Meet the SVSA Staff

Four people in ski gear on a snowy mountain

SVSA Staff

Samantha Burns, Academic Coordinator & Residential Advisor

Samantha "Sam" Burns joined Sun Valley Community School in 2018 and currently is employed as the SVSA Academic Coordinator, 7th Grade Enhancement Teacher, and a Resident Advisor in the boarding program.

Before joining Sun Valley Community School, Sam served as the Graduate Writing Consultant at the University of Idaho and also taught English 101: Composition & Rhetoric. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Idaho and a B.A. in English from Saint Michael's college, where she also played DII Field Hockey.

She is originally from North Creek, New York, where her family runs a ski shop and whitewater rafting company in the Adirondack park. She has worked as a whitewater guide for five years, splitting time between the Upper Hudson Gorge and Stanley, Idaho.

Tracey Caraluzzi, Residence Hall Chef

Tracey Caraluzzi’s official role is Residence Hall Chef, but her maternal nature (she has five grown children) has led her to another, unofficial, role as boarding students’ “other mom.”

In the kitchen, Tracey’s goal is to debunk notions of institutional food by providing students with healthy, delicious, locally-sourced food that fuels body, mind, and soul. A recent article in Sun Valley Community School's biannual publication, Here+There, touts a few of Tracey's most popular dishes amongst the boarding students. 

With more than 30 years of restaurant and catering experience behind her, she strives to offer nutritionally balanced and tasty meals that are thoughtfully planned to appeal to a wide variety of taste preferences and cultural backgrounds and to offer a warm, welcoming meal-time experience to unite the Residence Hall family.

Jonna Mendes, Program Director

As the director of the Sun Valley Ski Academy since 2011, Jonna Mendes has an impressive background as an athlete and coach. A two-time Olympian—at the 1998 Nagano Olympic Games and 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games—Jonna was also a four-time National Champion (twice in downhill, twice in giant slalom) and earned a bronze medal in super-G at the 2003 Alpine World Championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

Following her 2006 retirement from the U.S. Ski Team, Jonna honed her coaching skills as a U.S. Ski Team development coach from 2006-10, working with athletes at national and regional projects and competitions. In addition to her role as SVSA Program Director, Jonna coaches the U16s with Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation. Jonna’s unique perspective and experience as an elite athlete and coach is an asset to the development of our SVSA student-athletes. In her free time, Jonna loves chasing her son, Declan, down the mountain and camping with Declan and her husband, Will.

Johnie Michael, High Performance Specialist

Johnie Michael joined Sun Valley Community School in 2017 and serves as High Performance Specialist. Johnie manages the school's Julia Argyros Training Center at Rufus M. Brown Hall and coordinates strength, conditioning, and sport science services for high school athletes participating in a wide variety of Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation and Community School sports. In addition, Johnie designs, implements, and monitors all aspects of athletes' yearly plans for athletic development.

Prior to joining the school, Johnie most recently worked at the U.S. Ski & Snowboard's Center of Excellence in Park City, Utah providing strength and conditioning training for all disciplines with a focus on freestyle. His experience with Olympic athletes included all aspects of athletic development, including strength, power, speed, agility, and more. Prior to his time with U.S. Ski & Snowboard, Johnie served as a strength and conditioning graduate assistant for Oklahoma State University Department of Athletics.

Johnie holds a MS in health and human performance and a BS in health and education and promotion from Oklahoma State University. He is also an NSCA Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist. In his free time, he enjoys camping, fishing, skiing, and the outdoors.

Clay Wawner, Director of Residential Life

Clay Wawner succeeded Nancy Parsons-Brown as Director of Residential Life in 2018. Clay joined Sun Valley Community School from Miller School of Albemarle in Charlottesville, Virginia, where, since 2013, he served as Dean of Students, history teacher, Community Service Coordinator, Head Varsity Lacrosse Coach, Residential Duty Team Chief, Student Advisor, and Senior Administrative Team member.

In addition to his extensive academic, residential, and coaching experience, Clay has over ten years’ experience as an outdoor education instructor, having led wilderness experiences around the U.S. and globally, including two summers employed as a fishing and river guide for The River Company in Stanley. 

Clay, along with his wife Maggie, bring warmth, a familial approach, clear expectations, and great residential experience to the dorm, while also working to expand programmatic offerings for all Sun Valley Community School students.

Clay is a graduate of Denison University, where he captained the men’s lacrosse team for two years and graduated with a degree in history. In his reflection of his visit to Community School, Clay shared, “Through a strong set of guiding values, I believe that I can help define a culture that successfully integrates the residential life program into the greater community, bridges the gap between day and boarding students and faculty, and creates a fun and safe environment for our students.” 

From every angle, the SVSA program is one that I wish I had access to as a young ski racer. While I did get the opportunity to play soccer and ski, I feel like I missed out on being a ‘normal’ high school student. For SVSA student-athletes, the sky’s the limit: from dances, to drama, to music, our kids have endless opportunities at their fingertips. While most come here to ski, they are able to do so much more.

-Jonna Mendes, SVSA Program Director