The Opportunity Schools Story

The Opportunity Program was born out of a deeply impassioned concern.  In 1990, the grandmother of a nine year old girl who was diagnosed with multiple learning challenges, had a sincere interest in helping her overcome her educational struggles and provided a generous grant to initiate The Opportunity Program. Through the leadership of a visionary parent, teacher, and principal at Grace Christian School in Cypress, CA, The Opportunity Program has been impacting the lives of students for over 19 years.

The Opportunity Program is a research-based adaptive system of learning that emphasizes a comprehensive, 'whole-person', strength-based approach. The Opportunity Program uses nationally acclaimed, research based, multi-sensory interventions. These programs utilize the auditory, kinesthetic, and visual pathways simultaneously. These instructional methods are tailored and adapted to each child's individual learning styles and needs. The Opportunity Program is a small group pull-out program supplemented with general education support throughout the rest of the student's academic day.

The Opportunity Program has access to qualified support personnel such as speech and language therapists, educational psychologists, and occupational therapists. Since 1990, hundreds of students have had their academic competency and self-confidence dramatically improved through the services of The Opportunity Program.  

Meet Our Executive Staff

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As the founder and Executive Director of Opportunity Schools, Louise Ukleja has an ongoing passion for creating public awareness of the importance of meeting the needs of students with challenges.

Louise’s personal mission is “to ignite potential” and she has incorporated it into her leadership role at Opportunity Schools, as well as a variety of other venues in the nonprofit world.

 

Louise serves as Governing Council Chair of the Ukleja Center for Ethical Leadership and as a member of the 49er Foundation Board, both at California State University, Long Beach. She is also actively involved with Memorial Hospital in Long Beach and serves on their Foundation Board.

Louise is a board member for The Winston School, a private college preparatory school for students with learning challenges.

Currently, Louise has reconnected with the management of GNC and is involved in bringing the family legacy back into the current corporate culture. To honor her father, she is involved in launching the Shakarian School of Innovation & Entrepreneurship at CSULB.

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Prior to joining Opportunity Schools staff, Joanne Foland, formerly served as Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services for the Los Alamitos Unified School District; and as Director of Special Education for Los Alamitos. She received her Advanced Doctoral Degree in Education, following a three year longitudinal study on the Effects of Positive Peer Intervention on Social Integration in Students with Autism. Joanne has well over thirty years experience in education. She has instructed at all grade levels before becoming an administrator in 1976.

Joanne has taught at Azusa Pacific University as an Adjunct Professor for the Master of Arts program in both the Educational Administration and Advanced Studies Department and will continue in that role.

Joanne retired from the public school system in June 2008 and has refocused on a very active and meaningful new career role as Consulting Director of Education and Satellite Support Services for Opportunity Schools. She offers Educational consultation and on-site support, professional development, classroom observation, student assessments, and coordination between administration and staff on all educational support.

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With a strong background in marketing and public relations, Cathy Hollenbeck brings more than 25 years of experience in business management, media relations and writing to her role as Managing Director of Opportunity Schools.  

 

Cathy’s marketing and communication skills are key in expanding the reach and presence of Opportunity Schools in the Southern California academic landscape, and maintaining our organization’s position as the leading nonprofit working with students                           with learning challenges.

 

From a family of educators, Cathy’s academic path took her to the University of Southern California, where she graduated with a degree in journalism. Prior to joining Opportunity Schools, Cathy was the Editorial and Public Relations Director at DPL Press, Inc., a multi-platform publishing company covering personal finance and consumer issues. Cathy lives with her husband, Roger—a teacher, in Cypress, CA.

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Meet Our Board of Directors

As the founder and Executive Director of Opportunity Schools, a nonprofit that enables private schools to meet the educational needs of students with learning disabilities, Louise Ukleja has an ongoing passion for creating public awareness of the importance of meeting the needs of these students.

Her initial motivation for founding Opportunity Schools was a desire to create an appropriate educational environment for her daughter Michelle, who had been diagnosed with multiple learning challenges. Louise's personal mission is "to ignite potential" and she has incorporated it into her leadership role at Opportunity Schools, as well as a variety of other venues in the nonprofit world.

Louise enjoys being an active volunteer and philanthropist in Long Beach, a community which she feels is the best kept secret in Southern California. She serves as Governing Council Chair of the Ukleja Center for Ethical Leadership and as a member of the 49er Foundation Board of Directors, both at California State University, Long Beach. Louise is also a board member for The Winston School, a private college preparatory school for students with learning challenges.

Louise was the keynote speaker at a recent graduation ceremony at The Winston School. The title of her address was "If the Elevator to Success Isn't Working, Don't Forget the Stairs." Louise is truly a personification of this philosophy. She never gives up, is positive, resilient, and gives back to society in any way she can.

Louise earned a B.A. degree in Business Administration from Ohio University. She stays current in her field by regularly attending educational conferences related to learning and the brain.

Jody Thomason has served in an advisory capacity with Opportunity Schools since its inception.  He is a Certified Financial Planner and President of J.J. Thomason, Inc., a financial services company established in 1977.  Prior to forming his investment firm he spent 19 years in banking, most recently as President and Chief Executive Officer of a regional bank.

Jody has authored numerous published articles and has lectured on investment topics throughout the United States and Japan.  He has taught banking and investment courses in the California Community Colleges System, American Institute of Banking and the Pacific Coast Banking School at the University of Washington.

Jody's passion is resourcing Christian and humanitarian efforts with special emphasis on the needs of youth.  In addition to Opportunity Schools, he serves as Director of World Help, an international humanitarian organization and has previously served on numerous business, civic and faith based Boards.

Jody and his wife, Mona, reside in Long Beach and have 3 children, 9 grandchildren and a great grandchild.  Jody's hobbies include golf and anything he can do with his grandchildren.

Tom Lucas is Vice President and co-founder of Alliance Medical Products, a pharmaceutical outsource manufacturer located in the Irvine Spectrum. He was born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA, graduated from Penn State with a BS in Industrial Engineering, and subsequently received an MBA from Pepperdine University. Tom also achieved registration in California as a registered Professional Engineer. Prior to Alliance Medical Products, he held executive positions with Johnson & Johnson, Newell, and Bausch & Lomb. He has also held senior positions in several start-up companies.

Tom recognized the value of the Opportunity Program when he observed how it helped his nephew who was part of the program for 5 years at Grace Christian School.

Tom and his wife Nicki have puppy-raised twelve Service Dogs in training and volunteered for several Service Dog organizations for over fifteen years. They have been faithful supporters for many years.

 

Dave Sanfilippo has served as the director of the Disabled Student Services (DSS) program at Cal State Long Beach for over 30 years. The DSS program at CSULB was the first program of its kind established in the California State University system and is widely recognized as one of the outstanding programs in the country. Dave has received numerous awards for his work as an advocate for students with disabilities and has established numerous programs that extend educational opportunities to them.

Since 1980, Dave has served on the Executive Board of the California Association on Post-Secondary Education and Disability (CAPED), and has received service awards from them in 1983, 1991, and 2000. He has also served on a number of strategic committees that provide services and programs for the disabled such as the 1986 United States Association of Blind Athletes, 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee (Handicapped Services), and Co-Director of 1981 Wheelchair Games.

Dave holds a B.A. from California State University, San Jose and graduated Phi Kappa Phi.

 

Dr. Robin LaBarbera is a professor in the School of Education at Biola University, where she teaches courses in Elementary Curriculum, Advanced Curriculum and Instruction, and Advanced Educational Psychology to college seniors and graduate students. Formerly, she served as an urban educator for 8 years at the Watts Christian School, where she piloted the Opportunity Program’s first satellite campus. Robin has also taught in Papua, New Guinea and Uganda during extended summer mission trips. Before her teaching career, Robin served as a Probation Counselor at Orange County Juvenile Hall, and she held various administrative positions in local businesses.

After receiving her Master’s Degree in Education, Robin received her Ph.D. from Claremont Graduate University in Educational Studies. Robin’s research and publications have focused on the psychological issues associated with students who have learning differences, such as self-esteem, self-efficacy, and goal orientation. Robin is currently authoring an English as a Foreign Language textbook/curriculum for 1st graders and their teachers who reside in Spanish-speaking countries.

As the newest member of Opportunity Schools’ board of directors, Dolores Gibson brings over 30 years of experience in education as a former teacher, administrator and volunteer. Now retired, Dolores has expanded her volunteer commitments, including more time at Grace School in Cypress where she worked with students in the Opportunity Program, and shadowing a student with learning challenges.

Dolores has a unique perspective on the educational environment in California, and bilingual and special education in particular. For over 25 years, Dolores taught kindergarten through sixth grade in the Little Lake City School District. Other positions in the educational field included serving as a traveling bilingual coordinator at the elementary level, vice principal, education association board member, and bilingual teacher.

With a degree in education, a credential and certifications in bilingual education, and a graduate degree in school management and administration—along with her first-hand work in the Opportunity Program—Dolores is well-suited to help steer Opportunity Schools into the future.

Dolores and her husband, Jim, live in Long Beach. They have two children and two grandchildren.