Meet the Team
Get to know our school leaders, teachers, and staff below. Our entire team is dedicated to the success of all students.
Dr. Kelly Van Sande
Dr. Kelly Van Sande
Dr. Kelly Van Sande is a lifelong educator with a passion for children. She lives in Peoria, Arizona with her husband, two children, and their dogs. She is a certified teacher, principal, and superintendent in the state of Arizona and has served in all of those roles, including teaching at the elementary, middle and high school levels. She has more than 13 years of experience in online K-12 education including more than a decade of experience in online school executive leadership. She holds a bachelor’s degree in music education (B.S.), a master’s in teaching and curriculum leadership (M.Ed.), a master’s in business administration (MBA), and a Doctorate in Educational Leadership and Administration (Ed.D).
She believes school culture is at the heart of a school and must be the top priority in order for students to thrive. For, if we do not first address the needs of our students, they cannot effectively learn. Only when a leader commits to promoting and supporting excellence in her staff through open dialogue, professional development, deeply valuing everyone on the team, and celebrating their success, will the school’s team function as a cohesive unit with all goals centered solely around the mission and vision of the school. From there, our focus shifts directly to students so we can provide individualized attention and support which goes beyond academics and entails truly getting to know the whole child. Dr. Van Sande is so passionate about this topic that it became the focus of her doctoral dissertation.
As a parent and educator, she observed the traditional school system, including online public schools, often were not able to meet the needs of all students and she believed there had to be a way to make education come alive for students at all ability levels, from various backgrounds, and to allow students to learn in their own, meaningful way. She sought to develop a school that removed barriers to learning, allowed for acceleration and remediation, maintained very low student-teacher class sizes, and focused primarily on teacher-student relationships in order to foster a school community and culture driven by student success.
She looks forward to working alongside parents, students, teachers, and staff every day so we can build a thriving school community of students prepared for today, tomorrow, and the future ahead!
A fun fact about Dr. Van Sande is that she is a classically trained pianist and her own two children attend ILA!
Mike Van Sande
Chief Information Officer
Banji Denman, M.Ed.
Head of School
Banji Denman, M.Ed.
Head of School
Ms. Banji Denman lives in Phoenix, Arizona. She graduated with her B.S. of Education from Northern Arizona University in 2000. She taught in-person for 8 years before transferring to online teaching. The last 13 years of her teaching profession have been in online education. Mrs. Denman then went on to complete her Master’s degree from Grand Canyon University in Educational Leadership.
Her favorite thing about teaching at ILA is waking up knowing she gets to spend the morning with smiling, creative, funny, and talented kindergarten students each day. Her kinder students make each day full of wonderfulness!
A fun fact about Mrs. Denman is that she loves to sing, dance and have fun! Her kindergarten students know this very well about her. Also, her favorite breakfast (that she eats almost every morning) is gluten-free, chocolate flaxseed muffins. YUM!
Mrs. Meeker earned her Bachelor of Music Education from the beautiful mountain campus of Northern Arizona University. She enjoyed teaching high school choir, piano and music appreciation for six years at brick-and-mortar schools in the valley before earning her Master of Education in School Counseling, also from NAU. Mrs. Meeker began her career as a professional school counselor in the online setting and has been supporting online students since 2011. She is a proud member of the American School Counselor Association, Arizona School Counselors Association and completed training to earn the title of College Access Professional. Mrs. Meeker believes in the potential of every student and enjoys her role as a school counselor to further develop and celebrate each student’s success.
Mrs. Meeker lives in Glendale, AZ with her husband, two children and dog. She enjoys spending time reading, practicing yoga, cooking, traveling and is a huge Disney fan!
Fun Fact: Mrs. Meeker performed in the Super Bowl XLII Pre-Game and Halftime Show in Glendale, AZ.
Nichole Peterson, MBA
VP of Operations
Nichole Peterson, MBA
VP of Operations
Nichole Peterson lives in Mesa, Arizona with her husband, 2 boys and their pug. She graduated with her B.B.A in Management Information Systems from University of New Mexico in 2005. Nichole then went on to complete her Master’s degree from University of Phoenix in Business Administration with a Human Resources concentration. She has held many different positions in brick and mortar charter schools as well as online schools over the last 16 years.
A fun fact about Nichole Peterson is that she loves to be outdoors with her family! Her favorite activities include camping, hiking, swimming, and kayaking and they often take their pug along for most of these activities.
Brittany Balog, M.A.
Lead Gifted Teacher
Brittany Balog, M.A.
Lead Teacher, Gifted
Brittany Balog has been a teacher in Arizona for more than 15 years. After moving from Montana to Arizona, she began her teaching career in 6th grade teaching language arts & social studies. She taught 6th grade for two years, then moved to a self-contained 4th grade classroom, where she taught for four years, and was a gifted cluster teacher for two of those years.
After discovering her passion for gifted education, she accepted her next teaching position as a gifted self-contained teacher for highly/profoundly gifted students in a mixed 3rd/4th grade classroom, then only 3rd grade as numbers increased. Eventually, she moved closer to home to teach ELA (English Language Arts) as a 5th grade gifted cluster teacher at a charter school. With her background in gifted education, she became a gifted specialist in the Deer Valley Unified School District, which is one of the largest districts in the Phoenix-metro area. She had the opportunity to bring all of her knowledge and expertise together as the Gifted Lead Teacher in DVUSD. She is now excited to bring her passion, knowledge, and expertise for gifted education to Ignite Learning Academy!
She is married to a fellow teacher, who teaches PE in another school district, and she is a mom of two gifted sons along with a dog and a desert tortoise. She enjoys the unique perspective she can bring to teaching by raising gifted children! She is an entrepreneur and runs a successful skincare business in her free time along with dabbling in Real Estate. For fun, she enjoys reading, hiking, "glamping," and most importantly, spending time with her family.
Fun Fact: On a family trip to Glacier National Park, Mrs. Balog nearly ran into a Grizzly bear and her cubs on a hiking trail. Fortunately, she was able to get away safely, but that was one of the scariest experiences of her life! She now makes certain to have her bear spray handy when hiking in her home state!
Degrees and Certifications:
Bachelors of Science in Elementary Education
Masters of Arts in Education - Curriculum & Instruction
Certifications: Elementary K-8, Gifted PreK-12, Reading Specialist K-12, SEI Endorsement K-12
Michele Blackwell teaches art, history, and some computer courses here at Ignite Learning Academy. She has been an educator for over 18 years, teaching art and history to elementary, middle, high school, and college students at both public and private schools. She has earned two bachelor’s degrees from Northern Arizona University, one in art history and the other in arts management, with minors in fine art and history. She holds a Master of Education in curriculum and instruction from Arizona State University and has Arizona teaching certification in both art and history. She is also a practicing artist and exhibits her work at the Mountain Artist Guild in Prescott, Arizona. She lives in Chino Valley, Arizona with her husband, her daughter, and their dog.
Mrs. Blackwell is dedicated to encouraging and inspiring students at all levels to grow no matter their current skill level or knowledge of the content.
Fun Fact: Mrs. Blackwell has a tea corner in her office, so she can make hot tea any time she wants.
Mrs. Blumeyer lives in Colorado with her husband and 4 children. She enjoys traveling to new places, trying new foods, loves the beach, camping (in an R.V.), and playing games with family and friends.
Mrs. Blumeyer earned an Associate degree in interpreting for the deaf, a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology at Arizona State University, and a Master of Arts in School Counseling and Guidance with an emphasis in deafness at Gallaudet University.
In over 20 years, she has enjoyed working in different educational roles; an assistant at a deaf school, an interpreter for deaf students, a counselor for deaf students, a substitute teacher, and an American Sign Language teacher.
Kiley Cohoon, M.Ed.
Lead Elementary Teacher
Kiley Cohoon, M.Ed.
Mrs. Kiley Cohoon has been an educator for 20 years. During that time, she has taught K-12 music and spent time as an elementary teacher. She lives in South Carolina with her husband, two sons, and dog. She enjoys hiking and camping with her family, and enjoys playing the piano.
She holds a BA in Music Education from Presbyterian College in Clinton, SC and a master’s degree in music education/music therapy from the University of Georgia. She is also a National Board-Certified Teacher in Elementary and Middle Childhood Music. She later went on to complete additional graduate-level courses in order to obtain her elementary education teaching certificate. She also holds Read to Succeed and Online Teaching endorsements.
Fun fact: She has completed a 35-mile bike ride with her family through the Virginia mountains!
Emily Columbus, M.Ed.
Emily Columbus graduated from West Virginia University with a Master’s degree in Elementary Education and Special Education. She has been teaching special education for the past 5 years at schools in West Virginia, Maryland, and her home in Pennsylvania. She loves seeing kids light up when they are learning and she truly believes that every student has the ability to learn and grow when given the proper guidance. She had a passion for starting a special needs color guard in both Morgantown WV and Pittsburgh PA, after doing color guard in her high school and college marching bands. Her group, the South Hills Stars Special Needs Color Guard are in their 2nd season now and have gained lots of interest over the past year.
- Emily is a volunteer firefighter in her spare time .
- She is a color guard coach for the high school she attended.
- She is engaged to be married next fall 2023.
- She loves traveling, camping, rock climbing, hiking, and hanging with friends in her spare time.
Warner D'Cunha Teacher, Technology
Mr. Warner D'Cunha is a servant-leader and steward with more than 20 years of professional Information Technology (IT) experience in financial services and risk management. As a servant first, Mr. D'Cunha's overarching objective is to always enable the growth of individuals and to create environments in which students can excel. As a steward, he holds himself responsible for what has been entrusted to his care, as well as accountable for what he administers on behalf of the true "owners" of the experience i.e. the students, parents, and families.
Mr. D'Cunha graduated from Goa University in Goa, India with a Bachelor's in Computer Science ... so long ago his children refer to it as the "dark ages". Since then he has worked at IBM, American Express, and USAA, spanning the globe in locations like India, Norway, and the USA. Eight years ago, he began teaching part-time in a school-setting that has continued to the present day. During this time, his wife and he started their own STEM education business using LEGO and Python. He also sits on the board of the Southwest Maricopa Region of First Things First — an Arizona voter-initiated, statewide organization that funds early education and health programs to prepare young children to succeed in kindergarten and beyond.
Mr. D'Cunha lives in Litchfield Park, AZ with his wife, their three children, the children's grandmother, two dogs, two turtles, and - come Christmas - a partridge in a pear tree.
The D'Cunha family's perspective on education is summed thusly. “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. Our children have the potential to do great and wonderful things. To become anything, they wish to be. They need to be helped, guided, and nurtured. Not in providing them opportunities – but in equipping them to create their own opportunities. Not in clearing paths – but in teaching them how to build their own roads. Not by mapping out a journey – but by empowering them to create their own destiny! And where these roads take them will pleasantly surprise them … and us. Truly, it has been said that it takes a village to raise a child - and we are that village.”
Fun fact about Mr. D’Cunha: Mr. D'Cunha has had the great fortune to visit all the inhabited continents* on the globe, except Africa. On his punch-list is to visit Uganda, where his mother comes from, as well as to visit Portugal, from where his father shares a cultural inheritance. *Antarctica doesn't count as "inhabited", it just has tourists. <wink>
Amy Ferrier, M.Ed.
Mrs. Amy Ferrier has been a passionate educator for over a decade teaching a variety of grade levels ranging from pre-k to high school. Her professional goals are framed to meet the needs of her students, and her teaching philosophies have been shaped by her students. Throughout her career, Amy’s mission has been to advocate for personalized education focused on the academic, social, and emotional needs of each individual. To quote Aristotle, "There is nothing so unequal as treating unequals equally." Every student deserves a holistic support system, collaborating to reach one goal: providing opportunities for each student to reach their full potential, both in the classroom and in life.
Amy is no stranger to moving and adapting to new environments. She started her career in her hometown suburbs of Chicago, Illinois teaching the lower elementary grades. During her fifth year, Amy was asked to be a middle school self-contained gifted teacher. She immediately became passionate about gifted education and decided to pursue a degree in that field just three years later when she and her husband moved to Wilmington, North Carolina. Amy earned her Master's Degree there, specializing in Gifted Education, and in 2017 was hired as the 4th/5th split teacher at an independent gifted academy nearby. As much as she loved that role, Amy made the transition from east coast to west coast as her husband’s career moved them to California for a few years. There, Amy was hired as an education specialist for a unique education company that serves the greater Los Angeles area for K-12 homeschooling, executive functioning training, tutoring, independent studies, and more. A few years later Amy and her husband moved to Nashville, Tennessee where they planted their roots to stay for the long haul.
No matter what position, grade level, school district, or state, Amy believes that it all comes back to the students. She is grateful for the variety of young minds and colleagues she has been connected with so far and looks forward to meeting many more. Amy proudly joins the Ignite Learning Academy where she will carry on the mission to further develop personalized education.
Fun facts: When Amy is not teaching, she visits her family back in Illinois as much as possible. Amy also enjoys traveling with her husband, kickboxing, dog-sitting, cooking, and going to concerts/sporting events. She will forever be a Chicago sports fan and a fanatic of country superstar Garth Brooks. Believe it or not, Amy has seen Garth Brooks in concert eighteen times in ten different states… so far, that is.
Mr. Mike Finneseth is a veteran science teacher of 35 years. He has taught in Phoenix, AZ, the Twin Cities in Minnesota and most recently in Fargo, ND. His wife, Sheila and their two dogs, Pal and Gretchen, currently are living in Detroit Lakes, MN enjoying life at the lake.
Mr. Finneseth graduated from the University of North Dakota in 1987 and obtained a Masters degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Minnesota State University in Moorhead.
Throughout his years of working with students in both public and private schools, Mr. Finneseth has worked hard to get students to critically think about topics in biology, chemistry, forensics, anatomy & physiology and physical science. He has taught college level biology and anatomy and his students have achieved a qualifying score in AP biology at a rate of 70% over the last 7 years.
Mr. Finneseth has 30 years of coaching experience in basketball both as a head coach and an assistant and has sold hundreds of his landscape photographs taken around the country, had his work featured on the cover of magazines and had his own calendar published by North Dakota Horizons in 2006.
Teacher, Special Education
Teacher, Special Education
Cynthie Gower has a Master of Arts degree in Special Education. She has taught for more than 20 years, including all around the East Valley of Arizona. Ms. Gower has been working in online education since 2017. Cynthie lives with her husband and twin 16-year-old daughters. Ms. Gower absolutely loves helping students build confidence with their academics.
Fun Fact: Cynthie Gower loves to travel and is a big Disney fan!
Teacher, Special Education
Sarah received her B.A in elementary education from Arizona Christian University and her master’s degree in special education from Grand Canyon University. She has 20 years of teaching experience at various grade levels. Sarah is married and has three children. Two of her children have special needs so advocating for and teaching students with special needs is a passion for Sarah. A few of Sarah’s favorite things: reading, Disneyland, cycling class, anything chocolate and coffee!
Mrs. Becky Moore graduated from Western Colorado University in Gunnison, CO with a B.A. in American History and Elementary Education. She received her Masters of Science in Instructional Technology from Grand Canyon University in Arizona. Becky has taught Kindergarten through 6th grade in general education and gifted students. Her passion is STEM education where she loves to work with students and challenge them to critically think while engineering projects that help to solve real world problems. Becky’s educational philosophy is that every child is a genius at something. Becky truly believes her job is to find every child’s genius and then encourage it and help shape it.
Mrs. Becky Moore has been married to her husband for 23 years, and they have two adult children along with 2 French Bulldogs and a cat. Becky and her husband spend their winters in the southern United States and summers in the Rocky Mountains.
Fun Fact: Becky and her husband live full-time in their RV and travel the country throughout the year. Oftentimes she will end the week teaching in one state and begin teaching the next week in a different state.
Dr. Cristina Obae is originally from Romania but considers herself a citizen of the world as she travels together with her husband and son throughout the entire globe having visited more than 34 countries.
She finished her first PhD in French didactics and linguistics at the University of Bordeaux, in France. Then followed the courses of a second masters and started in August 2023 on her second PhD in education, in Finland. Dr. Obae is a lifelong learner and that's what she tries to instill in her students too.
She has been teaching French both face-to-face and online at University, Middle and High School level in Europe since 2004. She is adept of Finnish pedagogy, PBL and embedding new technologies into teaching. She lead teachers training workshops and designed specially for ILA a VR-based French curriculum in order to efficientize language teaching in the online learning environment and ensure active involvement of students pursuing her classes.
Allison Powell, M.A.
Lead Teacher, English
Allison Powell, M.A.
Mrs. Powell (she/her/hers) is a proud Arizona State Sun Devil, having earned concurrent bachelor’s degrees in English and German at the university. Since then she has taught just about all levels of high school English and German, including Advanced PlacementⓇ, at some point in her teaching career. She earned her master’s degree in English literature from Northern Arizona University, where she focused on Gothic literature, her favorite genre to read, teach, and/or talk about whenever she gets a chance. Currently, Mrs. Powell is earning her doctoral degree in educational policy, organization, and leadership at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign and hopes to continue the work of making online education as equitable as possible.
A passionate advocate of graphic novels, Mrs. Powell lives in northern California with her family and two entitled guinea pigs, none of whom appreciate her witty, pun-filled humor as much as her students do.
Fun Fact: Mrs. Powell has been making homemade marshmallows since 2011; she can make just about any flavor you can imagine. Her personal favorite is horchata.
Mrs. Roberts has spent her entire adulthood involved in education, and absolutely loves it. After graduating from the University of Michigan with a Bachelor's in English in 2006, she started teaching high school ELA in the high desert of California. She taught in California from 2006-2015, teaching every grade level of high school ELA, as well as AP Language and Composition, AP Literature, and IB HL1. She also served as WASC chair and Common Core Site Facilitator, helping support her school's staff with literacy across the curriculum. It was then she developed a passion for supporting teachers! In 2015, she left the classroom to support all ELA teachers in her district.
In 2017, following a relocation to Indiana, Mrs. Roberts spent 5 years supporting Indianapolis Public School's Transformation Zone as Data and Project Coordinator. She absolutely loved her close connection to classroom support, and work with teachers. The grant funded position came to an end in 2022, and since then. Mrs. Roberts has been in the Professional Development department of an educational publishing company. It has taken her around the world and across the country as she supports teachers with implementing curriculum. Mrs. Roberts holds a Master's degree in Learning and Technology.
Mrs. Roberts has an absolute passion for two things: supporting better outcomes for all of this country's students and Literacy. She is also absolutely passionate about her two children (aged 12 and 9), her husband who teaches high school math and coaches basketball, and her 4 pets--two dogs (Ozzie and Millie) and two cats (Hazel and Dillon). 3 of her 4 pets have Star Wars middle names, because she loves Star Wars so much that she's in the process of completing a giant Star Wars tattoo on her bicep. Mrs. Roberts also loves spending time with her family, exploring new places, hiking, and being involved in her local community's advocacy and social justice work.
Mrs. Roberts was a founding member of ILA, and is over-the-MOON excited to be back supporting electives.
Mrs. R, as her students call her, has been happily teaching elementary school for about 20 years. She graduated with her B.A. in Elementary Education in 2004 and her M.S. in Psychology in 2012. She takes a holistic approach to teaching by focusing on academics, as well as character development. Mrs. R knows that every student has a light to shine in the world, and she is excited to be a part of their journey.
She is a proud Arizona native and loves to spend time off-roading in the desert with her family, although she really hates the Phoenix heat. She has been married to her high school sweetheart, Scott, for over 22 years and they have two amazing sons, Kyle (21) and Luke (16). They keep her busy and she loves family game nights and weekend camping trips.
Fun facts about Mrs. R:
1. She is a huge fan of Marvel, Star Wars, and Transformers. She has seen all the movies in each franchise about a million times.
2. Bug-eyed dogs are her favorite, and she has a Boxer and a Boston Terrier who sometimes like to attend class, as well as a grumpy cat named Shadow who never misses a chance to be on camera.
3. She is an Arizona sports fanatic! Go Suns, Cardinals, and Diamondbacks!
Mrs. Olena teaches mathematics at various levels. She has worked in many different school settings – junior high, high school, online school, tutoring – but most of her experience comes from teaching mathematics at the local community college. The most fulfilling aspect of teaching in college is the diversity (age, ethnicity, and level of preparation). She takes great pride in guiding her students from their current proficiency levels to new heights, supporting their growth and progress. Also, she is continually involved in professional development regarding the academic use of technology and refining standards of online education.
Mrs. Olena lives in Washington state, one of the most beautiful green hubs for many tech companies. There are plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities like hiking, biking, gardening, fishing, swimming, etc. She tries to do a little bit of everything that nurtures her wild, outdoorsy soul. On the weekends, she enjoys visiting with family and friends. She comes from a very awesome-large family, and is involved in church worship and serving.
At the end of the day, she loves to spend time with her four furry friends. She love to dance and to travel, any chance she gets.
So, there you have it – a wild, outdoorsy, math-loving, tech-savvy, furry-friend-cuddling dancer on the lookout for the next adventure. Cheers to the journey of this coming school year!
Shelia lives in Ocean Springs, MS, on the coastline of Mississippi. Her sweet family consists of her husband and their two sugar cookies (kids). Shelia graduated from Tougaloo College with a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and a Bachelor of Arts in Special Education. She furthered her education at William Carey University and received a Master of Secondary Education in Mathematics. This is her 8th year teaching middle school math and her 10th year in education. In her free time, she loves spending time with family, going to the beach, and sewing. She is so excited to be a part of the ILA team and meeting you, her students! Go Bulldogs.
Beth Van Oss
Beth Van Oss
Ms. Van Oss earned her Bachelor of Arts in English from Northern Michigan University. She also earned a Master of Science in Experiential Education from Mankato State University in Minnesota and a Master of Arts in Spanish from Northern Arizona University. She holds a teaching credential in Secondary Spanish, and is a Highly Qualified Spanish Teacher in AZ, OR and TX. She served as an Outward Bound instructor for a decade teaching leadership and outdoor skills to students of all ages, and mentoring staff throughout the US, Canada and Latin America. For the past 15 years she has been a teacher-leader in both online and brick and mortar schools. She has trained new instructors and ushered in new curriculum to meet the needs of students and innovative teaching. She enjoys helping and supporting students and families develop their world language skills. Ms. Van Oss resides in Prescott, AZ and Ashland, OR.
In her free time, Ms. Van Oss enjoys being in nature, paddling rivers and hiking or mountain biking. She also loves cooking and watching a good series on Netflix when she's relaxing. Fun fact: She has made her own wooden sea kayak and uses it on the rivers and lakes in the Pacific Northwest.
Teacher, Special Education
Teacher, Special Education
Mrs. Krystal Wall lives in Torrington, CT with her family. She graduated from Grand Canyon University with her Bachelor’s in Education. Mrs. Wall worked as a preschool teacher and paraprofessional before receiving her Elementary and Special Education teaching degree. Since then, Mrs. Wall has taught all ages from 1st grade through 7th grade special education over the past several years. Mrs. Wall has had the pleasure of working with students with many different abilities in her educational career.
Mrs. Wall is excited to meet and work with students and families to help them reach their personal educational goals here at ILA. When not teaching, Mrs. Wall likes to spend time with her husband and their three children.
A fun fact about Mrs. Wall is that she is also a photographer!
Rebecca Williams, M.S.
Rebecca Williams, M.S.
Mrs. Williams graduated from Columbia College (SC) with a B.A. in Elementary Education with an Early Childhood Endorsement in 2004. She received her Masters of Science in Integrating Technology into Curriculum and a Masters of Science in Online Education. Mrs. Williams also has a Gifted Education endorsement. She has taught 1st through 6th grade general education and gifted students. She has also served as a teacher trainer and instructional coach.
Mrs. Williams lives in Chicopee, Massachusetts. She is married to her husband (and high school sweetheart) Troy. They have two sons who also attend ILA and a handsome German Shepherd! She loves spending time with her family going on trips, camping, reading, and crafting.
Here are some fun facts about Mrs. Williams: She has been in online education longer than she taught in a traditional school setting. She grew up as a military brat and attended kindergarten in Germany. When she was little, she used to teach her stuffed animals.