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.


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, Secretary

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.



Liz Wielinski,  Parent, Treasurer

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.


Hannah Betz,  Special Education Teacher, Director

Hannah Betz is beginning her fifth year at Lionsgate Academy. She graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2013 with a Speech, Language, Hearing Sciences degree, intent on becoming a Speech Language Pathologist. However, she began working at Lionsgate as an educational assistant and fell in love with teaching. In 2014, she became a job coach and helped kick start the North St. Paul campus. Ms. Betz was looking for leadership opportunities and was able to lead a college exploration class. From there, she began classes at Bethel University and recently finished her Master’s degree in Special Education with an Autism Spectrum Disorders license. She has case managed and taught at AIM for the past two years, continuing to look for leadership roles. During the 2016-17 school year, Hannah had the opportunity to
join the NSP crisis team, allowing her to have a greater presence in the Lynx program.

During her time at the University of Minnesota, she was a member of the Alpha ChiOmega – Alpha Lambda chapter and held an executive position on the board as the Vice President of Education. Ms. Betz has attended multiple leadership programs and retreats and is always looking for new opportunities to learn and grow. She is looking forward to serving as a member of Lionsgate Academy’s School Board, where she can utilize her background knowledge and grow as a
young professional.


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.


Steve Sawyer, Community Member, Director

Steve Sawyer currently serves as Vice President, Information Security Risk Management for U.S. Bank.  Steve has 20+ years of Information Technology experience primarily in the financial services industry.  He has a B.A. in Economics from St. Olaf and an M.B.A. in Finance from the University of Minnesota, and he is a Certified Information Systems Auditor and Certified Information Security Manager.  Steve enjoys contributing to the fulfillment of the mission of Lionsgate Academy, which resonates personally with both Steve and his wife Julia, who is also actively engaged in the local autism community.  They enjoy traveling, listening to live music, and spending time with family and friends.


Amy Kunkel, Community Member, Director

Amy Kunkel has been involved in the field of special education for over 10 years, working with a diverse population of students with learning disabilities (including autism spectrum disorders), traumatic brain injuries, emotional/behavioral disorders and other mental and physical disabilities.

Amy has also served as an interventionist at the middle school level, working with students at-risk in the area of reading. She has a K-6 elementary education license, special education licenses in learning disabilities and emotional/behavioral disorders, and a certificate in autism spectrum disorders. After teaching fifth and sixth grades for several years, Ms. Kunkel obtained a Master’s degree in special education and went on to obtain a Ph.D. in educational psychology with an emphasis on special education from the University of Minnesota. Amy is currently the licensure program lead for the Academic Behavior Strategist (ABS) license in the special education department at the University of Minnesota.


Bradford Gran, Physical Education Teacher, Director

Mr. Gran is originally from Red Wing, MN.  Both of his parents were teachers. A three sport athlete in high school, he was also active in band and student government.  He later graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College where he continued in two sports and band. Mr. Gran has three children: sons who are 27 and 20, and a daughter who is 16. This is his 27th year in teaching and his 8th year at Lionsgate Academy.