Faculty and Staff

Scroll down to learn about each member of our all-star team at Connections:

Michele Kukler, Head of School, Founding Faculty Member
Julia Oliver Weatherby, Director of Student Transitions
Erin McAlister, Office Manager, Founding Board Member
Carolyn Roberts, Senior Teacher, ASL, Music, Founding Faculty Member
Rebecca Richter, Senior Teacher, Civics, History, Founding Faculty Member
Steve McInaney, Outdoor Education Coordinator
Hanley Bradfield, ASL, Occupational Therapy, Yoga
Ivan Riobio, Economics and S.T.E.M.
Jahada Jones, Literature and Composition
Ginny Kilgore, Support Teacher
Jess Sibley, Occupational Therapist
Jen Leon, Financial Management
Katherine Suzman-Schwartz, School Counselor
Kelsey Aughey, Communication Specialist
KT Hill, Art, Substitute Teacher
Heidi Sanders, Art, Founding Faculty Member

Michele Kukler, Head of School
Founding Faculty Member

Michele holds a master’s degree in youth development leadership from Clemson University and a bachelor’s in child and family development from the University of Georgia. Michele has taught students at every age from preschool to high school in both public and private school settings. She currently teaches online courses in youth development at Clemson University. Michele holds a Georgia educator certificate in high school behavioral sciences and is also a certified therapeutic yoga teacher. Michele was instrumental in taking Connections from concept to reality and developing its innovative vision, curriculum, and instructional strategies. Michele is always thinking about the future of our little school with big dreams!

Julia Oliver Weatherby, Director of Student Transitions

Julia has a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Georgia College and a master’s degree in social work from Georgia State University. As part of her field education for her master’s program, Julia interned at Connections for the 2018-2019 school year and says she dreamt of returning to our incredibly special community ever since! As Director of Student Transitions, she supports students and families through critical periods of transition and instills confidence in students as they take on challenges and begin new chapters. Julia is developing the foundation of a post-secondary program that will offer students the opportunity to explore their paths and passions upon graduation. As an ardent champion of youth voice, whether spoken or spelled, Julia is directed by each student as she encourages their individual progress and growth.

Erin McAlister, Office Manager
Founding Board Member

Erin has worn many hats since our school’s inception. As a founding board member, she helped dream up what Connections could be and worked fervently to bring the school to life. Erin is a parent to one of our students and a fierce advocate for the neurodiverse community. With twelve years of experience as a small business owner, Erin brings knowledge and expertise to her administrative role managing school operations. Additionally, Erin is a natural educator and works with students privately to support their communication skill development and enrich their educational journeys. Given her many strengths, skills, and passions, Erin is a true asset to our Connections community.

Carolyn Roberts, Senior Teacher, American Sign Language, Music
Founding Faculty Member

Carolyn graduated from Roanoke College with a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a concentration in human development and a minor in sociology. Carolyn formerly taught in Montessori and DIR/Floortime schools before joining the inaugural faculty at Connections. She has an extensive musical background in voice and piano and brings these gifts to her music classes and after school performing arts programs. The students say she has a “heart of gold” and a “gentle spirit,” and Carolyn says she is inspired each day by their perseverance and strength.

Rebecca Richter, Senior Teacher, History
Founding Faculty Member

Rebecca graduated from Goucher College with a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a concentration in gender psychology and a minor in women’s studies. Rebecca helped open Connections with more than 15 years of experience in the DIR/Floortime community. As a former college athlete with extensive knowledge of adolescent and young adult development, Rebecca plays a key role in helping students build confidence, determination, and grit. The students say Rebecca is “carefully in tune with their needs,” and the teachers depend on her grounding presence.

Steve McInaney, Outdoor Education Coordinator

Not all classrooms have four walls! As a former wilderness instructor and supervisor for the National Outdoor Leadership School, Steve challenges us to step outside our comfort zones and take risks. He has a lifetime of teaching experience, including science and math at the high school and middle school level, and he is also trained as a wilderness EMT and First Responder. Steve has a bachelor’s degree in physical science with a minor in environmental studies from the University of California. He received his Master of Education in educational leadership from Montana State University.

Hanley Bradfield, American Sign Language, Occupational Therapy, Yoga

Hanley is a lifelong learner who craves new challenges and experiences. As a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant and a Certified Yoga Instructor, Hanley creates opportunities for our students to develop self-awareness and strength. Her many areas of expertise include reflexology, meditation, and mindfulness. Hanley was formerly a personal care assistant for young adults with disabilities such as Aicardi Syndrome, Muscular Dystrophy, and Cerebral Palsy, and she continues to work in assisted living facilities in addition to her time at Connections. Hanley brings positive energy and enthusiasm to every room she enters!

Ivan Riobo, Economics and S.T.E.M.

Ivan started at Connections teaching robotics classes to our inaugural class of students. He is now our economics and S.T.E.M. lead and continues to utilize innovative technology in his classes. Ivan has degrees in business, finance, management, economics, and computer science and is also fluent in five languages! He brings this wealth of knowledge and experience to the classroom and challenges students to understand the real-world applications of math and science. The students describe him as “always patient and pushing boundaries.” His teaching is truly on the cutting edge!

Jahada Jones, Literature and Composition

Jahada holds a bachelor’s degree in integrative studies with a minor in linguistics from Kennesaw State University. Jahada completed her student teaching internship at Connections before joining the team full time as our literature teacher. Jahada says she is starting her career at Connections because she enjoys the peaceful and positive environment and the way the teachers support one another. Jahada loves how our students are genuinely eager to learn, and she listens to their individual voices and ideas as she plans her creative and purposeful curriculum. Students say she is “a believer in our ability” and “a beautiful spirit.”

Ginny Kilgore, Community Engagement, Substitute Teacher

Ginny joined the team to support classroom learning and community engagement outings after being a stellar substitute of ours! She majored in theater at the University of Tennessee and formally taught at Coralwood School and The Hirsch Academy. Ginny loves to work in collaborative environments and learn from students who think and see the world differently. She is inspired by their creativity and unique perspectives on life and love. Ginny strives to create strong and lasting relationships with each of our students, and the other teachers benefit greatly from her kind and calming nature.

Jess Sibley, OTR/L, Occupational Therapist

Jess graduated from New York University with a master’s degree in occupational therapy. In addition to being the occupational therapist at The Hirsch Academy, she started her own practice, Minds in Motion, in 2015. Jess works closely with her clients to help them gain more strength, coordination, and independence in daily living skills. Jess also specializes in supporting students with developing the purposeful motor skills they need to access alternative modes of communication. One Connections student says, “Jess can take credit for getting me so loved at school.”

Jen Leon, Ph.D., Financial Management

Jen holds a Ph.D. in mathematics education with an emphasis in instructional technology and an M.S. in mathematics. She has more than twenty years of experience teaching mathematics, primarily at the high school level, but also to elementary and middle school students as well as to adults. Becoming a parent to an amazing, autistic child inspired her to expand her work to include both neurotypical and neuroatypical students. She uses a relational approach, aiming first to connect with her students and establish trust. Jen is adaptable in her methods and willing to work with students in whatever way serves them best on that particular day, in that particular moment.

Katherine Suzman-Schwartz, Ph.D., School Counselor

Katherine has been a licensed clinical psychologist since 1999. She began her graduate work at a school program for children with traumatic brain injuries and has continued to specialize in working with individuals, adolescents, and families who are dealing with physical health concerns and navigating life’s major transitions. Katherine takes an integrative approach to counseling pulling from a humanistic base and adding in family systems and cognitive behavioral theory. Katherine supports our school community by working with students on social emotional issues affecting their relationships and classroom participation as well as leading group lessons and discussions. She also supports parents and teachers in their journeys serving our students.

Kelsey Aughey, Communication Specialist

Kelsey has a gift for understanding whether or not our students are using reliable speech and if they need extra support to access their authentic voices. Kelsey coaches our teachers on alternative communication methods and instructional strategies. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Georgia Southern University and owns a private practice, Outword, where she works with children and young adults in individual and group settings. Kelsey has traveled internationally and throughout the country to present at educational conferences and train educators on supporting students with communication, sensory, and motor differences.

KT Hill, Art, Substitute Teacher

KT served as an afterschool program provider, guest teacher, and substitute teacher at Connections before joining the team as an art educator. They have an immense passion for art and design as well as cooking. KT was first introduced to our community when they guest taught our students the farm-to-table approach to cooking in one of our life-skills courses. KT proceeded to create and lead our first afterschool art club. KT’s younger sister, who is autistic, and mother, who worked in education for 38 years, inspire them to serve this community. KT brings an open mind and open heart to our students and staff. They are a creative force in our crew!

Heidi Schaffner Sanders, Art
Founding Faculty Member

Heidi holds a master’s degree in psychology with a concentration in life coaching and creative expression from Sophia University. She majored in studio art and psychology at the University of Vermont and has extensive experience in education, art, and yoga. Heidi has been an educator since 1999, beginning as an Americorps member with local literacy programs. She taught for nine years in Atlanta-area DIR schools, most recently at The Hirsch Academy, before helping open Connections. She is also a certified yoga instructor with additional training in special needs and yoga therapy. Heidi is currently on maternity leave, but she continues to send her abundant love and encouragement to our school family while away.

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