Ben Wright

Middle School/High School Teacher

Ben started teaching at Montessori Academy in the Fall of 2015. He began his Montessori journey at age three and graduated from Montessori Academy’s high school program in 2006. After graduation, he then attended MTSU graduating with a B.A. in Business Administration in 2011. He is currently completing his Montessori Secondary Credential at CMSTEP in Cincinnati, Ohio. Mr. Wright realized at a young age he enjoyed working with children and began coaching AAU Basketball in 2008. He lives in Nashville with his son Jayden. When he is not coaching one of his son’s sports, he enjoys playing sports of his own or listening to a variety of music. 

Maral Missirian-Dill

Room 1 Primary Teacher

Maral graduated with a B.A. in International Studies from The American University in Washington, D.C. She also has a post-graduate teaching certification from the Memphis Montessori Institute in Early Childhood Development with an emphasis on early reading and language skills.  Maral taught at Montessori Academy from 1995-2001 and re-joined MA in 2016.

She has a genuine passion for teaching young children and through the years has enjoyed being a volunteer as a mentor at Cockrill Elementary School, as well as Harvest Hands – a Christian non-profit organization in South Nashville.  She also taught as a full-time interim teacher at The Oak Hill School.  In addition, she has recently enjoyed private tutoring.

Chelsie Adams

Toddler 1 Teacher

Chelsie was born and raised in Franklin, Tennessee. She began as a Primary After Care teacher in 2013 while she was pursuing her Bachelor's degree in psychology. Until her graduation from Trevecca Nazarene University this past May, she has continued to work in the After Care program in addition to the summer camp program. She fell in love with the Montessori philosophy, and jumped at the opportunity to co-teach in the toddler department. She has worked with children since the age of fifteen, and is passionate about fostering educational growth in every developmental stage a child experiences. She is thrilled to expand her experience and knowledge of Montessori philosophy. ​

Herman E. Jackson, Ed.D.

Upper Elementary/Middle School/High School Teacher

Herman holds Bachelor’s, Master's, and a doctoral degree from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in areas of chemistry, biology, and mathematics and mathematics education. He has been teaching at Montessori Academy since 2002 in the area of mathematics and science.  Prior to working at Montessori Academy, he worked as an Associated Research Development Engineer at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Manager at AT&T, and Instructor of Mathematics at Knoxville College and the University of Tennessee. He has been an Assistant Professor of Mathematics & Adjunct Professor of Mathematics at Walters State Community College, Trevecca Nazarene University, and Nashville State Community College.  His extensive background in math and science includes consulting work, guest lecturer, VIP Host, serving on a Board of Directors and many other accomplishments and presentations. Dr. Jackson currently teaches science and math in the Upper Elementary/Middle School. Students become very inspired to progress under his leadership and facilitation.

Brittany Cowan

Toddler 5 Teacher

Brittany is an Ohio native who followed her heart to beautiful Tennessee ten years ago.  She attended Motlow State with a background in hospitality and business.  She spent years as a corporate trainer traveling across the United States.  She is a proud mother of a precious little boy which is where the Montessori journey began for her.  Realizing her passion was working with children, she excitedly joined the MA team and is looking forward to becoming a certified Montessorian.  She is very excited to pour love, respect, strength and positivity into our Toddler community.  In her free time she sings and plays the acoustic guitar, enjoys outdoor adventures, and volunteers for local homeless shelters and the foster care program.  

Mark Woodward

Music Director

Mark holds a Bachelor of Music from Belmont University where he studied piano and voice with a music technology emphasis. He has worked as a touring keyboardist and studio musician and producer. He began teaching Music and Drama at MA in 2010. He offers private lessons and leads the Running Club, Montessori Singers, and Songwriting and Recording Club. He has written and directed two full-length musicals – The Animals’ Christmas in 2014, and Maria Montessori: The Musical in 2018.

Mark lives in Brentwood with his wife Faith and their five children, Shannon, Amelia, George, John Mark, and Abraham. Mark enjoys sports, gardening, reading, and spending time with his family. 

Photo Coming Soon!

Gaylene Latham

Room 2 Primary Teacher

Gaylene grew up in Nebraska roaming the aisles of the local Public Library where her Grandmother worked as a librarian.  A love of all things literature and education was inspired in her from a young age.  She moved to Nashville, TN from Boston, MA where she earned a BA in Humanities/Literature and Elementary Education at Wheelock College.  

Gaylene has worked as Nursery Director and Administrative Assistant at St. Bartholomew’s for the past eight years and spent the last 6 years homeschooling her 2 boys, Adam (11) and Austen (9).  Through her homeschool-parent journey, she was introduced to the Montessori Method and was immediately captivated by the emphasis on individuality, exploration, and wonder.  She enrolled her children in a Montessori homeschool tutorial and began to see the amazing benefits that a Montessori education has to offer. In Sept 2017 Gaylene began her Primary Montessori Certification studies with Age of Montessori.

Kay Mattingly, MA

Art Director

Kay has been teaching art in some form for the last 32 years. At the University of Kentucky, she received a Bachelor's of Art. in K-12 Art Education. She moved to Los Angeles, California and continued her education at Loyola Marymount University receiving her Master's of Art degree in Clinical Art Therapy, Marriage, Family, and Child Counseling. For the next five years she counseled severely emotionally disturbed children and their families. It was during this time that she developed the fundamental belief that the art process lends itself naturally to therapeutic catharsis and cognitive development.​

In 1994, Kay moved to Nashville and enrolled her children at Montessori Academy. She was asked to join the staff as a science teacher in Primary Room 3. She received Montessori training and taught science part-time for three years. When the position of art teacher opened, Kay moved into what she considered the "perfect" position. She has been teaching art at MA since 2004. In addition to two fabulous art shows each year that highlights work of MA students, Kay builds and designs sets for drama and musical productions at MA.

Larisa Bradford

Toddler 2 Teacher

Larisa’s Montessori journey began right here on the MA campus 28 years ago as a student. She had an amazing experience that left a lasting impression. When it was time to consider a school for her own toddler, there was no other option. Larisa wanted her daughter where she developed a love for lifelong learning. Watching her daughter, Kate, grow and thrive as an independent and self-confident young student, ignited a new passion in her for Montessori philosophy.

Larisa started her professional career as a social worker in the health care industry after earning her degree from Middle Tennessee State University. But after 14 years she felt a tug on her heart to shift focus. She started working as a substitute in the fall of 2016 and felt that she had found her place with the Toddler age group. When an opportunity was presented to work in the classroom it felt like a natural transition.

Larisa loves watching toddlers discover the world around them and the joy the new discoveries bring. She feels truly lucky to be able to experience that joy and excitement every day with her students! 

Janene Becker

Toddler 1 Teacher

Janene is a native Texan from the Dallas area. Coming from a musical family, she decided to study music at Texas Wesleyan. However, she ended up in Child Development  where her first love of children has been her continued education.

After her sons were grown she came to MA in 2012 as a Toddler teacher and completed her AMS certification in 2014. One of her favorite quotes from Maria Montessori is, "Little children, from the moment they are weaned, are making their way toward independence".​​​

Deborah McKethan

Toddler 2 Teacher

Deborah grew up in Monterey, TN until her family moved to Staten Island, NY her Sophomore year of high school.  After high school she attended the University of Houston where she earned her BS in Hotel and Restaurant Management in May of 2007. 

After working in hotels for a few years she realized that she was not making herself happy by doing that and a classmate from UH introduced her to the world of Montessori.  She began as a substitute in 2009 at Montessori Country Day School in Houston, TX and shortly after that went to Houston Montessori Center where she earned her AMS Montessori 3-6 credential.  In December of 2016, she moved to Nashville with her husband and now 4 year old son and in January of 2017 she began subbing at Montessori Academy.  This summer she attended training at Montessori Training Center of Brentwood to become a credentialed AMS Infant/Toddler guide. 

In her "free-time" she enjoys spending time with her family outdoors, crafting, and reading books that do not have pictures.  She looks forward to working here at Montessori Academy and getting to know the children and their families.


Allison Smith, MAT

Room 4 Primary Teacher

Allison was born and raised in the Midwest and moved to Nashville after college. She earned her Bachelor's degree from Western Michigan University and completed her 3-6 Montessori training at Belmont University. She holds a PreK-3rd grade teaching license and earned her Master’s from Belmont in 2012. Allison has worked at a few Montessori schools in Nashville and is thrilled to return to MA. She enjoys watching children discover the world around them and is passionate about creating an environment that encourages them to learn. Allison has a two year old son who attends MA and she enjoys reading, watching sports and spending time with family.  

Photo Coming Soon!

Enrichment & Specialty Staff

Liz Bradley

Room 1 Primary Teacher

Liz began her Montessori education journey at Montessori Academy in March of 2016.  She recently completed her Montessori Training in Early Childhood (Primary level) at MA's Montessori Training Center of Brentwood. After earning her Bachelor's degree in Family and Consumer Sciences with a concentration in Dietetics from Eastern Illinois University, Liz moved to Nashville in May of 2015 with a strong desire to learn more about the Montessori philosophy and system of education. She has witnessed the undoubtedly positive impact a Montessori education can have on a child's life through her two young cousins that have grown up in a Montessori environment. Along with her passion for working with children, Liz also enjoys traveling, hiking, healthy eating, 

Toddler Program

Photo Coming Soon!

Jon Rosenthal, MM

Band Director

Jon was born and raised in the Chicago area, began his musical training in 1976 with piano lessons, and has gone on to become an accomplished pianist, vocalist, songwriter, drummer/percussionist, composer/arranger, conductor, and educator. He earned his Bachelor of Science in Music Education degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and his Master of Music in Band Conducting from the University of Kansas. Jon has always enjoyed working with kids and has been a professional educator for more than 20 years. Although classically trained, he is a "rock 'n' roll guy" at heart and released his first CD in 2013 and is working on his next one. Jon performs regularly as a keyboardist/vocalist as a solo artist, with his own original band, and also with a locally-renowned 80s & 90s cover band. He also has his own private lesson studio.

Jon lives in Antioch with his wife and two daughters. When not teaching, performing or writing, Jon enjoys date nights with his wife, taking his family on out-of-town trips, watching movies, and, of course, rooting for the Chicago Cubs.​

Stephanie Hull

Room 3 Primary Teacher

Stephanie was born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina.  After graduating from Belmont Abbey College with a business degree, she wanted something more fulfilling in life and discovered Montessori education. She said, “I love that Montessori is child-centered rather than teacher-driven.   Children are allowed to develop at their own pace, and they are encouraged to discover who they are.”  

Stephanie lives in Spring Hill with her husband of seven years, two wonderful children, and two dogs.    Her family loves to hike and visit national parks.  Their goal is to get an RV and travel the country together.

Fun fact: Stephanie played college volleyball and was ranked second in the nation for service aces. “I’m in the record books, y’all!“. 

Erin Truman

Room 9 Primary Teacher

Erin began at Montessori Academy as a teacher in the infant room, and felt that everything she learned and experienced in a Montessori classroom aligned perfectly with what she had learned about child development as a psychology major at DePaul University. She loved Montessori's whole-child approach, and decided to pursue her early childhood certification at the Montessori Training Center of Brentwood. She believes that education, specifically Montessori education, is among the best ways to improve the lives of others, and make a positive impact on the world. In her free time, Erin enjoys reading, running, traveling, and artistic pursuits.

Lisa Jarsen , M.A.

Upper Elementary Teacher

Lisa began teaching in 1992 while attending Michigan State University. She holds a B.A. in communication and an M.A. in Education from Concordia University. She has written and published elementary curriculum, been an early childhood director, an adjunct instructor at Nashville State Community College, a reading tutor, and early childhood teacher, and an elementary substitute for Williamson County. Montessori methodology and philosophy allows her to teach the individual child through exploration and using varied techniques. She recently was awarded Montessori certification. Married, with one child, Ms. Jarsen enjoys spending time with family and friends, reading, writing, baking, and learning something new every day.

Lane Dickens

Room 12 LE Teacher

Lane is a native Nashvillian and a second-generation teacher. She obtained a B.A. in Education, Grades 1-8, and Elementary ELL Endorsement from Middle Tennessee State University and holds a Montessori Elementary I Certificate from the CMTE/North Carolina American Montessori Teacher Education Program. She began teaching at Montessori Academy in 1996 while her two daughters, Caroline and Suzannah, were enrolled there. She transitioned to Metro Nashville Public Schools in 2007, teaching a self-contained English Language Learners Class, a Newcomer English Language Learner class, and eventually second grade before her retirement in 2017. After completing her tenure in Metro, Lane jumped at the chance to return to Montessori, believing firmly in the Montessori philosophy and whole-child education and development. In her spare time, she loves to spend time with her husband, Keith, daughters and their husbands, and her adopted Chihuahua, Stella. She also loves front porch swings and a good mystery book and is looking forward to the day when her first grandchild will join the Montessori Academy family.

Chloe Lawler

Toddler 5 Teacher

Chloe was born in Cleveland, OH and moved to Nashville, TN when she was 5 years old. She earned her associate degree in speech communications in the spring of 2015 and is currently working towards her bachelor’s at Trevecca Nazarene University. As the oldest of four, Chloe has always had a natural ability and passion for working with children. Chloe joined the MA team as a substitute in the summer of 2018 and joined on full time as a toddler teacher in the fall. Chloe is thrilled to complete her Montessori certification at Montessori Education Center of the Rockies in summer 2019. 

Laura Byars

Room 10 LE Teacher

Laura decided that she wanted to be a teacher as soon as she entered kindergarten!  She grew up in St. Louis, Missouri and earned a B.A. in both Elementary and Special Education from Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas.  In 1999, Ms. Byars began teaching in special education for Metro Nashville Schools.  A few years later, Ms. Byars discovered Montessori, and in 2004, she earned her AMS Elementary 6-9 certification while teaching at Stanford Montessori.  She loved the Montessori approach and found that it solved many of the frustrations she felt in traditional education.  In 2011, Ms. Byars joined the Montessori Academy family.  Her daughter, Katie, has felt "at home" at MA ever since she started in Primary. Ms. Byars loves to learn and feels that, as a Montessori teacher, she has been given a great opportunity to inspire a love of learning in her students.  Outside of school, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends (usually laughing,) playing games with her daughter, traveling, reading, and any chance to be creative.  

Angela Skelton, M.Ed.

Room 11 LE Teacher

Angela found Montessori Academy while in the graduate education program at Belmont University, where she focused on Children's Literature and Gifted Ed. She has taught at MA off and on since 1996 and received Lower Elementary certification from North Carolina Center for Montessori Teacher Education. She likes the creativity of the Montessori environment, the respect for children, and the grace that allows students to reach their potential in their own, unique ways.

At home she enjoys puzzling, knitting, reading, writing, and spending time with her husband and her Miniature Schnauzer, Fritz. She loves having deep conversations and giggling with her two young adults, one studying music and computer science at Davidson College and the other studying Literary Arts at Nashville School of the Arts. 

Julia Denison

Upper Elementary Teacher & Spanish

Julia is a Nashville native and graduate of Indiana University, where she studied Fine Arts and Spanish. Ms. Denison first became interested in teaching while volunteering in South America in 2010; in 2013 she began working at M.A. She holds an AMS Montessori 6-12 certification as well as a certificate for TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language). Ms. Denison teaches Spanish primarily through the approaches of CI (Comprehensible Input) and TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling). In addition to her role as an upper elementary teacher, she teaches middle school Spanish. When she is not teaching, you are likely to find her outdoors on her bike, painting murals, or hiking.

Photo Coming Soon!

Margaret Beagle

Room 3 Primary Teacher

Margaret is from Louisville, Kentucky and a graduate of Western Kentucky University with a B.A. in Child and Family Studies.   Margaret started as an assistant in a Primary classroom and then was a Primary teacher for two years at Community Montessori Public Charter School in New Albany, Indiana.  She completed her AMS credential through the Montessori Training Center of Brentwood and joined Montessori Academy in 2018.  In addition to her passion for Montessori education, Margaret enjoys writing and being outside with her family. “Finding the Montessori Method has drastically changed my world views and has an enormous influence on how my husband and I raise our three children.  I believe that putting such care and beauty into the education of young children can change the world.”

Romella (Mia) Bermillo Lee

Room 9 Primary Teacher​

Romella is a native of the Philippines.  She holds a Bachelor’s degree In Secondary Education, major in Math from the University of the Philippines. During her stay in Japan, she learned of Montessori education working at East-West Montessori, a school that served as an English language immersion program for young Japanese children and as an alternative to the public school system for American military children. She holds an Early Childhood Montessori Certification through Montessori Educators International in Louisville, TN.

Mia has worked at Montessori Academy since 2001. She believes that Montessori Academy offers an environment that provides young children an excellent foundation for learning success and feels very fortunate that her children have had such a valuable foundation.​

Primary Program

Bethany Mason

Room 2 Primary Teacher

After graduating in 2002 from Berry College with a Bachelor's in Music Education, Bethany moved to Nashville where she taught as a music educator in Metro Schools. She did this for several years before starting a family.

Today she has a 9 year-old daughter, Madeline, and a 6 year-old son, Grady. She enjoyed homeschooling her daughter for over three years. During that time her daughter attended a Montessori homeschool class which was a wonderful introduction to the Montessori Method. As a mother and educator she began to fall in love with this way of learning.

At the beginning of 2017, she decided it was time to get back into the classroom and began working with Montessori Academy as a part-time assistant in Room 12 and full-time substitute. She benefitted from having hands-on experience in the classrooms at MA and guidance from the exceptional staff. While working closely with the different age groups, and spending many hours observing, assisting and substituting, she decided to pursue a Montessori certification.  She attended the Montessori Training Center of Brentwood here at Montessori Academy in the summer of 2017.

Bethany lives in Nashville with her husband Chris, their two children and their dog Hank. She enjoys baking, cooking, singing, and spending time with her family. She and her family are all excited to be part of the community here at Montessori Academy.

Cheri Drummond

Strings Instructor

Cheri has been teaching at Montessori Academy since 2000. Ms. Drummond holds a Bachelor's degree from Boston University. She maintains a private violin and viola studio and directs the Lower Elementary Suzuki Violin program and the Upper Elementary Strings classes. She has Suzuki training through book 6 and takes many continuing education classes. She has performed with the Nashville Symphony, the Memphis Symphony, the Naples Philharmonic, the Western Kentucky Symphony, and the Palm Beach Opera.  Cheri has played on many recordings and has appeared on videos with many country and Christian artists, including Vince Gill. She has conducted the Murfreesboro Youth Symphony, the Middle Tennessee Summer Youth Orchestra, and the Williamson County String Bash.  "I couldn't think of doing anything else; I do what I love!"​

Priscilla Hicks

High School Advisor & Kindergarten Coordinator

Priscilla grew up in the Washington DC area but has called Tennessee home for the past 19 years. She holds an AMS Primary Credential from Belmont University and an AMI Adolescent Credential from the North American Montessori Teachers' Association. Additionally, she is a certified teacher coordinator for the Montessori Model United Nations program. Priscilla has been a part of the Montessori Alliance of TN since their first meeting in 2013 and currently serves as their administrative assistant and webmaster.  From 2013 to 2018 Priscilla brought Montessori education to the homeschool community in Rutherford County by creating a homeschool hybrid program, Prana Montessori. She is passionate about Montessori education for all ages and especially Maria Montessori's belief that the peaceful education of children could change the world  She lives with her husband Ben, her three girls, and three kitties in Murfreesboro, TN. Priscilla and her children are incredibly excited to join the MA community! 

Salbi Azzez

Toddler Floater

Biography Coming Soon!

Melissa Shepard
Room 11 LE Teacher

Having grown up in Alabama, Melissa has lived in Middle Tennessee for 24 years and in Brentwood for the last 14 years. She has a BA in Psychology and has worked with children and families her entire career which begin with assisting in a Montessori primary classroom. The strong influence of the Montessori philosophy never left her side. She found herself using the skills learned in the Montessori classroom in every job, including her last job of a stay at home mom to her 3 children, Will, Kate and Whit. She is currently working toward her Montessori teaching certification for children age 6-12. Melissa enjoys reading, going to movies, hiking, traveling and spending time with her family.  

Upper Elementary / Middle School Program

Jennifer Jarnagin
Upper Elementary Assistant

Jennifer has lived in Tennessee since she was 8 years old. Having grown up in the area and graduating from Brentwood Academy, she returned to her home state of Mississippi and attended the University of Mississippi where she earned her B.A. in English with minors in Business  & Theatre. Jennifer began her teaching career here at Montessori Academy in 2002 in the Lower Elementary. She taught here from 2002-2006. She took time away from teaching for the birth of her two sons, Elijah and Xavier, and when deciding where to put them in school, knew she wanted a real Montessori education and experience for them. She returned to MA to begin a new LE classroom. She holds a 6-9 certification from The North American Montessori Center and is currently she is working on Montessori Elementary certification for 6-12 through the Center for Guided Montessori Studies. Jennifer and her husband, Chad, and their sons reside in Franklin, TN.

Mellynne Dickason, MA

Room 4 Primary Teacher

Mellynne hails from Mississippi where she received her B.A. in English with a minor in French and an M.A.  in English with a TESOL Emphasis.  After receiving her Master’s degree, she and her husband relocated to Chicago where she taught a variety of English/writing courses at several Chicago area colleges. She worked for 7 years at Triton College as a full-time English Instructor until she and her husband, Joe, decided to relocate closer to family in Nashville. She found Montessori Academy when looking for a school for her daughter, Waverly. The nurturing environment suited Waverly and her younger daughter Kalee.  Mellynne completed Montessori certification in 2011 through Montessori Educators International.  She loves the child-centric Montessori philosophy and loves working in the 3-6 year old class teaching children to love reading and books just as her family does. 

Beth Woodard, MA, MAT

Room 10 LE Teacher

Beth received a Bachelor in Early Childhood Development and a Masters in Early Childhood Education from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. She has a state teaching license for Pre-K through 3rd grade.  While she was attending UT, she began working at Knoxville Montessori School as an after care teacher where she fell in love with Montessori method and philosophy. 

After completing her graduate work at UT, she began working on her Montessori certification at Belmont University in Nashville, where she earned a Masters in Teaching/Montessori Certification for Primary (AMS).  After 8 years teaching in a Primary classroom, Beth is excited to be moving to Lower Elementary and beginning her 6-9 training for that level.  

Lower Elementary Program

Jana Albritton

Room 12 LE Teacher

Biography Coming Soon! 

Anna Cole

Toddler Floater

Anna is a Tennessee native and has called Middle Tennessee home for 10 years. She has three children, Christian, Cannon, and Eleanor, an adventurous husband Matt, as well as a German Shepherd named Journey!

Anna is excited to join the Montessori Academy team and community as a teacher and a parent. She joins the toddler program with 15 years of experience as a Sunday School teacher and 3.5 years as a Primary assistant. Anna earned her Bachelor of Science from Lambuth University with ambitions to obtain her AMS training. A flame was ignited for the Montessori philosophy when introduced to it in her undergraduate Child Psychology class.

Anna is thrilled to serve in the Toddler Program because in the words of Maria Montessori; "The most  important period of life is not the age of university studies, but the first one, the period from birth to age six".

Faculty & Staff

Montessori Academy’s faculty and administration are committed to uncompromising standards of academic excellence, and to preparing students to be future leaders. 

Montessori Academy

Enrichment & Specialty


Gar Vallone

Athletic Director

Gar started teaching at Montessori Academy in 2012. He holds a BA in History from UCLA where he was  Captain of the UCLA baseball team. Following college Mr. Vallone played and coached professional baseball for the Anaheim Angels. Prior to teaching, Mr. Vallone spent twelve years in marketing at several technology companies in California.

Coach Vallone lives in Nashville with his wife Marcy and two sons Tristan and Tate. Both boys attended Montessori Academy. When he’s not busy coaching his son’s teams, Coach Vallone is an avid fly fisherman. ​​

Julia Denison

Upper Elementary Teacher & Spanish

Julia is a Nashville native and graduate of Indiana University, where she studied Fine Arts and Spanish. Ms. Denison first became interested in teaching while volunteering in South America in 2010; in 2013 she began working at M.A. She holds an AMS Montessori 6-12 certification as well as a certificate for TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language). Ms. Denison teaches Spanish primarily through the approaches of CI (Comprehensible Input) and TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling). In addition to her role as an upper elementary teacher, she teaches middle school Spanish. When she is not teaching, you are likely to find her outdoors on her bike, painting murals, or hiking.