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
“My people are Cobble Cobble kinnected to Warra and Dalby. We have links directly to the Barunggam and Wakka Wakka people”.

John’s core work roles over the past decade have focused on educational excellence, woven within a team environment.

“Wherever I weave, I lay a footprint based on sustaining excellence – a core feature of my work outcomes – growing leadership density and developing cultures of excellence and aspirations”.

John has worked as a lead educator in schools including positions as Principal, Head of Department, and Subject Area Coordinator for Indigenous Education. He has also held lectureship positions with the University of Queensland and James Cook University, and has worked as a QCAA and ACARA Advisor. In 2016, John completed his PhD in Indigenous Community Models of Education – Community Durithunga, with the Queensland University of Technology. Other research interests include Indigenous languages as LOTE, embedding Indigenous Knowledges and Indigenous ways to multimodal literacy. John is passionate about our people, our languages and culture and working and moving our ways forward as best practice in education and community development.
Chief Operations Officer
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.

Service Delivery

Team Leader, Service 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.
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
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.
Program Facilitator
Paul has extensive experience in education and leadership in the Victorian public, private and independent school sectors. He was the Foundation Principal of the Melbourne Indigenous Transition School and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islands Education Officer for the Catholic Education Office (Diocese of Sale). His background also includes teaching in town and remote schools in West Australia’s Kimberley region and Vice Principal at Halls Creek District High School.

Paul’s most recent role was in Professional Standards (Diocese of Sale)  where he provided advice to leadership personnel on child safety in schools relating to the findings of the Royal Commission into the Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Paul undertook the Stronger Smarter Leadership and Facilitator programs in 2011 and 2012. He has post-graduate qualifications in Educational Leadership and Administration and Government Investigations.

Research & Impact

Team Leader, Research
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.
Research 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.
Team Leader, SSiSTEMIK Pathways
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 Digital Solutions 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. He has presented locally, nationally and internationally to a variety of audiences. 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 and the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA).
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.
Senior Research Consultant
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.

Finance, Treasury and Governance

Administration 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
Lan arrived from Vietnam in 2018 and joined the Stronger Smarter Institute in August 2019 firstly as a volunteer for 3 months before beginning employment in December 2019. She is a graduate and member of the internationally recognised Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and an associate member of CPA Australia. Her past employers include Coca Cola Vietnam, The World Bank and various international Non-Government Organisations supported by Australia, England, Sweden and Denmark spanning 22 years. Lan moved to Australia to join her husband and now lives in Nambour, QLD. She is proud of her 15 years experience working in the development sector providing support to groups of vulnerable people across numerous countries in Asia. She now celebrates the opportunities that SSI provide her to continue her contribution through the development and support of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.