Our Roots

Laura Jeffrey – 1915 - 2003  

LJA is named after Laura Jeffrey, a long-time Minnesota resident whose life exemplified the love of learning and service to community that are the goals of our school. Ms. Jeffrey came of age when there were few career choices available to women and African-Americans. Despite the limitations imposed on her, Ms. Jeffrey was an honors graduate of Macalester College and the only African-American in her class. After earning a master's degree in library science in night school, she became one of the first African-American librarians in the St. Paul library system, rising to branch librarian. Ms. Jeffrey built a life that exemplified personal strength, intelligence and a passion for her beliefs. In the spirit of Laura Jeffrey, LJA provides a stimulating learning environment that will foster confident young women – women with the skills to be a positive force in their communities. Serving a culturally diverse student body, LJA exemplifies that people thrive most when they work with others and take responsibility for their own learning. At LJA, students learn from their successes, failures, and experiences.

Students decorate LJA's halls with portraits of significant women throughout history.

Students decorate LJA's halls with portraits of significant women throughout history.

Laura Jeffrey Academy Start-up team

As with any new organization, the ability to succeed is often predicated on the people starting it – in this case, on its board of directors, founder, and project leadership team. Following are brief profiles of the individuals involved in starting LJA.

Cindy Reuther – Founder

Cindy has spent much of her adult life working to better the lives of underrepresented youth in organizations and community.  LJA brings together two of Cindy's passions. The first is to provide urban students access to educational opportunities currently available to those with financial means. Second, she developed an organization with infrastructures that support excellent learning, financial sustainability and organizational resilience. Her long-term plan includes documenting the process and replicating the model across the country and internationally. Laura Jeffrey Academy has been a dream in the making for over a decade.

Kai Michels - Co-Founder

Kai’s work was crucial in obtaining LJA’s charter and start up funding. A former elementary school teacher, she remains dedicated to the concept that education can change the world. She created the LJA tagline ‘Asking Questions, Making Choices' to express the teaching and learning philosophy of LJA. As an Organizational Development and Financial Management consultant, Kai specialized in work process redesign, providing both the vision and methodology for process reforms. Kai provided project and financial management consultation for Fortune 500 business divisions across a broad array of industries. Her previous experience includes Account Manager, Dun & Bradstreet Software; Director of Budgets and Forecasts, and Manager of Accounting, Itel Corporation.

Management expertise and a solid financial base

Charter schools thrive when they have a high quality plan that addresses governance, management, and the learning and teaching model. LJA’s plan is comprehensive. It details the steps that are being taken to ensure the school’s success as it progresses from a sound concept to an exciting educational experience.

LJA's board of directors and educational design team bring proven experience in research and finance, organizational development and management, human resources, curriculum development, women’s studies, and teaching.

The State of Minnesota approved the school's charter and Audubon Center of the Northwoods became Laura Jeffrey Academy's sponsor in 2006.  Laura Jeffrey Academy has a strong base of planning and operating funds from the Walton Family Foundation grant and a Federal Planning and Implementation Grant.


Audubon Center of the North Woods 
Erin Anderson, Charter School Division Lead Coordinator 
43 Main Street, Suite 507 Minneapolis, MN 55414 (612) 331-4181 

Educational Design 

Educational Design Team

Tracey Pyscher - Curriculum and Instruction Lead Tracey Pyscher has been a curriculum and instruction specialist in K-12 urban settings and is now Assistant Coordinator of the English Education Program and an Instructor at the University of Minnesota Department of Curriculum and Instruction. Her doctoral research explores critical literacy in urban schools and she led the design of LJA’s curricular framework. Along with completing her doctoral work, Tracey serves as an educational consultant in English Education and the ELA Common Core State Standards.

Dr. Rose W. Chu currently serves as the interim dean for the School of Urban Education, Metropolitan State University. Previous to returning to academia, she was appointed from May 2011 to May 2013 as Assistant Commissioner of Education in the Minnesota Department of Education.  She was a former associate professor and department chair of the Urban Teacher Program at Metropolitan State University. Her specialty is mathematics education: teaching, advising and supervising prospective math teachers to educate diverse learners in our urban core. Her teaching and research interests include reform efforts in math education, and community engagement in educational equity and access. Previous to her joining the university in August 2004, Rose worked at the Minneapolis Public Schools for 8 years as a classroom teacher, a district math specialist, and a district math/science equity coordinator. Rose holds a Ph.D. in Industrial and Systems Engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology and was formerly a research scientist at Honeywell.

Uve Hamilton holds degrees in art and art history and has licensure as an elementary grades teacher. Her primary expertise is in the integration of the arts into non-arts subjects such as reading, math, science, and social studies. She has taught in a variety of settings: abroad in Indonesia and Singapore; an education outreach program at the Cleveland Museum of Art; and art history at Macalester College. For fifteen years she taught in the elementary grades in the Minneapolis Public Schools. Most recently, she served as Project Manager and then Director of Arts for Academic Achievement, a program of the Minneapolis Public Schools that brings community artists into classrooms to support student learning in and through the arts. She is currently on leave from the Minneapolis Public Schools.

Dr. Cynthia Lewis  is Professor of English Education at the University of Minnesota. She is interested in classroom discourse, response to literature, and adolescents’ uses of digital media. Her current research focuses on critical engagement in English classrooms in urban schools. Cynthia’s books include Literary Practices as Social Acts: Power, Status, and Cultural Norms in the Classroom and Reframing Sociocultural Research: Identity, Agency, and Power (with Patricia Enciso and Elizabeth Moje). Both books were awarded the Edward Fry book Award from the National Reading Conference. She is currently Co-Chair of the Research Assembly of the national Council of Teachers of English and has served on the executive board of the National Conference on Research on Language and Literacy.

Shannon Dahmes  comes to us with a back ground in secondary English education with a particular interest in composition and basic literacy. Her experience with board membership and senior administration in several charter schools has contributed to practical and regulatory considerations in curriculum design. In the future she hopes to do research to explore the efficacy of asset-based, whole-child, interdisciplinary curriculum and instruction to increase literacy for at-risk, and learning disabled students.

Dr. Nicole LaVoi Associate Director, Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, University of Minnesota.

Erin Twamley was an education design team member providing support in the design of the curriculum, school day and a research intern at LJA. As an undergraduate, she completed an honors thesis, “The Role of Gender Identity on the Effects of Stereotype Threat: An Examination of Girls’ Math Performance in a Single-sex Classroom" by conducting a quasi-experimental study at LJA. She is currently an educator and non-fiction children's book author for her own organization ErinEDU. Through her work she engages the next generation of learners in protecting and creating a sustainable planet. She is an author of numerous publications on the topics of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM). This includes three books for kids:

Climate Change: Discover How it Impacts Spaceship Earth

Renewable Energy: Discover the Fuel of the Future

Everyday Superheroes: Women in STEM Careers (Coming Winter 2019)

Erin loves to travel the world and has lived on 3 continents. She has received recognition of her exemplary leadership in education and holds a Masters of Education (M.Ed.) and an alumni of Macalester College. For more information please visit www.erinedu.org.

Udgon Abdullahi  College age youth consultant.

Marc Wanvig Teacher Emeritus of Science, Minneapolis Public Schools.

Dorothy Hoffman  Former Executive Director of Curriculum & Instruction, Minneapolis Public Schools.  Dorothy also served as the Education Director of LJA for the first two years of start-up.