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.


Gina has been a Montessori guide for over 18 years. She received her Montessori certification in 2001 while living in Michigan. She moved to Jacksonville, FL in June 2002 and has worked at A Child’s Place Montessori school for the past 18 years. She is married and has two children. She enjoys spending time with her family, swimming, reading, listening to music, and going to the beach. She joined River Oak to further her love of teaching and to help children thrive in an encouraging environment to reach their full potential. She truly believes there is more to education than academics. She is a big proponent of the Montessori method because of its holistic approach to education. "My strengths as a guide would be that I relate well with children and parents, observe and lead children towards independence. My special interests are art, music, and cultural studies. I believe our children are the peacekeepers and voices of the future."

Gina Golemb


Dinah is co-founder of Connecting Thru Music and Music Teacher for Connecting Thru Music (CTM). She graduated from Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in 99’ and studied Vocal Performance at Jacksonville University. She is a private voice, piano, and guitar instructor at Orange Park School of Music and a Licensed Kindermusik Educator. Her band, Cain’t Never Could, is partnered with CTM and provides live music and support for their fundraising initiatives. She is the lead song writer for CTM. 

As a music teacher and working musician, her goal is to connect to others through the powerful medium of music. She believes that music is the universal language, the common bond that connects us and soothes our souls. Having seen first hand the success that comes from using music as a tool for learning, she strongly believes in the benefits of music enrichment for children. She welcomes opportunities that allow her to share her love and appreciation for music with others! 

Music Guide

Dinah Frilling


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



Melanie has over 12 years of experience in the field of education working with hundreds of teens. Her Hero's Journey has led her down a path where she has worked as a  teacher, an Academic Life Coach for teens, and a yoga and mindfulness instructor for kids as well as adults. Along this journey Melanie learned a lot from the students and parents she worked with, which inspired a passion in holistic education. She believes that a student's social emotional well-being is just as important as their academic progress. Melanie has published several workbooks and created various products to help teens have less stress and achieve more success. When she found River Oak Academy and learned about the Acton philosophy she knew that it would be a great school for her curious, nature-loving son to grow and learn. The opportunity to serve as an MS Guide is an honor and in line with Melanie's passion to help students succeed in school and life. 

Melanie Black


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

Spanish Guide


Our Team

MLS profile.heic

Mary is a graduate of Boston University and Lesley University. She currently lives in Northeast Florida. A great believer in creating the change you want to see in the world, she felt a deep calling to create a school that is very much needed but simply didn't exist. A learning community where the joy of learning is palpable and alive. With many years of trial and error, soul-searching, and great love, River Oak Academy was born. She is inspired each day to see each learner take agency over their learning. She remains a lifelong learner. She learns more from each learner on any given day than from anyone else. She believes that the true objective of education is learning, not teaching. Mary's vision is to see River Oak Academy as a place where children are seen as the best versions of themselves. A place where they feel safe, heard, and loved.

Mary Shaeffer



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

  • Instagram
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
Curious?  Explore more...

River Oak Academy

3355 State Road 13

St Johns, FL 32259

(904) 770-5559