Our Start Up Team
Meet our founding Principal and Board of Directors comprised of veteran educators, advocates, and community leaders.
Jill Fineis, Principal
Jill Fineis has been involved in education for nearly 20 years. She holds a BS in Education from the University of Michigan where she majored in Environmental Studies and minored in Earth Science. She attended Teton Science School’s graduate program in place-based education and earned her M.Ed at Montana State University. More recently, she gained a Principal Credential through Washington State University and served WestSide High School in Wenatchee throughout her principal internship.
Jill brings K-12 experience that includes teaching high school Biology, Health and Ecology for the White Mountain School in Bethlehem, New Hampshire and 7th Grade Life Science at Jackson Hole Middle School, in Jackson, Wyoming. She has coached multiple sports including, multi-pitch rock climbing, mt. biking, skiing, swimming and diving.
Jill has administrative experience in higher education, having served as Dean of Students for Sterling College in Craftsbury Common, Vermont. She developed coursework in Education and Culture, Outdoor and Environmental Education, Field Ecology also taught Adventure Education at Prescott College in Prescott, Arizona.
Most Recently, Jill was the Science Coordinator for Wenatchee School district. There, she helped to bring engineering curriculum to all K-5 classrooms, facilitated professional development, coached instruction, set up continuous improvement plans in science, and played a critical role in the 6-12 science transition to the phenomena based learning required of new science standards. She also chaired committees designated to create STEM and project based learning experiences for students and subsequently, transformed the science field experiences to align to Next Generation Science Standards.
Jill believes that all children can learn at high levels and when we address student’s needs comprehensively through a shared responsibility of students, families, teachers, and community, we have a better chance at closing the opportunity gap and preparing all students for the challenges and opportunities the world has to offer.
Rick Wray, Co-Founder and Board President
Rick has 20+ years of diverse education experience, serving both K-12 students and teachers in Washington State and Utah. Rick began his education career in Salt Lake City as a co-founder and Executive Director of Higher Ground Learning (HGL), a tutoring and mentoring center focused on reaching students through personalized learning models. While at Higher Ground, Rick realized the dynamic instructional nature of the media arts and digital storytelling. In 1999, Rick passed on the reins of HGL and founded Utah’s only not-for-profit youth media center, Spy Hop Productions. In 2010 after serving over 10,000 Utah youth with innovative audio, video and interactive programming as Spy Hop Productions’ Executive Director, Rick Wray stepped down to launch SHIFT Workshops in Washington State, a teacher-training organization focused on integrating filmmaking and digital storytelling into classroom instruction. Rick served as the Executive Director of SHIFT through 2015, and after training over 3,000 educators, the organization merged with the Utah Film Center where Rick has served as both their Director of Education and lead education programs consultant.
Rick’s education work and the organizations’ he has founded have been recognized both locally and nationally, receiving awards such as the 2003 Salt Lake City Mayor’s Service to the Arts Award, a finalist for the 2010 Ernst and Young Social Entrepreneur of the Year award, and Spy Hop Productions’ receipt of the National Arts & Humanities Youth Program Award in 2015 by First Lady Michelle Obama.
Sara Rolfs, Co-Founder and Secretary
As a passionate Wenatchee local who has devoted her professional career to diverse education-rooted endeavors, Sara has established deep family and community relationships across the region. Grassroots advocacy and community organization skills are Sara’s forte. She is a leading force in the informal education effort in the valley which aims at exploring many learning philosophies Educational programing that focuses on STEAM and Project/Place Based Learning is her calling. Sara easily navigates between the public education, private business and non-profit sectors. She knows the right folks to engage and has a passion to ensure it gets done. Sara has taught at and held numerous board leadership positions in local organizations such as Wenatchee Valley College, Wenatchee Arts Education Consortium, Citizens for Wenatchee Schools and the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center.
Sara has also been the recipient of multiple awards including the Women's Resource Center Woman of the Year Award in 2016 and the Greater Wenatchee Area Technology Alliance 2015 Innovative Use of Technology in the Classroom Award.
Karen Rutherford, Board Treasurer
With a liberal arts background, Karen’s expertise is deep and varied. She was Wenatchee School District’s first science specialist and served on the state LASER faculty. Karen served two terms as a City Councilwoman, sits on numerous non-profit boards, and founded the Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center’s Makerspace. In 2011 she received the Washington State Science Education Advocate Award. She is passionate about getting kids involved in MakerSpaces, STEAM projects, and loves to build with Legos.
Brenda Alcala, Board Member
Brenda spent the better part of nine years growing up in Twin W Orchards in Orondo, Washington before moving to the town of Lake Chelan, Washington in 1999 with her mother, two older brothers and twin sister. She attended Whitworth University where she joined the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program for two tax seasons. She earned her B.A. in Accounting in May 2012. Brenda spent her Summers working as a sorter, packer, pack out reconciler and HR Assistant/Receptionist during the cherry season at Chelan Fruit Cooperative. She began her career at Cordell, Neher & Company, PLLC in December 2012.
Alma Chacón, Board Member
Alma Chacón graduated with a Masters Degree from the University of Washington. She has 30 plus years experience in the educational field that includes K-12 teaching, principal and administration. Additional experience includes supervision of statewide Bilingual and Title III Programs for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. A current contract with OSPI (Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction) allows her the opportunity for the provision of statewide assistance to school districts specifically for program/curriculum reviews, training and coaching.
Karla Soto-Mullins, Board Member
Karla is originally from Mexico and raised in inner-city Phoenix. She is a true success story of being an at-risk-youth to working for a Fortune 500 company. Struggling to stay in school, Karla was eventually saved by Genesis Academy, a charter school. She’s also served on the school’s board. Karla has licenses in real estate, mortgage lending, AA in Occupational Studies in Holistic Health Care and studied Business Management at the University of Phoenix. Based on her own experience, Karla is ‘ready to give back’ and help reach youth that traditional models don’t.
Jazmin Flora Fernandez, Board Member
Jazmin Flora Fernandez was born in Colima, Mexico and raised in the United States since the age of one. She has worked as a National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) at Columbia Valley Community Health (CVCH) for eight years. She received her Associate degree from Wenatchee Valley College and received her NCMA certificate in Los Angeles, California. She has deep passion and respect for her current job at CVCH and believes she makes a difference in someone's life every day. She strongly believes that when you work as a team you are able to make a difference. When not making a difference in the workplace, she is a single parent of four children, ages 29, 19, 13, and 8, and a proud grandmother of two beautiful boys. Additionally, Flora is an active member of Parque Padrinos in South Wenatchee and volunteers at Columbia Elementary and Orchard Middle Schools. Passionate about education and the well being of young people in her community, she focuses her volunteer time serving Latino youth. She knows that our future depends on the youth and wants to make sure she’s contributing to make a difference.