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San Diego State University


Our Team

Joseph F. Johnson Jr., Ph.D.

Joseph F. Johnson Jr., Ph.D.

Executive Director

In August 2005, Dr. Joseph Johnson became the Executive Director of the National Center for Urban School Transformation and the QUALCOMM Professor of Urban Education at San Diego State University.

Previously Dr. Johnson served as a classroom teacher in San Diego, as a school district administrator in New Mexico, as a state department official in both Texas and Ohio, as a researcher and technical assistance provider at the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas, and as the Director of Student Achievement and School Accountability at the U.S. Department of Education where he was responsible for directing the federal Title I Program.

Dr. Johnson earned a Ph.D. in educational administration from the University of Texas at Austin’s Cooperative Superintendency Program. He earned a Master of Arts in Education from San Diego State University and graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh.

In 1987 Dr. Johnson received the Special Educator of the Year Award from the New Mexico Council for Exceptional Children. In 1989 he was the founding president of the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth. In 1993 and again in 2000, he received the Educator of the Year Award from the Texas Association of Compensatory Education. In 2003 he received the Distinguished Alumnus of the Year Award from San Diego State University’s College of Education.

 Lynne Perez  

Lynne G. Perez, Ph.D.

Deputy Director

Dr. Perez is the Deputy Director for the National Center for Urban School Transformation at San Diego State University and has been with the Center since 2006. She directs and coaches in NCUST’s A-PLUS programs and coordinates the work of the Executive Leadership Coaches.

Dr. Perez led NCUST’s contribution to an intensive statewide study of California’s continuation high schools conducted on behalf of the James Irvine Foundation and in collaboration with researchers from Stanford University and WestEd. Currently she is working with Dr. Johnson and Dr. Cynthia Uline in the SDSU Department of Educational Leadership on a book – Teaching in America’s Best Urban Schools – based on data collected at NCUST’s Excellence in Urban Education Awardee schools.

At SDSU she was a Lecturer in Educational Leadership from 2006-2008 and was an early implementer in the redesigned Principal Credential Program that focused on school administration for urban schools. In 2007 she won an Outstanding Faculty Award for being the most influential professor for one of her graduate students.

Before coming to San Diego State, Dr. Perez worked as an assistant professor at St. John’s University (Queens, NY) and as a visiting professor at The Ohio State University, where she earned both her masters and Ph.D. in educational administration.


Karen Jones

Karen Jones

Director of Operations

Karen Jones has worked for the SDSU Research Foundation for over 18 years, and NCUST for the last five. As Director of Operations, she handles a multitude of responsibilities including office oversight, budget management, payroll and personnel management, coordinating travel for NCUST coaches and A+ members, and arranging all aspects of NCUST's annual Excellence in Urban Education Symposium.



Picture of Mark Wilson

Mark Wilson

Media Marketing Assistant

Mark Wilson is the newest member of the NCUST team. Mark has worked for the last twenty years as a graphic designer, audio engineer and musician in his home town of New York and Seattle WA until recently relocating to his wife's home town of San Diego. Mark is responsible for all of NCUST's multi media needs.



Meya Egan - Square

Meya G. Egan

Administrative Support Coordinator

Meya Egan joined NCUST in 2015 and has been a great asset to our team. As someone who has attended one of our winning school's as a child, Meya has a first hand understanding of what the NCUST program is and how it is helping to better the education of children in urban school's.



Executive Coaches


Barbra Balser

Barbra Balser

Executive Coach

Executive Coach Barbra Balser is an experienced educator of 33 years with a comprehensive background that includes 13 years as a teacher in elementary and secondary classrooms, three years as an assistant principal, and 14 years as principal of two elementary schools and two middle schools. Most recently she has worked as an education consultant with the City Heights Educational Collaborative to assist in developing and implementing a strategic process for assessing teacher effectiveness.

In schools where Ms. Balser has worked with principals to develop leadership capacity, student achievement has improved. Her knowledge of curriculum and instruction, complemented by her ability to motivate staff and students, has helped schools make impressive gains. To illustrate, one urban middle school has shown a gain of 80 points on the California Academic Performance Index.

Ms. Balser has served as a mentor to aspiring school administrators in the Education Leadership Development program at University of San Diego for eight years. In June of 2005, she was selected as the Middle School Principal of the year for San Diego and Imperial Counties. She is currently serving as an adjunct professor in the School of Education at the University of San Diego where she has taught classes in administrative leadership for the past 2 years.


Shirley Y. Peterson, Ed.D.


Shirley Y. Peterson, Ed.D.

Executive Coach

Shirley Peterson has been an educator for forty-two years serving as an administrator in a large urban school district for thirty-two years. She served as a high school administrator for eighteen years. During two high school principalships – one in a suburban setting and the other, an inner city school – she achieved success by focusing on classroom instruction and support programs for under-performing students resulting in lower dropout rates and increased numbers of students going to four-year colleges. Notable work as a high school principal includes: leading the development, with assistance of consultants and site teachers, of a reading program now known as “Second Chance”; and securing a site grant from the National Science Foundation of $1.2 Million for the purpose of integrating technology into all curricular areas to support the improvement of instruction and student achievement.

During 2003-2005 she worked as a consultant with the University of Washington’s Center for Educational Leadership. Her work there concentrated on coaching principals to improve their instructional leadership, with an outcome of increased academic achievement.

In 2006 she joined the University of San Diego (USD) as a part time professor in the School of Leadership and Educational Sciences (SOLES). She also serves as a supervisor for aspiring administrators in USD’s Educational Leadership Development Academy (ELDA) and as a coach in the Principals Ongoing Support and Training (POST) program.


Hazel Rojas, Ed.D.

Hazel Rojas, Ed.D.

Executive Coach

Dr. Hazel Rojas is the president and founder of Achieving Proficiency LLC, an educational consulting firm specializing in educational systems and strategies to increase the achievement of English learners and dedicated to the advancement of all students.

Dr. Rojas earned an Ed.D. from the University of Southern California in the Language, Literacy and Learning Program. She began her career as a paraprofessional, went on to be a teacher, a principal, Director of Curriculum and Associate Superintendent. While an Associate Superintendent she oversaw twelve schools, was responsible for the evaluation of principals and worked closely with school teams to increase overall performance. She worked as an adjunct professor of Language and Literacy at California State University at Long Beach.

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  Cara Riggs

  Executive Coach 

 Cara Riggs is a former teacher and principal with a long history of working with underserved urban students and achieving meaningful results. As a principal in Omaha, Nebraska, Cara successfully increased the graduation rate by 20% while also greatly reducing truancy and dropout rates in her school. She  worked with students, parents and community leaders, implementing strategies to improve the culture within her schools with an emphasis on easing transitions between grade levels and increasing college preparedness for all students. Senior scholarships in her school went from two million to ten million dollars in her time there.

As a teacher, Cara taught English, African American  Literature and athletics. In 1986 she was awarded “Teacher of the Year” and promoted to “At-Risk Support Teacher” working one-on-one with students in highly challenging life situations including teen parenting, gang involvement, and substance abuse.

In 2012 she published her book, Hope in the Urban Schools: Love Stories which was presented to 500+ new teachers in the Omaha Public Schools to teach cultural proficiency through storytelling. Cara began working as an Executive Coach  for NCUST in 2014, lending her many years of experience and dedication to our team. 


Granger Ward

Granger B. Ward

Executive Coach

Mr. Ward began his educational career as a middle school and high school science teacher and eventually served as a high school principal for seven years in Syracuse, NY. He was formerly superintendent of both the Manhattan High Schools in the City of New York, and the Grossmont Union High School District in San Diego. Over the past decade Mr. Ward has served as the California State Director and then Executive Vice President for the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) Center, a national and international educational nonprofit supporting implementation and growth of the AVID College Readiness System impacting students at almost 5,000 schools in their quest to be college and career ready. He attended public schools in New York City and received his B.S. from the State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry, in Syracuse. His M.S. degree is from Syracuse University and his Administrative Credential from SUNY at Oswego.