Our Team

"Teaching is not about answering questions but about raising questions-

opening doors for them in places that they could not imagine"

-Yawar Baig

We would like to think of ourselves as facilitators, motivators, or guides. 

Learners are encouraged to take more control of their learning process. 

Our role is to embrace each child's unique qualities, equip and support them

with resources to be problem solvers and creative thinkers even through failures, 

empowering and motivating them to find what they want to accomplish in the world.

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Mary has lived in Northeast Florida for 17 years. She graduated from Boston University School of Dental Medicine and completed a Post Doctoral Program in Oral Surgery as well as General Dentistry. She enjoyed the artistry but most especially connecting with her patients.  When her son was born, she decided to focus on being a mother. A great believer in creating the change you want in the world, she felt a deep calling after experiencing shortcomings in her son’s education. She came to a crossroads to either find a school of their dreams or to create it. She decided to participate in the Reggio Emilia approach to Education Program at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA where she applied her passion for a tailored, individualized, collaborative approach from healthcare into education. With great love, River Oak Academy was born.

Mary sees River Oak Academy as a home away from home, a place where children will be accepted as they are, a place where they feel safe, heard, and loved. 

Mary Shaeffer, DMD, CAGS


Martin Farmer comes to us originally from Richmond Virginia.  He studied musical composition, percussion, and acoustic bass at Virginia Commonwealth University. He is a multi-instrumental musician who plays and teaches electric bass, piano, classical guitar, violin, percussion, mandolin, cello, snare drum, ukulele, and anything else if you give him a couple of weeks.  After college, he moved to Miami Florida, and soaked up the many musical genres of the area. He has been a working musician for over 40 years, learning and playing many styles of music: rock, orchestral, jazz, fusion, Christian, country, classical, pop, salsa, reggae, merengue, folk, swing, and whatever comes out next week.  He loves music, he loves playing music, and he loves teaching music to his students in private lessons or enrichment classes. “I’m not just looking for the next concert pianist. I’m looking to find that musical enjoyment and specific ability that is in every child. I look to help them find a musical understanding that brings empowerment, enjoyment, and connection.”Every child is a gift and every child is gifted. My goal as an educator is to instill a safe, respectful, and nurturing environment that will encourage kids to explore, create, and learn.  When I position myself as an open-minded Guide, it is so exciting to see what children can accomplish every day!” 

In her spare time, Irina enjoys hiking, bicycling, and relaxing at the beach with her husband, two sons and beloved dog. Her other passions include cooking, gardening, reading, and traveling. She is a firm believer that traveling and being with a diverse group of people is the best way to learn about other countries, cultures, and traditions so that we may all learn to be truly accepting and respectful of others. 

Music Guide

Martin Farmer, B.A.

Our Team


Tina and her family moved in June 2018 from Newburgh, Indiana to St. Augustine, Florida in search of a new adventure. She graduated from Purdue University in Interior Design, but her hero's journey led her on many different quests over the last decade. It was during this long journey she realized that improving the quality of life for others and the need to express creativity is what really gives her joy.  She felt the calling and started an art-based, whole-brain therapy practice in Indiana. Tina worked with both children and adults with various types and levels of brain disorders and injuries and has seen first-hand the magical transformation that art can bring to people’s lives. Tina is yoga certified and a published children’s book author of Willie’s Way to Freedom. 

Her perseverance introduced her to the next chapter that led her to Florida and eventually River Oak Academy. As soon as she understood River Oak’s philosophy and mission, she knew landing there was part of Divine intervention. She looks forward to embracing the unique qualities of each child that enters River Oak, encouraging their natural curiosity and spirit of discovery and inspiring them to reach their highest potential! Tina embodies a deep passion to empower others to live their highest potential using her active listening and compassionate teaching skills with art and other creative modalities to promote self-discovery.

“I lead with my Heart and use Fear & Faith as my guide. I embrace uncertainty with Trust and Love living with purpose toward my highest potential.”

Tina Gibbs, B.A.

Guide/ Atelierista

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Sara Chakkaphak grew up in a small town in Washington State. She graduated from Vanderbilt University with a Bachelor's degree in Communications and a Master's degree in Education with an emphasis in Organizational Leadership. After graduation, Sara began her career working at the Nashville Symphony, where she helped to plan and implement programs in the Education & Community Engagement Department. After two years of working at the Symphony, she transitioned to teaching and has taught various grades in the United States as well as internationally. In 2016, Sara relocated from Thailand to Florida with her son, Peter. She left her most recent teaching job to join River Oak Academy and is thrilled to be working with such a compassionate and forward-thinking team of educators. A steadfast proponent of the student-centered approach to learning, Sara believes “Everyone wins when children discover the real joys of learning. I strive to ensure that every family who joins River Oak Academy will gain a school experience rooted in real caring, collaboration, and courage to embark on their hero’s journey.”

Sara Chakkaphak, M. Ed.

Director of Admissions & Curriculum Development

Johanna is a daughter, friend, advocate, nature's enthusiast, and coffee fan, but most importantly, she is a "special mother" to three very 'special kids': Joaquin, Sebastian and Camila. ​ Johanna is a native of Puerto Rico and graduated from Syracuse University in 2000. Following her path, she moved to St Johns four years ago. Her path was redirected when her son Joaquin was diagnosed with developmental disabilities at age four. After his diagnosis, Johanna and her family embarked on the most challenging, but yet rewarding journey of their lives. Since then, Johanna decided to focus on making a difference in the lives of children and adults with disabilities. She is a proud graduate of the Partners in Policy Making, a leadership, and advocacy training program that teaches individuals with developmental disabilities and parents to become community leaders and catalysts for systems change. She is also a graduate of the NAMI Family-to-Family program, an educational program for family, friends, and caregivers of people living with mental illness. When she is not serving as her children's Uber driver, driving them all over town, Johanna enjoys cycling, jogging, photography and staying in her pajamas watching 80's romantic movies.  "I have experienced it all, there have been very dark days, there have been very joyful days, but I have chosen to hold on to the latter. My path wouldn't be the same without the support of other "special people" who have held me when I have been weak and who have celebrated my victories as theirs. All you need is LOVE!"

Johanna Lugo, M.A.

Spark Guide

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Laura lived on both US coasts and in between as a child, then settled into Vanderbilt University for her undergraduate studies in the College of Arts and Science. After being awarded the highly competitive Walter Wattles Fellowship at Lloyd’s of London, Laura worked in the aviation insurance industry in New York City. Deciding to follow her calling into the world of education, Laura returned to Nashville and earned her Master of Education at Peabody College. This led her to her work at the Oklahoma Arts Institute, creating fine arts education programs for teachers and talented high school students. Laura married Jeff Sandefer and is the happy mother of Sam and Charlie and step-mother to Taite. It is the inspiration of these children that led Laura and Jeff to co-found Acton Academy. Her greatest hero is her mother who was a Master Teacher. Her wisest mentor is her father who sent her off to college with two words of advice: "Be curious."

Laura Sandefer, M. Ed.

Co-Founder of Acton Academy Austin / Advisor


Jeff Sandefer lives a dual life as an entrepreneur and a Socratic Guide. As an entrepreneur, he founded his first company at age 16 and went on to found or co-found seven successful businesses. As a Socratic teacher at the University of Texas, Jeff’s students five times voted him the school’s Outstanding Teacher and Businessweek named him one of the top Entrepreneurship professors in America. Jeff went on to co-found the Acton School of Business, an MBA program perennially ranked by the Princeton Review among the best in the nation. In 2012 The Economist honored him as one of the top fifteen Business School professors in the world. Jeff is a graduate of the Harvard Business School, where he served for over twenty years on the school’s governing committees. He was a longtime director of the Philanthropy Roundtable and National Review magazine and one of the youngest members ever elected to the Texas Business Hall of Fame.

Jeff Sandefer, MBA

Co-Founder of Acton Academy Austin / Advisor

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River Oak Academy

3355 State Road 13

St Johns, FL 32259

(904) 770-5559