The leadership team ensures that our scholars have the environment and resources to succeed in their education, by providing them with a dynamic and nurturing school community.

Senior leadership team

Ambar Hanson

Chief External Relations Officer

ahanson@hiawathaacademies.org | 612-239-1893 | @AmbarHanson

Favorite hobby: Dancing with my partner and kids

Ambar Cristina Hanson, M.P.A., is the director of community engagement at Hiawatha Academies. Since moving to the United States from the Dominican Republic eighteen years ago, Ambar has been dedicated to advocating for immigrant communities and communities of color to have equal opportunity and access to higher education, jobs that provide livable wages, health, housing and safety. Over the past ten years, Ambar advocated for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors through several roles at Casa de Esperanza and National Latin@ Network for Healthy Families and Communities. Currently, Ambar oversees the recruitment, marketing, parent engagement and community collaborations for the Hiawatha Academies network. Recently, Ambar received the Mano Amiga Award from the Minnesota Latino Economic Development Center for her commitment and generous contribution of time and work in behalf of the Latino community.
She lives in St. Paul and enjoys spending time with partner and two children.

Dawn Gunderson Taylor

Chief Talent Officer

dgundersontaylor@hiawathaacademies.org | 612-998-6015

Favorite book: A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
Favorite hobby: Traveling to destinations near and far

Dawn Gunderson Taylor holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Minnesota State University Moorhead. She was a Peace Corps volunteer in Ethiopia where she taught English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) to tenth grade students and a 2001 Teach For America corps member. She taught high school English for six years in Baltimore, MD, and returned overseas to continue teaching in Istanbul, Turkey. In 2008, Dawn joined the staff of Teach For America where her work focused on alumni affairs for over seven years. Dawn returned to the Midwest in the summer of 2014 and joined Hiawatha Academies as Chief Talent Officer.
Dawn's daughter, Neela, is a student at Hiawatha Leadership Academy-Northrop.

Eli Kramer

Executive Director

ekramer@hiawathaacademies.org | 612-581-7750 | @Eli_Kramer_

Favorite book: The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni
Favorite hobby: Board games with my daughters

Eli Kramer has been the Executive Director of Hiawatha Academies since 2012. Before joining Hiawatha, Eli was a founding Dean of Curriculum and Instruction with Uncommon Schools in New York. Prior to that, he taught for six years in New York City at the elementary and middle school level. Eli was a 2003 Teach for America corps member in the Bronx, NY. He holds a B.A. in government from Harvard, a Master's in Education from Bank Street College, and a Master's in Educational Leadership from Brooklyn College.
Eli grew up in Minneapolis and is happy to be home.

Rochelle Van Dijk

Chief Academic Officer

rvandijk@hiawathaacademies.org

Rochelle Van Dijk is a proud African-American and Cherokee educator and mother of three. Rochelle graduated from Harvard University in 2005 with a degree in psychology and earned her Master's in Educational Psychology from the University of Colorado. She joined the '05 Teach For America corps and taught science in the Rio Grande Valley. In 2011 she founded the top performing high school in Denver: Denver School of Science and Technology in the Green Valley Ranch neighborhood. Each of the students in her founding class was accepted to a 4-year college, 80% of which were first generation college-students and over 75% qualified for free-and-reduced lunch. Rochelle went on to become Chief of Schools for Denver Schools of Science and Technology and oversee 4500 students across 12 schools. Rochelle now serves students and families in South Minneapolis as the Chief Academic Officer at Hiawatha Academies.

Sara Boedecker-Johnston

Senior Director of Program

sboedeckerjohnston@hiawathaacademies.org | 612-385-6388

Sara Boedecker-Johnston is the Senior Director of Program at Hiawatha Academies. Prior to joining Hiawatha, Sara worked for ten years as a teacher and principal at a Lutheran Pre-kingergarten through eighth grade school on the south side of Chicago. Sara grew up in Michigan and attended Valparaiso University, where she completed her undergraduate degree in Psychology and Sociology and Masters of Education degree.
Living in Minnesota brings Sara closer to lakes, trees, and her husband's family, all of which make her happy. Sara loves fonts, succulents, cooking and eating interesting food (especially pie) and wiener dogs (especially hers, named Ole).

Sean Elder

Chief Operating Officer

selder@hiawathaacademies.org | 612-251-3139

Favorite hobby: Backpacking and Camping

Sean Elder has been the Chief Operating Officer of Hiawatha Academies since May 2011. Before joining Hiawatha, Sean was an Area Manager for Skyhawks Sports Academy, the nation’s largest provider of youth sports programs and served several years as an Undergraduate Admissions Counselor at the University of Minnesota. Sean was also a 2010 Chicago Cohort Fellow with Education Pioneers. An active community member, Sean currently sits on the Education and Jobs Committee for the Greater Twin Cities United Way. He holds a B.A. in Sociology - Law, Criminology, and Deviance from the University of Minnesota and an M.B.A. from the University of St. Thomas.

Stephen Courchane

Senior Director of Operations

scourchane@hiawathaacademies.org | 612-272-3665

Favorite hobby: Running

Stephen Courchane is a homegrown Minnesotan, serving as the Senior Director of Operations for Hiawatha Academies. Prior to joining Hiawatha Academies in 2012, Stephen taught third grade in Jacksonville, FL, and worked as a School Operations Manager at Teach For America's 2011 Summer Institute. Stephen earned his B.A. in English at the University of Minnesota and is currently completing his M.B.A. at the University of St. Thomas.
Stephen loves all things outdoors, including geocaching with his wife (Kate) and running any chance he can get!