PO Box 46, Calen Qld. 4798
email: admin@spera.asn.au

Executive Team

Photograph of Mr Brian O'NeillBrian O’Neill

President, AREA

Brian has been a teacher for thirty-three years and all of his experiences have been in rural schools, from as far north as Normanton in Queensland’s Gulf Country to Childers in the south. For the past fifteen years he has been the principal of the Calen District State College, a small rural P-12 school between Mackay and Proserpine.

Having completed a Bachelor of Education from James Cook University and a Master of Learning Management from CQUniversity Australia, he is currently researching for his Doctor of Education with CQUniversity. The focus of his phenomenographic study is the principals’ conceptions of success in rural P-12 schools.He has researched and written A Unique School in the Gulf, Taming the Isis and Education on the Baffle as well as Pathways to Effective Leadership, a training manual for the Australian Junior Chamber, and “Grace Hodge – Distinguished Scholar and Teacher” which is published in the Australian Dictionary of Biography. 

Brian is a past president and life member of the Queensland State P-10/P-12 School Administrators’ Association and is a member of Education Queensland’s Rural and Remote Education Reference Group. Brian is the President of SPERA.


Sam Avitaia

Vice – President

Working in the Australian tertiary education sector for over 20 years, Sam is the manager of the University of Wollongong’s regional campus in Bega NSW. Since her commencement at UOW Bega in 2007, the small campus has grown to up to 200 students each academic year in Arts, Business, Education and Health degrees and pathway programs.
Sam grew up in the Bega Valley and has a passion for providing education opportunities to rural people from diverse backgrounds.  She is the coordinator of the Bega In2Uni Schools Outreach Program, winner of several Widening Participation awards, and 2020 Vice President of SPERA –  the Society for the Provision of Education in Rural Australia.

Sam has presented at national and international conferences, partnered with several universities on rural education research projects and received a 2017 national Higher Education Participation & Partnerships Program grant for development of the “Rural In2Uni” Program.


Chris Reading


Dr Chris Reading is an Adjunct Senior Lecturer at the University of New England (UNE). She has taught mathematics, statistics, mathematics education and ICT education at tertiary level, and mathematics and computing studies at secondary level. Chris was as founding member of the SiMERR National Research Centre at UNE and her research interests include statistics education and ICT education, especially in a rural setting. Chris has published widely in journals, served in editorial roles for both journals and conference proceedings, contributed to the organisation of a number of conferences, and led a number of research projects including the Teaching Teachers for the Future Project (TTF) at UNE.



image of Sue Ledger

Sue Ledger

Journal Editor

Dr Sue Ledger, Murdoch University. (Dip Ed –Primary/ECE, B.Ed, Grad Dip, M.Ed, PhD candidate). Associate Dean of Engagement and School Partnership at Murdoch’s School of Education. Sue’s teaching and research interests include: policy, practices and issues related to teaching and learning to teach diverse contexts: International Education, Rural and Remote Education. She is currently exploring the use of mixed reality learning environments to better prepare preservice and teachers for these contexts. Since her PhD she explores convergence and divergence between rural and international schooling.

She represents Murdoch University on a range of committees associated with Rural and Remote . Teaching and Learning and International Education. Sue has taught and held administrative positions in a wide range of rural and remote schools throughout WA and overseas.


Jayne Downey

International Representative & Journal Editor

Dr Jayne Downey is an Associate Professor in the Department of Education at Montana State University and serves as the Director of the Center for Research on Rural Education at Montana State University. She has worked in the field of educator preparation for 20 years and her research agenda aims to strengthen the preparation of prospective teachers and improve the outcomes of P-20 education across rural contexts. A/Professor Downey serves as the Chair of the Board of Directors for the Montana Small Schools Alliance working on behalf of 135 of Montana’s smallest rural and remote schools. In addition to serving as an editor for the Australian and International Journal of Rural Education, she is co-leader of the Rural Education International Research Alliance, and recently hosted the International Symposium for Innovation in Rural Education 2018, which convened 125 rural educators and researchers from around the globe to celebrate the importance of rural education and explore how research informs rural practice.


Sonal Singh

Membership & Social Media

Sonal is the Widening  Participation Manager at Macquarie University. Sonal has tertiary teaching experience in social marketing and consumer behavior at Macquarie University and at University of South Pacific.  Her role  at Macquarie University involves  overseeing the administration and evaluation of  of Higher Education Equity Participation Programs. She has sole and joint publications in peer reviewed journals. Sonal has a passion for research and believes in community engagement for sustainable development.



Bronwyn Relf


Dr Bronwyn Relf is employed at The University of Newcastle and is responsible for coordinating and teaching the ‘Science for Nursing and Midwifery’ courses in the Open Foundation Program. Bronwyn’s research interests include curriculum design and equity in access to higher education for mature aged students in regional and remote.  She recently lead a Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program grant investigating the role of tertiary preparation programs in increasing access to university for mature aged students in regional and remote areas and an Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching grant investigating curriculum design principles in enabling programs. Prior to her employment at the University of Newcastle, Bronwyn worked at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, Western Sydney University, The University of Sydney and CSIRO.


Melyssa Fuqua

AAAE Representative & Journal Editor

Melyssa Fuqua has a PhD from Monash University. Her thesis explores through narrative inquiry how rurality shapes the work and experiences of Australian pathways advisors. Previously, in addition to teaching at a P-12 school in rural Australia, Melyssa has lectured on education leadership at Federation University and taught literacy education at Monash University. Melyssa is also in a number of research-related leaderships roles with a focus on rural education and engagement. She is the co-convenor of the Australian Association for Research in Education’s (AARE) Rural Education Special Interest Group and is on the Executive Committee of the Society for the Provision of Education in Rural Australia (SPERA). Additionally, she represents SPERA in the Australian Alliance of Association in Education (AAAE) and is an elected member of their Board of Directors.


Jaimey Facchin 


Jaimey is the Manager of the University of Wollongong’s Batemans Bay campus. Raised and educated in the local areas she have returned to work in tertiary education and are passionate about access to higher education for rural students. Jaimey and Sam co-developed the Rural In2Uni outreach program featured in the 2019 HERD Article “Disruptions and bridges in rural Australia: higher education aspiration to expectation of participation”.




Serena Burnett

Social Media

Serena is excited to join the SPERA community, as her current role with the Queensland Department of Education is in promoting and advocating for opportunities in rural and remote state schools. She has a diverse range of teaching experiences, working with students from Prep to Year 10 at international, remote, and Brisbane metropolitan schools. Serena holds a Bachelor of Science (UQ), DipEd (QUT) and is currently studying a Masters at QUT in Education in Leadership and Management. She is dedicated to rural and remote education, especially community immersion, strong collegiality between teachers, and meaningful integration of Indigenous knowledge, science and sustainability in the school curriculum.


Chris Ronan

Conference 2021

Chris Ronan is a postgraduate student at the LH Martin Institute for Tertiary Education Leadership and Management at the University of Melbourne with his main research interests being in Regional, Rural and Remote higher education policy and low-SES student equity issues. Chris has worked in the higher education sector across the United States, New Zealand, and Australia in a range of roles including Deputy Head of Hall at the Victoria University of Wellington, Residence Director in the United States, and as a consultant for university residential life and student accommodation projects. He is currently based in Mount Gambier, South Australia.


Joel Davis

Social Media

Joel Davis has just recently been appointed to the position of Acting Principal at a small rural school in the Darling Downs South West region in Queensland for 2020.  A primary school teacher, he has taught in Cairns in Far North Queensland, Emerald in Central Queensland and London in the United Kingdom.  Most recently Joel has worked with the Teach Queensland Team in the Department of Education as an Ambassador to promote the experiences and opportunities available to teachers in rural and remote settings.  When he is not inspiring his students to find their inner superhero, Joel can be found enjoying the serenity and wide open spaces on his family cattle farm in Daintree – on horseback with his border collie in tow when he has his way.


Carol Steel

Carol is a lecturer in the School of Education and the Arts at Central Queensland University, she is also a PhD candidate with Central Queensland University. Her research interests relate to the decreasing number of male teachers in primary schools. Carol’s PhD is a phenomenological study that explores the professional experiences of male early career teachers teaching in rural and regional schools. Carol teaches pre-service teachers studying a Bachelor of Education (Primary/Early Childhood). She has taught in K-10 settings in both Australia and Great Britain and has postgraduate qualifications in Literature (K-12) and Global Education.



Monica Davis

Monica Davis is the Educational Director for the County Universities Centre. In this role she focuses on student support and collaborations with Australian universities to make higher education more accessible to regional, rural and remote students. Monica completed her Bachelor of Science with Hons I from the University of Newcastle, and a Masters in Geostatistics from the University of Adelaide. Monica believes that the future of an aspiring student should not be predetermined by where he or she lives.