VVS Board of Trustees

The Verde Valley School Board of Trustees is the governing body of the school.  The diverse group comes from a broad cross-section of the country and is comprised of former students, parents, faculty, local Sedona residents and people from across the country who have skills and values aligned to the school’s vision.

At Verde Valley School we welcome individuals willing to serve on the Board of Trustees, in particulars those who possess a specific skill set, such as financial, business, legal, or fundraising skills.


The Board of Trustees is composed of not less than nine nor more than eighteen members. Board members serve a term of three years, beginning July 1. Board members are limited to three consecutive terms of three years (except the immediate past president, who serves no less than one year past the end of her or his term). Board members must attend eight telephonic board meetings per year and two on campus meetings. On campus meetings are held in January and June. The Board of Trustees works closely with the Head of School, and the relationship should be one of trust and transparent communications. It is not the role of the Board to be involved in the day to day operations of the school, such as specific management, personnel, or curricular issues.

Current Board Members

The Role of the Verde Valley School Board of Trustees

The Board of Trustees is the governing body of the School. Its role is to perform the following duties:
  • Policy development and approval
  • Hiring and regularly evaluating the head of school
  • Approving an annual budget
  • Developing and implementing a strategic plan
  • Overseeing financial accountability
  • Ensuring that in broad terms the school is fulfilling its mission
  • Fundraising and promoting the image of the school
  • Ensuring the school is following good governance models
  • Responsibility for filling board positions and ensuring those individuals are committed to the mission of the school
  • Ensure all actions are transparent, observe appropriate confidentiality, and are in furtherance of the best interests of the school
The obligations of a VVS Board of Trustees Member include:
  • Regularly attend board and committee meetings.
  • Actively serve on at least one, preferably two, board committees.
  • Donate time and expertise to the school.
  • Financially support the school in an amount that trustee can afford and help with fundraising. 100 percent board financial support is required.
  • Understand the duties of a board member:
    • Policy development and approval
    • Hiring the head of school
    • Approving an annual budget
    • Developing a strategic plan
    • Overseeing financial accountability
    • Ensuring that in broad terms the school is fulfilling its mission
    • Fundraising and promoting the image of the school


Verde Valley School Board of Trustees serve on six standing committees: Finance, Executive, Governance, Education Program & Services Committee, Advancement Committee and Head of School Annual Evaluation and Compensation Committee.

The Finance Committee is commissioned by and responsible to the Board of Trustees. It has the responsibility for working with the Head of School and Chief Financial Officer (CFO)/ Business Management Provider to create the upcoming fiscal year budget; presenting budget recommendations to the Board; monitoring implementation of the approved budget on a regular basis and recommending proposed budget revisions; recommending to the Board appropriate policies for the management of the School’s assets. The finance committee shall be assisted by the Head of School and CFO/Business Management Provider.

The Executive Committee is chaired by Tamara Cook. Members are limited to President, Vice President(s), Secretary and Treasurer of the Board. The Executive Committee is responsible for general oversight of the Board; offers guidance and support to the various Committees and the Head of School on an ad hoc basis. 

The Governance Committee is chaired by Gregg Ramer and is commissioned by and responsible to the Board of Trustees to assume the primary responsibility for matters pertaining to the Board of Trustees, orientation, training, and evaluation in accordance with the bylaws of the school as well as established policies and practices approved by the Board of Trustees.  The Governance Committee also vets nominees to the Board of Trustees and makes recommendations to the Board as a whole.

The Education Program & Services Committee is chaired by Pat Goudvis and is commissioned by and responsible to the Board of Trustees to assume the primary responsibility for working with the Head of School to define academic excellence, ensure that all Board Members know the educational promises that were made to the Community, understand the applicable accreditation processes, and to devise clear and consistent measures to monitor these goals.

The Advancement Committee is chaired by Shawn Krause and assumes the primary responsibility for Board of Trustees recruitment and nominations, alumni relations and raising non-grant funds to support the School’s Mission. The Board president, Vice-president(s), and Secretary, as well as several board members of the VVSF serve on this committee. Non-Board members can serve as advisory members.

The Head of School Annual Evaluation and Compensation Committee shall be comprised of President, Vice President(s), Secretary, Treasurer of the Board and a Board Member who is a professional educator. 

VVS Board of Trustees

Abani Heller

Abani is a dynamic and driven individual with a passion for using Technology and Data to solve complex problems. With over 25 years in the tech industry and a background in Psychology, he has a proven track record of building and leading successful teams as he did recently for social networking pioneer classmates.com and for the people search industry as the CEO of Intelius.com and then PeopleConnect.
Abani is an expert in growth, transformation, data, the SaaS business model and direct to consumer offerings. Abani holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California at Santa Cruz. Abani currently resides in Kirkland, WA and in his spare time he enjoys mountain biking, skiing, traveling, time with family, and always using his Sprinter Van to get there.
Abani was introduced to VVS by his spouse Elysia (Marsh) Heller, ’88 and currently has two children attending VVS, Finley, ’24 and Peter, ’26.

Amber Davies-Sloan '99

Amber Davies-Sloan grew up in Northern CA and relocated to Sedona AZ when she was 15. Attending VVS taught her many important lessons that she has carried with her throughout her life. After graduating in 1999, Amber attended Northern Arizona University and the University of New Mexico, earning degrees in Communication, with emphases in family and interpersonal communication. She is currently an Assistant Professor at DigiPen Institute of Technology in Redmond WA, where she guides future game developers through the process of learning communication tools for successful professional and personal relationships.

Amber’s academic research focuses on the identity formation of transracial adoptees through communication and how biracial and adoptee identities might affect interpersonal relationships in adulthood. As a Korean adoptee herself, Davies-Sloan feels that it is important to share the experiences of adoptees and amplify their voices as historically the rhetoric surrounding adoption is from the perspective of the adopter and not the adoptees themselves.

Anyone who has met Amber knows her love and dedication to VVS and its mission. She is excited for the opportunity to serve on the Board of Trustees and looks forward to supporting the short and long term goals of VVS so that current and future students can experience the same “magic” that she was able to during her time at the school.

Amber currently resides in Western Washington with her husband, two young boys, and sassy Corgi. A recent transplant from Arizona to the Pacific Northwest, she enjoys spending time outside, exploring her new home. In her spare time, she can be found in the kitchen working on her cooking and baking skills, or curled up with a good book and a cup of tea. 

Betsy Smith

Betsy Smith grew up in Northern New Jersey and relocated to Austin, Texas to avoid winters a couple years after graduating from Penn State University with dual majors in Math and Accounting. After a decade in the traditional corporate world as an internal auditor and investment data and analytics manager, Betsy (and her partner Joseph and two cats), traveled the American Southwest for a year while working as a horse wrangler. Betsy and family eventually settled in Apache Junction with two adopted horses, starting a career with Bureau of Land Management while acting in murder mystery shows and helping her neighbors with home renovations on the weekend. Betsy inadvertently was embracing the guiding principals of VVS in action, which she realized when attending VVS’s 75th anniversary with her aunt (Amie Rodnick) and uncle. Betsy’s thrilled to bring her passion for the VVS lifestyle and prior work experience to the Board of Trustees and to help ensure VVS is thriving for the next 75 years and beyond. 

Chris Means, '75

I hope to contribute to VVS as a board member or consultant as a means of giving back for all that it has done for me and my goal is to help with the building improvements for the school and enhance the VVS experience for students and faculty.  I found my passion for building early in life. I have been working in construction since 1977. I have been a general contractor for the last 39 years in both residential and commercial projects in my home town of Santa Rosa, CA. I have had the pleasure my having both of my sons work with me on their journeys to their own careers.  I enjoy active outdoor activities, mushroom foraging, home winemaking, cooking, and collecting Native American art.

Don Groves

A life-long educator in the Americas and Africa, Don was a teacher and counselor at the elementary, middle, and high school levels, high school principal, and international school superintendent. Don earned his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate from the University of
Northern Colorado. Post doctorate studies include coursework and seminars at the University of Oxford, Harvard University, Brown University, and State University of New York-Buffalo.

Don gained governance experience throughout his career by serving on a variety of boards and being president of three of them. As a local resident, he has continued this experience as a member of several community boards and task forces. He previously served as a VVS Trustee from 2011-2015.

Don brings to the Board of Trustees a wide perspective of education, the role of governance, and the Verde Valley.

Gregg Ramer, '85

Vice President

Gregg Ramer was born in Los Angeles, CA, but was re-born in Sedona at VVS.  Following his graduation from VVS in 1985, Gregg returned to Los Angeles, establishing a diversified career in the entertainment industry, ranging from personal management to motion picture production and development, culminating in his career as an entertainment transactional lawyer practicing over two decades with some of the premiere law firms in the industry.

Gregg proudly counts among his best friends fellow VVS alums, and when approached to join the VVS Board of Trustees, could not say “yes” fast enough, feeling that giving back to the place and community that gave him so much was really the least he could do.  

Aside from his legal career and service to VVS, Gregg spends his time with his life-long, reunited love Caschia Jones (VVS, class of 1986), raising 2 dogs, 7 tropical fish, 26 koi, and a 140 lb. giant sulcata land tortoise, while working on his cooking skills (which are strong) and his golf game (which is weak).  

Jeneda Benally '92

Jeneda Benally plays bass and sings with her brother Clayson Benally in the multi-award-winning duo Sihasin. In 2012, they formed Sihasin, the Navajo word for “hope”, releasing their Ed Stasium-produced debut album, Never Surrender, in 2012 to critical acclaim and numerous awards on the American Indian Music scene, and received the honor of being called the "#1 Freedom Fighting Band to Get You Through the Trump Years” byThe Huffington Post in December 2016. Sihasin’s latest album “FIGHT LIKE A WOMAN” has also won numerous awards internationally and nationally. They also collaborated on the song “Sister Moon and Brother Sun” for the 2017 Grammy-nominated album by roots children’s duo The Okee Dokee Brothers. Their punk rock version of the Christmas classic, “Winter Wonderland” was featured in an ad campaign with Tony Bennet for Hyundai. Jeneda has had a long musical career that first began with her brothers in the Native American iconic punk band “Blackfire” formed in 1990.

Jeneda Benally also performs in the internationally acclaimed family's dance troupe, The Jones Benally Family. Benally has toured throughout the world to share her Dine’ (Navajo) culture as a means to build respect and understanding for Indigenous Nations. Not only does Jeneda advocate for indigenous teachings, she is a traditional practitioner of Navajo medicine and works alongside her father, Jones Benally, a Navajo medicine man.  Benally is also well-known for her work as an advocate for human rights, sacred sites, youth empowerment, and environmental and animal rights. Jeneda was part of the Delos Convention for the United Nations in Greece and was a plaintiff in the federal court case against reclaimed wastewater in order to protect the Sacred San Francisco Peaks.  Benally has been featured on NPR, as an actress in Nanobah Becker's film The Sixth World, and has appeared in numerous TV specials and in national and international media formats.
"Verde Valley School deepened my values and core commitment to ideals that I didn’t realize extended beyond the embrace of my family. These values of being connected to our global community, appreciation for nature, the creative force of art, the beauty of diversity and the thrill of education connected me to a bigger family, my Verde Valley School family. I carry these values with me everyday. I am still supported by that embrace of a growing global family as I consistently work as a positive change maker to build bridges of respect and unity."
Jeneda Benally: musician/advocate/cultural consultant/mom/1992 VVS alumni

Melissa Shanahan, '83

With over twenty years experience working with adolescents and their families, Melissa and her company Educational Pathways, have over twenty years experience working with adolescents and their families.  Her work focusses on offering a personal approach to navigating the best possible educational pathway for a child, whether in a more traditional school setting, therapeutic environment or wilderness program. As a counselor in drug and alcohol programs, residential treatment facilities, public high schools and outdoor education programs, Melissa clearly understands the turmoil students face today and the need for parents to stay committed to keeping their children on track. Melissa works face-to-face with families all over the United States, regularly tours schools and programs, and attends conferences in order to stay current with the various issues and special needs that affect students today. Melissa earned a M.A. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Denver and lives in Boulder, Colorado with her husband and two children.

Peter Nelson '73

Peter Nelson grew up in Southern California with family in the entertainment industry with a lot of international travel, but the most important growth came from experiences of four years at
Verde Valley School. Strongest interests were in several fields of science, sustainability, the spirit of the VVS culture, and what became the start of incredible discoveries in spirituality that were investigated over the VVS years with the disciplines of science. These peaked near graduation in ’73 in what can only be called ‘The Gift of Awe’, an epic story. 

From the picturesque, wide open vistas of Arizona Peter went to The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington for interdisciplinary educational experiences. This environmental change was significant; the open vistas were replaced with dense growths of trees always just outside the windows and the overcast sky seemed to start just above the tree tops. After graduation it was nice to return to California, first to attend graduate school at UC Berkeley and live closer to family members who also relocated. From there Peter enjoyed sailing, began a career in technology, got married, raised two kids and continues to live in the Bay Area.

Shawn Krause

Shawn Krause grew up in St. Louis MO. He graduated from the University of Missouri, Columbia, where he earned a degree in Art and a Minor in Art History and Archaeology. He went on to study Character Animation at California Institute of the Arts (Cal Arts), and after a year continued on to his career at Pixar.

Shawn joined Pixar Animation Studios during Toy Story. He worked as an animator on a number of Pixar’s feature films including A Bug’s Life,  Toy Story 2Monster, Inc., CarsFinding Nemo, and The Incredibles.

Krause served as directing animator on the Academy Award®-winning feature, Up and as a supervising animator on Disney•Pixar’s Academy Award®-winning feature Inside Out.  He is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Shawn is married to Hamilton and Babs Warren’s granddaughter, Fiona. They currently live in the San Francisco Bay area with their two young children.

Tamara Cook '83


Born in La Paz, Bolivia to parents in the U.S. foreign service (State Department), Tamara Cook (aka, Tammi Nydell), is a four-year graduate of Verde Valley School, Class of ’83.  During her four years, she served as Class President and helped start “Student Government.”  It only made sense that she would go on to receive degrees in Political Science and Latin American Studies from the University of Arizona, and, in 1991, a Juris Doctor from Syracuse University College of Law.    
As for experience she brings to the VVS Board, Tamara is a trial attorney with three decades of legal and business experience.  She is presently the co-owner and founder of Williamson Law Group Arizona.  Over the course of her career, her diverse law practice has focused on issues concerning employment law, commercial litigation, business litigation, risk management and safety assessment, insurance coverage and bad faith, medical malpractice, and personal injury.  Beginning July 2020, Tamara is certified by Maricopa County Superior Court as an arbitrator and Judge Pro Tempore.
June 2022 starts Tamara’s third time on the Board of Trustees.  Like so many others, Tamara is passionately dedicated and devoted to VVS and its Mission.  From a place of trust and respect, she intends to work tirelessly with her Board colleagues and the VVS family near and far, new and old, to ensure VVS survives and thrives, and that the vision of Hamilton and Babs Warren is shared with many more generations of our youth.

Tom Standring, '78

Grew up in Tucson and Fresno, then moved to Winnipeg before his sophomore year of high school.

Some would say Tom’s growing up part is still a work in progress.

Toured various high schools before his senior year with the final stop at VVS. No further touring necessary.

Through a circuitous life journey from Sedona after graduation, Tom ended up back in Tucson getting a BSBA degree from the University of Arizona in ’92 then passing the CPA exam in ’94.

Worked in various CPA firms, then began working in his current capacity in 2002 as a traveling “auditor” for Real Estate Franchisors and now has run his own firm doing same since 2007.

Tom is very grateful he has an opportunity to give something back to Verde Valley School as a contributing Board Member. As a viewpoint was recently conveyed to the Board, VVS is a magical place. Tom would like to help ensure it remains that way.

Married and living in Tucson with his wife of 23+ years, Tom’s interests are traveling for fun, visiting family in Northern California, following University of Arizona sports teams of all types, and collecting pre-machine made Antique bottles. Those made roughly 1910 and before.
Verde Valley School is an International Baccalaureate boarding and day high school for students in grades 9-12.