Faculty and Staff


Catherine Oudjit, Head of School (Email)

Catherine was born and raised in France, where she earned a J.D. in International Business Law. In 1995, she started her Montessori career at the Montessori School of Raleigh (MSR) where, having earned her AMS Infant/Toddler Certification from CMTE/NY, she directed a Toddler section for almost 10 years. In 2005, Catherine started teaching at the Lower Elementary level at MSR, then continued in 2010 at the same level at Sterling Montessori Academy and Charter School in Morrisville, NC. She earned her AMI Montessori credential for 6 to 12 year olds and her Master of Education in Montessori Elementary Education from the Washington Montessori Institute and Loyola University in Maryland. Beginning in 2013, Catherine worked as the Director of Programs and Curriculum for the Primary Level at Sterling Montessori, then took on additional responsibilities to support the leadership transition there through 2016.

In 2017, Catherine joined Willow Oak as the Upper Elementary Team Leader. Her role later evolved to center on Montessori coaching, curriculum, and operations, including testing and assessment oversight. Catherine and her husband, Zack, have two sons and a daughter who were privileged to receive a Montessori education from the toddler through the middle school years. During her down time, Catherine enjoys reading, cross-stitching, quilting, and playing pickleball.

Melissa Beck, PhD, Diverse Learning Community Coordinator (Email)

Melissa received her PhD in School Psychology from UNC-Chapel Hill and completed her internship and postdoctoral fellowship at the Kennedy Krieger Institute and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She later served as the Outpatient Coordinator of the Pediatric Psychology Clinic and Consultation Service and was an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins University. After moving back to North Carolina, Melissa spent time working in private practice and at UNC as part of a research study investigating the early development of children at-risk for autism. She joined the staff of Willow Oak Montessori following a term as a Board member and now uses her professional knowledge and experience to ensure that every child's unique needs are met at Willow Oak Montessori.

Susan Johnstone, Montessori Coach (Email)

Susan, a Montessori teacher since 1987 and administrator since 2003, co-founded a small progressive middle and high school in Raleigh, NC called Raleigh Progressive School. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from North Carolina State University and a Master of Arts in progressive community education from Goddard College. Susan is married to fellow Montessori teacher, Don Henchel, who has been teaching for over 30 years, and is presently teaching at Montessori Community School in Durham. Her three boys attended Montessori schools up to the 6th grade. Susan has served as a coach, mentor, and consultant for Montessori teachers and administrators. She holds an American Montessori Society Lower Elementary credential.

Emily Vance, Director of Children's House (Email)

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.

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

Rah Bickley, Lead Teacher

Rah (short for Sarah) is in her seventh year of Montessori teaching, having spent the first five years assisting and teaching in Children’s House classrooms (age 3 to 6) in the Triangle. She joined Willow Oak last year as the P.E. teacher, where she got a lot of exercise, lost a lot of foot races, and discovered she loved to play street hockey. This year she is exploring Lower El and what Maria Montessori called the “second plane of development” in which children aged 6 to 12 let their imaginations soar and soak up stories of high ideals and noble people. In her former life, Rah has been a legislative aide on Capitol Hill; a fundraiser for public radio, Habitat for Humanity and other nonprofits; a reporter for The News & Observer covering Durham; and an author. She lives in Durham with her husband and son. Rah loves to get together with friends, sing with Womens’ Voices Chorus, hike, kayak, play tennis, explore the Blue Ridge mountains, botanize, and garden.

Leslie Butterfield, Lead Teacher

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

Dianne Sowers, Lead Teacher

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

Jody Berry, Teacher Assistant

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

Olivia Febonio, Teacher Assistant

Olivia joined Willow Oak Montessori Children’s House in the Fall of 2020. Hailing from Western Massachusetts, she moved to North Carolina in 2017 after obtaining a Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences with a concentration in Disability Studies and Child Development from Stony Brook University. After several years of working as an after school teacher and camp counselor, Olivia started looking to transition into early childhood education. Her passion for Montessori Education was sparked during her capstone project at SBU, where she interned at a Montessori School on Long Island; she was inspired by the joyful, nurturing and respectful school environment. Olivia hopes to pursue a degree in Social Work and a Montessori certification. In her free time, she loves to hike, bake, practice yoga, and care for her numerous indoor plants. Olivia currently resides in Chapel Hill with her partner, Christopher, and their dog, Norah.

Kat Ruelas, Teacher Assistant

After growing up in Washington State, Kat moved to California and discovered the Montessori method at her first assistant teaching job. She proceeded to complete Early Childhood Education certification and Montessori Assistant Training, and has been using Montessori in her classrooms and with her own children for over a decade. Since moving to North Carolina, Kat has been working towards her Bachelor's in Elementary and Special Education, with plans to continue on to Montessori Primary certification. Her favorite Maria Montessori quote, tattooed on her arm, is "Peace is the work of education." When not promoting a peaceful world with her students, Kat loves to spend time outdoors with her partner and two children in Chapel Hill.

Erin Woodard, Teacher Assistant

Erin joined Willow Oak in 2016 as a substitute teacher and part-time Spanish TA, transitioning to the Children’s House in 2021. She grew up in Virginia, and graduated from James Madison University with a B.S. in Health Sciences and minors in Biology and Child Development. Working in Child Life, Erin helped to normalize the often overwhelming hospital environment for pediatric patients and their families through play and socialization. She became a stay-at-home mom when her oldest was born and thoroughly enjoyed the time spent watching her three children learn and grow. Helping in their classrooms, coaching soccer, and serving as a youth leader are some of the diverse experiences that led her to Montessori, where the whole child is celebrated. In her free time, Erin can be found with her family, taking walks, volunteering, baking, running, reading, or exploring ways to be a bit greener.

Veda Puglia, Art & Music Assistant and Children's House Afterschool

Veda joined Willow Oak Montessori Children's House in the Fall of 2013. She received her American Montessori Society-Early Childhood associate certification from the Montessori Training Institute of New Jersey. Veda pursued her Montessori training because she loves working with children. She feels privileged to witness their independence and joy of learning on a daily basis. Veda holds an Associate of Arts degree from the Art Institute of Atlanta, where she studied photography. Veda also attended Queens College in Charlotte, NC. Veda moved into the Briar Chapel neighborhood in 2010 and loves living in Chatham County. She has an adult son, Nicholas.

Lower Elementary (Grades 1-3)

Cathy Constantine, Lower Elementary Lead Teacher

Cathy was born and raised in New Hampshire and she is the oldest of six children. She has been in North Carolina for 11 years and loves the state. She began her Montessori journey when her first born daughter attended a Montessori School. She knew Montessori education was unique and special and therefore she volunteered as much as possible. Cathy received her 3-6 credential in 1987. After many years in primary she went on to receive her training in 6-9 and 9-12. Cathy has taught at all levels. She received her BA in Human Development from Lesley University with a minor in early intervention. Cathy has also worked as a Program Director at MCS and Head of School. Cathy is also an adult trainer for Seacoast Center for Education. She loves teaching and she is extremely excited about joining the Willow Oak community. Cathy has two grown daughters who attended Montessori school and four granddaughters, three who are currently attending a Montessori School in Cary. Cathy loves reading, walking, swimming, gardening, and spending time with her husband and family. She is looking forward to sharing her experiences and continuing to expand her professional growth in a public charter environment.

Britiney Fife, Lower Elementary Lead Teacher

Britiney holds a Master’s Degree in Holistic Education and completed her Montessori training through the NC Montessori Center. She taught elementary grades K-4 before having her son and deciding to transition to the Montessori environment. She is excited to be part of the Willow Oak team and combining her passion for teaching in public education with her passion for the Montessori method. In her free time, Britiney enjoys friends, going to the beach, reading, and container gardening.

Don Henchel, Lower Elementary Lead Teacher

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

Jennifer Hughes, Lower Elementary Lead Teacher

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

April Cibulski, Lower Elementary Assistant

April joined Willow Oak Montessori Charter in March 2016, as a substitute teacher and volunteer for The WOM Children's House as well as Chatham County Schools. April is originally from Long Island, N.Y. After graduating High School, she moved to Hawaii working in retail, while attending Leeward Community College. Four years later, April moved to California. With a rapid growing family of 4 children, she decided to take a break from Business Management and Founder of Baby Loves Earth, to focus more on her two newly adopted children. April and her family moved to North Carolina in 2012. April saw and learned the benefits of a Montessori education after her youngest attended Willow Oak Children's House. While away from work, April enjoys family camping trips to the mountains of NC, hiking, firing up a good meal, and singing songs at the campfire. Heading to the coast is also a favorite, as April is a former surfer and diver. Yoga and Pilates are part of her daily routine. April plans on pursuing her degree in education and her Montessori certification. She is looking forward to a long-term future with Willow Oak Montessori.

Ally Hammond, Lower Elementary Assistant

Ally received her Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education from Eastern Oregon University and graduated Summa Cum Laude in 2018 and is currently pursuing her Masters in Education in Learning Design and Technology with the University of West Alabama Online. Since graduating, she has worked with the UNC School of Medicine, specifically with the UNC Horizons Program and with Head Start. Prior to graduating, Ally worked in the school system as a special education instructional assistant in rural Tennessee and in various early childhood settings in Washington State. Additionally, she worked in student engagement and interned with the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, leading tomb tours in the museum’s tomb replica and school tours of the various artifacts and mummies during her time living in California. She chose her degree because she finds joy in being a part of children’s growth and development and a force of positivity in their lives. She was drawn to the Montessori approach during her studies due to its emphasis on the child’s individual learning and the growth of the whole child. She is excited to join the team at Willow Oak Montessori this 2021-2022 school year! Ally loves history, technology, and reading. When she is not at work she is often with her dog, with her husband or the rest of her family. She also enjoys embroidery and spending time in nature, especially at the ocean, and traveling.

Tricia Staten, Lower Elementary Assistant

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 their four grandchildren are being educated in the Montessori community.

Hongyuan "Wen" Wen, Lower Elementary Assistant

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

Upper Elementary (Grades 4-6)

Hetal Amin, Upper Elementary Co-Teacher

Having visited 25 preschools in 2007 in search for the perfect start for her son’s education, Hetal Amin stumbled into a Montessori classroom. It has been an exceptional journey ever since. Although Hetal has a BS in Molecular Biology and Microbiology from the University of Central Florida and an array of experiences in various fields, the opportunity of volunteering at her son’s Montessori school led her to change careers and go into teaching. She has her AMS Montessori Elementary I-II Credential. She brings with her a certain mix of wit, enthusiasm, and desire to continuously learn and grow. Not only does she enjoy sharing laughs and daily stories with her own family, but also with her Willow Oak family.

Emily Barrick, Upper Elementary Co-Teacher

After graduating from Brevard College with a B.A. in Integrated Studies: Elementary Education and completing the requirements to receive her K-6 teaching license, Emily realized that she was not comfortable with the traditional approach to teaching. She spent the next few years working as a camp and after school counselor and outdoor educator at Chestnut Ridge Camp and Retreat Center. She also worked during that time as a sales associate and nanny/babysitter. This time at different jobs taught her a great deal and helped her realize how much she truly loved teaching. However, she knew that she did not want to return to a traditional setting. At that time, through a Willow Oak family, she learned of Montessori. During the 2014-2015 school year, she completed her American Montessori Society Lower Elementary certification and spent time in the school's upper elementary classroom. The time she spent there helped her make the decision to pursue her Upper Elementary certification, which she completed during the 2015-16 school year. She has taught in the Blue/Magnolia Classroom since that time and continues to love teaching and the excitement of learning new things each year.

Connor Donovan, Upper Elementary Co-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.

Erica Halter, Upper Elementary Co-Teacher

Erica grew up exploring, skiing, and enjoying life in 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 Montessori Community School in Durham. There she was introduced to the Montessori philosophy and was impressed by the students' intelligence, compassion, and independence. She spent a year teaching at a public school in Bluffton, SC, before realizing that a Montessori school would be a great fit. She loves the close knit community at WOM and has been with the Yellow/Sycamore Class since the beginning. In her free time, she loves to be active, eat delicious food, travel, laugh with friends and family, and play games.

Leslie Kasell, Upper Elementary Co-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.

Jennifer Warren, Upper Elementary Co-Teacher

Jennifer Warren graduated with her Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood and English Literature from William Paterson University in 2013. She started her teaching career at a private school in New Jersey, teaching Language Arts and Social Studies in a mixed-aged classroom (7-12 years old) part time. After a year, Jennifer moved to a full time position at a Head Start preschool where she taught for 3 and a half years. In February of 2018, Jennifer moved to Sanford, NC, with her husband. She began to substitute at Willow Oak Montessori in March and immediately fell in love with the school and Montessori style. Wanting to continue her teaching career in this new state, Jennifer became NC State certified in K-6. She is excited to start her Montessori journey with the Willow Oak family.

Adolescent Community (Grades 7-8)

Wayne Capps, Adolescent Teacher

Wayne grew up in Okinawa, Japan, and moved to Jacksonville, NC, right before he started high school. He studied Environmental Science with a focus on Climate Change and Environmental Decision Making at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he obtained his bachelor’s degree in 2011. He started his teaching career in 2011 at Morehead Planetarium and Science Center. Wayne ran the Science Summer Camp and Science Stage programs at Morehead Planetarium where he wrote and implemented hands-on, materials-rich curricula for a wide variety of science disciplines for children in grades K-12. Over the last 10 years, Wayne helped Morehead Planetarium cultivate their strong reputation for making science learning fun, engaging, and approachable for all. However, Wayne was looking to make a broader impact with his teaching and obtained his Master of Education from Elizabeth City State University in 2021 in order to spend more time in the classroom. Throughout his career Wayne has shown a commitment to a student-driven, interdisciplinary approach to education and he strives to create a community of life-long learners in his educational spaces. In his free time, you can find Wayne skateboarding, rock climbing, or participating in historical reenactments.

Sarah Grayce Coats, Adolescent Teacher

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

Josie Rule, Adolescent Teacher & Math Specialist

Josie was raised in a one-room schoolhouse nestled in the mountains of Vermont. You might say her path to education started early! After earning her degree in Middle Level Education (with concentrations in math and the fine arts) from the University of Vermont, Josie decided she needed a change of scenery and moved to New York City. In her 10 years in the Big Apple, Josie taught middle school math at the Salk School of Science, earned her Master’s degree in Leadership in Mathematics Education at Bank Street College of Education, and started a family with her husband, Brian. Soon after the birth of their first child, Emeline, they decided it was time to set down some roots closer to family. Josie spent her first five years in NC as a stay-at-home-mom with Eme and, eventually, her son, Rivers. As a WOM Children’s House parent, Josie has enjoyed watching her children thrive in the Montessori setting and is thrilled to have the opportunity to apply her training and experience to the WOM Charter community!


Shelley Buisson, Music Teacher

Shelley is originally from Ontario, Canada. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario in 1987 in French and German and a Bachelor of Education the subsequent year from the University of Western Ontario. She began her teaching career as a Middle School French teacher. Shelley has always been passionate about music, whether singing in choirs or playing in various musical ensembles. Since moving to the Triangle area 15 years ago, she has been able to share her passion with the community through private instruction in a variety of instruments including piano and guitar and during the last five years as a licensed Kindermusik Educator. She is excited to offer budding Willow Oak musicians an opportunity to explore instruments and vocal expression, experience ensemble playing, and discover music from our rich, diverse world-music heritage.

Ashley Frost, Art Teacher

Ashley has lived in NC for the last 30 years. She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a concentration in Design from UNCG and subsequently worked as a garden designer in the years before starting a family. She and her husband have 2 children and have been a part of the Willow Oak community since the inception of the Charter School. She has served on the Board of Directors and has volunteered her time in a number of ways to help support the School. She has been a part of the faculty for the last several years and is excited to be able to offer one of her passions to every child in the WOM 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.

Dan Taylor, PE Teacher

Coach Dan is the proud parent of a Willow Oak student and has always had a passion for physical education. He worked as a professional chef for 25 years both locally and abroad. He always took time to teach what he knows to others. Daniel has coached many youth sports including football, soccer, basketball, and baseball. He has strong convictions on nutrition and exercise and wants to teach the children in order to set good habits for the rest of their lives. Physical activity doesn’t always have to be competitive and physical education can apply to everyone.

Diverse Learning Community

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 4-month-old son named Micah. She has one sister who lives in Morrisville, NC, with her family. Allyssa can’t wait to spend next year growing and learning with the Willow Oak community.

Corinne Matthes, EC Teacher

Corinne came to Willow Oak with 18 years of Montessori teaching experience. Her career began after graduating from Ithaca College in Ithaca, NY with a degree in music education in 2001. She very quickly realized becoming a Montessori teacher was her calling and completed her 6-9 AMS training at The Institute for Advanced Montessori Studies in Silver Spring, MD. After several more years of teaching, she realized she wanted more tools to help children who needed additional learning support and completed her Master’s degree in Special Education from North Carolina State University in 2018. She has taught music, Lower Elementary, and created and implemented systems for supporting students who learn differently in both private and public charter Montessori schools in New York, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Texas, and New Mexico. She is passionate about supporting a variety of learning styles in the Montessori setting. Corinne enjoys traveling, yoga, reading, camping, going to the beach, and spending time with her husband, son, and dog.

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.

Amy Rogers, Reading Specialist

Amy grew up in Fort Worth, TX, where she earned her Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education. She later attended UNCG and earned a Masters of Arts in Reading Education and a license for Academically and Intellectually Gifted. Amy has served many roles in Chatham County Schools for the past 23 years: classroom teacher, reading interventionist, and AIG teacher. She also served two years as a literacy coach for beginning teachers at NC State (Wolfpack WORKS). Amy moved to Chatham County in 1993 and lives in Silk Hope with her husband, Michael, and four children. Together the family runs Rogers Auctioneers, Inc. They have served as foster parents to 8 children over the last 20 years. When not working, Amy loves to spend time with family and traveling. Her hobbies include working in the yard and reading. She is looking forward to being part of the Willow Oak Montessori family.

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.

Donna Huff, Occupational Therapist

Since 1979, Donna has been a creative, energetic, licensed and registered Occupational Therapist with experience in a wide variety of settings, including pediatric home health and school settings. She has enjoyed treating students of all ages with a wide range of disabilities. She is well experienced in many areas of Occupational Therapy, including sensory integration, therapeutic listening, positioning and handling, spasticity management, auditory and visual processing, praxis, and a wide range of school related issues. Donna lives in Chapel Hill with her husband, John, who is also an Occupational Therapist, and her two adult daughters. Donna is especially excited to be at Willow Oak Montessori with such a cohesive and talented team and enjoys the challenge of problem-solving the diverse learning needs of all students.

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's new campus. 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 new capacity!

Joshua Steed, Facilities Maintenance Technician

Joshua was born at a very young age in eastern North Carolina. Despite these obviously uncalled-for disadvantages he managed to thrive. At 16, he earned the rank of Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts and Explorer Scouts. Due to a scandalous senior prank he graduated from high school in the top 10% of his graduating class. He now had leveled up and had the know-how to either go to college or live as a hermit in the woods. His first year of college at North Carolina State University was punctuated by being accepted into the Alexander Hamilton Scholars Program. Induction into the program included a no-expense-paid highly unsupervised study program in Guatemala. There he was able to polish and broaden the Spanish he learned on his grandparents' farm and study the country's socioeconomic and environmental policies and volunteer at a daycare center while the country was under martial law. It was at NCSU that Joshua met his future soulmate. As the Fates would have it, he married his current wife, Tabatha, instead. Together they have three lively kids who all either currently attend or have left their mark on Willow Oak. The school now has a new building so hopefully there's no lasting evidence of his eldest's graffiti. Joshua has filled his time between having kids by finishing his associate's degree at Central Carolina Community College, working, and volunteering with the various sports, music, and other endeavors their children fancy upon. Joshua has also earned a living as a maintenance technician or manager for four Chatham County communities and as a freelance handy person. Now Joshua is excited to bring together his joys of enriching the lives of children and their environments to Willow Oak.

Patti Reindle, School Nurse Assistant

Patti is a Registered Nurse with a master’s degree in Nursing Education. She graduated from Duke University School of Nursing with a BSN and from East Carolina University with an MSN. Patti has worked in many settings as an RN including: Pediatric and Adult Nursing at UNCH-CH. She is a nursing instructor at Duke and has spent many summers in cooler climates as a camp nurse in Maine, Connecticut, New York, and Washington. In addition to being the nurse consultant, Patti has two children that attend Willow Oak.