The Team

  • Susan Carney
    Susan Carney
    Director of Early Education/Principal in Sarasota
    Susan Carney
    Susan Carney
    Director of Early Education/Principal in Sarasota
    Susan Carney is the Principal/Education Director of the Starfish Academy at The Florida Center. Susan has a degree in Early Childhood Education and over 20-years-experience working with young children and families. After moving to Florida from New York, she began her career as an early childhood educator teaching preschool at a non-profit agency. Susan continued in the field training teachers, serving as program administrator, and developing programming for preschool centers. Most recently Susan served as Executive Director at a nationally accredited, award-winning preschool and family education center.
  • Michele Duss, LCSW
    Michele Duss, LCSW
    Social-Emotional Consultant at Starfish Academy
    Michele Duss, LCSW
    Michele Duss, LCSW
    Social-Emotional Consultant at Starfish Academy
    Michele earned her Bachelor of Science Degree in child and family development from Georgia Southern University in 2005. She went on to complete her master's in social work at the University of South Florida in 2013. She received her license as a clinical social worker in 2020. Michele has been working in the social services field for over fifteen years and has served a variety of populations from VPK students to seniors in hospice care. Michele also has leadership experience developing social worker trainings. At home Michele practices moments of gratitude with her two young daughters, as well as mindfulness and meditation. She also includes yoga and other forms of exercise in her daily routine. These practices help her and her family balance life and maintain a positive outlook.
  • Stephanie Essex
    Stephanie Essex
    Social-Emotional Consultant
    Stephanie Essex
    Stephanie Essex
    Social-Emotional Consultant
    Stephanie earned her Bachelor of Arts Degree in psychology from the University of South Florida in 2012. She went on to achieve her master's degree in clinical mental health counseling from Argosy University in 2018. Stephanie is currently a certified parent educator for the Circle of Security parenting program and has been working with children for over four years. Previously, she worked for Kids and Families Matter where she provided supervised visitation services to children and families in Sarasota and Manatee counties. Stephanie enjoys being active and exploring nature. She finds that frequent bike rides, hikes, and nature walks improve her state of mind and help her feel more relaxed at work and home.
  • Tanya Ruiz
    Tanya Ruiz
    Principal in North Port
    Tanya Ruiz
    Tanya Ruiz
    Principal in North Port
    Tanya earned her an associate degree in early childhood education from Tidewater Community College. Tanya is currently working towards her bachelor’s degree in the same field. She earned an advanced director’s credential in childcare management and has completed extensive course work in behavioral strategies. Tanya has spent the last 25 years in her life working in early childhood education. She has taught preschool-age children from 6 weeks to 5 years. She’s spent the last 15 years employed at the Florida Center where she dually serves as a teacher and director at the Starfish Academy/North Port. Tanya is expertly trained in home-based, educational and behavioral strategies for parents. She enjoys working outside in her home garden. She often teaches her students to appreciate nature and uses nature to practice mindfulness.