Our Team

Our team


Carolyn KocurekCarolyn Kocurek
President/Founding Partner
Therapeutic and Educational Consultant
carolyn@academic-answers.com

Carolyn Kocurek is the founder of Academic Answers and a Lead Therapeutic and Educational Consultant. Over the past two decades, she has spent her professional life in the fields of educational consulting and behavioral healthcare for struggling teenagers. Her ability to understand the needs of children and to intuitively connect with parents in a supportive but directive manner has made her a model consultant.

Carolyn’s collective experiences in admissions, program development, marketing, and client relations helped her realize her true passion: helping families. In 1998, Carolyn founded Academic Answers by conceptualizing a full-service firm with varied specialties in helping students and their families succeed. As a mother of two and a professional, she personally understands the challenges that parents face in our changing society.

Carolyn is an avid practitioner of yoga, and enjoys gardening.



Chris Kocurek, M.Ed.Chris Kocurek, M.Ed.
Chief Executive Officer/Founding Partner
Therapeutic and Educational Consultant
ckocurek@academic-answers.com

Chris Kocurek is the Chief Executive Officer at Academic Answers, and also serves as a Lead Therapeutic and Educational Consultant. He has more than 30 years of experience in education and behavioral health. Chris holds a Master’s degree in Education, specializing in Counseling and Guidance and a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. He is an active member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) and with an emphasis in the educational consulting areas of special needs, schools and learning disabilities. He is also a Licensed Child Care Administrator in the State of Texas. He also served as the Chief Executive Officer of a subsidiary of the Brown Schools, Inc., where he developed and operated a continuum of residential schools and treatment programs for adolescents and young adults.

Chris has assisted hundreds of students and families, helping them to identify and select the best schools and programs for their own success. In addition to his role as an educational consultant, he also provides consultation and training to the faculty of schools and programs throughout the United States. His extensive knowledge in program development and operations is a valuable resource.

Outside the office, you can find Chris playing guitar, listening to live music, watching the Dallas Cowboys, or trying out new recipes in the kitchen.



Shay ButtsShay Butts
Partner – Houston office
Therapeutic and Educational Consultant
sbutts@academic-answers.com

Shay Butts is a Lead Therapeutic and Educational Consultant and a Partner at Academic Answers’ Houston office. Her extensive background in admissions, program leadership and program development makes her an advocate who understands the therapeutic process and can assist families rediscover hope.

Prior to joining the Academic Answers team, Shay spent much of her career working with young adults. She has served in Executive Leadership roles for some of the nations most cutting edge treatment programs and most recently as a founding member of a fine arts based young women’s program as their Director of Admissions & Marketing. Shay is active in the greater Houston community and serves as the Dean of Students for a leadership-training program called Leader’s Edge.

Shay is a mother of three, plays dominoes regularly, and is quite the musician and chef.



Debbie Hopper, RDDebbie Hopper, RD
Partner – Orange County office
Therapeutic and Educational Consultant
dhopper@academic-answers.com

Debbie Hopper is a Lead Therapeutic and Educational Consultant and a Partner at Academic Answers’ Orange County office. She specializes in working with parents and guiding families to explore options that will lead their children to success. A Registered Dietitian, Debbie has extensive knowledge in nutrition systems and support, and public health.

Debbie previously worked in the specialty school and treatment program industry, where she led professional outreach for a continuum of residential treatment centers, therapeutic boarding schools, programs for young adults and outdoor behavioral health programs. During her 11-year tenure, she helped 3,000+ families make appropriate therapeutic treatment choices for their children.

As a single mother, raising 2 teenage daughters, Debbie is humbled to continue working in Orange County and offering help and sharing knowledge with parents who are searching for answers and hoping to restore their families.



Brian TaylorBrian Taylor
College Planning Consultant
btaylor@academic-answers.com

Brian Taylor is a College Planning Consultant in Academic Answers’ Dallas Office, and he holds a Bachelor of Science in Communication Studies from The University of Texas at Austin. With more than 16 years of industry experience, Brian is an expert on holistic admissions application review and can help students determine their academic and institutional fit. His first-hand, behind-the-scenes knowledge is a great benefit to clients as they write their essays, create their resume, and work to craft their strongest admissions applications overall.

Brian still stays active in the broader Higher Education community as a member of the Texas Association for College Admissions Counseling (TACAC), and the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC). He has been honored to present various sessions at conferences, serve on the TACAC Executive Committee and as a member of the NACAC Government Relations Committee. He was also awarded both the TACAC and NACAC Rising Star Award.

Brian is an avid sports fan, and spends his free time exploring Dallas with friends.



Casey DegrootCasey DeGroot, M.Ed., LPC-Intern
SuccessPlans Facilitator
cdegroot@successplans.net

Casey DeGroot is a SuccessPlans Facilitator who collaborates with families to build proactive and individualized parenting plans. Over the last decade, she’s made it her mission to bring hope and healing to families experiencing various life challenges.

With a Bachelors degree in Psychology and Masters degree in Educational Psychology from the University of Houston, Casey brings a breadth of knowledge to the Academic Answers team. She has worked with families in non-profit, private-practice and educational settings, and has also served on various boards within the Houston area to help promote mental wellness.

A wife and mother of two, Casey enjoys a good laugh, a cup of coffee with close friends and spending quality time with her dog, Peaches.



Claudia SchwarzClaudia Schwarz, M.A.
Therapeutic and Educational Consultant
cschwarz@academic-answers.com

Claudia Schwarz is a Therapeutic and Educational Consultant in Academic Answers’ Orange County Office. She is quite the achiever – with a Bachelor’s degree in Clinical Psychology at Willamette University, a Graduate degree in Marriage and Family Therapy at California State University, Sacramento, a board certification and license in Marriage and Family Therapy in the state of Nevada, and additional training in cognitive behavioral and family systems, custody evaluations, child interviews, child reunification and parenting coordination.

Claudia is highly skilled in working with a wide range of counseling issues, but her main focus is working with parents and children on behavioral/family issues, parenting skills and cooperative parenting. With a background in educational consulting, she is very comfortable helping families find the correct schools and alternative treatment programs that fit their specific needs.

Enjoying everything the outdoors has to offer, Claudia loves skiing, camping, boating, hiking and traveling. With two boys and a husband at home, she’s also very active in her community and at the school district – serving as President of the PTO, and Secretary of the PTA. Another fun fact: Her family has dual citizenship in both the United States and Switzerland (where both Claudia and her husband’s families are from).



Erica CurtisErica Curtis
SuccessPlans Facilitator
ecurtis@successplans.net

Erica Curtis is a Success Plans Facilitator, partnering with parents to promote effective strategies that decrease stress at home, increase family connection, and support children’s success. A practicing Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Board Certified Art Therapist for over fifteen years, Erica has extensive experience using compassionate, creative, and cutting-edge strategies to promote family health and happiness.

Erica has appeared in over 50 articles, books, and interviews including PBS, Cosmo, Elle, USA Today, Lifehacker, Boston Globe, EHow Family, and is a parenting expert on the award-winning online resource, Kids in the House. Previously, Erica was a clinical director at a large nonprofit working with children and teens challenged by Autism, ADHD, and Learning differences. She also taught in the Marital and Family Therapy department at Loyola Marymount University and has lectured widely for universities (including USC and UCSD), Kaiser Permanente, and local groups (including Moms Club International and the Boys & Girls Club). In addition to maintaining a therapy practice, she regularly teaches for UCLArts and Healing.

Erica lives in South Orange County, CA with her husband and 3 children. When she is not working or spending time with her family, she might be found volunteering at her kids’ schools, jogging, or plugging away at writing a book about using art to raise connected, happy, and successful kids.



Henry B. EwertHenry B. Ewert, M.A.
College Planning Consultant
hewert@academic-answers.com

Henry (Hank) Ewert is a College Planning Consultant at Academic Answers. Hank was previously a member of the faculty of St. Stephen’s School, a private day and boarding school, from 1975 until 2005. He was a college counselor there for twenty-six years, and served as Director of College Counseling for twenty-two of them. He was also Site Director of the Los Angeles campus of the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth in the summers of 1993 and 1994. He has served on the board of Admission Control, a nonprofit organization fostering college opportunity for disadvantaged Central Texas students, since 2001.

During his career Hank has served as a workshop presenter for the College Board, TACAC, and the Austin Independent School District among other organizations. A native of Kingsville, Texas, Hank graduated from St. Stephen’s Episcopal School in 1970.

Hank earned his undergraduate degree from Columbia University in 1974 and his M.A. in English from the University of Texas at Austin in 1979, writing his Master’s thesis on the poetry of W.B. Yeats. He also received the William W. Fleming Award for Counseling Excellence and the TACAC Founders’ Award.



jeff-hollowayJeffrey S. Holloway, MSW
Therapeutic and Educational Consultant
jholloway@academic-answers.com

Jeff Holloway is a Lead Therapeutic and Educational Consultant at Academic Answers’ Atlanta office, and he has a passion for working with students who suffer from learning difficulties. Jeff is a fountain of knowledge, holding a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of South Dakota and a Master of Social Work from the University of Iowa. He continues to focus on his studies, and is currently working on his Doctorate of Education at the University of Phoenix.

Before accepting a position at Academic Answers, Jeff held several leadership positions in residential treatment facilities, therapeutic boarding schools, and traditional boarding schools in Iowa and Georgia. He also served as a private consultant, helping schools with post-accreditation reports and developing improvement plans. In his vast experience with students in therapeutic programs, Jeff has found that many behavioral issues can actually stem from undiagnosed learning issues. It is his belief that for every learning style and ability there is a school that can help students excel academically and emotionally.

Jeff is a husband and a father of three. Away from the office, you’ll find him with his family and enjoying some of his favorite hobbies: Golf, Judo, and riding Harley Davidsons through the north Georgia mountains!



John SchaefferJohn Schaeffer, B.S.
Director of Family Safety and Security
jschaeffer@academic-answers.com

John Schaeffer is the Director of Family Safety and Security at Academic Answers. His main focus at our firm is on safety and security issues as they relate to the families we work with, even including the development of new communications strategies and social media monitoring products.

John holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Old Dominion University. He has 40 years of unparalleled experience in corporate and high-profile family security, including hostage and missing person negotiations, emergency and contingency planning, residential and personal security, and travel planning and coordination.

Is John an interesting guy? We sure think so! He’s travelled to over 70 countries throughout the world – and has even lived in Cairo, Islamabad and El Salvador. He’s also a fan of pursuing a healthy lifestyle with his wife, and has run in two marathons.



Karen Davis, B.S. & J.D.
Associate Therapeutic and Educational Consultant
kdavis@academic-answers.com

Karen Davis is an Associate Therapeutic and Educational Consultant in Academic Answers’ Houston office. She coordinates consulting services between Academic Answers Lead Consultants and clients, reviews student’s essential information in conjunction with the Lead Consultants to place students in the school/program deemed appropriate to meet each student’s needs, and ensures proper communication with programs and families.

After practicing law in Houston, Austin and New York City, Karen took some time off to raise 3 busy boys. During that time, she also worked with private schools and other various non-profit organizations, primarily in leadership roles, motivating and coordinating parent volunteers, and fundraising. With this wealth of experience, Karen is certainly a great addition to the Academic Answers team.

She enjoys exercise – whether it’s walking, riding her bike on the beach, hiking, or cross-country skiing in the mountains. Karen also has a love for traveling to national parks, baking at home, and spending time with family and friends.



Kolbie KieferKolbie Kiefer
Associate Consultant
kkiefer@academic-answers.com

Kolbie Kiefer is an Associate Consultant at Academic Answers. She holds a B.A. in Psychology from Texas A&M University, as well as an M.A. in Professional Counseling from Texas State University, concentrated on marriage, family, and couples counseling. In addition, she is a National Certified Counselor (NCC).

Essentially beginning her career in the field as an Administrative Assistant in the Academic Answers’ Austin office, Kolbie has been most recently focused on finishing up school. With these impressive credentials, Kolbie brings a fresh perspective to the Academic Answers’ team – and we’re so happy to have her back with our firm.

Kolbie loves baking, travelling, and being outside with her dog, Wrigley.



Richard Ribb, Ph.D.Richard Ribb, Ph.D.
Achievement Consultant
rribb@academic-answers.com

Richard Ribb is a Lead Achievement Consultant with Academic Answers. He specializes in advising young adults how to identify, evaluate, and achieve realistic academic and personal goals. He facilitates individualized plans that prepare each student for a lifetime of learning and success. He also works with students who have not yet achieved appropriate academic and career paths. Over the course of his career, Richard has helped several thousand individuals find their paths to success.

Prior to joining Academic Answers, Richard was a multiple-award winning educator with extensive experience in higher education. He began his career as an early-decision admit at Brown University, and earned his doctorate from The University of Texas at Austin in American Studies. For ten years, he served as Senior Academic Advisor at The University of Texas at Austin, as well.

Richard is the proud parent of two young men, who are both currently enjoying their own college experiences. He’s passionate about live music, swimming, reading, and his Vizsla (Ginger) with whom he hikes Central Texas.



Shannon HigginsShannon Higgins, M.A., LPC-S
SuccessPlans Facilitator
shigginspeake@successplans.net

Shannon Higgins, M.A., LPC-S is a SuccessPlans Facilitator supporting parents in providing effective parent strategies that help create family wellness. Shannon has over 15 years of experience working as a Licensed Professional Counselor and behavior specialist in public/private education, non-profit sector, and has owned a private practice for 10 years.

Shannon specializes in mood disorders, anxiety disorders, alcohol and substance abuse, trauma, various psychosocial issues, ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, learning differences, and behavior issues. She is devoted to helping families voluntarily and serves as both a clinical assistant and on the Practice Group Committee for Dr. Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen LaKelly’s cutting-edge project, Safe ConversationsĀ© of Family Wellness Dallas.

In addition to being a prominent LPC in Dallas, Shannon is a busy wife, as well as a mother of three boys and a daughter.



Zack TedderZackery A. Tedder, M.A.
Licensed Psychological Associate
ztedder@academic-answers.com

Zack Tedder is a Licensed Psychological Associate at Academic Answers. He earned his Bachelors of Science Degree in Psychology at Texas State University in 2009, and was accepted into the Health Psychology Master’s program there, where he graduated in 2012. During his academic tenure, Zach focused his studies on assessment techniques, intelligence and achievement testing, personality assessment, and other disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5).

Over the course of his career, Zack has consulted with many different state and federal agencies, as well as with families from all socioeconomic backgrounds. His notable areas of expertise include: Autism Spectrum Disorders, Schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, substance use disorders, learning disorders, and behavioral disorders.

Zack has lived in the Austin area since 2004, although he was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. He joined the United States Navy right out of high school, and served for several years.