Faculty & Staff
We believe any school is only as good as its faculty. These individuals are the essential link between the child and the educational philosophy, the learning materials and the prepared environment. They need to be dedicated, committed guides and, through observation, continuously striving to know each child as an individual and must also have the ability to work well within the school community of teachers and parents. Our teaching and administrative staff reflects these attributes, bringing a diverse educational background and a long term commitment to MCMS.
Samantha Moyer, Guide
Samantha was raised in Mazomanie and is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin – Madison where she earned her bachelor’s degree in human development and family studies. Samantha holds an AMI Montessori certificate for the 0 to 3-year-old age level through the Montessori Institute in Denver, Colorado. Sam has found that working with the toddlers has allowed her to apply the skills she has acquired through her education directly to the classroom. In her free time, she enjoys reading, crocheting, being outdoors, spending time with her family.
Yvette Peterson, Program Assistant
Born and raised in Black Earth, WI, Yvette and her husband have three grown children and one grandchild. She has nine years of experience working in special education and found those years to be incredibly rewarding, both personally and professionally. After being away from the field of education for a few years, Yvette is eager to return to the classroom where she can help foster the learning and growing of our youngest members at MCMS. She loves working with children and finds the Montessori Method incredibly fascinating. Yvette is thrilled to be a part of MCMS!
Josh Chiarkas, Program Assistant
Josh was born in Madison and has lived in Middleton for most of his life. He started attending MCMS as a toddler and remained at the school through eighth grade. Josh began working as a substitute teacher at MCMS during the fall of 2014, and is thrilled to be joining the Toddler Community as a Program Assistant. Over the summer, he attended the Montessori Assistant training course at Loyola University’s Center for Montessori Training. Having spent twelve years as a Montessori student, Josh values the Montessori Method greatly, and he is excited to help introduce it to the school’s youngest students.
Anna McAleavy, Guide
Anna has lived in Madison most of her life. She graduated from UW-Madison with a degree in early childhood education, and later attended the Midwest Montessori Institute in Milwaukee where she received her AMI primary certification in 1991. She taught for several years in Janesville before returning in 1993 to Madison and MCMS where she has been teaching ever since. Anna and her husband have one child attending MCMS, and two sons who graduated from MCMS. She and her family like to explore different Wisconsin parks where they enjoy hiking, biking and camping.
Kim Wipperfurth, Program Assistant
Kim grew up in Madison and received her assistant and lead teacher qualifications from MATC. She obtained her AMI Montessori Assistant Certificate after completing a rigorous training course in the winter of 2013 through the Montessori Institute of Milwaukee. Kim has used her various talents on staff at MCMS since 1992. After working with toddlers for three years, Kim then moved on to work with the Children’s House After School program for many years. She has since found her home, assisting in the Children’s House program for the past several years. Kim feels very fortunate to be part of such a wonderful school community for so long and is excited to continue working and growing at MCMS. Both of her children have completed the Children’s House program here. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, scrapbooking, camping and spending time with her family.
Emily Togstad, Guide
Emily grew up in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and knew early on that she wanted to be a Montessori educator. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Loyola College in Maryland, she returned to Loyola to pursue a master’s of education with a Montessori concentration. Emily received her AMI primary certification from the Montessori Education Center of Arizona in Phoenix. After teaching in Phoenix and in Nashville, Tennessee, Emily found herself in search of a school with a commitment to the AMI philosophy, a strong community and a wonderful staff. She found just that in Madison Community Montessori School and is thrilled to call Wisconsin “home” for the past eleven years. Emily lives in a 100-year-old purple house in Mount Horeb with her husband and two daughters, who also attend .MCMS.
Susan Robinson, Program Assistant
Tracy Kramer, Guide
Tracy was raised in Madison and holds a bachelor’s degree with a double major in psychology and sociology from UW-Madison. Post-graduation, she worked in Chicago as a counselor and intake/discharge specialist in inpatient psychiatric settings. After discovering Montessori through a childhood friend, Tracy felt the calling of this peaceful, respectful, joyful method of education and decided to pursue a new career. Tracy currently holds primary certification diplomas from both AMS (Seton Montessori Institute) and AMI (Montessori Institute of Milwaukee). She was a Children’s House lead guide and fulfilled Educational Director responsibilities at Keystone Montessori School in River Forest, Illinois for eight years. In 2011, Tracy moved back to Madison and brought her family with her. She feels fortunate to have found in MCMS an exemplary environment for her daughters, both in elementary, to continue their Montessori education. Tracy is thrilled to be part of the MCMS staff and is honored to be partnering with young children, together discovering the world around them. In her free time, Tracy enjoys biking and rediscovering the magic of Madison with her family.
Eunice Hazim, Program Assistant
Eunice Hazim joins the Children’s House environment as Tracy’s assistant. Eunice has a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies from Florida International University, and previously worked as an assistant at a Montessori School in Florida. She enjoys gardening and snowboarding.
Kate Sargent, Guide
Kate’s previous teaching experience also includes educating children of all ages in a variety of experiences, from dance classes to creative writing workshops. Her favorite aspect of the lower elementary classroom is seeing her students light up with excitement and wonder during new lessons and individual exploration. She is grateful for the opportunity to work with the delightful students, families and staff at MCMS.
In her free time, Kate enjoys exploring the Madison area, taking walks, cooking, playing trivia, and spending time with her family.
Marisol Garcia, Program Assistant/After School Club
Marisol has been a Lower Elementary assistant at MCMS since the 2009-2010 school year. She has an associate’s degree in elementary education and is now working towards her bachelor’s in K-3 and early special education. Marisol finds that her work in the classroom is a great opportunity to apply the skills she is gaining through her schooling. She has chosen education as her career because she has always been grateful for her own educational experiences and wants to give back to a school community. Marisol is fluent in English and Spanish.
Rebecca Lemar, Guide
Rebecca has lived and worked in ten different states and overseas, but calls Wisconsin home. She has always loved being around children and knew early on that she wanted to teach. Before she found Montessori, Rebecca taught at Nature’s Classroom on the east coast, taught wilderness survival skills at a summer camp in Vermont, and also dabbled in teaching gymnastics, dance and English to young children nationally and internationally. Rebecca graduated with a Bachelor’s in
Environmental Education from Evergreen State College in Olympia, received her AMI elementary certification from the Montessori Institute of Milwaukee and earned a Master’s in Education from Loyola College in Baltimore. After working as an Upper Elementary assistant here at MCMS in 2006, she took her first lead teaching position in Flagstaff, Arizona. Since having children she has returned home to Madison and MCMS, their second home. Both her children attend MCMS
Leonora Palacios, Program Assistant
Leonora is originally from Colombia, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in rural education and worked as a teacher for 10 years. After coming to the United States, she earned a certificate in early childhood education and attended an AMI Montessori Children’s House summer course. She is currently pursuing her Montessori elementary diploma, along with a master’s degree in education from St. Catherine’s University and the Montessori Center of Minnesota. Leonora has a three year-old daughter who also attends MCMS, and enjoys spending time with her family and serving her community. She is fluent in English and Spanish.
Martha Reyes, Guide
Initially, in 2011, Martha began at MCMS as a Lower Elementary guide and has since moved into the Upper Elementary. Prior to discovering Montessori, she received her degree in art and child psychology at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. She has more than ten years of experience working with children and youth ranging in age from 1 month to 17 years in settings including day camps, homeless shelters, after school youth programs, and day treatment centers. In her last position before joining MCMS, she worked at a youth program creating hands-on, arts-based curriculum. It was through this job that Martha learned about Montessori and she knew that this approach perfectly matched her beliefs about education. She immediately enrolled in the AMI elementary training program at the Montessori Institute of Milwaukee, and joined MCMS after graduating. In her spare time, Martha enjoys embracing her artistic side, being outdoors, and spending time with her growing family.
Melissa Bennett, Program Assistant
Melissa spent her childhood in a small town on the coast of northern California. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Scripps College in Claremont, California and a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. Before moving to Madison, Melissa lived with her family in Flagstaff, Arizona where she first discovered the wonder and magic of Montessori while serving as an assistant in a Children’s House classroom, and as a co-teacher in an Upper Elementary classroom. Melissa moved to Madison in March of 2014. After taking two years away from teaching to raise her daughter, she is excited to return to the classroom. She delights in watching children discover the world and gain confidence in their own judgements and abilities. When she’s at home, Melissa loves to relax in the kitchen while baking gluten free treats, and has fun crafting and exploring new artistic mediums.
Scott McIntyre, Guide
Scott has been with Madison Community Montessori since 2006. He is originally from northern Michigan where he earned degrees in business management and in forestry at Michigan Technological University. After five years of working in the greater Detroit area, Scott came to Wisconsin in 1999 to earn a master’s degree in environmental education at UW-Stevens Point. Afterward, he worked at Nature’s Classroom Institute, where he thoroughly enjoyed working with Montessori adolescents in the environmental education program. Interacting with these adolescents inspired him to pursue his own Montessori adolescent certification, which he attained in his first year at MCMS. Scott continues to enjoy his time with adolescents as they begin finding their place in the larger world. In his free time, he enjoys running, biking, camping, hiking, and exploring the outdoors of Wisconsin with his family.
Johanna Kenney, Guide
Johanna has spent the majority of her life in the Montessori environment. Born and raised in Chicago, Johanna entered Near North Montessori at age two and graduated from their 8th grade, only to return in 1997 as a teacher in the Adolescent Program. While teaching, Johanna earned her master’s in education with a focus on the Montessori adolescent from Goddard College in Vermont. She joined the MCMS community as an adolescent guide in 2005. Later, she assisted in Lower Elementary for three years while raising her two young children, both of whom attend MCMS. Having returned to the Adolescent Program in 2012, Johanna continues to find the Montessori environment inspiring and rewarding, and recently completed her Montessori training at the adolescent level.
Mimi Struve, Guide
Mimi is thrilled to join MCMS as an adolescent guide. She graduated from UW-Madison with a degree in elementary education, and began her career teaching English at several different schools on the coast of Ecuador before returning to Wisconsin. Until recently, Mimi taught middle school in Madison, where she met some like-minded individuals and became part of a graduate cohort focused on experiential education. She earned an unconventional master’s degree while studying John Dewey, Kurt Hahn, and Steven Simpson; planning and then taking a 10-day wilderness backpacking trip with her cohort, and organizing a regional conference on experiential education. Mimi has also studied Spanish, tropical biology, permaculture, and is an avid gardener. She lives in Madison with her dog, Maggie.
After School Programs
Susanne Smebak, Children’s House After School
Susanne comes from a family of educators. When Susanne was twelve, her family moved to Nigeria, West Africa so her father could help develop teacher training schools and elementary education for the country. Two of the three years spent in Nigeria, Susanne went to school in Yorkshire, England. Later, one of her first work experiences was developing and running the childcare program for a large homeless shelter in San Francisco. While there she studied early childhood education, and found both the Waldorf and Montessori methods inspiring to her work. Susanne later moved to Indianapolis, where she worked as a teacher for two different Montessori schools. Soon after her son was born, Susanne and her husband decided to move back to the Madison area to be closer to both of their families. After their daughter was born, they were fortunate to purchase Susanne’s parents’ farm and began homeschooling their children, which included animal husbandry and organic gardening. Susanne went on to get certification as a master gardener and also in permaculture design, and she now happily applies these skills in her position at MCMS. She is excited to be a part of this school community, particularly in this wonderful location with all of the opportunities it offers.
Bhavani Nagaraj, Children’s House After School
Bhavani joins Susanne in our Children’s House After School classroom. After working at other preschools in the Madison area, Bhavani discovered her passion for the Montessori approach first through substituting at MCMS. Previously a web designer and PC hardware support specialist in Frankfurt, Germany, she is now pursuing her associate’s degree in early childhood education. Bhavani obtained her AMI Montessori Assistant Certificate after completing a rigorous training course in the winter of 2013 through the Montessori Institute of Milwaukee. Having been raised by a Montessori trained mother, Bhavani is happy to have her own daughter experience MCMS. She feels blessed to be able to join this school community as a teacher as well as a parent. In her spare time, she loves traveling, yoga, Indian dancing, swimming, biking and doing her part to care for the environment.
Marisol Garcia, Program Assistant/After School Club
Marisol has been a Lower Elementary assistant at MCMS since the 2009-2010 school year. She has an associate’s degree in elementary education and is now working towards her bachelor’s in K-3 and early special education. Marisol finds that her work in the classroom is a great opportunity to apply the skills she is gaining through her schooling. She has chosen education as her career because she has always been grateful for her own educational experiences and wants to give back to a school community. Marisol is fluent in English and Spanish and shares her knowledge of the Spanish language with both of the Lower Elementary classes.
Alicia Pelton, Elementary/Adolescent Physical Education Teacher
Alicia grew up in Janesville and eagerly participated in almost every sport she had the opportunity to try. She went on to attend UW-Madison to run track & field and obtain her undergraduate degree in sociology. After college, Alicia played basketball in the Swedish Elite League and also lived in England and across the U.S. while her husband played professional hockey. After her husband’s retirement and their move back to Madison, Alicia was the innovator and owner of My First Sports, LLC until they welcomed their daughter into the family. During the past 25 years, she has experienced many different aspects of her life’s vocation from volunteer youth coach, high school coach, manager, board member, teacher, mentor, player, and parent, all which give her a unique, in-depth understanding of sports and fitness. She loves to watch students experience many different activities, guiding them as they start to gravitate towards the ones they will further develop throughout their lives. Alicia continued her athletic education receiving a Masters of Sports Leadership from Northeastern University. She was inducted into the Janesville Sports Hall of Fame. Alicia and John have two children, a son who is an MCMS graduate and is currently a student athlete at Harvard University, and a daughter who is currently in the Adolescent class.
Cheryl Wagner-Stahnke, Elementary Physical Education Teacher
Cheryl has a degree in physical education from the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire and a master’s degree in specially designed physical education from the University of Minnesota. She taught P.E. in grades 6-8 and coached high school gymnastics in Minneapolis until 1996, when she and her husband moved to Middleton. Cheryl taught P.E. for grades 6-8 at Glacier Creek Middle School for ten years before resigning to stay home and raise her children. Her daughters are now in high school and college, so she has decided to return to her love of teaching. She loves sharing her passion of movement with children.
In her free time, Cheryl enjoys being active with her family (especially in downhill skiing and water skiing), cooking, gardening and reading.
Melissa Ozel, Elementary/Adolescent Art Teacher
Melissa is delighted to be a part of the vibrant MCMS community as the Art Specialist! She began cultivating a love of arts and expression from a very young age and enjoys nurturing the creative spirits of the children at MCMS. Melissa holds a bachelor’s degree in art from UW-Madison, an AMI primary certificate & a M.ED from Loyola University. She has two children, both attend MCMS.
Lydiette Calderon-Cancel, Spanish Teacher
Lydiette Calderon-Cancel was born and raised in Puerto Rico. She received a bachelor’s degree in education from the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico. Before joining (MCMS) as a spanish teacher, Lydiette worked for 5 years as a history and theater teacher in Puerto Rico. Lydiette is a deep believer that education is the key to creating responsible, productive citizens.
Vicki McCarthy, Head of School
Soon after obtaining her bachelor’s degree in elementary education, Vicki experienced a Montessori classroom firsthand and immediately fell in love with the philosophy. In 1998, she began working at a private Montessori school in Milwaukee, where she completed her AMI Montessori elementary training for ages 6 through 12. She went on to teach for a number of years in both Lower and Upper Elementary classrooms. Continuing her studies, Vicki completed two master’s degrees, one in education and another in educational leadership. In 2007, her family moved to California, where she became the Associate Head of School at a private Montessori school in Santa Barbara. It was during her time in California that she also obtained her NAMC Montessori Primary training for ages 3 through 6. In 2009, Vicki became Head of School at MCMS and recently finished her AMI Montessori training for the 0-3 year old. Both of her children attended Montessori schools from toddler through 8th grade and graduated from MCMS. Vicki credits the Montessori philosophy for playing a large role in her children’s successful experiences after graduating from MCMS; their inner motivation to learn, their time management skills, their sense of independence, and their ability to self-advocate were all encouraged through their nurturing Montessori guides. Her children now attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.
Meghan Smyth, Director of Education & Admissions
Meghan has been with MCMS since 1993, first as a Children’s House guide and now as part of the administrative team. She attended Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota where she graduated cum laude with a degree in studio art. She received her AMI primary certification from the Montessori Training Center of Minnesota in 1991, studying with Chulanganee Fernando, who herself was trained by Maria Montessori in Sri Lanka. After teaching for several years in Minnesota, Meghan moved back to Baraboo, Wisconsin to be closer to family and was fortunate enough to discover MCMS! Along with her siblings, Meghan was able to care for her mom (who had Alzheimers) at home for many years, and has a special interest in the many ways that the Montessori Method can be applied to enrich the lives of our elders with Alzheimers Disease.
Laura Spitzig, Director of Development
Laura attended UW-Stout in Menomonie, receiving her bachelor’s in early childhood education. She moved on to UW-Eau Claire where she was certified in elementary education. After her daughter was born, Laura became interested in Montessori education. While working as an office manager at a Montessori school in Houston, Texas, she enrolled her daughter in the same school beginning at the age of 18 months. When the family moved to Madison, Laura sought out a Montessori school where her daughter could continue and they found themselves at MCMS.
Jacob Ford, Business Manager
Jacob attended San Francisco State University where he graduated with a B.A. in psychology and Western Governers University where he obtained his Masters in Business Administration. After graduating he worked in accounting and finance for a school/day care center in Chicago. Jacob has recently relocated from the Chicago area to Madison and is very excited to have joined the MCMS community.
Amanda Viviani, Administrative Assistant
Amanda holds a bachelor’s degree in English and creative writing from Edgewood College in Madison. She continued on to study secondary education in the post-baccalaureate program, where she became interested in progessive education. Since then, she has worked with both Pre-K and after-school programs, and in freelance writing. Amanda is currently pursuing AMI Primary certification for the 3-6 year-old at the Montessori Institute of Milwaukee; she and her husband, Joe, live in Evansville with their son, Luca, who also attends MCMS.
Dorothy Zografi, Head of School Emeritus
Dorothy received her bachelor’s in education in 1957 and taught fourth grade in public schools until 1960. In 1970, Dorothy was introduced to the Montessori method of education while living in the Netherlands for one year where her four children attended a Montessori school. Inspired and intrigued by what she observed during that year, Dorothy was convinced that she wanted her future teaching career to focus on the Montessori method of education. In 1977, she enrolled in the Midwest Montessori Institute in Milwaukee and received her AMI primary certificate in 1978, which launched her long career at Madison Community Montessori School. Dorothy was a primary guide until 1990 when she “retired” from the classroom and devoted her full attention to administration. In that role, she worked to grow the school from two primary classrooms to what we enjoy today, offerings for children, ages 12 months to 14 years. Dorothy retired as Head of School in 2006, but enjoys her present role as a Board member emeritus, where she can remain in touch with the school’s excellent administration and staff as well as the wonderful children and community of parents. She is also thrilled to be a witness to her fulfilled dream of a permanent home for MCMS in a beautiful indoor and outdoor environment.