Duke Leadership Team

Jennifer Adams, M.Ed., CAS School Psychology-  Founder, Executive Director

Jennifer Adams has worked with children her entire career. She was born into a family of educators; her father was a superintendent in the public schools and her mother was a head of The Summit School, an independent school in Winston-Salem for children four years old through ninth grade. Jennifer attended Summit School where she was given the opportunity to learn in a stimulating child-centered environment that sparked learning and creativity. She spent summers working as a camp counselor at a local art camp, and during her first years of college, she worked as a preschool teacher while taking classes in the evenings.

In 1992 Jennifer moved to Fort Collins, Colorado to attend Colorado State University. There, she worked as an assistant teacher in a middle school classroom for children with learning and emotional disabilities. Upon graduation, Jennifer and her husband moved to Delaware where she earned a Masters in Education with a concentration in education of children with disabilities.

During her graduate program, Jennifer worked as a researcher at the University of Delaware's Center for Disabilities Studies. Through this experience, she was given the opportunity to help design the state's alternative assessment portfolio for students who were unable to take the state's standard end of grade assessment. At that time, Delaware was one of the leaders in the formulation of the alternative assessment and Jennifer was given the opportunity to present the portfolio assessment at conferences and forums across the country.

Jennifer began her teaching career in 1996 as a middle school teacher for students with learning and emotional disabilities. There, she learned about the benefits and importance of inclusive education, positive behavior support, and differentiated instruction. Jennifer returned to the University of Delaware and earned a Specialist Level degree in School Psychology in 2002. She and her family returned to North Carolina and Jennifer began work as a school psychologist in the Alamance Burlington School System. Jennifer has continued on this career path in addition to her work at The Little School and currently works in the public schools on a part time basis. In this role, Jennifer works as a consultant to teachers, counselor to children, and educational diagnostician. She is also a member of the district's Autism Evaluation Team and has received training in the assessment, evaluation, and instruction of children with disabilities on the Autism spectrum.

Jennifer has used that training as well as her knowledge earned in all of her settings to create and implement the Little School curriculum.

Wendy Vavrousek- Head of School/Owner 

Wendy Vavrousek has been in the world of education for 21 years. She graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science from California State University, Chico in Child Development and immediately began a Master’s of Science program in School Psychology at San Jose State University (California).

 While attending graduate school, Wendy worked as a lead preschool teacher for approximately 2 years working with young children ages two and five. After receiving her master’s degree she was hired by Monterey Peninsula Unified School District in Monterey, California as a School Psychologist. She and her husband moved to North Carolina. In 1994 and Wendy was hired by Durham Public Schools where she worked as a school psychologist for the first five years of her employment. In 1999, Wendy assumed responsibility for the Districts’ Safe and Drug Free Schools program, along with their Student Assistance Program. In 2002 Wendy became Director of Student Services and worked intimately with the districts Exceptional Children’s Program. In 2005 Wendy was promoted to the position of Executive Director for Student Support Services with Franklin County Schools. In this capacity, she served as the Exceptional Children’s Program Director and implemented many forward thinking and research-based programming initiatives for the district’s students.

Wendy also provided direction for the other support services such as school nursing, school social work, school counseling, and services for students experiencing homelessness. She was a member of the superintendent’s leadership team and advised him of instructional and student service needs. Wendy became a business partner with the development of The Little School's Waterstone campus two and a half years ago but joined us full time as our Program Director August 2, 2010. In this capacity, she will work closely with teachers overseeing our program implementation, coordinating staff training and supporting both teachers and families.

Mary Swanson - Owner

Mary Swanson was one of the first team members who helped open the doors of the Little School’s Davis Road Campus in September of 2005. From 2005 through 2009 she was head teacher and also taught our toddlers and Middlers. Mary has a teaching certificate in Early Childhood Education, North Carolina Early Childhood Credentials and Early Childhood Administrator Credentials.

She has a volunteer spirit and also works with a non-profit organization for children in wheelchairs and with physical disabilities. The organization, Bridge II Sports, hosts events that allow children and adults with physical limitations to compete in tennis, basketball, hand cycling and other sports. Bridge II Sports is a partner with the US Olympic Committee. Lovingly known as Miss Mary to all, she is an integral part of TLS spirit.



Melissa Reali - School Director

Originally from New York, Melissa relocated to North Carolina with husband during the summer of 2009. Melissa has been working with children in many facets since the age of 12 when she began babysitting the children next door. Since then, she has worked as a music teacher in New York working with children ages 9-18, taught private flute lessons to young children, has worked as a nanny with children ages infant-3. Melissa served as the lead older infant teacher in Hillsborough for three years prior to coming to Duke and believes that working with infants is one of the most enjoyable things she has ever done. Melissa believes that music and physical activity - particularly out in wild and natural environments - are two of the most important things a child that we can expose our children too. Her interests include health and nutrition, enjoying the outdoors, having fun, cooking and spending time with my family and friends!

  Amber Daves - Office Manager      

Amber was born and raised in North Carolina. Amber has always had a passion for nurturing children. During high school, Amber took ECE classes, interned at local childcare centers, and elementary schools. Amber attended ACC, where she earned her ECE credentials, along with credits towards her associates degree. Amber started working with TLS in 2009, at the Davis Rd. location. During her time with The Little School of Hillsborough, she had several roles. Amber began as a sub, then moved onto working with all age groups as teacher, and spent time leading a three's class. July of 2016, Amber moved to The Little School at Duke. Amber is excited to begin her role as Office Manager. Her interests include going on adventures with her daughter,the outdoors, animals, and anything to do with history.