Our people

The Starpath team consists of a group of leading educational quantitative and qualitative researchers. The team is supported by a Board of Governance consisting of senior representatives from The University of Auckland, The Manukau Institute of Technology and the Ministry of Education.

Project Director - Professor Elizabeth McKinley


PhD, MEd, BSc, DipTchg

Liz McKinley, of Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa and Ngāi Tahu descent, has an extensive background in Māori education in New Zealand. Her career in teaching and management in the education sector has spanned thirty years. In secondary schools she specialised in teaching bilingual science classes (Māori and English), and for more than ten years held lecturing and management posts at The University of Waikato.

Before joining the Starpath Project as Director in 2007, Liz was Associate Professor Māori Education at The University of Auckland’s Faculty of Education, and was previously the Assistant Dean Māori Education at The University of Waikato. Originally a science graduate from the University of Otago, Liz’s Masters and PhD work explored the interaction between science and Māori culture. Liz is also a Principal Investigator for a project investigating the supervision of Māori doctoral students, funded by the Ministry of Education.

                                                                                                                                          Full list of publications


Deputy Director - Joy Eaton


BA, DipSM, DipTchg

Joy joined the Starpath team in early 2011 as Deputy Director. She started her career in education as a geography and social studies teacher at Tangaroa College and has since held a number of senior management roles in mid-low decile schools, including four years as principal at Henderson High School in West Auckland.

Joy has a deep academic interest in the role of hope in the sustainability of innovation and change in education and, as part of a Research Fellowship with Unitec, produced a paper entitled The Life and Death of Change. She was also invited to be part of an international research team making a comparative study of middle leadership in schools in New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Recently, Joy has been actively involved in environmental education and has continued to support community work with an interest in youth mentoring, teen parent education and the issues of deprivation that create barriers to school attendance.


Project Liaison - Karen Bonnici


Karen has over 30 years experience teaching in primary and secondary schools in New Zealand and overseas. Before joining the Starpath Project team in April 2012, Karen spent three years teaching overseas in Doha, Qatar and was the principal of a middle high school in Beijing, China. Prior to that she spent 12 years at Mahurangi College in Warkworth where she taught for six years and spent a further six years as a Resource Teacher of Learning and Behaviour based at the school.

Passionate about collaborating with parents and community groups to support students to reach their potential, Karen was also extensively involved in the Youth Action Group which developed plans to support students in the local community. Karen believes that such collaboration is critical to develop students’ sense of self worth and support their academic success. In 2004 she completed her Master of Education which investigated the role of kapahaka in lifting students’ self esteem, motivation and academic achievement.



Senior Research Fellow - Dr Irena Madjar



Qualitative Research Coordinator

Irena Madjar, a European New Zealander of Ruthenian background, has worked in nursing education and health research in New Zealand and Australia. Her particular area of expertise is in qualitative research methods and she has a long-standing interest in cross-cultural issues in health and education and in research ethics. She joined Starpath in 2007 and has led a small qualitative research team as well as providing support across the project as a whole.

Full list of publications


Senior Research Fellow - Dr Earl Irving


PhD, MEdAdmin(Hons), BA, BEd, DipTchg

Quantitative Research Coordinator

Earl Irving was a secondary mathematics teacher for 29 years, as well as a deputy principal for 13 of those years prior to joining The University of Auckland in 1999. He has extensive knowledge and experience in assessment as a School Certificate examiner in mathematics, and as a manager on Project asTTle for four years, with responsibility for item development and curriculum alignment. Earl has lectured on assessment to undergraduate and graduate courses, and is a co-author of a textbook on assessment and evaluation. He is involved in regular research around student conceptions of assessment, feedback and learning, using survey methodologies and quantitative analysis.



Project Manager - Elizabeth Clarke


Elizabeth Clarke, of Ngāti Kahungunu ki Heretaunga, Ngāti Tuwharetoa, Samoan and Irish descent, has a background in academic programme management in Māori performing and visual arts. Her experience has informed her outlook that the arts have, and will continue to underpin the social and economic development for the Māori people. Elizabeth has held senior administrative positions with the Visual Arts School of Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, Takitimu School of Performing Arts and Kahurangi NZ Māori Dance Theatre.

Her career highlights have included helping to establish New Zealand’s first Bachelor of Māori Performing Arts at Takitimu and Massey University, and receiving mentorship from prominent Māori leaders Canon Wi Te Tau Huata and Sir John Mokonuiarangi Bennett. In the early 1990s she was the Principal Solo dancer at Kahurangi NZ Māori Dance Theatre company. At Starpath Elizabeth manages the day-to-day operations and ensures financial, HR, legal and sponsor obligations are met.


Researcher - Dr Melinda Webber


PhD, MEd(1st class Hons), BEd, PGDipEd

Melinda Webber joined the Starpath team as a qualitative researcher at the start of Phase Two. She has many years experience as a primary school teacher, lecturer and researcher. Her research interests relate to the study of racial-ethnic identity development, Māori conceptions of giftedness and educational social-psychology. The focus of her doctoral research was the role of racial-ethnic identity among young adolescents who attend large, multi-ethnic urban high schools in New Zealand.

In 2008 Melinda published a book based on her masters research entitled Walking the Space Between: Identity and Māori/Pākehā. Melinda is also engaged in research in her tribal area of Rotorua and is a member of the research consortium Te Ara a Ihenga which is committed to examining the factors that impact Māori student success in the Rotorua district.


Research Fellow - Dr Mark Gan



Mark Gan joins the Starpath team from Singapore where he was the head of a secondary school science department and taught GCE ‘O’ Level chemistry. He came to New Zealand to pursue his doctoral studies at The University of Auckland and completed his PhD (Education) in March 2011. His doctoral research examined the effects of prompts and explicit coaching on the quality of peer feedback.

In Phase Two of the Starpath Project, Mark's research focuses on building schools’ data use and capability. His other research interests include peer assessment, teacher feedback, developing learner engagement with feedback and the role of peers in the feedback process. He is also currently involved in teaching educational psychology papers in undergraduate programmes at the Faculty of Education.


Researcher - Dr Andrés Santamaría



Andrés Santamaría joins the Starpath team from San Diego, California where he served as a primary school principal for six years, in addition to three years as an assistant principal in both primary and intermediate level settings.

Prior to his work as a school leader, he was a special education teacher for five years. Throughout his professional experience, Andrés has concentrated on serving students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, specifically English Language Learners of Latino descent. The focus of his doctoral research addressed the impact of school accountability measures on principals’ sense of self-efficacy.

In 2011, Andrés and his wife Dr Lorri Santamaría published a book entitled Applied Critical Leadership: Choosing Change, which explores a leadership model they developed arising from critical theory and critical pedagogy traditions and makes leadership for social justice accessible, feasible, and more practical for aspiring and practicing leaders alike. In addition to undertaking qualitative and quantitative research with Starpath, Andrés is also part of the educational leadership team in the Faculty's School of Learning, Development and Professional Practice.