Faculty and Staff
Leadership Team



George Sand – Interim Executive Director

Name Preference -- Mr. S, preferred pronouns: he/him

I am excited and proud to be the interim Executive Director for Laura Jeffrey Academy. Our school provides an important choice for families in Saint Paul and Minneapolis. My job is to make sure the school is well run and teachers and scholars are provided with the support they need to excel in the classroom and the world. This will be a year of growth as we face the ongoing challenges of creating a school of excellence and I look forward to working with families, staff, and community to ensure the continued success of LJA. Let's get started! georges@laurajeffreyacademy.org

Cassandra Quam - Coordinator of Operations & Logistics                                      

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 enjoy biking to work in good weather! I also play violin in a symphony orchestra. cassandraq@laurajeffreyacademy.org

Jacob Bonde - Peer Coach, Assessment Coordinator      

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. 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


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 – 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


Terrence Thigpen - Cultural Liaison

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 two years ago, and so far I love the long winters and short summers! In my free time I enjoy kayaking, biking, knitting, traveling and eating(I love food)!  I have an educational background from the University of Florida in Sociology(BA), Special Education(ME), Educational Leadership (Specialist).I'm currently working on my Doctorate in Educational Leadership for Minnesota State University (Mankato).  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


Office Staff


Alma Hernandez - Food Service / Office Assistant

Name Preference: Ms. Alma, Preferred Pronouns: She/Her

I am first-generation full-time student at DCTC with the intent of getting a degree in Accounting. I have come a very long ways to succeed in the world of education. Why I came to LJA: I strongly believe that everyone who is part of LJA has a mission to serve the world, our community and the wonderful children from LJA. Coming from a similar community with strong principle focuses on education, I believe I will make a great contribute to LJA in helping with the food service. I love learning new things and building my experiences with future connections. almah@laurajeffryacademy.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


Jean Fawver -- Art teacher & SPED coordinator

Name Preference: Ms. JeanPreferred Pronoun: she/her or they/them

I’m honored to join the LJA community after seven years with Minneapolis Public Schools where I served as the Professional Development Coordinator for the City of Lakes AmeriCorps program and as a special education teacher.  I hold a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in painting and drawing from California College of the Arts and a K-12 Special Education teaching license. I am currently finishing my Masters of Education degree through the University of St. Thomas.  I look forward to working with the inspiring LJA team of educators to provide scholars with a rigorous STEM-focused education in a powerful girl-focused learning environment. jeanf@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 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

Morgan McLaughlin - 5th & 6th Grade Science Teacher and         5th Grade Math 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 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 doing public access training for service 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 beautiful children and my oldest daughter (Fatima) will be joining LJA this year for her sixth grade.  This is an exciting transition for both of us and I'm eager to meet each and everyone of you!  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


Mee Oh - 6th, 7th & 8th Grade Math Teacher

Name Preference -- Ms. Mee, Preferred Pronouns - she/her

I love working at LJA because of its STEM focused curriculum for young women. Especially its math class can inspire and motivate students to explore and prepare for their bright future. I graduated from a girls’ middle school, a girls’ high school and women’s college and university as well.

I have taught math in secondary schools  with a math secondary teaching license, and I finished my master degree of mathematics at university in Seoul, South Korea. Also I have many teaching and tutoring math experiences at urban and suburban middle and high schools in Minnesota. I love teaching and communicating with my students. My favorite part of being a teacher is being able to watch my students grow to love math and have strong math abilities.

Other than working at school, I enjoy taking care of my three children - two girls and a boy -  and one beautiful cat(Semo) at home. My eldest daughter has a bachelor’s degree in math and my second daughter is on her way to pursue it in college. I am really excited to be a part of LJA community and working together with great scholars. meeo@laurajeffreyacademy.org

Peggy Palumbo -- Wellness Teacher

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

Why I love LJA: In my first few weeks as a LJA staff member, I have come to know LJA’s authentic commitment to creating a school that acknowledges the developmental needs of middle schoolers and strives to provide rigorous academic experiences for all its scholars.  I love that LJA is a teacher-powered school. I sincerely believe that a school collaboratively designed and implemented by teachers is one that will be the most successful in closing gaps that exist in our society. I’m also excited about LJA’s girl focus. As a Wellness teacher, I am in a unique position to empower our scholars to be comfortable and confident in their bodies as they transition into adulthood.


More about me: My undergraduate and graduate studies took place at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.   I am currently pursuing my education administration license at Hamline University. I have been teaching a combination of physical education and/or health to students in grades Kdgn through high school for about thirty years. My professional interests include teaching and the brain, adolescent health issues, and restorative practices. I’m a lifelong St. Paulite and live by Como Lake with my husband, three adult sons, two cats, and a dog. In my free time, I bike, kayak, go to movies, travel, and hang out with friends and family.  

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



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.



Mollie Merkel - Social Worker                                     

Name preference: Ms. Mollie, Preferred pronous: she/her

Mollie is excited to be joining the LJA community in the position of social worker! Mollie received her Bachelor of Social Work from James Madison University. She then moved to Denver where she received her Master's of Social Work and certification in Animal-Assisted Social Work from the University of Denver. As part of the Animal-Assisted Social Work program, Mollie was partnered with her certified therapy dog, Raven, who she has been fortunate to have assist with her social work practice. Raven is a black lab/golden retriever mix who just celebrated his 8th birthday by swimming in Minnehaha Creek. Mollie practiced school social work across all grade levels in the state of Colorado for 5 years before moving back to her home state of Minnesota with her family. After finishing her clinical hours at a psychiatric hospital working with patients with intensive mental health needs, Mollie received her LICSW in 2014. Since moving back to Minneapolis, Mollie has enjoyed practicing school social work and spending time outdoors with her husband and two young children.  molliem@laurajeffreyacademy.org     

Madi McAndrews -- Social Worker (Long-term Sub)

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






Mariah Holloway - Educational Assistant                                  

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

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. I completed my internship through LJA in 2016 during the last two months of their school year by providing extra support in their classrooms. This past year, I served as the AmeriCorps Promise Fellow at Nicollet Middle School in Burnsville. I loved mentoring students so much that I decided I wanted to do it again only in the unique community at LJA. I have a deep passion to show students they are valued and heard as they learn who they are in this messy world. When I’m not working, I enjoy reading fiction, writing poetry, exploring the Twin Cities, catching every sunset I can see, and making my friends laugh.