Board Members

If you have a question or concern that you would like to direct to the entire board, please attend one of our upcoming board meetings (schedule here) or email

Governing Board Members


Mr. Johnson is a longtime Atlanta lawyer with strong ties to the local Japanese community. After living in Japan for several years in the early 1980s, Mr. Johnson obtained his Juris Doctor from Brigham Young University in 1988. Since then he has worked at the law firms Jones Day and Ogletree Deakins. He is currently employed at Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC. He specializes in Business Immigration law and International Business law in general. Aside from the legal expertise, he brings to ICAGeorgia, his good standing in the community is evident in his membership in a number of professional and non-profit organizations. Since 2007 he has been recognized as a Leader in Business Immigration by Chambers USA. He is an Executive Board Member as well as the former Chairman of the Japan-America Society of Georgia. Email Mr. Johnson.

Vice Chair and Treasurer

Lai Ying Floria Whitcomb advocates for the continued strengthening of business and cultural relationship between Asia and the U.S.  She is currently employed at the Department of Global Affairs, Kennesaw State University.  Until 2017, her professional career was in the area of banking mainly in currency trading and financial analysis.  She is also sitting on the board of Hong Kong Association of Atlanta. A native of Hong Kong, Lai Ying has been residing either in Japan or in the U.S. since 38 years ago.  She received a B.S. degree from Sophia University in Tokyo, Japan. She and her husband of 33 years raised three children together. Email Ms. Whitcomb.


Ms. Cork is Vice President of Community Engagement and Communications at YKK Corporation of America. Her primary responsibilities include managing government relations, public relations, and corporate communications for YKK Corporation’s North and Central America Group; serving as the regional liaison with YKK corporate headquarters in Japan for global public relations and communications; planning corporate events; managing the region’s corporate philanthropy and community outreach programs; and leading the Group’s Philosophy and Core Values initiative.

Ms. Cork is fluent in Japanese and has more than two decades of experience working in Japanese organizations. She has B.A. in Japanese Language and Literature from the University of Massachusetts, and an M.A. in Advanced Japanese Studies from the University of Sheffield in the U.K. Prior to joining YKK, she worked as the Adviser for Educational and Cultural Affairs at the Consulate General of Japan in Atlanta and spent 3 years as a Coordinator for International Relations in Hiroshima, Japan.

Ms. Cork currently serves as Vice Chair of The Japan-America Society of Georgia and is a member of the Communication Committee of The Georgia Council on Economic Education. She has four children and has traveled to 25 counties around the world. Email Ms. Cork.

Deborah Grant was born and raised in Japan, is a graduate of International Christian University, and attended Princeton University’s Ph.D. program in East Asian Studies. She lived in Sendai and Tokyo for over 25 years. As a business and non-profit development strategist, and with an extensive background in marketing, sales, PR, and media production methodologies, she is passionate about Japan and all things Japanese. Previously, Deborah was a marketing manager for international high tech software and manufacturing multinational companies. In her earlier career, based in Los Angeles, California, she was an executive producer in radio, TV, and film production of programs syndicated throughout Japan. Interviews with James Brown, Andy Warhol, and Josephine Baker are some of her favorite memories from her radio production days. Email Ms. Grant.

With over 20 years of international business development and account management experience, Ms. Usher assists small-and mid-sized Japanese and US companies grow internationally, providing various business development services through her own company, One Pacific Link, LLC.

Originally from Japan, Ms. Usher has lived in the US for 16 years and China for 5 years.  She currently lives in Atlanta with her husband, Dan, her daughter, Marisa. Email Ms. Usher.

Advisory Board

Minako Ahearn

Founding Chair

Having spent her early life between Japan, America, and Europe, Mrs. Ahearn knows firsthand the difficulties and the great benefits of living in more than one culture. Throughout her career, she has striven to provide similar experiences to others. She started a Dual Language program and pioneered service-learning and peace-education initiatives in Atlanta in 2004. Mrs. Ahearn believes in a future of peaceful international cooperation, where individuals from different cultures interact with open hearts and minds. Having worked both in the classroom and in administrative roles as principal, Mrs. Ahearn’s ideals are matched by the hands-on experience of running an educationally-sound and financially-viable school. Mrs. Ahearn obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in International Law from the International Christian University in Japan in 1982, a Bachelor of Music from Southern Methodist University in Texas in 1986 and a Master’s Degree in Education from Central Michigan University in 2005. The area of her research focus has been Dual Language immersion education for the last 15 years. She was named one of the 25 Most Influential Asian Americans in Georgia in 2019.

Dr. Gregory Barfield

After graduating from the University of Georgia with a bachelor’s degree in French, Dr. Barfield spent nearly twenty years teaching in Cobb County high schools. He went on to obtain a Master’s Degree in Secondary Education and a Ph.D. in Language Education. Since 2004, he has held a number of administrative-level positions with various school districts and educational organizations, including World Language Coordinator at Fulton County Schools and Lead Program Specialist in World Languages and Global Initiatives with the Georgia Department of Education. In these positions, Dr. Barfield worked closely with educators and students, developing Dual Language curricula and training teachers in best practices. His professional experiences have led to his recognition as one of the leading authorities on Dual Language education in the state of Georgia. To date, he has offered his support to a number of local, Dual Language charter schools, including International Charter School of Atlanta and Globe Academy.

Joe Gardner

Architect, school design: Mr. Gardner is the co-founder and CEO of the architecture firm Gardner Spencer Smith Tench & Jarbeau, P.C. He is a 1973 graduate of the Georgia Tech College of Architecture, and a 1979 graduate of the Georgia State Graduate School of Business but began his professional career in the summer of 1969 working in the office of John W. Cherry, Architect. Joe has been a lifelong member of Peachtree Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and has served as Chair of the Official Board, Chair of the Executive Committee and Chair of the Elders. He continues regular service on the Official Board as an Elder, and his wife, Gita, also serves on the Board as a Deacon.

Dagmar Sands

“Dagmar Sands – Real Estate International, Inc.” Known as the “International Real Estate Agent,” Ms. Sands has assisted clients from all over the world in selling their homes, luxury homes, churches, schools, office buildings, self-storage warehouses, apartments & much more. Bilingual herself, she moved to Atlanta as a teenager not knowing the language or this country. She has been a member of FIABCI (The International Real Estate Federation) since 1987 and is the Past President of FIABCI-USA (The USA Chapter) where she obtained her “Certified International Property Specialist” designation.

Kazuhiro Shimizu

Partner, Alston & Bird LLP: Mr. Shimizu has practiced law in the State of Georgia since 1996. His familiarity with the law has been an invaluable asset to ICAGeorgia in its founding period. A leading member of the Japanese community in Atlanta, Mr. Shimizu serves on the boards of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Georgia and the Japan-America Society of Georgia.

Professor Noriko Takeda

Professor Noriko Takeda retired as Senior Lecturer of Japanese at Emory University. As professor of Japanese at Emory for more than 25 years, she knows well the challenges and advantages of studying Japanese. She also is one of the founders of the Georgia Association of Teachers of Japanese and served as its president for many years.  In 2021, Prof. Takeda received the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Japan-America Society of Georgia and GATJ. She is widely known for her devoted and caring teaching style and great leadership.

Dr. Tad Watanabe

Kennesaw State University: A preeminent voice in mathematics education in both Japan and the United States, Dr. Watanabe brings a true mastery of elementary education to ICAGeorgia. Currently a professor of Mathematics Education at Kennesaw State University, he has previously taught at Pennsylvania State University and Towson University in Towson, Maryland. He has translated many Japanese math assessments into English and served on a committee that prepared Mathematics Frameworks for the State Department of Education.

“Our state needs employees who can speak more than one language, and there is no better time for its citizens to acquire language skills than when they are young. This charter school will also be an excellent educational environment for children with parents who come from Japan to do business in Georgia.”

-State Representative Tom Taylor (District 79)

“As one of the first and largest Japanese companies operating in the state of Georgia, YKK understands profoundly the crucial need for raising the next generation of citizens who understand a different language and culture and are equipped with the skills needed to ensure that Georgia can continue to be a leader in international trade and investment. The International Charter Academy of Georgia will fill a need in our community for K-5 education focused on foreign language acquisition, cross cultural communication skills, as well as a strong curriculum in science and mathematics.”

-Mr. Alex Gregory, YKK Corporation of America

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