We are committed to the Stronger
Smarter Approach™


The Stronger Smarter Institute doesn’t just teach the Stronger Smarter Approach™ to our partner school and community leaders. We live, breathe and honour the Stronger Smarter Approach™ every day and in all that we do, from our homes, to our office and training rooms. We work hard and support each other to be the best we can be. This ensures we are delivering the best training and support to our school communities who are on the ground delivering the Stronger Smarter Approach™ to our Indigenous students. The Stronger Smarter Institute honours diversity. This is reflected in the composition of our team and the broad range of experiences and perspectives we bring. We are all committed to the Stronger Smarter Approach™ and share a strong commitment to ensuring transformational Indigenous Education outcomes.

Executive Team

Chief Executive Officer
Ken Riddiford is a Wiradjuri man from the Wiradjuri Nation. Who grew up in Far Western Queensland, raised by his Grandmother, a Kamilaroi woman. At the age of 13 he witnessed the historic 1967 Referendum, before this time Ken like other Aboriginal people had not been counted in the federal census.

Later in life saw Ken attending University and going on to be appointed as the CEO and Advisor to the Queensland Minister for Education, thus applying his knowledge and experience to improve the quality of life for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Ken Riddiford has over 30 years of experience working at the Senior Management and CEO level in a variety of settings and systems including government, not for profit and the private sectors. Ken is the Founder and Director of Constructing Futures, working with businesses and organisations to align their activity with their strategy to minimise risk and unlock value to maximise sustainability.

“I will dedicate my knowledge, resources and over thirty years’ experience to helping you strategise, implement and unlock your business’ potential.” - Ken Riddiford

Ken is committed to shared leadership and strengthened partnerships, which results in greater outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Through strengthening Government’s capacity to respond to the ways that social, economic, and cultural changes affect the lifestyle of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. As well as, increased educational and employment options for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people, through traineeships, scholarships, employment & training opportunities.
Chief of Relationships
Michal Purcell is an original staff member of the Stronger Smarter Institute who is now our Chief Operations Officer.  Her role oversees the operations and the delivery of Stronger Smarter Leadership Programs.   Michal is a descendant of the Butchulla people from Kgari – Fraser Island and the first people of Ambrym Island in Vanuatu.  She grew up in Childers in nearby South East Queensland.  Michal was already working at Cherbourg State School when Dr Chris Sarra was principal.  She witnessed the changes in the school community when he began embedding the Stronger Smarter Philosophy.

Her experience comes from over 30 years of employment in Indigenous education that included 9 years in the early childhood sector as a Kindergarten and Classroom Teacher aide, Day Care Centre Group Leader and Day Care Centre Assistant Director.  Since the Stronger Smarter Institute originated in 2005 her roles have included Executive Secretary, Community Relations Officer, Senior Community Relations Officer, Program Coordinator/Facilitator, Team Leader Service Delivery and in her latest role as Chief Operations Officer.  Over these 14 years with the Institute, Michal has contributed to the delivery and design of the Stronger Smarter Leadership Program, Stronger Smarter Workplaces Program, and the Stronger Smarter Specialist Program.  She has also represented the Institute Internationally speaking at the World Indigenous Peoples Conference in Education (WIPCE) Hawaii, USA in 2014 and Toronto, Canada 2017 and the 2018 NATSIPA – National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Principals Association / Te Akatea Maori Principals conference in Waitangi, Aeotearoa. Michal is committed to supporting people’s learning about themselves and others for the future of our Jarjums.
Chief of Delivery
Cassie Ryan is a Kamilaroi woman, a descendant of the Weatherall family.  She was born in Dirrandbandi Queensland and grew up in Oakey, Queensland.  Cassie has over 10 years experience working for the NSW Department of Education.  Prior to joining the Stronger Smarter Institute, she was employed as the Aboriginal Community Liaison Officer in the Lismore area.    Cassie has been involved with the Stronger Smarter Institute since 2011 and is committed to improving educational outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.  Cassie now lives on Bundjalung Country on the North Coast of NSW.
Chief of Impact
Jesse is a Waanyi man with a passion for education and the opportunities it provides for everyone. He is keenly interested in the opportunities 21st-century pedagogy offers for learners of all abilities and backgrounds. Jesse has experience in classroom teaching and coaching, school leadership, curriculum development and Indigenous Knowledges in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Jesse currently leads the Research and Impact division within the Institute and is a key team member relating to internal and external digital processes and innovations.

Jesse has participated in and led a variety of projects across a local, state and national level relating to the incorporation of authentic teaching and learning experiences of Indigenous Knowledges within the STEM space co-design and evaluation. He has presented locally, nationally and internationally to a variety of audiences, and is an engaing presenter, both virtually and in person. Jesse is currently undertaking a Master of Philosophy (Indigenous) at James Cook University where he is exploring how the national curriculum and supporting educational policy positions Indigenous learners and content within the Technologies Key Learning Area.

Jesse is currently a member of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander National Advisory Groups for The Smith Family, The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network and the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA).

Service Delivery

Programme Coordinator
Ken is a proud descendant of the Muruwari and Kamilaroi Nations of New South Wales.  Ken has been a passionate advocate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education for 17 years working in the NSW Department of Education in many different roles.  His most recent position being the Aboriginal Community Liaison Officer (ACLO) for 7 years in the Newcastle region.   Ken has also been involved as an active member of the NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (AECG) at the Local, Regional and State levels for more than 10 years.  Ken did his foundation Stronger Smarter Leadership Program in 2009 and has been one of our Leadership Program Facilitators since he joined the Institute in 2016.

Have been involved with the Stronger Smarter Institute since completing the leadership program in 2009 and now employed as a Program Facilitator and Coordinator since 2016.
Community Research Officer
‘I am a proud Wiradjuri man from Dubbo NSW with links to Bourke and Cobar in Central West NSW’. Over the past 6 years Daniel has been employed  in various roles in Primary & secondary schools, Boarding school and Universities to improve all outcomes for First nation students, communities and their families. Daniel’s core work involves recognising, honouring and continuing our ancestors knowledge systems by decolonizing mainstream curriculums to include a more inclusive approach to education and wellbeing. Daniel is currently studying his Masters Degree to gain further insight into the impact of a community controlled Curriculum on our First nation students’. In his spare time Daniel enjoys playing cricket, camping and exploring a new estuary systems or any opportunity to be relaxed with nature.
Community Research Officer
Ingrid was born on Wonnarua country in the Hunter Valley Region of NSW. She has seven years’ experience working within the education sector in both mainstream regional and remote community schools around Australia. She has spent the last nine years working within the Community Development sector of Indigenous Organisations, based in the Kimberley region of WA. Prior to joining the Stronger Smarter Institute, Ingrid was overseeing an Indigenous Housing Program with Nyamba Buru Yawuru Ltd in Broome, which was co-designed with the Yawuru community and focused on personal empowerment. Ingrid brings this extensive community consultation experience to the Institute together with her passion for developing and implementing strength-based programs in the community sector. She has strong connections within the Kimberley region and takes every opportunity to spend time on country when possible.
Programme Coordinator
Damian Bisogni is proud of his cultural heritage, Italian (father) and Hungarian (mother). Born in Melbourne he now calls the North Coast NSW home for the past 20 years. Damian is an artist and worked in hospitality before taking up a teaching career. Damian has held various roles within the Department of Education including Teacher (students with disabilities), Home School Liaison Officer and Head of Aboriginal Programs.

Damian has worked at the Stronger Smarter Institute since the beginning of 2019, having completed the Stronger Smarter Leadership Program in 2014. He brings with him a keen interest in cultural diversity and an understanding of working within a school context having over 17 years experience in education. Damian is committed to improving the outcomes for all students across all school settings.

Research & Impact

Lead Impact Officer
Cathy Jackson has over 20 years experience in the areas of curriculum design, evaluation and impact, and accreditation of educational programs.  Before joining the Stronger Smarter Institute, she worked in the Teaching and Learning area of the Queensland University of Technology, where her experience included developing and implementing curriculum design and assessment policies and processes, communication plans and associated resources.  Cathy is a qualified project manager, with extensive experience in managing university-wide projects, including two projects to implement new database systems for the university.

Cathy brings this wide-ranging experience to the Institute together with a passion for Indigenous education research and an in-depth understanding of the Stronger Smarter Approach in schools. Cathy has a Masters degree in Science and postgraduate qualifications in management and public relations.
Lead Research officer
Rhonda is a pairrebenne (palawa) woman from lutruwita (Tasmania). She now lives in Cairns. She started teaching in 1979 in Tasmania and has taught in the secondary sector, the TAFE system and in universities (both on line and face to face). She has also worked in central office of Education Queensland and in research. Her master's degree in Teaching English as a Second or Other Language and a doctoral degree in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education  are complementary for working to bring transformation in the educational experience and outcomes of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Project Officer
Catherine Jeffery was born and raised on Wiradjuri Country. She began her university studies as a mature age student through distance education at the University of New England and began her teaching career at Inverell High School in 2005. Cath introduced Aboriginal Studies into her school in 2006 and it is now taught in Years 9 to 12 where both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students work collaboratively exploring both traditional and contemporary elements of First Nations society and culture. Cath also works with the Department of Education and the NSW Teachers Federation in delivering Professional Learning and developing resources to assist educators increase their confidence in including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives in the specific Key Learning Areas. She joined the Stronger Smarter Institute in 2021 as part of the ToSI team where she loves supporting the inspirational women enrolled in the program on their educational journey.
Senior Program Officer
Nicole Simone is a descendent of the Bundjalung Peoples from the Northern Rivers of New South Wales. Nicole has over 27 years of professional field experiences in all sectors of Indigenous education. Her experiences range from Early Childhood as the Director of Aboriginal Childrens’ Services, Primary teaching as an Aboriginal literacy and numeracy teacher, Secondary as a Community Education Counsellor (CEC). Nicole has also held senior positions within the NSW Aboriginal Programs Unit as Senior Education Officer for Early Childhood, Aboriginal languages and district Aboriginal Education Consultant. Nicole’s most recent professional field experiences in Queensland, as Indigenous Curriculum Officer and Regional Manager for Indigenous Education, inspired her to view mathematics from a different cultural perspective. Nicole’s passion for mathematics was inspired by Traditional Custodians and Elders during the collaborative development of a place-based mathematics resource aligned to the Australian Curriculum Mathematics. Her belief is that mathematics is not culture neutral, as it can be contextualised from a cultural perspectives. Nicole is a member of the Australian Indigenous STEM Network, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mathematics Alliance (ATSIMA) and has completed her Master of Philosophy. She is currently the Senior Program Officer for the Teachers of STEM Initiative (TOSI) and a member of the Research and Impact team with Stronger Smarter Institute.
Senior Program Officer
Gina Horton has joined the Stronger Smarter Institute working as a member of the Teachers of STEM Initiative (ToSI) team. We would like to welcome Gina to the team. Gina’s family is connected to the Torres Straits namely Sabai and Boigu Islands. She was raised and completed most of her schooling on the mainland in Cape York Peninsula and Cairns. Gina holds a Bachelor of Science, majoring in Geology from QUT in Brisbane. She moved to Rockhampton and has lived and worked on Darumbal country for the last 30 years. Gina’s previous experiences include being employed by Central Queensland University in a variety of roles. She was a casual academic, learning advisor (mathematics, chemistry and other sciences) and Project Manager for the Indigenous Pathways program.

HQ Team

Data and Admin Officer
Jenalee is a proud young woman with Butchulla, Australian South Sea, Goa, Gunggari and Wakka Wakka bloodlines. Born and raised in the South Burnett Queensland region in Wondai and Murgon, Jenalee completed her schooling in Murgon and Brisbane. Jenalee has always been passionate about Aboriginal Education and as a mother of four daughters and a large family, Jenalee will continue to advocate for Aboriginal Education.

Jenalee has been with the Institute for the past four years and completed the Stronger Smarter Leadership Program in Cherbourg, 2017. As our Administration officer, Jenalee is an integral part of the Finance Treasury and Governance team. She is responsible for all program logistics both internally and externally. Jenalee is currently studying her Diploma of Business.
Impact Analyst
Jana is a Brazilian Statistician with experience in business intelligence, quality control, statistical model development, research support in biostatistics, electoral research, lecturing at university and survey development and subsequent result analysis for all research purposes. She has worked in the private and public sectors (bank, retail and traffic department) with her role varying as required from supporting independent research studies, assessing government operations/programs to improve efficiency and quality control assessment.

Jana has assisted research programs at the University of Sunshine Coast (USC), including helping students with their research (from developing questionnaires to analysing data) and a project with private health insurance to assist the development of future strategies.

At the Stronger Smarter Institute Jana is responsible for data collection and analysis including the HERBI survey and Stronger Smarter alumni CENSUS and database, preparing reports and presentations, providing input to grant proposals, and contributing to product development and projects. She brings with her a high level of analytical, organisational and planning skills with good attention to detail.
Lead, People and Culture
Sam is a proud Kiwi, who was born in Palmerston North, but grew up in New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington. Holding a Bachelor of Business Studies (HR and Management), Sam has led large People and Culture teams across various New Zealand Government Departments. Before moving to Brisbane in late 2020, Sam was the Senior Manager for People and Culture at Statistics NZ. While working on the executive leadership team, Sam completed a certificate in Tikanga Maori (Practices and Protocols) and Te Ao Maori (the Maori world view) to enable fairer HR practice across NZ government, and to promote inclusive HR policies and practices. Prior to this Sam held Senior Manager and Director People and Culture roles at Reserve Bank of NZ, Ministry for the Environment and Ministry of Social Development. Sam joined SSI in February 2021, and leads our People and Culture function. Outside of work, Sam enjoys Football as a keen supporter of the Wellington Phoenix, spending time with Family, and enjoying the Brisbane sunshine.
Finance Officer
Jolene has a Bachelor of Commerce degree and is a member of Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CAANZ). Jolene joined the Stronger Smarter Institute in November 2021 after years of experience in insolvency. Prior to joining the Institute she worked for a national insolvency firm working on both personal and corporate insolvency appointments. She welcomes the change from insolvency and is committed to working with the Institute to provide a positive impact on the educational experience of our First Nations children by means of her ongoing support to the Stronger Smarter team as part of their finance department.

Jolene is passionate about her continuous journey to further her experience and knowledge in the Not for Profit sector and to continue contributing to making a difference in society through her efforts. She thrives on challenges and acquiring new skills but most importantly brings positivity and enthusiasm.

Outside of work Jolene enjoys scuba diving, travelling, horse riding and outdoor adventures with her family. She is most proud of her family with deep love and respect for her husband who left his homeland of Fiji to come and raise their beautiful family together here in Australia. It is important to Jolene for her children to connect with their Fijian heritage, to know how their father grew up and to share his connection with the land.
Digital Solutions Officer
Kelly is a proud Portuguese Australian from the Island of Madeira who grew up on the South Coast of New South Wales on beautiful Dharawal country. Kelly has family connections to Darkinjung & Gumbaynggirr nations through her wife and son. 

Kelly is a qualified Social Worker and has vast professional experience working within the education system, with young people and their families.  Later in her career Kelly became passionate about social media and technology for good.

Kelly’s personal philosophy is that technology and digital spaces should connect us and be driven by human connections and philosophies. Kelly holds a Diploma of Screen & Media - Multi-platform Production, and is a Digital Solutions Officer at Stronger Smarter Institute.