SailAway Learning Staff


SailAway currently serves over 1,000 unique students in East Tennessee and fills an unparalleled educational niche in the region. SailAway staff bring over 100 years of combined educational experience from a variety of backgrounds.

Brenda K. Murphy, Ph.D.

President and CEO

Brenda Murphy earned a PhD in Education, Educational Psychology focus, from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; an MBA from Lamar University; and BA from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro in speech and theater. Dr. Murphy’s dissertation research examined the application of design thinking to teaching a struggling reader successfully. 

Dr. Murphy founded SailAway in 1994 with her husband Russ, a broadcast journalist. The company grew out of her work homeschooling their five sons. Her interest in reading skills acquisition led her to develop the SailAway literacy curriculum, upon which SailAway Academy’s philosophical foundation rests.    

Dr. Murphy lives out her mission to Serve All In Love through her commitment to support all teachers—whether in public, private, and home schools—by sharing her deep knowledge of the art and science of teaching through professional development, personal consultation, and mentorship. She encourages teachers, parents, and students to experience new possibilities through her belief that they each possess undiscovered gifts and talents. 

When not researching or writing, Dr. Brenda loves teaching her grandchildren SailAway, especially cursive writing, and reading with them. She enjoys big family get-togethers with her sons, daughters (in-law), and nine (and counting!) grandchildren, and cooking favorite family dishes for them.

Patti Jo Gross

Director of Homeschool Operations

 Patti Jo Gross brings over 16 years of ministry, 10 years of homeschooling, and many more years experience of early child learning to her role as Homeschool Umbrella Director at SailAway. It is her goal to make every family feel the way SailAway made her feel on her own homeschool journey with three of her four daughters – relieved, empowered, and assured that they can do this!

Patti Jo loves date nights with her husband, family nights with her four daughters, deep conversations, and laughing with people until her side hurts. Some of her most rewarding times are taking someone’s hand as they walk through the valley. She absolutely loves celebrating people, because she believes people are so worth celebrating! Her love language is Diet Coke and chocolate.

Sandi Brunner

Homeschool Advisor

Sandi was born and raised in the South and epitomizes its warmth and graciousness. She and her husband have raised two wonderful children and influenced hundreds more through the private school they ran together for many years.

She brings years of administrative experience benefiting SailAway’s Homeschool Umbrella. The twinkle in her eyes reveals her warm and caring heart which is an invaluable asset to our homeschooling families and everyone else who walks through our door or calls.  She uses her gifts of empathy and problem solving to help everyone she meets. She truly knows how to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.

Sandi loves sewing, crafting, road trips,  and cooking, especially for her family which includes the two most beautiful red headed grandchildren on earth. Her favorite Bible verse is John 3:16, which says all we need to know!

Jackie Moreno, M.A.

Lead Teacher, MicroSchool

Jackie Moreno earned an AS from Walters State Community College, a BS in Social Science Education and an MA in Clinical Christian Counseling. Over the years she has had a variety of experiences: she homeschooled her children through elementary school, was in private practice as a counselor for several years, and finally went back into the public school system after realizing she was a teacher at her core. Now, she joins us as an instructor at SailAway.

Jackie met Dr. Murphy 25 years ago when searching for help for her struggling children. There she was introduced to the SailAway curriculum, which she still believes is the most amazing English Language Arts learning system she’s ever found. When offered a position in the SailAway Microschool, Jackie jumped at the chance to work with the program. 

Jackie enjoys spending time at home with her husband, Vidal, and her pets (Lucy, Grayson, Waldo, Milo, and Boaz). Her favorite vacation spot is under an umbrella at the beach with a tall glass of iced tea in hand and wind blowing across her toes.

Dawn Cooper

Marketing/Creative Services

Dawn shares SailAway’s educational benefits with others not only as our marketing and creative services lead, but as a long-time member of the SailAway family. She first came to SailAway seeking assessment testing for one of her children and continued on to enroll her child in the homeschool umbrella and then in SailAway’s microschool.

Dawn’s professional work experience includes freelance and long-term positions with top companies such as Philips Consumer Electronics, HGTV, Jewelry Television and others.

Dawn enjoys family time with her daughters and husband, her church, taking day trips throughout the region and watching Korean television.

She holds a BFA in Graphic Design from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Shane Goad, Ed.S.

Licensed School Psychologist

Shane Goad is a licensed school psychologist, counselor, and teacher. Shane provides psychoeducational evaluations for SailAway using nationally recognized assessment instruments.

After completing his Bachelor’s degree in mathematics education at Cumberland College, Williamsburg, KY, he vigorously pursued his Master’s and Educational Specialist degrees at Tennessee Technological University, Cookeville, TN. He has sixteen years experience in the Tennessee public and private school system, as an elementary and middle school teacher, school counselor, and school psychologist.