The People of EPMS

The people of Eagle Peak

People of EPMS

Office and Administration:

Michelle Hammons, M.Ed.

The 2015-16 school year will be Michelle’s 13th year as Principal of Eagle Peak. Prior to her time at EPMS, she served as Assistant Principal of Alief Montessori Charter School in Houston, Texas, and taught in the public Montessori program in Waco, Texas. All of Michelle’s teaching and administrative experience has been dedicated to working in public Montessori school environments. She also served as a field consultant for the Houston Montessori Center, observing and evaluating intern teachers at various Montessori schools. Michelle formerly served as chair of the Public Policy Committee for the American Montessori Society and is a part time instructor in the St. Mary’s College Montessori program. For the past five years, Michelle has also worked with the Charter School Development Center as a Team Leader for their Leadership Institute for new charter school administrators.

Michelle earned her undergraduate degree in sociology from Baylor University. She returned to Baylor to earn a Post-Baccalaureate Elementary Education certification and began her teaching career in the Waco, Texas public school system at J.H. Hines Montessori Magnet for Visual and Performing Arts. She reconnected with her childhood Montessori roots while training at the Houston Montessori Center, where she received her Montessori Teaching Credential. Michelle earned a Master’s in Educational Administration in 2002 from Baylor University and holds her Principal Certification. This will be her twenty first year as a Montessori educator.

Michelle loves to travel, write poetry, read, and spend time with her niece Sophie and nephew Evan when possible.

Sondra Mahraj
Office Coordinator.

Sondra brings a wealth of office management experience with her to Eagle Peak which was acquired through 30+ years of work in administrative/human resources support. She is starting her 10th year with us at Eagle Peak.

Born and raised in the Midwest (Michigan and Illinois), Sondra moved to California over 35 years ago and therefore considers herself a native Californian. She and her husband, Vin, have lived in Walnut Creek for over 25 years. Their daughter Sewdaye was born here and is now pursuing a Doctorate of Physical Therapy in Southern California.

Sondra’s experience volunteering while a parent at Walnut Acres, Foothill and Northgate High School provided her with first-hand knowledge of the importance of parent participation. Sondra enjoys reading, bowling and cooking, as well as rearranging and organizing anything in sight. She’s also become addicted to crossword puzzles!

Amy Nelson
Receptionist/Attendance Secretary.

Amy was an Eagle Peak parent for over 9 years. Her daughter Emily graduated from Eagle Peak and will be a junior at Clayton Valley Charter High School and her son Michael will be a 7th grader at Diablo View. Amy previously worked as a Certified Cardiac Technician. Amy and her husband Brent are native to the Bay Area and currently live in Concord.

Lower Elementary Staff:

Sibyl Buckner, M.Ed.
Lower Elementary Teacher/Curriculum Advisor.

Sibyl is a founding teacher of Eagle Peak and as such this will be her 14th year with the school. She brings with her over 25 years of professional Montessori experience at both the early childhood and lower elementary levels. Sibyl was first introduced to Montessori as a child while attending a Montessori preschool in Germany. Although it was for a brief time, she still has fond memories.

Sibyl has taken Montessori training for teachers of children from birth through age nine, earning a master’s degree in education from St. Mary’s College. She has taught Montessori teachers and supervised interns at St. Mary’s College, the Montessori Institute for Advanced Studies, and the Montessori Teacher Education Center, work that has taken her to Canada, Europe, and Asia. While Sibyl attended college, her mother opened a Montessori school. Soon after graduation, she joined her mother and together they opened three schools. Sibyl was the founder of the Das Montessori Kinderhaus Elementary School, where she taught until joining the faculty of Eagle Peak. She enjoys travel and gardening.

Linda Chandlee
Lower Elementary Teacher.

Linda is a founding teacher at EPMS and brings both Montessori and public school experience to Eagle Peak. She holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Cal State, Northridge and Early Childhood and Lower Elementary certification from the Montessori Teacher Training Center of San Francisco/Bay Area in San Leandro. Linda taught for two years at the early childhood level, six years at the lower elementary level, and four years at the upper elementary level. Her elementary experience was at Valley Montessori in Livermore. She earned a California State Teaching Credential through St. Mary’s College in Moraga and taught fifth grade in Pleasanton public schools for two years.

Sara Kagan-Real
Lower Elementary Teacher.

Originally a New Yorker from Long Island, Sara moved to the East Bay in 2006 and hasn’t looked back since. Sara comes to us with several years of teaching experience in a private Montessori program. She is excited about Public Charter Montessori Schools in the Bay Area and wanted to be a part of our community.

Before discovering Montessori education, Sara was a production potter in the East Bay and started an Arts Collective in Berkeley with other local artists. She is a huge fan of delicious food, cycling, swimming in her neighborhood pool, hiking in National parks, making pottery, and gardening. She resides in Oakland with her cat (Tiny Wings) and her husband Jim.

Jennifer Lee,M.Ed.
Lower Elementary Teacher.

Jennifer is in the 12th year of her teaching career with Eagle Peak. She holds a master’s in education from St. Mary’s College. Jennifer also holds her California State Teaching Credential and Montessori 6-12 teaching credential.

Born and raised in Seoul, Korea, Jennifer’s family moved to the United States when she was 12 years old. Even as a child, Jennifer dreamed of becoming a school teacher. Jennifer is the mother of two sons, Elliot and Evan.

Jennifer Williams
Lower Elementary Teacher.

Jennifer has been a part of the Eagle Peak community since 2002 as a board member. She remained on the board and served as secretary until 2012.

Jennifer was born and raised in Oakland and attended Bishop O’Dowd high school. She earned her AA degree from DVC and transferred to Chico State where she earned her BA in Child Development with a minor in Psychology. It was a year into her first teaching job that she was approached to take her 3-6 Montessori training at the San Francisco/Bay Area Teacher Training Center. She completed her training in 1995 and soon after, moved to New Orleans with her husband, Spencer. She taught there for almost 3 years, then moved back to California and taught at Alice’s Montessori.

After starting a family and staying at home for a few years, she started working at Myrtle Farm Montessori in 2007, where both of her children attended. She loves the Montessori Philosophy and loves EPMS. Her oldest daughter Hannah-14, is an alumni and Emma will be starting 5th grade here. She is excited to join the staff and to continue being a part of the Eagle Peak community.
When not teaching, Jennifer loves to cheer on her daughter’s sports teams, travel & photography.

Upper Elementary Staff:

Katie Anderson
Upper Elementary Classroom.

After falling in love with the capable, respectful, collaborative, and well-rounded community of students at Eagle Peak, Katie is overjoyed to be a part of the Upper Elementary teaching team. She comes to us from Golden Oak Montessori School in Hayward. Prior to this, she spent seven years working in a variety of summer camps and recreation programs, including Today’s Youth Matter, the organization that brought her and her fiancé together over five years ago.

Katie is currently enrolled in the Montessori credentialing program at St. Mary’s College, where she recently completed her Preliminary California Multiple Subject Teaching Credential and is putting the final touches on her Master’s thesis on service-learning in the Montessori elementary setting.

When Katie is not busy educating young people, you can find her cooking, traveling, camping, or volunteering with any of her favorite non-profits.

Shazia Burke
Science Teacher.

Shazia came to Eagle Peak after four years of Upper Elementary experience in the private Montessori world. Shazia completed her masters in Botany from Forman Christian University Punjab Pakistan, and then completed her Certificate in professional education from University College Plymouth London UK. She has been teaching for the past 14 years and loves teaching science. She believes a great teacher is one who creates a classroom environment that makes their students 1.) ‘curious’, 2.) want to ‘explore’ (‘investigate’) and 3.) allows them to ‘discover’.

Shakira Khan
Upper Elementary Teacher

Shakira is originally from Inglewood, California. She moved to San Jose in 2003 to attend San Jose State University and majored in Child and Adolescent Development. During her last year at SJSU, she fell in love with the Montessori method due to her employment at Milpitas Montessori School. Shakira stayed at MMS for 5 years, enrolling in the Elementary Montessori graduate program at Saint Mary’s College of California during her last year there. Shakira held several positions at MMS, including Elementary teacher and Interim Director. She moved on and spent a year at Pacifica Montessori School in Culver City, California in a K-6th grade classroom.She is happy to be working with the students, staff and parents at Eagle Peak.

In Shakira’s spare time she likes to cook and do yoga. She travels as often as she can, especially back home to Los Angeles where her family is. You can often find her laughing and google-ing everything.

Ellen Rutgers
Upper Elementary Teacher.

We welcome Ellen for her third year at Eagle Peak. Ellen is originally from the Netherlands, where she taught language arts in middle school. She fell in love with the Montessori philosophy, and began teaching in a Montessori school in Amsterdam.

In the United States, Ellen worked for a global non-profit organization in Upstate New York as a department coordinator for their translation services. She missed teaching however, and decided to go back to school in the US. She attended Lesley University in Cambridge, MA, and earned her Masters Degree in both elementary education and the creative arts in learning. During her study she worked in the public schools in Greater Boston, but after she graduated in 2008, she continued with the Montessori Training (9-12) at the Center for Montessori Teacher Education in New Rochelle. For the past five years she taught at the Lexington Montessori School in Massachusetts. Last summer she received a fellowship for the Boston Writing Project, and she brought her knowledge to the Montessori classroom, integrating what she had learned to the classroom in such a way that the language curriculum remained true to the Montessori philosophy. She is passionate about bringing the Montessori Curriculum to the public schools, and she is delighted to join the community at Eagle Peak Montessori School.

When not teaching Ellen loves to spend time in the outdoors, to swim, and to read and write.

Anna-Maria White                                                                                                                                                Upper Elementary Teacher

Anna-Maria joined the Eagle Peak team after teaching middle school and upper elementary students for the past fourteen years at a private Montessori school in Pleasanton, CA. She graduated from Humboldt State University with a degree in Child Development in 2000 and a few years later earned her Montessori teaching credentials for ages 6-9 and 9-12 from the Montessori Teacher Education Center San Francisco Bay Area program.

She lives in Pleasant Hill, CA with her husband Eric and their two children Alli (3 ½ years old) and Sage (22 months). As a family, they enjoy playing at the park, taking trips to their favorite rivers to go fly-fishing, cooking together, and visiting all of the wonderful museums the Bay Area has to offer. She is looking forward to forging new opportunities to spark the imaginations and passions of our students!

Adolescent Program Staff:

Denise May
Adolescent Teacher.

She has been at Eagle Peak for all 15years of operation. This is her 23rd year of Montessori experience: seven years in early childhood and fourteen years at the elementary level. Her elementary training was taken at the Montessori Teacher Training Center of San Francisco/Bay Area in San Leandro and her credentialing work was done through Cal State, Hayward. Denise helped found a Montessori elementary school in Pacifica.

Born, raised, and educated in San Francisco, Denise loves traveling, reading, gardening, word games, museums, art galleries, and playing tourist. Her son attended Montessori through first grade. She speaks Spanish at a conversational level.

Annie Rodriguez
Adolescent Teacher.

This is Annie’s third year as an Eagle Peak staff member but she is certainly not new to the Eagle Peak family. Annie’s connection with Eagle Peak began over 13 years ago when her oldest son, Miguel, enrolled as a first grader, followed by Diego and then Gabriela.

Annie’s passion for education and unique learning environments is definitely informed by her experience with her own children. She spent eight years as a co-opting parent at Creative Play Center, and while there, recreated and maintained their outdoor animal learning environments and curriculum. In the early days of Eagle Peak, Annie was the volunteer Field Trip Coordinator and then Co-Chair of PTLG for two years and most recently, the EPMS Communications Liaison. She has a strong belief in community building and will continue to strive for genuine connections between the student, teacher-staff, and parent bodies.

Simultaneously while raising her family, Annie has worked as a veterinary hospital administrator, a doula and, with her husband, is the co-owner/operator of Pegasus Bicycle Works and brings to her teaching a plethora of real-world experience. She holds a B.A. in Art History, with honors, from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is currently working toward her Montessori Secondary Certification and Masters Ed. via CMStep and Xavier University in Cincinnati, as well as her California Teaching Credential via Cal State TEACH.


<h2 “>Specialists:

Grace Benevides
Art Instructor.

Grace has been teaching art in the Montessori schools for over 20 years. She is a Texas certified teacher and has a Fine Arts Degree. She received her Montessori training and certification when she started teaching art in one of the first “pilot” Montessori Public Schools in Dallas in 1978. Grace started the art program from grades 1 through 8 at Valley Montessori School in Livermore and taught there for about 10 years before coming to Eagle Peak Montessori.

Grace resides in Concord with her husband and her dog. She has two daughters attending college.

Sheila Hill
Environmental Educator Outdoor Classroom.

Sheila joined Eagle Peak in January of 2012, excited to share her years of experience and passion for cultivating environmental awareness with children.  She and her husband David are Bay Area natives.  They have a daughter, Sharlyn who recently graduated from college and a son, Dylan, who attends EPMS.

Sheila enjoys yoga, spending time with her family, hiking and camping, and volunteering with local nonprofit sustainability organizations.

Ava Huovinen
PE Instructor.

Ava is beginning her 15th year at EPMS. She is a native of the San Francisco area. She graduated from Mt. Diablo High School, and attended Diablo Valley College, UC Davis and The United States Army Academy of Health Science in San Antonio, Texas. Her physical interests vary from ballet (8 years of Ballet at Younghaven Studio – San Francisco) to martial arts (A.A.U. California State Champion in Tae Kwon Do-2001 & 2002.)

Ava’s previous experience to her time at Eagle Peak include being a core teacher in the surgical nurse-technology program for Mt. Diablo Adult Education and being a Veteran of the U.S. Army where she served from 1987-1993. Ava was named Prudential Teacher of the year in 2008.

When not working at EPMS, or working out, Ava enjoys spending time with her husband and two children (both Eagle Peak Alums).