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Elementary Staff

Head of the Elementary School: Virginia Luff

Elementary Campus Manager: Jote Khalsa

K-1 Cardinals

K-1 Doves

K-1 Swifts

Early Elementary Kingfishers  (Grades 2-3)

Early Elementary Meadowlarks (Grades 2-3)

Early Elementary Owls (Grades 2-3)

Upper Elementary Phoenixes (Grades 4-5)

Upper Elementary Thunderbirds (Grades 4-5)

Elementary Support & Specials Staff

Facilities & Shuttle


Virginia Luff, Head of the Elementary School

virginia-1 v.luff@headwaters.org

I began working as an assistant in a Montessori preschool, just out of college with a B.A. in Anthropology. I fell in love with the environment, the philosophy, and the children, and knew that I had found my calling. The following year I began Oklahoma City University’s AMS Montessori training program for Lower Elementary, then completed a Masters of Education. In 2002, I began working at a public Montessori school in Oregon, started a new classroom, and remained there for 6 years. Because of my husband’s job, we relocated to Texas and I fortunately discovered Headwaters.

In 2010, I began working at Headwaters, which was then Primavera, and I am ecstatic to have found my educational home. The sense of community is amazing, and I relish the mutual respect between parents, teachers, and the administration. Each of my co-workers inspires me to continue to learn, to think creatively, and to live a healthy lifestyle. When not working, I spend much of my time playing music with friends, reading, cooking, hiking, and sharing fantastic conversation and garden-grown food with my husband and daughter.

Jote Khalsa, Elementary Campus Manager


I have been a part of the Headwaters community for many years, first as a parent and then as a staff member. I am the Campus Manager for the Elementary campus, overseeing everyday operations for our 150+ Elementary students. Outside of my work at Headwaters, I most enjoy being behind the lens as a photographer.

Jennifer Giroux, Cardinal Guide

JenniferG cardinals@headwaters.org

I obtained my Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and Music from Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. After graduation, I stumbled upon a job teaching at a church preschool in Houston. I hadn’t worked there long before I was completely hooked. Those little minds grabbed and kept my attention in a way that was far more profound than anything I had ever studied in school. After two years in Houston, I moved to Germany for a year; then returned to the U.S. to pursue a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education. I obtained my M.A.Ed. from Washington University in St. Louis in 1995. Since that time, I’ve taught pre-k, kindergarten, and 1st grade in both public and private schools.

I discovered Headwaters in 2010 while exploring school options for my then four-year-old son. As a veteran teacher, I had high standards for the school setting I wanted for my child. Headwaters had it all! I was struck by the beautiful classroom environments, the school’s emphasis on peace education, and the incredibly dedicated and knowledgeable teaching staff. Within minutes of walking through the doors, I knew that I had found the ideal school for my son, as well as for myself. In 2012, I received my Montessori training from the Houston Montessori Center (AMS). I am thrilled and honored to be a part of this incredible community where I get to teach K-1 with the amazing Jennifer Phillips.

Jen Phillips, Cardinal Guide

JenP cardinals@headwaters.org

I am a lifelong learner and eager student of the gifts of childhood and human potential. I was fortunate, in my late teens, to find a path into the marvelous world of Montessori Education and have spent my entire adult life in grateful service to hundreds of amazing and unique young children and their families. My biggest passion in working with children is to be an advocate and facilitator in the growth of the WHOLE child; helping to weave mind, body and spirit together in each child’s quest for self-actualization. I immensely love exploration, expression and connection through the arts and sciences, the pursuit of knowledge and sharing in the wonders of this amazing and beautiful world.

I have two Montessori teaching credentials, received from the American Montessori Society (AMS) in 1994 and the Association Montessori International (AMI) in 2000. And this year, I celebrate my 28th year of Montessori Education in Austin! I am a founding member and “proud mama” of Primavera Montessori School, and have led in the development of the Primary program from its inception. I currently guide within the K-1 program and feel completely blessed to continue my Montessori journey into the Elementary years and the Cosmic Curriculum.

Beautiful from the beginning, our school’s mission has perpetually manifested itself into being, threading together a vital group of Visionaries—educators, parents, and children—committed to a peaceful, empowered, and interdependent village. It has been pure joy to behold our school’s unfolding over the past decade, and to welcome and collaborate with all those who were drawn to come, to share in our vision, and to bring their passionate and amazing talents with them! Each of us is continually surrounded by wonder, inspiration, and unwavering support. Headwaters School is truly an optimal learning environment for us all, cradle to college… and beyond! I look forward to the expansive growth we will continue to create together in Headwaters’s bright and innovative future.

Katherine Hopkins-Pauciello, Doves Guide


I am honored to be a part of the Headwaters Elementary teaching team. My dependents came to Texas in 1843, settling in San Antonio, where I grew up. I graduated from Texas State University with  a degree in Elementary Education and a minor in Biology. My Montessori journey began unexpectedly. I discovered the Montessori method when I decided to send my son to a Montessori school. I was asked to teach at the school and I followed this new path, becoming a Montessori teacher.

I am passionate about the Montessori method. Dr. Montessori sought to discover the secrets of childhood and the miracle of creation. “If survival depended solely on the triumph of the strong, then the species would perish. So the real reason for survival, the principal factor in the struggle for existence, is the love of adults for their young.” Our genes and DNA do not make a human being–our destiny is to construct our own personalities through a lifetime of learning and experiences. Dr. Montessori was the first to discover that the brain has sensitive periods for learning. Doctors and educators are continuing to build on this discovery.

At Headwaters School, we seek to understand our students–the whole child–providing an environment for the children’s personalities to self construct. My mission as a teacher is to prepare the environment; letting the children acquire physical independence by being self sufficient and become independent learners, using freedom and their own power of choice.

I love to witness children discovering their abilities in a peaceful environment, developing a joy for learning. I look forward to each exciting year of teaching.

Yvonne Solorio, Doves Guide

yvonne solorio-3-2 doves@headwaters.org

I first came upon Montessori in 1991 while employed as an assistant in a primary classroom. I was moved by the amount of respect and level of independence apparent in the children. The practices and philosophies immediately struck a chord with me. I knew right away I wanted to be a part of this method of education as a pathway to peace.

In August of 2000 I received my AMI Primary Certification. I have been working in Montessori classrooms now for the past 26 years and continue to be inspired and motivated by the unique potential within every child. It is an honor to collaborate with others in the shaping of mankind through the support of human development. Preparing environments to provide the means for the education and independence of the young child is a creative aspect I enjoy puzzling through.

For years I was an admirer of Primavera Montessori and would occasionally stop by to say hello to old friends and enquire about the school. It’s energizing to now be a part of this honest, open minded and vibrant culture. I look forward to broadening and texturing my experience with education as the school continues to grow and take shape.

In my free time I relish the simple pleasures of life: taking long quiet walks, spending time with my family, cooking, gardening, discovering new tastes and smells, reading and travel.

Chris Larson, Swifts Guide

headwaters-guides-15-2016-1-2 swifts@headwaters.org

My experience in Montessori goes all the way back to when I was first born. My mother, aunt, and uncle are all life long Montessorians, so I was indoctrinated into the philosophy from a young age. I attended Montessori school until the 6th grade and my experience and the memories I made with my Montessori community is what inspired me to become a Montessori Guide myself. I have been working in Montessori communities for over 12 years and have enjoyed my journey every step of the way. I am honored to now be a part of the Headwaters School and to share my passion for Montessori education with this amazing community!

Leslie McDaniel, Swifts Guide


As an experienced and passionate educator, I am excited about my fifth year at Headwaters School and working with Chris in the Swifts classroom.

I hold a Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology – Sports Administration with a minor in Psychology and graduated with honors from the University of Houston. I have taken all the classes necessary for the alternative teaching certification in early childhood education, and I have passed the early childhood state exam. However, I feel that the Montessori teachings are a more appropriate direction for me.

I have more than ten years of experience working with a wide range of youth, from newborn babies to young adults. Positions I have held include nanny, swim lesson instructor, Red Cross certified lifeguard instructor, and most recently, I worked at a local children’s shelter with at-risk youth 0-21 years of age. While there, I helped tutor clients, facilitated age appropriate group activities, coordinated house schedules, and maintained a safe and nurturing environment for everyone. My greatest assets are my patience and experience working with children!

Allison Connors, Kingfishers Guide


I attended Undercroft Montessori School in Tulsa, Oklahoma, from age two through eighth grade. I will always treasure the memories I made at that peaceful, little red schoolhouse. Those days defined my childhood, encouraged my curiosity, enhanced my love of all people and cultures, and made me who I am today.

I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Development at Brigham Young University, and continued my education at the Montessori Elementary Teacher Training Collaborative, where I earned my AMS Elementary I-II (6-12) credential. Prior to joining the Headwaters team as a substitute in the spring, I taught Lower Elementary in Del Mar, California, and in Lexington, Massachusetts.

I am bilingual, and have taught both English and Spanish. I have also taught free piano lessons to underprivileged children. I enjoy reading, hiking, going to concerts, playing the piano, and spending time with my husband, Michael.

I am grateful to be part of this wonderful Headwaters community. My desire is to help children discover their own love of learning and to guide them to become confident, successful contributors to society and responsible stewards of their part of the world. In Maria Montessori’s own words, “What really makes a teacher is love for the human child; for it is love that transforms the social duty of the educator into the higher consciousness of a mission.” This is my mission, and I love it.

Karen Mansfield, Kingfishers Guide


Karen has more than 22 years of Montessori teaching experience. Most recently she taught lower elementary at School of the Hills here in Austin. Prior to that she taught at the Montessori Academy of Chicago and Brickton Montessori in Chicago. At School of the Hills, Karen co-taught with Headwaters K-1 Swifts guide Chris Larson. Read Karen’s teaching philosophy statement here.


Rendi Nutt, Owls Guide


I have been teaching at Headwaters since 2007. My first two years, I was a Primary assistant, and since then I have been a Guide in the Early Elementary classroom. Before teaching at Headwaters, I studied Cultural Anthropology and Peace Studies at the University of North Texas. My focus was on Tibetan refugees living in India, and I was fortunate enough to spend a summer in the Himalayas studying the ways they obtain their culture through education, language, and religion. Before moving to Austin I taught high school for a year in the Marshall Islands. I obtained my Early Elementary AMS certification from the Houston Montessori Center. I love to dance, perform, travel, and soak up all of my sweet baby’s smells, sounds, and love.

In my first two years at Headwaters, I learned more about the philosophy of Montessori. I was inspired by the unique and compassionate way the guides at Headwaters care for all of the precious children. The importance Headwaters places on a child’s emotional and social development coupled with a strong academic focus resonated with me, and I decided to go deeper in my personal education of the Montessori method. Throughout my experience at this school, I have grown as a person. My relationships with my partner, family, friends, and co-workers have strengthened. The teachers, children, and parents in this community amaze me daily. I look forward to my family growing with this incredible community.

Dawn Roe, Owls Guide


In December of 2015, following a five month Sabbatical in Australia, I relocated to Austin from the SF Bay area to be closer to my wonderful family. As I went about my search for an Austin teaching position, what spoke to my heart in a profound way was the joyful, connected spirit among the staff and students at this school. This aligned so perfectly with my personal mission in teaching and life which is to do all that I can to create joy, confidence, connection, compassion, contribution, and creativity. I am so happy to be a part of this community!

Beginning in 1990, I have been a lead or co-lead teacher of Lower Elementary classrooms at five Montessori Schools in Illinois and California, teaching grades 1-3 in all of them. I simply love the boundless creativity of this age! Most recently I was one of the founding teachers at Golden Oak Montessori Public Charter School in Castro Valley, CA. Back In 1994, I obtained both my AMS Montessori Certification for Lower Elementary from The Midwest Montessori Training Center in Chicago, Illinois and my Bachelor of Science Degree in Education from UW-Madison, Wisconsin. While at UW-Madison, my education also included in-depth studies in Theatre Performance and Fine Arts. I pursued acting professionally for several years prior to discovering my love of teaching. I have been blessed to have been able to share this passion for theatre arts with my students over the past 20+ years in my role of Montessori Teacher. Each year, in addition to our rich academic curriculum, my classroom has created a play, integrating what we have been studying in the Cultural Areas with literature, art, music, writing, math, drama, song, and dance.

In addition to my passion for integrating the arts, I am very interested in peace education, emotional intelligence, and the many new findings in neuroplasticity. I recently certified to become an Ageless Grace facilitator and am working to get several classes up in running. I have enjoyed using NVC (non-violent communication), HeartSmarts, mindfulness, and other peacemaking activities, practices, and projects in my classroom. I  have discovered a genuine passion in me for synthesis and combining a variety of elements that make for joyful learning and deeper connection.

Deborah Way-Salinas, Meadowlarks Guide


I consider myself one of the luckiest people in the world for having the opportunity to co-create this incredible elementary program, and at the same time raise my daughter in this community’s loving arms since she was in kindergarten. I began working in the Montessori community as Gail Allen’s assistant teacher back in 1988.  I completed my AMS teacher training courses for 3-to-6-year-old children at Oklahoma City University, and taught for eight years at The Montessori Center. After that I worked at St. James Episcopal School as founding director and teacher. In 1998 I took the AMS teacher-training courses for 6-to-9-year-old children at the Houston Montessori Center, and taught Early Elementary at Parkside Community School for two years until I became a mother. For the next three years I created a Montessori program in my home for my daughter and her peers. In the spring of 2005, I reunited with beloved colleagues at Primavera to teach Primary, and a year and a half later launched the Elementary program.

I studied Cultural Anthropology at the University of Texas. Some of my hobbies include hiking, journaling, cooking, music, and many types of dancing. Every day I am inspired by the children, my colleagues, and the amazing community of parents at our school.

Crystal White, Meadowlarks Guide


It is with much joy and gratitude that I return to this beautiful community. My time away abroad has made me really appreciate the uniqueness that this place brings. I began my journey in education eight years ago as a Special Ed/Art instructor at Bastrop High School.  Since, then I’ve found myself going in-depth to develop my educational philosophy and practice; which brought me to the Montessori method.  I believe that every child deserves to be seen and understood. It is my job as a guide to equip them with the tools necessary to navigate their own pursuit of knowledge and develop and foster their innate love of learning.

I have a great passion in discovering how each individual absorbs and reacts to their environment, and I’m in the process of studying such behaviors. Yoga and mindfulness are another aspect I work hard to embrace and bring into the classroom.  Outside of work I love taking my dog, Jericho, on hikes and submerging myself in the nearest watering hole. I love to be outside and have found nature to be essential to my well-being. I look forward to getting to know you all, and I thank you for allowing me to work with your children.

Sunni Zuniga, Phoenixes Guide


Sunni has been teaching in Montessori classrooms for five years, and received her Montessori certification from the Houston Montessori Center in 2013. Most recently she was an Upper Elementary Lead Guide at Kingwood Montessori School, and prior to that was at Garden Oaks Montessori Magnet in Houston and Mariposa Montessori School here in Austin. Sunni’s daughters (Erin and Rory) were Primary students at our school several years ago, and we look forward to welcoming the Zunigas back to our community this year! Read Sunni’s Teaching Philosophy statement here.

Keely Bargnesi, Phoenixes Guide


I graduated from University of Colorado at Boulder with a degree in Anthropology and Latin American studies. I have always had wanderlust, but that experience solidified it. I have been involved in education in a variety of capacities for the past 15 years. Prior to having our children, my husband Paul (Academic Dean/IB coordinator on River Campus) and I lived overseas in Brazil, Austria, and Tanzania. In each of these locals, I would substitute teach for various international schools and privately tutor Upper Elementary/Middle school-aged kids in all subjects, many of whom spoke English as a third or fourth language.

I have two kids attending Headwaters, Cord (Swift) and Cleo (Bluebird). For the past two years, I have had the extreme delight of substitute teaching, primarily on the Springs Campus, but also on Creek. I loved subbing, in that each day was interesting and different depending on the kids, the classroom, the guides, and the moon!

Aside from my passion for education and children, I am also a wildlife biologist specializing in raptor medicine and ecology. I was the medical director for the Avian Conservation Center in Charleston, SC for three amazing years. I have also spent significant time in the field studying the effects of habitat fragmentation on Harpy eagle populations in Central and South America, and Bearded vultures in Europe. Anything wildlife-related is right up my alley!

As much as I loved subbing in the community, I am thrilled to have the opportunity dive deep this year with the Phoenixes. I am filled with gratitude to be a small part of this amazing community. The uniqueness and “village” feel are not lost on me.


Jennifer Skiffington, Thunderbirds Guide

jennifer skiffington thunderbirds@headwaters.org

I love Headwaters School because it embodies the Montessori principles of peace through education and communication, along with meeting the needs of each individual child through the concept of “following the child.” I am continually inspired by the passionate work of my colleagues and the eagerness of the children to learn. As a teacher in the Upper Elementary, I strive to inspire the children with surprising and engaging lessons that tap into their insatiable curiosity for new knowledge. In order to explore their world and their relationships with each other, I aim to create a nurturing, caring classroom community, in which the students can feel comfortable to be themselves and discover their own success.

I became inspired to pursue teaching as a career after working for a year in Chambery, France as an English teacher to elementary-aged children. Upon my return home to Tucson, AZ, I discovered the Montessori philosophy of education and was a Montessori middle school teacher for several years at Khalsa Montessori School in Tucson, AZ. I joined Headwaters School after moving to Austin in 2011, working first as a substitute teacher, then as a support guide on the Springs campus. Since 2013, I have taught Upper Elementary as a lead guide.

I have a Bachelors of Arts degree in English and French from the University of Arizona and a Masters of Education  (with a specialization in Montessori) from Xavier University. I hold an Elementary I/II Certificate (ages 6-12) from  Montessori Education Teacher Training Collaborative (METTC) in Lexington, MA. I also hold a Secondary I/II Certificate (ages 12-18) from Cincinnati Montessori Secondary Teacher Education Program (CMSTEP) in Cincinnati, OH.

I spent my elementary school years in Milford, NH before moving to Tucson, AZ, which I now consider my hometown. I’ve also lived in Chennai, India; Guadalajara, Mexico; and Chambery, France. I enjoy traveling and experiencing the diversity of foreign cultures. My other hobbies include scuba diving, yoga, bicycling, sewing, cooking, and dancing.

Eduardo “Lalo” Martinez, Thunderbirds Guide

headwaters guides 14 2016-1 thunderbirds@headwaters.org

I am a proud father of two children who have been in Montessori since they began their education outside of our home. I fell in love with the method when my wife and I realized that our parenting style was naturally aligned with it. Nine years of being a “Montessori Dad” along with being married to a Montessori Guide, I realized that I too wanted to be in the Montessori classroom. I am currently working toward my Early and Upper Elementary Certification at the Center For Guided Montessori Studies (CGMS) based at the New Gate International Montessori IB School in Sarasota, Florida. The course is a two-and-a-half year program founded by some of the most respected and forward thinking Montessori educators in the country.

When I joined Headwaters, I began supporting the specials programs on our elementary campuses. This included roles as P.E. assistant, Art Co-Guide, Garden Co-Guide, Creativity Club Guide, and a private support guide for elementary children. I have been certified as one of our Low Ropes Challenge Course Facilitators, and look forward to using this unique course as an extension of our classrooms. With our Low Ropes Challenge Course in the Bird’s Nest at the Brodie Campus, we are taking team building to a new level for our students and staff.

In the U.S. and internationally, I have studied environmental design, performing arts, healing arts, studio arts, industrial arts, and Capoeira Angola.  I am a licensed massage therapist (LMT).  I enjoy kites, boarding sports, swimming, being a disk jockey, up-cycling functional art, health, wellness, sustainable living, organic gardening, reading, and spending quality time with my family.

The Headwaters School community inspires me, and I am thankful that my family is part of it.

Beth Berman, Music Teacher


My teaching adventures began over 25 years ago in New York State, where I received a Bachelor of Music (Music Education) with a concentration in voice and piano. Throughout my early years of teaching, I pursued a Master’s Degree in Elementary Education (math concentration) as well as the highest level of Orff Certification for music teachers. A colleague and I published See Kids Listen: 10 Lessons to Activate Minds. Our techniques for active music listening led us to facilitate workshops throughout New York State and at national Orff conferences during the 90s and early 2000s until she retired and I moved to Texas.

As someone who enjoys variety, I have taught K-12 Music, Choir, 2nd/3rd grade Math, middle and high school Yoga, and 9th grade Health in previous public and private schools. In the music classroom, I am an “Orff Specialist.” The teaching philosophies created by Carl Orff and Maria Montessori are beautifully compatible. In an Orff classroom, children sing, play instruments, and experience movement/dance in nearly every class. Through imitation, then exploration, our class “orchestra” moves towards musical experiences that may be deeply felt and even transformative. While the music room is an environment of play, multisensory learning and high engagement can be readily observed. It is with great joy and anticipation that I embark on musical journeys with our precious Headwaters children.

Outside of school, my husband and I are fortunate to have our college daughters in Austin and San Antonio in the UT system, one studying Anthropology, and the other studying Biology. At home, I enjoy being at the piano, arranging or playing music with my husband and friends. I also enjoy travel, cooking, yoga, biking, reading, and exploring Austin with friends and family.

Lucille Berrones, Gardening Teacher


Aside from the endless benefits of garden-grown food, there’s nothing better than gardening with children! I’ve been a home gardener for more than 20 years, and have pursued volunteer service, courses and professional development  in botany, native plants, wildlife habitats, urban farming, permaculture, and others. However, the real learning happens in the garden.

My love for Maria Montessori started more than 25 years ago. I was inspired and guided by Gail Allen, (Headwaters’s Montessori Consultant), who was Director of The Montessori Center. I started assisting Lead Guides under Gail’s supervision, then at other Austin Montessori schools. I joined Headwaters (previously Primavera Montessori) in 2005 as a parent (our daughter is a student on the River campus), and in 2007 as a staff member.

My vision to teach in a school garden began to grow while gardening at home with our daughter Luna. I remember her eyes lighting up when we planted tiny carrot seeds, pulled out the colorful roots, and enjoyed their sweet juicy taste! And I remain as delighted as ever to see students be amazed at the miracle of seeds becoming plants,  then food, in a matter of months, and having fun every step of the way!

If just one child tries kale for the first time and exclaims, “This tastes great!”, or realizes that gardening starts with the soil’s health under our feet, or that a garden must give back to our native habitat rather than take from it, then I’ve done my job.  Thank you for giving me that opportunity with your child.

Karen Blais, Academic Learning Specialist

karen blais-1-2 k.blais@headwaters.org

Supporting, teaching and loving children is my passion and life work. I graduated from the University of Houston with a B.A. in psychology and speech pathology. I began working in Houston in a small private school for children with social and emotional challenges, and decided to make education my career. I moved to Austin to attend the University of Texas where I received a Masters Degree in Special Education. I have been so lucky to work in classrooms in Austin for 15 years as a special education teacher, elementary classroom teacher, inclusion specialist, gifted and talented specialist, and mentor teacher. My most recent educational accomplishment was completing a two year training course with the Dyslexia Center of Austin. I am now a Certified Academic Language Therapist (CALT) and a Licensed Dyslexia Therapist (LDT).

Through all of my time in different public and private school environments, I have been searching for the compassionate, loving, and peaceful space that is Headwaters School. I am deeply impressed with the administration and teachers’ commitment to educating the whole child and their passionate dedication to supporting struggling learners. This marks myfourth year working with students on our elementary campus and supporting the teachers, administrators, and parents on all three campuses.

Caleb Davis, Elementary Support & Creativity Club

caleb davis-1-2 c.davis@headwaters.org

I began working with elementary school children in a private school setting in 2008 and immediately fell in love with the natural learning process. One of the most gratifying things for me personally is seeing the expression on a child’s face when they have a “eureka!” moment after working to understand something that they previously had no knowledge of.

In 2011 I helped in starting Progress School Austin, which is focused on K-3rd grade learning in natural environments.  There I facilitated emotional and educational growth through imaginary play, team play, and exploration.

I was introduced to Montessori education in 2013, working at Hawthorne Montessori.  There, I was a guide in an 18 month – 3 year old classroom, which required a certain level of patience I was unaware existed in human beings. It was also where I latched onto the “follow the child” philosophy of Montessori education, to which I find myself constantly reaffirming.

Being able to see a child fully, and to help facilitate a child’s navigation through murky waters (emotional, social, and educational) is the richest payback of all.

Jennie Glass, Physical Education (PE) and Outdoor Leadership

jennie glass-5 j.glass@headwaters.org

I cherished the time I spent in a Montessori school as a child, and I always wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. I spent many years babysitting and working with children in various settings. After graduating from the University of Colorado at Boulder with a degree in Journalism and a minor in French, I found a job in advertising, but I missed being around children, and the variety, joy and excitement that they bring, so I found my way back to Montessori.

I received my 3-to-6-year-old AMS certification from Houston Montessori Center in 2002, and have been teaching in a Montessori setting for 12 years. I joined the Headwaters family in 2011, and after teaching K-1 for four years, I am excited to return to the outdoors and lead P.E. and our new Elementary Outdoor Leadership program!  I played various sports growing up (and volleyball for 12 years!), as well as spent numerous summers as a camper and counselor in Colorado, and I’m excited to return to these passions.  My other passions include peace education, permaculture, homesteading, cultural studies and geography, music, and caring for animals (especially my three chickens!). Professionally, I am currently driven by the Coyote Mentoring method and Guide to Connecting with Nature, and am excited to intern at Earth Native Wilderness School this year, as well as lead the Headwaters chapter of Austin Families in Nature.

My son, my joy, came into my life in 2009, and has taught me more than I ever could have imagined. I am so grateful for this wonderful community in which my son and I can grow and learn, and I wouldn’t wish to be anywhere else!

Erica Hudgeons, Creativity Club Support


My first introduction to Headwaters was in the YCC program, when my eldest son Shale was in the Hummingbirds class.  I was warmed by the grace and love emanating from the school and all involved. In September 2016, I began substituting at the school, and was able to see the dedication and generosity of the programs at all levels. The individual care given to each child in every classroom and specials class is a joy to observe. I’ve loved watching the children learn with an enthusiasm and vibrance that I didn’t know was possible before coming to Headwaters.  I’m honored to be able to be a part of the school on a day-to-day basis.

My bachelor’s degree is in Theater, and I will always love acting, but throughout my life I’ve continuously found myself drawn back to working with children.  I discovered a lot of joy during high school and college doing acting camps and directing school plays, and my two summers working with bereaved children at a summer camp in Montana remain some of my dearest memories. Years later, I worked as a nanny and eventually stayed home with my own two wonderful boys, which solidified my love of spending time with children and learning from them every single day.

Amanda Johnson, Elementary Support & Creativity Club Director


This will be my fifth year as Director of Creativity Club, and I cannot wait to get back into the world of Headwaters. I ventured here after working at Dougherty Arts Center for four years as a Creativity Club teacher. Prior to that, I had worked at Child’s Day Preschool and Dallas Children’s Theatre. I have always had a passion for theatre, and as I graduated college I realized that my greatest passion was to teach drama, specifically to elementary children. The world of art is a place where children can let their imaginations soar, without boundaries or limitations. It’s also a place where we, as teachers, can explore almost limitless possibilities. This is what draws me to teach theatre, especially at an elementary level, where children are often deprived of the arts (specifically theatre). Headwaters is a place where inspiration, originality and creativity are not just taught, they are practiced daily. That, combined with the love and support of the staff, have made my time here so far incredibly warm and inviting. I hope to continue nurturing the students’ creativity through art, drama, and even video production throughout the coming years.

When I’m not working at Headwaters, I am often involved in a theatre troupe I co-founded with my best friend, called “The Dramazons.” We perform original plays around Austin (wherever we can afford to rent space)! This allows me the freedom to continue acting, which is a great passion of mine. I also enjoy reading, hiking, amateur songwriting, and playing with my animals: my dog, Tazzy and six cats: Juno, Bear, Bandit, Cleo, Mitch, and Stevie Nicks!

Erin Sheppard, Spanish Teacher

erin sheppard-1-2 e.sheppard@headwaters.org

The ways of Maria Montessori have been a natural path of living and guiding. I incorporated Montessori for years without having a name to it. As a nanny, I guided children as their independence unfolded; as a public school teacher, I let students work on their own, experiment, discover, and take ownership of their learning and journeys. As a parent, my children use their hands as they shape their own futures. All of these relationships have been based on respecting each other and the world around us with peace as a way of life.  Imagine my joy to discover the Montessori philosophy that encompassed my own philosophy and practices!

My professional Montessori experience includes serving as lead guide of the Nido environment, after-care guide for Young Children’s Community, and Spanish camp guide (all at Mariposa Montessori) as well as an in-home infant/toddler Montessori child-care.  I also have experience teaching bilingual education in both an orphanage and a bilingual private school in Mexico, cross-curricular English as a Second Language, Spanish, Math (including for Spanish speakers), and private project-based classes. I have also developed curriculum for Austin homeschool families as well as tutored professionally. My teacher certifications include Bilingual Education (Early Childhood – 6th grade),  ESL (Early Childhood – 12th grade), Generalist (Early Childhood – 6th grade), Generalist (grades 4-8), Math (grades 4-8).

Though I love to travel the world, Austin is my family’s home. We love to play outside with friends (and our dog, Pixie), exploring for secret streams, sparkly crystals, and enchanted corners of the city. I also enjoy learning languages, live music, and curling up with a good book.

Brannon Via, Art Teacher

photo (20) b.via@headwaters.org

I believe in the “it takes a village” approach to raising our young people. I have experienced first-hand the importance of working effectively as part of a team. After college, I worked as an Americorps member, with a team of diverse individuals. Together, we ran an educational program for elementary school students with a focus on service work and making a difference in the community. The experience inspired me to start my own after-school art program, and since, I’ve continued to teach art to a diverse population of children in a variety of settings.

When the opportunity to work in the Elementary Art program with the incredibly talented Jane Hill arose, I jumped to the occasion. I knew, given my interests, abilities, and experiences, that this role would allow me to more fully serve the Headwaters community.

I am excited to see what the year brings alongside people who share my passion for helping children grow and learn–as I myself look to grow and learn!

In my free time I enjoy working on creative projects, swimming, gardening, experimenting in the kitchen, and going on long walks with my sweet dog, Bean. My latest hobby: I will be spending most weekends this fall fixing up the home my beau Eric and I just bought in East Austin.

Marc Gaston, Campus Maintenance and Shuttle Driver

 More about Marc coming soon!

Ken Russell, Shuttle Driver

More about Ken coming soon!