Faculty and Staff

Leadership

Catherine Oudjit, Head of School (Email)

Catherine was born and raised in France, where she earned a J.D. in International Business Law. In 1995, she started her Montessori career at the Montessori School of Raleigh (MSR) where, having earned her AMS Infant/Toddler Certification from CMTE/NY, she directed a Toddler section for almost 10 years. In 2005, Catherine started teaching at the Lower Elementary level at MSR, then continued in 2010 at the same level at Sterling Montessori Academy and Charter School in Morrisville, NC. She earned her AMI Montessori credential for 6 to 12 year olds and her Master of Education in Montessori Elementary Education from the Washington Montessori Institute and Loyola University in Maryland. Beginning in 2013, Catherine worked as the Director of Programs and Curriculum for the Primary Level at Sterling Montessori, then took on additional responsibilities to support the leadership transition there through 2016.

In 2017, Catherine joined Willow Oak as the Upper Elementary Team Leader. Her role later evolved to center on Montessori coaching, curriculum, and operations, including testing and assessment oversight. Catherine and her husband, Zack, have two sons and a daughter who were privileged to receive a Montessori education from the toddler through the middle school years. During her down time, Catherine enjoys reading, cross-stitching, quilting, and playing pickleball.

Melissa Beck, PhD, Diverse Learning Community Coordinator (Email)

Melissa received her PhD in School Psychology from UNC-Chapel Hill and completed her internship and postdoctoral fellowship at the Kennedy Krieger Institute and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She later served as the Outpatient Coordinator of the Pediatric Psychology Clinic and Consultation Service and was an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins University. After moving back to North Carolina, Melissa spent time working in private practice and at UNC as part of a research study investigating the early development of children at-risk for autism. She joined the staff of Willow Oak Montessori following a term as a Board member and now uses her professional knowledge and experience to ensure that every child's unique needs are met at Willow Oak Montessori.

Susan Johnstone, Montessori Coach (Email)

Susan, a Montessori teacher since 1987 and administrator since 2003, co-founded a small progressive middle and high school in Raleigh, NC called Raleigh Progressive School. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from North Carolina State University and a Master of Arts in progressive community education from Goddard College. Susan is married to fellow Montessori teacher, Don Henchel, who has been teaching for over 30 years, and is presently teaching at Montessori Community School in Durham. Her three boys attended Montessori schools up to the 6th grade. Susan has served as a coach, mentor, and consultant for Montessori teachers and administrators. She holds an American Montessori Society Lower Elementary credential.

Emily Vance, Director of Children's House (Email)

Hailing from Asheville, NC, Emily holds a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education with a concentration in Diversity Studies and a minor in Psychology from Appalachian State University. She is also Lower Elementary certified by the American Montessori Society. Emily obtained her Montessori-focused Masters of Education from St. Catherine University in May 2019. Emily feels honored to have been a member of the inaugural teaching team at Willow Oak Montessori in 2013 and to have joined the leadership team at Willow Oak Montessori as the Director of the Children's House in 2020. Emily enjoys spending time with her family, hiking, baking, and reading.

Children's House Community (3 year old - K)

Julie Killian, Lead Teacher

Julie pursued her certification as a Montessori teacher because she enjoys being part of the peaceful, independent environment that is a Montessori classroom. As the mother of two daughters, she enjoys sharing the benefits of a Montessori education with all children. Julie holds a Bachelor of Science in Graphic Arts from Appalachian State University and holds the Early Childhood Credential from the American Montessori Society. Julie has been teaching at Willow Oak Montessori since the fall of 2008. She lives in Pittsboro with her husband, Matt, and daughters, Isabel and Mary Helen.


Kathleen Hughes, Lead Teacher

Kathleen received her Bachelors of Arts in Elementary Education from the University of Iowa and her Masters of Education in Literacy from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She holds an Early Childhood Credential from the International Montessori Council and was a Lead Teacher at Willow Oak Montessori Children's House before accepting the Reading Specialist position at the Charter School. Kathleen feels so fortunate to be a part of the nurturing community of Willow Oak Montessori. She lives in Chatham County with her husband, David, and their sons, Hunter, Nicholas, and Ethan.


Veda Puglia, Lead Teacher

Veda joined Willow Oak Montessori Children's House in the Fall of 2013. She received her American Montessori Society-Early Childhood associate certification from the Montessori Training Institute of New Jersey. Veda pursued her Montessori training because she loves working with children. She feels privileged to witness their independence and joy of learning on a daily basis. Veda holds an Associate of Arts degree from the Art Institute of Atlanta, where she studied photography. Veda also attended Queens College in Charlotte, NC.Veda moved into the Briar Chapel neighborhood in 2010 and loves living in Chatham County. She has an adult son, Nicholas.

Sheldon Bae, Lead Teacher

Sheldon graduated from Appalachian State University with a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education. She taught for a year in Wake County before accepting a summer job with Nortel Networks that led to a career in Supply Chain Management. After 13 years at Nortel, she returned to the classroom because she discovered Montessori when she enrolled her son at Pittsboro Montessori School. Sheldon was an Assistant in a Primary classroom at Willow Oak Montessori Children's House while completing her Montessori training in 2012. She obtained her American Montessori Society Early Childhood credential and became a Lead Teacher in a Primary classroom before embarking on the building of the Charter School community as a Lower Elementary Co-teacher. Sheldon has lived in Chatham County for 18 years with her husband, Andrew, and two sons, Mason and Brooks. She enjoys giving back to the community by being a peaceful influence to the hearts and minds of children.

Rah Bickley, Lead Teacher

Rah (Sarah) Bickley is in her seventh year of Montessori teaching, having spent the first five years assisting and teaching in Children’s House classrooms (age 3 to 6) in the Triangle. She joined Willow Oak last year as the P.E. teacher, where she got a lot of exercise, lost a lot of foot races, and discovered she loved to play street hockey. This year she is exploring Lower El and what Maria Montessori called the “second plane of development” in which children aged 6 to 12 let their imaginations soar and soak up stories of high ideals and noble people. In her former life, Rah has been a legislative aide on Capitol Hill; a fundraiser for public radio, Habitat for Humanity and other nonprofits; a reporter for The News & Observer covering Durham; and an author. She lives in Durham with her husband and son. Rah loves to get together with friends, sing with Womens’ Voices Chorus, hike, kayak, play tennis, explore the Blue Ridge mountains, botanize, and garden.

Kirsten Bair, Teacher Assistant

Kirsten joined the Children’s House in the Fall of 2017. She is looking forward to working alongside Ms. Veda and spending her days with young, creative minds. Kirsten has been lucky enough to see Willow Oak Montessori grow from the very beginning. She has been a regular volunteer and substitute teacher for Willow Oak Montessori since 2007. Kirsten attended Montessori school herself and is a firm believer of the Montessori philosophy. Kirsten grew up in Minnesota and spent her summers visiting grandparents in North Carolina. After graduating high school, she left the cold winters behind and happily moved to North Carolina. Kirsten is a part-time student at Eastern Carolina University working on her studies in Birth to Kindergarten Special Education. Kirsten lives in Pittsboro with her husband and three children.

Olivia Febonio, Teacher Assistant

Olivia joins Willow Oak Montessori Children’s House in the Fall of 2020. Hailing from Western Massachusetts, she moved to North Carolina in 2017 after obtaining a Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences with a concentration in Disability Studies and Child Development from Stony Brook University. After several years of working as an after school teacher and camp counselor, Olivia started looking to transition into early childhood education. Her passion for Montessori Education was sparked during her capstone project at SBU, where she interned at a Montessori School on Long Island; she was inspired by the joyful, nurturing and respectful school environment. Olivia hopes to pursue a degree in Social Work and a Montessori certification. In her free time, she loves to hike, bake, practice yoga, and care for her numerous indoor plants. Olivia currently resides in Chapel Hill with her partner, Christopher, and their dog, Norah.

Shivon Eck, Teacher Assistant

Born and raised in rural New Jersey with a deep love for animals and the outdoors, Shivon pursued and obtained a degree in Exotic Animal Training and Management from Moorpark College in CA, with additional certification in Wildlife Education. After graduating in 2010, she had the opportunity to expand her knowledge and skills as an educator at a wildlife outreach company, Eyes of the Wild. In 2014, she accepted a zookeeping position at the Conservators’ Center and moved to NC to pursue her career working with exotic animals and conservation. Equal to my passion for animals is my love for education and outreach. In 2016, desiring to have a bigger role in wildlife education and conservation in my community, Shivon founded Wild Tails NC, Inc., a non-profit rescue and outreach center for displaced exotic animals. Through her work with Wild Tails, she thrives on the education opportunities she has been afforded in expanding the public’s insights into the animal world and inspiring my passion for wildlife and conservation in others. She is very much looking forward to joining Willow Oak Montessori and believes the supportive, engaging, and explorative learning environment provided through the Montessori philosophy is vital to creating a connection, understanding, and appreciation for the world around us. When able to step away from my responsibilities, she greatly enjoys hiking with my partner, Nick, and our three dogs, alongside yoga and gardening.

Lower Elementary (Grades 1-3)

Izabela Alldredge, Lower El Lead Teacher

Izabela was born and grew up in Poland. She has a Master of Science in Geography from the University of Wroclaw. Izabela lived in Austin, Texas and in 2008 moved with her family to Cary, NC. In 2012, Izabela started her Montelssori training and earned her AMS Montessori credentials for 6 to 9 years old. She also holds a Lateral Entry-Level Professional Educators License for NC. In 2013, she started teaching as a lead teacher at Sterling Montessori and Charter School in Morrisville, NC. In 2018, Izabela returned to Poland and worked as a lead teacher in a private, bilingual school in Warsaw. Izabela and her husband, Peter, have two sons who graduated from Sterling Montessori and Charter School. She is passionate about the authentic Montessori education that can be available in a growing number of charter schools. When she is not teaching, Izabela enjoys reading, walking, and learning about other cultures and customs. She likes to travel and explore the mountains of NC and other places with her family. Izabela is excited to join the Willow Oak Montessori Charter team and share many wonderful learning experiences.

April Cibulski, Lower El Lead Teacher

April joined Willow Oak Montessori Charter in March 2016, as a substitute teacher and volunteer for The WOM Children's House as well as Chatham County Schools. April is originally from Long Island, N.Y. After graduating High School, she moved to Hawaii working in retail, while attending Leeward Community College. Four years later, April moved to California. With a rapid growing family of 4 children, she decided to take a break from Business Management and Founder of Baby Loves Earth, to focus more on her two newly adopted children. April and her family moved to North Carolina in 2012. April saw and learned the benefits of a Montessori education after her youngest attended Willow Oak Children's House. While away from work, April enjoys family camping trips to the mountains of NC, hiking, firing up a good meal, and singing songs at the campfire. Heading to the coast is also a favorite, as April is a former surfer and diver. Yoga and Pilates are part of her daily routine. April plans on pursuing her degree in education and her Montessori certification. She is looking forward to a long term future with Willow Oak Montessori.

Britiney Fife, Lower El Lead Teacher

Britiney holds a Master’s Degree in Holistic Education and completed her Montessori training through the NC Montessori Center. She taught elementary grades K-4 before having her son and deciding to transition to the Montessori environment. She is excited to be part of the Willow Oak team and combining her passion for teaching in public education with her passion for the Montessori method. In her free time, Britiney enjoys friends, going to the beach, reading, and container gardening.

Cathy Constantine, Lower El Lead Teacher

Cathy was born and raised in New Hampshire and she is the oldest of six children. She has been in North Carolina for 11 years and loves the state. She began her Montessori journey when her first born daughter attended a Montessori School. She knew Montessori education was unique and special and therefore she volunteered as much as possible. Cathy received her 3-6 credential in 1987. After many years in primary she went on to receive her training in 6-9 and 9-12. Cathy has taught at all levels. She received her BA in Human Development from Lesley University with a minor in early intervention. Cathy has also worked as a Program Director at MCS and Head of School. Cathy is also an adult trainer for Seacoast Center for Education. She loves teaching and she is extremely excited about joining the Willow Oak community. Cathy has two grown daughters who attended Montessori school and, four granddaughters, three who are currently attending a Montessori School in Cary. Cathy loves reading, walking, swimming, gardening, and spending time with her husband and family. She is looking forward to sharing her experiences and continuing to expand her professional growth in a public charter environment.

Dan Pelletier, Lower El Assistant

Dan grew up with eight brothers and sisters in the Catskill Mountains. He worked in radio for 10 years before moving to the Triangle where he earned a teaching degree and worked for 20 years as an elementary school reading specialist and tutor. Tutoring is what brought him to Willow Oak where he immediately grew to appreciate this positive learning environment. When he's not at school he likes to hike the rural and urban trails in the area. He also plays guitar, writes songs, runs a successful Ebay store (vintage postcards), and encourages his two young adult children to carve out a little time for their dad.



Tricia Staten, Lower El Assistant

Tricia is an educator, artist, counselor and mediator. Her schooling and career began in Art Education, followed by over two decades as a minister in a racially and economically diverse congregation, and a few years as conflict consultant working alongside her husband. Five years ago, she began teaching in a Montessori community in Chicago, assisting in a 6-9 classroom. Tricia’s last year before moving to North Carolina was coordinating a program for learning support, furthering the cohesion of parents, classroom teachers, resource teachers, speech pathologists and other specialists. Three of their four grandchildren are being educated in the Montessori community.



Derek Clark, Lower El Assistant

Derek Clark grew up in Pittsboro, NC (5 minutes from the new school site) and is excited to be coming back to his hometown as a member of the Willow Oak team. He graduated from East Carolina University with a B.S. in Family and Community Services in 2014. Derek worked with youth and adults in the mental health field for 5 years before deciding to explore Montessori this year as a TA. Derek's interest in Montessori stems from his experiences as a public school student. Derek has a strong desire to see kids able to learn in ways that suit their individual needs and talents. Derek sees Montessori as a legitimate system for kids to explore their own interests and is excited to learn and be part of that exchange. Derek enjoys playing guitar, bass and drums, gardening, reading, hiking and documentary films in his free time. Derek has a passion for History, Social Studies, and Social Justice topics. He currently resides in Burlington, NC.

Andrea Clusiau, Lower El Assistant

Andrea joined the Willow Oak team in 2021 as a teaching assistant in Lower Elementary, continuing a 15-year career as an educator. She grew up in Connecticut and graduated from Boston University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Services. She then went on to earn her Master’s Degree in Education from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA and taught elementary students for several years in private schools. Andrea is passionate about holistic and individualized learning and is grateful to be a part of the Willow Oak Montessori community. She recently relocated to Chapel Hill from Charlotte and enjoys exploring the area with her husband and three boys, ages 10, 8, and 5.

Upper Elementary (Grades 4-6)

Hetal Amin, Upper Elementary Co-Teacher

Having visited 25 preschools in 2007 in search for the perfect start for her son’s education, Hetal Amin stumbled into a Montessori classroom. It has been an exceptional journey ever since. Although Hetal has a BS in Molecular Biology and Microbiology from the University of Central Florida and an array of experiences in various fields, the opportunity of volunteering at her son’s Montessori school led her to change careers and go into teaching. She has her AMS Montessori Elementary I-II Credential. She brings with her a certain mix of wit, enthusiasm, and desire to continuously learn and grow. Not only does she enjoy sharing laughs and daily stories with her own family, but also with her Willow Oak family.

Emily Barrick, Upper Elementary Co-Teacher

After graduating from Brevard College with a B.A. in Integrated Studies: Elementary Education and completing the requirements to receive her K-6 teaching license, Emily realized that she was not comfortable with the traditional approach to teaching. She spent the next few years working as a camp and after school counselor and outdoor educator at Chestnut Ridge Camp and Retreat Center. She also worked during that time as a sales associate and nanny/babysitter. This time at different jobs taught her a great deal and helped her realize how much she truly loved teaching. However, she knew that she did not want to return to a traditional setting. At that time, through a Willow Oak family, she learned of Montessori. During the 2014-2015 school year, she completed her American Montessori Society Lower Elementary certification and spent time in the school's upper elementary classroom. The time she spent there helped her make the decision to pursue her Upper Elementary certification, which she completed during the 2015-16 school year. She has taught in the Blue/Magnolia Classroom since that time and continues to love teaching and the excitement of learning new things each year.

Connor Donovan, Upper Elementary Co-Teacher

Connor graduated from Virginia Tech in 2012 with a degree in Communication Studies and went on to receive his Master of Arts in Teaching with an Elementary specialization from UNC-Wilmington in 2018. He’s been active in his community, working with the Boys and Girls Club in Wilmington, helping tutor elementary students through the UNCW Learning Lab, and as a Family Resource Literacy Specialist at AmeriCorps. He has over three years of experience working with children and in classrooms. Connor’s goal is to help students flourish, and create an environment that encourages community, communication, and lifelong learning. He is currently pursuing his Montessori Licensure in Upper Elementary I-II.

Erica Halter, Upper Elementary Co-Teacher

Erica grew up exploring, skiing, and enjoying life in Fort Collins, CO. She decided to move across the country to attend college at Clemson University. While at Clemson, she studied Elementary Education with a Math and Science Emphasis. During this time, her parents decided to follow her to the East Coast and moved to Chapel Hill. This led to her spending summers in Chapel Hill working as a nanny for children who attend a Montessori school and as a summer camp counselor/director at Montessori Community School in Durham. There she was introduced to the Montessori philosophy and was impressed by the students' intelligence, compassion, and independence. She spent a year teaching at a public school in Bluffton, SC, before realizing that a Montessori school would be a great fit. She loves the close knit community at WOM and has been with the Yellow/Sycamore Class since the beginning. In her free time, she loves to be active, eat delicious food, travel, laugh with friends and family, and play games.

Leslie Kasell, Upper Elementary Co-Teacher

Leslie grew up the youngest of four sisters in Springfield, VA. Upon graduating from the University of Virginia with a degree in Anthropology, Leslie taught English for a year in China, returning to the United States to study at the Institute for Advanced Montessori Studies in Silver Spring, MD. She received her elementary Montessori teaching certification in 2009. Leslie completed her internship year working at the Montessori School of Northern Virginia and then became a volunteer docent in the Forensic Anthropology Lab at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Leslie earned her Master of Arts in Teaching degree through Trinity Washington University in 2011. She was a Lower Elementary teacher at the Latin American Montessori Bilingual Public Charter School in Washington, DC, for three years before moving to North Carolina to join the founding staff of Willow Oak Montessori in 2013. She is committed to providing a high-quality Montessori education to all children in her care that promotes independence, connection to community, and joy in work and learning. She lives in Pittsboro with her partner and two young children.

Jennifer Warren, Upper Elementary Co-Teacher

Jennifer Warren graduated with her Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood and English Literature from William Paterson University in 2013. She started her teaching career at a private school in New Jersey, teaching Language Arts and Social Studies in a mixed-aged classroom (7-12 years old) part time. After a year, Jennifer moved to a full time position at a Head Start preschool where she taught for 3 and a half years. In February of 2018, Jennifer moved to Sanford, NC, with her husband. She began to substitute at Willow Oak Montessori in March and immediately fell in love with the school and Montessori style. Wanting to continue her teaching career in this new state, Jennifer became NC State certified in K-6. She is excited to start her Montessori journey with the Willow Oak family.

Adolescent Community (Grades 7-8)

Leigh Isemonger, Adolescent (Middle School) Co-Teacher

Born and raised in South Africa, Leigh moved to the United States after graduating from university with a Bachelor of Science in Geography and Geology and a Masters degree in Town and Regional Planning. She lived in Southern California for 12 years working in the corporate world of finance and management before settling in the Raleigh area with her husband and two children. Leigh then started her Montessori journey teaching Lower and Upper Elementary at two private Montessori schools, before moving into administration gaining experience as an Elementary and Adolescent Program Director and Assistant Head of School. Having missed working with students, Leigh is delighted to return to the classroom at Willow Oak. She is both Lower and Upper Elementary certified by the American Montessori Society. In addition to her role as a teacher, Leigh is looking forward to her continued professional growth in a public charter environment by contributing her teaching and administrative experience to the growth of the Willow Oak Montessori community.

Heather Lloyd, Adolescent (Middle School) Co-Teacher

Heather holds her Master’s Degree in English Education from the University of Minnesota and studied English at the University of Wisconsin during her undergrad. Born and raised in Minnesota, Heather taught Language Arts (Communications, English and Creative Writing) for twelve years at North High School in North Saint Paul. She and her family relocated to Chapel Hill in 2014 and anchored new roots upon discovering this special Chatham community. The mother of three has been raised by an entrepreneurial mentor, as her father created an alarm business over 50 years strong in Minnesota. In 2016, Heather and her husband, Jason, opened their own Chatham based family business, Edge Aveda Men. Invigorated by connecting with others, she executes marketing, Human Resources, customer service and more. Now into the nearly fourth year of the business, she is eager to share her love of learning with adolescents and ready to utilize her new life experiences as an educator. The Montessori model encapsulates her vision of what an education framework should look like. Coupling her business expertise with educational training and the love for community connection, Heather is eager and ready to join the Willow Oak Montessori team!

Enrichment

Emily Wade, Spanish Teacher


Born and raised in the West, Emily made her way to the southeast by way of Nashville, TN, and has called Raleigh home since 2009. When she was in her early twenties, she left home and moved to Venezuela, living as a service missionary for 18 months in various cities. Not only did she learn a new language, but she also felt like she expanded the size of her heart. For her, the ability to hear a person share their story in their native language was magic! Emily graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in History from Utah Valley University and plans to complete the Masters of Teaching program with an emphasis in ESL at Meredith College. Emily has taught as a bilingual instructor in the Spanish Immersion Program at Glendale Elementary School in Nashville, TN, and was a Spanish teacher for three years at Heartwood Montessori in Cary. She is thrilled to join Willow Oak as a Spanish enrichment teacher! Her husband is a professor of Spanish Language and Literature at Meredith College and they are raising their two daughters in a bilingual home.

Shelley Buisson, Music Teacher

Shelley is originally from Ontario, Canada. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario in 1987 in French and German and a Bachelor of Education the subsequent year from the University of Western Ontario. She began her teaching career as a Middle School French teacher. Shelley has always been passionate about music, whether singing in choirs or playing in various musical ensembles. Since moving to the Triangle area 15 years ago, she has been able to share her passion with the community through private instruction in a variety of instruments including piano and guitar and during the last five years as a licensed Kindermusik Educator. She is excited to offer budding Willow Oak musicians an opportunity to explore instruments and vocal expression, experience ensemble playing, and discover music from our rich, diverse world-music heritage.

Ashley Frost, Art Teacher

Ashley has lived in NC for the last 30 years. She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a concentration in Design from UNCG and subsequently worked as a garden designer in the years before starting a family. She and her husband have 2 children and have been a part of the Willow Oak community since the inception of the Charter School. She has served on the Board of Directors and has volunteered her time in a number of ways to help support the School. She has been a part of the faculty for the last several years and is excited to be able to offer one of her passions to every child in the WOM community.

Daniel Taylor, PE Teacher

Daniel is the proud parent of a Willow Oak student and has always had a passion for physical education. He worked as a professional chef for 25 years both locally and abroad. He always took time to teach what he knows to others. Daniel has coached many youth sports including football, soccer, basketball, and baseball. He has strong convictions on nutrition and exercise and wants to teach the children in order to set good habits for the rest of their lives. Physical activity doesn’t always have to be competitive and physical education can apply to everyone.

Diverse Learning Community

Lisa Bradley, EC Teacher

Lisa is joining the WOM school this year as a member of the Diverse Learning Community team. Lisa has been a teacher in North Carolina as well as a college professor for 10 years. Lisa has also worked in the mental health field for the 13 years and owed her own mental health agency, A United Community, from 2007-2016 and does public speaking on "Personal Financial Money Mindsets". She is a graduate of Elon University (formerly Elon College) with a bachelor’s degree in English Education and a master’s degree in Special Education K-12 with a focus in Learning Disabilities. Lisa currently resides in Clayton, NC with her husband. Lisa & her husband have two adult children, Michael and Madison. Her all time favorite role in life is being the Nana of her 2 year old grandson, Caden. Lisa loves to read, advocate for students with special learning needs as well as students in the "at-risk" population & mental health needs, spending time with her family and attending her daughter's collegiate lacrosse games.

Jessy Durizch, Reading Specialist/EC Teacher

Jessy holds a Bachelor of Science in Special Education with a minor in Elementary Education from Mansfield University of Pennsylvania. In 2004, she moved from upstate New York to Raleigh, where she began her teaching career and love for the Montessori philosophy at a public Montessori magnet school. During this time, she completed her Montessori training and obtained the Lower Elementary Credential from the American Montessori Society. Jessy earned her National Board Certification in 2011 and completed her Master of Arts in Education from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University in 2012. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, the beach, and spending time with her family and friends. After spending a few years in a traditional classroom setting, Jessy felt her heart as a teacher calling her back to Montessori. She feels very grateful to be a part of the Willow Oak community and is happy to be part of the team as the school continues to blossom and grow.

Donna Huff, Occupational Therapist

Since 1979, Donna has been a creative, energetic, licensed and registered Occupational Therapist with experience in a wide variety of settings, including pediatric home health and school settings. She has enjoyed treating students of all ages with a wide range of disabilities. She is well experienced in many areas of Occupational Therapy, including sensory integration, therapeutic listening, positioning and handling, spasticity management, auditory and visual processing, praxis, and a wide range of school related issues. Donna lives in Chapel Hill with her husband, John, who is also an Occupational Therapist, and her two adult daughters. Donna is especially excited to be at Willow Oak Montessori with such a cohesive and talented team and enjoys the challenge of problem-solving the diverse learning needs of all students.

Corinne Matthes, Diverse Learning Community Teacher

Corinne comes to Willow Oak with 18 years of Montessori teaching experience. Her career began after graduating from Ithaca College in Ithaca, NY with a degree in music education in 2001. She very quickly realized becoming a Montessori teacher was her calling and completed her 6-9 AMS training at The Institute for Advanced Montessori Studies in Silver Spring, MD. After several more years of teaching, she realized she wanted more tools to help children who needed additional learning support and completed her Master’s degree in Special Education from North Carolina State University in 2018. She has taught music, Lower Elementary, and created and implemented systems for supporting students who learn differently in both private and public charter Montessori schools in New York, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Texas, and New Mexico. She is passionate about supporting a variety of learning styles in the Montessori setting. Corinne enjoys traveling, yoga, reading, camping, going to the beach, and spending time with her husband, son, and dog.

Michele Rutherford, Speech-Language Pathologist

Michele joins Willow Oak with more than 15 years of experience working with children as a licensed and certified speech-language pathologist. Prior to moving to NC in 1999, Michele spent three years as a traveling therapist working in a number of states across the eastern portion of the U.S. providing services to children in schools, outpatient settings and private practices in both large cities and rural areas. After getting married and starting a family, Michele returned to working with children in 2006, first as a substitute teacher at her children’s preschool and finally as an SLP in 2009. She has worked for the past 11 years as an independent contractor with six years at a preschool that included a Head Start and NC Pre-K program, six years at a 4th-12th grade charter school, and four years at a K-12 charter school. She has experience with a wide variety of speech-language needs including apraxia, developmental delays, Down syndrome, autism, language-based literacy disorders, fluency disorders, and articulation/phonological disorders.

Josie Rule, Math Specialist

Josie was raised in a one-room schoolhouse nestled in the mountains of Vermont. You might say her path to education started early! After earning her degree in Middle Level Education (with concentrations in math and the fine arts) from the University of Vermont, Josie decided she needed a change of scenery and moved to New York City. In her 10 years in the Big Apple, Josie taught middle school math at the Salk School of Science, earned her Master’s degree in Leadership in Mathematics Education at Bank Street College of Education, and started a family with her husband, Brian. Soon after the birth of their first child, Emeline, they decided it was time to set down some roots closer to family. Josie spent her first five years in NC as a stay-at-home-mom with Eme and, eventually, her son, Rivers. As a WOM Children’s House parent, Josie has enjoyed watching her children thrive in the Montessori setting and is thrilled to have the opportunity to apply her training and experience to the WOM Charter community!

Administrative Team

Jon Groves, Business Manager

Jon was born and raised in Findlay, OH, and earned an Associate degree in Finance at Owens Community College, Toledo, OH, and a BA degree in Finance at The University of Findlay, Ohio. As a teen Jon earned the rank of Eagle in the BSA. Jon spent his career working in distribution, logistics, transportation and plant management. Jon has held positions such as Purchasing Agent, Materials Manager, Operations Manager, Director of Logistics, Plant Manager, and General Manager. In Jon’s free time he volunteers for youth groups ages 11-19 years of age and has been the Treasurer of his community HOA since 2013. Jon is married to Tonia and has two children, Matthew and Corrine, and has lived in Holly Springs, NC for 10 years. Jon loves to cook outdoors, plan events, and be an example for youth to trust and be a good role model to follow. Jon looks forward to using his business acumen, financial perspective, and passion for success to help Willow Oak Montessori Charter School and The Children’s House move into the next phase of its growth.

Noemi Plata, Office Administrator: Compliance and HR

Born in Mexico, Noemi moved to the United States at a young age. After graduating from college with a degree in business, she started to work for hospitals to help translate documents. Noemi began working for the Chatham County school system in 2005, where she has touched the lives of many Hispanic and exceptional children. After transferring to SAGE Academy, Noemi began to assist every teacher in the school and won the Best Instructional Assistant Award for four consecutive years. She continues to have an impact on students who have graduated in the past. When she isn’t helping students, Noemi is an active member of her community. She is currently president of her neighborhood’s Homeowners Association, and she was previously a board member for Habitat for Humanity for four years. For fun, Noemi loves to refurbish old furniture and has made beautiful pieces of decorative furniture. She is also a photographer and loves to spend time photographing her three children and her two dogs. Noemi is super excited about the opportunity to help the community of Willow Oak Montessori!

Susannah Hunter, Office Administrator: Logistics and Communications

Susannah was born and raised in Chapel Hill, NC, and now makes her home in Chatham County right down the road from Willow Oak's new campus. She has a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics from UNC-Chapel Hill and lived and worked in the DC area for 10 years before returning to the Triangle in 2010. She has done a variety of paid and unpaid jobs involving writing, editing, website management, social justice, and racial equity -- and a little bit of nannying, too! Susannah has been part of the Willow Oak community since 2014, when her children began attending the Charter school. She has served in various capacities at the school and was a member of the WOM Board of Directors and Equity Team until 2020. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, cooking & eating good food, doing crossword puzzles, going to the beach, and spending time with her husband, Luke, and two teenagers, Amelia and Isaac. Susannah is thrilled to be back at Willow Oak serving in this new capacity!

Joshua Steed, Facilities Maintenance Technician

Joshua was born at a very young age in eastern North Carolina. Despite these obviously uncalled-for disadvantages he managed to thrive. At 16, he earned the rank of Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts and Explorer Scouts. Due to a scandalous senior prank he graduated from high school in the top 10% of his graduating class. He now had leveled up and had the know-how to either go to college or live as a hermit in the woods. His first year of college at North Carolina State University was punctuated by being accepted into the Alexander Hamilton Scholars Program. Induction into the program included a no-expense-paid highly unsupervised study program in Guatemala. There he was able to polish and broaden the Spanish he learned on his grandparents' farm and study the country's socioeconomic and environmental policies and volunteer at a daycare center while the country was under martial law. It was at NCSU that Joshua met his future soulmate. As the Fates would have it, he married his current wife, Tabatha, instead. Together they have three lively kids who all either currently attend or have left their mark on Willow Oak. The school now has a new building so hopefully there's no lasting evidence of his eldest's graffiti. Joshua has filled his time between having kids by finishing his associate's degree at Central Carolina Community College, working, and volunteering with the various sports, music, and other endeavors their children fancy upon. Joshua has also earned a living as a maintenance technician or manager for four Chatham County communities and as a freelance handy person. Now Joshua is excited to bring together his joys of enriching the lives of children and their environments to Willow Oak.

Patti Reindle, School Nurse Assistant

Patti Reindle is a Registered Nurse with a master’s degree in Nursing Education. She graduated from Duke University School of Nursing with a BSN and from East Carolina University with an MSN. Patti has worked in many settings as an RN including: Pediatric and Adult Nursing at UNCH-CH. She is a nursing instructor at Duke and has spent many summers in cooler climates as a camp nurse in Maine, Connecticut, New York, and Washington. In addition to being the nurse consultant, Patti has two children that attend Willow Oak.