Leading by example
The SelfDesign® Learning Foundation is led by a passionate Board of Directors and Leadership Team who strive to make a difference in the lives of our learners and families.
Our board of directors
Vancouver Island–based technology entrepreneur Carlos da Ponte brings to the SelfDesign Learning Foundation Board of Directors his considerable experience with non-profit boards and advisory councils for education-oriented organizations. With those organizations, he has led organizational restructuring processes, IT overhaul projects, committee-building exercises, and board revitalization.
But his own experiences with self-directed education drives his involvement with SelfDesign. As a teenager, he travelled the world by boat while completing his studies by correspondence. At Simon Fraser University, he challenged the limits of the standard curriculum by designing an undergraduate degree that suited his interests. His Master’s degree in Environment & Management from Royal Roads University provided him with the flexibility, technology, support and freedom he needed to learn remotely while he continued working. These experiences prompted him and his wife to offer the same flexibility and choice in learning to their own young children.
“I am a firm believer that there are different ways to learn, every individual has a unique way of learning, and that embracing this approach yields that best outcomes for the individual and society,” he says “It is this perspective I see mirrored in SelfDesign’s mission and programs.”
Devon has a long and varied history with SelfDesign. He is an alumni of the Wondertree and Virtual High programs (predecessors to SelfDesign) and has roots in natural learning principles and practices.
Devon brings 25 years of experience in software development – a curiosity first discovered at Wondertree, which continued into a career. Devon is passionate about the intensifying confluence of knowledge, technology and culture that is opening so many directions in learning.
Frank Heinzelmann has been part of the SelfDesign community for many years, having watched his three children grow into passionate, self-directed and confident learners as they progressed through our kindergarten to grade 12 program.
“SelfDesign’s approach and vision towards lifelong learning are inspiring, and I believe that it is ever more relevant in our global community,” he says. “I believe that SelfDesign, as a leading independent online learning provider, already serves as a model for natural and personalized lifelong learning, not just in BC but globally.”
Frank brings to the SelfDesign Learning Foundation Board of Directors his expertise and experience in banking and investment, as well as in biology and forestry, with degrees from the University of British Columbia and universities in Germany and South Africa. His professional work has focused on environmental consulting and, in recent years, private banking and investment. A Vancouver resident, he is a founding member and board member of the Jericho Stewardship Group, and an active member of the Spanish Banks Streamkeepers Group and the Jericho Lands Working Group, where he works with university students undertaking environmental research projects.
As a former Superintendent of Schools in the Richmond School District and in the Comox Valley, Sherry Elwood brings decades of experience as an educational leader and as an advocate for online learning and programs that meet the needs of diverse B.C. learners.
Early in her teaching career, she worked in alternative education and in Indigenous Education on Vancouver Island, and also with older learners at a correctional facility.
These experiences, she says, “amplified my understanding of the need for diversity in the learning opportunities that were offered to students. I understood that a “one size fits all” model often misses what many students need to reach their potentials.”
Her own connection with online learning began in 2004 when, as a school principal, she recognized that virtual learning was a platform that could offer meaningful learning options to a small population. From that start, she worked with North Island Island Distance Education Services/Comox Valley to increase opportunities and options for online learning and for engaging learners with diverse needs. Later, she helped to integrate online options for secondary learners enrolled in Comox Valley district schools and for learners with challenges enrolled in Richmond School District.
Verena was born and raised in North Vancouver, BC and feels most at home when nestled between the ocean and the mountains. In 2002, she began her work with Wondertree Learning Centre, first as an educator, then as vice-principal. Verena’s Masters of Arts in Integrated Studies allowed her to weave teachings from Indigenous knowledge, self-directed learning and living inquiry into her practice. Verena lives on Haida Gwaii with her husband and two daughters, where she is a Principal with School District 50.
SelfDesign Learning Foundation is governed by a volunteer board of directors consisting of up to 11 elected directors. They’re responsible for providing strategic support and expertise to ensure the continuity of the vision, legacy, and succession of leadership for SelfDesign Learning Foundation.
Our foundation leadership team
Amber first joined SelfDesign Learning Foundation in January 2017. She is passionate about providing overall leadership and oversight to the organization’s programs.
What she loves most about her position at SelfDesign Learning Foundation are the people she works with and the fact that our community is one of the most dedicated, resilient and heartfelt group of people she could hope to work with.
When she looks back on her career and her time with SelfDesign Learning Foundation, her biggest achievements have always involved making a positive difference in other people’s lives and working as a not-for-profit leader allows her to do that everyday.
When Amber isn’t at work, she loves spending time with her family and friends, cycling, hiking, travelling, and she loves to run – having completed eight marathons, including the Boston Marathon in 2014.
Sandy is responsible for ensuring the Foundation and its programs operate effectively. She sees her role as one of supporting SelfDesign contractors to work with learners and families, and removing any challenges or obstacles that prevent that.
Sandy is passionate about helping young people achieve the work-life future they want for themselves. She feels fortunate to have built a career creating successful transition pathways for high school students and young people to employment and/or post-secondary education and training primarily in resource-based industries and the trades. She also helps employers hire and develop workers based on what they can do (rather than what their credentials say they can do) and where their interests are aligned.
What attracted Sandy to SelfDesign was the organization’s learning model, its inclusivity and the potential it offers to learners and families. She appreciates being part of a team that is supporting and growing the organization not just to prepare children to live but to thrive in the world. Sandy is continually impressed with the integrity and commitment of the people who work at SelfDesign; it’s one of the things she loves most about the organization.
Outside of her work with SelfDesign, Sandy enjoys spending time with her family, including supporting her daughter as she currently transitions through university and into a career. She also loves to walk, cycle and travel.
Dave comes from a security background and has been consulting to global clients since 2001. He develops, maintains and oversees the operations of information, IT services and security to ensure the effective, efficient support to all the clients and programs of SelfDesign Learning Foundation, and leads a team of eight people.
After many years of consulting in various parts of the world, including five years of living in Africa, Dave’s mentality for learning, interactions and success was greatly impacted. Dave discovered SelfDesign Learning Foundation upon returning to Canada in August 2016. SelfDesign program offerings resonated with Dave’s ethics and viewpoints and he was thrilled to join the organization.
What Dave loves most about his position at SelfDesign is the fact that he has the opportunity to redefine how learning is presented away from the traditional “memorize, repeat, succeed” learning models.
When Dave isn’t busy saving the world on his computer, he’s interested in all forms of fermentation, long distance bicycle touring, marine aquaria and music composition.
Karen joined SelfDesign in 2017 after being attracted to SelfDesign as an organization aligned with her personal values as well as her knowledge, skills and interest in developing and leading integrated and impactful communications for a mission-focused, multi-stakeholder organization.
Karen directs and oversees all external and internal communications including communications planning and implementation, internal communications, marketing, social media and website management, and so much more.
In her time at SelfDesign, Karen has developed and implemented a new brand across the organization, developed and directed a basement to attic renovation of the communications infrastructure, policies, procedures, guidelines and internal communications vehicles.
What Karen loves most about being a SelfDesign contractor are the people and purpose of the organization. It is very rewarding for her to be part of an organization that offers a unique, inclusive and personalized learning experience for thousands of learners every year with a team of dedicated and passionate individuals who care deeply about what they do.
Outside of her work at SelfDesign, Karen enjoys attending music festivals and concerts and is the founder and volunteer executive director of the Fort Langley Jazz & Arts Festival, a non-profit organization with a mandate to bring jazz music and visual art to the community through the annual two-day festival. She also enjoys spending time with family and friends and enjoying everything the Fraser Valley has to offer, including walking trails, cafes, art galleries, farmers markets and wineries.
Debra joined the SelfDesign Learning Foundation in 2019 and manages the organization’s finances. She ensures accurate and timely tracking of all expenditures, grant funding from the Ministry of Education, and compliance with regulatory and filing requirements. She also prepares the organization’s financial statements and budgets, and manages its cash and banking arrangements.
Introduced to SelfDesign by a colleague, Debra says it took only a few meetings with SelfDesign’s leadership team to hook her. She has some experience in online education and raised a son who struggled through the public school system. He’s now a teacher, but, Debra says, “He would have benefited tremendously from the SelfDesign learning program.” As a former director for the Learning Disability Association of BC, she is keenly interested in education methodologies that cater to individuals’ interests and abilities.
In her current role, Debra draws on past experience as a chief financial officer and in various other financial positions in big and small organizations. Her own chartered accounting practice served more than 300 clients and had five employees. She has been a key business advisor for over 10 years, and she has published a number of articles about business management.
She finds working with SelfDesign’s dedicated group of professionals enormously gratifying and feels privileged to work with a finance team so committed to creating better systems and processes for SelfDesign.
Debra is passionate about nature and the outdoors, and enjoys kayaking, cycling, skiing, yoga, and walks with her dog, Cora. She’s already been part of the Ride to Conquer Cancer twice, and plans to take part again in 2020. She also loves spending time with family and friends at her lakeside cottage.
Debra came to SelfDesign in 2008 after discovering and being drawn into the learner-centred philosophy of SelfDesign. Having her own less than satisfying school experience, Debra found this new approach to learning compelling and saw the potential for learners to cultivate a strong sense of self worth.
As the Director of Human Relations, Debra provides advice and direction regarding all aspects of the contracting process for SelfDesign and handles human relations matters of a confidential and sensitive nature.
Throughout her career, Debra has worked in organizations across a wide range of industries including legal, government, health care and education. Her focus for the past 20 years has been in the field of educational operations and leadership.
What Debra loves most about SelfDesign are the people and the creative environment. She loves being part of an organization that encourages learners to fully be themselves and enjoy the process of learning.
When River moved from Alaska to a small mountain town in Colorado in 2003, she had never heard of Wondertree, SelfDesign, or Brent Cameron (founder of SelfDesign Learning Foundation). By chance, she ended up finding work as a family advocate in a community-based educational program that Brent had helped design there. She met him during a visit and was impressed by his vision of learner-led, supported learning.
River was brought into SelfDesign in 2004 by Brent, with her initial task being to rewrite Brent’s SelfDesign book draft and help with its first publication. In 2004, she moved to British Columbia and became part of the leadership group, and she has remained in leadership ever since. River was also a parent in the SelfDesign Learning Community program for many years; her daughter is a SelfDesign graduate, appreciating where the program’s freedom to focus on her interests has taken her in young adulthood.
As the Director of Organizational Learning & Culture, River has been instrumental in holding the vision and philosophy of SelfDesign and sharing it with all SelfDesign Learning Foundation contractors, learners, families and more. She has also designed and conducted many Community Conversations within SelfDesign Learning Foundation to build knowledge and culture within our contractor community.
What River loves most about her position with SelfDesign Learning Foundation is the freedom to be creative and work enthusiastically in her own style. She appreciates the opportunities both to do solo activities and to engage in collaborative projects, and she values seeing her efforts contribute to the evolution of SelfDesign over time.
When River isn’t mentoring others about our values and philosophy, she can be found traveling, reading, and being physically
Catherine is the principal of the SelfDesign Learning Community.
Catherine began her work with SelfDesign in 2004 as a learning consultant and a support education learning consultant. She has worked with scores of learners and families with diverse needs and approaches.
In her time in various roles at SelfDesign, Catherine has led the creation of the SelfDesign Library of Learning Experiences, bringing accessible, curated resources to our learners. The last few years have included developing and implementing SelfDesign’s new grades 10-12, and coordinating our growth as an inclusive kindergarten to Grade 12 program.
What Catherine loves most about SelfDesign is that learners can be who they are, authentically. From the whole family connection to the learning consultant to inclusive universal design in our learner offerings, relationship to ourselves, each other, and our world – is at the core of our philosophy.
Outside of her work at SelfDesign, Catherine loves to cook, swim, spend time with her husband and two daughters, and is found making something crafty every day!
Clarissa is one of two vice principals with the SelfDesign Learning Community.