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Presenter Bios

Catherine Ariss
Catherine is a Guidance Counsellor in the Peel District School Board. She is working towards the M.Ed. with a focus on Alternative Education. Her teaching experiences span over 20 years and various alternative settings. Catherine has developed a passion for the study of attachment theory and the positive impact that attachment-like relationships have on; a) student engagement and b) building positive collaborative communities of inquiry in schools.

Nina Bascia
Nina Bascia is a Professor and Director of the Collaborative Educational Policy Program at OISE.  Her research focuses on teachers and teaching.  She is the author and editor of 7 books.  She has completed two research projects that focus on alternative schools.


Jessica Brett-Caccia
Teacher Candidate York Faculty of Education Regent Part Site.  Former student Downtown Alternative School.

Nadya Burton
Nadya Burton is a sociologist and Assistant Professor in the Midwifery Education Program at Ryerson University, where she has been teaching since 1999. Her teaching and research work focus on issues of equity and social justice and in teaching future clinicians to work compassionately and skillfully across differences of identity and social location.  An 'unschooler' at heart, both her children spent 8 years at Alpha Alternative school.  She was involved in creating Alpha II (secondary school) which her older son attended.  Alongside Brenda Joy Lem and Jody Nyasha Warner, she helped to craft and implement Alpha's Equity Admissions policy.

Emily Chan (with 4 students Riel Norman, Elijah Nazareth, Cecilia Larose, Jessa Tough)
Emily Chan has taught at ALPHA Alternative School for 5 years. As a high school student, Emily facilitated Chinese Canadian history workshops in schools to advocate for inclusive curriculum across Toronto. She has over 10 years of grassroots, community organizing experience in Toronto and New York City.

The students of ALPHA Alternative School who will participate in this workshop are 7-11 years old.

Derek Chen
Derek Chen has been an educator for 12 years.  He started as a teacher at Cardinal 

Newman, and after one year, moved into the role of guidance counsellor.  After seven years, Derek decided to take a leave and moved to Panama to teach English with St. Clair College's ESL program.  After several semesters teaching English, Derek took the opportunity to lead Durham College's new Panama campus as its Head of Campus. Shortly after moving back to Toronto in 2008, he became a vice principal and was placed at Mary Ward Catholic Secondary School.  Once there, he quickly became immersed in self-directed learning, and has become a full convert to this 21st century mode of teaching and learning.  Derek recently co-chaired, along with Dana MacIsaac, the Canadian Coalition of Self-Directed Learning Conference 2012 Planning Committee.  The conference attracted 250 educators in self-directed learning from across the country.

Heather Chetwynd

Heather Chetwynd attended The Everdale Place - A Free School Community from fall 1968 to summer 1971. Her experience there had a powerful impact on the rest of her life, leading her into both professional singing and becoming a trainer by profession. She has been working as an adult educator since the early 1980s, both in the GTA and Central America. Since her time at Everdale, she has maintained contact with many former staff and students and is currently Secretary of The Everdale Legacy Board which still manages the land.

In her professional life, Heather is founder and director of Voice to Word Consulting, a training business which helps internationally educated professionals reach their full potential by fine-tuning their language abilities. With a specialty in accent modification and intercultural communication, she helps her clients develop confidence in the Canadian business environment and communicate more effectively.

Sabrina Cicconi
Sabrina Cicconi, a recent recipient of the Premier's Award for Excellence in Teaching (New Teacher Category), is a teacher at the Toronto Catholic District School Board's alternative school, Monsignor Fraser College.



Steve Cooper
Stephen Cooper has been a teacher at Alpha Alternative School for 16 years He has also taught at Downtown Alternative School, Wilkinson Public School, in England, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.  He has taught all the grades from JK to 12 and has tutored undergraduates.  He is a past chair of the Alternative


Marcia Fantin
I am one of the founding creators of the first Alternative Education School in the Toronto Catholic District School Board and I have also helped to create the A.P.P.L.E. Program for expelled students.  I am passionate about Alternative education and what it can do to change a young person’s outlook on education and life itself.

Esther Fine
Esther Sokolov Fine is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education at York University, where she has taught since 1991. Before coming to York, she was an elementary teacher with the Toronto Board of Education.  There, she taught in downtown public housing communities and alternative programs including four years of teaching at the Downtown Alternative School (DAS). The book Children as Peacemakers (Heinemann, 1995), which she co-authored with teachers Ann Lacey and Joan Baer, presents a history of the Downtown Alternative School.  Esther Fine has conducted video research with the DAS community and in Toronto¹s Regent Park since the late 1980s.  In the DAS study she worked closely with filmmaker Roberta King (King Squire Films Ltd.).  Esther has recently completed work on a joint study on Alternative Schooling in the GTA in partnership with Professor Nina Bascia (OISE) and the Toronto Catholic District School Board (2012).

Rodney Handelsman
Rodney Handelsman co-founded Perspectives II Alternative High School in Montreal. He has taught K-12 as well as pre-service teachers both locally and internationally. As a pedagogical consultant, he has developed provincial curriculum resources and is currently an instructor at McGill University and a PhD student in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education at McGill. His research is grounded in his work with students placed “at-risk” who attend alternative public programs. 

Vern Harper
Born in Toronto, Vern Harper's name in Cree is Asin, meaning "stone." He is a Canadian First Nations Cree Elder, medicine man, a Sundancer, Aboriginal rights dissident, and Korean War veteran. This "Urban Elder" as he has been called, is a fifth generation grandson of Mistawasis, a hereditary Cree chief, and a sixth generation grandson of Big Bear.

After facing challenges early in his life, Vern became politically active as vice-president of the Ontario Métis and Non-Status Indian Association (1972-74). He is one of a few First Nations Elders with Chaplain Status recognized by the Correctional Service of Canada.
With his former wife Pauline Shirt Harper, Vern organized the cross Canada Native Peoples' Caravan ending in a lengthy encampment in Ottawa (1974-75). Built upon traditional and spiritual teachings, this demonstration was successful in bringing together native organizations to publicize native grievances. It opened the door to the first face-to-face meetings between Native leaders and political leaders. In 1979, he wrote about the trek in "Following the Red Path: The Native Peoples' Caravan, 1974." Continuing their commitment to traditional teaching, Pauline and Vern Harper went on to establish the Wandering Spirit Survival School of Toronto in 1976, now known as the First Nations School. Vern Harper was the subject of the 1979 documentary "Urban Elder," which chronicled his life and role as community leader and Traditional Elder in an urban setting. Presently, Vern Harper serves as Resident Elder at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto, further promoting the role of First Nations spirituality in the treatment of mental health and addiction.

Sofika Haxhi 
Sofika has several years of teaching experience within Toronto Catholic District School Board as well as two Masters degrees.

In particular, her thesis focused on the emotional and social challenges of adolescent immigrants to Canada. Sofika is currently a Mathematics teacher within Monsignor Fraser College - Midland North campus.


Lauren Hortie & Craig Morrison
Lauren Hortie and Craig Morrison are artists/designers and teachers at the Oasis Skateboard Factory (TDSB), called the “#1 Coolest School in the GTA” by the Toronto Star and a recent recipient of a Ken Spencer award for Innovation in Teaching and Learning (CEA).

Marina DeLuca-Howard
Marina DeLuca-Howard lives with her partner, John, and their three children in downtown Toronto. Parenting takes up most of her time -- most of which is full of delightful surprises.  She is an Alpha II parent, and Co-Chair the Alternative Schools Advisory Committee (ASAC) to the TDSB. In addition to hanging out with her children, Marina works for City of Toronto Parks and Rec to deliver alternative programming in her neighbourhood parks, maintains a blog page on the Radical Unschoolers Network, has sat on the Board of Karma Co-operative twice, been a La Leche League Leader, edited the Home Rules newsletter for the Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents (OFTP) and co-ordinated a homeschooling conference.

Anne Kieser
Anne Kieser graduated from York University with a Bachelor of Education Fine Arts integration and hold a Bachelor of Arts Specialized Honours Degree in theatre, specializing in collective creation (also from York University). Upon graduating, Anne packed her bags and headed for Bristol, in the south-west of England. Most of her time teaching in England was in a high needs area where many of the parents of the students suffered from drug and alcohol addiction. Currently, Anne is working as support staff at Monsignor Fraser College Isabella Campus (TCDSB)

Roberta King
Roberta King is a Toronto based filmmaker who runs King Squire Films, an   independent production company.  She has written, directed and produced   documentaries and dramas for the National Film Board of Canada, C.B.C. Television, CTV Television and TV Ontario. She has created documentaries for the Toronto Board of Education, for the Peel District Board of Education, and for Professor Esther Sokolov Fine at York University's  Faculty of Education, on peacemaking, bullying at school, anti-racism and conflict resolution in school.

Ann Lacey
Ann Lacey is a retired elementary teacher with a lifelong focus on social justice, childrens' rights and curriculum innovation. Her experience teaching conflict resolution to young children is documented in the book, Children as Peacemakers (Fine, Lacey, Baer, 1995), and in the film, Life At School: The DAS Tapes (King Squire Films). She spent her last 7 years of teaching in Regent Park, a deeply diverse community, developing social skills through play, drama, music and story.

Brenda Joy Lem
Brenda Joy Lem has been involved in anti-racism and equity activism since the early 90’s. She has been inspired and enlightened by working with fellow artist activists over the years including:  Richard Fung in Full Screen, Kyo Maclear and Linda Chen in Asian ReVisions, Rick Shiomi in Wasabi Daiko, M. NourbeSe Philip in Vision 21.  In the late 90’s she really appreciated Ivan Illich’s ideas of unschooling society; when she became a mother, she raised her daughter with an unschooling philosophy.   She later became involved in Alternative Schooling through Alpha Alternative School.  The small number of people of colour within Alternative Schools was, and continues to be, surprising and disturbing to her.

Malcolm Levin
Malcolm Levin is a retired professor of education who taught at OISE from 1968 to 1996.
  He was a founding parent/member of MAGU, the first elementary public alternative [North York] and of CITY SCHOOL [1980]. His children and grandchildren have attended MAGU, SPECTRUM, CITY SCHOOL and INGLENOOK.  After retiring from OISE he served briefly as Director of the U of Toronto's Jackman Institute of Child Study [ICS] and Principal of the University of Toronto Schools [UTS].  His articles on alternative schools and parents have appeared in INTERCHANGE, THIS MAGAZINE IS ABOUT SCHOOLS and MUDPIE.    

Dana MacIsaac
Dana MacIsaac is a science teacher and facilitator of the gifted program at Mary Ward Catholic Secondary School, a self-directed learning school in east Toronto.  She taught in the traditional model for many years, but is now fully committed to self-directed learning and has taught at Mary Ward for over ten years.  She has presented on behalf of the self-directed learning model across Canada, and has most recently co-chaired the 2012 Self-Directed Learning Conference held in Toronto for the Canadian Coalition of Self-Directed Learning Schools.  Dana is very keen on spreading the word about self-directed learning and exploring ways to improve its implementation to re-invigorate education for 21st Century learning.

Teresa van Neste
Teresa van Neste has a BFA Hons. Visual Arts, BEd Visual Arts, and BA  Hons.Psyc

hology from York University, Waldorf Foundation Studies Certification, and TESL ON Certification.  As a parent of an alternative school student, she is currently an Alternative School Advisory Committee (ASAC) Co-Chair.  As an artist, she has exhibited painting, photography and textile work in numerous solo and group shows, including exhibitions at the Ontario Craft Council Gallery, KW|AG, Cabbagetown Arts and Crafts Festival, and Kingston Women’s Art Show.  She teaches Visual Arts, Social Sciences and ESL on an occasional basis with TDSB. 

Christina Nisan
Currently Teaching Business Studies at Monsignor Fraser College Isabella Campus (TCDSB) Graduated from York University completing an Honours Bachelor of Human Resources Management and Bachelor of Education Concurrently.Myra Novogrodsky



Myra Novogrodsky
Myra Novogrodsky was a parent at the Campus Community Cooperative Day Care Centre.  She taught at SEED and was a founding teacher of City School in 1980. She was staff to Community Schools Magazine and  wrote many articles for Mudpie and Our Schools, Ourselves.  In addition to spending 27 years as a teacher and Curriculum Coordinator for the Toronto District School Board, she also taught at the Faculty of Education, York University for 9 years. Recently retired, she now spends time with her 4 grandchildren and is working for an organization in central Mexico which will open 15 school based rural libraries in the next year to make sure that every child has access to a book every day.

Sonia Ognibene
I have been involved in Alternative Education for the last 18 years and continue to learn from my students and colleagues.  I am grateful for the many learning opportunities and creative freedom that I have been afforded because of my involvement in Alternative education.  I continue to be amazed at the positive changes in students once “alternative” education is introduced to them.

Deb O’Rourke
Deb’s alternative school commitments began in 1969 as part of a group of Calgary highschool activists who were inspired by Toronto’s SEED to create a fleeting, but successful, summer free school. From 1985-1995, she was active member of ALPHA’s volunteer parent community. Her Masters thesis (2010) was on ALPHA’s history. A professional artist, writer and educator, she continues to learn from and to work with ALPHA’s community of parents, volunteers, teachers and students.

Liam Rodrigues
Liam Rodrigues has worked in alternative schools and alternative programming for 20 years. He was a founding member of the East York Alternative team and is currently the curriculum leader of program for SEED, the oldest alternative school in North America. He has delivered papers internationally on life writing in education, jazz, and American literature.

Anna Maria Rotatore
“Thinking Outside of the Box” and helping students create concrete plans for success are my passion.  Being a Department Head of Special Education for the past ten years has allowed me to work with my colleagues in a team environment to develop appropriate wrap-around supports and pathway plans.  As a lead writer for our Urban Grant, I have had many opportunities to incorporate and implement a variety of programs at the Alternative School in which I presently teach.

Dale Shuttleworth
Dale Shuttleworth's career could provide an overview of the diverse interests which fueled the alternatives movement in Metropolitan Toronto including students, parents,teachers, administrators, trustees, academics and social activists from 1966-1995.

As an official tasked with developing and implementing alternatives in education policies and procedures for school boards of North York, Toronto and York, he may have particular insight into the socio-political nature of the movement.  For example, he worked with Vern & Pauline Harper in establishing the Wandering Spirit Survival School as well as ALPHA, Subway Academy and other schools and programs at the pre-school, primary, junior,intermediate,senior and adult education levels.  He also wrote the original Alternatives in Education policies in Toronto and York and was responsible for INTERACT, Cherrywood, Adult Day School and the Afro-Caribbean Re-entry programs in the City of York.  He has been an expert consultant to the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development in Paris and is currently Executive Director of the Training Renewal Foundation & Principal of the GED Preparation Centre.  He is also the author of 10 books published in North America & Europe and more than 200 articles in journals and periodicals on alternative and community education.

Harry Smaller
Beginning in the 1970s, Harry Smaller was a member of three collaborating teacher groups, each of which created and subsequently taught in a new alternative school designed especially for working class and minority students in Toronto – Contact, West End Alternative and Oasis. More recently he has been at the Faculty of Education at York University, where he helped in starting up an alternative teacher education/certification program centred in Regent Park, a subsidized housing community in downtown Toronto.

Susan Vogt
Susan Vogt teaches grades K-8 for Fresh Start Elementary Suspension Program, Peel District School Board, a comprehensive program that provides academic support, social skills and support to be responsible for choices and actions. She has taught for 14 years in a variety of elementary settings and she was a School Social Worker for 8 years prior to her teaching career.

Jody Nyasha Warner
Jody Nyasha Warner is, at present, and in no particular order, a mother,
wordsmith, ex-wife, garden admirer, book lover, morning meditator, mixed
race black-canadian, ukulele strummer, former librarian, present
ombudsperson and explorer of the galaxy within. She’s also an unschooling
enthusiast; she helped to found Alpha 2 and her son and daughter graduated from Alpha.

Erica Wilson
Born in Ottawa, and raised in Toronto, Erica Wilson was educated at the University of Waterloo, where she received a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Studies. Erica returned to school because she wanted to make a difference in the life of young adults – academically, socially, and spiritually. She received her Bachelor of Education and Master of Education at the University of Toronto.

Erica started her career in Education over 10 years ago as a teacher at Bishop Marrocco/Thomas Merton C.S.S. with the Toronto Catholic District School Board working with a variety of different learners in the areas of Canadian and World Studies, Social Science and Mathematics. Shortly thereafter, Erica helped to develop and implement an independent Credit Recovery Model under the Ministry of Education’s Student Success initiative. Erica was also Head of the Special Education Department for two years. In 2008, she became Vice-Principal at Monsignor Fraser College (Alternative and Adult Secondary School) with the Toronto Catholic District School Board.

Erica’s love for education and young adults is evident in her daily interactions with the staff and students at Fraser. She believes in leading by example and holds her students and staff to the highest standards. Her primary goals at Monsignor Fraser College are to instill a love for learning among the students and to maintain a strong tradition of academic excellence. With the collaboration of staff, students, and community members, it is her hope to develop new and innovative programs that will continue to place Monsignor Fraser College at the forefront of Catholic alternative and adult education. 

John Wujek
John is the current principal of Monsignor Fraser College where he has served since 2008.  Msgr. Fraser is the Toronto Catholic District School Board’s congregated alternative and adult secondary school.  It is a community that prides itself in supporting students who have struggled in the past but have made a commitment to re-engage themselves toward an educational pathway.  

John began his career at Mary Ward Catholic Secondary School where he helped to shape its alternative self-directed program.  During his time in seven TCDSB schools, he has always found the art of meeting student needs in compliance with curriculum outcomes to be at the core of his creative efforts.

John is a lifelong learner who is particularly passionate about educational equity for students of all circumstances and walks of life.  He strongly believes that nothing can have greater impact on the educational life of a student than the influence of caring adults in relationship with the student.  He feels that all students deserve an educationally-rich experience that reflects 21st century fluencies. Twitter: @FraserPrincipal

Terezia Zoric
Terezia is OISE’s Senior Lecturer in Social Diversity in Schooling, and was its first Policy Advisor on Equity. Her teaching and scholarship focus on socio-economic and environmental justice and educational activism. 

A former high school teacher, OSSTF activist, and head of the TDSB’s Equity Dept., Terezia works closely with student, community, and labour groups to advocate for equitable and excellent publicly-funded education. She is a co-founder of, and parent volunteer at, The Grove Community School, a public alternative elementary school dedicated to social justice, environmental justice, and community activism. Terezia is an author and co-author of several policy and curriculum texts on equity, anti-classism, and democratic citizenship, including the equity policies of the TDSB and the University of Toronto, Challenging Class Bias, and Citizenship: Issues and Action.