People

Meet Our Team

A select group of talented, highly skilled educators, teaching artists, administrators and creatives deeply dedicated to the SERIES aims and methods. We strive to bring the highest standards of excellence to all that we do, whether delivering SERIES curricula in classrooms and online to fourth through tenth grade students, mentoring Story Coach Volunteers, or engaging educators in high-impact professional development. Above all, we are a learning organization, committed to our professional and personal growth, as exemplified in the SpiritWorks Leadership Model — the foundation for all that we undertake in service to school communities.

“Every classroom teacher deserves the opportunity to work side-by-side with the educators from SPIRIT SERIES to learn new ways to guide students as they explore big ideas and universal understandings.”

— Gayle Nadler, Co-Founder, Multicultural Learning Center

FU-DING CHENG

SERIES Art Director

Is an award winning visual artist, production designer and filmmaker whose films have been shown at festivals in Europe, the United States and Asia as well as exhibited at the Whitney Museum in New York and UCLA/Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. Responsible for the visual design of the SERIES since its inception, Mr. Cheng has taught Design at U.C.L.A. as well as Film Directing at North Carolina School of the Arts. He is also an author whose titles include Map of Desire and Dream-House published by Hampton Roads.

LANCE CROMWELL

New England Co-Director

Is tasked with program delivery, marketing and operations for all SERIES activities in the region. A credentialed secondary school English teacher and graduate of Colgate University, with extensive experience in theatre and film, Mr. Cromwell has been instrumental in the 125% increase of SERIES services in his region since he began with the organization in January 2016.

KAREN COOKE

Senior SpiritSeries Leader

Joined SPIRIT SERIES in 2007 and has lead over 200 classrooms through the program’s transformational values and literacy curricula. An alumna of NYU’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts, Ms. Cooke has extensive experience teaching drama to young people — from heading a non-profit youth organization, to mounting productions as a middle and high school drama director, to serving as adjunct faculty in Bard College’s Theater Department. Ms. Cooke holds an MFA in Educational Theater as well as a California Secondary Teaching Credential and is responsible for initial training of all new Southern California SpiritCorps members.

DAVID GREENSLADE

Director of Video Production & Digital SERIES Leader

Began work with SPIRIT SERIES in 2019, contributing expertise gained from over a decade as a teaching artist and video editor, plus eight years of program leadership with SAY, The Stuttering Association for the Young. A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Mr. Greenslade uses his experience delivering SPIRIT SERIES in the classroom to co-design the On Screen digital curriculum as well as co-present its content with Digital SERIES Leader, Aisha Kabia.

AISHA KABIA

Digital SERIES Leader

Is an actress, storyteller, and voiceover artist with extensive professional experience, appearing as a guest star on a variety of television series including: The Good Place, NCIS:LA, and How I Met Your Mother. Featured in over 35 national commercials, Ms. Kabia has her BFA from UC Santa Barbara and is a graduate of Second City Conservatory. She has also performed major roles in more than a dozen productions at Shakespeare festivals from Southern California to Oregon, and brings an abiding passion for great stories to her ongoing work with SpiritCorps.

KAVI LADNER

SpiritSeries Associate

Joined SPIRIT SERIES as a teaching artist in 2018. A working actor, with a BFA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Ms. Ladner has starred in numerous productions from Off Broadway to Shakespeare, Yale Rep to Amazon and network TV. She brings years of experience to her work with SPIRIT SERIES, both directing elementary and middle school students as well as privately coaching aspiring performers of all ages.

MARJORIE MILES

Northern California Executive Director

Chose to reenter the workforce to join the SPIRIT SERIES team, after raising two children and leading a variety of volunteer campaigns for both her school community and church. Ms. Miles’ leadership at San Francisco’s New Traditions Elementary PTA brought SPIRIT SERIES to that school…and her to the attention of our organization’s leadership. Trained as a professional economist, she has extensive teaching, fundraising and entrepreneurial experience, all prerequisites to successfully lead the SERIES’ Northern California region.

MARWAN MOGRABI

SpiritSeries Associate

Is a gifted percussionist, dramatist, educator and performing theater artist who joined the SERIES team in 2022 after two decades as an arts educator working with PS Arts in Los Angeles. Born in Accra and a Performing Arts graduate of the University of Ghana, Mr. Mograbi earned a Masters’ degree in International Relations from Alliant International University in San Diego and is a certified Orff-Schulwerk music instructor, as well. In addition to his SpiritSeries classroom leadership, Mr. Mograbi brings the values and wisdom perspective embedded in traditional African culture to the presentation of the SERIES inspirational biography of Harriet Tubman, “Freedom Train.”

Christina O'Neal PhD
Christina O'Neal PhD

CHRISTINA O’NEAL, Ph.D.

Director of Program Partnerships

Comes to SPIRIT SERIES with two decades of experience as a practicing educator in Maine. A past K-5 principal in Pittston ME, Dr. O’Neal earned her Ph.D. in Public Policy and Educational Leadership, publishing a dissertation on the challenges to Social Emotional Learning in high school. Her people skills, positivity, dynamism and professionalism, combined with impeccable credentials and real passion for the SERIES mission, make her an ideal representative for the program with policy makers as well as existing and prospective school partners.

KENT PIERCE

New England Executive Director

Has been a professional screenwriter in TV and film for nearly three decades, working for a range of companies from Nickelodeon to Miramax. A professional journalist, as well, Mr. Pierce has written for NPR and a variety of trade, newspaper and magazine publications. A graduate of Dartmouth College and father of three, Mr. Pierce brings to SPIRIT SERIES a wide range of experience working with children, primarily in athletics, where he has coached youth baseball and basketball as well as youth, high school and college soccer.

Julian Smith
Julian Smith

JULIAN SMITH

SpiritSeries Associate

Julian Smith is a Los Angeles based actor, writer and singer with extensive professional experience working in film, television, community, regional and educational theatre. Julian is passionate about positively impacting the lives of youth and, with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre, has served as a Juvenile Probation Officer, as well as a STEAM curriculum teaching artist and trauma informed, skills-based theater facilitator. He worked with LA educational organizations Dramatic Results and P.S. Arts before joining SPIRIT SERIES in 2023.

LESLIE RACHEL STRAUSS

National Co-Director

Spent more than 20 years as a museum and arts education administrator before becoming Co-Director of SPIRIT SERIES in 2009. At the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) from 1985-2001, Ms. Strauss was responsible for community and donor relations, and special events fundraising. From 2001 to 2007, she served as Director of Alumni Affairs and Director of Special Programs at Art Center College of Design. Ms. Strauss has sat on a number of arts and education related boards and is a Certified Professional Coach, specializing in leadership and teambuilding skills for not-for-profit organizations.

Richard Strauss

RICHARD STRAUSS

Founder/National Executive Director

Has written for stage and screen professionally since 1979, authoring historical fiction and biographies for Fox, MGM, Paramount, Columbia, Showtime and a host of independent film companies. A graduate of Stanford University, co-founder of Blue Bear School of American Music, concerned father and an active parent volunteer, Mr. Strauss ran the Junior Great Books program at Westwood Charter School from 1997-2000 before founding SPIRIT SERIES in 2001 to address the crisis in public education and a personal tragedy in his young daughter’s life.

MORGAN WEITZ

Southern California Program Manager

Began work with the SERIES as a SpiritCorps classroom leader after Co-Founding Northeast Children’s Theatre Company (NCTC) where she served as Artistic Director until 2014. A graduate of Boston Conservatory with a BFA in Musical Theatre, Ms. Weitz manages program Operations with energy, passion and keen organizational skills developed during a decade of experience teaching and administrating drama-based children’s educational projects and summer camps.

KAREN CASTLES GRAY

Co-founder and President of Authentic Lifestyle Products

An innovative active wear company partnering with influencers, international celebrities and retailers such as Costco, Sam’s Club and Nordstroms to deliver over $2 billion in sales. A business visionary, Ms. Gray became a member of the San Diego State University Board of Advisors in 2017, founding the Women in Entrepreneurship program and endowing the annual lecture series there by that same name. She brings to the SPIRIT SERIES Board extraordinary energy, big-picture thinking, marketing know-how and an indomitable can-do spirit.

FU-DING CHENG

Award-winning Visual Artist

Production designer and filmmaker whose films have been shown at festivals in Europe, the United States and Asia as well as exhibited at the Whitney Museum in New York and UCLA/Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. Responsible for the visual design of SPIRIT SERIES since its inception, Mr. Cheng has taught Design at U.C.L.A. as well as Film Directing at North Carolina School of the Arts. He is also an author whose titles include Map of Desire and Dream-House published by Hampton Roads.

WILLIAM FAY

Board Chair

Has produced 33 feature films in his three-decade motion picture career as President of Centropolus Productions and President of Production for Legendary Pictures. His producer credits include such critical and box office successes as The Hangover, 300, The Town, and Independence Day. An alumnus of Stanford University and UCLA film school, Mr. Fay is currently CEO of a technology startup, Steric Systems, runs his own film production company and serves as a consultant to international film production commissions across the globe.

NORMAN W. GORIN

Emeritus

Has held senior executive-level financial, strategic, and marketing positions in industry, banking and non-profits throughout the Northeast. Based in Boston, Mr. Gorin served as the Co-chair of the Deval Patrick Committee in support of the Massachusetts Governor’s successful election and re-election campaigns. Mr. Gorin has served on the board of a variety of for-profit and philanthropic organizations and is currently Vice-President of Boston-based mental health non-profit, Mindwise. He received an M.B.A. from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and his B.A. from Harvard.

JOCELYN ROUX HANDY

Board President for Royal River Community Players

A multi-generational community theater in Yarmouth, Maine. A graduate of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and mother of three, Ms. Handy worked in theater in New York City before returning to Maine to start her family. In addition to her board service with SPIRIT SERIES, she serves on the Board of Directors at the Portland Museum of Art and the Yarmouth Historical Society.

JENNIFER MANSFIELD JEON

Principal at Citizens of the World Charter Schools

A National Board-Certified classroom teacher, with both Literacy/Language Arts and Administrative Credentials, Ms. Mansfield Jeon received her Masters from UCLA Graduate School of Education in 2013. She brings two decades of classroom instruction, including a 2005 AEMP Teacher of the Year Award, as well as many years of hands-on experience with SPIRIT SERIES as a partner teacher. Ms. Mansfield Jeon has a business background as well as a passion for curriculum development and project-based learning.

NORMAN KADERLAN

Board Treasurer

Has over three decades of experience guiding not-for-profit cultural institutions both as General Manager of the Ohio Ballet and Opera Omaha as well as strategic consultant to arts and education organizations. A graduate of MIT with a doctorate in management from the University of Wisconsin, Dr. Kaderlan is the author of books and numerous articles on management. He has taught management and new venture development at University of Texas, Pepperdine University and UCLA Extension, and is a Principal at FirstLook Strategies LLC, a consultative partner, connecting innovation to societal needs throughout the globe.

JOHN E. MCPHERSON

Senior Counsel at Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP

Formerly a partner at Barger & Wollen LLP from 1997 to 2006. A Phi Beta Kappa with an M.A. in English from U.C.L.A., Mr. McPherson is also a graduate of University of California’s Hastings College of the Law and has now practiced law for over 25 years. With a lifelong interest in arts and education, Mr. McPherson sat on the board of “A Noise Within” Classical Repertory Theatre for over ten years, serving as its Chairman from 2000 to 2003, and again in 2005.

LESLIE RACHEL STRAUSS

Co-Founder | Co-Director

Spent more than 20 years as a museum and arts education administrator before becoming Co-Director of SPIRIT SERIES in 2009. At the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) from 1985-2001, Ms. Strauss was responsible for community and donor relations, and special events fundraising. From 2001 to 2007, she served as Director of Alumni Affairs and Director of Special Programs at Art Center College of Design. Ms. Strauss has sat on a number of arts and education related boards and is a Certified Professional Coach, specializing in leadership and teambuilding skills for not-for-profit organizations.

RICHARD STRAUSS

Founder | Executive Director

Has written for stage and screen professionally since 1979, authoring historical fiction and biographies for Fox, MGM, Paramount, Columbia, Showtime/Viacom and a host of independent film companies. A graduate of Stanford University, co-founder of Blue Bear School of Music, concerned father and an active parent volunteer, Mr. Strauss ran the Junior Great Books program at Westwood Charter School from 1997-2000 before founding SPIRIT SERIES in 2001 to address the crisis in public education and a personal tragedy in his young daughter’s life.

JOHANNA ZUNIGA

Teacher Representative

Has worked in a wide variety of elementary education positions at Aspire Public Schools since 2010. With a Multiple Subject Credential from California State University, Ms. Zuniga augments her duties as a lead classroom teacher with staff mentorship, using bi-lingual skills to enhance relations with student families as well as the Aspire School community at large. She has been a standout SPIRIT SERIES partner teacher since 2017.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA ADVISORY COUNCIL

DAVID ABEL—Los Angeles Educational Partnership, Co-Founder

PAUL CUMMINS—Coalition for Engaged Education, Founder|CEO

RICHARD FOOS—Shout! Factory, Founder|CEO / Co-Founder Volunteer Collective

KAREN MACK—L.A. Commons, Founder|Executive Director; L.A. City Planning Commissioner

JOSE RUBIO—Edison Middle School, Retired, National Certified Secondary Teacher

BRETT SHABATA—Revere Middle School, LAUSD Head Counselor

NEW ENGLAND ADVISORY COUNCIL

STEVEN CONNOLLY—MSAD #60, Berwick ME, Superintendent, Retired

NORMAN GORIN—Council Chair—MindWise, Vice President

WENDELL KNOX—Edvestors, Board Chair; Eastern Bank, Board

RICHARD MESERVE—Maine Department of Education, Chief Innovation Officer 2019-2020

DEREK PIERCE—Casco Bay High School Portland ME, Principal

PAUL TONER—Massachusetts Teacher Association, Past President

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