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 training. 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) has evolved through many roles at Oneonta from parent 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 two feline family members and two hens, one of which was hatched at Oneonta in 2016.

Debbie Johnson (Sunroom) teaches the 3-year-old classroom and Co-directs the Oneonta faculty and board. She has worked in early childhood development for over twenty-five years, twenty-three of those years have been in the Cooperative Nursery School setting. She was the Director / Teacher at both Arcadia Parent Participation Nursery School for six years and at Hastings Ranch Nursery School where she worked for 10 1/2 years. Debbie has served on both the California Council of Parent Participation Nursery Schools and the San Gabriel Council of Parent Participation Nursery Schools boards for over twenty years. Debbie enjoys attending early childhood development workshops and conferences throughout the school year. Outside of teaching, Debbie enjoys spending time with her family, reading, and camping.

Dawn Cansler (Greenhouse) teaches the  2-to-3-year olds. She has been with Oneonta since 2015 and worked in Cooperative Nursery Schools for two decades. Dawn has an Associates Degree in Social and Behavioral Science with a B.A. in Liberal Studies and English. In 2012 Dawn earned a Director/Teacher Award through the California Council of Parent Participation Nursery Schools (CCPPNS). Ms. Dawn is also the mother of three and has spent the past 15 years being an advocate for her youngest son and is very passionate about “inclusion” in the preschool years. She has helped many families navigate the assessment and IEP (Individualized Education Program) process while supporting early intervention, believing that each child is an individual who brings their own unique needs to the classroom environment.


Sarah Whitaker (Greenhouse) teaches the 2-3-year-old classroom. Sarah has worked in the field of early childhood education for five years.  She attended Sierra Madre Cooperative Nursery School as a child and has grown up around Co-Ops her whole life. Following in the footsteps of her mother, she began working as an aide at a co-op when she was 18 and her educational journey in Early Childhood Education. She explains the transition between 2 and 3 as a big leap moving from baby to toddler and gets the most joy, witnessing and guiding them through these changes so that each child feels safe to take risks, make mistakes, ask questions and grow.

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.