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Faculty & Staff

"Grauer's teachers are awesome. They care about the kids, work with them and enjoy teaching. It shows in the way the kids respond to the teacher. Most schools have only one or two that is exceptionally gifted as teachers. Uniformly, your faculty is outstanding!"
—C.C., Parent

The Grauer School was founded in 1991 by Dr. Stuart Grauer, a noted educator and strong proponent of the nation’s highly-acclaimed Small Schools movement.

At The Grauer School, 70% of our teachers possess advanced degrees (including four doctorates), and Cum Laude is the norm. We employ teachers who have graduated with distinction from their universities, have a strong commitment to humanitarian service, and have had sustained international and intercultural experiences. With 35 certified personnel, our teacher-to-student ratio is 1:7. This small school advantage enables the faculty to foster relationship driven education and to cultivate an abiding intellectual curiosity in our students.

Leadership Team

Stuart Grauer, Ed.D.

Founder & Head of School

Bachelors Degree: Syracuse University
Masters Degree: Long Island University
Doctoral Degree: University of San Diego (Leadership Studies)
Credentials: English and Social Studies

Roles at The Grauer School
  • Head of School
  • President of The Grauer Foundation for Education
  • Founder of the Small Schools Coalition

Professional Associations
  • A regular chairman of school evaluation committees for the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
  • National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS)
  • Small Schools Coalition (SSC)

Dr. Stuart Grauer is the Founder and Head of The Grauer School. Dr. Grauer’s expertise in education leadership is recognized regionally and globally. Before opening The Grauer School in 1991, he was Principal of the International School of Basel in Switzerland and founding assistant director of Fairbanks Country Day. He has taught at both US International University and University of California, San Diego, specializing in international education and teacher development.

Dr. Grauer is a regular Chairman of School Evaluation Committees for the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). His ASCD Smartbriefs have been most popular of the year, nationwide. He is the Founder of the Small Schools Coalition. He was awarded a Fulbright Educational Administration fellowship in 2007. He was named Peacemaker of the Year by Encinitas Rotary International and an Encinitas “Legendary Local,” as well as one of San Diego Magazine’s 50 People to Watch in 2008. Grauer was awarded The Author E. Hughes Career Achievement Award for 2014, which is the University of San Diego’s School of Leadership and Education Sciences top alumni honor.

Dr. Grauer has a deep commitment to humanitarianism, and as a result has established humanitarian and ecological programs in his local community and around the world over the past three decades.

He enjoys philosophy, travel, surfing, skiing, music, writing/literature, tennis and art. He is married to Sally Grauer (Grauer Events, Clubs and Service Co-Coordinator) and has one daughter, Audrey.

Dr. Grauer is a prolific author and speaker who writes nationwide, monthly columns about authentic and small schools education for various sites and has provided keynote addresses for groups worldwide.

Dr. Grauer’s books, Real Teachers: True Stories of Renegade Educators and Fearless Teaching: Collected Stories, engage educators, parents, book clubs, and scholars nationwide. Nationally prominent educators are calling Real Teachers “restorative,” “liberating,” “eloquent,” and “inspiring.” Fearless Teaching ("the rare book about education that is both beautiful and critically relevant”) is an Amazon best seller in it’s category and has been uniformly critically acclaimed. As Joe Brooks, Executive Director, Community Works Institute, noted, “Stuart Grauer is rapidly becoming one of America’s most important and popular educational story-tellers."

Dr. Grauer's books are available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble and wherever books are sold, and at The Grauer School. Please view these websites for more details about his books:

Really Great Short Reads, from Dr. Grauer

Dana Abplanalp-Diggs, M.Ed.

Principal, Science Teacher

Year of Hire: 1998
Bachelor's Degree: DePauw University (Biology)—Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa
Master's Degree: University of San Diego (Educational Leadership)
Credentials: Single Subject Biology and Preliminary Administrative Services

Roles at The Grauer School
  • Teacher: Leadership Studies, Advanced Biology: Human Anatomy and Physiology
  • Sponsor: High School ASB
  • UNESCO ASPnet School Coordinator

Professional Associations

  • A regular chairman of school evaluation committees for the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
  • Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD)
  • National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP)
  • San Diego Science Alliance
  • Certified USAT Triathlon Level I Coach


A native of Indiana, Dana Abplanalp-Diggs is a Teach for America alumni. As a Math and Science Instructor at The Grauer School since 1998, she has also served as Upper School Director, and has served as Principal since 2007. During her tenure at The Grauer School, she has developed the Blue Water Task Force, a student unit that monitors ocean water quality and reports results to The Surfrider Foundation and the San Elijo Lagoon Teen Eco-stewards partnership. Dana has been instrumental in the planning and implementation of multiple international educational expeditions. Among those she has led include: a trip to Africa to study HIV and AIDS; a trip to Costa Rica to study rain forest ecology; a trip to Italy to study Renaissance art/history, and a trip to Arkansas to study the disparity in education in the U.S. She designed the first Leadership Skills class, created the Associated Student Body (ASB), chaired the school-wide accreditation process (both WASC and CAIS), and was instrumental in The Grauer School’s securing its place as a UNESCO Associated School.

Dana was awarded the Verheyan Award for Outstanding Relationship-Based Teaching in 2005, was named The Grauer School’s Teacher of the Year in 2006, received the Ellie Award for Educator of the Year for the City of Encinitas in 2011, and was a finalist for the San Diego Business Journal’s Women Who Mean Business Award in both 2014 and 2015. Dana resides in San Diego with her husband, Steve, and her daughter, Samara.

Shelley Boniwell, M.A.

Associate Director of Counseling
Year of Hire: 2013

Bachelor's Degree: Mount St. Mary’s University (Liberal Studies and Religious Studies)
Master's Degree: University of San Diego (Counseling)
Credential: Pupil Personnel Services, College Counseling Certification

Roles at The Grauer School
  • Counselor
  • Admissions Team
  • Leadership Team
  • Registrar
  • Student Support Team
  • Senior Class Advisor

Professional Organizations

  • NACAC (National Association of College Admissions Counseling)
  • WACAC (Western Association of College Admissions Counseling)
  • Chi Sigma Iota (International Counseling Honor Society)
  • CASC- California Association of School Counselors
  • ARNA - Action Research Network of the Americas

Shelley graduated with Honors from Mount St. Mary’s University where she won numerous awards, including the Mount St. Mary’s University Presidents Award and the Distinguished Community Service Award. She went on to earn her Master of Arts in Counseling and her Pupil Personnel Services credential at the University of San Diego, again graduating with Honors and being awarded the 2011 H.B. McDaniel Scholarship Award for Counseling Leadership and Excellence and the 2012 School Counseling Outstanding Student Award (as chosen by voting by the faculty and students).

Shelley has a strong commitment to humanitarian service and spent a year volunteering in Chicago with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and has volunteered with The Museum School, Our Lady School, and the Padres Volunteer team. She has also traveled to Kenya on two separate occasions for service work. Shelley has extensive training in Action Research and has presented on this topic at numerous conferences both domestically and internationally.

Morgan Brown, M.S.

Math Department Chair, STEM Teacher

Year of Hire: 2009
Bachelor's Degree: University of California, San Diego (Physics)
Master's Degree: University of California, San Diego (Physics)

Roles at The Grauer School


  • Physics, Algebra 1, Algebra 2 & Philosophy Teacher
  • STEM Center Head
  • High School Soccer Coach
  • High School Robotics Team Coach



After majoring in physics for both his bachelors and masters degree, Morgan Brown taught physics at CSU San Marcos, UCSD, and conducted private tutoring for both physics and math before joining The Grauer School. He is a science enthusiast who is passionate about inspiring students to understand and appreciate its many complexities. His other interests include spending time with his son, soccer, gaming, and philosophical discussions. He lives in San Diego with his wife Traci and their son Benji.


“I really like that the school pays special attention to each student and treats him or her as a valuable individual who is worth spending time with and getting to know. I enjoy the close-knit atmosphere and the feeling that you have people on your side no matter what happens.”

Isaac Langen

Visual & Performing Arts Department Chair, Music Teacher

Year of Hire: 2003
Bachelor's Degree: University of California, San Diego (Music)— Magna Cum Laude

Roles at The Grauer School
  • Teacher: 7th & 8th Grade Music, High School Music 1 and 2, Advanced Music
  • Sponsor: Grauer Record Label and Recording Arts, High School and Middle School music clubs

Professional Associations
  • National Association for Music Education (MENC)

Isaac Langen is a native of Carlsbad. At UCSD, he received the prestigious O’Farrell Award for Outstanding Graduating Senior. After graduation, Isaac performed throughout San Diego before moving to San Francisco where he continued to sing professionally, most notably as a section leader and soloist at Grace Cathedral. His teaching career began with the San Francisco Day School; Isaac has also worked with the Carlsbad Youth Theater and the San Diego Youth Theater as well as having taught music in the Carlsbad, Oceanside, and Vista School Districts. Isaac integrates multiple musical styles into his classes, with students performing a diverse repertoire of music from classical (flute, cello, piano) to rock and roll (drums, guitars, bass, voice, and keyboards). He strives to instill a love of music in his students, with an emphasis on musical collaboration and a solid foundation in musical theory. Isaac was awarded the Grauer School’s “Teacher of the Year” award in 2010. In addition to creating and performing music, Isaac enjoys camping, yoga and traveling (he has visited over 20 countries in the past 10 years). He lives in Vista with his wife Erin, the Grauer School’s theatre director, and his two daughters.

Trevor Olson

Athletic Director, Upper School Dean of Students, Health and P.E. Teacher

Year of Hire: 2009
Bachelor's Degree: University of Arizona (Physical Education – Minor in Coaching and CSET in Health Science)

Roles at The Grauer School

  • Upper School Dean of Students
  • Teacher: Health and Physical Education
  • Coach: Volleyball and Archery

Professional Associations
  • Association of Experiential Education
  • Positive Coaches Alliance
  • Member and Coach for the OAS (Olympic Archery in the Schools)

Before Trevor was a member of The Grauer School faculty, he taught physical education and health in Tucson, Arizona where he ran the girls varsity volleyball program and assisted the boys program. He also was a substitute teacher for SDUHSD for the three years while coaching volleyball at LCC and at the Wave Volleyball Club. Outside of Grauer, Trevor loves coaching and teaching, the outdoors, and the freedom of the ocean. He has played in a handful of professional volleyball qualifiers, where some day he hopes to compete against the best players in the world with his older brother Matt, who is currently a top ranked professional. Trevor lives in Carlsbad with his wife Heather and two sons.

“The Grauer School enables teachers to teach and students to learn. Not only does The Grauer School allow for creativity and discovery-based learning, it encourages it. The Grauer School provides for all faculty members to meet students’ individual needs.”

Alicia Tembi, M.Ed.

Assistant Principal, Head of Professional Development, History Teacher & Department Co-Chair
Year of Hire: 2014

Bachelor’s Degree: University of Wisconsin-Madison (History)
Master’s Degree: Harvard (Teaching and Curriculum, Social Studies)

CA Teaching Credential in Social Sciences with English Language Authorization

Roles at The Grauer School
  • 8th and 11th Grade US History Teacher
    History Department Co-Chair
  • Professional Development Team Leader
  • Girl Rising Co-Leader

Professional Associations

National Council for the Social Studies


Alicia earned her Bachelors degree in History from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. While there, she earned certificates in European History and African Studies, and studied abroad in Florence, Italy. She went on to earn her Masters in Teaching and Curriculum in Social Studies from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. Alicia was a founding teacher at Two Rivers Public Charter School Middle School in Washington, DC. There, she created and led an expedition-based curriculum, served on the Instructional Leadership team, and mentored 8th graders and their families through the high school application process. In 2013-2014, Alicia was a semi-finalist for the Klingenstein Teaching Award through Expeditionary Learning. Alicia resides in Pacific Beach with her husband, Zack and her daughter, Nina.

Alicia’s hobbies include running, hiking, yoga, reading, traveling and cooking.

Patricia Young

Expeditionary Learning Program Director, Science and ASL Teacher

Year of Hire: 2004
Bachelor's Degree: UCSD (Animal Physiology and Neuroscience)—Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa

Roles at The Grauer School
  • Teacher: Physical Science, American Sign Language (ASL)
  • Program Director: Expeditions
  • Coordinator: Middle School Friday Program
  • Member: Leadership Team


Patricia grew up in Marin County. After graduating from UCSD, Patricia backpacked throughout Europe before beginning her service as a Peace Corps Volunteer living in the African country of Malawi. There, she taught at a Community Day Secondary School supervising the Form 1 (freshman class), library, science department, examinations committee, and science club. Upon return to the United States, Patricia worked with the small environmental nonprofit I Love A Clean San Diego. At The Grauer School, Patricia founded our highly successful American Sign Language program and has attained tremendous success with her students winning awards at the San Diego County Science Fair. She was selected as The Grauer School’s Teacher of the Year during the 2007-2008 school year. When not at work, Patricia loves gardening, Zumba classes, swimming at La Jolla Cove, and camping with her family and friends. Patricia lives in San Diego with her husband, Johnny, and daughter, Dakota.

The Grauer School strives to honor the magic of each individual while cultivating a compassionate, relationship-based community. I can't think of a better place to teach, learn, and grow.


Dominique Bartoughian

Mathematics Teacher

Year of Hire: 2016

Bachelor's Degree: University of St. Thomas (B.A. in Psychology and Post Baccalaureate in Mathematics)

Roles at The Grauer School

  • Teacher: Pre-Algebra and Geometry, Educational Mentoring

Professional Associations

  • National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

Dominique graduated from the University of St. Thomas with a B.A. in Psychology and a Post-Baccalaureate in Mathematics. She has been a Math and Science teacher for over eleven years, having taught 6-8th grade Math and Science, Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2, Pre-Calculus, Calculus, and Biology. Additionally, in previous roles She has also been Associate Student Body Director, Yearbook Advisor, Academic Advisor, Online Course of Studies Director and Chair of the Math Department. She became a teacher because she wanted to show students that math does not have to be scary if you think about it the right way. She likes to challenge her students and show them how to take their math skills to the next level through diligence and dedication to their studies. She also enjoys traveling, cooking, reading, and the performance and visual arts. She speaks French and Armenian and lives in San Diego with her husband and two children.

“As a teacher, I feel it is my mission to not only inspire my students' interests in their subjects, but to promote self-confidence and to ensure that each student is performing at an optimal level.”

Jillian Bourdon, M.Ed.

Psychology and ESL Teacher

Year of Hire: 2011

Bachelor's Degree: University of Massachusetts
Master's Degree: University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (Policy, Organization & Leadership with a focus in Global Studies)
Credentials: English and ESL Specialist; RYT 200

Roles at The Grauer School

  • Teacher: English as a Second Language, English, Psychology, Yoga Physical Education
  • International Center Coordinator
  • Educational Mentoring


Jillian grew up and went to college in Massachusetts, where she swam competitively and competed in triathlons. After teaching English abroad in South Korea, Thailand, and Taiwan, Jillian moved to San Diego and joined the Grauer School faculty. A lifelong learner, Jillian incorporates a wide variety of topics into her English-language curriculum, emphasizing cross-cultural curiosity, competence and understanding. She is also certified as a Wilderness First Responder.

Jessi Brown, M.A.

Spanish Teacher, Humanitarian Service Coordinator

Year of Hire: 2003

Bachelor's Degree
: University of California, Davis (History and Political Science)
Master's Degree: San Diego State University (Spanish with an emphasis in Applied Linguistics)
Credential: TEFL Certification

Roles at The Grauer School

  • Teacher: Spanish, U.S. Government and Economics
  • YMCA Youth and Government Lead Advisor
  • Educational Mentor
  • Humanitarian Service Coordinator

Professional Associations

  • American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages

Jessi is a local who attended San Dieguito High School. She studied Political Science and History at UC Davis. After college, Jessi moved to Barcelona where she became certified in language instruction by Cambridge University. Jessi taught English as a second language for two years in Barcelona and traveled extensively through Europe during that time. Upon her return to San Diego, she worked as a math tutor and a bilingual instructional aide at a local high school before coming to Grauer. At The Grauer School Jessi is primarily a teacher, but she is also an educational mentor, the humanitarian service coordinator and a member of the development team.

Christina Burress, M.F.A.

English Teacher, English Department Chair

Year of Hire: 2010

Bachelor's Degree
: University of California, Berkeley (Rhetoric)
Master's Degree: Naropa University (Creative Writing)

Roles at The Grauer School

  • Teacher: English 10 and 12
  • English Department Chair
  • Educational Mentoring
  • Creative Writing

Before joining The Grauer School, Christina spent five years as a California Poet in The Schools, working as a poet-in-residence at various San Diego county elementary schools. In addition, she ran creative writing camps for youth in Del Mar and Boulder, Colorado. She currently teaches poetry courses as an adjunct faculty member at UCSD Extension and Lesley University School of Education. Prior to moving to San Diego in 2006, Christina and her family lived five years abroad in France, China, and Germany.

Brian Dugan, M.A.

Associate Teacher

Year of Hire: 2017

Bachelor's Degree: University of Northern Florida (English)
Master's Degree: University of Northern Florida (English)

Roles at The Grauer School
  • English Teacher
  • Surf PE Teacher
  • Surf Team Coach

In addition to having classroom teaching experience at both the middle school and collegiate level (where he served as an Assistant Professor), Brian brings a wealth of expeditionary learning experience to The Grauer School. Brian served as a Program Leader for Rustic Pathways in Costa Rica; he has also worked as a Naturalist for the Santa Cruz Outdoor Science School. He is a very strong surfer and has served as a surf instructor and coach in Nicaragua. Brian is an Eagle Scout, a Wilderness Lifeguard, and a Wilderness First Responder. Brian loves the outdoors, surfing, community outreach, volunteering, and playing the ukelele.

Victoria Faxon

Social Studies Department Co-Chair, Social Studies Teacher

Year of Hire: 2013

Bachelor's Degree: Brandeis University (East Asian Studies with Minors in Art History and Anthropology) – Cum Laude

Roles at The Grauer School

  • Social Studies Department Co-Chair
  • Teacher: Global Insights 7, World History 10
  • Educational Mentor
  • Professional Development Team Member

Professional Associations

  • National Council for the Social Studies


Originally from Massachusetts, Tori earned her Bachelor’s Degree from Brandeis University. While at Brandeis, she earned minor degrees in Anthropology and Art History. After working in the Boston area, Tori moved to Taiwan in order to start her teaching career. While in Taiwan, she taught a range of ages and classes, including immersive ESL courses in Science, Art, English, Reading, and Cultural Studies. After two years of teaching in Taiwan, Tori accepted her role as a Social Studies teacher at the Grauer School. She enjoys incorporating her love of culture, language, travel, and the arts into her teaching. She speaks French and Mandarin, and she is passionate about singing, reading, yoga, cooking, gardening, nature, and art. She currently lives in San Diego with her husband, Kyle, their two cats, and their dog, Navi.

“I consider a class successful if, when my students walk out of the door, they leave with more questions than they had upon arrival.”

Bill Harman, ThM

Teacher Ambassador, Community Relations

Year of Hire: 2001

Bachelor's Degree: Wittenberg University
Bachelor's and Master's Degrees (BD, MDiv): Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
Doctoral Degree: Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley

Hartford Seminary Foundation–Certificate in Islamic Studies & African Culture

Roles at The Grauer School

  • World Religions Teacher
  • Global Expeditions
  • Teacher Ambassador in Advancement Office/Community Relations

Known around school as “Pastor Bill”, Bill Harman is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and active in Interfaith Activities and community organizations.

In addition to his Grauer responsibilities, he serves as Chaplain on the Palliative Care Team at Scripps Encinitas Hospital. His board memberships include the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Jubilee USA, Foundation for Change San Diego and Planned Parenthood of San Diego and Riverside Counties. He is a member of the Encinitas Coastal Rotary Club. His work with The Grauer School assures community awareness of the school and its programs as well as providing local and global resources to enhance the school’s educational efforts. He and his wife Patti have two sons and four grandchildren.

Tom Hopper

AV Coordinator, Music Teacher

Year of Hire: 2014

Bachelor’s Degree: Cornish College of the Arts (Instrumental Performance)

Roles at The Grauer School

  • Teacher: 7th and 8th Grade Music, High School Music 1 and 2, Advanced Music
  • Clubs: High School and Middle School Music clubs, Middle School Football assistant coach, Recording arts club, Guitar club

Tom Hopper studied Classical Guitar at Cornish College of the Arts, graduating in the summer of 2014 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Instrumental Performance. During his four years in Seattle, studying under guitarist Michael Nicolella and composer Jarred Powell, Tom performed regularly throughout the city, including solo at the University of Washington, All Pilgrims Church, Trinity Parish Episcopal Church, and Kerry Hall at Cornish College of the Arts. He performed Javanese-style Gamelan music alongside Gamelan Pacifica in McCaw Hall, formerly known as the Seattle Opera House. Tom was hired onto the Grauer School Faculty in the Fall of 2014 as a Music Fellow. He is fortunate to learn and hone his passion for the art of teaching on a daily basis from his peers and students alike. During his spare time, Tom enjoys astronomy, athletics, playing guitar, studying the recording arts, and spending time with friends and family.

Fupen Huang

Mandarin Chinese Teacher

Year of Hire: 2013

Bachelor's Degree: Feng Chia University in Taiwan, Department of Statistics: Bachelor of Business Administration

Roles at The Grauer School

  • Mandarin Chinese Teacher


After receiving her Bachelors degree, Fupen worked for a construction company in Taiwan for 14 years. She moved to San Diego in 2000, and enrolled in English courses at the American Language Institute at San Diego State University. She started teaching Mandarin Chinese in 2003 in weekend Chinese school and after-school programs, and joined the Grauer faculty in 2013.

I am passionate about teaching Mandarin and enjoy working with students. I always have new information to inspire my students and encourage curiosity, and we have fun in our classes. I want to inspire my students to become lifelong Mandarin learners.

Johnny King

Art and Photography Teacher

Year of Hire: 2013

Bachelor's Degree: Sonoma State University (Studio Art – Printmaking)

Roles at The Grauer School

  • Teacher: Studio Art, Photography, Yearbook
  • Athletics Coach
  • Basketball Club

Johnny graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Sonoma State University in 2008, and was one of 10 graduates awarded Departmental Distinction. He specializes in printmaking, painting, drawing, graphic design, and photography.

After graduating, Johnny spent a year as a substitute teacher in Woodland, CA. From 2010-2013, Johnny served as the Outreach Educator for Lux Art Institute where he has taught art to students from pre-K through High School.

Johnny works in the graphic design field and photography outside of teaching at The Grauer School. Johnny’s designs were used for some of Indiana University’s football helmets. In addition to art, Johnny is an avid athlete; and has been playing in recreational basketball and softball leagues since moving to San Diego. He has previously coached basketball and tennis.

Erin Langen

Theatre Arts Teacher & Director, Middle School Dean of Students

Year of Hire: 2011

Bachelor's Degree: University of San Francisco (Theater Arts)
Teaching Credentials: English and Theater Arts

Roles at The Grauer School

  • Teaching & Directing Theatre Arts to 7th-12th Grades
  • Middle School Dean of Students allows me to help guide our Middle School students in a positive direction and to support all students on campus.

Erin was born and raised in Southern California. After graduating from Carlsbad High School, Erin attended the Vidal Sassoon School Of Cosmetology in Los Angeles. Although working in that industry was exciting, she wanted something more rewarding, so decided to go back to college, and that is where she was introduced to the world of Theatre Arts. While studying at Mira Costa, Erin not only starred in many different genres of Theatre, but also was able to study abroad at The University Of London to further her study in Theatre Arts. Erin continued performing in North County before moving to San Francisco where she continued her education and graduated from San Francisco State University. Erin began her teaching career when she returned to Southern California in 2001. She taught for 8 years in Vista at Guajome Park Academy, where she built the Middle School Theatre Arts program. Erin is very happy and proud to now be at The Grauer School to teach and inspire students to not only love Theatre and English, but to use it in their daily lives. Besides teaching Erin loves the outdoors, spending time with friends, her husband Isaac and her two girls.

“I truly feel that all my prior life experiences has led me to my place here at The Grauer School. I feel that I have arrived to the ideal environment where there can be a continuous flow of creativity. I love the people I work with, and the students I have the opportunity to educate.”

Frida LeBreton

Economics and French Teacher

Year of Hire: 2012

Bachelor's Degree: Business Administration, Major in International Business and Minor in Economics

Roles at The Grauer School
  • Teacher: French 3 and Economics
  • Expedition Leader: Rustic France Expedition – February 2013


Frida worked for over 12 years in Banking and Finance, selling diverse financial instruments and building profitable portfolios for multicultural clients. In 2001, she and her husband relocated to San Diego. Frida decided to become a full-time mother and volunteer in the field of education for the ensuing 10 years, organizing a seamless stream of fundraising events for the Parent Association of her children’s school and serving as Secretary on the School Board for 6 years.

Frida was born and raised in Normandy, France and she comes from a family of teachers. During her college years, she taught a conversational French course to students her own age. It helped her with the cost of her own education, but most importantly proved to be a powerful educational model. She learned as much, if not more, as she taught, and she connected to a whole new world of possibilities. When she was offered a position at The Grauer School to teach French, she felt thrilled to be part of a relationship-driven organization she highly values. Although she is new to the field of education, teaching gives Frida great satisfaction and a sense of purpose and fulfillment.

“Curiosity is knowledge.”

Peter Mannisto, Ph.D.

Mathematics Teacher

Year of Hire: 2016

Bachelor's degree: University of Washington (Mathematics and Physics) Magna Cum Laude
Doctoral Degree: University of California, Berkeley (Mathematics)

Roles at The Grauer School
  • Math teacher (Geometry, Calculus 1 and 2 )
  • Educational Mentor
  • Advisor, Mathematical Modeling Club

Professional Associations

  • AMS (American Mathematical Society)
  • MAA (Mathematical Association of America)
  • NCTM (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics)


A dual citizen of Finland and the United States, Peter grew up speaking 3 languages (English, Swedish, and Finnish) and enjoys practicing a fourth (French). He first discovered a love of teaching while an upper-level undergraduate at the University of Washington, where he advised several teams of undergraduates just starting out research projects in mathematics. Ever since then, he's had a passion for sharing his love of mathematics with others at a wide variety of levels, from fellow math Ph.D. students to middle schoolers.

After graduating from UC Berkeley with a Ph.D. in Mathematics in 2014 (with a specialization in Number Theory), he taught at a private high school in Seattle (Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences) for two years, before moving to sunny San Diego and the Grauer School!

In his free time, Peter enjoys reading, playing violin, and hiking. He generally goes on long hiking excursions (20+ miles) almost every weekend; if you hike enough in the hills around San Diego on weekends, you're liable to see him!

One of the most amazing things about The Grauer School is that the students don't just talk about Core Values (compassion, accountability, etc.), but put them into practice. How many schools are there where the students help out the janitor when he's working on a big job?

Liam Murphy

Technology administrator, Teacher

Year of Hire: 2017

Roles at The Grauer School

  • Teacher: Computer Science, Engineering Design
  • Mentor: Shockwave Robotics
  • Technology Administrator


Liam has spent the last three years as the owner, president, and general manager of Brick 15, a critically acclaimed coffee house and concert venue. Prior to that, Liam worked for 25 years as a network engineer and computer consultant; most recently as the owner of Netsapien Computing, providing full service IT solutions to clients in both San Diego and Boston. Liam is well-known in the community, having served as President of the Del Mar/Solana Beach Rotary club and having mentored Canyon Crest High School's award-winning FIRST Robotics FRC and FTC teams for several years.

Clayton Payne, M.Ed.

Dean of Student Support, Director of Independent Studies and Educational Mentoring, Teacher

Year of Hire: 2001
Bachelor's Degree: University of California, San Diego (Cultural Anthropology)
Master's Degree: National University (Mathematics)
Credentials: Math Fundamentals (MS); Certified Recording Engineer

Roles at The Grauer School

  • Teacher: Math, World Religions, PE
  • Director: Educational Mentoring, Independent Studies, Online Classes
  • Coach: Middle School Cross Country Team
  • Faculty Advisor: Hockey Club, Running Club
  • Member: Dean Team, Admissions Team, and Professional Development Team

Professional Associations

  • National Council of Teachers of Mathematics


A graduate of San Dieguito High School and UCSD, Clayton Payne worked as a web designer, internet project manager, musician, and public school teacher before returning to Encinitas and finding a home at The Grauer School. As a lover of the outdoors, Clayton has led numerous Expeditions at The Grauer School as far afield as Costa Rica and as close to home as Joshua Tree National Park. Clayton serves as Dean of Student Support and Director of Independent Studies.

In addition to his work at The Grauer School, Clayton has volunteered his time in service to WASC and SCETA and presented at the 2017 SDCIPSN conference in San Diego and 2018 Parliament of the World's Religions in Toronto, Canada. In 2007, he was awarded the Encinitas Chamber of Commerce award for Teacher of the Year at The Grauer School. Still a working musician, Clayton resides in Oceanside with his wife, Becky, and sons Thatcher and Luke.

I sincerely enjoy the opportunity to engage in dynamic, progressive education while treating young people in a respectful, compassionate manner. To have an opportunity to reach each student as an individual rather than as a name on a seating chart—within the class and on an expedition—is truly remarkable.

Paige Prindle, Ph.D.

English Teacher

Year of Hire: 2017

Bachelor's Degree: University of San Diego (English)
Master's Degree: University of Warwick (English)
Doctoral Degree: University of California, San Diego (Literature)

Roles at The Grauer School
  • Teacher: English 7 and English 9

Previously, Paige has taught in the Literature Department at UCSD and recently served as a long-term substitute teacher at Army and Navy Academy in Carlsbad.

Paige has a global background, having been born and raised overseas until the age of eight. She has a "knack for developing a caring rapport with [her] students that is characterized by compassion, humor, and flexibility." And, she believes in "fostering strong personal relationships that are characterized by individual attention, compassion, and service." Paige enjoys reading, gardening, sailing, biking, camping, and traveling throughout Baja California and mainland Mexico.

Mimi Robinson

ASL and Spanish Teacher, 3-5 Program Coordinator
Year of Hire: 2008

Bachelor's Degree: University of California, San Diego (Human Development)

Roles at The Grauer School
  • Teacher: Spanish 1 and 3, American Sign Language, Learning Lab
  • Educational Mentor

While attending UCSD as an undergraduate, Mimi had the opportunity to spend some time studying in Guadalajara, Mexico and getting to know many of the states in central Mexico. She began her professional journey at Sensa Educational Systems where she taught courses such as speed-reading and SAT preparation. She also translated documents, contracts, and websites for local and international businesses and corporations. Later, Mimi attended SDSU for graduate studies in Spanish Literature. When not at Grauer, Mimi enjoys Kung Fu, Roller Derby, and learning languages.

“The best things about The Grauer School are the connections and relationships fostered with our students. I love that everyone feels comfortable enough to truly be themselves.”

Nick Scacco, M.Ed.

Science Teacher

Year of Hire: 2011

Bachelors Degree: Northwestern University (Biology)
Masters Degree: University of Hawaii (Educational Foundations)

Roles at The Grauer School

  • Teacher: Life Science, Biology, and Environmental Science
  • Educational Mentor
  • Assistant Coach: Flag Football
  • Green Grauer Co-Chair

Professional Associations

  • National Science Teachers Association
  • Surfrider Foundation
  • Kokua Hawaii Foundation
  • National Association of Biology Teachers
  • California Science Teachers Assocation
  • San Diego Science Alliance

Nick moved to San Diego from Hawaii where he taught 6th grade and Science classes. He graduated with Honors from Northwestern University (degree in Biology) while competing on the nationally-ranked, varsity Wrestling team and the Northwestern Rugby team. Nick is passionate about environmental sustainability and school gardening, surfing, hiking, and reading. He lives in San Diego with his wife Lindsay and daughter Kiara.

A propensity to hope and joy is real riches; one to fear and sorrow real poverty.
- David Hume

Brendan Wallace, M.Ed.

Science Department Chair, Science Teacher

Year of Hire: 2006

Bachelor's Degree: University of California, San Diego (Biochemistry)
Master's Degree: University of San Diego (STEM Curriculum Development & Design)

Roles at The Grauer School

  • Science Department Chair
  • Teacher: Chemistry, Advanced Biology: Marine Biology, and Physical Education
  • Educational Mentor
  • Science Olympiad Coach
  • California Quizbowl Coach
  • Professional Development Team
  • Blue Water Task Force Chapter Chair
  • Basketball Club



A huge draw towards teaching is the idea of play—the purest form of exploration. Some of the most wonderful dimensions of teaching are the opportunities to nurture growth, self-advocacy, a sense of ‘agency’ (MacLeod, 1987) and efficacy, teamwork and a love of learning. According to Elkind (2008), “as adults have increasingly thwarted self-initiated play and games, we have lost important markers of the stages in a child’s development... we run the risk of pushing them into certain activities before they are ready, or stunting the development of important intellectual, social, or emotional skills” (p. 3). As teachers, we must strive to co-create learning environments that fill our students with a sense of wonder. Meditating on the value of process through play has helped me identify my 'omoi' (Inoue, 2012): my set of ethics that guide my professional work. I want to develop project-based learning opportunities infused with formative assessm ents so my students can experience a deeper learning arc and a more critical connection to content. My 'omoi' further informs me that I want to champion process as much as product, growth through feedback and creativity through engineering projects that cater to a broad range of learners. I hope to support my students as they modify their initial ideas, enrich their understanding of mathematical and scientific concepts, and value their interdisciplinary and global significance. In an effort to demonstrate greater mindfulness in my own practice, I want to garner methodological and ‘epistemological flexibility’ (Inoue, 2015) as an educator.


Elkind, D. (2008, March 1). Can We Play? Retrieved May 29, 2016, from http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/can_w...

Inoue, N. (2015). Beyond actions: Psychology of action research for mindful educational improvement. Educational Psychology.

Inoue, N. (2012). Mirrors of the mind: Introduction to Mindful Ways of Thinking Education. New York, New York: Peter Lang.

MacLeod, J. (1987). Ain’t no making it. Leveled Aspirations in a Low Income Neighborhood. Westview Press: Colorado.

Teaching is the greatest of privileges. I constantly work to form meaningful, working relationships with my students so that I might know how to make course curriculum relevant to them and provide my students with agency to affect positive changes in the community. As a science educator, I emphasize teaching the scientific method and the engineering design process. I am dedicated to facilitating a classroom etiquette that champions high expectations, rigor, camaraderie and trust. My classroom is always open. Every student at The Grauer School is invited to my office hours. I am always working to improve my craft.

As I was proctoring over a final exam several years ago, I felt this excitement flood over me. I think that it stemmed from recognizing some free time at hand; time I chose to reflect upon what I have seen and done this year. Don Kish--a valued volunteer and Teacher Emeritus at The Grauer School--asked me: “Brendan: Do you know the difference between wisdom and age?” I must have looked confused because he responded “nothing” with a wink and a hearty laugh. Being the quietly didactic man that he is, Don didn’t talk at length about what the comment meant to him. Instead, we talked for some time about how my students were doing and the methodologies that I had employed (as well as those that I had not). I spent much of that day and the days since thinking about his comment. Perhaps wisdom might be demarcated by the scars on us rather than by our perfections. Both the embodiment of and the means through which someone gains wisdom could mean a million differe nt things to a million different people. For me, this dialogue came at exactly the right time. We were somewhere near the end of third quarter before Don made this comment and I found myself internalizing some of my failed lesson plans as failures. I felt some of my well-planned lessons falling short of their aim. Oftentimes, I would follow these classes with lesson plans that were even more planned, only to meet mixed results with my students. I don’t know if it was just my good fortune that Don spoke to me that spring day or if I was just transparent enough for him to see my disappointment with myself, but Don’s brief comment really gave me hope. The most wonderful thing about the employees and volunteers at this institution is, hands down, the fact that we nurture a vision of hope. I cannot think of any event in my life in which there wasn’t an opportunity to learn something. We see this wonder in the beautiful eyes of toddlers and, when we’re really lucky , our students. For adults, awareness of the incessant opportunities to learn is one thing on paper and not necessarily something we practice at all moments. Furthermore, it takes great strength and courage to put this awareness into action. It’s so much easier to dismiss days as bad than to take a good, long look at not only what made a day bad but also why that day could ever be called as such. Teaching is such a privilege because, amongst a great many other perks, we are given constant feedback. For those of us with an open heart, teaching reminds us of the poignancy of each moment- of the risks we run of living an unexamined life.

Astrophysics, Basketball, Tennis, Surfing, Rock Climbing, Fishing, Hiking, Biking, Painting, and Reading



Tracy Ahrens

Assistant to Head of School
Year of Hire: 2008

Roles at The Grauer School

  • Assistant to Head of School
  • Facilities Manager
  • Co-teacher Culinary Class
  • Nurse and best shoulder to cry on

Tracy has been Assistant to Stuart Grauer since 2008, but her husband Chris started with The Grauer School over 23 years ago as Surf PE coach, so she has been a part of the Grauer family for many years. Tracy worked at Stanford University in the Development Department and continued in development when she moved to San Diego and worked as an administrative assistant at Scripps. Tracy was drawn to The Grauer School to continue her career in an academic setting as well as her love of the students.
Tracy’s favorite quote, and what she is most known for: “Don’t eat in Meyer Hall!”

Simon Checa

Head of Maintenance
Year of Hire: 2008

Roles at The Grauer School
  • Head of Maintenance
  • Middle School Soccer Team Coach
  • High School Assistant Soccer Team Coach
  • Assistant Archery Team Coach

Simon Checa has been the Head of Maintenance for the past seven years at The Grauer School. He came to The Grauer School from the San Diego Unified School District. Simon possesses an incredible skill set including woodworking, facilities management, construction, electrical work, vehicle maintenance, and plumbing. Simon is also an accomplished athlete and serves as our Head Middle School Soccer Team Coach, our Assistant High School Soccer Team Coach, and Assistant Archery Team Coach. Additionally, Simon is an invaluable asset to The Grauer School’s Expeditionary Learning program, having helped chaperone expeditions to Lake Powell, Bahia de los Angeles, and our “Back to our Roots” Expedition. Simon’s co-workers describe him as “always positive”, “dependable”, “hard working”, and “a joy to work with”. Our students describe him as the “guy who can fix anything,” an “exceptional soccer player,” “an important asset to the Grauer community,” and “the best person ever.”

Stephane Deuvart


Year of Hire: 2000

Bachelor's Degree: UC Santa Cruz (Psychology)

Roles at The Grauer School
  • Gradescape Programmer


Stephane is responsible for developing the millions of lines of code that make up our proprietary Grauer School Gradescape. He has lived and studied on three continents, speaks fluent French, and has taught math, science, multimedia, and French during the years he was part of the Grauer School’s dynamic faculty. Stephane is a trained Nonviolent Communication facilitator and holds workshops on communication and life skills for teachers and students. He also manages his own business where he does on-site technical support including creating web applications for area businesses.

Peggy Gardner

Communications & Marketing SPECIALIST
Year of Hire: 2015

Bachelor's Degree: Dartmouth College

Roles at The Grauer School
  • Communications and Marketing Coordination
  • Editor for Grauer’s Weekly Email Newsletter, Dr. Grauer's Weekly Column, and Annual Yearbook
  • Social Media Editor for Grauer's Facebook postings and Instagram postings
  • Middle School Robotics Team Coach

Peggy was born and raised in New Hampshire, and she graduated from Dartmouth College with a degree in Computer Science. She worked for 15 years at NCR Corporation as a computer programmer, project manager, and customer service product manager. When her children were born, she was a stay-at-home Mom for a few years before starting work at Encinitas Country Day School where she was a Communications Specialist for 8 years, working on the weekly newsletter and annual yearbook. Peggy and her husband, Daren, have two Grauer alumni students who graduated from Grauer in 2016 and 2018. Peggy enjoys reading, gardening, watching movies, cooking, helping with Grauer’s Robotics team, and spending time with her family and their pets.

Sally Grauer, M.S. CCC-SpL

Events, Clubs, and Service Co-Coordinator

Year of Hire: 2003

Bachelor’s Degree: University of California, Santa Barbara (Speech & Hearing Sciences)
Master’s Degree: Utah State University (Communicative Disorders)
Credentials: California State License/Certification of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology, Certificate of Bilingual, Crosscultural, Language, and Academic Development (BCLAD)

Roles at The Grauer School
  • Community Service Organizer
  • Clubs
  • Advancement and Cultivation

Professional Associations

  • American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA)
  • California Speech and Hearing Association (CASHA)


Sally spent her high school years in Corona Del Mar, California, where she enjoyed beach volleyball, bodysurfing and tennis. Her love of education, communication, and working with children and families all came together when Sally was hired in Admissions at The Grauer School. Her prior work for 18 years as a bilingual Speech Pathologist in local hospital and public school settings gave her the background in educational evaluation and the skills to communicate with applying students and their families. It was a natural progression and advantageous for many reasons, not the least of which was that Stuart and Sally’s only daughter, Audrey, began her education at The Grauer School soon thereafter. Sally recently retired from her 11 years in Admissions, to devote her time to community service and advancing the school and Dr. Grauer in his efforts.

“What I value the most is witnessing that at the Grauer School, students truly are free to be their own person and develop their own purposes. I love seeing their level of happiness in learning!”

Theresa Hernandez


Year of Hire: 2002

Prior to working at The Grauer School, Theresa worked at various small privately owned companies, the most enjoyable one being in Del Mar at Eucalyptus Stoneware where she worked for 15 years and found a love of ceramics. She and her husband are also actively involved with assisting in running the Children’s Ministry at her home church, Calvary Chapel Vista. Theresa resides in Vista and, in her free time, she enjoys spending time with her husband, David, and their daughter, Desiree.

Olivia Kleinrath, M.S.

Associate Director of Admissions

Year of Hire: 2015

Bachelor's Degree: University of California, San Diego (Communications)
Master's Degree: San Diego State University (Counseling)
Credentials: Pupil Personnel Services (PPS) Credential

Roles at The Grauer School

  • Associate Director of Admissions
  • Marketing Coordinator

Olivia comes to us from MiraCosta College where she has been working in their Admissions Department. Prior to that, she worked as a Guidance and College Counselor in the San Dieguito Union High School District, working at La Costa Canyon High School, Earl Warren Middle School, and Torrey Pines High School; she has also worked as a Grant Researcher and Writer for both the San Dieguito High School District and the Cardiff Elementary School District. She also has worked in MiraCosta’s Testing Department, administering placement exams to incoming students, and did community outreach for the March of Dimes. Olivia is yet another one of our UCSD graduates, earning her BA in Communications and earned her MS in Counseling and PPS Credential from San Diego State University.

Olivia lives in Cardiff with her husband and two kids–sophomore in college and an 11th grader. She is excited to work at The Grauer School, a place that encourages students to take risks in their learning, with the understanding that all outcomes, expected or not, are beneficial to student learning.

Libby Lievers


Year of Hire: 2011

Bachelor’s Degree: University of San Diego (Business, International Relations)
Master’s Degree: University of San Diego (International Business)

Originally from Minnesota, Libby moved to San Diego for college and has stayed almost continually ever since. She worked in international sourcing for an electronics manufacturer and in pharmaceutical sales before joining The Grauer School staff. Libby lives here in Encinitas with her husband, Chip, and her two sons, Riley and Tate. She enjoys spending time with her family, running, reading, and swimming.

Lorin Port


Bachelor's Degree: San Diego State University (Business Administration)

Prior to coming to The Grauer School, Lorin Port was the Regional Finance Director for Eastman Kodak, with financial responsibility for establishing a presence in Singapore. Working closely with the Singapore government, Lorin was able to negotiate a multi-million dollar R&D grant and successfully implement a reimbursement process for these funds. Lorin has also held multiple positions as a controller in her career and has assisted in the sales and acquisition process for many of these companies. She is a long time resident of Encinitas where she is raising her two teenage daughters.

Tricia Valeski, Ph.D

Associate Director of Research & Financial Aid, Admissions Associate

Year of Hire: 2015

Bachelor's Degree: UC Berkeley (Psychology)
Master's Degree: UCLA
Doctoral Degree: UCLA (Psychological Studies in Education)

Roles at The Grauer School

  • Research and Evaluation
  • Admissions
  • Financial Aid
  • Grant Writing


Tricia has spent her career in education, earning her Master’s and Ph.D in Psychological Studies in Education from UCLA. Her dissertation was titled, “Young children’s social competence and the teacher-child relationship: Pathways to early academic success.” She earned her BA in Psychology from UC Berkeley. Tricia has served as the Director of Research at the SEEDS University Elementary School at UCLA. She was a Research Analyst/Post-doctoral Fellow at the Center for Research in Mathematics and Science Education at San Diego State University. She has taught Child and Adolescent Studies at CSU Fullerton, served as a Guest Lecturer in UCLA’s Psychology Department, and was a substitute teacher in the Encinitas Union School District. Tricia is a graduate of the Thacher School in Ojai, California.

Tricia is a mom to four wonderful children; Sophie, Lucy, Ryan and Connor. Her daughters and oldest son are students at The Grauer School. She enjoys spending time with family, running, music, and the theater.

Sheila Wirick

Alumni Relations Officer

Year of Hire: 2013

Bachelor's Degree: University of Oklahoma (Interior Architecture)

Roles at The Grauer School

  • Grauer Board of Trustees
  • Advancement/Development Committee: Co-Chair
  • Grauer Alumni Relations Officer

A parent with children at The Grauer School since 2006, Sheila has served as the Grauer Parent Association President and has chaired and co-chaired the Grauer Gala three times. Sheila stepped up from volunteer to employee to head up the Grauer Alumni Relations Department in 2013. Her job is to reconnect with our alumni students, parents and faculty going back to the school’s first graduating class of 1992. She has two Grauer Alumni sons who graduated from Grauer in 2013 and in 2017. Sheila’s hobbies are gourmet cooking, traveling and wine collecting.

Lindsay Zickler, MBA

Development and Events Manager

Year of Hire: 2019

Bachelor's Degree: UCLA (Psychology)
Master's Degree: San Diego State University

Roles at The Grauer School

  • Development & Events
  • Board Governance & Advancement
  • School & Community Events
  • Parent Association Liaison

A native to San Diego, Lindsay earned her bachelor's degree in psychology from UCLA and her MBA from San Diego State University. With experience in events, marketing and fundraising, she ultimately found her passion in education when serving as the Program Director for the non-profit Girls on the Run NYC. After six years in New York City, Lindsay moved back west and worked in advancement for a local independent school prior to joining The Grauer School. Lindsay currently resides in Carlsbad with her husband and son, where they enjoy being active and outdoors.

I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
- Maya Angelou