Dr. Kelly Van Sande is a lifelong educator with a passion for children. She married her high school sweetheart and they have two school age children. She is a certified teacher, principal, and school superintendent, and has served in all of those roles, including teaching at the elementary, middle and high school levels. She has more than 15 years of school leadership experience. She holds a bachelor’s degree in music education (B.S.), a master’s in teaching and curriculum leadership (M.Ed.), a master’s in business administration (MBA), and a Doctorate in Educational Leadership and Administration (Ed.D). Dr. Van Sande is also the founder of Ignite Learning Academy, a private online school.
She believes school culture is at the heart of a school and must be the top priority in order for students to thrive. For, if we do not first address the needs of our students, they cannot effectively learn. Only when a leader commits to promoting and supporting excellence in her staff through open dialogue, professional development, deeply valuing everyone on the team, and celebrating their success, will the school’s team function as a cohesive unit with all goals centered solely around the mission and vision of the school. From there, our focus shifts directly to students so we can provide individualized attention and support which goes beyond academics and entails truly getting to know the whole child. Dr. Van Sande is so passionate about this topic that it became the focus of her doctoral dissertation.
As a parent and educator, she observed the traditional school system often did not meet the needs of all students and she believed there had to be a way to make education come alive for students at all ability levels, from various backgrounds, and to allow students to learn in their own, meaningful way. She develops schools that remove barriers to learning, allow for individualized instruction, maintain very small class sizes, and focus primarily on teacher-student relationships in order to foster a school community and culture driven by student success.
She looks forward to working alongside parents, students, teachers, and staff every day so we can build a thriving school community of students prepared for today, tomorrow, and the future ahead!
Head of School
Lesley received her bachelor’s degree at Furman University and her master’s degree in special education at Converse College. She served as a resource teacher for three years in the public schools in Spartanburg, South Carolina then began teaching our high school students at Ignite Achievement Academy in 2001. From 2005 to 2012, she served as our lead teacher and now oversees all operations in the school.
Lesley enjoys gardening, cooking, hiking and socializing with family and friends. She is an avid animal lover and has an unusually strong need to complete tasks. If something is left undone at the end of the school day, she applies more Chapstick® and starts eating cheese.
Head of Instruction
Alli received a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, a master’s degree in applied educational psychology and a certificate of advanced graduate study in school psychology from Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. Alli worked as a school psychologist in an elementary and middle school in Fayetteville, New York before relocating to Charlotte in 2005. She also received her school administration certificate and license and completed a principal internship in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System. Alli began working at Ignite Achievement Academy in 2011 as a teacher and now serves as our Head of Instruction.
Alli has a passion for working with students of all ages. In her spare time, she enjoys being with her family, running, hiking, playing soccer and eating Mexican food. She used to sing lullabies to her children; however, as soon as they could talk, they suggested she talk instead. Apparently, her singing off-key was affecting their brain development.
Sarah graduated from Clemson University with a degree in psychology. She has worked as a pharmaceutical sales representative and stay-at-home mom. While raising her two children, Sarah, who enjoys helping the Charlotte community, volunteered her time and resources to her church. Activities included coordinating events and fundraisers for the church’s preschool, working at the preschool and serving as a leader in the church. Fortunately for us, Sarah is now part of the team at Ignite Achievement Academy.
In her free time, Sarah loves to cook, play board games and watch the Clemson Tigers play football. On Fridays, you can expect to see her in orange in preparation of the Clemson Tigers’ sure win the next day.
Oakley, our school dog, is a fun-loving German shepherd and is pleased to be a member of the Ignite Achievement Academy staff. Oakley loves to play catch with tennis balls and eat sardines with peanut butter.
As Head of Canine Development at Ignite Achievement Academy, Oakley’s duties include following the teachers’ and students’ directions, such as “sit,” “stay,” and “no barking during class.” Her duties also include spending personal time with individual students and listening to them with unconditional love and acceptance. One day, she hopes to develop a dog sensitivity program for the staff and catch Frisbees®.
In 2015, Katie received a bachelor’s degree in physical education at Winthrop University. Having a long-held passion for helping students achieve their goals, Katie has taught swimming and served as a camp counselor and long-term substitute in various grades and subjects.
Before joining us at Ignite Achievement Academy, Katie taught physical education in both North and South Carolina for four years.
In her free time, Katie enjoys spending time with her son, hiking, being outdoors and watching sports. When she’s not watching her son play baseball, she’s watching the Gamecocks playing football.
Mrs. Durbiano joined the Ignite Family in 2023 as our K-2 Teacher. She went to the State University of New York at Cortland for her undergraduate studies and Touro College in New York for her graduate studies. She holds a B.S. in Elementary Education, M.A. in Elementary Education and M.A. in Special Education.
Prior to joining our team, Mrs. D has worked in education for 5 years in a variety of settings, such as self-contained (K-5), resource and inclusion. For the past 3 years, she’s taught first grade. Her passion is working with K-3 students.
Mrs. D enjoys spending time outdoors with her husband, son and their dog, Max. She loves swimming, hiking and traveling. She loves singing opera. She even got a scholarship to SUNY Cortland with “Talent Admissions” after sending them a CD of her singing opera. Mrs. D still enjoys singing opera to this very day, but in a more private setting, like the car.
Shannon received a bachelor’s degree at San Jose State University in California then a master’s degree in multi-cultural education at the same university. After college, Shannon taught third then first graders in San Jose before working as a physical education teacher in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. In 2013, she joined our staff at Ignite Achievement Academy as a physical education teacher and is now our teacher assistant.
Shannon loves running, hiking, animals and being with her husband and two children. She also loves to garden but won’t garden in Charlotte because she is afraid of snakes. (She saw a copperhead once.)
In 2011, Jillian graduated from Presbyterian College with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and earned a master’s degree in social work from the University of South Carolina in 2013. Before joining Ignite Achievement Academy in 2016, she saw children in various capacities as a social worker.
Jillian is a South Carolina native and, having grown up a few minutes from Clemson University, a true Clemson Tigers fan. She loves reading and spending time outdoors, especially hiking with her husband, daughter and their dog, Zoey. Jillian has a strange and uncommon ability: she can lick her elbow. Her dog, Zoey, tried it on himself and keeled over.
Joseph joined Ignite Achievement Academy in December 2014. He received his bachelor’s degree in economics from Villanova University and his master’s degree in foreign service from Georgetown University in 2012. He has been teaching students of all ages for many years, mainly in his hometown of Boston, Massachusetts, Washington, DC, Japan and Charlotte.
A Boston native, Joseph is a dues-paying member of the Boston Red Sox, or, as he says, the Red Sox Nation. He is an avid traveler and has fond memories of hitchhiking to Mount Everest. Joseph is rather laid back, but when he gets his mind to it, he does things like cycle across the country, or walk 750 miles on an island in Japan.
Joseph lived in Japan for seven years, which is where he met his wife. Now that he is married, he likes to sip green tea, go bird watching, hike and read – and dream of cycling to Chile.
Ms. Saylor joined the Ignite Family in 2022. She is a proud graduate of the University of South Carolina and has a B.A. in Psychology. When she was in college, she worked as a preschool teacher. When she graduated, she became a behavior therapist before joining our team that fall.
Ms. Saylor’s claim to fame is that she was on the Gamecock’s Track & Field team during her years at the University of South Carolina. We’re fortunate that she “runs” our running club. In her free time, she likes to run, walk and listen to music.
When Ms. Saylor was in high school, her shoe fell off during a 2-mile race on the track. And it was raining. She had to finish the race without a shoe and a very soggy sock. Which was super uncomfortable. This says a lot about Ms. Saylor’s determination to finish the race at all costs. Way to go Ms. Saylor!
Ms. Wendelberger joined the Ignite Family in 2022. She has her B.S. in Behavioral Sciences with a minor in Sociology from Concordia University-Irvine. Additionally, she has her M.Ed. in Special Education from Grand Canyon University.
Ms. Wendelberger’s teaching experience started when she began creating and instructing a music class in Arizona as a paraprofessional. She has since worked with students from kindergarten through adulthood with a variety of learning barriers.
Ms. Wendelberger is passionate about traveling the world, singing, and acting. During her free time, she also enjoys going to the river with her pup River. An interesting fact about Ms. Wendelberger is that she has traveled to 20 different countries.
In 1996, Jess received her bachelor’s degree in wildlife and fisheries science from Pennsylvania State University. While in college, she worked for the United States Department of Agriculture. She then worked for Pennsylvania State University on their wetland restoration program for military bases.
Originally from upstate New York, Jess and her family moved to Charlotte in 2001. For over thirty years, during her time in both New York and North Carolina, Jess has served in various positions at the YMCA. These positions included serving as the aquatics and risk management director, teaching children and adults how to swim, be safe in the water and achieve their fitness goals and overseeing family services and front-desk and fitness operations.
We first met Jess when she certified some of our staff in CPR and first aid a few years ago. Fortunately for us, she is now our physical education instructor and one of our teachers. She is excited to bring her love of fitness to the students.
In her free time, Jess spins on a stationary bike, runs, lifts weights and swims. She and her family have three big dogs, one rabbit and a fish. (We’re betting she makes her pets exercise too.) Besides animals and exercise, she loves . . . safety equipment . . . ice packs, gauze and bandages.
Dori received her bachelor’s degree of science from Drexel University in 1992 and her master’s degree in social work from Temple University in 1997. Dori has had extensive experience serving children and their families in the New York City foster care system and at Green Chimneys Therapeutic Day School in Brewster, New York. As a licensed clinical social worker, Dori provided social skills training, coping strategies and anger management tools to children and adolescents in both individual and group settings. Dori joined us in August of 2011 and is now fulfilling her dream of teaching.
In her free time, Dori enjoys activities with her family, traveling, creating pottery, practicing yoga and training for the triathlon. In Dori’s athletic training group, she is referred to as the “billy goat” because she prefers cycling uphill. This meshes well with her life philosophy: the challenge of the uphill is more exciting than the ease of the downhill. (We’re impressed; we’ll toss you a water bottle on our way down.)
Mrs. Wiza joined the Ignite Family in 2023 as our floater teacher. She graduated from Florida Southwestern State College with a B.S. in Elementary Education in 2019. She’s worked with many age groups from infancy to 12th Grade, all with a wide variety of barriers. Additionally, she’s held many titles, such as coach, zoo educator, and mentor of an All-Girl’s Club. She is now the Cookie Mom & Co-Leader of a Girl Scout Troop.
In Mrs. Wiza’s free time you can find her in one of two places, TJ Maxx or Marshall’s usually hunting for home decor. When she isn’t updating her new home, she’s watching the Packers, reading or working on her digital art. She and her husband enjoy going on road trips with their American Bulldog, Mobie.
Mrs. Wiza loves cooking and assisting in our cooking class, but the one food she strongly dislikes is mushrooms. The texture creeps her out because it reminds her of slugs.
(for one-to-one and small-group instruction)
Ms. Cina joined the Ignite family as our cooking and shop teacher in 2023. She graduated from the University of Cape Town in South Africa with a B.S. in Family and Consumer Science Education. She has worked with students with learning barriers for many years. Ms. Cina ran an afterschool cooking program and was a part-time culinary teacher for a culinary school for kids.
In her free time, Ms. Cina loves spending time with her three dogs. She enjoys doing all things animal related and has been a volunteer at the animal shelter since 2014. Even though Ms. Cina is our cooking teacher, there’s one thing she will not eat. That one thing is okra. She has tried it many times but it is still a NO for her.
Anita received her bachelor’s degree in psychology with minors in organizational sociology and German from UC Davis in California. She also holds a master’s degree in applied psychology, which she obtained from Golden Gate University in San Francisco, California. Anita has over thirteen years of early childhood development experience, most recently as a teaching assistant for the Ballantyne Preschool of the Arts in Charlotte, North Carolina.
In her free time Anita enjoys reading, traveling, meditating…, which often turns into napping, and daily attempts to master the mindless yet habit-forming game “Candy Crush.” She hopes to reach the last level within this century. (We wish you luck with that.)
Maya, who joined the Ignite Achievement family in 2013, provides unique music and movement classes each week. She is also delighted to be on staff as a teaching assistant. Originally from New York, Maya was raised with a love for music. In fact, at just sixteen months of age, she named her first doll “Do-Re.”
Maya studied violin and cello and earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of Iowa, where she majored in music education and psychology. She moved to North Carolina and taught orchestra in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System, and while raising her three daughters, became licensed as a Kindermusik instructor, joyfully teaching classes for many years.
While homeschooling her three daughters, Maya provided private violin and cello instruction and taught exploratory music classes at several preschool programs. She also began leading the Hand in Hand Orchestra, an afterschool program offered through The Vine UMC. Throughout her career, Maya has sought ways to make musical experiences intergenerational and has involved her students at many senior and memory care facilities. She now works with several senior clients privately and never underestimates the mindful and emotional connections that music generates in people from birth to 100 years young.
As a life-long learner, Maya is always motivated by her family, her students and even her rambunctious trio of “American Hybrid” rescue dogs. She enjoys solving ridiculously challenging sudoku puzzles, reading about nutrition and dog training, learning German, and going on family hiking, camping and kayaking expeditions.
Mrs. Whitt joined our Ignite Family in 2022. She holds a B.S. in Communication Disorders from the University of Rhode Island. She holds an M.A. in Education specializing in Special Education from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Prior to joining our team, Mrs. Whitt worked for Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools. She held many titles within CMS, such as a resource teacher and Title I tutor. She has also worked as a special education teacher in private school settings and online as an English as a Second Language (ESOL) teacher.
In her free time, Mrs. Whitt likes to work out, shop, read and watch movies. She is a big animal lover and is also starting to have a serious houseplant addiction.
Ms. Woodson joined the Ignite Family in 2023. She holds a B.A. in Art Education and a B.F.A. in Fine Arts from Western Carolina University. Prior to joining our team, she’s held many positions in the education field, such as art teacher, teaching assistant and tennis coach.
In Ms. Woodson’s free time, she enjoys the outdoors, walking her dog, making art and hiking. Ms. Woodson’s favorite snack is pickles and peanut butter.