Meneca Davis,
Upper Elementary Co-Teacher & Director of Curriculum & Instruction

There were many stops along the road that led Meneca and her family to the Triangle region of North Carolina. As a military family, they moved  from Iceland to Washington, DC, where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Human Relations with a Minor in Education from Trinity University. After deciding the hustle and bustle of a big city was too much for them, the family moved to Durham in 2001. Shortly thereafter, Meneca fell in love with a Montessori school in Durham, and she has been a committed Montessorian for more than a decade since. She now holds a Master of Arts degree in Montessori Education from Saint Catherine's University, in addition to having state certification in both Special Education and AIG (Academically or Intellectually Gifted).  Meneca, who is Lower and Upper Elementary certified through the American Montessori Society, has experience teaching in Primary, Lower Elementary, and Upper Elementary classrooms, most recently at George Watts Montessori School in Durham. Meneca joins our faculty following a term as a Board member, and is eager to use her skills and experience to help Willow Oak Montessori implement authentic Montessori in a public school setting.

Susan Johnstone
Lower Elementary Co-Teacher


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. Most recently, she has been teaching in a Lower Elementary classroom at Sterling Montessori Charter School in Morrisville. 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.

Jennifer Hughes, Lower Elementary Co-Teacher

Jennifer, originally from Orange County, has spent the past 9 years in Chatham County living and learning. After many years crafting fine furniture for a local company, Jennifer decided to return to school and in 2012, she received her Bachelor of Art in Education from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The blending of the Montessori philosophy with that of public school was very appealing to Jennifer, so she enrolled her daughter in the inaugural year of Willow Oak Montessori Charter School, and has been thoroughly pleased. Jennifer is very excited to bring her love of learning to the Willow Oak Montessori community. When not in the classroom, Jennifer loves to dance, go camping near a rolling river, traveling to charming locales, and most of all, being with her family.

Jessy Durizch
Lower Elementary Co-Teacher

Jessy holds a Bachelor of Science 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. For the past five years, she has taught second grade at a Raleigh magnet school for academically gifted and talented students. 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, spending time with her family, and curling up with a good book in the company of her kitty, Dewdrop. After spending the past 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.

Sheldon Bae, Lower Elementary Co-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 one of the Primary classrooms at Willow Oak Montessori Children's House while she completed her Montessori training. She successfully obtained her American Montessori Society Early Childhood credential in 2012 and was a Lead Teacher in a Primary classroom this past school year. She is excited about the opportunity to use her traditional education and Montessori skill sets to help Willow Oak Montessori meet the needs of all of its students. Sheldon has lived in Chatham County for 13 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.

Leslie Kasell, Lower Elementary Co-Teacher                

Leslie grew up the youngest of four sisters in Springfield, Virginia, studying Spanish from the age of 8. Upon graduating from the University of Virginia with a degree in Anthropology, Leslie taught English for a year in central China, returning to the U.S. to study at the Institute for Advanced Montessori Studies in Silver Spring, MD, where 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 at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Leslie received her Master of Arts in Teaching degree through Trinity Washington University in December 2011. She was a Lower Elementary teacher at the Latin American Montessori Bilingual Public Charter School in Washington, DC for three years before coming to work at Willow Oak Montessori. She is dedicated to advancing her bilingualism, including orchestrating a trip to Panama in 2011 for Spanish studies. Leslie is excited to be working at Willow Oak Montessori in this inspiring time of expansion. She is committed to providing high quality Montessori education to all children in her care that promotes a love of life and learning, and a sense of responsibility to the world at large.

Emily Vance, Lower Elementary Co-Teacher

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 spent the past two years embracing and strengthening her understanding of the Montessori philosophy by teaching at a private Montessori school in Boone, NC. Emily loves that the Montessori philosophy gives her the tools to address the individual needs of her students as they grow and develop at their own pace. Emily feels honored to join the community at Willow Oak Montessori, and is excited to share in the wonderful learning experiences that lie ahead. She loves to spend her free time hiking, reading, cooking and traveling. Emily began her American Montessori Society training in the summer of 2014.

Ginny Thompson, MS-CCC, SLP,
Diverse Learning Community Specialist

Ginny has been practicing as a Speech Language Pathologist for 32 years, most recently at Perry Harrison Elementary School. After receiving a BS in Elementary Education at Atlantic Christian College, Ginny went on to complete her MS in Speech Pathology from UNC-Chapel Hill. From 2000 to 2004, Ginny taught first grade at Caldwell Academy in Greensboro, NC, giving her an invaluable classroom perspective. Ginny is committed to the academic and social success of all students within the school environment. Ginny completed the Social Thinking Mentor Program with Michelle Garcia Winner in 2008, and employs this approach daily to help her students successfully navigate their social world, problem solve, and learn to think about others. She brings experience with various disabilities, including autism, nonverbal learning disorder, ADD, LD, speech/language, and cognitive deficits. Ginny is happy to partner with the staff, parents, and students at Willow Oak Montessori as they strive to make learning both possible and fun for all. Ginny is co-founder of Girls TALK with Kristan Shimpi, an after school program to help girls learn to think it through as they make choices for themselves and others. Ginny has two children and lives with her family in Chatham County. Matthew is 22 and attends UNC-Greensoro, and Sarah is 19 and commutes to Wake Tech in Raleigh. Both of her children have struggled with learning and social differences, giving her a strong parent perspective on the challenges and joys these children bring to a family at home and at school. Ginny enjoys a walk every morning before work with her two dogs, Roxy and Molly, while her third dog, Tashi the pug, prefers to sleep.

Caroline Carlson
, Diverse Learning Community Specialist

Caroline grew up in Chapel Hill and graduated from UNC with a degree in Elementary Education.  While living in Minnesota, she received a Master of Science degree in Special Education from Mankato State University. Several years were also spent working in residential mental health facilities for children, teens and adults.  Returning to Chapel Hill, Caroline worked as an Exceptional Children's Teacher at Estes Hills Elementary.  She earned her first National Board Certification in 2002.  Caroline has been honored as Chapel Hill's Outstanding EC Teacher of the Year and as Exceptional Children's Teacher of the Year by the NC Department of Public Instruction.  Caroline's children and grandchildren have attended Montessori schools (3 at Willow Oak!), and Caroline is a strong advocate for the philosophy and practices of Montessori schools.  Caroline retired from Estes Hills in 2013, and has been thrilled to be a part of the making Montessori more accessible for all children at Willow Oak Montessori. Her great joy is working in collaboration with children, teachers, and parents to support academic and social growth.  

Kathleen Hughes
, Reading Specialist

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.

Carrie Boone
, Music Teacher

Carrie comes to Willow Oak via a circuitous professional path that has always included music in some way.  After earning a Masters in Music Therapy from Lesley University in Massachusetts, she worked as a music therapist for several years before moving to North Carolina to pursue graduate studies in musicology at UNC-Chapel Hill. In addition to her clinical work as a music therapist, she has spent many years teaching music privately, specializing in helping children with a wide range of needs and abilities discover the profound delights of music-making.  Most recently, she has started a series of group music classes in Pittsboro for young children and their families, which she co-leads with her ethnomusicologist husband and considerable input from their two enthusiastically musical children.  Carrie is excited about the chance to help develop a strong music program at Willow Oak, and looks forward to witnessing students discover the ways in which music and musicianship can support their academic, social, and humanistic endeavors.

Michelle California-Aguiar
, Art Teacher

Michelle holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Pennsylvania State University. She moved to Raleigh after graduation and started her career in the painting and design industry.  In 1996, she moved to Toronto, Canada to begin an apprenticeship with one of the leading Decorative Painting Schools in the US and Canada. Her 6 years in Toronto included extensive on-site work as a decorative painting contractor, as well as teaching her craft to students. It is also where she met her husband, Davide and had her first son, before returning to Raleigh in 2002. Together, she and Davide own  a successful painting business in the Triangle area.   Michelle also creates her own works of art that are regularly hanging at local galleries. You may have even seen the 2 cows that they created for the 2012 Cow Parade North Carolina (Moosai and Mootallic). They have 2 amazing boys that she likes to use as guinea pigs for her art project ideas. They frequently travel to Portugal where her husband was born, to visit family. She hopes to create fun, cultural, educational art lessons and projects this year to share with your children.

Kim Sulman
, Physical Education Teacher

Kim was born and raised north of Toronto, Canada. She has a degree in political science with post graduate studies in Technical Communications and Human Resources management. Although she enjoyed designing and delivering a variety of training programs for corporate clients, she felt a calling to a career doing what she really loved. From the time she laced on her first pair of figure skates at 5 years old, she lived, breathed, and loved almost every form of physical activity. She tackled all kinds of competitive sports – soccer, track, cross-country, softball, basketball, European team handball, hockey and ultimate frisbee. She was encouraged (two older brothers and a twin sister) to get dirty, get scratched up, and give it her all. So she did, in sports and in play. She ran (and got stuck) in farmer’s fields, she climbed trees, and disappeared for hours through corn fields and apple orchards. She built things out of boxes, scrap wood, and anything else she could find. She swung from swings and trees, climbed playground structures and cliffs, scaled rocks and railroad tracks, and played hide and seek and tag until the street lights came on or the cow bell rang. She played hard, had tons of fun, and yes, got fit! Kim was lucky enough to channel her love of fitness into a professional career when she moved to Durham in 2005. This was also the time that her youngest daughter started preschool at Montessori Children’s House of Durham. She loved seeing her children and their friends thriving in the Montessori environment, and started working at the school as an early morning supervisor and lunch supervisor. As her children flourished at MCHD, so did her personal training company and she found herself teaching elementary PE. She knows that children naturally love to play and is delighted to be able to develop PE programs that are appropriate, challenging, and fun.

Administration & Staff

Pete Rubinas
, Head of School

Pete Rubinas has been the Head of School of the Willow Oak Montessori Children's House program since July of 2009. Prior to that time, he served as Treasurer of the Children's House Board of Directors. Pete, who holds a Bachelor of Business Administration in Management Information Systems and Sociology from the University of Notre Dame, spent over nine years as an internal control auditor with PricewaterhouseCoopers before resigning to become a stay-at-home dad for two and a half years. Pete and his wife Tara relocated to North Carolina in 2005 and have lived in Chatham County with their four children – Charlie, Patrick, Senorina, and Severina – since 2006. After just a few years living here, they can't imagine living anywhere else. Pete is passionate about the Montessori philosophy and is very excited about the opportunity to help the Willow Oak Montessori community realize its greatest potential in the coming years!

Melissa Beck, Diverse Learning Community Coordinator

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 in 2006, Melissa spent several years at home with her husband, Mike, and three children, Sarah, Anna Katherine and Michael. She then worked part-time at UNC as part of a research study investigating the early development of children at-risk for autism. She joins the staff of Willow Oak Montessori following a term as a Board member, and is looking forward to using her professional knowledge in new ways to ensure that every child's unique needs are met at Willow Oak Montessori.

Melissa Frey
, Business Manager

Originally from the Northeast, Melissa Frey has been living in Chatham County since 1993. Her two children, Tucker and Ava Marinne are native North Carolinians, and she can hardly believe they are young adults already!  After earning a BA in Family Studies from Syracuse University and Messiah College, and being home with her young family, Melissa was the Founding Board President, Project Manager and Marketing/Owner Services Manager of Chatham Marketplace, our local co-op grocery from 2003-08. Gravitating towards new and growing endeavors, she has been involved in various projects including The Plenty local currency, Company Shops Market in Burlington, and administrative work with the former Community Independent School.  Melissa is actively involved in the community, having served on a variety of non-profit boards and engaged in ongoing volunteer work, all while making as much time as possible for organic gardening, biking, and power walking.  Melissa has been with Willow Oak Montessori, first as Board Vice President, since 2011 and is pleased to be a part of this exciting time of expansion.

Bianca Diaz
, Office Administrator

Born and raised in Miami, Bianca holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Florida International University and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from George Mason University. She taught high school English for seven years in Virginia and Wisconsin before moving to North Carolina. Her first book of poetry, No One Says Kin Anymore, won the Robert Watson Poetry Award and was published by Spring Garden Press in 2009. She is excited to be part of Willow Oak Montessori's team and this Montessori community.