Faculty and Staff

Jennifer Schiller - Executive Director                                             

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

Why I love LJA: To see the growth of scholars academically is so rewarding, but to see how tremendous the growth in the students' understanding of themselves and how they fit into this world is thrilling!

More about me: I came to LJA with over 15 years of experience in corporate management learning skills that prepared me to move into any number of settings.  Entering into a new chapter in my life, I began the transition to intentionally align my values with my work and I couldn't have landed in a more fitting space. Now in my 5th year at LJA, I have seen the impact of how competence-creates-confidence in each student and the effect this has on the world around them. Although I grew up in an academic family where education was seen as a critical component to one’s success, it's also largely due to my experiences throughout life that have contributed to my desire to support positive social change and advance opportunities for those who are underrepresented. jennifers@laurajeffreyacademy.org

Allison Stapley - Director of Education                                         

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

Allison has been with Laura Jeffrey Academy since before our doors opened!  She spent her first several years here as a math teacher and then transitioned into her role as our Education Director.  She came to LJA with eight years of teaching experience in Houston, TX. All of her experience has been in schools of choice, including seven years at engineering magnet schools and one year at in International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Education, with a minor in physics from Gustavus Adolphus College, and a Masters of Education from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX. Allison has worked as a science teacher, campus science specialist, engineering teacher, and math teacher. Throughout her experience she has worked with students in several programs including; Future City Competition, Botball, Young Astronauts Club, and Young Inventors Club. She has also provided professional development for teachers in the area of engineering and curriculum development. Allison has assisted schools in writing winning award and grant proposals, including both state and national magnet awards.  allisons@laurajeffreyacademy.org

Jo Park - Director of Special Programs                                         

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

Why I love working at LJA….

As a young girl growing up on my family farm, I did chores with my brothers and male cousins.  I had to push to be allowed to do farm work, as girls at that time did not go into the career of farming.  It was simply not the norm.  While I encountered numerous barriers on my decision to raise/show cattle and be involved on the farm, it taught me how much persistence and strength we need to challenge norms.  Had I had the school community of LJA when I was a child, I am convinced I would be farming now as my career.  I want all students to be empowered to do what they are passionate about and hope my work at LJA contributes to supporting this. 

More about me….

I am in my 4th year at LJA.  I received my undergrad degree from Hamline University in Biology and Psychology.  I received my masters of social work form the U of MN and my special education director/K-12 principal license from St. Cloud State University.  I started my 30+ year career working in residential/group/shelter homes and then worked with runaway youth in the northern Minneapolis suburbs through the Bridge for Runaway Youth.  I worked for Ramsey County as a family community support worker and then moved into the schools, working for 15+ years at a federal setting IV special education setting for high school students.  Then I moved to facilitate an expulsion alternative program through Intermediate School District 916. After that, I worked as a dean and special education coordinator at Spring Lake Park school district.  Currently I am also at Children’s Hospital doing emergency mental health/behavioral health assessments as well as providing trauma/grief support to hospital children and their families.  In my free time, I spend time with my 4 children, garden, scrapbook, read and enjoy music.  jop@laurajeffreyacademy.org

Office Staff 

Dawn Andrada - Office Manager                                                            

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

What I love about LJA:  Being at a school that values individuality and provides an environment where students can discover their brilliance is amazing! I appreciate that we push students to expand their minds while staying true to their own path.

More about me:  I came to LJA with 15+ years of Management experience and am now in my 8th year at LJA.  I am also the proud parent of an LJA graduate (Paxton, Class of 2013).  I serve as the hub of communications at LJA and am here to help support students, staff and caregivers as they make their way through daily life at a middle school. In addition to my administrative duties, I am happy to have worked on bringing a number of activities into our school including volleyball and debate.  One of my favorite things is organizing and accompanying students on our annual "Pay It Forward" community service trip each year. I am proud to spend my work days making a difference in young people's lives.  dawna@laurajeffreyacademy.org

Cassandra Quam - Administrative Assistant                                      

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.  This is now my third year at LJA, and I am currently obtaining my Masters in Educational Policy & Leadership from the University of Minnesota. I also play violin in a symphony orchestra and sing in a Swedish choir. cassandraq@laurajeffreyacademy.org

Joy McBrien - Development and Marketing Coordinator                    

Name preference: Joy, Preferred pronouns: she/her

Joy McBrien is a global learner who gets excited about social justice, dancing, and creating solutions.   While studying Nonprofit Management and Entrepreneurship at the University of Minnesota, Joy discovered a deep passion for women's rights. She has worked in Peru, spearheading a battered women's shelter and programs for victims of sexual violence; has started a jewelry business and clothing company that address economic opportunities for women; and is currently working on her start-up social enterprise, Fair Anita, fostering fair trade relationships and female entrepreneurship in 10+ developing countries. Joy started at LJA in 2011 as an Americorps Promise Fellow, and she's thrilled to be back working on school development. joym@laurajeffreyacademy.org


Emily Barnes - Literacy Intervention Specialist                                  

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

This is Emily's 8th year at Laura Jeffrey Academy.  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

Jacob Bonde - Peer Coach               

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

This will be Jacob's 8th year at Laura Jeffrey Academy. 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. Last year, 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


Annie Lien – 5th & 6th Grade 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, Americorp Vista, and has spent the last five years teaching elementary school in Downtown Minneapolis. Annie is excited to join 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

Anna Robinson - 7th & 8th Grade 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 begin her third year 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

Karissa Stotts - 7th & 8th Grade Language Arts Teacher          

Name preference: Karissa, Preferred pronouns: she/her

Karissa comes from kittycorner of the watertower in Marshalltown, Iowa to Laura Jeffrey Academy with a B.A. in Gender and Women's Studies from Smith College and a Masters of Education from the University of Minnesota.  Now in her 4th year at LJA, Karissa wants to help each student discover new and old stories and share their own mythologies through their work in Language Arts/Social Studies (LASS).  She hopes that all students learn to rewrite injustices and stand up for their own idea of equity.  Prior to teaching, Karissa spent over six years working with homeless and runaway youth and women in domestic violence shelters in Minneapolis.  Karissa enjoys playing tennis, and shooting pool.  karissas@laurajeffreyacademy.org

Kelly Barnholdt - Wellness Teacher (PhyEd and Health) and Athletic Director                                                          

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

Why I love LJA: to see the students stand tall and be empowered to make healthy and positive lifestyle decisions to better themselves as a growing teen.  Students succeed and find a place to be active learners at LJA.  They learn to push themselves to try new activities, and learn to work with others in a positive environment.    

More about me: I am in my 7th year at Laura Jeffrey Academy.  I love to bring excitement and passion for helping students learn and understand the importance of health and physical activity in their daily lives. I received my Bachelor of Arts degree from Gustavus Adolphus College in Physical and Health Education, where I also was a member of the Women's Basketball team all 4 yrs.  Since receiving my degree at Gustavus, I have worked with students of all ages, as a Pre-school teacher in Eagan, to a Junior High Physical Education teacher in Burnsville, and a Physical and Health Education teacher in the ALC program at Wayzata High School. Since starting at LJA, I attended the Birds and Bees Program, which is a Sexuality Education program for teaching middle and high school Sexual Education. I have a passion for coaching basketball, and have coached at the high school and college level.  Currently, I am continuing my Masters degree at Hamline University in Teaching.  I am researching and writing my thesis on same-sex Physical and Health Education classes.  Through my different teaching experiences, I hope and strive to empower the students at LJA be healthy and active life long learners.  kellyb@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. So far, 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. Ihave 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 32 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


Arden Ashley-Wurtmann - 7th & 8th Grade Math Teacher

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

Why I love LJA: This is such an eclectic community of scholars. We are all growing and learning alongside each other and everyone -- from the new 5th graders to the administration -- embraces the school culture of empowerment, engagement, reflection, and resilience. 

More about me: This is my 10th year of teaching. I have a bachelor's degree in Biology from Macalester College and a master's degree from Bank Street College of Education in New York. I  first came to Laura Jeffrey Academy in 2009 as the lower grades science teacher. While co-teaching in a science/math classroom, I was bit by the "math bug" and completed my math license while transitioning into the role of 7th and 8th grade math teacher. After some time away with my young daughters and teaching at Saint Paul Public Schools, I am  thrilled to be returning to LJA as the Pre-Algebra and Algebra teacher. I love using math to teach students to think critically, and I enjoy guiding scholars toward responsible independence.  ardenaw@laurajeffreyacademy.org

Morgan McLaughlin - 5th & 6th 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. I have been at Laura Jeffrey Academy since my student teaching experience with Ms. Lizzie last fall. 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 doing public access training for service dogs. morganm@laurajeffreyacademy.org

Lizzie Forshee – 7th & 8th 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

Jill Greenwood - Special Education Teacher                                      

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

I am beginning my 4th year teaching at LJA.  I was drawn to this school because I understand that in the march to equality and empowerment for all, there is no time for complacency.  Women must break the glass ceiling once and for all and claim their full, equal citizenship in our country and in the world. 

I completed my undergraduate teaching degree and special education licensures at the University of North Dakota in the early nineties.  I has been teaching special education for over twenty-eight years.  In 2007, I completed my autism licensure, and I am currently completing a Master's of Education degree through the University of Wisconsin-Stout.  I live in Menomonie, Wisconsin with my husband, our youngest daughter, and several pets.  I also have two married adult children, one five year old granddaughter and one year old twin grandbabies (a girl and a boy). My wish for them is that they will grow up in a world where all persons are judged only on the "content of their character" (MLK); in a country that is committed to bringing peace and prosperity to all world citizens. jillg@laurajeffreyacademy.org

Megan Naps - Special Education Teacher                                            

Name preference: Megan, Preferred pronouns: she/her
Megan is now in her third year at LJA.  Prior to working at LJA, Megan worked at a non-profit supporting adults with disabilities in the Twin Cities.  Back in her younger years, Megan went to the University of Iowa and studied Sociology and African American Studies.  This fall she will be completing her Master's of Special Education in Learning Disabilities and Emotional/Behavioral Disorders.  Megan lives in Saint Paul in a little yellow house with her husband, son, and two fluffy dogs.  megann@laurajeffreyacademy.org

Support Staff 


Rachel Young - Promise Fellow and Art Teacher                                             

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

I wanted to come to LJA for my year of service as a Promise Fellow because of the unique community of scholars and educators who truly value the importance of a socially conscious education. 

I received my BA as a Visual Arts and Psychology double major in 2016 from Seattle University. For the last three years, I worked as the lead scenic artist for the Seattle University theater department.  I also worked as an assistant for two local professional artists and volunteered at a Housing First group home and a daytime women's and family shelter in the wider Seattle community. I am truly thrilled to have the opportunity to join the LJA community and to build engaging relationships with scholars. In my free time, I like to hike, listen to music, explore book shops, and am learning to skateboard.



Patricia Ferrell -Educational Assistant and Intervention Specialist

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

Why I love LJA : I love the concept of Laura Jeffrey Academy, empowering, girl-focused education, always asking questions, and always innovative. I love to empower our scholars to think outside the box, show generosity of spirit and fight the stereotypes of society. My role here is to  help our scholars to become stronger through communication skills and groups during lunch. I also build our students confidence by allowing them the opportunity to mediate with peers and teachers that give them a voice they may not have had in other environments. I also allow them to find themselves by creating an open door policy and self evaluation system that puts their learning and behavior back into their hands. It’s the place to be if you want to be an independent, competent scholar.  patriciaf@laurajeffreyacademy.org

Brenda Berckenhoff - SPED Educational Assistant                              

Name preference: Brenda, Preferred pronouns: she/her

During my three years at Laura Jeffrey Academy I have brought many of my experiences to our scholars, like being a woman in the military and from my travels around the world. While I have worked in various school environments, LJA is unique. My mind is broadened everyday and my expectations exceeded on not only what I bring to the scholars but what they bring to me. I have worked in male dominant environments my whole career, and to work in an equity empowering school such as LJA, I have seen the strength and power within each scholar. brendab@laurajeffreyacademy.org

Satara Strong - SPED Educational Assistant                                        

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

I love LJA because of the concept of showing scholars how to empower themselves through a non-traditional education. My favorite part of the is LASS and Specialty classes because they give our scholars an amazing opportunity to use education about history and new concepts combines to voice their truths in this world. I love to teach scholars how to apply this education to real-life situations in a way that is different from what everyone else is doing. sataras@laurajeffreyacademy.org


Raziya Ferrell - SPED Educational Assistant                                        

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

Here at LJA, my role is an EA (Education Assistant). Prior to working in this position, I worked in property management for a community college in Saint Paul. I currently am finishing my degree to become an Automotive Technician in hopes to open my own Automotive shop.

I have a lot of experience in working with children of all ages. I lead some of the children activities like my church's choir, praise dancing, and teen studies, and events.

I was President of the Carter G Woodson Society, had the lead role in the musical Hairspray in the community, and have held multiple roles in other musical productions. I love to bake, sing, try new DIY's....and I can blow air through my eyes! I also love interacting with people. It's my favorite part of work!  raziyaf@laurajeffreyacademy.org



Davi Hicks - SPED Educational Assistant  

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





Todd Harper, SPED Educational Assistant and Substitute Teacher

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

Mr. Todd was an elementary school classroom teacher in Saint Paul for 22 years. He is especially skilled and passionate about creativity in daily life. In addition to implementing writer’s workshop in his class, Todd developed a yearly drama festival, incorporating visual arts and music. He is a proud parent of an LJA Graduate ( Libby, 2015).  What Mr. Todd loves at LJA  is the manifestation of the idea that Knowledge is created…by rigorous exploration, not an accumulation of facts.  Todd’s big passion is music; as a composer, jazz pianist, bandleader. He performs in clubs, farmer’s markets, &  senior homes. Todd is an urban farmer, avid canner and apple picker. This is his 2nd year at LJA.  toddh@laurajeffreyacademy.org  

Michael Wilson - Social Worker                                              Name preference: Mr. Michael, Preferred pronouns: he/him

Mr Michael is a Licensed School Social Worker through the MN Department of Education and a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker through the MN Board of Social Work. He has supported LJA’s Social Work staff for the past two (2) years and this year he is working half time supporting LJA’s special education staff and students, as well as, the two graduate level social work interns from the University of St Catherine. Mr Michael graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1975, with an emphasis in Psychology. He graduated from West Virginia University in 1980 with a Masters in Social Work with an emphasis in Children and Families. Mr Michael has worked in Residential Treatment Centers and/or Psychiatric Hospitals in Pennsylvania, Virginia, New Mexico, Texas, Montana and Minnesota. He worked for the Intermediate School District 916 for the past 18 years specializing in students with emotional and behavioral disabilities and autism. In his personal life, he is married with an adult son who is also married. He provides support, care and entertainment to his wife’s 93 year old mother. He enjoys going to the YMCA and anything in the outdoors: hiking, camping, backpacking, canoeing, rock climbing etc.  michaelw@laurajeffreyacademy.org                                                       

Janine Wimmer - Social Worker Intern

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

As a 2nd year graduate student in the Master of Social Work (MSW) program at St. Catherine's University in St. Paul, I'm excited to join the educators, staff and scholars at LJA as a social work intern for the 2016/2017 school year.

My undergraduate degree is in Criminal Justice and Psychology from St. Cloud State University. My experience includes working with children, adolescents and their families in a variety of settings. Since 1987, I have worked in residential, day treatment and county settings as a social worker.I look forward to empowering LJA scholars and families in advocating for themselves as well as navigating "systems". I grew up in the Twin Cities area, in a working class  family. I was the first to attend and graduate from college. I am a parent of a 20 year old beautiful young woman. janinew@laurajeffreyacademy.org 

Sarah Mergens - Social Worker Intern                                                    

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

Why I love working at LJA: I grew up with a strong admiration for my father, wanting to do everything he did - from home improvement projects to following his career path. Not having any brothers made this easy for me to do during my younger years. As I got high school jobs and college approached, I quickly learned that as a girl, I "couldn't" take on certain work tasks, messy projects or enter a male-dominated field. Although my career path has been a largely female-dominated one, I LOVE being a social worker and working with kids! I love working at LJA because, regardless of society's messages, I can encourage each kid that I encounter to do, feel and become what feels most true to themselves.

More about me: I am in my final year of graduate school to earn my Master’s in Clinical Social Work from the University of St. Thomas/St. Catherine University. I have Bachelor’s Degrees in Social Work and Family Studies from the University of St. Thomas. When I’m not in class or at LJA, I am a social worker at a local hospital, where I also work with kids and their families. With the free time I have left, I enjoy running and being outside(until it gets too cold!). When my time with LJA is done, I hope to continue to work with children/adolescents and their families, and I also hope that my experience here will send me in the right direction! sarahm@laurajeffreyacademy.org 

Manny Rivera - Food Service                                                                  

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

Manny is in his 4th year at Laura Jeffrey Academy and handles the kitchen during our daily lunch service.  The students love his easy-going manner and love working with him when he needs an extra set of hands.