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

Dyonne is a proud Githabal woman from the far North Coast of NSW. She is an experienced school principal and has led in senior management roles including curriculum consultant at a regional and state level. Dyonne was previously the Chief Operations Officer at the Stronger Smarter Institute with a focus and priority on First Nations educational success. Dyonne is currently the President of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Principals’ Association (NATSIPA) and was a member of the 2022 National Teaching Workforce Action Plan group and is currently a member of the expert panel to inform a better and fairer education system appointed by Federal Education Minister, Jason Clare as part of the National School Reform Agenda.
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.

Service Delivery

Program 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.
Program Facilitator
Rebecca Giles is a Dharawal woman, a descendant through the Puckeridge family. Rebecca was born in, and grew up in Western Sydney NSW, but now lives on Gundungurra Country in the Blue Mountains of NSW. Rebecca has a Bachelor of Teaching and comes from 20 years' experience in the Early Childhood Profession and Indigenous Education. Rebecca is committed to building High Expectation Relationships, so our Jarjums feel safe and confident to grow up Strong and Smart.
Program Co-ordinator
Aaron McDonald is of Greek and Scottish heritage and was born and raised in Awabakal Country in Lake Macquarie NSW but now lives and works in Bundjalung Country in the Northern Rivers of NSW. Aaron has a Bachelor of Education and has 28 Years experience working for the NSW Department of Education in a secondary school setting. He has been an executive in the school setting since 2011 and a senior executive since 2018. Aaron has been involved with the Stronger Smarter Institute since 2016 and is committed to improving educational outcomes for all students through High Expectations Relationships. Aaron has an immense passion for both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education and the Stronger Smarter Approach. Aaron supports and promotes all teachers being responsible for change.
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.

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.
Team Leader SSiSTEMIK
Sarah McDonald grew up on Yorta Yorta Country where her family has ties to agricultural farming and business. Sarah has a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Sociology and a Diploma of Education in Secondary Teaching and has been working in the NSW Department of Education for 15 years. Currently, She lives and works on Bundjalung Country and has followed her passion with supporting First Nations jarjums to become 'Deadly Learners' whilst maintaining their culture.  Sarah has been a member of the Stronger Smarter Institute since 2017 and for the past 5 years she has been working with the NSW Department of Aboriginal Education Learning and Engagement Centres under the Premier's Priority to increase the percentage of First Nations people obtaining their HSC and beyond. Sarah is committed to supporting First Nations women in completing their University degree in STEM and ensuring we foster culturally safe working environments.
Program Officer
Shelley MacDonald was born and raised in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, and has connections to Ngati Raukawa through her husband and children. She now lives on Yugambeh country on the lands of the Kombumerri peoples on the Gold Coast. Shelley has a doctoral degree in developmental psychology from Otago University and worked for many years at Auckland University on projects in South Auckland. Here she worked with schools, the Ministry of Education and Maori and Pasifika families to examine ways of incorporating cultural and family processes into explanations of teaching, learning and development, and, how to put these knowledges into practice in the classroom. Shelley works at a number of universities across Brisbane and the Gold Coast as a senior researcher and as a casual academic working with pre-service teachers. Shelley joined SSI on the Teachers of STEM Initiative (TOSI) in 2020 where she enjoys working with the inspirational ToSI women on their STEM teaching journey.

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.
Finance Officer
David grew up in Melbourne (Naarm) attended a trade school and completed an Apprenticeship in Graphic Reproduction/Printing trade. Coming from the one of the world’s biggest sporting capital, David is passionate follower of AFL, Tennis and Soccer, loves to read, travel, avid gamer and enjoys listening to a variety of musical artists. Having spent considerable time working and living in England researching family history, David came back to Brisbane in 2003 and was part of his local schools P&C Association Committee for five years. The key goal was to raise funds to support and expand the schools’ amenities, school development projects to benefit parents, teachers and children. He has been part of the Gubbi Gubbi region for twenty years.

David has a vast background and experience in IT ranging from customer accounts support, software development, testing and HR and WHS administration, within various industries. Having completed a Certificate IV in Accounting & Bookkeeping, David plays a key role as part of the finance team and enjoys supporting the SSI programs and teaching philosophy.
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.