Ali Thorstad, Parent, Board Chair

Ali Thorstad has been called many things over the years, but she is most proud of being called mom, daughter, and volunteer. She currently has three teenagers attending LGA. This is her family’s third year with LGA. Ali has seen how kids, both those on and off the spectrum, benefit from what the school offers. She is excited to bring to the board her strong knowledge and experience of charter school and nonprofit leadership. Ali is also one of the few people on earth who enjoy strategic planning.

When not trying to survive life with her three teens and husband, Ali spends time at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. She has been employed there for the past 18 years and has over 22 years in her profession.


JoAnn Sander, Health/Case Manager – Teacher AIM Program, Director

Jo Sander is a case manager and lead teacher at Lionsgate’s Achieving Independence and Maturity (AIM) program.  Jo recently finished her ASD licensure from Bethel University.  She is currently working toward a Work Based Learning License as well.  Jo is active in the Lionsgate Foundation, taking a leading role in fund raising events on behalf of the school.  Jo has a deep commitment to individuals on the spectrum.  She also teaches music privately.


Sara Bydzovsky, Transitions Teacher, Secretary

Ms. Bydzovsky has been a special education teacher in the transitions department at Lionsgate Academy since May 2009. She currently teaches Personal Awareness, Career Exploration, Preparing for Employment and College Prep. Ms. Bydzovsky has her bachelor’s degree in sociology from St. Catherine University and master’s degree in special education from the University of St. Thomas. She is licensed in developmental disabilities, autism spectrum disorders and work-based learning. Before coming to Lionsgate, Ms. Bydzovsky worked with students with ASD and other developmental disabilities as a teaching assistant in St. Paul public schools, an inclusion facilitator at the Jewish Community Center of Saint Paul and as an independent life skills contractor for families. Prior to working in special education, she completed an Americorp VISTA year working at the Minnesota Internship Center and also interned for Public Achievement in Minneapolis and Belfast, Northern Ireland.


Liz Wielinski,  Parent

Liz Wielinski, 5 year parent at Lionsgate has a history of volunteering to serve.  From chairing her neighborhood organization, serving as treasurer for her local political group, and baking desserts for funerals she, according to her family, has a hard time saying no.  After running for election to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board in 2009, she has served for almost 7 years, including a stint as board president. She is a strong advocate for parks and green spaces and providing recreational activities for people of all ages and abilities.  Her part time day job is as staff for the Columbia Park Neighborhood Organization and is a U of M grad.  You’ll see her often knitting while she waits in the pick up line after clubs and has recently learned to spin. Lionsgate has been a fabulous part of her son’s life and she wants more families with children on the autism spectrum to have a chance to take advantage of all the Lionsgate community offers… let’s get Lionsgate East on the map.

Emy Bachman, Community Member, Vice Chair

Emy Bachman is a teacher at heart. She taught in several school districts in the western suburbs before spending three years as a computer technology teacher at Lionsgate Academy. For the past two years she has been teaching and also learning from her two little girls at home. Emy has a masters of education from the University of St. Thomas with a 5-12 licensure in social studies and computer technology as well as an bachelors of arts in communications from Gustavus Adolphus College. After leaving LGA, Emy continues to feel connected to both the school’s mission and to the Lionsgate Community. Being a member of the Board of Directors is one way that she can contribute to LGA by sharing her time, leadership and love for Lionsgate to the benefit of the school and community.


Laura Cottington, Parent, Director

Laura Cottington is in her 7 th year as a Lionsgate parent. She is proud to have had one son graduate from Lionsgate and is looking forward to the continued success of her second son in becoming another Lionsgate Alum! Education is at the heart and core of Laura’s DNA. She holds Bachelors degrees in Elementary Education and Early Childhood Development from the University of Northern Iowa, and a Masters of Science in Education from Drake University. She taught for 15 years and “retired” to be able to focus on both of her boys, diagnosed with autism. Laura has served on the District 279/Osseo Area School Board during a challenging budget time, and looks forward to utilizing her skills from her Board Leadership there with the Lionsgate Family. Her focus is to continue Lionsgate’s mission, while striving forward and looking at how we can continually improve our work with all students, at all abilities, in all settings.


Christine Peper, PhD, Community Member, Director

Christine Peper is a senior lecturer at the University of Minnesota. Prior to joining the staff at the University of Minnesota, Christine taught special education in the Osseo School District. Specially, she worked with a small group of individuals to start the Osseo Secondary Transition Center, a transition program for students ages 18-21 with a variety of disabilities. For thirteen years, she worked as a special education teacher responsible for developing transition curricula, individual education plans (IEPs), and assessments. In her current role at the University of Minnesota, she mentors classroom teachers seeking alternative pathways to licensure. She also teaches the “Transition Planning and Programming” course that all pre-service special education teachers take at the University of Minnesota. Last year, Christine was appointed to the Special Education Advisory Panel (SEAP) for the state of Minnesota by Governor Dayton. Christine serves on the Executive Director subcommittee as part of her work with Lionsgate Advisory Board and is looking forward to continuing her work with such committed and talented teachers, staff, parents, and community members towards the common goal of fulfilling the mission of Lionsgate Academy.


Darren Johnson, Community Member, Treasurer

Darren Johnson currently serves as Senior Vice President, Product Development, Segments & Planning for U.S. Bank. Darren has 16+ years of banking experience having held numerous roles within retail banking.  He earned a B.S. in Business Administration from Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln, NE and is a graduate of the CBA Executive Banking School.  Darren and his wife Jill are actively engaged with several philanthropic organizations across the Twin Cities.  They enjoy traveling, cooking and spending time with family and friends.


James Harms, Language Arts Teacher, Director

Mr. Harms received his Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Minnesota in 2001. He spent six years working, learning, and sharing with the autism community at Fraser Child and Family Center. Through his work at Fraser, Mr. Harms decided he wanted to become a teacher to continue working with students with autism. He received his secondary education license from Augsburg College in May 2012. Before becoming a language arts teacher at Lionsgate Academy, Mr. Harms was LGA’s general education staff substitute teacher, teaching Spanish and technology classes, a member of the Emotional Regulation Team, and an educational assistant. Mr. Harms lives with his wife, son, and a rambunctious dog. He enjoys reading, spending time with friends and family, the Timberwolves, and fly fishing.