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 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 alums.

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.

Kizzi Collier, Operations Manager   Kizzi is a graduate from Hampshire College. Her Division III was on the erotic romance novel titled: "My Chemical Erotic Romance: A Deeper Look into Women's Lustful Fantasies." She graduated in the Spring of 2018 and served as an AmeriCorps DIAL/SELF member at North Star from 2018-2019 before being hired to the Core Staff. Her passions, hobbies, and joys in life include writing fiction, reading romance novels, hiking, and herbalism

Kizzi Collier, Operations Manager

Kizzi is a graduate from Hampshire College. Her Division III was on the erotic romance novel titled: "My Chemical Erotic Romance: A Deeper Look into Women's Lustful Fantasies." She graduated in the Spring of 2018 and served as an AmeriCorps DIAL/SELF member at North Star from 2018-2019 before being hired to the Core Staff. Her passions, hobbies, and joys in life include writing fiction, reading romance novels, hiking, and herbalism

Melanie Dana, Core Staff   Melanie is the parent of two North Star alums and was a long-term volunteer prior to joining the Core Staff in 2016. Before 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 was a long-term volunteer prior to joining the Core Staff in 2016. Before 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.

Ellen Morbyrne, Core Staff, Fee Reductions Administrator   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 joined the Core Staff in 2010.

Ellen Morbyrne, Core Staff, Fee Reductions Administrator

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 joined the Core Staff in 2010.

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 of non-fiction and poetry and a licensed mental health counselor who works with adolescents and adults in a community mental health setting and in private practice. At North Star, she leads classes in psychology and writing and works 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 of non-fiction and poetry and a licensed mental health counselor who works with adolescents and adults in a community mental health setting and in private practice. At North Star, she leads classes in psychology and writing and works 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.

 
 

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.

Emily Harding-Morick

Emily Harding-Morick

Alexis Polokoff  Alexis is a graduate student at UMass Amherst, who previously served at North Star as an AmeriCorps member of DIAL/SELF. 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

Alexis is a graduate student at UMass Amherst, who previously served at North Star as an AmeriCorps member of DIAL/SELF. 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.

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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.