Faculty and Staff

Office Staff

Lynda Dawson

Head of School

“I taught with Becki in the Children’s House 2 classroom from 2016 to 2019 before moving into the role of Associate Director for the 2019-2020 school year. I’ve been part of the Heartwood Family since my daughter Claire started in Children’s House as a 3-year old and second daughter Ella followed soon after in Toddler House. I am pursuing my Montessori Administrator Credential through the Center for Montessori Education in New York which I’ll complete in July of 2020. I find Montessori philosophy inspiring, effective and in perfect alignment with the way I and my husband Jamie approach education, parenting and life. My passion outside of school is music–I’m a bluegrass and Americana musician and songwriter and have a number of original albums to my credit, including a children’s CD, “Seeds To Sow.” I love bringing music into the school too and can often be heard playing my guitar with classrooms at group or singing with children down the hallway.”

Mary McKinney

Business Manager

“I first met Sue Daniel in third grade in Dayton, Ohio. We met Thelma Williams when we all worked together for another Montessori school in the area. Together, we started Heartwood in 1991, with Thelma as a lower elementary teacher and Sue as the preschool teacher. I assisted Sue in the morning and went into the office after lunch. Time passed and Heartwood grew. Happily, we found this place on Byrum to call home. I work with fantastic people. I have a daughter, Kelsey, a husband, Zeke, and two dogs to round out the McKinney family.”

Ginny McCollum

Office Manager

“After my own Montessori experience as a child, my husband and I knew we wanted a Montessori education for our son. We discovered Heartwood in 2013 and instantly fell in love with everything about it, from its down-to-earth vibe to the kindness of its community. Before joining the staff, I volunteered for five years in varying capacities at the school, including as room parent and editor of the yearbook. When I ’m not working or doing family things, you can probably find me gardening, reading, or planning some kind of trip.”

Toddler House

Kristal Wright

Lead Teacher

“I started at Heartwood in 1999, working in the 3-6 environment, and moved to the Toddler House in 2011. I am now Montessori certified as an infant/toddler teacher. I love coming to work everyday —I ’ve found my true passion, and I enjoy observing and just being a part of the toddler environment. They teach me the true meaning of life at times. I am married to my best friend / soulmate for life; we have a beautiful daughter (who went through Heartwood) and a grandson whom I adore. Canning is a big hobby of mine. I enjoy the outdoors, especially motorcycling with my husband, going to the beach, and kayaking. I love doing something that gives back.”

Children ’s House

Liz Flynn

Lead Teacher, CH1

Jody Trainor

Assistant Teacher, CH1
Co-Teacher, Kindergarten

“I earned my Masters in Montessori Education and AMI 3-6 certification in 2007, and joined Heartwood in 2014, shortly after moving to North Carolina from Maryland. I love spending time with my family, reading, hiking, camping, and being in nature. I was drawn to Montessori because it is a compassionate and logical approach to education, allowing the teachers to see each child as an individual and celebrate their uniqueness. I love Montessori because it just makes sense!”

Becki Peterson, CH Team Leader

Lead Teacher, CH2

“My daughter was one of the first students at Heartwood, and both she and my son “graduated” from 6th grade here (which was as far as the school went at the time). I’ve been teaching at Heartwood since the school’s beginning. I love the beauty, independence and self-directed work in a Montessori classroom and that children can be who they want to be. My husband Randy and I live in Cary— I have three children, two grandchildren and one grandbaby on the way. My two daughters live close by, but my son Colin is working with the Peace Corps in Madagascar. When I’m not in the classroom, I love to be outside or go for walks… and on a really good day, I’m at the beach.”

Kathryn Wood

Assistant Teacher, CH2

“My background is in Early Childhood Education and Recreational Therapy, both of which I studied at UNC. I’ve been a Montessori teacher for 25 years and taught art in public school for two years before that. I decided to pursue Montessori as a career when I was pregnant and on bed rest with my twins, and absolutely fell in love with it while touring classrooms in Europe during my certification courses. My kids and I started Montessori together — they as 3-year-olds, I as a teacher — and I practiced on them. Now that my children are grown, I can really see the impact that their early Montessori education had on them. I stalked Sue for a long time before a position opened up at Heartwood in 2012. I’ve been happily married forever, and I love animals! Elephants are my favorite, but at home, we have a guinea pig, a rabbit, two cats, two dogs, and two donkeys!”

Tanya Dillard

Lead Teacher, CH3
Co-Teacher, Kindergarten

“I am a native to Raleigh, NC. I graduated from NC State University in 1993 with a BA in Business Management. After working in sales for many years, I decided to follow my dream and become a teacher. In 2011, I received my Montessori certification, and I came to Heartwood in 2012. I live in Holly Springs with my husband, Kevin, and my two sons, Austin and Grayson. My daughter, Kaitlin, is at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. All three of my children attended Montessori schools, with my youngest at Heartwood through 5th grade. Last but not least, I have a wonderful senior golden retriever named Daisy. My favorite place is the beach where I enjoy the peacefulness and relaxation it offers while reading all types of genres. My family and I enjoy spending time together watching sports – football, soccer, and hockey.”

Tracy Cubbison

Assistant Teacher, CH3

“I have a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Clemson University (Go Tigers!) and have worked in many different educational settings. I worked as a behavioral therapist for children with autism and taught 4th grade in a traditional classroom. While living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I became involved in the field of parent education. I worked as a teacher at a parent participation nursery school and facilitated parenting workshops, focusing on topics like positive discipline, development, and understanding temperament. I started teaching at Heartwood in 2017 and I recently completed an Early Childhood Overview Course, where I learned about Montessori philosophy and curriculum. When I am not in the classroom, I enjoy spending time with my husband (Jesse) and two boys (Cole and Seth), hiking and camping, or curling up with a good book. And if you chat with me long enough, I will probably tell you of our adventures of living in Amman, Jordan, and our dreams about our next travel destination.”

Cecile Kohlhofer

CH Assistant
“I’m originally from France, but left in 1995 after achieving my fine art diploma to go to England, pursuing an MA in computer animation. I taught there for almost four years, then moved to California before coming to North Carolina and discovering Heartwood in 2017. I taught French here for two years before joining the Children’s House team. I like the creativity and independence Montessori gives to children. When I’m not teaching, I love to learn…how to play guitar, how to throw ceramics on a wheel, how to speak German and Japanese, how to quilt…”

Devika Kathresal

CH Floating Teacher

“I have a masters degree in Physics from back in India. I was exposed to Montessori when my older daughter went to preschool till kindergarten in a Montessori setting. I simply was amazed how she learned all the math, science, language and other areas with great ease and interest. I fell in love with the Montessori concept and wanted to pursue my interest in that direction. So I am here now. We moved to Cary NC with my husband and 2 daughters in the year 2009; I joined the Heartwood family in 2010 and received my Montessori certification in early childhood 3-6 in 2011. My next passion is singing — I have been learning Indian classical music for the last 10 years. My other passion is painting; during my free time I love to paint whenever I can. My other hobbies are cooking and yoga.”

Elementary School

Bridget Dickerson, LE Team Leader

Lead Teacher, Lower Elementary 1

“I taught at Heartwood for 5.5 years before leaving in 2016 to teach in Kunming, China, and I ’m excited to be back in the classroom. I studied Speech Science Communication and Disorders at the University of Texas in Austin and worked in a Speech-Language Pathology Center in Austin, TX until my twins were born. I earned my American Montessori Society (AMS) certification in Lower Elementary Education while homeschooling my children; recently, I finished my AMS certification in Upper Elementary Education, as well. I love spending time with my family, running outdoors and being with people who make my heart sing.”

Rebecca Porter

Assistant, LE1

“I’m originally from Utah, where I had my own midwifery practice, but I missed having sleep, so decided to transition to a profession where I could still make a difference without having to be on call all the time. Montessori was a natural fit since following our human intuition is huge for me. I moved to North Carolina in 2017 so I could be around greenery and also be closer to the ocean. I’m the eighth out of ten kids, I became an aunt at six years old, and I have more than 35 nieces and nephews. I love cooking, and I have a wonderful senior cat and a border collie-hound mix.”

Ryan Shands

Lead Teacher, Lower Elementary 2

“Prior to my graduation from North Carolina Central University I began an internship at SAS Institute in Cary, NC which was offered as a Montessori program for the children of employees. Upon graduation I was offered a full time position with SAS where I received my American Montessori Society credentials in Early Childhood education. In addition to managing a classroom and adhering to all of the administrative reporting requirements, I maintain my professional development by participating in conferences and workshops.”

Lindsey Williams

Assistant Teacher, Lower Elementary 2

“I am a native of Cary, NC, and a studied Social Work at UNCW. After graduation, I accepted a position with Americorps and moved to Phoenix, AZ, where I provided therapeutic, art therapy, crisis, and educational services to children and families. Providing therapeutic services to children led me into the field of Education. I attended Northern Arizona University and obtained a Master Degree in Elementary Education while working as a Montessori Assistant in UE. I fell in love with Montessori then. I love the approach being child-led, and embracing the uniqueness of each child. To me, it is truly the foundation of childhood. I’ve worked in traditional (ESL), and Montessori (Preschool, and UE). Montessori holds my heart. I took some time off from teaching, traveled, had my son, and found my way back to Cary and Montessori! I love being in nature, gardening, traveling, thrifting, painting, music, art, yoga, writing, reading, and spending time with my son, Kai.”

Mary McKown

Lead Teacher, Upper Elementary

“I ’ve been an unshakable fan of Montessori education for over 40 years, as a mother, a teacher, and a school director. I have degrees from West Virginia University and UNC-Greensboro, and completed my Montessori certification through AMI in Washington, DC, and NCME in San Diego, CA.”

Tammy Smith

Assistant Teacher, UE

“I was born and raised in Massachusetts, and spent twelve years as a radio frequency engineer before coming to Montessori. I worked at Heartwood for five years in the Lower Elementary class before leaving in 2011 to homeschool my own children, then returned in 2015 to Upper Elementary. My children were in Montessori until 6th grade — I love the “follow the child” philosophy and finding the individuality of each kid in my classroom. In my free time, I volunteer as an assistant high school girls volleyball coach. Pickleball is my obsession, and I love reading, photography, traveling, and outdoor activities like hiking and kayaking.”

Jay Batman

Lead Teacher, Upper Elementary 2

“I’ve been teaching for eight years and am certified in both Lower and Upper Elementary by the American Montessori Society. I have taught in both public and private Montessori schools. I have a BA in Psychology from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville and a Masters of Fine Arts degree from the Art Institute of Chicago. I spent years in the restaurant business, including owning an Italian restaurant in Chicago. I love to travel, and have lived in Ecuador and Germany. I enjoy reading and bicycle riding. And yes, that is my real last name.”

Middle and High School

Ray McClure, Upper School Director

Lead Teacher,
Middle & High School

“My wife Missy, who is also a Montessorian, introduced me to the Montessori Philosophy sixteen years ago. I observed her classroom one day and was immediately hooked. I began my journey in a Children’s House (3-6 year old) classroom as an assistant and graduated to the elementary program as an assistant. I received my Elementary I and II certifications and began working in an Upper Elementary classroom, where I continued for several years. I then transitioned to my current position, Middle and High School mathematics and science teacher in a private Montessori School. Also, since 2010, I have been an instructor with two different training programs (The Center for Guided Montessori Studies and the Center for Montessori Teacher Education of North Carolina) in the United States, sharing my love of the Montessori Method. I was lucky enough to study mathematical physics through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and love to share my passion of math and physics with everyone. I’ve been married to my wonderful wife for 20 years now and we have a 17-year-old son. In my spare time, when I can find some, I enjoy reading (particularly history and science), and spending time with my family.”

Rebecca Bloom

Lead Teacher, Middle School

“I graduated from Appalachian State University with a degree in Middle Grades Education. After teaching 7th grade math for 3 years I decided that I wanted to return to my roots and join the Heartwood Montessori community. In August 2017 I got married in Blowing Rock, NC. Now, my husband and I live in Raleigh with our two sweet cats, Asher and Athena. My hobbies include reading, cross stitching, and being outside in my hammock.”

Ashley Blevins

Humanities Teacher, High School

“I graduated from Appalachian State University with a degree in elementary education but once I started student teaching, I realized just how much I love the older grades as well! I am a huge animal lover and have 2 cats, a ball python, and a betta fish at home. I do a lot of crafting in my free time: painting, drawing, jewelry-making and cross-stitching are my favorites.”

Foreign Language

Isabel Moncayo

Spanish, Toddlers –Elementary

“I was born in Ecuador and moved to the US in 2002, earning my citizenship in 2014. I absolutely love being here — I AM a North Carolinian! I have three children and two wonderful grandchildren who are the apple of my eye. I got my Children’s Education degree in Ecuador and finished my Montessori certification in 2016. I came to Heartwood in 2006 (I can’t believe it’s been that long ago!). My passion is to cook, and I love to share that with the children.”

Emily Wade

Spanish, Middle & High School

“¡Hola! I feel so afortunada to be here at Heartwood! Originally from the hermoso state of Utah, my husband and I moved to North Carolina in 2009. A friend introduced me to Heartwood and I began this marvelous aventura in the otoño of 2017. My love affair with the Spanish language began in Maracaibo, Venezuela hace 20 años. After living there for eighteen months, I was hooked. I loved the cultura, the comida, but especially, the gente. My path to teaching Spanish comenzó in Nashville, TN, where I taught at a Spanish immersion elementary school. My husband and I lead a study abroad to España every two years alongside our dos hijas, Asha and Lottie.”


Beth Ponder

Physical Education

“I earned my BS in Psychology from the University of North Florida in 2008. I have two very active sons, Finn and Miles, who inspire my love of fitness. I’ve taught boxing, Crossfit, and several athletic boot camps. It is my hope that I can bring a fun, dynamic, and engaging Physical Education program to the students of Heartwood. I’ve loved Montessori education ever since my eldest son started at the age of 3, and I’m thrilled that both my boys have the opportunity to further their Montessori journey at Heartwood.”

Vanessa Hanley

Elementary and Upper School Art

“I have taken an unusual route to get where I am today. I grew up in the UK, surrounded by creative and crafty relatives who had non-creative occupations. I have always been drawn to paper, pens & paint. I was as much nurtured by my Mum & Dad as the ever-changing art and craft supplies! I decided at 14 years old (little did I know) to leave behind Art, Ceramics, Graphics and focus solely on more academic subjects, graduating University with a B.Sc (Hons) in Psychology and English Literary Studies. I’ve had many disparate jobs but the one constant has been working alongside children…babies to teens! It was not until I turned 38 that I had my epiphany: I am an Artist! My first job in the States was leading an art program for Pine Tree Camps in Florida, where I met my American husband and left my fledgling psychology career behind. I have three children who have all benefited by their early exposure to Montessori instruction. When I toured Heartwood in 2014, I felt like I had found my home, my people! I volunteered in 2018 at Heartwood and I thoroughly enjoyed working with the students and staff.”

Courtney Taylor

Children’s House Art

“Before I became an art teacher at Heartwood, I was a Montessori student myself. After graduating from University of North Texas with a BFA in Art Education, I realized how much I gravitated toward the Montessori approach of “following the child.” Art blends beautifully with the Montessori Method, as it is so engaging and interactive. Working with the students in Children’s House is something that brings me so much joy! My art lessons center around exploring the different mediums, examining the Elements of Art, sharing a history of art through storytelling, and starting a dialogue about how “everyone is an artist.” I am passionate about supporting the artistic spirit of each child, by inspiring confidence and encouraging creativity!”

Planning for the 2021-22 School Year

Heartwood is not operating this school year due to COVID-19

Heartwood will reopen in a new location and will have a slight name change. The new name will be Heartwood Village Montessori. This is a group of teachers, former director, and dedicated families who wish to form a non-profit entity for HVM.

If you would like more information or are interested in joining the Heartwood community, please email heartwoodvillage@gmail.com