Faculty and Staff


Catherine Oudjit, Head of School

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.

Erica Halter, Assistant Head of School

Erica grew up hiking, skiing, and exploring the mountains near 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 a Montessori School in Durham. There she was introduced to the Montessori philosophy and was impressed by the students' curiosity, compassion, and independence. While working in the Yellow/Sycamore class, Erica was able to earn her certification in Elementary I and II. She loves the close-knit community at WOM, enjoys coaching the school's Ultimate Frisbee team (Go Dragonflyers!), and is excited to join the leadership team. In her free time, she loves to be active, cook, travel, and play board games.

Susan Johnstone, Montessori Coach

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.

Allyssa McNeal, EC Coordinator

Allyssa is in her 8th year in exceptional education and her first year at a Montessori school. Allyssa began her career in education as a substitute, then a paraprofessional, and then a special education teacher and early interventionist. Allyssa has her masters’ degree in Special Education from Georgia College and State University. She loves teaching and working with exceptional students and can’t wait to teach all sorts of academic strategies and real world life skills. Prior to returning to the classroom, Allyssa worked as a behavior specialist for the state of Georgia, a behavior data analyst at the Marcus Institute, and as a behavior technician for United Cerebral Palsy of Georgia. Allyssa grew up in College Park and Jonesboro, GA, and is a product of Clayton County, GA, schools and attended Wesleyan College in Macon, GA, where she earned an undergraduate degree in psychology. Allyssa is married to Rev. Steven McNeal and has a young son named Micah. She has one sister who lives in Morrisville, NC, with her family. Allyssa can’t wait to spend next year growing and learning with the Willow Oak community.

Emily Vance, Director of Children's House

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.

Sheldon Bae, Montessori Intervention Coordinator

Sheldon graduated from Appalachian State University with a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education. She obtained her American Montessori Society Early Childhood credential in 2012 and is proud to be a founding staff member at Willow Oak Montessori. She is excited to be joining the Diverse Learning Community Support Team as the Montessori Intervention Coordinator. Sheldon has lived in Chatham County for 20 years with her husband, Andrew, and two sons, Mason and Brooks. She looks forward to giving back to the community by being a peaceful influence to the hearts and minds of children.

Children's House Community (3 year olds - Kindergarten)

Jody Berry, Children's House Lead Teacher

Jody grew up on the North Carolina coast and first fell in love with the Montessori philosophy while volunteering in her daughter’s Montessori Children’s House classroom in Wilmington, NC. She received her AMS Montessori Early Childhood Credential from the Center for Montessori Training and Education of North Carolina and has been teaching Montessori in the Triangle area since 2014. Jody lives in Chapel Hill with her husband Jeff, daughter, Lucy, and son, Levi. In her free time, she enjoys kayaking, paddle boarding, gardening and hiking with family and friends. Jody currently attends William Peace University and will be completing a Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies in Education in the fall of 2021. She is thrilled to be welcomed into the Willow Oak Community as an assistant in the Children’s House.

Leslie Butterfield, Children's House Lead Teacher

Leslie was born and raised in Northern California. She received a BS in Psychology from the University of California at Santa Cruz. While working as a Children’s House assistant, she realized Montessori was her home. Following a year of AMI Montessori training at the Washington Montessori Institute in Washington, DC, she moved to North Carolina and has spent the last 34 years teaching at SAS Institute Montessori Preschool in Cary, NC. She loves creating a classroom environment where the children and adults are learning alongside one another. The continuum of Montessori and the sense of community drew her to Willow Oak, and she is excited to be a part of the faculty as they grow into the new school space. Leslie and her husband live in Durham and have four adult children. She enjoys cooking, gardening, walking, and various outreach activities in the community.

Dianne Sowers, Children's House Lead Teacher

Dianne has lived in Cary for most of her life. She received her BA in Psychology from Meredith College and her AMI teaching credential for 3-6 year olds from the Washington Montessori Institute. She taught at SAS Montessori for over 33 years. Dianne enjoys spending time with her husband, walking her dog, exercising, and going to the beach. Dianne has two grown sons, who both live at the beach. She is so excited to join the Willow Oak community!

Olivia Febonio, Children's House Teacher Assistant

Olivia joined 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.

Kersten Fitzgerald, Children's House Teacher Assistant

Kersten grew up in the Hudson Valley of New York. She came to NC to attend Duke University. She graduated from Duke with an AB in History and a K-6 teaching certificate. After graduation, Kersten joined the SAS Institute Montessori School. While at SAS, she received her early childhood AMS credential from the New England Montessori Teacher Education Center. She was at SAS for 29 years. Kersten enjoys spending time gardening, beekeeping, cooking, hiking and reading. Kersten and her husband, Frank, raised two sons and love being a part of the Chatham County community.

Rebekah Rhodes, Children's House Assistant & PE Assistant

Rebekah was born in southern Georgia, grew up in Wake Forest, NC, and spent some of her teenage years in Brazil. She currently lives in Sanford, NC, with her husband and two children, Cassidy and Brandon. She first learned of Montessori education when a child for whom she nannied began attending Montessori Children’s House in Wake Forest and knew that it was the kind of education she wanted for her future children. She joined the Willow Oak community when her daughter began attending in 2021. In her spare time she enjoys hiking, reading, crafting, cooking, going to the beach, and seeking out live music.

Olivia Dreifuss, Children's House Preschool Extended Day & Afterschool

Growing up on a farm/zoo in New Hampshire, Olivia has always enjoyed nature and the company of animals. While helping her parents at the local farmers markets, she started to develop her joy in working with and looking after younger children. In her later search for colleges outside of the Vermont and New Hampshire area, she found her home away from home at Berry College in Rome, GA. Here she was able to build upon her love of nature and truly find her love of working with children. After graduating in 2015 with a bachelor's in human development and family sciences, she moved to Bynum, NC. It was here that she started working in early education. She has found Montessori to be the perfect place to unite her two loves of nature and working with children. In her personal time, Olivia enjoys baking, reading, traveling and participating in local art and music events.

Pam Fleischauer, Children's House Team Assistant & Early Grades Enrichment Teacher

Pam has a BA in Psychology from Hope College in Michigan, where she was born and raised. She moved to North Carolina in 1998 to pursue her Masters Degree in Public Health from the University of North Carolina. She worked on research projects involving at-risk youth for several years before becoming a stay-at-home mom in 2007. It wasn’t until she had her son when she realized how much she loved having a front row seat to his learning. She decided to go back to UNC for their early education program. It was during her teaching internship year at George Watts Montessori Magnet Elementary in Durham when she came to love Montessori’s emphasis on peace and following the child. In 2014, she received her primary Montessori certification from CMTE/NY, which afforded her the opportunity to transition into a primary teacher role at George Watts.

Pam has an appreciation for design in nature. Birds, flowers, poetry and shadows are a few of her favorite things. She confesses a lifelong obsession with paper and has dabbled in calligraphy, origami and cutting silhouettes. She spent the last two years learning to weld metal sculptures and decorative garden gates. Her love of music began at a young age, practicing moon-walking in her socks on the kitchen floor. In her spare time, you can find Pam kayaking on the Haw river or singing and playing ukulele with Luke, her significant other. Her son, Jack, is now 15 and towers over her and keeps her abreast of old school rap and the indie rock scene. Pam is over the moon to have the opportunity to teach art and music to the young students at Willow Oak Montessori.

Veda Puglia, Enrichment Assistant & Children's House Afterschool

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.

Lower Elementary (Grades 1-3)

Don Henchel, Lower Elementary Lead Teacher

Don was born in Queens, New York smack dab in the middle of the 20th Century. From ages 10-14, he lived in both Spain and France, travelling with his family from England to Greece. After graduating high school, he attended NC Wesleyan College and received a B.A. in History, an appreciation for wandering in the mountains of western NC, and a passionate interest for political activism. After college, he lived in Raleigh and Chapel Hill working as a librarian, record store clerk, newspaper deliverer, and as a land surveyor. In 1981, after the advice from a dear friend, Rick Morgan, he observed a Montessori Children’s House at the Montessori School of Raleigh. He fell in love with the respectful way the adults regarded the students. He soon got his primary AMS certification from New Rochelle, NY at the Center for Teacher Education/NY. After 13 years, he decided to follow his students to the next level and become a Lower Elementary teacher, taking his training in Scituate, MA 1994-1995 at Seacoast Center. At this time he made the best decision of his life: meeting and marrying fellow Montessori teacher Susan Johnstone and raising 3 wonderful sons, who were beneficiaries of a Montessori education. From 1994 until 2001 he taught Lower Elementary until leaving MSR to help found Follow the Child Montessori in Raleigh. From 2005-2013, he taught Lower Elementary at the Montessori Community School in Durham and subsequently immersed himself as an upper elementary teacher until 2021 when he foolishly thought he would retire after 40 years of teaching. In 2016, he and his family moved to Pittsboro to enjoy the peaceful pace and abundance of trees. In 2019, he proudly became a grandparent to Olive, who is a shockingly natural Montessori student at 19 months old. Don loves to weave a good yarn, study Early Humans and Ancient Civilizations, listen to British Isles folk music, and chase his hound dog, Bernie Blue. He is very excited to join the Willow Oak community and share his experience with a new set of curious intellectual explorers.

Jennifer Hughes, Lower Elementary Lead Teacher

Jennifer is a Chapel Hill native and grew up in northern Orange County. In 2005, Jennifer relocated to Chatham County. As luck would have it, Jennifer became part of the Bynum Community in 2006, just weeks before welcoming her summer solstice daughter. After years of being a craftsperson, Jennifer returned to school and received her BA in Elementary Teaching from UNC-CH in 2012. Like many before her, Jennifer discovered the beauty of the Montessori philosophy when her daughter began her Montessori journey during Willow Oak Montessori’s inaugural year (2013) and in 2017 completed her Lower Elementary training. Jennifer enjoys being with family and friends, dancing, creating, camping, problem solving, and napping. As a member of a local folk dance team, Jennifer is fortunate to travel internationally and represent the USA at dance and music festivals. Jennifer feels very grateful to be a part of the Willow Oak Community.

Rachel Levesque, Lower Elementary Lead Teacher

Rachel graduated from Barry University in Miami Shores with a BS in Pre-K Primary Education. She then returned to Barry University after receiving her BS in Education to complete the Montessori Teacher Education Program receiving her AMS elementary teaching credential for 6-12-year-olds. In addition to her Montessori training, she had the opportunity to participate in additional literacy training to help struggling students become confident readers and writers. She taught at a diverse Montessori magnet school program in Ft. Lauderdale before moving to Apex. Rachel enjoys traveling with her husband Dale and two children Justin and Demi. She also enjoys camping in the mountains, reading, knitting, cooking, and entertaining for friends. She is happy to be part of the WOM learning community.

Nguyen Tran, Upper Elementary Lead Teacher

Nguyen moved to the United States from Vietnam in 2016 to attend Lesley University in Massachusetts. In 2018, she graduated with an M.Ed in Elementary Education focused on Creative Art. Her pre-teacher job was coordinating a summer learning abroad camp for NCAA student-athletes to travel to Vietnam. Nguyen found Montessori after having experience in many alternative educational approaches like Reggio Emilia and Waldorf. She was impressed with how Montessori prepared the children to embark on their path to living a fulfilled life by kindling their love of learning, training them to take responsibility for their learning, and caring for their community and environment. Nguyen enjoys hiking, learning about nature, and reading books with children. She runs a book club for Vietnamese children every weekend.

Benni Blount, Lower Elementary Teacher Assistant

Benni is originally from Washington, DC, and moved to the Triangle area shortly after college. She holds a BA from Salem College in Winston-Salem. Benni has worked in public schools for 9 years. She wanted to find a more hands-on educational approach for her own child, which landed her in Montessori. She has taught at other Montessori schools for the past five years. She has worked in the Toddler, Primary, and now Lower Elementary programs. She is very excited to be starting a new adventure at WOM!

April Cibulski, Lower Elementary Teacher Assistant

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.

Hongyuan Wen, Lower Elementary Teacher Assistant

“Hi, Ni Hao.” Wen was born and grew up in China. She received a master’s degree in Moral Education from Chang’an University. During this time, she was a volunteer teacher that offered psychological counseling to homeless children in Xi’an, China. Over the years, she has taught college students and middle school teens, then focused on teaching reading to children between 1 to 10 years old in her own Family Reading Center. Through these experiences, she found her love for working with children. In 2016, Wen and her family moved to the United States because they wanted better educational opportunities for their three daughters. She worked for IMS and MSD for several years as a Chinese teacher in the IMS Mandarin immersion program and as a toddler teacher in the MSD Toddler program. She received her Montessori Infant-Toddler Teaching certificate in 2019 and loves to practice the Montessori Method in her classroom and at home. In her personal time, she loves to practice Mindfulness Meditation with the intention of spreading peace and unity. She likes to meditate, teach Chinese, read, do watercolor paintings ,and take care of family plants and pets. She likes to walk and ride bikes with her husband, Jamie, and three girls, Carrie, Lailee, and Emily.

Upper Elementary (Grades 4-6)

Rachel Baranski, Upper Elementary Teacher

Rachel comes to Willow Oak after nearly seventeen years in Cary designing and implementing performing arts-based curriculum for Applause! Youth Theatre, Town of Cary Police, and various nonprofits, schools, and youth-serving organizations. In Wake County she worked closely with SAFEchild’s Growing Resilience Movement developing trauma-informed care training for Town of Cary, YMCA, and SAFEchild. Rachel’s passion for inclusive, student-centered learning with an emphasis on building relationships, self-awareness, and personal resilience fits perfectly with the Willow Oak mission. She lives in Pittsboro with her husband and son.

Emily Barrick, Upper Elementary 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 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.

Leslie Kasell, Upper Elementary 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.

Ariel Culpepper, Upper Elementary Teacher Assistant

Ariel was born and raised in Indianapolis, IN, where she earned her Associates Degree in Fine Arts from Ivy Tech Community College. She later moved to Bensalem, PA, with her husband and graduated from Cairn University with her undergraduate degree in Pre-Art Therapy. North Carolina is one of her favorite states to visit, so becoming a North Carolinian is a dream come true for her! Ariel is very excited about being here at Willow Oak Montessori, as this will allow her to do what she loves doing: working with kids and being surrounded by the arts. Interior design is a creative outlet for Ariel, so in her free time she enjoys creating new ways to design her home and finds thrill in resolving challenging renovations! Ariel also enjoys exploring local attractions and getting to know about the history of where she currently resides.

Megan (Pierce) Brown, Upper Elementary Teacher Assistant

Megan grew up in a small town in Northeastern Ohio. Since moving to North Carolina in her late teen years, she has lived in and explored many cities in the Triangle. She spent some time studying child development at Meredith College and Durham Technical Community College. She worked as a toddler and preschool teacher at a center in Durham for 5 years. Most recently, she worked at a middle school and enjoyed getting to know the students there. Megan has always had a love for learning which progressed into passion for working with children and their families. Getting to know each child’s individual needs and interests is one of her favorite parts about teaching, so Montessori felt like a natural fit. Currently, she lives in Durham with her husband and two cats and loves playing board games and painting in her spare time. She is excited to be a part of the Willow Oak community.

Adolescent Community (Grades 7-8)

Rachel Bringewatt, Adolescent Teacher, Science

I am thrilled to be joining the Willow Oak and the Adolescent Community mid-year as the science teacher. As an educator who has taught science in informal education settings as well as several years in the classroom, I have always loved science as a tool and process for understanding and appreciating the world around us. Sharing this curiosity and excitement with students is something that brings me a lot of joy. In my free time, I love to read, cook, and garden. I am also an avid runner who enjoys any opportunity to move outdoors including hiking, swimming, or biking.

Sarah Grayce Coats, Adolescent Teacher, Humanities

Sarah Grayce graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2018 with a degree in English and Comparative Literature with a concentration in education. She taught English/Language Arts at a middle school in Fayetteville for a couple of years while also teaching at the North Carolina Governor’s School during the summers. After commuting back and forth from Chapel Hill to Fayetteville everyday, Sarah Grayce decided to nanny for a family closer to home, which reaffirmed her passion teaching not only academics but supporting social and emotional growth of learners. She is very excited to be joining the WOM team this year. In her free time, Sarah Grayce loves to cook with her family, learn about plants, and play with her two cats.

Josie Rule, Adolescent Teacher & 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!

Stephanie Hutto, Adolescent Assistant

Stephanie graduated from UNC Asheville in 2008 with a degree in Health and Wellness Promotion. She recently co-founded a supper club and specializes in teaching culinary skills for budding cooks of all ages. She enjoys learning and teaching about wellness through nutrition and exercise. When not fulfilling her role as the village soup lady or conducting fermentation experiments, Stephanie can be found with her son and old stinky dog, Miss Rose, by the river or with her nose in a good cookbook. She is excited to play outside and learn with the Willow Oak community.


Beth Ponder, PE Teacher

Beth was born and raised in central Florida with her parents and younger sister. She grew up loving to be outside and active, be it family walks after dinner, holding “Olympic trials” in the neighborhood pool, or a game of volleyball with friends. She attended the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, FL, during which she was a nanny for two families whose children attended Montessori schools. After observing those classrooms, it was easy to recognize Montessori’s profound education philosophy and when it was time for her first son to attend school, he attended Montessori Children’s House of Wake Forest and absolutely flourished. She followed her children (Finn and younger brother, Miles) to Heartwood Montessori in Cary. When they needed a PE teacher, she decided that if she could coach adults in boot camps and CrossFit, she could bring her passion for fitness and a healthy lifestyle to a younger demographic. She taught K-8 PE at Heartwood for three years and is delighted to have found a new school home in Willow Oak.

Carolina Stealey, Spanish Teacher & Upper Elementary Assistant

Carolina is originally from Bogota, Colombia, and moved to the United States in 2006. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Preschool and Elementary Education in 2005 and has been teaching at various grade levels for more than 14 years. After moving to North Carolina, she formalized her Montessori Education earning her AMS Early Childhood Credential in 2007. She is a strong advocate for and an embodiment of multiculturalism as a teaching tool for our community. She, her husband, and their two children (who also attend Willow Oak) greatly enjoy the outdoors; hiking, camping, cooking, and taking on new adventures as a family. Carolina is also in the process of pursuing her master’s degree in Neuropsychology and Education.

Tricia Staten, Art Teacher

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 her five grandchildren are being educated in the Montessori community.

Taylor Van Hine, Upper Grades Music Teacher

Taylor and her family have recently moved back to NC from the Bay area of California. She graduated from Appalachian State University with a degree in music education with a focus in voice. She has been teaching music, musical theater and working as a mentor teacher in the traditional k-8 classroom for 8 years. She enjoys singing and playing bluegrass music with her husband. Taylor is excited to work and learn with the community of Willow Oaks Montessori.

Diverse Learning Community

Beth Hoffman, EC Teacher

Beth has a Bachelor's of Science in Biology, with a concentration in Zoology, and began her career in Environmental Education over twenty years ago. After moving to North Carolina from New York, Beth had two children of her own and worked designing and teaching afterschool and summer camp programs. She earned her Graduate Certificate in Special Education from UNC Charlotte and is starting her eighth year working in Exceptional Education. Beth enjoys gardening, making artwork, and reading excellent books.

Jennifer Kidd, Reading Specialist

Jennifer began her career in education in 1992 and has been teaching exceptional children and struggling readers and writers for over 27 years. She is a graduate of the University of West Georgia with a B.A. in Psychology and holds a Master Of Education with a specialty in Multisensory Reading Remediation Curriculums, Exceptional Education and Behavior Therapy from Georgia College and State University. She worked as an Educational Behavior Therapist and teacher at Rutland Academy in Athens, GA, where she empowered at-risk adolescent readers and writers to be academically and socially successful through collaboration with student support teams, parents, and community organizations. After moving with her family to Raleigh in 2003, she was a teacher and later a Director of Education for the Paladin Program for students with mild learning differences and dyslexia in grades K-5. Here she taught students, and assisted and trained teachers to help students with Orton Gillingham based multisensory instructional techniques. As an administrator and a teacher, Jennifer assisted elementary students to overcome language challenges, attention deficits, dyslexia, dysgraphia, sensory integration, motor skills, and processing disorders. In addition, she gained many hours of experience with early literacy, and was extensively trained in the Orton Gillingham methodologies for teaching reading.

Corinne Matthes, EC Teacher

Corinne came 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 joined 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.

Taryn White, Occupational Therapist

Originally from Clinton, NC, Taryn earned her bachelor's degree in Recreational Therapy from East Carolina University in 2016. She then completed a gap year, where she worked at a day program through the Autism Society of North Carolina in Greensboro, NC. Taryn went on to earn a Masters Degree in Occupational Therapy from Radford University in 2019. Taryn has worked, volunteered, and served in a variety of settings, affording her the opportunity to learn from children and families from many walks of life. She is excited about joining the WOM team and continuing to develop as a professional while sharing her knowledge with others. In her spare time, Taryn enjoys doing DIY projects, spending time at the beach with family, and powerlifting.

Jessica Williams, Social Emotional Learning Support & EC Teacher

Jessica grew up in Minnesota and has been in North Carolina for 3 years. She received a Bachelors in Early Childhood Education from Iowa State University and a Masters in Special Education with an emphasis in Autism Spectrum Disorders from Concordia University St. Paul. She is currently in pursuit of a Masters in clinical counseling at East Carolina University. Jessica has 8 years of teaching experience in exceptional learning, and this is her first year at Willow Oak. She enjoys teaching about social skills and real life skills and providing emotional support for students to be successful in the classroom. When not in school she enjoys spending time with her family, dog, and two cats.

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 enjoys using his business acumen, financial perspective, and passion for success to help Willow Oak Montessori Charter School and Children’s House move into the next phase of their 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. 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 capacity!

Alison Webster, Office Assistant

Alison grew up near Detroit, Michigan. After graduating from Miami University in Ohio with a Bachelor of Science in Education, she promptly decided to move to a warmer climate and has remained in North Carolina ever since. Alison taught middle grades for seven years in North Carolina public schools. Although she taught several content areas, science and technology were her favorite subjects, so she decided to take that love and earn her Master of Arts in Educational Technology at North Carolina Central University. Following the completion of her graduate program, Alison worked as an Instructional Technology Facilitator in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools for 10 years. Upon the birth of her second child, she made the decision to stay at home and raise her two small children. Alison cherished her time at home with her children and volunteering in her community. She is now delighted to re-enter the workforce at Willow Oak Montessori, where both of her children now attend.

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 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.