Our Staff

Our staff consists of caring, nurturing individuals who have a genuine interest and love of young children. The teaching staff is trained in Early Childhood Education with vast experience, participating in continuing programs of professional development including advanced college coursework, conferences, workshops, and other trainings. Our teachers exceed the requirements set forth by the State of California for preschool teachers. Regular bi-weekly staff meetings ensure that our school-wide goals for the children remain clear and viable. The staff is trained in pediatric First Aid and CPR and is required to maintain current certification.

Co-Directors / Lead Teachers

Karen Vahala (Treehouse) During her 15+ years at Oneonta, Karen Vahala has evolved through many roles from parent member and Participation Chair to Teacher and Co-Director. Karen holds both her Early Childhood Education Site Supervisor and Teacher permits; however her educational foundation began in the arts with a B.A. in Studio Art from Scripps College in 1985 and a Certificate Degree in Textile and Surface Design from FIDM in 1988. From her own childhood characterized by considerable outdoor independent play with her two sisters and neighborhood friends, she hopes to instill a love of nature and model a collaborative and respectful spirit.

Outside of Oneonta, Karen spends her time gardening, painting, baking and caring for one feline and one hen, hatched at Oneonta in 2016.

Debbie Johnson (Sunroom) Debbie teaches the 3-year-old classroom and Co-directs the Oneonta faculty and board. Her teaching career began in 1992 and she has worked in early childhood development for over two decades. 25 of those years have been in the Cooperative Nursery School setting. She worked as a Director/Teacher at Arcadia Parent Participation Nursery School for six years and at Hastings Ranch Nursery School for 10 and a half years. Debbie received a Director/Teacher Award (2000) from CCPPNS, as well as an Honorary Lifetime Achievement Award for significant contributions made to the Parent Participation Nursery School Movement. Debbie has served on both the California Council of Parent Participation Nursery Schools and the San Gabriel Council of Parent Participation Nursery Schools. Debbie believes that each child brings a uniqueness to the classroom that should be respected, honored, and nurtured. Debbie enjoys attending early childhood development workshops and conferences throughout the school year.

Outside of teaching, Debbie enjoys spending time with her family, RV-ing, and all things Disney.

Dawn Cansler (Greenhouse) Dawn has worked in Cooperative Nursery Schools for over two decades. She has degrees in Behavioral Science, Liberal Studies and English. In March of 2012, Dawn was awarded a Director/Teacher Award through the California Council Parent Participation Nursery Schools (CCPPNS). She wholeheartedly believes child directed play and developmentally appropriate practice are fundamental to early childhood environments. Connection and support are a vital component in the early years.  She believes strongly in advocacy for all children, and is very passionate about “inclusion” in the preschool years. She has helped many families navigate the assessment and Individualized Education Program (IEP) process. She has personal experience with evaluations and IEPs as an advocate for her youngest son. She supports early intervention and believes that each child is a beautiful individual who brings their unique needs to the classroom environment!

When Dawn is not teaching she loves spending time with her family. She also enjoys traveling with her husband and being outdoors.


Sarah Whitaker (Greenhouse) Sarah Whitaker has worked in early child education for eight years. Having attended a co-op herself she strongly believes in the difference it makes to be active participants in children’s lives. She enjoys making connections with children and sharing in all of the incredible growth that happens in the short amount of time that they are at Oneonta. Sarah is currently learning about the integration of mindfulness and yoga into early childhood education. The focus is on supporting the development of the whole child and emphasizing the importance of social and emotional regulation. Sarah strives to be an advocate for all children and believes each child is beautifully and uniquely their own person.

Coralee McPherson (Treehouse) began her early childhood education career at Grace Church of Glendora in 2008 working as an aide in a preschool classroom. Since then she has received an Associates Degree in Child Development from Citrus College, as well as an Associates Degree in Social Sciences. Coralee is currently enrolled in the College of Education and Integrative Studies at Cal Poly Pomona as an Early Childhood Studies Major. Her goal is to become a Family Support Specialist for families and children with special needs. She is also an active member of the Early Childhood Studies Club. Coralee joined Oneonta in the Spring of 2015. Coralee is also an active advocate for children with special needs inspired by her personal hero and niece Kennedy Michele, who was gifted with Down Syndrome. Family plays a huge part in Coralee’s life, as she loves being an aunt to her six nieces and nephews. When she isn’t involved with work, school or family Coralee enjoys reading, cooking, and exploring Southern California.

Ciara Berry (Sunroom) joined Oneonta in 2018 after many years of working with children as a private nanny. Ciara received her Associate’s degree in Child Development from Pasadena City College in 2019. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Studies at Cal Poly Pomona. Ciara believes in caring for children with love, kindness and respect. Her favorite part of being a teacher is laughing with her students. In her free time, Ciara enjoys dancing, reading and going on adventures.