our staff

Team Teamwork Togetherness Collaboration

We are small but growing group of professionals who are passionate about the Montessori educational approach.  We are unified by our deep commitment to equity; making sure this developmental model is accessible to all students and families, not just those who can bear the financial weight of a tuition-based program. 

All students deserve the opportunity to have the education that works best for them!

Meet our growing school staff!  Our team will continue to expand over the next few years so check our CAREERS tab frequently.

Our journey began over 4 years ago with a question and grew into surveys and focus groups, and community input sessions.

 

administrative 

Staff photo of PCM's current Head of School

Laylah Sullivan

Head of School

I am a 20-year resident of Pullman, a WSU alum, and an avid Hounds supporter! In 2014 I helped establish a team dedicated to exploring the potential for expanding Pullman's public education options to include a developmental model. I am elated to have the opportunity to continue this work by serving as the School Leadership and Design Fellow and to have earned the privilege of being selected as the school’s leader. I am eager to continue my contribution using my experience in agricultural research, as a secondary science teacher, and as a small business owner/operator, galvanized by my passion for whole-child personalized education. I look forward to serving our community and continuing discussions with Pullman School District to identify collaboration potential to moving us closer to achieving our common goal of meeting the needs of more families.

Staff photo of PCM's current Montessori Coach - Director of Academic Programs

Tami O'Kinsella

Montessori Coach - Director of Academic Programs

I was born and raised in Lynnwood, WA along with my 3 siblings. When I was 19, I left my home state to further my education in Portland, OR. The opportunity launched me into a wider world, both physically and intellectually. While in college, I spent a summer living on a Navajo reservation in Arizona and a summer teaching English in Japan. These opportunities lead me to notice how different cultures approach the nurturing of their children. As a result, I explored the world of education and since employment was always a necessity, I took various jobs working with children. I found the Montessori approach through an employment opportunity. My enthusiasm for this method of supporting children's growth and learning gave me the desire and energy to pursue Montessori Teacher Training, a master’s degree in Education, and a traditional state teaching license. Since then I have been able to teach in diverse economic situations from Princeton, NJ, to the most economically disadvantaged area of Cleveland, OH. For the past 21 years, I raised my son, taught in schools, and served in school administrative roles in the greater Portland area. I am eager to return to Washington to help establish a Montessori charter school for families in Pullman and the surrounding communities. The PCM mission and opportunity both calls to me and my family, who have made Washington our home. I am eager to join and serve the community and support the growth of PCM!

 

Operations

Staff photo of PCMs  current Office Manager and Family & Community Engagement (FACE) Coordinator

Desiree Porter

Office Manager & Family and Community Engagement (FACE) Coordinator

I am a ten-year Pullman resident and am happy to call this town my home. Many of you have seen me over the past seven years at the Department of Licensing conducting drive test examinations and issuing licenses and identification cards. I am currently the website designer and maintainer for both Pullman Community Montessori and The Montessori School of Pullman. I was a participant in the Community Input Sessions and actively help run Pullman Community Montessori’s social media platforms.


After learning about the Montessori Education model and watching my daughter flourish at the Montessori School of Pullman, I decided that I wanted to do everything I could, to help make Montessori a public education option for the children in my community. I love how the Montessori model empowers her to learn by helping her discover her strengths and overcome her weaknesses. She can learn at her own pace and the only thing that can stop her now, is herself. It warms my core to see her so eager to learn that she counts down the hours until her next day of school.


Now that PCM has become a reality, I am excited to be part of an educational program that will empower our PCM LEADERS and encourage a lifelong love of learning so they can accomplish greatness in all that they do.


Fun fact about me: When I am not working or spending time with my family, I enjoy drawing and making the cartoon footprints that you stand on when you take your photo at the Pullman Department of Licensing.

Staff photo of PCM's current School Nurse

Holly Johnson-Rodriguez

School Nurse

I am very excited to join the PCM team. I have seen the benefits of the child-centered Montessori education in my own children and I am thrilled to be a part of expanding that in the Pullman community.


I grew up in Northeast Tennessee where I earned my Bachelors of Science in Nursing before commissioning in the United States Navy. I had the opportunity to live, serve and grow in my nursing career in Maryland, Afghanistan and Hawaii before leaving active duty and settling for a number of years in Texas. A career opportunity has brought my family to the Pacific northwest and we are excited for our new journey in Pullman.


I have over 15 years of nursing experience in a variety of fields including pediatrics, critical care and nursing education. I am certified in both critical care and neuroscience nursing. I earned my Master of Science in Nursing education from Texas Tech in 2018 and am currently pursing my PhD in nursing science at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center San Antonio.


Fun fact about me: I love all things fall and decorating for Halloween.

Staff photo of PCM's current Food Services Manger

Ben Heft

Food Services Manager

I was born and raised in California, and first came to Pullman to attend college at WSU. I realized after college that my passion lay with food, and soon got a job in the restaurant industry. I have cooked all over the West coast, from California to British Columbia, and I eventually settled in Seattle. There I worked in many great restaurants, and with some great restaurateurs. One of the biggest lessons I learned over all my years cooking professionally is that everyone belongs in the kitchen, and that food can help shape our lives for the better in countless ways.


Recently I moved back over to Pullman for my family, and the love of the area. I am thrilled to be joining the team here at Pullman Community Montessori, and am happy to bring my passion for food to the students, faculty and families of PCM.


Fun Fact about me: Before working in the culinary world, I worked at a zoo for many years. My best friends there were a bobcat named Brutus, and a goose named Alexander.

 

Teaching

Staff photo of PCM’s current SPED Guide - Program Manager

Emily Klein

SPED Guide - Program Manager

As a child, I always loved the act of teaching. I loved helping others and seeing them succeed. I felt confident when I could teach them successfully because I struggled in school. 


I’ve always had a special place in my heart for those that learn differently. I have wanted to be a teacher since I was a young girl. I want to make an impact on my students the way my teachers did on me. I believe that an education filled with enthusiasm, movement, and curiosity led by mentors that care is the pathway to success. 


I grew up in the rural town of Gardnerville, Nevada, and loved school. I graduated from Idaho State University in 2013 with a B.A. in Physical Education and received my Master’s in Special Education from the University of Idaho in 2015.


I first became interested in Montessori while I was pregnant with my now 5-year-old son. I lived in Juneau,  Alaska where I was able to witness these environments in person. It immediately resonated with me and what I believe childhood is about; freedom, play, and choice. I strive to build such an atmosphere at home. I am so excited to be a part of the PCM because of what it has to offer children from all walks of life.


I taught elementary special education in Moscow, Idaho for two years after moving back to the lower 48. We recently moved back to the Palouse from Carson City, Nevada where I was a secondary special education and adaptive PE teacher.


I look forward to mornings reading with tea, taking advantage of the bike paths everywhere again, sunsets, and spending many hours outdoors with my family and dogs in this beautiful countryside.

Staff photo of PCM’s current Older Elementary Guide

Cindy LaMonica

Younger Elementary Guide

I am thrilled to be joining the team here at Pullman Community Montessori. My introduction to Montessori began before I had children. The more I learned, the more I discovered that Montessori is a way of life. My daughters have gone through Montessori schools and now my first grandchild is in a public Montessori school in Silverdale.


I grew up in the Chicago area within a large extended family. As a teenager, I began my travels both intercontinentally and internationally.  Within the United States, I have lived in Illinois, Florida, Idaho, Connecticut, Washington and California. Additionally, I have traveled to the Asian continent, and I have lived in Thailand and Burma.


For my educational background, I have a Bachelor of Arts in Integrated Education from Antioch University. Additionally, I have been a certified Montessori guide since 1990. At first, I received my Primary level Montessori certification in 1990. In 2005, I had the opportunity to take the Elementary training and received Elementary I certification. Since that time, I have served in a variety of positions within Montessori Educational communities.


When not in class, I enjoy gardening, sewing, baking and time to be in scenic outdoor spaces.

Staff photo of PCM’s current Classroom Assistant/Interventionalist - (Floater)

John Klein

Instructional Assistant (Floater)

I was raised in Northern Nevada, but my heart is in the Palouse.  This is the third (and final) time we have moved to the Palouse.  I have had amazing opportunities to live in Alaska and Mexico, but my heart truly lies in this area.  Living in the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, and Mexico has given me an appreciation for different areas and cultures and has fostered my love for exploring new places and people. 


The two years I spent in Mexico is where my fascination with education and different styles of education started.  I discovered that at many of the schools in Mexico students started focusing their individual interests during their junior year of high school.  I was fascinated with this idea because it seemed to make so much sense; however, it was very different from my experience in the U.S.  It wasn’t until I started studying career and technical education for my Masters that I was really able to dive into education where this seed that was planted many years prior was able to grow.  That seed grew into a passion for alternative education, non-traditional post-secondary education, and inclusive educational environments for every type of learner. 


I am very excited to be a part of Pullman Community Montessori, and I am looking forward to helping students explore their individual passions in an environment that is designed to put the child first.

Staff photo of PCM’s current PCM's Younger Elementary Guide

Amanda Wilfong

Older Elementary Guide

I am from the Camas Prairie in Northern Idaho where I grew up in a large, close knit family. I found Montessori education after graduating with my degree in Elementary Education and understanding through my experiences that to be effective, education must follow the natural development of children.


I am a true believer in the power of Montessori education as a transformative agent for social change. My first experience with Montessori education was through The Institute for Educational Studies (TIES) at Endicott College in Beverly, MA. There I explored Montessori as an alternative approach to education and completed my M. Ed in Montessori Integrative Studies. I later completed my AMI training at the elementary level.


I am a state certified teacher with over 12 years of experience guiding elementary children in both upper and lower grades. It is my privilege and honor to serve elementary children. I am thrilled to be returning home to the Palouse and to be part of the PCM community.


My interests include health/fitness, travel, and exploring nature. I am always in search of a good book, great conversation, and the perfect cup of coffee.

Staff photo of PCM’s current Classroom Assistant/Interventionalist - (OE)

Kim Wristen

Instructional Assistant (OE)

I am originally from Northern California where I grew up in a close knit multigenerational family.  I am a current student in the Elementary Education program involving teaching certification at Western Governors University. I became interested in Montessori in my Elementary Education program. The surface level information of Montessori teaching had piqued my interest to dive into learning further. 


This interest led me to take on a position as the office assistant at PCM, where I learned more about charter schools and Montessori education.  This experience combined with my excitement for education, provoked my pursuit to become  an instructional assistant at PCM.


I have chosen education as a passion and career path because I hope to bring positive learning and a better outlook on education to kids, particularly to those who might have had struggles with their education. 


Fun fact about me:  I love all things Disney and have a passion for music as well. I am also fluent in Spanish and American Sign Language.

Staff photo of PCM’s current Stand-Alone Kindergarten Guide

Melissa Anderson

Stand-Alone Kindergarten Guide

I grew up in northern California and spent most of my life there before moving to Pullman with my husband and two daughters in 2019. We were in search of wide open space and a slower, more intentional lifestyle, and we found it here in the beautiful Palouse region. While growing up I had a strong desire to work with children after watching my mother positively impact the lives of children and families as an elementary teacher. I had a natural love for young children and a desire to invest in their growth and development. 


This passion led me to pursue my Elementary Teaching Credential with an emphasis in cross-cultural language acquisition development.I was first introduced to Montessori by my sister-in-law who was pursuing a masters degree in Montessori Education. I watched in awe as she worked with my young daughters, and gave them the freedom to engage with materials independently. I was fascinated by my children's ability to concentrate and become fully absorbed in learning for themselves. I quickly realized that the multi-sensory, whole child approach was an extremely effective form of education. I began to study the Montessori method, make my own materials and guide my children at home from the ages of 2-6.


I have over 10 years of elementary teaching experience along with providing literacy and math intervention. I hold my Washington State Residency Teacher Certificate with an endorsement in English Language Learning. I am currently pursuing my Montessori Early Childhood full certification through the Center for Guided Montessori Studies. I am absolutely thrilled to be joining the team at PCM and bringing high quality public Montessori to the Pullman community!


I love shopping with my teen daughters, camping with my husband, cooking, yoga, dark chocolate and strong coffee!

Staff photo of PCM’s current Stand-Alone Kindergarten Guide

Christina Brandt

Stand-Alone Kindergarten Guide

My name is Christina Brandt and I am very excited to join Pullman Community Montessori. I have a passion for teaching and developing young children. I understand the incredible impact that a good teacher can have on the life of a child. I have always wanted to be a teacher because of the positive influences my teachers had on me. PCM aligns well with my personal values and mission.


I attended Iowa State University where I studied education and theatre. I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Performing Arts. I went on to attend the University of Idaho where I received my Master of Fine Arts degree in Directing, specializing in Children’s Theatre.  After graduating I taught drama as well as kindergarten at a private school in Seattle. It was there that I was first introduced to a teaching philosophy based on Montessori principles. I was immediately drawn to this method of teaching and learning. When I found out that I would be moving back to the Palouse for my husbands’ job, I knew that I wanted to teach in a school that emphasized the educational values that were so close to my heart. After moving to Pullman, I had the privilege of working as a lead teacher at a private Montessori school.  I am thrilled to continue my journey by joining PCM as the lead teacher for a kindergarten community! My goal has always been to foster life-long learners that are excited to come to school day after day.


When I am not in the classroom I enjoy drinking coffee, hiking, running, and snuggling my 10-month-old baby girl!  I cannot wait to get started with PCM and meet our PCM students!

Staff photo of PCM’s current Classroom Assistant/Interventionalist - (YE)

Jana Breitsprecher

Instructional Assistant (YE)

The opportunity to work with young children at PCM seemed to come at a perfect time for me. I have spent much of my life caring for and educating children in various capacities. 


Before deciding to become a teacher, I worked as a baby-sitter, nanny, and daycare worker. It made perfect sense for me to choose a career in education. I am passionate about educating the whole child. I believe every child deserves to be educated in an engaging, loving, fun, and respectful environment. 


Though I grew up in a small town on Washington’s coast and spent a couple years in North Carolina, I earned my Bachelor of Education in Burnaby, BC the suburbs of Vancouver. I spent some time as a substitute teacher and a part-time special education assistant in a kindergarten classroom. 


Since moving to Pullman, I have focused on homeschooling my three children. One of my favorite things to do is read. I especially enjoy opportunities to read aloud to children. 


You may have seen me working at Brused Books in downtown Pullman where I had access to amazing books and was able to meet book lovers of all types. 


I am extremely excited to become part of the community in this new capacity!

 

Our Roots

Founders note

While we all support and deeply value our community and the Pullman School District (PSD), we believe additional options for high quality public education in Pullman are necessary to meet the needs of our growing and increasingly diverse community. With that said, we are committed to continue to grow and strengthen our relationship with PSD and share data and opportunities available to us that may benefit all children in our community.

our beginnings

Initially known as The Pullman Charter School Initiative, (PCSI), the founders were a small group of diverse, passionate community members who had experienced, in one way or another, the powerful whole-child educational approach of Montessori. This experience drove the group to investigate what educational needs were specific to our community and how to make expanded options accessible to all families, not just limited to those in the position to pay tuition. 

PCSI Image.jpg
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The group dove into state report card data and engaged a community focus groups to gather preliminary data. Data emphasized the need for a whole-child focused 

developmental model, like Montessori that would help: 

  • close persistent achievement gaps for at risk demographics,

  • increase supports for students who struggle,

  • increase rigor for those students considered to be advanced,

  • offer more opportunities for project-based and service learning,

  • offer more student voice and choice, and

  • provide intense focus on social-emotional learning and life skills development throughout a students education. 

The group found that application for charter as the most equitable option for accessibility.  This led the team to engage in 2 rounds of application to the Washington State Charter Schools Association School Leadership and Design Fellowship program. The Fellowship provided financial support and guidance for selected teams in designing a high-quality community responsive school.

After a rigorous vetting process, PCSI was accepted into the 2018-19 fellowship program.  Laylah Sullivan, a fellow founder, local business owner, and Pullman High School science teacher, was identified for the Fellow role.  Ms. Sullivan led the writing of the 795 page charter application (a detailed legal operating contract for the school) and led the team in the 9-month application process. 

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Application & Approval

Following submission of PCM's application in February 2020, the PCM founding team engaged in:

  • an intensive Capacity Interview with a council assembled by the Commission, which involved a performance task and 3 hours of intense questioning.

  • a Commission-hosted Public Forum to offer another opportunity for community input and for commission staff and Commissioners to ask questions.

  • a final question session by Commissioners at the resolution meeting on June 25, 2020.

 

On June 25, 2020 Commissioners gave their full support and unanimous approval for the opening Pullman Community Montessori. The schools charters was negotiated and formally accepted on Septembers 8, 2020.

PCM is now in its planning year which consists of numerous deadlines and deliverables including securing a facility, finetuning the design, hiring and training staff, growing the board and committees, and overall logistics. 

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The formal application writing process took place between July 2019 to February 2020.  During the application writing process the Fellow and founding board received monthly professional development and application writing support.  Community forums were run in the fall to solicit community input on the design, informing the services we provide, the school councils we will maintain, our mission, and our core values.  A number of survey opportunities were provided, for example at the 2019 Lentil Festival, for interested community members to engage in selection of the school name, logo.  Prompted by a request from our founding board, a Washington State Charters School Commission staff member hosted a Charter Starter - Community Conversation to inform our community about Washington's unique charter sector.  The application underwent multiple internal reviews by our team and Washington State Charter Schools Association staff, was reviewed by key partners, a national review agency and a contracted application specialist, and underwent 2 rounds of copy editor review before submission.