Our Team


The Forest School is guided by a group of innovative practitioners and leaders from across Georgia’s business, education, design, and nonprofit sectors. Together the team believes that their experiences have led them to a calling at the crossroads of education and entrepreneurship.


Joy Thigpen

Co-founder & CEO of The Forest School

Joy grew up in Georgia. After returning home from semesters in Italy and Bolivia, she graduated from Berry College, started a family, and launched a photography business. Following five years of photography, Joy became the Creative Director of OnceWed, one of the most influential wedding websites in the world. Seeing the great need for creative professionals to have access to the tools they need for success in business, Joy eventually co-founded If I Made. Presently, Joy is the Creative Director for Pinewood Forest, and oversees design, marketing, and events for the emerging community. Joy’s work has been featured in Vogue, Elle Decor, Better Homes & Gardens, Brides, and other magazines, books, and blogs. 

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Dr. Tyler Thigpen

Co-founder & Head of School of The Forest School

Tyler also grew up in Georgia and has worked in innovative district, private, and charter schools, as well as statewide and national nonprofits. Currently, Tyler is a Partner at Transcend, a national nonprofit focused on accelerating innovation in the core design of school, and co-founder of MENTOR Georgia, the state’s emerging mentoring partnership. Tyler is the former head of the upper school at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School in Atlanta and co-founder and board member of Chattahoochee Hills Charter School near Serenbe. At Transcend, Tyler has worked closely on projects such as nXuWhittleThe Academy GroupWashington Leadership AcademyArt in MotionHebrew Public, and Teton Science's Place Network. Tyler holds a doctoral degree in Education Leadership from Harvard Graduate School of Education, a masters in public administration from Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and a masters in theology from Regent College. Tyler has written about the future of learning in the Washington Post, Education Week, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Getting Smart, and others.

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Yvette Cook Darby

Board Member of The Forest School

Yvette is a seasoned executive, business strategist, coach and consultant with more than 25 years of leadership experience. She has successfully enhanced the culture of organizations to become more competitive, responsive and innovative.  She is most proud of her work with non-profits, specifically those focused on education, to improve the conditions and opportunities for those living in underserved communities. Yvette began her professional career in broadcast media sales, has owned a marketing consulting firm, and is a certified Personal and Executive Coach.  Her past positions include: President & CEO of Ushers New Look, Chief Marketing Officer of United Way of Atlanta, and Chief Strategy Officer of Georgia Public Broadcasting.  Yvette is currently coaching, consulting, and serving as Chief Operating Officer of Inspire, Inc. She earned a master’s degree in mass communications and a bachelor’s degree in public affairs and political science from the University of Denver.  She currently serves on the Board of Directors for SHRM Atlanta, Caring for Others, and the University of Denver, School of Arts and Sciences Alumni.  

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Lisa Chatham

Elementary Guide

Lisa grew up in the suburbs of Dallas, Texas, but after living in Georgia for over a decade, she couldn't imagine living without these Georgia pines. After extending her time in college to include a semester in Athens, Greece, she graduated from Kennesaw State University with a B.S. in Early Childhood Education. Over the next several years, she taught Preschool, Pre-Kindergarten, and Kindergarten, married her college sweetheart, and grew her family by two dogs and three kids. After settling into Tyrone, GA, Lisa began teaching third grade through a Title I virtual public school platform, reaching diverse learners from all over the state. Most recently, Lisa added a Gifted Teaching certification and was accepted to the graduate program at KSU. Her greatest passion, joy, and challenge is her family, and she gladly spends most of her time with her husband, their two sons and daughter. They enjoy any activity that takes them outside and they frequently camp, hike, explore and travel.

Caleb Collier

Middle School Guide

Caleb grew up in Virginia, but has lived in Georgia long enough to consider it home. He has spent many years as a middle school teacher, but is a storyteller at heart. He got his start in education as a creative writing tutor to sixth graders in the Atlanta Public School system and has since taught in a multi-age, constructivist environment. Before finding his way into the classroom, Caleb served as Media Director and co-founder of Give Us Names, a nonprofit organization working alongside of displaced Colombians to share their stories. Currently, Caleb is pursuing a PhD in Teaching and Learning at Georgia State University with a research focus on Digital Storytelling. Caleb’s greatest passion (and greatest adventure) is his family, and he gladly spends most of his time with his wife and two daughters at their home in Grant Park, Atlanta.  

Amber Bryant

Apprentice Guide

Amber was born in Atlanta, Georgia, where she attended Frederick Douglass High School. Upon graduation she attended Georgia Southern University and graduated with a degree in Human and Environmental Sciences. After several years of managing and overseeing the renovation and construction of both residential and commercial properties, Amber changed careers to open a family shipping business and oversaw the first stage of operation. During this time she married NFL Cornerback Fernando Bryant, and began actively participating in his 25-Sports Foundation, which supports the encouragement of inner-city youth. Through the Foundation, she was able to participate in community clothing and food drives. This is where Amber found her passion for working with children. “Fernando’s Commando’s,” a group of high performing middle school students, was the brainchild of Amber. From the love to see children succeed, Amber began to volunteer at Meadowlands Montessori school and decided to pursue her certification in Montessori Middle Grades Education. She has served the Henry and Fayette County communities as a Montessori guide and assistant in both the Upper and Lower Elementary classes. Amber visited her high school alma mater and was shocked at the environment she encountered. This led her to start The Odyssey Program in hopes bringing the family environment she left at Douglass High School back to the forefront. The program focuses on essential life skills for high school students to carry into adulthood and become successful, contributing citizens to their community. She still volunteers with the students from Douglass. Fernando and Amber have been married for 14 years and raise Fernando’s older children, Amber’s nephew, and together have a 8 year old daughter named Griffin.

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Jeff Sandefer

Advisor & Co-Founder of Acton Academy

Jeff Sandefer lives a dual life as an entrepreneur and a Socratic Guide. As an entrepreneur, he founded his first company at age 16 and went on to found or co-found seven successful businesses. As a Socratic teacher at the University of Texas, Jeff’s students five times voted him the school’s Outstanding Teacher and Businessweek named him one of the top Entrepreneurship professors in America. Jeff went on to co-found the Acton School of Business, an MBA program perennially ranked by the Princeton Review among the best in the nation. In 2012 The Economist honored him as one of the top fifteen Business School professors in the world. Jeff is a graduate of the Harvard Business School, where he served for over twenty years on the school’s governing committees. He was a longtime director of the Philanthropy Roundtable and National Review magazine and one of the youngest members ever elected to the Texas Business Hall of Fame.

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Laura Sandefer

Advisor & Co-Founder of Acton Academy

Laura lived on both US coasts and in between as a child, then settled into Vanderbilt University for her undergraduate studies in the College of Arts and Science. After being awarded the highly competitive Walter Wattles Fellowship at Lloyd’s of London, Laura worked in the aviation insurance industry in New York City. Deciding to follow her calling into the world of education, Laura returned to Nashville and earned her Master of Education at Peabody College. This led her to her work at the Oklahoma Arts Institute, creating fine arts education programs for teachers and talented high school students. Laura married Jeff Sandefer and is the happy mother of Sam and Charlie and step-mother to Taite. It is the inspiration of these children that led Laura and Jeff to co-found Acton Academy. Her greatest hero is her mother who was a Master Teacher. Her wisest mentor is her father who sent her off to college with two words of advice: "Be curious."