Meet the Team
Executive Director & Founder
Debra is the Founder and Executive Director of CAN and has been involved in education policy and management for over 25 years. She currently serves as Chair of the Board of Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School in Joplin, Missouri that she and her husband co-founded in 1993 and where she has led the school’s strategic initiatives. Debra also serves on the Board of Brooklyn Law School where she has sponsored scholarships for women and helped found the BLS Center for Urban Entrepreneurship providing BLS students with opportunities in business and social entrepreneurship. Debra received her Bachelor of Arts in Classics from New York University, her law degree from Brooklyn Law School, and her LL.M. (Graduate Tax Law) from NYU.
“I passionately believe in the power of education to transform lives and communities. I was inspired to found CAN to provide access to enhanced opportunities for students to find inspiration and joy through learning, while reinforcing critical academic, social, and ethical competencies, helping them to become active and engaged citizen-leaders.”
Clayton ensures that the daily program is meeting the larger vision of CAN by working collaboratively with the teachers, Peer Mentors, and others to create and implement the curriculum, build a schedule that supports all the goals of the program, and align all parts of the day to make a smooth and successful experience for the students. Clayton began his career as a middle and high school English teacher at Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School and now enjoys teaching Reading and Writing at the elementary level, as well as coaching cross country and track. Having grown up in Southeast Kansas, the mission of CAN is near and dear to his heart. Clayton holds a Bachelor of Arts in Literary Studies from Missouri Southern State University and a Master of Arts in Teaching with a focus on middle and high school English from Missouri State University.
Curriculum Consultant and Data Analyst
Mary joined the CAN team in 2021 as a curriculum consultant and data analyst. She has worked in education for 11 years as a math instructor, counselor, and most recently as the principal at Lawrence Gardner High School in Topeka, KS. She and her husband recently relocated to Decorah, Iowa, where they enjoy access to fishing, floating, and hiking. Mary was drawn to CAN for the focus on finding joy in learning and confidence to explore. Mary holds a Bachelor of Arts in Math from Grinnell College, a Master’s in Applied Statistics from Penn State, and a Master’s in Educational Leadership from University of Kansas.
“I am eager to work with the CAN team in building a positive network to support students through the critical middle school years as they develop a sense of self, envision their future, and become community leaders.”
Lisa is currently the principal at Galena Middle School in Galena, KS. She and many students from Galena Middle School have been involved with CAN since the program’s inception in 2019. Lisa has been in education for over 20 years serving in various capacities: a teacher, the English Language Learner Intervention Coordinator at Dodge City Middle School, a school administrator, an adult literacy volunteer tutor, a board member for the Partnership for all Cherokee County Children (PACC) and a foster mother.
Lisa holds a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership both from Emporia State University. She is currently finishing her dissertation which will complete her Doctorate of Education in Educational Leadership from Northcentral University.
“I am excited to be part of the CAN team, supporting the mission to provide middle-level students the opportunity to continue realizing their success through critical thinking skills, goal setting, and growth opportunities that will help build confidence and character in our students.”
Advisor for Program Development
Laura serves as Head of School of Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School in Joplin, Missouri. For over 22 years, Laura has devoted her career to helping students make the most of their abilities as a math and science teacher, coach, College Counselor, Dean of Girls, and in several other leadership capacities. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Kenyon College and a Master’s degree in Education from Missouri State University. She is excited for Thomas Jefferson to host the CAN summer program and support public schools in the rural areas surrounding Joplin.
“I believe in the mission of CAN and believe it will provide participating middle school students with an exciting opportunity to build skills and self-confidence during the summer.”
Kelli helps in all aspects of operations and, in particular, coordinates the application process, communication with school administrators, and supports interested students and their families. Kelli is excited about working with CAN because it will allow her to help students build on their experiences and evolve into stronger students and citizens.
“Seeing the excitement on the kids’ faces is my favorite part. You can tell this program is really making a difference in their lives.”
Director of Engagement and Technology
Gabriel manages photography, marketing, and internal communications for CAN and supports the program with IT infrastructure and technology in the classroom. He holds degrees in Film & Media Studies and Theater from Lafayette College. In addition to working behind the scenes at CAN, Gabriel is a Peer Mentor in CAN’s programs.
“I’m excited to work with CAN and see the program and our community of CAN scholars grow from year to year!”
6th, 7th & 8th Grade Free Summer Program | Joplin MO | Compass Academy Network
Missouri & Kansas
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