Japhet School

National School of Character


Preschool - 8th Grade

Preschool - 8th Grade

Board of Trustees

“With each new year, we grow. We critique, we analyze, and we develop. I am proud that while we grow in program, we remain true to our mission. Japhet cherishes childhood, cultivates wonder, and inspires confident learners and leaders. We live our mission each day, and we think carefully about individuals. We differentiate, we are flexible, and we care. Often when schools focus on specifics, they forget to remain true to the greater good — the mission of the school. Japhet remains true.”

— Julie Knaffla, Former Board President and Alumni Parent

Susie Golbiw, President

Susie is a graduate of the University of Michigan and has worked for AT&T, owned a catering business, and after a successful career at Xerox Corporation, she is happy to be at home with her two children. Susie is an active volunteer for her church and currently serves as the librarian in the Birmingham Christian Science Reading Room. Susie is the parent of both a Japhet alumnus and a current student. She actively participates in Japhet committee work and was especially helpful in helping Japhet School relocate to its new building.

Click here to read the most current State of the School address from the board president.

Susan Ellithorpe, Vice-president

Susan Ellithorpe has dedicated her life to educating young children and being an advocate for peace education. She graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in Early Childhood Education, Art History, and Spanish, and she holds a Master of Elementary Education from Wayne State University. She taught at Japhet School for 28 years, almost entirely in Kindergarten, and she is the parent of two Japhet School alumnae. She also has taught at Potomac School in Virginia, and currently teaches in Hartland. She founded Japhet School’s chapter of Kids for Peace, an international organization.

Joe Mohan, Treasurer

Joe is an alumni parent and a former Japhet School administrator
and faculty member. He and his wife, former Head of School Cathy Mohan, founded the Mohan Legacy Grant that paid off our primary mortgage in 2018, and they funded the Mohan Legacy Scholarship for students needing financial assistance. Joe is a retired firefighter, battalion chief, and fire inspector.

Dan Commer, Secretary

Dan is a Japhet alumnus. Dan works for a non-profit in Southwest Detroit, where he is involved in community outreach and economic development. He graduated from Wayne State University with a B.A. in Urban Studies and attended the University of Michigan for graduate school. He says it is because of his family’s gratitude for all Japhet has given him and his three siblings that he is compelled to give back.

Bonnie Abiko

Bonnie served on the faculty of Oakland University for 25 years in the Department of Art History and the Center for International Programs. Her field was Japanese Art History, and she also taught Chinese Art History and created curriculum on the Arts of Asia and the Islamic World. She also offered seminars on Preserving World Monuments, an Introduction to Japan, Japanese Film and Japanese Women. Bonnie participated in training seminars for local businessmen, served as member and president of the Friends of Asian Art at the DIA, and gave numerous talks and presentations in the community on various topics related to Japan and Asian Art History. Bonnie came to know about Japhet through two members of her family who were Japhet students several years ago and who still speak very fondly of those years and the education they received.

Susie Auten

Susie has a business degree from Western Michigan University, and she and her husband have been involved with Japhet since its founding. Their two children were among the first students enrolled, and Susie helped start the Preschool. Susie’s mother, Barbara Droege, and her mother-in-law, Arline Hartman, both served on Japhet’s board. Today the Autens provide two annual merit scholarships to hard-working students in honor of their mothers.

Sheila Chaps

Sheila has provided academic leadership for more than four decades. With advanced education degrees and a school administration endorsement, her teaching assignments included work in New York, Boston, Texas, and Spain. She was employed at Japhet for 18 years, initially as a classroom teacher and eventually as Principal. Sheila served as Head of School at the Daycroft Montessori School in Ann Arbor and held the position of Lower School Head at the University Liggett School in Grosse Pointe before retiring.

Molly Danner

Molly, a Japhet alumna, earned an International Baccalaureate diploma as a member of the charter class of the International Academy High School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and went on to study international relations at Kalamazoo College. She spent more than a decade working at the headquarters of the National Geographic Society in Washington, DC in international publishing, brand stewardship, and travel and tourism. Molly designed travel experiences and oversaw talent management of explorers and photographers for National Geographic Expeditions, including people-to-people educational exchange programs in Cuba, photography workshops, and trips on all seven continents. She has also been involved in outdoor education, soccer coaching, study abroad, and other programs that support experiential learning.

Scott Knaffla

Scott is a graduate of Japhet School’s Class of 2002. He holds a concentration of Neuroscience and a minor in Medical Anthropology from the University of Michigan. Professionally, Scott is a Private Wealth Advisor and the Managing Partner of Flourish Financial Partners, a private wealth advisory practice of Ameriprise Financial Services, LLC. Scott and his wife Amanda live in Marquette, Michigan with their two daughters, Grace and Kate. Scott is a past District Governor for Rotary District 6220, an active member of the Marquette Breakfast Rotary Club, and an Officer of the Lake Superior Community Partnership, the Upper Peninsula’s leading economic development organization.

Kelly Mazurkiewicz

Kelly Mazurkiewicz is a graduate of Japhet School. She went on to earn her degree in advertising from Michigan State University and pursued her love for creativity in her career. Kelly served as the VP of Marketing and Communications at M3 Group, a Lansing-based advertising agency before recently making the transition to Michigan State University as the senior communications manager for the Office of the Provost. Kelly lives in East Lansing, and her hobbies include long walks with her dog and spending as much time as she can outdoors.

Deb Eastwood

Deb is a former board member, parent, and longtime friend of Japhet. Deb has been working with young people for over 35 years as a teacher, mentor, coach, youth leader, Sunday School teacher, and camp director at Adventure Unlimited Ranches. She currently lives in Grenada, a small island in the Caribbean, with her husband Phil, and taught in local  elementary schools there for four years. Deb founded a non-profit in 2014 and she and Phil now teach swim lessons to the local children. More can be found about their programs at www.getgrenadaswimming.com

Stacey Sitarek

Stacey is the parent to a Japhet alumna and served on our Parent Support Group (PSG) Board for several years, including two as PSG President. She is a registered nurse with 26 years of experience. She holds a BSN from the University of Detroit Mercy, and currently works at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak doing cancer research. She has also worked as a consultant for start-up healthcare companies. Stacey enjoys baking, traveling, gardening, and volunteering for charity and community events.

Dotty O’Ryan

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Our Mission

Japhet School's mission is to nurture and prepare each child for life by integrating character education with a strong academic program.

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