Executive Team
Incarnate Word
St. Anne
Strake Jesuit
Business Team


Mr. John E. Barone, MA
Executive Director

Mr. John Barone is delighted to have served in the DECATS program from the beginning in 1994, as a Mentor three years and Director for the rest. He received his B.A. in Religious Education from the University of St. Thomas in Houston and his M.A. in Private School Administration from the Institute for Catholic Educational Leadership at the University of San Francisco. He has extensive background in child and adolescent development, Catholic education and youth ministry, workshop facilitation and teaching students with neurological differences.

Mr. Barone currently serves as Director of the Learning Resource Center at Strake Jesuit College Preparatory and provides trainings in classroom management for schools, churches and conferences throughout the nation. Mr. Barone is the author of several books, including his most recent, The Adaptive Teacher: Faith-Based Strategies to Reach and Teach Learners with Disabilities (co-authored with Charleen Katra, published by Loyola Press). His long-term commitment to DECATS is fueled by his passion for helping young people grow in their confidence, knowledge and skills, and to use their gifts in the service of others.

Mr. Barone is a member of the National Association for Gifted Children and the Texas Association for Gifted & Talented Children.

Mr. John Michael Cuccia, MAT
Senior Program Director

Mr. John Michael Cuccia has been a part of DECATS since 1998, first participating as a Scholar for two years and now continuing in his Senior Director role. He oversees admission and enrollment operations and directs the production of program media and communications. Mr. Cuccia has been dedicated to serving at DECATS for so many years because of the unique, life-changing experience Scholars undergo during their time with the program.

Mr. Cuccia is a graduate of Rice University with a B.A. in Mathematical Economic Analysis and a Business minor. He also holds an M.A.T. with Specialization in Educational Technology. Full time, he is a Senior Technology Consultant for RHB, a higher education consultancy providing enrollment, marketing, CRM and organization solutions, where he focuses on systems implementation, innovation and instruction for colleges, universities, foundations and non-profits. Previously he served as Associate Director of Admission Information Systems for Undergraduate Enrollment at Rice University and Assistant Director of Technology at St. Thomas High School, both in Houston.

Mr. Cuccia is a member of the National Association of Gifted Children and the Texas Association of Gifted & Talented Children.

Mrs. Melissa Martin, MEd
Curriculum Director

Mrs. Melissa Martin has been a part of the DECATS team since 2006, serving the program in a variety of roles, including Program Director and, most recently, Curriculum Director for all three of the DECATS locations. She enjoys working with mentors to design courses that allow Scholars’ interests to flourish each summer!

During the school year, Mrs. Martin is a Principal in Cypress-Fairbanks ISD. She graduated from Baylor University with a B.S. in Elementary Education and later received her Master’s in Educational Leadership from UTA. When not at school, Mrs. Martin enjoys traveling to new places, trying new restaurants and cheering on the Baylor Bears!

Mrs. Cathy H. Stephen, MEd
Senior Leadership Advisor

Mrs. Cathy Stephen serves as Senior Leadership Advisor for our program, supporting Directors in their work on our campuses. In her 20 years of service to the program, she was once the Flagship Program Director and host Principal at St. Rose of Lima Catholic School.

As the Principal at Incarnate Word Academy, she sees many former Scholars and Graduate Assistants at the high school level where she continues to foster a wonderful learning environment for girls in downtown Houston. Mrs. Stephen earned her M.Ed. in Curriculum & Instruction in Gifted and Talented Education. As a liaison to Catholic Elementary Schools, she continually fosters the growth of the DECATS program for all of our nominating schools. Her three children attended DECATS and are still connected to Scholars they met in the program many years ago.

Mrs. Stephen is a member of the National Association for Gifted Children and the Texas Association for Gifted & Talented Children.


Ms. Tonya Dixon, MA
Program Director

Ms. Tonya Dixon is delighted to return to DECATS for another exciting summer! Ms. Dixon joined the DECATS Team in 2008 as a Mentor and is honored to serve as Program Director at our Corpus Christi Catholic School campus! Ms. Dixon is committed to the philosophy and methodology of DECATS and enjoys witnessing the transformation within our Scholars, Mentors, and Parents. Currently, Ms. Dixon is the Professional Learning Specialist in the Office of Professional Learning in the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District and has 25 years of experience in Education. 

Ms. Dixon graduated from Prairie View A&M University with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and earned a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership and Administration from Sam Houston State University.  Currently, Ms. Dixon is a doctoral candidate at Abilene Christian University.  

Ms. Dixon has a genuine love for children and true passion for her profession. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, working on home projects, and spending time with her family.  Ms. Dixon is excited for this summer’s program, Diving Deeper, and creating memories with the DECATS community! 

Ms. Sharon Bales
Assistant Program Director

Ms. Sharon Bales previously served as Associate Director at West Houston DECATS where, in 2000, she was instrumental in the implementation of DECATS to help Scholars grow and identify their gifted and talented skills. She launched her career as an early childhood and kindergarten teacher in both Texas and Florida school systems. In 2003, Ms. Bales was recognized by the Houston Chamber of Commerce as Teacher of the Year.

Mrs. Lisa Lenzy, MM
Assistant Program Director

Mrs. Lisa Lenzy joined DECATS in 2016 as a first time Mentor.  The methodology was brand new to her and has helped her to grow as an educator.  The phrase “better at does not mean better than” has become her standard motto in class.  She loves what DECATS brings to the scholars, from the first day of thematically transforming the campus to the closing ceremony as they reflect on their experiences. 

Mrs. Lenzy is new to the teaching profession, coming from almost 30 years in the government sector.  She earned her BA in Business Administration and Master’s in Management from the University of Phoenix.  She has been teaching since 2014 and loves this career.  She is a College and Career Readiness teacher with Galena Park ISD, leading 8th graders in developing their minds for high school and beyond.  DECATS has provided her with lucrative skills for classroom management and student ownership, and she is so thankful to serve here. 

Mrs. Lenzy is married to her wonderful, God-fearing, best friend. They have three grown daughters who have blessed them with two sons-in-law and four grandchildren.  She loves reading, audio books, and also enjoys family game night once a month.  Since she received her undergraduate degree and graduate degree later in life, she is a living testimony for her students and others to see that it is never too late to pursue your dream.  


Dr. Kendall Shamas, Ed.D.
Program Director

Mrs. Kendall Shamas is looking forward to another exciting summer at DECATS. She has been a part of the DECATS program since 2008 serving as a Mentor, Assistant Curriculum Director and most recently as the Program Director for St. Anne in Tomball. She is looking forward to another great summer cultivating the gifts and talents of the Scholars.

Mrs. Shamas currently serves as the Principal of St. Anne Catholic School in Tomball. She graduated with a B.A. in Elementary Education from the University of New Orleans and an M. Ed. in Educational Leadership from the University of St. Thomas. She is currently working on her doctorate in Ethical Leadership at the University of St. Thomas. DECATS is a family affair for Mrs. Shamas. Both of her children attended DECATS and have continued to be a part of the program each summer. In her spare time, Mrs. Shamas enjoys reading, traveling, and spending time with her family.

Mr. Seth Dalton
Assistant Program Director

Mr. Seth Dalton is thrilled to return to DECATS for his 15th year! Mr. Dalton first joined the program in 2006 as a Scholar and has since participated as a Graduate Assistant, Junior Mentor, Mentor and most recently Assistant Program Director. He looks forward to another summer of enrichment and discovery through the guidance of the DECATS methodology.

Mr. Dalton received a Bachelor of Arts in Music Theory and a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from the University of Rochester. He is currently the Assistant Music Director at Our Mother of Sorrows and Holy Cross Parishes in Rochester, New York, and is a piano accompanist for many school districts throughout the city. He is also an avid musical theater artist, music directing a number of productions over the last few years. Originally from Houston, Mr. Dalton always reserves the month of June to return home and continue giving back to the DECATS program to which he owes so much.


Mr. Chris Siemann, MA
Program Director

Mr. Chris Siemann has been a part of DECATS since 2018, serving as a mentor before taking on the role of Program Director on Strake Jesuit’s campus. He is looking forward to a summer full of joy, learning and friendship.

Mr. Siemann has taught Theology at Strake Jesuit since 2015. He is originally from the Chicago suburbs and graduated with a B.A. in Theology from the University of Notre Dame. He also holds an M.A. in Theology from the University of Notre Dame after serving in the Echo Teaching Theology program. Mr. Siemann loves spending his free time with his beautiful wife and two wonderful children who all bring him so much joy and fulfillment.

Ms. Ruth Lim
Assistant Program Director

Mrs. Ruth Lim joined DECATS as a mentor in 2013. She began her new teaching career at the same time as joining DECATS, and this program became the best formation for her teaching craft. The methodology and care for scholars aligned with her hopes in her classroom. She began her service to the program as an Assistant Program Director in 2023.

Mrs. Lim attended the University of Houston where she received a bachelor’s in interdisciplinary studies and her teaching certification in 2012. From there, Mrs. Lim went to the University of St. Thomas to complete a master’s degree in educational leadership along with a principalship certification in 2014. She began her teaching career in the Catholic school system at St. Mary’s in League City and St. Francis de Sales before joining Clear Creek ISD in 2021. She is currently teaching kindergarten and loves enjoying her summers with such bright and shining scholars, who are a bit older. In her free time, Mrs. Lim enjoys spending time with her fantastic husband and son!

Mrs. Karen Rossetti
Assistant Program Director

Mrs. Karen Rossetti joined the DECATS team in 2011. She served as a Mentor for five years and has been an Assistant Director since 2016. Karen is thankful for the methodology that she has learned through the DECATS program and how it has completely transformed her teaching over the years. She grew up in Houston, in the Bear Creek area, and attended Cy-Fair schools.

Mrs. Rossetti received her English degree and secondary teaching certification from Texas A&M University and teaches eighth grade English Language Arts for Fort Bend ISD. In her free time, Karen enjoys spending time with her husband and two daughters, reading, and spending time with friends. She is excited to see all of the new discoveries that will happen at DECATS each year!

Ms. Lindsay Rust
Assistant Program Director

Ms. Lindsay Rust is excited to be back for another summer at DECATS. She started in the program as a scholar in 2007, served as a Graduate Assistant, Junior Mentor, Mentor, and now Assistant Program Director! DECATS has become an important part of her life and she looks forward to working with Scholars every year!

Ms. Rust attended Texas A&M University and graduated in 2017 with her Bachelors in Education. In 2022, she got her Master’s degree in Educational Leadership. The experiences she has had throughout her time with the program has truly shaped her into the teacher she is today. She has been teaching for 7 years in Cy-Fair ISD and is currently teaching 4th grade. In her free time, Ms. Rust enjoys reading, spending time with friends and family, and watching the Houston Astros!


Ali Rust
Ali RustBusiness Manager
Charley Tauer
Charley TauerDevelopment Manager