Executive Team
Corpus Christi
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 Adviser for our program, supporting Directors in their work on our campuses. For 14 years, she was the previous Flagship Program Director and host Principal at St. Rose of Lima Catholic School.

As the Assistant Superintendent of Operational Vitality for our Catholic Schools, Mrs. Stephen recruits, trains and inspires teachers and principals in professional development programs and webinars. Mrs. Stephen earned her M.Ed. in Curriculum & Instruction in Gifted and Talented Education. As a liaison to Catholic 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.

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 Staff Development Department in the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District and has 22 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 student 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 and precious 17-year-old daughter, Bria, a DECATS Graduate Assistant!  Ms. Dixon is excited for this summer’s program, The Strength Within, 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.


Lucy Aldrich
Lucy AldrichMentor
Joanna Baker
Joanna BakerMentor
Betty Bouley
Betty BouleyMentor
Nickie Bounds
Nickie BoundsMentor
Liz Carbonneau
Liz CarbonneauMentor
Rita Davidek
Rita DavidekNurse
Karin Diaz
Karin DiazNurse
Bria Dixon
Bria DixonOffice Manager
Celena Farley
Celena FarleyMentor
Ryan Ferrugia
Ryan FerrugiaMentor
Geremy Flournoy
Geremy FlournoyMentor
Judy Flusche
Judy FluscheMentor
Carol Glaser
Carol GlaserMentor
Javi Guerra
Javi GuerraJunior Mentor
Isai Gutierrez
Isai GutierrezMentor
Monica Gutierrez
Monica GutierrezMentor
Cody House
Cody HouseMentor
Becky Howell
Becky HowellMentor
Sarah Iglesias
Sarah IglesiasMentor
Lisa Lenzy
Lisa LenzyMentor
Melissa Martinez
Melissa MartinezMentor
Beth O'Neal
Beth O'NealMentor
Lupe Palacios
Lupe PalaciosMentor
Carl Polk
Carl PolkMentor
Jessica Reed
Jessica ReedMentor
Brian Ross
Brian RossMentor
Sydney Thomson
Sydney ThomsonMentor
Suzanne Truax
Suzanne TruaxNurse
Michael Vargas
Michael VargasTechnology Coordinator
Leigh Woods
Leigh WoodsOffice Manager
Chris Yeager
Chris YeagerMentor


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.

Ms. Julie Berg
Assistant Program Director

Ms. Julie Berg is delighted to serve as Assistant Program Director at St. Anne for the fourth year. She started as a Mentor in 2012 and looks forward to DECATS every summer.

Ms. Berg has been teaching for 26 years and currently teaches sixth grade social studies and science at Collins Intermediate in The Woodlands.

Ms. Berg attended University of North Texas where she received her Bachelors in Interdisciplinary Studies in 1996. She has two boys, Carson and Cooper, who keep her very busy with their football schedules. She loves to read, travel and create shirt designs during her free time – and she can’t wait to see all the Scholars this summer.

Seth Dalton

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.


Anna Ashy
Anna AshyJunior Mentor
Janiceal Bell
Janiceal BellMentor
Kaleigh Boullard
Kaleigh BoullardMentor
Brandon Bridger
Brandon BridgerMentor
Meris Bridger
Meris BridgerMentor
Charity Butler
Charity ButlerMentor
Tramayne Dye
Tramayne DyeMentor
Suzanne Ettman
Suzanne EttmanMentor
Silvia Gonzalez
Silvia GonzalezOffice Manager
Kim Lanthier
Kim LanthierNurse
Duke Marshall
Duke MarshallMentor
Jennifer Marshall
Jennifer MarshallMentor
Cristofer Mattern
Cristofer MatternMentor
Scott Muckelroy
Scott MuckelroyMentor
Leslie Pavlock
Leslie PavlockNurse
Roberta Puzon
Roberta PuzonMentor
Peter Ramirez
Peter RamirezMentor
Sissy Shamas
Sissy ShamasOffice Manager
Vhirshante Thompson
Vhirshante ThompsonMentor
Amy Tinder
Amy TinderMentor


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 and, as of 2019, will serve as the Theology Department Chair. 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 sharing Houston with his beautiful wife and cannot thank her enough for the endless support she provides as he pursues his vocation!

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. Elizabeth Strange
Assistant Program Director

Ms. Elizabeth Strange joined DECATS as a mentor in 2016, and fell in love with the pedagogy and energy of the program. She stepped into the role of Assistant Program director in 2019, and has loved every minute of it. The mentors, scholars and atmosphere at DECATS is unmatched, and this program always brings her so much joy each summer.

Ms. Strange earned a B.S. in Secondary Education: English at Baylor University. She joined Fort Bend ISD as a teacher in 2010 because she knew that she wanted to help bring the change she wished to see in the world. Throughout her career, she has sponsored leadership programs, coached swimming and been the department chair for the English Department. She has been honored to receive the title Teacher of the Year, first, at her middle school in 2015, and then again at her high school in 2021. She loves her job, and stays in education because of the relationships she gets to build with students, and the growth she sees in their character, work ethic and confidence.


Kari Barrett
Kari BarrettMentor
Felicia Blair
Felicia BlairMentor
Jennifer Box
Jennifer BoxMentor
Gina Breland
Gina BrelandMentor
Cason Broers
Cason BroersMentor
Mary Browder
Mary BrowderMentor
Lauren Burkholder
Lauren BurkholderOffice Manager
Maleeya Coleman
Maleeya ColemanMentor
Lauren Contreras
Lauren ContrerasMentor
Susie Croes-Barone
Susie Croes-BaroneMentor
Susan Davis
Susan DavisMentor
Brittany Eureste
Brittany EuresteMentor
Traci Forward
Traci ForwardMentor
Stephanie Gaiser
Stephanie GaiserMentor
Bill Holden
Bill HoldenMentor
Nick Johnson
Nick JohnsonMentor
Olivia Johnson
Olivia JohnsonMentor
Kathleen Jones
Kathleen JonesMentor
Grace Kwong
Grace KwongMentor
Christopher Lee
Christopher LeeMentor
Ruth Lim
Ruth LimMentor
Suzanne Lucas
Suzanne LucasMentor
Molly Macfarlane
Molly MacfarlaneMentor
Samantha McBride
Samantha McBrideMentor
Christine McGregor
Christine McGregorMentor
Jessica Mitchell
Jessica MitchellMentor
Laryssa Nesbit
Laryssa NesbitMentor
Anh-Thu Nguyen
Anh-Thu NguyenMentor
Jermaine Philps
Jermaine PhilpsMentor
David Pikler
David PiklerMentor
Danielle Polzer
Danielle PolzerMentor
Gabrielle Rabosa
Gabrielle RabosaNurse
Beth Rady
Beth RadyMentor
Brittany Revia
Brittany ReviaMentor
Alex Rodriquez
Alex RodriquezOffice Manager
Lindsay Rust
Lindsay RustMentor
Tamara Shurtleff
Tamara ShurtleffMentor
Miriam Soto
Miriam SotoMentor
Daniel Strange
Daniel StrangeMentor
Linda Toerner
Linda ToernerNurse
Meredith Zickert
Meredith ZickertMentor


Ali Rust
Ali RustBusiness Manager
Charley Tauer
Charley TauerDevelopment Manager