Faculty & Staff

IMS classrooms are taught by a dedicated team of Lead Teachers and Assistant Teachers. Our Lead Teachers are Montessori Certified, or are in their training process, either through the American Montessori Society (AMS) or Association Montessori Internationale (AMI). Their Montessori experiences provide the secure foundation on which the school’s curriculum is based.

Nido | Nido Room


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Donna Wheeler

Donna is the Lead Teacher in the Nido classroom.  She grew up locally and graduated from Cayuga Community College with an Early Childhood Education Degree.  She managed her own home daycare when her four children were young.  She taught preschool at IMS and completed her Montessori training at North American Montessori.  She transitioned to infant care at Cornell Childcare Center where she worked with infants for 6 years before deciding to return to IMS to work in the Nido program.

Toddler | Hickory Room


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Yoko Roy

Yoko is the lead teacher in the Hickory Room and the Toddler Level Coordinator on the Leadership Team. Yoko began her journey at Ithaca Montessori School in 2004! Yoko was born and raised in Tokyo, Japan.  There she studied journalism at Bunka Gakuin college and was an editor of a women’s magazine for fifteen years.  Yoko moved to the U.S. in 1999 and started at IMS as an Assistant Teacher in the Primary Program.  After one year, she found her passion working with Toddlers and is now a lead teacher in our Toddler Program.  She received her certification from the Montessori Infant/Toddler training at the Princeton Center for Montessori Teacher Education in 2008.  She lives in Trumansburg with her two daughters, Naomi and Emma.


Felisa Whalley

Felisa is originally from San Diego, Californa. She recently moved to New York with her husband and two children after spending over eight years living and teaching in South Korea. Felisa graduated from Saint Mary’s College of California with a BA in Performing Arts. She majored in theatre which lends itself well to the classroom. After graduation, she pursued a Professional Educator’s Certificate. Recently, she completed a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education. She is excited to be a new member of the Ithaca Montessori community. When she is not at school, Felisa enjoys reading, baking, and exploring the area with her family. 


Toddler | Oak Room


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Destiny Pfeffer

Destiny is the Lead Teacher of the Oak Room.  She worked at IMS in the Hickory Room in 2017 as an assistant teacher.  Destiny is passionate about Montessori and is planning to attend Montessori training at Princeton Center for Teacher Education in the summer of 2019.  Prior to IMS, she was a toddler teacher at Turtle River Montessori in Jupiter, Florida. She received her Child Development Associate (CDA) Credential in 2004 and has worked with children on and off for 15 years.  She has training in the Conscious Discipline method by Becky Bailey which covers Social-Emotional Learning and Classroom Management. She attended the pre-med program at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) then transferred to a State School in Tennessee as a pre-pharmacy student.  She is committed to nurturing, supporting and guiding your child each and every day and to making your child’s Montessori experience productive, stimulating and fun.


Macie Brasselmann

Macie began her journey at Ithaca Montessori School in 2014. Prior to joining IMS, Macie spent 11 years working with children in a variety of settings as a play therapist, one to one child aide, caseworker, and independent living skills teacher for children in foster care.  She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Ithaca College and completed her senior seminar in Montessori Philosophy and Education.

Courtney Price

Courtney is an assistant teacher in the Oak Room. She grew up in the Finger Lakes, born and raised in Watkins Glen NY. She and her husband Cory have one daughter Hayden who is 4 years old and full of life. She received her Child development associate (CDA) credential in 2012 and has worked with children for the last 7 years. Prior to coming to IMS she was a toddler teacher at My Place daycare in Montour Falls NY, and she was also the preschool teacher there as well. When not at IMS you can most likely find Courtney going on adventures with her family around the Finger Lakes region.

Toddler | Willow Room


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Heather Peluseo

Heather is the lead teacher in the Willow Room. Heather, a native of Buffalo NY, came to Ithaca after graduating from SUNY Cortland with a B.A. in History.  Shortly after coming to Ithaca, Heather realized her passion for child care, and has been caring for children in centers, home based care and preschool for 15 years.  Heather received her Child Development Associate (CDA) Credential in 2006 and is currently seeking her Montessori Certification in Infant and Toddler.  She lives on West Hill with her husband, two daughters, Sydnie and Reese, and a goofy Golden Retriever.

Juliet Halloran

Juliet is a teacher in the Willow Room. Juliet is starting her third year at IMS and her third year in the Willow Room. She has many years of experience working with young children and loves working with toddlers. She holds a B.A. in Environmental Studies and loves to incorporate her love of nature into her teaching. Juliet’s son attends IMS and she loves being a part of this wonderful community, as both a parent and a teacher. When she is not at IMS, Juliet loves to explore all the natural beauty this area has to offer. Her favorite outdoor activity is hiking the many wonderful trails throughout the area with her family. She also enjoys reading, learning about plant and herbal medicine, swimming, and traveling.

Tara Conklin

Tara will be the Assistant Teacher for the Willow Room. I hold my BS in Community Health from Lock Haven University. I have several years of experience working with young children in the home and community.  I recently relocated from State College Pennsylvania to the Ithaca New York area with my husband, Adam. I am a huge animal lover, we have three cats, Ninja, Samurai and Bowie. In my free time I enjoy hiking with my husband, painting, visiting with family, and spending time at Cayuga Lake.

Primary & Kindergarten | Elm Room


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Sharlene Cornelius

Sharlene​ is a classroom teacher in the Elm room. Many families might recognize Sharlene from different areas in our school. This past school year she assisted in the afterschool program, and in different classrooms around our school. Sharlene comes to us from Binghamton, NY where she began her journey in early childhood education in 2015. She had the opportunity to work with children of various ages and backgrounds. She has also observed several different teaching styles. The knowledge and information Sharlene has obtained from IMS has excited her desire to learn more about the Montessori philosophy which will enhance her teaching skills within our school. Often times Sharlene can be found exploring the natural wonders of Upstate NY with her family and friends. She also enjoys learning new skills and creative hobbies that allow for artistic expression.

Primary & Kindergarten | Walnut Room


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Angelina Rothstein

Angelina will be the lead teacher in the Walnut Room. She received her AMI Certification for 3-6 in 2017. She began her journey at Ithaca Montessori School in 2013. She holds her A.A.S in Early Childhood and a New York State Teaching Assistant certificate. She has been a part of two Montessori schools in the Albany area, Bought Montessori and Woodland Hill Montessori. She worked at a childcare center in Vestal, NY with 3 year olds as well as before and after school. Angelina enjoys theater and camping in her spare time, she also led a Sunday School class before moving to the area..

Joseph Seidel

Joseph is a teacher in the Walnut room.  After graduating from SUNY Broome with a degree in Early Childhood Education he transferred to SUNY Binghamton where he studied Human Development.  Joseph has been a Lead teacher of a pre-school room for the past four years at a childcare center in Vestal, NY.  He has recently relocated to Brooktondale, NY and is excited to be a part of the Ithaca Montessori team. In his free time Joseph loves to be outdoors with his family and is consistently engaging in organized recreational sports. 

Houriah (Mana) Rezaeizadeh

Mana came to the U.S with an extraordinary ability visa to explore the world and see the different aspects of life. She is a writer and Journalist. Her books have been published in France and Iran. She is fluent in Persian, Azeri, and Arabic. She has spent the past two decades working as a journalist, as well as a been researching equality for kids and education. She attended Training Futures intensive program in Virginia to start her journey as a teacher. Her passions are Iranian culture, economics, and art, while working at expanding peace and happiness for kids all around the world. She spends her time with her family, reading, meditation, cooking and traveling all around U.S and the world. She has been to more than 10 countries and 30 of the U.S. states, either by herself or with her fiancé Alan and his two daughters.


Kathryn Barnett

Kathryn is the assistant teacher in the Walnut room, and is the lead teacher for the primary Afterschool program. Kathryn is going to school at Ashford University where she will receive her BA in Early Childhood Administration. She has been in the childcare filed for more than ten years. This will also be her second year here working in the primary program at IMS. A little about Kathryn, is that she was born and raised in Washington D.C. then moved to upstate NY in 2016. Kathryn and her partner has a handsome 8 year old Son together name Jayden. Kathryn is full of joy, happiness and has a big passion for teaching children.


Primary & Kindergarten | Pine Room


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Heather Frost

Heather is beginning the sixth year of her journey at IMS as the lead teacher of the Pine Room and the Outdoor Science Lab Instructor. Heather is in the process of completing her AMI certification for the Primary level as well as working on her Masters of Education with a Montessori Concentration. After graduating from Wells College with a Psychology Degree, Heather started working for SpringBrook. She participated in their self-determination program and focused on creating home-based programs for children with special needs. In Ithaca, Heather volunteers with the Master Composters offering compost education in the community and Healthy Food for All, a local organization providing food security programs. In her free time, you will almost always find Heather engaged in an outdoor activity. She especially loves hiking and learning the names of all the wildflowers and fungi that she encounters. Heather is honored to work with young children and eager to share her passion for the Montessori Method with the IMS community.

Laura St. John

Laura is a teacher in the Pine Room. Laura grew up in the Washington D.C. area and moved to Ithaca to attend Ithaca College where she received her bachelor’s degree in sociology. During her time as a student, Laura fell in love with Ithaca and could not imagine her life anywhere else. After working as a manager at Purity Ice Cream for a few years, she taught children with autism at the Franziska Racker Centers. With a newfound devotion for early childhood, Laura began looking around at other schools and found Ithaca Montessori School. She could not be happier to be a part of the community here! When she is not here at IMS, you can find Laura at the Sciencenter or at one of the state parks in the area with her two children.

Katalina Purcell

Katalina is a passionate teacher dedicated to helping children learn fundamental developmental skills in a supportive nurturing environment. She is new to New York, and she has over a year of experience teaching a range of ages in schools in both Texas and England. Working with children is her biggest passion and she is very happy to be starting her journey as a part of the Montessori family as an Assistant Teacher in the Primary and After School Program. She is dedicated to the social and emotional development of each child and it is her goal to make sure that each child receives the best care and love that they all deserve.

Danielle Denardis

Danielle is a new teacher in the Pine room, and she is very excited to start her journey at IMS! She grew up in Red Hook New York, and has experience in childcare and lifeguarding for over 4 years. She was a double-major in psychology and studio art, and received her bachelor’s degree at SUNY Oneonta. In the future, she plans to achieve her master’s in social work, and become a cognitive behavioral therapist for children. When she’s not in the classroom, you can find Danielle painting in the studio, skiing or snowboarding on the slopes, hiking in the mountains, or playing soccer on the pitch.

Primary & Kindergarten | Music

Linda Chen

Linda is a music teacher. She began her journey at Ithaca Montessori in 2009. Linda holds her M.A. and Ed.M in Music and Music Education from Columbia University. Her passion involves teaching singing, and making music to children of all ages. Linda is a registered Music Together teacher, and is also Orff Level I and II certified. She received her Kodaly Level I Teacher Certification at NYU and Dalcroze training in NYC. Linda lives in Ithaca and enjoys baking and outdoor activities.

Administrative Team

Khaliha Fenner

Education Director

Khaliha is the Education Director. She first came to IMS for a college internship, and found the principles of Montessori education in line with her own teaching philosophy. She graduated from Keuka College with her Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood & Special Education. Khaliha attended the Princeton Center for Montessori Teacher Education for Primary level certification in 2014. She has spent the last 10 years as part of the teaching team with the Primary Program before moving to the role of administration in July of 2019. Khaliha lives in Lansing with her husband, Curtis and her baby boy, Kohen! In her spare time, she enjoys reading, crocheting, playing softball and entertaining her two dogs, Diesel and Oakley!

Walaa Maharem-Horan

Operations Director

is the Operations Director. Walaa has a degree in Psychology, with a concentration in special education, from McMaster’s University. She is the founding director of Ithaca Welcomes Refugees, a non-profit here in Ithaca. She is an board member of the Ithaca Public Education Initiative, and a translator (Arabic) for the Ithaca City School district. Walaa has extensive experience as an operational manager, including budget and fundraising experience, for several small-to-medium size companies in Ithaca. Walaa is passionate about IMS and the work to help Ithaca Montessori School grow.

Marion Pardoe

Office Manager

Marion is a native of Postdam, NY who graduated from SUNY Morrisville with a BA in Sociology in 2009. She has recently joined IMS, having spent many years as a hospitality professional. Marion has volunteered for 6 years with Clean the World Foundation, an organization dedicated to providing soap and educating on hygiene world wide. Marion is passionate about the outdoors, music and her puppy. During her free time, you can find her hiking, biking or watching cooking shows with her daughters.

Mlanie Aseri

Administrative Assistant

Melanie is our Administrative Assistant who will be working to help make the start of school seamless. You will see her at the front desk and around school. Melanie holds a BA in Mathematics from New Jersey City University.   She has over 10 years of administrative experience and spent one and a half years as an English Language Supervisor, where she taught English to children in Saudi Arabia.  Melanie is very passionate about childhood development and education.  In her spare time, Melanie loves cooking and spending time with her three children.

Substitute Teachers

Nathan Rothstein


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