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.
Terry Valdez, Board Member
Terry is owner of Terry Valdez Studios and is an award winning artist - art instructor with over thirty years of experience teaching art to youth and adults students. He is currently on the staff of the Grunewald Guild and Director of the Lake Wenatchee YMCA Art Camp for the past twenty five years. He has a Masters degree in the Creative Arts from Lesley College in Cambridge, Mass. As a guest lecturer, Terry has exhibited his art work in Russia, Mexico and Japan. His public art can be found at the Link Columbia Bus Terminal and is also featured on directional signage throughout the Wenatchee Valley. Terry is a retired art teacher and tennis coach from the Eastmont school district in East Wenatchee. He loves to discover our wonderful human diversity, thriving arts and common community vision.
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.
Lizbeth Rivera-Estrada, Family and Community Engagement Coordinator
Lizbeth graduated from Wenatchee High School in 2016 and has been attending Wenatchee Valley College since. She has been involved with various community efforts and nonprofits that work to create awareness and community organizing for the underserved and underrepresented residents of the Wenatchee Valley especially those that live in South Wenatchee. She has worked at the Initiative for Rural Innovation and Stewardship (IRIS) as an intern helping gather and share community success stories, as well as an early childhood educator and assistant in daycares and preschools in the region. Most recently she has been working alongside Parque Padrinos and The Trust for Public Land on the Methow Kiwanis Park renovation.