Faculty and Staff


Susan Johnstone, Head of School

Susan has been a Montessori teacher since 1987 and an administrator since 2003 and has served as a coach, mentor, and consultant for Montessori teachers and administrators. In addition, she served as the Director of Education for a small progressive middle and high school in Raleigh that she co-founded. Susan earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from North Carolina State University and a Master of Arts in Community Education from Goddard College. She is married to a fellow Montessori teacher, Don Henchel, who taught for 42 years and is mentoring teachers in his retirement. Susan served on the founding board of Willow Oak Montessori Charter School and was a founding teacher in 2013. Her three boys attended Montessori schools up to the 6th grade. Susan finds joy in the arts and being with her grandchildren. 

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. 

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 enjoys growing and learning with the Willow Oak community. 

Kelli Bee, Adolescent Program Director

Melding project-based learning with service learning principles, Kelli strives to create cross curricular wholesome curricula which require learners to stretch into higher order thinking and link concepts to real life issues. In this way, finding the Montessori community was a homecoming that she didn’t know existed. Combined with years of being a teacher, Kelli is able to strongly fuse progressive techniques with the needs of 21st century learners and the demands on educational outcomes of current society. She brings a social equity lens to her work and is strongly influenced by her training and work in the Montessori pedagogy, specifically at the adolescent level. She is an outdoor enthusiast & finds deep inspiration from our natural world, be it from the curious behavior of an invertebrate to the expanse of the night sky. She is often seen playing or practicing agility with her dog, ‘Tumbi’ (aka Monkey), out at the barn riding horses in preparation for a show, tending her landscape with various projects or riding her bike to neighborhood stores. Ask her to share stories about her trip around the world on a ship or living in Tanzania or Kenya for 8 years with wildlife right out her front door while transforming various educational programs for marginalized youth. 

Emily Vance, Children's House Director

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. In 2022, she joined 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 enjoys 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 received her Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies in Education from William Peace University in the fall of 2021. 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. 

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 training at the Washington Montessori Institute in Washington, DC, she moved to North Carolina and taught for 34 years at SAS Montessori Preschool in Cary, NC. In 2021, Leslie joined the Willow Oak community. She was drawn to the continuum of Montessori and  sense of community at WIllow Oak. She loves creating a classroom environment where the children and adults are learning alongside one another. 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 and has been at Willow Oak since 2021.  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. 

Benni Blount, Children's House 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. Benni taught at Montessori schools for five years before joining the WOM staff in 2022. She has worked in the Toddler, Primary, and Lower Elementary programs. She is very excited to be starting a new adventure at WOM!

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 and joined WOM in 2022. 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 Teacher 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. 

Danyel Payne, Children's House Extended Day Assistant

Bio coming soon!

Michelle Williams, Children's House Extended Day Assistant

Michelle has been an early childhood educator for 24 years and counting. Her love for kids and their well-being is and always has been her main focus. Michelle has two kids of her own as well as seven grandchildren. She is looking forward to her journey here at Willow Oak Montessori!

Amelia Gilligan, Children's House Afterschool Assistant

Amelia has the honor of being the first WOM employee who was also a WOM student! Amelia attended Willow Oak for 3rd through 7th grades and is currently a senior at Northwood High School. She loves working with children - especially the youngest ones - and is studying to be a nurse. In her free time, Amelia enjoys baking, playing lacrosse, spending time with friends, and babysitting.

Lower Elementary (Grades 1-3)

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, Lower 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.

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 the 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 received her BA in Elementary Educational Studies in 2024 and also has her Montessori certification. She is looking forward to a long-term future with Willow Oak Montessori.

Madeline Dills, Lower Elementary Teacher Assistant

Madeline was born and raised in Berkeley, CA, and earned her B.S. in Environmental Science and Management from the University of California, Davis. After working as a biological consultant for two years in Sacramento, CA, Madeline found herself drawn to working with children. With the hope of integrating her passion for education and childcare with her love of nature and ecology, Madeline moved back to the Bay Area and worked as a Lower Elementary assistant teacher at a Montessori school, where she started a gardening class for lower elementary children. Madeline loves music, reading, and being outside, and enjoys sharing these interests with her students. She is interested in learning more about social emotional development and positive discipline in the context of Montessori education, and looks forward to growing within the elementary community at Willow Oak Montessori. 

Terri Stanfield, Lower Elementary Teacher Assistant

Terri came to Willow Oak in 2022 after spending 20 years with NC Public Schools. Terri is excited to return to her roots working with Lower Elementary students. Some of her favorite pastimes are spending time with family, reading fiction novels, baking, and jamming out to great music! 

Tabatha Steed, Lower Elementary Teacher Assistant

Bio coming soon!

Hongyuan Wen, Lower Elementary & EC Team Assistant & Wellbeing Support

“Ni Hao.” Ms. Wen was born and grew up in China. She received a master’s degree in Moral Education from Chang’an University, Xi’an. During this time, she received her National Psychologist certificate and served as a volunteer teacher that offered psychological counseling to a homeless children shelter. Wen found her love of working with students while working with teens and middle schoolers and teaching reading at her own Family Reading Center for children ages 1-12. In 2016, Wen and her family moved to the United States. She worked for five years as a Mandarin Chinese teacher at the International Montessori School and as a toddler teacher in the Montessori School of Durham 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.

Wen has earned her Meditation and Mindfulness Teacher certificate and Sound Healing certificate and enjoys teaching mindfulness with the intention of spreading peace and unity to children and family. She likes to meditate, teach Chinese, read, do watercolor paintings, and take care of family plants and pets. She has lived in Pittsboro since 2022 with her husband, Jamie, and their three girls.

Upper Elementary (Grades 4-6)

Jay Batman, Upper Elementary Lead Teacher 

Jay is excited to be rejoining the Willow Oak community. Jay has a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville and a Master of Fine Arts in Performance Art from the Art Institute of Chicago. He became interested in Montessori philosophy while substitute teaching and fell in love with it. Jay completed his Montessori training at CMTE, Center for Montessori Teacher Education. Jay has served as an Upper Elementary teacher at Willow Oak and worked at Heartwood Montessori in Cary, NC, teaching both Upper and Lower Elementary. His most recent job was as an Upper Elementary teacher at Mission Montessori in San Francisco. Jay loves live music, reading, and walking in the woods. One of his favorite Montessori quotes is, "That which children learn must be fascinating – we need to offer them grand things; to start, let us offer them the world." His goal as a teacher is to show the students the universe and how to know it, understand it, and thrive in it.

Connor Donovan, Upper Elementary Lead 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 Lead 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.

Rachel Baranski, Upper Elementary Teacher Assistant

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. 

Megan 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. 

Nathalie Fish, Upper Elementary Teacher Assistant

Nathalie grew up in sunny Florida where she received her degree in International Studies. Believed to be destined for a career in government, that all changed when she was introduced to Montessori and fell in love with the philosophy. Since then, she has worked in early childhood education as both a teacher and administrator. She spent 3 years in China teaching English before returning to the U.S. and working as an Assistant Director at a Montessori school in Florida. She moved to North Carolina 3 years ago to be closer to family. Fun fact: as a Montessori student herself, her family has followed in her footsteps and both of her nephews attended Montessori as well as both of her sister’s becoming Montessori teachers. Nathalie enjoys spending time with friends and family, hiking, reading, and discovering new restaurants. She is excited to join the WOM community!  

Adolescent Community (Grades 7-8)

Emily Barrick, Adolescent Humanities 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.

Eric Punkay, Adolescent Science Teacher 

Eric was born and raised in Chicago, spending a few weeks every summer camping, learning about nature, and developing a great appreciation and respect for all life on Earth. He studied biology at Colorado College and later earned his Ph.D. in conservation biology and ecology at the University of California, Berkeley, conducting research in Venezuela and California. After working for a marine conservation NGO in Washington, D.C. and later sustainability, Eric decided it was time to pursue a teaching career and earned his teaching license in Colorado, where he taught high school science in Denver Public Schools. During this time, his daughters attended public Montessori schools in Denver, including the first public junior/senior Montessori high school in the city. Being part of the Montessori community as a parent, Eric saw the logic and wisdom of Montessorian education, especially in contrast to the traditional system he was working in. Eric recently relocated to Chapel Hill with his family and is excited to have the opportunity to join the Willow Oak community and help to grow the adolescent program and share his love of learning and assorted skills with the students. In his free time, Eric spends time in nature with his family and practices the art of self sufficiency which includes making soap, vegetable gardening and now, raising bees and chickens as well as practicing martial arts. 

Mike Williams, Adolescent Assistant 

Mike was born in Fairfax, Virginia but spent most of his life out west in the state of Utah. There he fell in love with the outdoors and everything it had to offer both in education and in play. After spending a year at Utah Valley University, he transitioned to a vocational school where he completed a program in composite materials technology. He has spent most of his adult life working within that field from mold making and tooling to part fabrication and assembly. He was introduced to the Montessori philosophy by way of his wife (a former WOM employee!) and children (2/3 of whom are WOM students). In his spare time, he enjoys cooking and building/fixing things around the house, but his greatest joy comes in the form of being a father. He is excited for his new opportunity in education, and to help others, as well as himself to learn and grow. 


Pam Fleischauer, Music Teacher (K-3rd), Art Teacher (K) & Children's House Assistant

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 UNC. She worked on research projects involving at-risk youth for several years before becoming a stay-at-home mom in 2007. She loved having a front-row seat to his learning and decided to go back to UNC for their early education program. While interning at George Watts Montessori Magnet Elementary in Durham, 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, now 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.

Bill McCormick, Music Teacher (4th-8th Grades)

Bill’s adult life has been split fairly evenly between teaching and making music. He has worked as a regular classroom teacher and music teacher in numerous capacities as well as having taught English as a Foreign Language in the Czech Republic. He is a jack of all trades musician and has recorded and performed extensively for over a decade. Additionally, he has taught music and songwriting at a plethora of camps and afterschool programs, coached young rock bands, and given private guitar lessons. When not in the classroom or behind an instrument, Bill is a passionate lover of books, writing, and all things literature.  

Tricia Staten, Art Teacher (1st-8th Grades)

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.

Carolina Stealey, Spanish Teacher 

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.

Diverse Learning Community

Olivia Farmer, SEL Coordinator

Olivia graduated from Appalachian State University in the fall of 2017 with a Bachelor's of Social Work degree and a Minor in Psychology. She has over three years of experience with trauma-informed care and Social Emotional Learning as an Afterschool Site Leader and Co-Lead Programmer at Western Youth Network. Olivia graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Master's of Social Work Program in May 2023 and received her Associate Clinical license in October of 2023. This is Olivia's first year at a Montessori School, and she is looking forward to working with the staff and families of Willow Oak! In her free time, she likes rock climbing, making collages, and spending time with her dog, Millie.  

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 has 22 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 2008. 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, and spending time with her husband, son, and dogs. 

Rebecca Rommen, EC Teacher

Rebecca was born in Germany, living in four different U.S. states since her return at age 10. She received a Bachelor of Music Education and Flute Performance at Columbia College, SC. Her education grew to include certification in Visual Impairment and Exceptional Children - Adapted Curriculum. With 23 years of experience, she has worked with k-21 year olds at the NC Governor Morehead School for the Blind, k-8 public school children, and private tutoring. Rebecca enjoys swimmin, and hiking with her Boxer and Goldendoodle, art projects, and making music in her free time. She shares her teaching skills throughout the community, performing and teaching music, and helping all children grow to love learning and discovering  the wonderful world they live in. 

Josie Rule, Math Specialist & Math 1 Teacher

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! 

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.

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!

Pat Garza, Office Assistant & School Nurse Consultant

Pat grew up in Connecticut and has been a pediatric nurse for over 40 years. She has a vast array of experience that includes critical care, pulmonary and various outpatient settings. Over the last 12 years, Pat has been a school nurse in both public and private schools in Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida. Missing the change of seasons, she and her husband moved to North Carolina in fall of 2022 and have spent time enjoying the outdoors, catching up with family, and experiencing all that our state has to offer. Outside of school, Pat enjoys reading, baking, gardening, walking her new dog Boomer, and traveling - especially to Seattle and Atlanta where her two daughters live.  

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.