SpiritCorps — a select team of dedicated, highly trained classroom instructors — is responsible for successfully implementing the SERIES 15-hour in-school curricula in partner fourth through eighth grade classrooms from Maine to California. All CORPS members have a theater and teaching background, receiving rigorous on-the-job training as well as monthly classroom observations and leadership coaching from senior SPIRITCORPS staff. Classroom leaders must exhibit:
- A proven dedication to the program’s mission — inspired by their work with children and the transformative potential of the SERIES curricula.
- A proven capacity for professional growth — eager and able to learn through an ongoing training and mentorship process.
- A proven commitment to personal development—aspiring to embody in their own personal conduct the values and principles they teach.
“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 — SPIRIT 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 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.
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 SPIRITCORPS 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.
AISHA KABIA — SPIRITCORPS INSTRUCTOR — 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 — SPIRIT CORPS 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.
BERNADENE MORGAN — SPIRIT SERIES Costume Designer — is a highly respected professional costume designer. With television and film credits spanning three decades, Ms. Morgan’s productions include Head of Costuming for the acclaimed HBO series The Larry Sanders Show and the ABC comedy series According to Jim. She has designed costuming for a host of theatrical productions and stage shows as varied as the San Diego Opera and The Blues Brothers. Since the inception of SPIRIT SERIES, Ms. Morgan has designed and produced costumes for the program and created the craft component of its curriculum as well.
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.
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 — 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 — Operations 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.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
LANA AYEROFF BRODY — Emeritus — has devoted her career to public education. Credentialed as a secondary teacher and administrator, Ms. Brody served in both of those capacities at some point during her 39 years in the Los Angeles Unified School District. She has received numerous awards, including the Association of California School Administrators “Co-Administrator of the Year” in 1996 and 2002. Ms. Brody sits on a number of education-related not-for-profit boards and is a Commissioner of the L. A. County Mental Heath Commission.
MATTHEW BURKE, CPA — Board Treasurer — is the Managing Partner of Singer Burke & Company LLP. A graduate of Haas School of Business at U.C. Berkeley, Mr. Burke began his public accounting career with Ernst & Young and has specialized in business and financial consulting for high net-worth individuals for over 25 years. He serves as editor of The Singer Burke Journal, an online publication that takes a holistic approach to financial wellbeing through exploration of life, meaning, and personal values. Mr. Burke is Chairman of the Alliance for the Arts in Thousand Oaks and a board member of The Men’s Center of L. A.
FU-DING CHENG — 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 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 — 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 serves as a consultant to international film production commissions across the globe and now puts his passion for storytelling to use as Chief Creative Officer and President of Tsunami Studios, one of the largest Virtual Reality companies in the world.
NORMAN W. GORIN — has held senior executive-level financial, strategic, and marketing positions in both industry and banking 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. A founding member of the Board of Directors of the Progressive Business Leaders Network, Mr. Gorin has served on the board of a variety of for-profit and philanthropic organizations. He received an M.B.A. from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and his B.A. from Harvard.
JENNIFER MANSFIELD JEON — is an Intervention Coordinator and Instructional Coach for the Los Angeles Unified School District. A National Board Certified classroom teacher, with both Literacy/Language Arts and Administrative Credentials, Ms. Jeon received her Masters from the UCLA Graduate School of Education in 2013, with a special emphasis on school leadership. She brings over a decade of classroom instruction to the organization, including a 2005 AEMP Teacher of the Year Award, as well as hands-on experience with the program as a partner teacher in multiple SPIRIT SERIES residencies. Ms. Mansfield Jeon also has a business background, an in-depth understanding of the Common Core Standards, and a passion for project-based learning.
DR. NORMAN KADERLAN — Executive Vice Chair — 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 from coast to coast. A graduate of MIT with a doctorate in management from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Dr. Kaderlan is the author of two books and numerous articles on management. He has taught management and new venture development at University of Texas-Austin, Pepperdine University and UCLA Extension, and currently serves as President of Technology Innovation Group, an internationally recognized consultative partner, connecting innovation to societal needs throughout the globe.
CHARLES MCCLUNG, JR. — Chair Emeritus — has been a practicing attorney for over 25 years and a partner at McClung & Davis since 1989. Graduate of Stanford University and U.C. Davis School of Law, Mr. McClung has sat on the board of numerous not-for-profit organizations with special attention to arts and humanities educational providers. He is a member of the Orange County Bar Association as well as the State Bar of California, and has successfully litigated over 100 trials and appeals.
JOHN E. MCPHERSON — Board Chair — has practiced law for over 20 years and is currently Senior Counsel at Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP, after serving as a partner at Barger & Wolen 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. 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.
BRENDA RODRIGUEZ — has served as Executive Director of Affordable Housing Clearinghouse (AHC) since 2009 where she has made homeownership a reality for underserved families throughout Southern California. Raised in South Central L.A., Ms. Rodriguez is a graduate of UC Berkeley and earned her MSPPM from the Heinz School of Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University. She currently serves on the board of Orange County Community Housing Corporation, the Kennedy Commission (Vice President), as well as Chair for the Orange County Military & Veterans Families Collaborative Steering Committee for Housing. With a lifelong commitment to social equity, Ms. Rodriquez has made guest appearances on Spanish broadcast Radio Santa Ana and Telemundo Canal 52.
DR. STEVEN SAVAGE — is a 35-year veteran of arts education. Co-founder and board president of Blue Bear School of American Music, Mr. Savage also sits on the board of the Stanford Jazz Workshop and Music in the Schools Today. He is a record producer, former Chapter President and Trustee of the National Recording Academy and has served as a recording engineer on 7 Grammy nominated albums. Author and Lecturer in the Humanities department at San Francisco State University, Mr. Savage is currently completing a Ph.D. in Musicology at the University of London, under Nicholas Cook.
LESLIE RACHEL STRAUSS — Board Secretary — 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 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.
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA ADVISORY COUNCIL
DAVID ABEL — LOS ANGELES EDUCATIONAL PARTNERSHIP, CO-FOUNDER
DR. PAUL CUMMINS — COALITION FOR ENGAGED EDUCATION, FOUNDER/CEO
RICHARD FOOS — SHOUT! FACTORY, FOUNDER/CEO
JOHN MCPHERSON (COUNCIL CHAIR) — HINSHAW & CULBERTSON, SENIOR COUNSEL
KAREN MACK — L.A. COMMONS, FOUNDER/EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
JOSE RUBIO — EDISON MIDDLE SCHOOL, NATIONAL CERTIFIED SECONDARY TEACHER
ERIC ZURBRUGG — WELLS FARGO BANK, VICE PRESIDENT/PRIVATE BANKER
NEW ENGLAND ADVISORY COUNCIL
ELIZABETH GHONEIM — SAQQARA CONSULTING, FOUNDER/CEO
NORMAN GORIN (COUNCIL CHAIR) — COO ANALYSIS GROUP, RETIRED
WENDELL KNOX — EDVESTORS, BOARD CHAIR; EASTERN BANK, BOARD
SALLY LOUGHLIN — MSAD #51, DIRECTOR OF CURRICULUM, ASSESSMENT, INSTRUCTION AND PROFESSIONAL LEARNING
DEREK PIERCE — CASCO BAY HIGH SCHOOL PORTLAND ME, PRINCIPAL
PAUL TONER — MASSACHUSETTS TEACHER ASSOCIATION, PAST PRESIDENT