"Teaching is not about answering questions but about raising questions-
opening doors for them in places that they could not imagine"
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.
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/Guide
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
Irina was born and raised in Belarus. She received her Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education and Psychology from Belarusian State University. She also holds a degree in Public Relations. She had her first son before moving to the U.S. in 2011 with her family with a great desire to search for greater diversity and freedom. Irina has 5+ years of experience working with children of various ages and strongly believes that each child is unique. She makes it a priority to incorporate outdoor activities and natural materials as much as possible in the Spark Studio. Irina values curiosity and experimentation herself and therefore tries to pass this love of learning on to her learners.
“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.
Irina Hurskaya, B.S.
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.
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