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2016-17 School Year CEMCO Faculty and Staff Information

Teacher Bios

Academy 1 – Sharonda Johnson

Sharonda was born on Thanksgiving Day in Atlanta, Georgia. She attended Georgia Southern University and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in General Studies with concentrations in Early Childhood Education and Writing. Sharonda’s mother instilled a love of learning and reading in her from a young age. She has been passionate about working with children for years. Sharonda became interested in possibly pursuing a career in a Montessori school during her undergraduate studies in the education program at Georgia Southern. Sharonda has a passion for learning and enjoys seeing the spark in children’s eyes when they learn and discover new things. She is excited to embark upon her journey as an educator here at Coastal Empire Montessori!

Sharonda resides in Statesboro with her 7 month-old-son, Khylin, and her son’s father, Kelton. She loves being on the go and doing anything active. In her spare time, she especially enjoys shopping, painting, going to the beach, writing, playing with her son, and spending time with her family.

Academy 2 – Lois Stitt

Lois is a mother and educator with over 20 years of experience working with children. In 2002, when her fourth child entered kindergarten, she began completing her BS in Early Childhood Education through Armstrong Atlantic State University. She graduated in 2005 and immediately found her niche working as a Pre-K teacher in south Bryan County. After a two year hiatus, she returned to the classroom to work with her favorite age group at Coastal Empire Montessori. Lois is completing her formal Early Childhood Montessori training with Seacoast Center for Education and she is thrilled to continue to put her inspiration into practice this year.

Lois’s passion has always been teaching. She discovered the magic of Maria Montessori’s method while volunteering in her daughter’s classroom in 1987. She and her husband are now “empty nesters,” with four chicks having left the nest. She enjoys yoga, tennis, reading, and dark chocolate.

Academy 3 – Kristen Cassick

Kristen Cassick was born and raised in Tampa, Florida. Kristen graduated from Saint Leo University where she completed her Bachelor’s in International Hospitality and Tourism Management. After college, she started teaching and found how much she truly enjoyed teaching and being an advocate for children. While working at a Montessori school in Florida, she completed her Montessori certification in 2009. Kristen has since dedicated her life to the education of young children for over 7 years.

Kristen married her best friend and they have two sweet children. Their daughter Karissa is 3 and their son Kyan is 19 months old.

While she enjoys her spending free time outdoors, her most favorite time is time spent with her family!

Kindergarten 1 – Patty Cruzan

Patty was born in Portsmouth, VA, and after traveling with her Navy family to CA, FL and Italy, she finally settled in Rockville, MD. Patty attended Frostburg State College earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education. She married after college and followed her husband’s Army career, teaching and becoming certified in several different states, including AL, WA, and NC. Patty taught preschool and 2nd grade before finding her passion for teaching Kindergarten at St. Anne’s School in Fayetteville, NC. She taught there for 4 years and then in Centreville, VA for 18 years (in the same classroom!). Patty has taken many graduate classes, with an emphasis on Early Childhood Education and Gifted/Talented students and was asked to initiate and teach a special program within her former school for gifted students called “Young Scholars.”

Patty moved to Savannah in 2011 to be near to and take care of her newest granddaughters. In January 2013, she began teaching Kindergarten at CEMCO. Patty has fit perfectly into our Montessori school, and she is really enjoying her Montessori training and helping Kindergartners become independent learners and have a passion for learning. She has a daughter, two sons, four granddaughters (two of whom attend CEMCS), a grandson, and her dog, Princess Fiona. Patty is an avid reader and enjoys shopping, cooking, traveling, and going to the beach. She also loves jewelry, coffee and ice cream. Most of her free time is spent with her family.

Kindergarten 2 – Kristen Renz

Kristen graduated from Georgia Southern University in December 2011, where she earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education. She has spent the last several years starting a family and returned to the classroom this past year as a Kindergarten Teaching Assistant at Coastal Empire Montessori. This summer, Kristen completed an intensive institute to begin her formal Montessori training, and she is continuing along the path to her Primary certification through The American Montessori Society.

Kristen grew up in Hinesville, GA where she enjoyed babysitting and helping take care of her younger sister. She married her high school sweetheart and they now have a 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter. Her children are her inspiration and the reason she found and loves the Montessori principles. In her spare time Kristen enjoys reading, drawing and exploring the world with her family.

Kindergarten 3 – Katherine Davis

Katherine was born and raised in the Savannah, GA, area where she attended Armstrong Atlantic State University. While studying Art History and Techniques there, she found a passion for teaching art, which quickly turned into a passion for the art of teaching. In May of 2012, Katherine graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Art Education and starting teaching Kindergarten at CEMCS a few months later. This will be Katherine's fifth year at CEMCS, and she completed her Montessori Live training in the summer of 2016.

Katherine resides with her husband, Matt, who is in the Air National Guard, their twin boys, Hendrix & Harper and their 2 dogs, Athena & Leon. In her spare time, Katherine enjoys boating, fishing, camping, putting puzzles together, and cooking. Her two favorite quotes from Maria Montessori are, "Imagination does not become great until human beings, given the courage and the strength, use it to create" and "Play is the work of a child.

Kindergarten 4 – Kylene Purvis

Kylene was born and raised in Tampa, Florida. She graduated from the University of South Florida in 1998, where she earned her Bachelor's Degree in Communication and Science Disorders. She worked for four years in speech therapy for public elementary school students. During this time, Kylene earned her Master's Degree in Early Childhood Education from Nova Southeastern University. She has taught 13 years in Florida – six in Kindergarten, six in second grade, and one in third grade. She also earned her ESOL endorsement in 2008.

Kylene moved to Savannah in 2015 because of her husband's job. After having a baby in May of 2015, she took a year off teaching and has recently returned to her passion. She and her husband, Brian, have two children - Kaden (8) and Kyla (1). In her spare time, Kylene enjoys spending time with her family, outdoor activities, reading, shopping, and learning yoga.

Lower Elementary 1 – Gin Gin Lundy

Gin Gin was born into a family of educators who instilled a love of teaching and learning. She graduated from SUNY Geneseo with a Bachelor's of Science in Education in 1999 and University of Phoenix - Honolulu where she earned a Master of Arts Degree in Elementary Education in 2003. Gin Gin attended two summers of training for her Montessori Certification through the Seacoast Center for Education. During her seventeen years as an educator, her teaching experiences consisted of teaching 1st - 12th grade in the public, charter, and private school settings. This will be her fourth year at CEMCO and she loves the Montessori Method of education, all her students, and our CEMCO families.

Growing up, Gin Gin's father was a high school teacher for the Department of Defense Dependent Schools (DODDS) and he was her inspiration to teach and travel. She has lived in the Philippines, Turkey, New York, Saipan, Hawaii, Florida, and has decided to stay in Georgia. Gin Gin has traveled to Canada, Germany, Guam, Japan, Mexico, but her favorite memories of traveling include swimming in Palau's Jellyfish Lake, surviving a ferry ride to Cyprus, and riding a camel for the first time around her neighborhood in Turkey. Besides her love for traveling, she loves her 6-year-old Yorkie Min-Pin, Mochi, named after her favorite dessert and two cats, Mittens and Theo. Gin Gin is super-excited that her brother, sister-in-law, and two nieces currently reside in Savannah. Her niece is in Kindergarten at CEMCO and loves it.

Lower Elementary 2 – Alana Brown

Alana is originally from Roseville, OH. As an Army veteran, she has lived in various places including Virginia, Texas, and Columbus, GA, before finally settling in Savannah. Upon exiting the military, Alana began volunteering at Coastal Empire Montessori in her daughter's classroom, and it was there that she learned her love for teaching. Alana has completed Montessori Training through the Seacoast Center for Education and is enrolled in the GaTAPP (Georgia Teacher Preparation and Pedagogy Program) with Oconee RESA. She earned a Bachelor of Business in Human Resource Management.

In her spare time, Alana enjoys spending time with her family. She is married and has three daughters, ages 10, 9, and 2. Her two oldest daughters both attend Coastal Empire Montessori.

Lower Elementary 3 – Denisaira Miller

Denisaira was born and raised in Puerto Rico, where she lived until 1996 when her mother made the decision to move her family to the United States. Her upbringing was filled with caring and thoughtful people, who possessed an abundance of culture, values, beliefs, and traditions that influenced her life greatly. Once her family settled in Michigan, Denise attended Michigan State University and majored in Pre-Law. She knew in her heart, though, that her true passion was being a teacher, helping children with their educational development and impacting them in a positive way, ensuring their potential is fulfilled. She therefore transferred to Kaplan University, where she majored in Elementary Education, and graduated with Summa Cum Laude honors.

Denisaira has two children, Luisier and Jiansier, who attend our school. The birth of her two children made her recognize that all children need support and nurturing, and because of this she decided to join the staff as a Teaching Assistant in 2012. She has been working with children ever since.

Denisaira graduated from Kaplan University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education, and she also completed the Elementary I Montessori training in Charleston, SC, with the Seacoast Center for Education. She is enrolled in – and GA-certified through – the Georgia Teacher Alternative Preparation Program with Oconee RESA and will start on her Master’s Degree in Education. She is excited to be a Montessori educator – to be someone for young children to look up to, someone who the children can trust, and who will always “go the extra mile” to ensure their success.

Lower Elementary 4 – Laurel Denham

Laurel developed her love of teaching young children as she worked with toddlers and infants at a childcare center in Atlanta throughout high school and during breaks in college. She combined her passion for teaching and creating art with a Bachelor’s Degree in Art Education at the University of Georgia. In 2013-14, Laurel taught art at an elementary school in Griffin, GA, before moving to Savannah and joining the CEMCO team in July 2014. She began Montessori training in summer 2015 with the Seacoast Center for Education. She adores teaching 6–9-year-olds because they are at the age of imagination. Maria Montessori said, "The secret of good teaching is to regard the child’s intelligence as a fertile field in which seeds may be sown, to grow under the heat of flaming imagination."

Laurel loves travelling, visiting art museums, and learning about our world. Some of her favorite activities include bicycling, drawing, eating fruits and veggies, and relaxing at the beach.

Lower Elementary 5 – Kelly Arseneau

Kelly was raised in Central Florida and developed a passion for teaching at a young age. Throughout her years as a student, she was a peer mediator/mentor and a tutor. Her academic excellence in high school earned her a guaranteed teaching position in Florida upon graduating from the University of Central Florida in 2010. She completed rounds of student teaching in Kindergarten, 4th grade, and 1st grade. With a Bachelor's degree in Elementary Education with Reading and ESOL endorsements she, spent her first 5 years teaching 9th-grade reading. During those years, Kelly has earned over 300 hours of in-service training and conducted several trainings for her peers. This year she will continue her passion for perfecting her craft and living out her teaching philosophies through her Montessori training at CEMCO. Her previous students have always valued her sense of humor, enthusiasm, and ability to make learning fun.

Kelly relocated to Savannah last summer with her husband and three children. She's so excited to be living in one of her favorite cities in the US! In her spare time she loves spending time with her husband and 3 boys (yes, 3 boys!), having Nerf wars, reading (especially non-fiction), going to the beach, watching documentaries, and learning. She's looking forward to an exciting 2nd year here at CEMCO!

Lower Elementary 6 – Rebecca Villegas

Rebecca is a graduate of Georgia Southern University where, through a behavior-based education program, she earned her Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Justice Studies and Psychology. She is currently enrolled in Armstrong State University's Master of Arts in Teaching program, where she is taking advantage of the opportunity to embark on different educational avenue. Rebecca has been an active educator in multiple capacities with all different kinds of people and personalities.

Rebecca lives with her husband, Hector, three boys, Gavin (12), Julian (3 1/2) and Nicolas (14 months). They have a Corgi named Cali and a Boston terrier named Ziggy that bounce around the house with them. During her free time, Rebecca enjoys taking in all that Savannah has to offer with her family including all of the museums, forts and the beach. She and her husband grew up in the Vidalia area and enjoy going home to visit family as often as possible.
Rebecca has a true passion for service, education and helping others to grow within themselves.

Upper Elementary 1 – Stephanie Thorne

Stephanie graduated from the University of Georgia with a Bachelor’s of Science in Social Studies Secondary Education and from Georgia College and State University with a Master’s in Middle School Math and Science. For the first five years of her career, she taught fourth and fifth grade math in Monticello, Georgia. In 2007, she and her husband moved to Savannah and she began teaching for SCCPSS. Last year, Stephanie completed her second year in a Montessori learning environment. She is currently working on her Montessori Elementary training through Montessori Live.

Stephanie enjoys cooking, traveling, and learning new things (usually from listening to NPR, despite the complaints of her family on long car rides). She is an early bird and a night owl with a fine appreciation of naps and good books in between. She especially loves to spend time with her two sons and her husband.

Upper Elementary 2 – Petra Echauri

Petra is originally from Newington, CT. Various opportunities took her from East to West and back again; she has also lived in Hawaii, Washington, D.C. and Northern California. Petra earned a Bachelor of Science in Speech Language Pathology and Audiology from California State University, Sacramento. While attending school, she worked as an assistant teacher and after-school program director for Woodland Montessori Children’s House. Her love for children had long been established, but that is where her love for Montessori education began. Petra is Georgia-certified teacher and is currently in the Montessori Live Program working toward her MACTE Certification. She is attending Armstrong Atlantic State University, earning her Masters of Education, Reading Specialist.

In her spare time, Petra enjoys spending time with her family. She has an 8-year-old son and a 3-year-old daughter. She and her family try to get to Tybee Island every chance they get, as the beach is their favorite place to spend time as a family. She takes great pleasure in watching her children explore the world around them.

Exceptional Children – Emily Barker

Emily is originally from Indianapolis, IN and recently graduated from Indiana University. At IU, Emily had many opportunities to work in classrooms of all grade levels in a variety of schools. Her special education student teaching was completed in a full inclusion elementary school. In addition to student teaching in Indiana, she also spent two months this summer teaching in Ireland. She starts her official teaching career, therefore, having had years of classroom experience through field experiences.

Emily decided to move to Savannah after visiting with her sister and falling in love with the city. Emily enjoys playing and watching sports, sewing, and spending time outside. She has a miniature Dachshund named Oliver and they are very excited for this school year!

Response to Intervention (RtI) Coordinator – Leslie Sheppard

Leslie was born and raised in Savannah, GA, where she received her education in the public school system of Chatham County. During her high school years, Leslie worked at her aunt’s daycare, resulting in her having a passion for educating children. She received her B.A. in Social Science from Ashford University and is currently pursuing her Masters of Social Work from Walden University. Leslie has worked in the SCCPSS for over ten years in the special education department where she helped autistic children transition into the inclusion setting from the self-contained setting. Leslie loves the quote “We believe all children can achieve.”

Whenever possible, Leslie enjoys spending time with her family. She has two boys who love being outdoors. Leslie and her husband, James, enjoy riding the motorcycle, and she also loves reading, traveling and baking.


Stephanie Babcock-Wright, Executive Director

Stephanie is a social scientist and educator who has had careers in both law enforcement and education. She possesses the following degrees: a Bachelor’s of Arts in Political Science and French from Bucknell University, a Master’s of Arts in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin - Madison, a Master’s of Science in Criminal Justice from Suffolk University, a Master’s of Education in Middle Grades Education (with subsequent Early Childhood Education and Gifted Education certifications) from Armstrong State University. Additionally, she was one of a handful of charter-school employees chosen from across the state to participate in the innovative CharterLeader Program - a rigorous, residency-based educational specialist program, through Kennesaw State University, designed to grow charter-school leaders and strengthen the charter-school sector in Georgia. She is also embarking on the pursuit of her Educational Leadership Certification as an inaugural cohort member of a statewide pilot program. Before becoming an educator and teaching middle-grades Mathematics for several years, Stephanie served as Deputy Director of the Office of Research and Evaluation at the Boston Police Department, where she did crime, intelligence and statistical analysis. She is a strong believer in the value of public schooling and the idea that all families should have access to positive educational alternatives for their children.

Stephanie’s association with CEMCS began when she enrolled both of her boys, Sam and Ben, when the school opened back in 2008. She has been here ever since – as a parent, a CEMCO Board Trustee and Officer, then as Director of Operations. She is entering her 4th year as the school’s Executive Director. She has always believed in the power of the mission and concept of the CEMCO Founding Board and remains intensely-committed to the school’s success. As she watches the growth (and graduation/progress) of more and more students here – including her own children – she becomes even more deeply convinced that CEM’s commitment of “doing Montessori right” serves children and families faithfully. Stephanie has also participated in Montessori training for School Directors through both the Montessori Foundation and the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector. In addition, she serves on the statewide School Services Committee of the GA Charter Schools’ Association and increasingly engages in educational reform initiatives across the state. Continuing to drive CEMCO on its path to offering a world-class public Montessori program is her great passion.

Stephanie is a transplanted Yankee who has lived in many areas of the United States, as well as in France. She is a workaholic who also enjoys family time, being a soccer mom, watching sports, reading, continuing to get healthy, and traveling anywhere that’s interesting to explore. Her Montessori-educated children love learning and voraciously take in the world around them, which makes being their mom extremely fun and rewarding. In her never-ending pursuit to grow as a person and become the best educator and guide possible for the school, she is working on enhancing her mindfulness by taking up yoga and meditation this year.

Meredith Shriver, Head of Montessori Curriculum and Instruction - Consultant

Meredith earned her Bachelor's Degree in Early Childhood Education from Georgia Southern University and was trained in Montessori Primary by the renowned Sanford Jones. A Savannah / Richmond Hill native, she loved her kindergarten teacher and always wanted to walk in her footsteps. She taught first grade in a traditional school before moving over to Coastal Empire. She remained here as a primary teacher since the school opened and is starting her third year as the Head of Montessori Curriculum and Instruction. She is currently adding Lower Elementary certification to her credentials through Montessori Live.

Meredith married her best friend and they have a two-year-old daughter named Maryn. Her favorite place is anywhere near the water, especially the beach. She loves photography, music and being outside. She is passionate about Montessori education and plans to share her excitement with as many people as possible. “Our care of the children should be governed not by the desire to ‘make them learn things,’ but by the endeavor always to keep burning within them the light which is called intelligence.” – Maria Montessori

Teresa Middleton, Business Manager

Teresa was born and raised in Columbus, GA. A basketball scholarship after high school afforded her the opportunity to attend Georgia Southwestern University in Americus, GA. There she earned her Bachelor of Science Degree in Mathematics with a minor in Computer Science. Teresa moved to the Tacoma/Seattle area with friends after graduation and made her home there for several years. In 1994, she returned to Columbus, GA, where she met her husband, John, on the Fort Benning golf course; they were married in 1996. Because Teresa holds education in high regard, she pursued and earned a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Troy State University a few years later. In October 2005, the couple was blessed with the best gift ever, the gift of life – Jade, their beautiful baby girl was born and their lives were enriched with the joys of parenthood. Even with so much joy, Teresa’s love of learning called her to a doctoral journey. She is currently in pursuit of her PhD in Educational Psychology from Capella University. She plans to graduate in Fall 2016.

Teresa is a professional leader and logistician with experience in fast-paced environments. She has demonstrated strong organizational, technical, and interpersonal skills. She is a hardworking, dedicated, highly motivated self-starter, committed to superior customer service. She is confident and composed in interpersonal relations at all levels. She is detail-oriented, able to effectively multi-task, resourceful in ensuring successful mission completion, and she is blessed with outstanding results to her credit. Teresa served 28 years in the United States Army Reserves; she retired October 15, 2012. As a citizen soldier, Teresa is also blessed with a successful civilian career in Information Systems.

Teresa and John will celebrate their 20th year anniversary in December 2016. Their daughter, Jade, is a 5th-grade student here at Coastal Empire Montessori. Teresa is honored and rewarded by spending family time with John and Jade.

Jennifer Williams, Student Health & Information Specialist

Jenn was born and raised in Melbourne, FL. After high school graduation, she married her husband, Jeremy, who was in the US Navy. They were stationed in several different states all over the US for the next 15 years. In January 2010, they left the Navy life for beautiful Savannah, GA. Jenn was the Administrative Assistant of the school from August 2011 – June 2013. From 2013 - 2015, Jenn went back to school to further her education; she graduated with a Health Care Assistant Certification with endorsements as both Certified Nursing Assistant and Patient Care Technician from Savannah Technical College.

Jenn has 3 great children, aged 20, 16, and 11. Jenn and her husband have just welcomed their first granddaughter (July 2016) into the family. She enjoys spending her free time with them and their various activities. When she gets time to herself, she enjoys reading, baking, relaxing, and her newest “hobby," raising backyard chickens.

Twilia Melvin, Administrative Assistant

Twilia was born and raised in Ridgeway, SC. After graduating high school, she worked as a paraprofessional at the elementary school where her mother worked. She then joined the US Army in 1998, which is where she met her husband William. They were stationed at Ft. Lee, VA, for a while, which is where she ended her career in the Army; her husband continued his path with the US Air Force and they moved to Savannah. Twilia took a position as an accountant at a car dealership, where she worked for many years and gained much administrative expertise. Twilia's education includes studying Criminal Justice at Midlands Technical College in Columbia, SC, and Central Texas College in VA. Twilia has worked at CEMCS since August 2013 and loves making the Front Office work.

Twilia enjoys spending time with family and is very family-oriented; most of her free time is dedicated to them.

Carlos Hernandez, Accounts Manager

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