Our EducatorsPinewoods Montessori School, North Carolina

Administration

Experienced, passionate, and dedicated to your children.

Pinewoods is fortunate to have a group of educators and administrators who care deeply about inspiring children with a shared love of learning.

 

Learn more about them by clicking on their picture

Jonathan Churn

Head of School

Shequria Outlaw

Administrative Assistant

Emily Bray

Director of Admissions & Enrollment Management

Lindsay Ungewitter

Interim Lead Guide and Primary Level Chair

Sandi Wheelis

Director of Operations

Brittany Palacioz

Lower Elementary Lead Guide and Elementary Level Chair

Jonathan Churn

Head of School

​Jonathan Churn obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in English from Barton College and a Masters of Education from Loyola College. He is an Association of Montessori International (AMI) certified Elementary Educator who spent nearly 20 years in the classroom before obtaining his American Montessori Society (AMS) certification in Administration and moving on to school leadership roles. He served as the Assistant HOS at the Montessori School of Raleigh from 2008-2011 before being named the Head of School at Winston-Salem Montessori School from 2011-2022. During his tenure at the Winston-Salem Montessori School, he oversaw a student body of 250 students and managed approximately 40 faculty and staff. He was instrumental in expanding the school from a toddler through 6th grade program to the addition of a 7th-9th grade Adolescent program. He successfully led the school through the COVID19 pandemic, largely keeping the doors open for in-person education throughout this challenging time in school history. Since July 2022, he has been working as the Director of Innovation and Advancement for the Association Montessori International of the U.S. (AMI/USA), where he has led the development of a new 5-year strategic plan.

Jon lives in Winston-Salem with his wife Robyn and their high-school aged twins, who also attended Montessori from 18 months through 9th grade. He is excited for the opportunity to return to a school community and to collaborate with our teachers and families to build upon the excellent educational foundation already in place, and to utilize his skills and experience to lead the Pinewoods Community into the next stage of its journey.

Shequria Outlaw

Administrative Assistant

Emily Bray

Director of Admissions & Enrollment Management

Emily Bray returns to us at Pinewoods as our Director of Admissions & Enrollment Management. For seven years, Emily served as our Office Manager and Operations Manager at Pinewoods. Emily has served in administrative roles at Carolina Friends School, UNC-Chapel Hill, as well as UNC-Charlotte where she earned her bachelor’s degree in Anthropology. She brings her joy in working with families, staff, and children. In her spare time, Emily enjoys creating stained glass art and hiking with her family.

Lindsay Ungewitter

Interim Lead Guide and Primary Level Chair

This is Lindsay’s 13th year at Pinewoods. She has a bachelors degree in education and earned her Montessori early childhood credential in 2007 from the Center for Montessori Teacher Education. Lindsay has worked in Montessori Primary classrooms since 2006, serving for eleven years as a Primary lead teacher at Pinewoods. She welcomes the opportunity to partner with more children and families in her administrative role. This is Lindsay’s second year as Assistant Head of School. Lindsay is also a Pinewoods parent. Her oldest child, Eddie, started at Pinewoods as a Toddler and is now in Upper Elementary. Her son Devon is a Primary student. In her spare time Lindsay enjoys traveling, hiking, reading, and gardening.

How did you discover Montessori?

I had a job at a daycare one summer where I was lucky enough to work with a Montessori trained teacher. She encouraged me to apply to work with her in Durham, at George Watts Montessori Magnet School. I was able to work for one year as her assistant in a Pre-K/ Kindergarten classroom. I began my Montessori training the following summer.

Why do you love being a Montessori Guide?

I love building relationships with children and families over time. The three year cycle provides for meaningful and rewarding relationships which I find very rewarding.

What about Pinewoods inspires you and/or brings you joy and reward?

Pinewoods is where my children have grown up. I have been fortunate to spend so much time in this supportive community and on the beautiful primary playground!

Please list any education and teaching credentials and teaching experience?

I earned my Bachelor’s Degree in Secondary Education and worked as a high school social studies teacher right out of college but soon realized that working with young children was what really brings me joy. I earned my birth through Kindergarten Teaching licensure in 2007, the same year that I completed my Early Childhood Montessori training with CMTE/NC. I am currently completing the final course in a Therapeutic Horticulture Certificate program through the North Carolina botanical garden. I have worked at Pinewoods since 2009.

Sandi Wheelis

Director of Operations

Brittany Palacioz

Lower Elementary Lead Guide and Elementary Level Chair

Brittany was born and raised on the Outer Banks and completed her undergraduate education at UNC Chapel Hill. After college, she interned at Pinewoods to earn her AMS Lower Elementary credential. She returned to Pinewoods after completing her Master of Arts in Teaching at Meredith College. Brittany loves Montessori’s cosmic curriculum and how the philosophy allows children ownership of their education. Her favorite subjects to teach are Math and History. This is Brittany’s 12th year at Pinewoods. Brittany currently lives in Durham with her husband and daughter. During her free time, she enjoys cooking, reading, and going to the beach.

How did you discover Montessori?

I discovered Montessori when I was in college. My stepmother was the office manager at a Montessori school in Virginia and I would often visit her there. One summer, I assisted in their summer program and was blown away by toddlers who knew the names of different native bird species! I couldn’t believe how careful, attentive, and creative the students were at every level. After graduation, I started thinking about what to do next and my experience with Montessori came back to me, so I applied for a training program.

Why do you love being a Montessori Guide?

I love the relationships that you create with the students and families over the course of the three year cycle. I also love how intuitive the materials are and how students can explore topics to their level of interest.

What about Pinewoods inspires you and/or brings you joy and reward?

Seeing the growth in the children from Year 1 to Year 3 is the best part for me, followed by my supportive and amazing coworkers.

Please list any education and teaching credentials and teaching experience?

AMS Elementary 1 certification, Master of Arts in Teaching from Meredith College, NC State K-6 teaching license, Master of Library Science. This is my 12th year teaching at PWMS.

A lot of schools where teachers take center stage talk about being “child-centered”, Pinewoods Montessori School is. In Montessori we speak of the “trio of teachers” a mixed aged community of child, Montessori’s learning materials, and the guide (“teacher”). Each part of the triad is as important as the other and where the teacher is an observer, follower, and guide who brings wisdom, thoughtfulness, and experience to the child’s academic, social, and intellectual exploration.

At Pinewoods Montessori we believe that each child is possessed of many gifts and is not merely an empty mug to be filled by an all-knowing jug (the teacher). This approach demands special professionals confident and skilled enough to allow the child to be an active participant in his or her learning. It also means that all school decisions are driven by what is best for the children. Learn More

Young Children's Community (YCC)

18 Months to 3 Years Old

Mari Armstrong

YCC Lead Guide

Lindsay Ungewitter

Interim Lead Guide and Primary Level Chair

Tina Wheeler

YCC Assistant Guide

Meredith Wilkerson

YCC Assistant Guide

Zhen Zhang

YCC Lead guide

Mari Armstrong

YCC Lead Guide

Mari grew up in Venezuela before moving to North Carolina eight years ago. After completing her degree in Education in Venezuela, she taught elementary and high school there. She enjoys working with toddlers and primary and her extensive experience in these areas led her to Pinewoods. Before starting at Pinewoods, Mari taught for four years at a daycare in Chapel Hill. Mari currently lives in Burlington with her husband and two children, ages four and one.

How did you discover Montessori?

When I was at university we talked about the philosophy of Maria Montessori and the changes that could be made in the education of children. When I had my first daughter I integrated some methods at home and I could see the significant impact it had on us, at that moment I knew it would be my next goal.

Why do you love being a Montessori Guide?

Yes, I like the safe, respectful and free environment for children and teachers, where they can explore and develop their skills through real things, they are spontaneous and free when choosing their tasks. Be part of their independence process and feel confident in the goal they are reaching.

What about Pinewoods inspires you and/or brings you joy and reward?

Pinewoods has the ideal balance to work with, it is a very united community where we all support each other, parents are always willing to join our classrooms to improve and support the development of their children. I love enjoying and being part of my daughters’ learning process in a safe, respectful and loving community.

Please list any education and teaching credentials and teaching experience?

Bachelor’s degree in Education (Mention in Agriculture). Early Educator Certification. Four years teaching in a Spanish immersion school with young children and nine months in montessori school.

Lindsay Ungewitter

Interim Lead Guide and Primary Level Chair

This is Lindsay’s 13th year at Pinewoods. She has a bachelors degree in education and earned her Montessori early childhood credential in 2007 from the Center for Montessori Teacher Education. Lindsay has worked in Montessori Primary classrooms since 2006, serving for eleven years as a Primary lead teacher at Pinewoods. She welcomes the opportunity to partner with more children and families in her administrative role. This is Lindsay’s second year as Assistant Head of School. Lindsay is also a Pinewoods parent. Her oldest child, Eddie, started at Pinewoods as a Toddler and is now in Upper Elementary. Her son Devon is a Primary student. In her spare time Lindsay enjoys traveling, hiking, reading, and gardening.

How did you discover Montessori?

I had a job at a daycare one summer where I was lucky enough to work with a Montessori trained teacher. She encouraged me to apply to work with her in Durham, at George Watts Montessori Magnet School. I was able to work for one year as her assistant in a Pre-K/ Kindergarten classroom. I began my Montessori training the following summer.

Why do you love being a Montessori Guide?

I love building relationships with children and families over time. The three year cycle provides for meaningful and rewarding relationships which I find very rewarding.

What about Pinewoods inspires you and/or brings you joy and reward?

Pinewoods is where my children have grown up. I have been fortunate to spend so much time in this supportive community and on the beautiful primary playground!

Please list any education and teaching credentials and teaching experience?

I earned my Bachelor’s Degree in Secondary Education and worked as a high school social studies teacher right out of college but soon realized that working with young children was what really brings me joy. I earned my birth through Kindergarten Teaching licensure in 2007, the same year that I completed my Early Childhood Montessori training with CMTE/NC. I am currently completing the final course in a Therapeutic Horticulture Certificate program through the North Carolina botanical garden. I have worked at Pinewoods since 2009.

Tina Wheeler

YCC Assistant Guide

Meredith Wilkerson

YCC Assistant Guide

How did you discover Montessori?

I began substituting at Pinewoods Montessori last year and immediately fell in love with the entire community. I quickly found my favorite “at home” place was with the toddlers.

Why do you love being a Montessori Guide?

I can not remember a time when I was not drawn to the world of young children. Seeing the world through a young child’s sense of wonder and natural curiosity has been my life’s most meaningful experience. In addition to my formal education, I have spent many years caregiving for young children in their homes.

What about Pinewoods inspires you and/or brings you joy and reward?

My passion for encouraging social-emotional development in young children led me to the early childhood classroom. I spent 5-6 years assisting and leading classes for toddler and 3-year-old classes at a preschool in Durham.

Please list any education and teaching credentials and teaching experience?

I earned a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Peace College and a Masters degree and Certificate of Advanced Study (CAS) in school psychology from Appalachian State University. I spent 12 years working for Randolph County Schools as a school psychologist, evaluating children for developmental delays and collaborating with teachers and families about educational support for children.

The last 10 of those years I specialized in working with preschool-age children (ages 2 to 5 years) and became trained in trans-disciplinary play-based assessment. I gained so much valuable knowledge from collaborating with other early childhood specialists, including special education teachers, speech/language therapists, and occupational and physical therapists.

Zhen Zhang

YCC Lead guide

How did you discover Montessori?

When I became a parent and discovered the Montessori Method while seeking the best education for her own children.

Why do you love being a Montessori Guide?

I believe it is the best education for young children that I have encountered so far.

What about Pinewoods inspires you and/or brings you joy and reward?

I enjoy collaborating with warm and dedicated Montessorians to create a strong Montessori team for these young learners. PWMS team bring this belief to me

Please list any education and teaching credentials and teaching experience?

I joined the PWMS community in 2023 with a rich background that reflects my dedication to education and the Montessori Method. I began my academic journey at Renmin University of China, earning a Bachelor’s degree in International Economics. I later pursued a Master’s Degree in Education, Economy and Management. My career in China was marked by nearly 12 years at China Mobile Group, where I held roles in Marketing Analysis and HR Director Management.

My life took a transformative turn when I became a parent and discovered the Montessori Method while seeking the best education for my own children. In 2018, I relocated my family to the USA to pursue Montessori training at the renowned Montessori Institute of San Diego. I achieved dual certification (AMI) in both Montessori “A to I” (0-3) and Primary (3-6) education. I also earned the title of a Certified Positive Discipline Parent Educator. Over the past four years, I have served as a lead teacher in toddler and primary Montessori environments.

Primary

3 Years to 6 Years Old

Kaitlan Cole

Primary Associate Lead and Encore Lead Guide

Bamborough Kelly

Primary Assistant Guide

Heather Murphy

Primary Lead guide

Maria Saavedra

Primary & Encore Lead Guide

Lindsay Ungewitter

Interim Lead Guide and Primary Level Chair

Lisa Walton

Primary Assistant Guide

Jeannene Wasserburger-Schnell

Primary Lead guide

Milica Conn

Primary Assistant

Kaitlan Cole

Primary Associate Lead and Encore Lead Guide

How did you discover Montessori?

I applied to sub after my nephew began the toddler program at Pinewoods and fell into a primary assistant role. I found that the Montessori philosophy and methods aligned with my own teaching philosophy more closely than traditional education allowed.

Why do you love being a Montessori Guide?

I love seeing how the children develop and grow through the 3 year cycle and beyond into the elementary levels. Its wonderful to see how their confidence and independence blooms in an environment that belongs to them.

What about Pinewoods inspires you and/or brings you joy and reward?

The community of people I work with have been incredibly supportive and generous. I feel a real sense of collaboration with my primary level team.

Please list any education and teaching credentials and teaching experience?

Masters in Teaching with a focus in Art Education, K12 Art teaching credential (now lapsed in SC), Read2Succeed Literacy Teacher Endorsement, 4 years as a middle school art teacher, and 1 year Montessori Primary Assistant.

Bamborough Kelly

Primary Assistant Guide

Bamborough joined the Pinewoods after-school program in August 2019. She studied Early Childhood Education at NC Central University and will be pursing a degree in Peace and Conflict Studies at UNCG. Prior to joining the Pinewoods team, Bamborough was a teacher assistant at The Expedition School for two years, while tutoring in the afternoons in Chapel Hill and Durham. In the five years before working at Expedition, Bamborough taught at The Little School at Duke in Durham, NC. She is mom to five grown children whom she home-schooled for 7 years. During her time at Pinewoods, she has become more familiar with the Montessori approach to education and has gained an ever greater appreciation for the philosophies reflected in the curriculum and classroom environment. This is Bamborough’s 5th year at Pinewoods.

In her spare time she enjoys listening to music, especially live music with friends. She loves spending time with family and in nature to reflect and replenish. A favorite pastime is thrift-store shopping.

Heather Murphy

Primary Lead guide

Heather has a Bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies from The University of Texas at Austin, and an Early Childhood Montessori Credential from The Center for Guided Montessori Studies.

She started her teaching career in Japan as an English language teacher, then worked in international student welfare and English as a Second Language (ESL) education in London for 5 years. After moving to North Carolina, she initiated a Global Education program and taught International Business at a local community college. Heather led Tinkergarten nature play classes for several years and enjoys bringing out children’s innate creativity, collaboration and problem-solving skills. She is an avid supporter of child-led learning and loves the emphasis on peace, respect and the outdoors at Pinewoods.

This is Heather’s sixth year at Pinewoods. Her classroom is full of humor, wonder and hands-on experiences. When she isn’t in the classroom, Heather spends time with her family, and enjoys hiking, gardening and travel. Heather’s daughter and her son attend Pinewoods Montessori.

How did you discover Montessori?

After having my 1st child, I researched various educational methods and the Montessori approach to developing each child socially, emotionally as well as academically and allowing for independence and personal choice resonated with me. I taught nature play classes for a number of years which focused on children’s early sensory experiences, creativity and problem-solving and I love introducing these concepts in my classroom at Pinewoods.

Why do you love being a Montessori Guide?

Primary age children are curious, loving and silly. This age is a huge time of growth and learning, so it is exciting to witness math and cultural concepts coalescing and an explosion into reading and writing.

What about Pinewoods inspires you and/or brings you joy and reward?

Pinewoods has always felt like a close and supportive community of families. Everyone knows everyone and all children are valued as important individuals. Children’s differences are supported and there is an emphasis on kindness, peace and the outdoors.

Please list any education and teaching credentials and teaching experience?

B.S. Communication Studies, The University of Texas at Austin
Early Childhood Credential, The Center for Guided Montessori Studies
3 years, Montessori Lead Guide, Primary
3 years, Montessori Assistant Guide, Primary
Previous teaching experience as a Nature play facilitator, ESL (English as a Second Language) instructor and Global Studies instructor.

Maria Saavedra

Primary & Encore Lead Guide

Maria has 11 years of experience as a Montessori educator. Her Montessori journey began when she was employed as a substitute teacher at a nearby Montessori school. Through that experience, she discovered her love and passion for children and the Montessori method.

In 2018, Maria obtained her Montessori Toddler certification from the North American Montessori Center. She has been a Toddler Lead teacher at Pinewoods for the last 3 years. This is Maria’s first year as a Primary Lead teacher. She is currently working on obtaining her Primary Montessori certification. Maria is the proud mother of two young children. During her free time, she enjoys camping, hiking, and fishing with her family.

How did you discover Montessori?

A family friend is the owner of a Montessori school in Burlington. I needed a job at 17 and she gave me a chance.

Why do you love being a Montessori Guide?

I love seeing the joy in the children when they accomplish something independently. I enjoy being a part of their education. I love the material.

What about Pinewoods inspires you an/or brings you joy and reward?

The community. The children and the staff.

Please list any education and teaching credentials and teaching experience?

Early childhood credentials, Infant and toddler Montessori certification, Spanish tutor for a few years, after school teacher, In a Montessori classroom since the age of 17. At Pinewoods I was their toddler lead teacher for 3 years and now in my second year in a Primary classroom. Currently working on my Primary certification. I love seeing how the Montessori method fosters independence, and meets every child at their level.

Lindsay Ungewitter

Interim Lead Guide and Primary Level Chair

This is Lindsay’s 13th year at Pinewoods. She has a bachelors degree in education and earned her Montessori early childhood credential in 2007 from the Center for Montessori Teacher Education. Lindsay has worked in Montessori Primary classrooms since 2006, serving for eleven years as a Primary lead teacher at Pinewoods. She welcomes the opportunity to partner with more children and families in her administrative role. This is Lindsay’s second year as Assistant Head of School. Lindsay is also a Pinewoods parent. Her oldest child, Eddie, started at Pinewoods as a Toddler and is now in Upper Elementary. Her son Devon is a Primary student. In her spare time Lindsay enjoys traveling, hiking, reading, and gardening.

How did you discover Montessori?

I had a job at a daycare one summer where I was lucky enough to work with a Montessori trained teacher. She encouraged me to apply to work with her in Durham, at George Watts Montessori Magnet School. I was able to work for one year as her assistant in a Pre-K/ Kindergarten classroom. I began my Montessori training the following summer.

Why do you love being a Montessori Guide?

I love building relationships with children and families over time. The three year cycle provides for meaningful and rewarding relationships which I find very rewarding.

What about Pinewoods inspires you and/or brings you joy and reward?

Pinewoods is where my children have grown up. I have been fortunate to spend so much time in this supportive community and on the beautiful primary playground!

Please list any education and teaching credentials and teaching experience?

I earned my Bachelor’s Degree in Secondary Education and worked as a high school social studies teacher right out of college but soon realized that working with young children was what really brings me joy. I earned my birth through Kindergarten Teaching licensure in 2007, the same year that I completed my Early Childhood Montessori training with CMTE/NC. I am currently completing the final course in a Therapeutic Horticulture Certificate program through the North Carolina botanical garden. I have worked at Pinewoods since 2009.

Lisa Walton

Primary Assistant Guide

Lisa has always loved children and follows in the footsteps of her mother, who ran a daycare while Lisa was growing up. She is excited for this opportunity to pursue her passion. Lisa has studied Early Childhood Education at Alamance Community College. She has served as a volunteer with Orange County schools, assisting the guidance department at East Chapel Hill High School. Lisa has also served elementary aged children as an afterschool group leader.

Lisa is the mother of 2 children and 3 grandchildren. In her spare time she enjoys gardening and reading.

How did you discover Montessori?

Indeed

Why do you love being a Montessori Guide?

Enjoy following the child as they grow and develop.

What about Pinewoods inspires you and/or brings you joy and reward?

Warm environment and supportive community

Please list any education and teaching credentials and teaching experience?

Associate Degree in Early Childhood Development /Currently pursuing Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education UNCG

Jeannene Wasserburger-Schnell

Primary Lead guide

Jeannene comes to Pinewoods with a depth of Montessori experience, perspective, and a continuing passion for working with young children. She began working with preschool children shortly after graduating from high school. Her first 18 years as an educator were spent working in development centers and traditional preschool before experiencing the Montessori approach. She has a degree in preschool education from Chadron State College and an Early Childhood (3-6 years) Montessori certification from the Albanesi Educational Center. Jeannene has experience setting up Montessori classrooms, training teachers, and implementing Montessori curriculum at the Infant, Toddler, and Primary levels. She has also provided parents/guardian education in the Montessori approach.

​Jeannene and her husband have two grown children. During her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her dogs, music, gardening and walking on local trails.

How did you discover Montessori?

I needed a job and a school had an opening as an assistant guide.

Why do you love being a Montessori Guide?

I get to witness children experiencing their “firsts” as they learn about our wonderful world.My fellow teammates inspire me, and the children bring me joy.

What about Pinewoods inspires you and/or brings you joy and reward?

The work of children is a reward in itself.

Please list any education and teaching credentials and teaching experience?

Associate of Arts in Preschool Education, Contemporary Montessori Education 3-6 Certification. Began working with children June 1979 and have continuously worked with children in many different early childhood settings.

Milica Conn

Primary Assistant

What about Pinewoods inspires you and/or brings you joy and reward?

Pinewoods has the staff who are dedicated and nurturing, and who foster a love of learning in children.

Please list any education and teaching credentials and teaching experience?

I studied at the music college in Serbia, and taught music appreciation to middle school students for several years. In the US, I earned an Early Childhood training certificate from the Florida department of children and families. I’ve been assisting in a Montessori classroom, and I have also homeschooled my two kids for a little while.

Apply Now

Give Your Child the Gift
of a Pinewoods Montessori Education

Lower Elementary

6 Years to 9 Years Old

Emily Armond

Lower Elementary Lead Guide

Katie Crane

Lower Elementary Assistant Guide

Brittany Palacioz

Lower Elementary Lead Guide and Elementary Level Chair

Danielle Salvatore

Lower Elementary Assistant Guide

Ashley Frost

Lower Elementary Assistant Guide & Building Substitute

Emily Armond

Lower Elementary Lead Guide

Emily Armond has a B.S. in Biology and a Master of Arts in Teaching from the University of Georgia. In graduate school she focused on reading and literacy, ESOL, and social justice education. She has been a Montessori educator for 9 years and at Pinewoods for 7 years. She is excited to be a member of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee. In her spare time she loves to run, hike, embroider, play with her cats, and make puns. Her favorite things to teach are science and kindness.

How did you discover Montessori?

My friend’s mom is the founder of the Waseca School in Athens, GA. She hired me as an after school and nature connection guide, and I did my training to become a lower elementary guide there. I also worked in the Waseca Biomes workshop making Montessori materials.

Why do you love being a Montessori Guide?

I learn so much about being human! In helping children navigate their own emotions and their relationships with others, my heart has been opened to levels of empathy, patience, and communication I would never have known otherwise. I love building a classroom community each year that’s a microcosm of the world we hope to have.

What about Pinewoods inspires you and/or brings you joy and reward?

II love our community. Everyone is kind, supportive, and willing to help.

Please list any education and teaching credentials and teaching experience?

I have a BS in biology and an MAT in early childhood education. I worked as an early reading interventionist and a Montessori guide in Athens, GA, and I’ve been at Pinewoods since 2016.

Katie Crane

Lower Elementary Assistant Guide

Katie Crane has a B.A. in International Studies from UNC-Chapel Hill and subsequently received her K-12 teaching certification in Spanish. She spent over a decade teaching Spanish at the high school level and chairing the World Language Department at the school. After moving to Hillsborough in 2018, Katie was delighted to find Pinewoods for her daughter who was then in Kindergarten. She started substitute teaching that year and began learning about and loving the Montessori method. Katie has a passion for learning and teaching languages, and is excited to work with the upper and lower elementary students. Her older daughter is now a fourth year at Pinewoods and her younger daughter is in the Primary program. Outside of school, Katie enjoys reading, learning languages and being with family and friends.

Brittany Palacioz

Lower Elementary Lead Guide and Elementary Level Chair

Brittany was born and raised on the Outer Banks and completed her undergraduate education at UNC Chapel Hill. After college, she interned at Pinewoods to earn her AMS Lower Elementary credential. She returned to Pinewoods after completing her Master of Arts in Teaching at Meredith College. Brittany loves Montessori’s cosmic curriculum and how the philosophy allows children ownership of their education. Her favorite subjects to teach are Math and History. This is Brittany’s 12th year at Pinewoods. Brittany currently lives in Durham with her husband and daughter. During her free time, she enjoys cooking, reading, and going to the beach.

How did you discover Montessori?

I discovered Montessori when I was in college. My stepmother was the office manager at a Montessori school in Virginia and I would often visit her there. One summer, I assisted in their summer program and was blown away by toddlers who knew the names of different native bird species! I couldn’t believe how careful, attentive, and creative the students were at every level. After graduation, I started thinking about what to do next and my experience with Montessori came back to me, so I applied for a training program.

Why do you love being a Montessori Guide?

I love the relationships that you create with the students and families over the course of the three year cycle. I also love how intuitive the materials are and how students can explore topics to their level of interest.

What about Pinewoods inspires you and/or brings you joy and reward?

Seeing the growth in the children from Year 1 to Year 3 is the best part for me, followed by my supportive and amazing coworkers.

Please list any education and teaching credentials and teaching experience?

AMS Elementary 1 certification, Master of Arts in Teaching from Meredith College, NC State K-6 teaching license, Master of Library Science. This is my 12th year teaching at PWMS.

Danielle Salvatore

Lower Elementary Assistant Guide

Ashley Frost

Lower Elementary Assistant Guide & Building Substitute

How did you discover Montessori?

I discovered Montessori through my children who both attended.

Why do you love being a Montessori Guide?

I love children & to assist them in their development, socially, emotionally & academically is fulfilling.

What about Pinewoods inspires you and/or brings you joy and reward?

I am inspired by the Pinewoods community. Both our community of families & our faculty are strong. I felt welcomed from day one & I in turn keep paying it forward.

Please list any education and teaching credentials and teaching experience?

BFA, UNCG.
Taught art at Willow Oak Charter Montessori.
Taught homeschoolers at Piedmont Wildlife Center.

Upper Elementary

9 Years to 12 Years Old

Kelly Saxon

Upper Elementary Lead Guide

Kelly Saxon

Upper Elementary Lead Guide

Kelly Saxon studied elementary education at Appalachian State University and holds both an AMS Lower Elementary certification and a state teaching license. She is currently working toward a graduate certificate in Anti-Racism in Urban Education at UNC Charlotte. Kelly’s first 8 years of teaching experience were at a local Montessori charter school, where she fell in love with Maria Montessori’s methods. In 2019, after a few years at home with her 3 young children, she returned to the classroom. Kelly has a passion for hands-on learning, nurturing intrinsic motivation, and promoting peace. She hopes to nurture students’ natural curiosities to develop lifelong learners. In her free time, Kelly enjoys bicycle dates with her husband, playing family board games, or curling up with a good book.

How did you discover Montessori?

I babysat for a Montessori family. The year I graduated, NC was on a hiring freeze, so I applied for a job at a Montessori School and found it was exactly what I was looking for. I tried working in a STEM school in my 9th year of teaching, but it was not the right fit because I was not allowed to follow the child.

Why do you love being a Montessori Guide?

I love learning and want to share that with my students. In a Montessori environment, I have the privilege of maintaining the natural curiosity and intrinsic motivation children are born with. I love being able to individualize curriculum and approaches to meet each student where they are… and the hands-on materials are really beautiful and fun!

What about Pinewoods inspires you and/or brings you joy and reward?

The Pinewoods community value not only academics, but also practical life and peace education. I love working with such highly skilled, helpful, and passionate colleagues.

Please list any education and teaching credentials and teaching experience?

University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Graduate Certificate in Anti-Racism in Urban Education, GPA: 4.0

Currently enrolled in UE Training

Center for Montessori Teacher Education Holly Springs, North Carolina; July 2010
Elementary I Credential from the American Montessori Society

Appalachian State University
Bachelor of Science, Elementary Education

Center for Montessori Teacher Education Holly Springs, North Carolina;
Montessori Lower Elementary Certification

My experience includes 8 years at Sterling Montessori and 1 year at The Expedition School.
This is my 4th year at Pinewoods Montessori.

School Wide Staff

Sita Shepard

Floater Assistant Guide

Kalaivani Venkatachalam

Floater Assistant Guide

Sita Shepard

Floater Assistant Guide

Sita Shepard had the good fortune to attend Montessori preschool in 1965. In fact, her mother had her own Montessori school right across the street from their home. It was only natural that Sita followed in her mother’s footsteps. She now has Early Childhood credentials in both Montessori and conventional education. She has been an assistant and lead for classrooms up to 3rd grade. Sita also has an associate’s degree in horticulture, and experience with animal husbandry and organic gardening. She enjoys sharing her experience with children of all ages. Now that her own 3 children are grown she has more time for gardening, swimming, and other hobbies.

How did you discover Montessori?

From my mother. She got the idea in Europe in the 1960’s.

Why do you love being a Montessori Guide?

I enjoy seeing children discover the world.

What about Pinewoods inspires you and/or brings you joy and reward?

There are some really good teachers here. I like learning from them. Their friendship is a breath of fresh air. It’s also really close to home so I don’t have a long commute.

Please list any education and teaching credentials and teaching experience?

Early Childhood Education degree as well as Montessori teacher training at the Primary level. I went to Montessori as a young child, along with my siblings. My mother had her own Montessori School in the 60’S and 70’s. Also, I have taught in small private schools up to 4th grade.

Kalaivani Venkatachalam

Floater Assistant Guide

How did you discover Montessori?

From my neighbors who introduced me to Montessori philosophy.

Why do you love being a Montessori Guide?

I love being a Montessori guide to see students choosing their own work and working independently. It brings me joy to witness their patience and independence.

What about Pinewoods inspires you and/or brings you joy and reward?

Working with highly skilled and experienced professionals inspires me, and finding joy in learning new skills is a rewarding aspect of my experience at Pinewoods.

Please list any education and teaching credentials and teaching experience?

I hold a Master’s degree in Computer Science. With four years of teaching experience in Nursery and primary schools in India, I bring a wealth of knowledge. Additionally, I have one year of experience working at Hillsborough Preschool.

Special Teachers

Caroline Jerger

Physical Education teacher for Elementary

Caroline Jerger

Physical Education teacher for Elementary

Caroline Jerger is thrilled to bring her passion for play and sports to Pinewoods Montessori in 2020. After graduating from UNC Wilmington with a degree in Psychology, Caroline began working for Playworks, a program offered through Americorps that provides structured recess for elementary-aged children. She quickly realized how the power of play can positively impact not only a child’s physical health, but his or her emotional and social health as well. In 2016, Caroline started Amazing Athletes of Raleigh, a fast-paced educational sports program that teaches 10 different sports, various motor skills, and the importance of nutrition. She enjoys sharing aspects of the program through Pinewood’s P.E. classes and hopes to create a fun and memorable experience for each child.

How did you discover Montessori?

I was somewhat familiar with the Montessori way and this opportunity fell into my lap. I am so glad it did as it’s allowed me to expand my understanding of the Montessori method and all its benefits!

What about Pinewoods inspires you and/or brings you joy and reward?

I love connecting with students individually and watching them grow and succeed. More specifically, I enjoy seeing how the lessons and skills they learn in PE can boost their self confidence, can help them solve problems, and can motivate them to have a positive outlook in life.

Please list any education and teaching credentials and teaching experience?

Prior to starting my own business, I worked for a company called PlayWorks in Durham and Raleigh area schools that used structured recess as a way to make new friends and learn valuable life skills along the way.

Join a School of Individuals Dedicated to Authentic Montessori Education

Our teachers enjoy very well equipped classrooms, support for continuing education, and competitive salaries and benefits.