Who We Are

Meet the team of people who created the Sedona Village Learning Center.

Our school is owned & operated by 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, Madre Tierra Foundation. It was created in 2017 by school founder, Joanna Horton McPherson and her husband, Thomas, to do educational and sustainability work. Madre Tierra Foundation’s mission is to go beyond tradition to address root causes and impact future minds in order to bring about a more just, equitable world. madretierrafoundation.org

Shara Coughlin

School Director & Lead Teacher

Hello! I am Shara Coughlin, a passionate educator and lifelong learner originally from Hershey, Pennsylvania. I had a career in school nursing prior to moving to a position in special education. I eventually found my calling in early childhood learning. In my most recent Director position, I was Lead Teacher at the Big Park Community Integrated Preschool. I spent 6 years in the classroom teaching a diverse population of 3-5 year olds, including those with special needs. When I became director of that program, I was trained as an International Baccalaureate (IB) preschool teacher in the Primary Years Program.

As you will learn, I am a champion of the importance of early childhood education. I am deeply committed to providing the highest quality program for the children and families in the Verde Valley. I believe in the importance of developing a love for learning in every child, and strive to foster their sense of curiosity and wonder of the world around them.

I received my Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing from Pennsylvania State University and attended Ashworth College for my Child Development Associate certification.

Joanna Horton McPherson


I am Joanna Horton McPherson, educator and writer-actor-artist originally from Maine.  I came to Sedona in 2014 to serve as the dean at Verde Valley School, an international boarding school, where I currently serve on the board.

Since 2000, I’ve worked in theatre and education for social justice, teaching youth and adults all over the country. This includes with resettled refugee youth to tell their stories in original plays for public performance. One program brought me to Rwanda to develop a play exploring girls leadership and gender equality. The second non-profit founded in 2016 in Costa Rica educates young people through environmental programs in reforestation and organic gardening. 

I am passionate about providing a place for young children to learn. I founded two non-profit organizations and a private acting studio over the years to accomplish this goal. I am devoted, like our school director, to a lifelong path of learning. My educational background is from Vassar College for my Bachelor’s degree and Harvard University for my Master’s in Education. Our school aims to bring education and a place to learn to our community so it can thrive. Seeking diverse of ways to discover the world around us enriches our lives for years to come.