studied Social Studies Education and Women's Studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth.  Shortly after starting her teaching career, she returned to school for a Masters of Education through St. Mary's University, focusing on Social Justice Education.  Her teaching career has been in a variety of settings in Minnesota and New York and in all settings her passion for the transformative power of education has persevered and grown.  She is excited to continue at LJA working to empower students to find and use their voices.  In addition to teaching, Anna finds joy through spending time with her large and eccentric family, traveling, dreaming and eating!   annar@laurajeffreyacademy.org

Lizzie Forshee – 5-8 Grade Science Teacher                            

Name preference: Ms. Lizzie, Preferred pronouns: she/her

Lizzie Forshee comes to Laura Jeffrey Academy with a bachelor's degree in Biology and Chemistry from the University of Minnesota and a 5-12 Life Science masters degree in education from the College of St. Catherine.  Lizzie has been at LJA since the doors opened.  Lizzie’s passion to engage girls through hands on learning is evident as soon as you step foot into her classroom.  The energy for learning and life is contagious. Lizzie’s commitment to a safe and responsive environment for young learners keeps scholars wanting to learn in their STEM class each and every day!   lizzief@laurajeffreyacademy.org


Terrence Thigpen - Dean of Students

I spent my childhood growing up in Chicago. From there, I went on to study Organizational and Professional Communication at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse. While at UW-La Crosse, I found success in the classroom and as a sprinter in track. After college, I began my professional life in the Twin Cities. My previous experiences include working with youth in a variety of different settings. As a first year member of the LJA faculty, I believe my passion for youth will assist in building a culture where the leaders of tomorrow will feel connected and supported, inside and outside of the classroom. When I'm not at LJA you will probably find me biking, eating, traveling, being a barista or doing crossfit.



Lakisha Witter - Special Education Director

Name preference: Ms. Lakisha, Preferred pronouns: she/her

I transitioned to Minnesota from Florida about four years ago, and so far I love the long winters and short summers! In my free time, I enjoy kayaking, traveling, farming and taking care of my horses. My educational experience includes the University of Florida in Sociology (BA), Special Education (ME), and Educational Leadership (Ed.S) and (ED.D) from Minnesota State University. I have used my background in special education and education leadership to create, develop, rebuild and support current schools infrastructure for special education programs and compliance. I have been a servant leader within the domain of education for over a decade serving in the capacity of paraprofessional, special education educator, coordinator, director and school board member. lakishaw@laurajeffreyacademy.org


Emily Barnes - Literacy Intervention Specialist                                  

Name preference: Ms. Emily, Preferred pronouns: she/her                 

Emily has been with LJA since year 2.  She loves how all our students continually challenge themselves to stretch and grow in so many different ways.  She also especially loves getting to know the families of our fifth and sixth grade students as they begin their journey through middle school.  Emily came to LJA with many years of experience working with young people in Minnesota, Iowa, and Oregon.  Prior to LJA, she taught U.S. and World History at a small independent school in Saint Paul serving international and local middle school students.  She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Secondary Education from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.  Emily is so happy to be a part of this unique and inspiring learning community, and looks forward to another year of growing together with our students. emilyb@laurajeffreyacademy.org


Deb Fisher -- Art teacher

Name Preference: Ms. Deb or Ms. Debbie, Preferred Pronoun: she/her

Deb feels fortunate to have landed at LJA after 26 years teaching art in the North St.Paul/Maplewood School District. She says, “I know that this new chapter of teaching will be informed by my students and the mission of LJA. I’m excited to develop, with my students, an art curriculum based on inquiry, process, and problem-solving.” Before teaching, Deb earned her Bachelors of Fine Arts from the University of Iowa and her Masters of Fine Arts from Rutgers University. When not teaching, Deb loves biking, reading, and going on long walks with her dog, Scooter. debf@laurajeffreyacademy.org


Annie Lien – 5th & 6th Grade LASS (Language Arts and Social Studies) Teacher and 5th Grade Math Teacher  

Name preference: Ms. Annie, Preferred pronouns: she/her

Annie studied Sociology and Art at UW-Madison, and later earned her Master's of Teaching at the University of Minnesota. She has worked in a variety of schools in the Twin Cities as an Educational Assistant, Americorps Vista, and has spent the last five years teaching elementary school in Downtown Minneapolis. Annie is excited to be a part of the team at Laura Jeffrey Academy as she has a keen interest in Social Justice, Progressivist Education, and Feminism. She enjoys helping young people develop a sense of self, a curiosity about the world around them, and a sense of civic duty and engagement in their broader community. As she has spent time living abroad in the Czech Republic, she's dedicated to bring a cosmopolitan drive to her classroom pushing students to adventure around the world. In her personal life, Annie loves camping, biking, making art, watching movies, going to concerts, reading, and spending time with her daughter Willa and husband Joey. anniel@laurajeffreyacademy.org


Gaye Fisher - Music Teacher

Name preference: Ms. "G", Preferred pronouns: she/her       

Why I Came To LJA: I have had the opportunity to teach at the high school and elementary school levels. To finish my career in education, I was hoping to be able to teach middle school, as well. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made!

I graduated from Belmont University with a Bachelor of Music degree and a double major in commercial music vocal performance and music education. Several years later, I acquired a Master of Science degree in Music Education from Central Connecticut State University. I have performed in theme parks, with jazz bands, with symphony orchestras and have sung backup with Larry Gatlin, Charlie Daniels, Al Green and Shirley Caesar. My mother insisted that I learn piano and I have been playing piano since third grade. I am a DIVA!  I have also  performed in a lot of musicals like Bye, Bye Birdie, Annie Get Your Gun, and Big River at the professional level. Even with all of this performing, my real passion is teaching. With 35+ years of teaching experience, I have taught at the high school and elementary levels. I am so thrilled to bring my talents to the middle school and I hope to inspire students to a lifelong love and appreciation of music in all of its different forms.  gayef@laurajeffreyacademy.org

Morgan Williams - 5-8 Grade Science Teacher    

Name preference: Ms. Morgan, Preferred pronouns: she/her

Why I love LJA: I came to LJA for a student teaching experience and immediately fell in love with the school. The empowerment the school gives from being girl-focused motivates scholars to excel in not only STEM, but in all of their other interests was unique and inspiring. I knew that LJA was where I wanted to be.

More about me: I grew up in a tiny little town in Northern Minnesota. I received my bachelor’s degree in Biology, Pre-medicine from the College of St. Scholastica, where I later obtained my 5-12 Life Science teaching license, as well as a Masters of Science in Teaching. I have been at Laura Jeffrey Academy since my student teaching experience with Ms. Lizzie in 2015. I strive to motivate my scholars by teaching them the reasoning behind their response is just as important as having the correct answer. I engage my scholars’ learning through hands on activities, excitement and my own love of learning. In my spare time, I enjoy Harry Potter and spending time with my husband, and our dogs. morganm@laurajeffreyacademy.org


Asiya Ali - Special Education Teacher                                      

Name preference:  Mrs. Asiya, preferred pronouns: she/her

Why I love LJA:  I like to empower girls and young women to have equal footing in their middle school education and have all necessary tools to excel in high school and college.  I want to prepare them to become  strong, confident, and powerful scholars who are courageous enough to question things when not right  and demands to have their place in society!

I received my BS from University of Minnesota and worked as a social worker for the past ten years.  I'm currently in school to become an ASD teacher and finishing up my Master's Program at University of St. Thomas.  I'm one of the new team to join LJA family  and have been hired as a special education teacher.

I am married  and have four (soon to be five!) beautiful children.  asiyaa@laurajeffreyacademy.org



Jennifer Ryg - 7th & 8th Grade LASS Teacher

Name Preference - Ms. Jennifer (or Jen), Preferred Pronouns - she/her

I am thrilled to join the LJA teaching team in 2017!  I have been an LJA parent since 2016, and I love the open, generous heart of the students and staff.  

I have been teaching English since 2008 and directing high school theater since 2004, both in southern MN. My undergraduate degree in theater is from the University of WI, Stevens Point, and I received my Masters in Education from Augsburg College in 2011.  In addition to teaching and directing plays and musicals, I have loved volunteering with youth as a Girl Scout Troop leader.  I am passionate about empowering students to share their stories and live their truths.  For enjoyment, I spend time with my husband and daughters, find ways to laugh with friends and extended family, travel, knit and spend quiet time in nature.   jenniferr@laurajeffreyacademy.org


Alec Rutten - 6th, 7th & 8th Grade Math Teacher

Name Preference: Mr. Alec , Preferred Pronouns - he/him

I'm excited to be joining the LJA team this year I as continue my teaching career. I was previously teaching high school and middle school in at a small private school. I received a Bachelors of Science in math and a minor in statistics at the University of Minnesota and I am currently working to finish my Masters of Education there as well. I am eager to engage with scholars and help them notice and wonder about all the complexity we see in everyday problems. In my spare time you can find me trying new recipes, board games, at yoga, or attempting a new craft project.

Emma Welter - Wellness Teacher

Name Preference: Ms. Emma , Preferred Pronouns: she/her

I grew up in St. Paul and attended Saint Paul Public Schools. I started working for SPPS in 2012 and I love working with kids and being an educator. I have extensive experience working with youth in a number of settings and have worked with scholars in pre-k through 12th grade. I have found that I especially enjoy working with scholars in middle school. I began my experience with LJA as a parent when my daughter enrolled as a 5th grader in 2017. I joined LJA during the 2018-19 school year as an Education Assistant and am excited to transition into my role as the Wellness teacher this year. I believe in the mission of having a girl-focused, STEM-focused curriculum and am excited to empower scholars to learn from different perspectives. When I am not working, I enjoy spending time with my family, listening to music, reading, doing yoga, exploring the Twin Cities, and trying out new restaurants or recipes (I love food). emmaw@laurajeffreyacademy.org

Eileen Lindstrom--6th, 7th, & 8th Math

Name preference: Ms. Eileen, preferred pronouns--she/her

 I’m excited to join LJA for my fourth year of teaching. I previously served as a middle school math teacher in Minneapolis Public Schools and Mounds View School District. I have a Bachelors of Fine Arts degree in mathematics and secondary education with a Russian minor from Cornell College. I am currently working on my Masters of Math Education through the University of Minnesota. I am excited to work with scholars and to help them find the joys and puzzles of mathematics. eileenl@laurajeffreyacademy.org

Melinda Peterson - Special Education Coordinator & Teacher

Name preference: Ms. Melinda, preferred pronouns: she/her

Minnesota is home now, but I spent my childhood growing up in over ten different states before graduating from high school, which encouraged my love for travel. I then set out to explore many parts of the world as an international flight attendant. My educational background includes Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, Masters in Organizational Leadership, Administration Principal Licensure K-12 and this fall complete my Director of Special Education license from the University of Minnesota. This year my excitement for learning and growing in the LJA community is working with all the scholars and staff in an environment that encourages critical thinking, problem solving, and a safe, supportive space to develop their passions! Outside of LJA I enjoy my time with family and friends. My interests include being outside, communing with the lake, eating diverse foods, running, Scouts, and all things Magical! Time to Stamp the Passport...


Alex Schulz - Special Education Teacher

Name preference: Ms. Alex, preferred pronouns: she/her

Alex grew up in Iowa City and received her bachelor's degree from the University of Iowa, majoring in Elementary Education with a middle school Science Specialization. She is currently pursuing her Master's Degree in Special Education at Saint Mary's University. In addition to classroom teaching positions, Alex has taught outdoor education at a number of locations in Minnesota and Iowa City. Alex loves finding ways to connect students with the natural world around them and sees education as a never-ending adventure. Her favorite past-times include mushroom foraging, agate hunting, and in the colder months tracking and finding sheds (antlers).



Support Staff


Gary Taruscio, Americorps Math Tutor

Name preference: Mr. Gary, Preferred pronouns: he/him

I received my bachelor’s degree in Mathematics from the University of Minnesota and worked for 37 years in technology, most recently as a software test engineer at Thomson Reuters.  I am fulfilling a longtime aspiration of teaching and making a contribution to my community by helping LJA students as a tutor in the Minnesota Math Corps program.  I am a St. Paul native and have lived just a few blocks from the school for nearly 25 years.  I call myself a perennial Spanish student, and have traveled extensively to Latin America.



Liz Crubaugh - Social Worker                                     

Name preference: Ms. Liz , Preferred pronouns: she/her

This is my first year with LJA and I couldn't be more excited! Working with and learning from young people is my absolute passion. I am especially thrilled to be a part of such a unique, thoughtful school that creates opportunities and an environment most settings are unable to do.

My personal education experience began at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in which I studied Ancient Mediterranean Archaeology. After a few years of digging up Bronze and Byzantine Age settlements in the hot, Greek sun, I decided to give back to my own community. I completed two years with AmeriCorps working in PreK and then with Middle and High School-age students. Following that time, I worked within a variety of community and county agencies. I eventually started my Master of Social Work Program in Multicultural Clinical Practice at Augsburg College in Minneapolis and graduated in 2017. I believe strongly in collaboration, empathy, and learning from one another's experiences.

Outside of LJA, you can find me riding my bikes around The Cities, practicing yoga, cooking, reading, seeing live music, and spending time with family, friends, and my pets (Manx cat Larry, Shepard/Lab rescue puppy Ludo--all of our "L's" were completely subconscious, I swear!). lizc@laurajeffreyacademy.org

Jeannie Amado - Educational Assistant

Name Preference: Ms. Jeannie , Preferred Pronouns: she/her






Mariah Peterson - Educational Assistant                                  

Name preference: Ms. Mariah, Preferred pronouns: she/her

I love the unique community at LJA and am privileged to have been here since 2017. I have a deep passion to show students they are valued and heard as they learn who they are in this messy world. I love learning from them, helping them realize their potential, and laughing with them.

I received my bachelor’s degree in Youth Development from North Central University in 2016. During my senior year at the university, I served as a Resident Advisor which really inspired my desire to be an emotional and academic support for students of all ages. I served as an AmeriCorps Promise Fellow for 2 years, first at a middle school in Burnsville and then at LJA. I loved mentoring students so much that I transitioned to being an Educational Assistant. When I’m not working, I enjoy laughing with my husband, reading fiction, writing poetry, playing DnD, exploring the Twin Cities, and catching every sunset I can see.