Core Staff

North Star's core staff are lifelong learners committed to supporting teens on their individual learning journeys. Bringing a wide diversity of backgrounds and interests to our community, they take a personal interest in their advisees and students, and bring out their best to help them thrive.

Ken Danford, Executive Director Co-founder of North Star, Ken has been working intensively with teenagers and their families since 1991. Previously a middle school social studies teacher, first in Prince George’s County, MD, then in Amherst, MA, Ken left the Amherst school system to found North Star. He brought with him extensive education and training, including a B.A. from Amherst College in Psychology and an M.A.T. in Social Studies from Brown University.

Ken Danford, Executive Director

Co-founder of North Star, Ken has been working intensively with teenagers and their families since 1991. Previously a middle school social studies teacher, first in Prince George’s County, MD, then in Amherst, MA, Ken left the Amherst school system to found North Star. He brought with him extensive education and training, including a B.A. from Amherst College in Psychology and an M.A.T. in Social Studies from Brown University.

Loran Saito, Program Director After years as a volunteer and board member, Loran joined the North Star staff in 2015. She holds a B.A. in French Language and Literature from the Catholic University of America, an M.A. in International and Intercultural Communication from the School for International Training, an M.A. in Professional Writing and Technical Communication from UMass Amherst, and an M.F.A. in Graphic Design from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is a returned Peace Corps volunteer (Namibia) and a proud parent of four North Star members and alums. 

Loran Saito, Program Director

After years as a volunteer and board member, Loran joined the North Star staff in 2015. She holds a B.A. in French Language and Literature from the Catholic University of America, an M.A. in International and Intercultural Communication from the School for International Training, an M.A. in Professional Writing and Technical Communication from UMass Amherst, and an M.F.A. in Graphic Design from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is a returned Peace Corps volunteer (Namibia) and a proud parent of four North Star members and alums. 

Ellen Morbyrne, Administrative Director Ellen joined North Star as a member during its first year and has been passionate about the movement ever since. She has an A.A. from Holyoke Community College and a B.A. in Theatre (Spanish minor) from Smith College. Ellen is a yoga teacher, mom of two homeschooling kids, and the co-founder of Real Live Theatre. She has been running North Star’s theatre program since 2003, and joined the Core Staff in 2010.

Ellen Morbyrne, Administrative Director

Ellen joined North Star as a member during its first year and has been passionate about the movement ever since. She has an A.A. from Holyoke Community College and a B.A. in Theatre (Spanish minor) from Smith College. Ellen is a yoga teacher, mom of two homeschooling kids, and the co-founder of Real Live Theatre. She has been running North Star’s theatre program since 2003, and joined the Core Staff in 2010.

Jodi Lyn Cutler, Outreach Director Academics came easily to Jodi. She completed her Bachelor of Science and Masters in Geology/ Hydrogeochemistry and was a visiting lecturer at Lafayette College by the time she was 21). The majority of her career involved remediating hazardous waste sites. Traditional academics did not come so easily for her oldest son, who has been touted as a creative genius and is a very successful North Star alumnus. Jodi joined the board of North Star in 2008 She joined North Star as Outreach Director in 2015 as a way to continue her work in making the world a better place.

Jodi Lyn Cutler, Outreach Director

Academics came easily to Jodi. She completed her Bachelor of Science and Masters in Geology/ Hydrogeochemistry and was a visiting lecturer at Lafayette College by the time she was 21). The majority of her career involved remediating hazardous waste sites. Traditional academics did not come so easily for her oldest son, who has been touted as a creative genius and is a very successful North Star alumnus. Jodi joined the board of North Star in 2008 She joined North Star as Outreach Director in 2015 as a way to continue her work in making the world a better place.

Melanie Dana, Core Staff Melanie is the parent of two North Star alums and has been a volunteer for the past five years. Prior to becoming a homeschooling parent, she taught at an alternative high school in the Boston area for ten years and was a preschool teacher for three. She has an EdM in Teaching and Curriculum from Harvard University and a BA in Psychology from Boston College.

Melanie Dana, Core Staff

Melanie is the parent of two North Star alums and has been a volunteer for the past five years. Prior to becoming a homeschooling parent, she taught at an alternative high school in the Boston area for ten years and was a preschool teacher for three. She has an EdM in Teaching and Curriculum from Harvard University and a BA in Psychology from Boston College.

Susannah Sheffer, Core Staff Susannah has been part of the North Star staff since 2005 and a supporter since the organization’s early days, when she was working as editor of Growing Without Schooling, the national magazine founded by John Holt. She is a professional writer and has worked with people who have been affected by violent crime and other traumatic experiences. Susannah has a Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and is pursuing state licensure. At North Star, she leads Writing Your Life and other discussion groups, and meets with teens one-on-one.

Susannah Sheffer, Core Staff

Susannah has been part of the North Star staff since 2005 and a supporter since the organization’s early days, when she was working as editor of Growing Without Schooling, the national magazine founded by John Holt. She is a professional writer and has worked with people who have been affected by violent crime and other traumatic experiences. Susannah has a Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and is pursuing state licensure. At North Star, she leads Writing Your Life and other discussion groups, and meets with teens one-on-one.

John Sprague, Core Staff John has been affiliated with North Star since its inception. He has been a parent to two members, a board member, and now a staff member leading classes in Philosophy and Math. He is also a musician for the Five College dance program. John has a B.A. from Amherst College in English and a Masters in Creativity Studies from Vermont College.

John Sprague, Core Staff

John has been affiliated with North Star since its inception. He has been a parent to two members, a board member, and now a staff member leading classes in Philosophy and Math. He is also a musician for the Five College dance program. John has a B.A. from Amherst College in English and a Masters in Creativity Studies from Vermont College.

Josh Wachtel, Core Staff Josh joined the North Star core staff in 2011. He coordinates North Star's music program, which includes a band, chorus, music lessons and three Variety Shows every year. Josh has a B.A. in history from Penn State, taught English as a Peace Corps volunteer in Romania, and has taught music, history and other subjects at alternative schools and privately. He also leads the band Radio Free Earth.

Josh Wachtel, Core Staff

Josh joined the North Star core staff in 2011. He coordinates North Star's music program, which includes a band, chorus, music lessons and three Variety Shows every year. Josh has a B.A. in history from Penn State, taught English as a Peace Corps volunteer in Romania, and has taught music, history and other subjects at alternative schools and privately. He also leads the band Radio Free Earth.

Wyatt Martin, DIAL/SELF Americorps Wyatt is currently serving at North Star as 1 of 2 Americorps members. He received his B.A. from Hampshire College, where he focused on educational philosophy. At North Star he teaches courses in Arts, Sciences, and HiSet writing prep. His hobbies/interests include: Music, Photography, Writing, Reading, Nature, Culture, and Games.

Wyatt Martin, DIAL/SELF Americorps

Wyatt is currently serving at North Star as 1 of 2 Americorps members. He received his B.A. from Hampshire College, where he focused on educational philosophy. At North Star he teaches courses in Arts, Sciences, and HiSet writing prep. His hobbies/interests include: Music, Photography, Writing, Reading, Nature, Culture, and Games.

Alexis Polokoff, DIAL/SELF Americorps Alexis is an AmeriCorps member of DIAL/SELF currently serving at North Star. She graduated SUNY New Paltz in May of 2016 with a major in Sociology, a concentration in Human Services, and a minor in Art. She has a passion for combining creativity with elements of social justice.

Alexis Polokoff, DIAL/SELF Americorps

Alexis is an AmeriCorps member of DIAL/SELF currently serving at North Star. She graduated SUNY New Paltz in May of 2016 with a major in Sociology, a concentration in Human Services, and a minor in Art. She has a passion for combining creativity with elements of social justice.

 
 

board of directors

Gary Bernhard, President From 1975 to 1979 Gary was director of an alternative school in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. From 1979 to 2009 Gary was with the University Without Walls at UMass Amherst and was Director of the program between 1988 and 2006. He retired in 2009. After chairing the Finance Committee being a member of the Presence Team, he moved on to serve as President.

Gary Bernhard, President

From 1975 to 1979 Gary was director of an alternative school in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. From 1979 to 2009 Gary was with the University Without Walls at UMass Amherst and was Director of the program between 1988 and 2006. He retired in 2009. After chairing the Finance Committee being a member of the Presence Team, he moved on to serve as President.

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Wyatt Martin Wyatt is currently serving at North Star as 1 of 2 Americorps members. He received his B.A. from Hampshire College, where he focused on educational philosophy. At North Star he teaches courses in Arts, Sciences, and HiSet writing prep. His hobbies/interests include: Music, Photography, Writing, Reading, Nature, Culture, and Games.

Wyatt Martin

Wyatt is currently serving at North Star as 1 of 2 Americorps members. He received his B.A. from Hampshire College, where he focused on educational philosophy. At North Star he teaches courses in Arts, Sciences, and HiSet writing prep. His hobbies/interests include: Music, Photography, Writing, Reading, Nature, Culture, and Games.

Joe O'Rourke Joe O’Rourke does radio advertising campaigns, plays the drums, grows vegetables, raises goats and does a lot of hot yoga. He does it all left-handed and without a high school diploma.

Joe O'Rourke

Joe O’Rourke does radio advertising campaigns, plays the drums, grows vegetables, raises goats and does a lot of hot yoga. He does it all left-handed and without a high school diploma.

Sue Surner Sue Surner joined our board in 2011.  The parent of three North Star alumni, Sue lives in Belchertown.  She is co-owner and operator of her family business, Surner Heating.  Sue also has a Masters in Education from Springfield College. Sue brings her dynamism, intelligence, and common sense to the board and is a valued member of several committees.

Sue Surner

Sue Surner joined our board in 2011.  The parent of three North Star alumni, Sue lives in Belchertown.  She is co-owner and operator of her family business, Surner Heating.  Sue also has a Masters in Education from Springfield College. Sue brings her dynamism, intelligence, and common sense to the board and is a valued member of several committees.

Joshua Hornick, President Emeritus Joshua co-founded North Star with Ken Danford in 1996. Joshua co-directed the program for eight years, then became Board President for another seven years. Joshua remains a great friend and ally to the program and has more than earned the lifelong title of President Emeritus.

Joshua Hornick, President Emeritus

Joshua co-founded North Star with Ken Danford in 1996. Joshua co-directed the program for eight years, then became Board President for another seven years. Joshua remains a great friend and ally to the program and has more than earned the lifelong title of President Emeritus.