Debbi Scarborough – Headmaster

Debbi and her husband Matthew founded Cumberland Academy of Georgia after a frustrating battle of searching for the right school for their son Steven who has Asperger’s. From 2007 to present, Mrs. Scarborough has been the Headmaster and served on the Board of Directors for this non-profit, special needs school that focuses on children with high functioning Autism, ADD, and ADHD. She has built the academy from one student to now over 100, and continues to run the day to day operations. Cumberland has received full accreditations from Southern Association of Colleges & Schools / Council on Accreditation & School Improvement (SACS / CASI) and Georgia Accrediting Commission (GAC). Prior to beginning Cumberland Academy of Georgia, Mrs. Scarborough started a national executive search firm over thirty years ago. Kreisler & Associates, LLC has been listed as one of the top ten Executive Search firms in Atlanta for the past ten years. In 2009 she decided to sell her business and focus on building Cumberland. 

Happily married over 20 years, Matthew and Debbi are the proud parents of two boys, Steven and Sam.  With a strong sense of civic pride, they have been involved in numerous charities throughout Georgia.  Mrs. Scarborough has been on the Board of Directors for the March of Dimes for over 15 years. She has published articles about autism and has been a guest speaker as an authority on Asperger’s.

Doug Long – Principal

Doug Long graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University (Richmond, Va.) in 1986 with a Bachelor of Music Education degree. He began his teaching career in 1988 at Dean Rusk Middle School (Canton, Ga.), as a band director. During his tenure in Cherokee County he taught band and general music at the high school and elementary levels. During this time he earned a Masters of Music Education from VanderCook College of Music (Chicago, Ill.) and Specialist in Education in Administration from Northwestern State University (Natchitoches, La.). In 2000, Mr. Long took an administrative position as Assistant Principal at Cass Middle School (Cartersville, Ga.). He was the administrator for Special Education while at Cass. After six years, he then became Principal of Southeast Elementary School (Rome, Ga.). Southeast Elementary served the Rome City Schools elementary autistic population, as well as mildly and moderately impaired elementary students. In 2011,  Mr. Long was at Dallas Elementary as the music specialist until 2017.

Mr. Long is married to Lisa Long and they have two children, Nigel and Josie. He enjoys playing tennis year round in the ALTA leagues. He has been a soccer and football referee for 10 years and is a trustee of the Etowah Valley Soccer Officials Association.

Terri Brooks – Director of Admissions

Terri Brooks joined Cumberland in January 2011 with over 30 years’ experience in education.  She spent 18 ½ years at Georgia Tech as an administrator in the School of Industrial and Systems Engineering.  She resigned to raise her children after the death of her husband in 1993.  Over the course of the next 13 years Mrs. Brooks worked in various capacities at The Walker School, where her children attended.  She substituted in the classroom, the various offices (including Admissions) and worked as a parent volunteer.   When the assistant in the admissions office became quite ill, Terri substituted and grew to love it.  In 2006, Mrs. Brooks accepted a position in the Admissions office at Brandon Hall School.  She began as an assistant, later served as Interim Director of Admissions and was subsequently offered the position of Director. Mrs. Brooks has been married to her current husband, Tony, since 2000.  Together they have 5 children and 5 grandchildren.  Tony is a commercial real estate broker and owns his own firm.  They reside in Canton.  Terri’s passion is ballroom dance.  During the time her children attended The Walker School, Mrs. Brooks became an avid ballroom dancer, competing on a pro-am level frequently across the country.  Both of her children became interested in ballroom dancing as well, and her daughter also became a competitor.  Mrs. Brooks loves to watch Dancing with the Stars.  She actually knew a couple of the professional dancers on the show and competed against their amateur partners for several years.

Floyd Bushey – Director of Operations

Floyd Bushey has a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Political Science and International Relations from Elmira College, as well as a Master’s of Science Degree in Education from Alfred University in Alfred, New York.   Mr. Bushey worked for 20 years at Emory University working in both Student Life Development and University Relations. He brings both his business experience and academic acumen to Cumberland. Mr. Bushey started with Cumberland when it began in 2007 and manages all aspects of the day-to-day operations. He will ensure the quality of excellence is maintained at Cumberland, as well as research innovative ways to keep Cumberland on the cutting edge of education and technology.  Mr. Bushey is married and has two children.

Kelli Ritter, Ph.D., LPC, NCC – Advisor/Counseling Services

The Founder and President of Effective Parenting, LLC in Atlanta, Dr. Ritter earned her Ph.D. in counseling from Georgia State University where she specialized in child and family counseling.  Dr. Ritter is trained as a play therapist with many years of experience and research in child and family therapy.  She possesses a unique approach to helping families by utilizing concepts and skills from both Play Therapy, Individual Psychology, and Positive Psychology.

Dr. Ritter inspires parents to make the most of play with their children. Through her classes, workshops and products, Dr. Ritter’s FEEL Method helps parents by engendering confidence in, and control over, their own parenting style.  Dr. Ritter’s parenting book & DVD, Come Play with Me!, illustrates her true passion for working with parents, caregivers, and teachers to enhance relationships with children.  Dr. Ritter is also an inspiring public speaker and presenter.

Valerie Laura – CFO

Valerie Laura grew up just north of Nashville, Tennessee in the small town of Hendersonville. She attended Western Kentucky University where she received her Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting. After graduating, Ms. Laura traveled all over Europe with her best friend for just over a year. Upon returning to the States she started her accounting/finance career working for Ingram Entertainment Inc. located just outside of Nashville. Ms. Laura worked for Ingram for six years as Accountant, Financial Analyst to Senior Financial Analyst.

In 2004 Ms. Laura left Nashville and moved to Atlanta to be closer to her sister and nephews. In Atlanta, she worked as a Financial Analyst in the Planning, Strategy, and Finance Group for the North American headquarters of Randstad. She worked for Randstad North America for two years before joining Debbi’s team at Kreisler & Associates, LLC as the Director of Accounting & Finance.

In 2007, Ms. Laura assisted Debbi in starting Cumberland Academy of Georgia. She has been with the school since the beginning and has seen it grown by leaps and bounds. As CFO of Cumberland, Ms. Laura is responsible for all financial and fiscal aspects. She provides leadership and coordination in the administrative, business planning, accounting, and budgeting efforts.

Jeff Twomley – Director of Finance

Jeff grew up in southwestern Michigan and attended Indiana Academy, a boarding high school, where he met his future wife, Kim.  He earned a Finance degree from Michigan State University and soon moved to Atlanta, working as the controller for a die manufacturer.  After 17 years, he accepted the Treasurer position at Bass Memorial Academy in Mississippi, working there 7 years while earning an MBA from the University of Southern Mississippi.  He then moved to Virginia and worked as VP of Finance at Shenandoah Valley Academy for 5-1/2 years. Needing to be closer to family (3 children and 3 grandchildren), Jeff & Kim relocated back to Atlanta in 2015.

An avid sports enthusiast, Mr. Twomley enjoys golfing and playing softball. Music plays a major role in his life. Since high school, he has sung in various groups and choirs, and currently plays trombone in Zephyr Instrumental…a 21st century orchestra.

Haley Scarborough – CFGO Emeritus, Canine Therapy

Sweet Haley was the founder for our canine therapy program.  She began working when Cumberland was one student and watched as the school grew to 100 students. Students loved working with Haley and she was tremendously successful in her work with the special needs student population. She will always be remembered and Cumberland students are awaiting her successor in the canine therapy program. 


Lucky Scarborough – CFGO, Canine Therapy

Lucky is a rescue dog that was adopted by the Scarborough family in the summer of 2017. He is currently in the process of being trained, yet has already proved to be an enormous emotional support for our students. We welcome Lucky as the newest member of our school.

Val Schwan, LPC, NCC, MA- Director of Counseling Services

Val Schwan, LAPC, NCC earned her M.A. in Community Counseling from Argosy University and holds a B.S. in Business from Arizona State University.

Val’s work experience includes individual and small group counseling with children and adolescents in the school setting as well as in private practice. She is experienced in helping students with tools for their social and emotional needs that will enable them to thrive. Val enjoys the unique gifts and characteristics of each child and works from a child-centered and strength-based framework.  She provides a supportive environment that encourages students to reach their highest potential academically, emotionally and behaviorally. She is also a certified Positive Discipline Parent Educator who helps parents with strategies to navigate difficult parenting challenges.

Samantha Wheeler- Administrative Assistant

Samantha Wheeler was born in Lee, Massachusetts and grew up in Warner Robins, Georgia with her mom, dad and three siblings.  In 2015 she graduated from Valdosta State University with a Bachelors of Business Administration in Marketing.  After graduation, she moved to Atlanta where she began working at Lee & Associates as a Research Coordinator. Samantha left that position just after a year to pursue her dreams as an administrator in the education system.  In the spring of 2017 she joined the Cumberland team and currently assists the front office. Samantha resides in Old Fourth Ward and enjoys rooting for the New England Patriots, biking, tennis, and yoga.

Tracy Wilbanks – Development Advisor

Tracy Wilbanks joined Cumberland in February of 2013.  She is a non-profit leader with more than 24 years’ experience in fundraising and development. Ms. Wilbanks has a proven track record in long range fundraising planning. She served a variety of fundraising and development roles with the March of Dimes for 20 years.  Most recently Ms. Wilbanks served as the Southeast Region Director for Autism Speaks, partnering with staff and volunteers in the Southeast to implement fundraising campaigns and mission initiatives. She developed region-wide strategic plans for region growth to include revenue, sponsorship, and volunteer development.  Ms. Wilbanks attended the University of Georgia.  She and her husband, Allen, are both native Atlantans and currently live in Cobb County.  They have one son, Hunter, a recent college graduate.

Shari Wright – Director of Advancement, Office Management

Shari Wright graduated from Furman University with a B.S in Business and a minor in French.  After college, Ms. Wright began her career in sales and marketing with Turner Broadcasting.  She spent several years selling CNN, Headline News, TNT and Cartoon Network to cable systems across the country.  From Turner, Ms. Wright accepted a position at a regional sports network in Detroit.  She spent several years working for various broadcasting entities before moving to Manhattan Beach, California and raising a family.

Ms. Wright began to volunteer in various education fields.  Using her French background, she began working in a public school French immersion program in Salt Lake City.  From there she was asked to help students in a reading retentive program for Canyons School District through an AmeriCorps program.  Ms. Wright moved her family to Atlanta then began working at Cumberland.

Rodney Carlock- Athletic & Project Coordinator

Rodney Carlock came to Cumberland in 2014 from Shreiner Academy in Marietta.   Rodney majored in Audio Production at the Art Institute of Atlanta and uses his skills in many ways at Cumberland. Rodney works in IT support, building maintenance, coaching, and teaching.  Mr. “C”, as the students call him, works with students in Audio & Film Production and is a gifted basketball coach. Rodney also developed Cumberland basketball clinics and a summer camp sports week.  In his spare time, he enjoys competing in independent film festivals and has won multiple awards in film.  Rodney grew up In St. Louis, MO and Hiram, GA.  He is married to Heather, and they have a son and a daughter.

Amy Abramson- Teacher

Amy Abramson has taught for 20 years in both the public and private school arenas, including a long tenure with Fulton County, before teaching at McGinnis Woods Country Day and Hayden’s Way. She also runs her own tutoring business, The 5 O’ClockScholar. A native Atlantan who grew up in Dunwoody, she now resides in Johns Creek with her husband, Gary,  son, Noah, and her two precious crazy dogs, Scooter and Lena. Ms. Amy attended the University of Alabama and graduated from Georgia State University in 1995. She is certified in Elementary Education and Special Education. She holds several positions with the Doe Network, an organization that helps law enforcement solve missing person cold cases and is proud of her involvement with Doe since 2001. She has also been a Cub Scout den leader, taught religious school classes and been the coordinator for historical education for the Society for Creative Anachronism. She adores teaching writing, language arts and history!

A lifelong learner, Ms. Amy believes that education is a calling, not a job, and loves absolutely every minute of teaching! When not teaching, you can find Ms. Amy working on her writing, photography, various craft projects, collecting vast amounts of musical trivia, researching genealogy, solving mysteries, cooking or planning her next big project.

Mihkel Allpere – Teacher/Experiential Learning Coordinator

Mihkel Allpere joined Cumberland for the 2013/14 academic year.  He was raised in Austria and then spent his adolescence in the Atlanta area. He is a graduate of the Atlanta International School and attended Denison University where he graduated with a Bachelor’s of Arts in Environmental Studies with an interdisciplinary concentration in Education. He then began teaching at outdoor schools in California and the Great Smoky Mountains. In 2005, Mr. Allpere returned to Atlanta to become one of the first members of the Georgia Aquarium’s education team building the curriculum for visiting school students from K-12. While working at the Aquarium, Mr. Allpere developed curriculum for special needs students in the summer camp program and field trips and decided to move back into the classroom to be able to work with students on a longer term basis. More recently, he has served as a Math and Science teacher for students with ADD and on the Autism Spectrum. Since joining Cumberland Academy of Georgia, he spearheaded the Science department and other experiential learning projects like the trout hatchery and learning garden program which was launched through a grant with the Captain Planet Foundation.

Mary Bishop – Teacher

Mary Bishop has eight years of teaching experience, all at Cumberland.  Mrs. Bishop graduated with an art history degree from Berry College, where she met her husband of three years.  Mrs. Bishop completed her master’s degree in special education from Valdosta State University in May of 2014.  A voracious reader, Mrs. Bishop enjoys sharing her passion for young adult literature with her students.  In her free time Mrs. Bishop enjoys hiking trips, cheering for the Pittsburgh Steelers, reading young adult fiction, and spending time with her son, Augustus, who was born in February.

Tina Burgess – Teacher

Tina Burgess has been working in the education field for the last eight years. Mrs. Burgess began working as a paraeducator in a Title I school in Maryland where she was introduced to teaching students with severe and profound special needs. It was there that she developed a passion for those who learned differently and has been working in the field ever since.

Mrs. Burgess graduated from Georgia State University with a Bachelors degree in English, with a secondary education concentration in 2006. Mrs. Burgess then went on to obtain a Masters degree in Human Services/Marriage and Family Therapy from Liberty University in 2013.

Mrs. Burgess was born in Jamaica but moved to New York where she lived most of her life. While attending the high school for performing arts, she met her husband, Reynard. They along with their two children, Peter, 14, and Nadya, 6 live in Dunwoody with two quirky cats.

When not in a classroom, Mrs. Burgess spends her time as a mental health advocate and a mentor for teens in her church. She enjoys hobbies such as woodworking, photography and various arts and craft.  

Stuart Downs – Teacher

Stuart graduated from Dartmouth College with a degree in Mathematics. He has been teaching math in the Atlanta area for over 10 years. When not in the classroom, Mr. Downs works with students in a private tutor setting to assist them in preparing for the SAT, ACT and various track classes. Although Math is his first passion, he enjoys playing music and has also coached ultimate frisbee extensively.   Of note, in 2006 he coached the UGA Bulldogs to the National semifinals!  Stuart is also an active volunteer with an organization promoting peace and conflict resolution through ultimate frisbee play.

Peter Dyer – Computer Science Teacher

Entrepreneur and educator Peter Dyer was born and raised in London, England and came to the United States as part of the Virgin team of companies. After a successful career in music business management, Peter became involved in educating students with unique needs through the Howard School, where he was both teacher and later, Director of Technology.  

Peter has undergraduate degrees in Special Education and Art from University of Roehampton, and is a certified Microsoft Systems engineer.  After leaving The Howard School to work as an education writer at CNN Newsroom, Peter joined The Galloway School as the Educational Technology Coordinator, and subsequently Director of Innovation and the Arts, he has applied this combination of skills in a long-term career of integrating technology for students with different learning styles.

Joanne Lipshultz – Teacher

Joanne Barrington Lipshutz (Mrs. L.) earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education from Washington University in St. Louis, and her Master’s Degree in Jewish Education.  She has been working in the field of education, in the Atlanta area, since 1988.  Ms. Lipshutz has worked with the special needs programs at the Weber High School, and she worked with special needs students in kindergarten through 8th grade at the Amit school.  Teaching at Cumberland Academy since 2016, Ms. “L” is excited to be moving to the Navigators (middle school).

Beth McCracken – Career Prep Teacher

After graduating from the Art Institute of Atlanta School of Culinary Arts and working in bakeries and corporate aircraft catering Ms. McCracken sought a different challenge. She attended Kennesaw State University and graduated with honors earning a B.S. in Human Services with a concentration in Non-Profit Management and Fundraising.  She then enrolled at Mercer University to receive a Masters of Art in Teaching. 

Ms. McCracken taught at a special needs school before beginning at Cumberland last year. She began working with the younger students and is now teaching the Career Prep program.  

During her free time, Ms. McCracken enjoys baking to relax, reading to relax and has volunteered with Camp Wannaklot, a camp for kids with bleeding disorders,  for 15 summers. 

Brandon Jones – P.E. Teacher/Coach

Brandon Jones was born and raised in Georgia and attended Ohio University in Athens, Ohio where he received his degree in Recreation Management. During his college career, he played football and was also team captain for the Bobcats. After college, he went on to play Arena Football for a few years before beginning his coaching and training career. Brandon strongly believes in mentoring youth and assisting in their athletic development. During his transition from playing to coaching, he started G.R.I.N.D., LLC in which he speaks to schools and various groups not only on the development of their athletic skills but also empowering them to obtain the keys to be successful in the game of life and to become productive citizens. Brandon is now physical education teacher, coach and mentor to the Cumberland student body. 

Jennifer Liang – Teacher/Instructional Technology Specialist

Jennifer Liang graduated from Georgia State University in 2005 with her bachelor’s in middle childhood education and has completed coursework towards a master’s degree in special education. She has taught Language Arts, Reading, Science and Social Studies at Amana Academy, The Cottage School and The Orion School. She also used Expeditionary Learning methods while at these schools. A lifelong fan of science fiction and fantasy, Jennifer is the Chair of JordanCon and the current President of the Southern Fandom Confederation, the South’s oldest regional science fiction fan club.  Ms. Liang has been a featured presenter at WorldCon, MiniCon, LibertyCon and the North American Science Fiction Convention and served as a volunteer programming Director at Dragon*Con for over a decade. Ms. Liang has also been featured as a presenter for the Georgia Independent School Association on the topics of “Multi-Media in the Social Studies Classroom” and “Board Games, Role-playing and Simulations for the Social Studies Classroom.” She blogs about local restaurants, recipes, and sustainable living as “Northside Food”.

Laurie Mensing – Navigator Lead Teacher/Curriculum and Scheduling Coordinator

Autism Spectrum Disorders became Ms. Mensing’s passion after spending a summer as a camp counselor at a specials needs camp.  Ms. Mensing returned to the University of Georgia that fall and changed her major to Special Education.  Since then Ms. Mensing has earned both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Special Education from UGA and her Specialist Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Piedmont College. Ms. Mensing has completed TEACCH, ABA, and Orton-Gillingham workshops and training.  Most recently, she has accepted the challenge of teaching middle school mathematics while reducing math anxiety and increasing independence.  As Ms. Mensing starts her 19th year of teaching and 8th year at Cumberland, she remains excited by the challenges that each individual must overcome to reach their true potential.  Ms. Mensing strives to teach her students academic, social, and behavioral skills that will allow them to experience success in all future endeavors.

Barbra Morgan- Pioneer Coordinator/Teacher

Barbra Morgan is a graduate of The Ohio State University. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education and a Master’s Degree in Education. Mrs. Morgan is certified in Orton-Gillingham and has been trained to instruct students using the Lindamood- Bell program. She has twelve years of teaching experience which include both Elementary and Middle School. Throughout this time she has spent a considerable amount of time working with students with various disabilities, including those with Dyslexia, Autism, ADD/ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome, and other learning challenges. These experiences have created her into a patient, and multifaceted individual, who takes each student’s gift and helps them to blossom. Mrs. Morgan truly believes that every student is precious and has special gifts and talents.

Anisiha N. Nyarotho- Art Teacher

Anisiha N. Nyarotho is a professional interior designer that loves giving back to students by teaching them how to draw, create, and design.  She graduated from the University of Chicago where she took every art class her schedule would allow. Although she went on to advocate for children as a social worker for approximately 10 years, she knew she was born to be an artist. Thus, after enrolling in the University of Wisconsin-Madison she earned another degree in interior architecture: environments, textiles, and design.

Before moving to the Atlanta area to start her own design business, Amare’ Designs, LLC., she worked with an award winning architectural firm in Middleton, Wisconsin.  Now, in her third year of teaching art and design in Atlanta area schools, she looks forward to helping students learn and apply the basic principles of art and design as they develop their own aesthetic.

Alison Ross- English Teacher

Alison Ross has been an English teacher for 18 years in the public and private school arenas at the high school and college levels. She is passionate about instructing literature and writing to students from many different backgrounds and learning profiles, including special education students.Alison’s BA degree is in both English and Spanish, and she has lived in southern Spain twice. A writer and editor, Alison has an MFA in Creative Writing. Her poetry has been nominated for the Best of the Net, and she was recently a featured reader for a New York City poetry series. Alison writes editorials and book and music reviews for the small and larger presses. In addition to writing, Alison loves reading, art, music, helping the homeless, swimming, hiking, traveling, and, most of all, cuddling with her two feisty felines.

Melissa Sorensen- Music Therapy

Melissa Sorensen is a licensed, board-certified music therapist from Columbus, GA, currently practicing in the greater Atlanta area. She has been employed by The George Center for Music Therapy since July 2015, working primarily with older adults and kids with special needs. She graduated from the University of Georgia in May of 2014 with a Bachelor’s in Music Therapy and completed a 6 month internship at Trident Medical Center before settling down in Atlanta. She also currently just completed training to be a NICU Music Therapist. When she’s not making music, Melissa loves to drink coffee, workout, and explore new places in Atlanta!

Nicole Varkey- Teacher

Nicole Varkey grew up north of Atlanta in Snellville. She is a graduate of Georgia State University with degrees in Biology (B.S.), Psychology (B.S.), and Neurobiology and Behavior (M.S.). It was during her undergraduate studies, she realized that she had an interest in genetics, more specifically their contribution to behavior. While pursuing her M.S. she became increasingly interested in neurodevelopmental disorders, especially autism. Upon graduation, she began interning at the Marcus Autism Center in Atlanta and was a member of the behavioral analysis research team. It was while there, she learned of a position opening at Cumberland and jumped at the opportunity because she knew she wanted to work with these unique and amazing children.

Nicole currently lives in Inman Park. She enjoys traveling (17 countries so far and counting), nature, architecture, music, rewatching the entire series of The Office and Friends over and over again, reading, and eating. 

Michelle Zierten- Explorer Coordinator/Teacher

With over 25 years as an educator, Michelle Zieten holds a BS degree in Education, grades P-12. Ms. Zierten also holds a Masters degree in Education, Supervision and Leadership. She has worked in several school settings including both the private and public sector, more recently as a principal in a private school for students with mild to moderate learning differences.  Ms. Zierten is trained in Orton Gillingham Level 1 and holds a certification in Elementary education, a certification in Early Childhood Education, three Middle Years certifications, a National Administrative Credential, a Georgia Directors Certification and a Georgia Gifted Educational Endorsement. Additionally, she is credentialed as a Level II administrator for the International Baccalaureate/PYP program. She has lived in Atlanta for over 20 years, has two dogs and has recently celebrated the high school graduation of her daughter.