Cassi Clausen is the original founder of The Open School. She has a Bachelors from Westmont College, a Masters of Education from UM St Louis, and a Masters of Arts from University of London, Goldsmith’s College. Cassi taught Spanish and English and coached Mock Trial at a private college prep high school in St Louis from 2002-2005. Cassi also tutored in Spanish and English off and on for about 8 years. All of these educational experiences have led her to dedicate her life to giving a voice to kids and advocating for respectful parenting and education. Her journey specifically began in 2007 when she took a trip to the Summerhill School in England. This trip inspired her to create her own self-directed democratic school. After three years of fundraising, recruitment, and public relations, Cassi sprang The Open School to life in the autumn of 2015 and became the original staff member. In addition to having doubled down and graciously volunteered half of her home to act as a temporary campus during the first year and being an integral part of The Open School’s internal affairs, Cassi often speaks at conferences, college classes, and events (and you can request her to speak at yours). She has also co-written a book on parenting and Self-Directed Education. Cassi holds strong interests in entrepreneurship, public speaking, mock trial/debate, governance, theater, and literature. You can hear her talking about The Open School and our educational model on this podcast from 21 Century Learning
Cassi serves the school in the following roles: staff management and leadership, admissions, on campus staff, community development, fundraising, financial management, and family liaison.
Aaron Browder is a programmer, writer, and chronic dabbler in creative pursuits. He obtained a BS in Engineering Physics from the University of Oklahoma and then spent five years developing software. After a foray into volunteering with educational programs (one a tutoring program and the other in a public preschool), he realized that something was missing in the way our society addresses children. He began reading up on child development and education and ultimately stumbled upon Free to Learn by Peter Gray, which led him to other books on authentically learner-centered education; he read everything he could find on Sudbury schools and unschooling, working his way through most of John Holt’s books. After this, Aaron decided to switch careers, applying to The Open School and diving right into his role here. Beyond completing administrative duties and playing with students every school day, Aaron has co-written a book on Self-Directed Education and has also written a children’s fantasy novel. Read more about Aaron in this article.
Aaron serves the school in the following roles: enrollment and registration, on campus staff, facilities management, website and app development, author and advocate, and guru of the small children.
Angela Young is a mother of four and a Conscious Parenting Guide who uses mindfulness, emotional awareness, and self-inquiry to help families create peaceful homes. She conducts parenting courses and works with parents on an individual and group basis with the focus of honoring self-direction in children and cultivating parent empowerment. At a young age Angela became immersed in entrepreneurial efforts, and for some time running her own business was her way of achieving satisfying self-growth. But after her children were born she struggled to find a school environment she felt comfortable with, and was overcome with interest towards shifting the educational and parenting paradigm. After completing several parenting programs, studying a bookshelf full of connection-based parenting books, and stumbling upon The Open School OC, her greatest source of self-growth is now living and breathing these philosophies in relationship with the children in her life. Listen to her on this podcast from Alpine Valley School about parenting a self-directed child.
Angela serves the school in the following roles: on campus staff, parent education and support, family liaison, and student mental health support.
Lorna Doomun is an artist, a philomath, and one of the original founders of The Open School. Lorna’s life journey has been eclectic after moving to the United States from the small island of Mauritius over 30 years ago. While growing up and being educated under the British education system, she continuously questioned the motives of the system and its impositions on the innate freedom of children. Years later, she was faced with the same anxieties about the education system while she raised her two children. In 2012, after reading The Sudbury Valley School Experience, she intercepted Cassi Clausen’s flag calling for anyone interested in setting up a democratic school in Orange County, California, and joined the endeavor to create a democratic school. It was with enthusiasm that Lorna collaborated with the original founders of The Open School, setting up the non-profit status and participating in the vision creation and initial fundraising efforts. Life took her on some twists and turns away from The Open School endeavor and led her to explore other experiences and growth opportunities such as discovering her artistic expression through painting, being the assistant to a renowned local artist, co-teaching mandala painting workshops, and volunteering in a semi self-sustaining community in Costa Rica for eight months. In 2023 she found her way back to The Open School and joined as a staff member.
Lorna has a bachelor’s in accounting from San Francisco State University and had a career in finance. She enjoys silent walks, writing, swimming, and learning and applying psycho-spiritual approaches to her life and relationships. She also deeply values her meditation practice.
Lorna serves the school in the following roles: on-campus staff, school administration.
Jessica Brown lives in Ontario, Canada and enjoys many hobbies and interests including reading, music, board games, math and logic puzzles, biking, listening to podcasts, education philosophy, self-development, and trying out new creative pursuits and hobbies. She also loves cooking and baking and even considered a career as a cake decorator. Jessica graduated from Brock University in 2019 with a B.A. in Child and Youth Studies and a Bachelor of Education with K-6 qualifications (later upgraded to include intermediate math qualifications for grades 7-10). After finishing her undergrad degrees, she continued to study education at the Masters level with a strong focus on democratic and self-directed models of education. Her first introduction to this type of education was at a lecture in 2014 which included a brief discussion of Summerhill School. This sparked her interest and was the beginning of her journey to learn as much as she could about democratic self-directed education. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she spent a year teaching high school math and providing individual tutoring. This experience cemented Jessica’s desire to work with young people in a way that prioritizes respect, honors their autonomy, and supports them in directing their own lives and education. Jessica never stopped learning about self-directed education on her own and was determined to visit a democratic or Sudbury-style school and find a career in alternative education.
Jessica serves the school in the following roles: virtual program staff, committee and school meeting organization, and school administration.
Pat Misterovich lives in Springfield, MO with his wife and two dogs. They enjoy traveling the country in their Airstream. They have three grown children all of whom have graduated from or worked at democratic schools. Pat graduated from Wayne State University with a degree in Secondary Education and from University of Michigan with a Masters in Library and Information Studies. He has worked and taught in public schools, private schools, adult education, and universities but none of those institutions lived up to his ideas of what learning could be. He started his teaching career inspired by the likes of John Holt, Neil Postman, Ivan Illich, bell hooks, and Paulo Freire and took those ideas with him to the classroom. He eventually decided the best way forward was to start his own school where student agency, consent, and participatory democracy would be the foundation. That school, u.school, would become Springfield’s only democratic self-directed school. Inspired by Sudbury schools, free schools, and Liberated Learning Centers, one of u.school’s primary goals was to be connected and integrated into Springfield’s downtown community. U.school students were a regular part of the downtown scene, hanging around, volunteering, eating food, reading at coffee shops, interning, hosting concerts and an art gallery, and creating the student-driven, glossy print magazine, DWNTWN. Unfortunately, u.school did not survive the pandemic, and for the next few years after its close Pat helped students complete their learning journeys virtually while contemplating ways to bring the heart of self-directed and democratic schools to students at home. In 2023, he published Field Guide to Your Learning Journey: An alternative approach to your high school years for unschoolers, homeschoolers, liberated learners, and adventurers of all kinds.
Pat serves the school in the following roles: virtual program staff and school administration.
Cristina Sanchez started her professional career as a hair-artist for 15 years. In 2018, she started her own business where she became a salon owner. She learned many valuable lessons on entrepreneurship, in addition to the administrative needs that come from owning a small business. Throughout the pandemic, Cristina utilized her time to reflect on her career path and made the very evaluated decision to retire from hair, and enroll back into school in the Spring of 2021. Some of her educational goals include pursuing a degree in psychology with an emphasis in cultural and cross-cultural psychology. Cristina has a passion for mental health and education and believes that mental health services are not a “one size fits all” approach, but rather, a service that should be tailored to everyone’s individual needs, backgrounds, cultures, and abilities. In addition, Cristina is passionate about advocacy work and serving underrepresented communities. Some of her hobbies include traveling, reading, mindfulness and meditation, discovering new coffee shops, and spending time with her family and fur babies.
Cristina serves the school in the following roles: Business administrator.