Meet Our Staff

The Montessori three year cycle allows teachers multiple years to observe each child’s emerging personality and learning styles, to encourage natural abilities, and to address the needs of the whole child.

South Suburban Montessori School’s faculty currently consists of 23 members who bring a wealth of Montessori experience to the school’s community.  All of our classroom teachers, as well as many of our classroom assistants, are Montessori trained and certified.


Nirmala Balasubramanian
Children’s House Guide

Nirmala is an experienced Montessori teacher who has great loyalty to the excellence of Montessori education.  She was trained under Maria Montessori’s personal assistant, Mr. Joosten and has AMI Primary certification.  She completed London Advance Level majoring in geography at Aquinas University in Sri Lanka.  Nirmala’s career began by taking a leap of faith and moving from Sri Lanka to Ohio with her husband and two young sons to work at Hudson Montessori School.  After her tenure at Hudson, she served as an Executive Director, teacher, and consultant to several other schools in Northeast Ohio.  Her passion remains with the children and she counts her vast experience, kind disposition, and firm but fair approach as gifts she shares with all children.  Nirmala is a world traveler and has established lasting connections with Montessorians and past students.  Nirmala has been selected for the 2016 Distinguished Ohio Montessorian Award for her long standing dedication to the Montessori Method and the families and children of Northeast Ohio.

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Jeanette Chin

Lower Elementary Guide
Jeanette grew up in Ohio and has lived here most of her life. She loves the change of seasons here and having all her family close by. She attended the University of Akron, receiving a Bachelor’s degree in education before discovering Montessori quite by accident. She began teaching at a Montessori school in 1999, and spent two years co-teaching with Montessori trained teachers. She loved the philosophy of choice with responsibility behind Montessori education, the hands-on materials, the high interest and enthusiasm of the students, and the supportive environment that Montessori provided. It was not long before she was hooked, and moved to Baltimore to get her Montessori training and then her Master’s degree at Loyola University. Since then she has worked in both the Upper Elementary and Lower Elementary environments. When she is not at school, she can be found baking something sweet in her kitchen, digging holes in her flower beds, reading a good piece of fiction, or playing games with her family.


Susan Detorre                                                                                                            
Spanish Instructor
Senorita Susan comes to SSMS with 34 years of teaching experience in five areas of certification.  Her favorite subject is Spanish.  After receiving her BA from Ursuline College in Speech, Drama and English, she pursued graduate work in Special Education. Susan also took undergraduate courses in Spanish at John Carroll University and spent three summers in Mexico and the Universidad de Catolico of Quito, Ecador for her Spanish certification.  Her “immersion” adventure travels include mountain climb in the Andes (Mt. Chimborazo), a week in the Amazon jungle by canoe, and ten days in the Galapagos Islands.  Senorita Susan resides in Broadview Heights with her five cats.  She is active outside of school writing plays, directing, acting and/or singing.  She also tends a prize-winning patio garden.

 

Sean Fleming
Children’s House Guidesean-fleming-opt
Sean has a passion for Montessori philosophy and early childhood education.  He brings his love of art, music, and science into the classroom with enticing lessons.  He enjoys motorcycles, comics, and listening to music.  Most of all, he cherishes the time he spends with his amazing wife Colleen and lovely daughter Skylar in their little house in Cleveland Heights.

 

Elizabeth Funk
Art Teacher & Lower Elementary Assistant
Elizabeth received her Bachelor of Arts in Art History from John Carroll University, and her Master of   Arts in Art History and Museum Studies from Case Western Reserve University.

After completing her studies, Elizabeth moved to Los Angeles, where she worked in the commercial art market. Upon returning to Cleveland, Elizabeth began working at South Suburban Montessori School as a substitute art teacher, in the spring of 2016. She quickly became enchanted by the Montessori philosophy, and subsequently began working as an assistant in Lower Elementary. Elizabeth continues to work in the Lower Elementary classroom this school year, but now enjoys pairing her love of art with her passion for Montessori education, as the school’s art teacher.

In her free time, Elizabeth can most often be found spending time with her family and friends (and animals!), reading, or visiting an art museum.

 

Angela Galarza
Children’s House Guide 
Angela has enjoyed teaching and working in Montessori environments for over 25 years and received her AMS  Early Childhood Teaching Credential in 1992.  She also holds  degrees in Early Childhood Education and Early Childhood angela-galarza-optDevelopment from Palm Beach State College and Walden University.  Prior to coming to SSMS, Angela’s experience includes working as a Montessori Children’s House Guide, Head of School, Summer Camp Director and Musikgarten Music Teacher.  Angela has also been involved in Montessori teacher education at South Florida Montessori Education Center, Summit Montessori Teacher Training Institute and The Maryland Center for Montessori Studies.  Her youngest son is currently attending SSMS as a student in our Middle School community.  Angela enjoys her family, church, singing, gardening, exploring nature, walking, and cooking.

 

Heather Gerheim                                                                                                           heather-gerheim-gladden-opt
Children’s House Guide
Heather started teaching traditional elementary school in 1998, but became involved with Montessori in 2001.  She holds a degree in Elementary Education from Miami University of Ohio as well as her AMS Early Childhood Credential from Columbus Montessori Teacher Education Center.  Heather has two boys of her own.  Heather enjoys many activities outside of school such as reading, knitting, walking with friends, playing the violin, biking, and volunteering at her church.  She also enjoys sleeping in on the weekends.

 

Wendy Harris                                                                                                        
Lower Elementary Assistant
Wendy was born in Alaska, grew up in Indiana, and received a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing from Indiana University. After moving to Ohio at 23, she pursued a career in management and raised her two daughters. Ellaina and Gabrielle, now 18 and 22, went to Montessori school through 8th grade. Her daughters’ Montessori experiences influenced Wendy’s decision to pursue a career in Montessori Education at 50. She received her AMI certification in 2017 and her Master’s in Montessori Education in 2018. When not in school, Wendy loves to spend time with her daughters, pets, family, and friends. She loves art, baking/cooking, hiking, yoga, sports, and reading. Wendy’s hero is Dr. Maria Montessori!

 

Elizabeth Hinkel                                                                                                            elizabeth-hinkel-opt
Lower Elementary Guide
Beth is entering her 10th year of teaching Montessori, which she fell in love with while studying education at Xavier University, where she earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s in Montessori education.  She loves to create – calligraphy, themed parties, intricate meals, and classroom materials.  She also enjoys spending time with her husband, son, extended family, and friends.  She adores Cleveland and tries to support local businesses by frequenting the Cleveland Flea, new restaurants, and the West Side Market.  She has completed two half marathons with plans to complete more.  You can also find Beth and Bill at many local leisure cycling events.

 

ssms-15-of-279_optMelody Just
Children’s House Assistant
Melody is a dynamic individual with diverse experience; holding professional certifications in family and consumer science, nutrition, and business.  She greatly enjoys school-age children and is passionate to facilitate their development.  Melody is a Fine Arts Instructor, locally teaching dance, musical movement, and offering violin lessons.  She choreographs performances for children and youth, and presently plays the violin in the Parma Symphony Orchestra with her husband, Marcus, a Cellist. Melody holds a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition, a Dietetic Registration, along with an M.B.A. from Kent State University, and was AMS EC certified June of 2018. She has taught multiple disciplines, school-age through University, and prior to +joining SSMS, Melody developed and taught a “Parent & Me” preschool program for 8 years.  Melody resides in North Royalton with her husband and three children. Her family is active in the community and local church, and she is thrilled to be a part of the SSMS team!

 

evelyn-r-kehoe-optEvelyn R. Kehoe
Children’s House Assistant
Evy has been part of the South Suburban Montessori community since 2003.  She has had the pleasure of working with students at every level from toddlers through middle school.  Evy is very proud of her work as she feels guiding children is one the most important and fulfilling jobs in the world.  When not at school, Evy spends time with her husband, children, family, and friends.  She loves swimming (and swim meets), bike riding, music, reading, and cooking with her kids!

 

terry-lemut-optTerry Lemut
Secretary
Terry started at South Suburban as a helper in the office working two mornings a week.  That was 17 years ago when her sons Frank and Joseph were students in the Children’s House program. Terry received her Associate Degree in Secretarial Science from Lakeland Community College.  She attended Notre Dame College in South Euclid and is a only a few classes from achieving a Bachelor of Science in accounting.  Terry is a Cuyahoga County Master Gardener through The Ohio State University. Terry appreciates working with the wonderful SSMS staff, children, and families.

 

amy-barr-optAmy Mackie-Barr
Head of School
Born on a Marine Corps base in 29 Palms, California, Amy spent her childhood and teen years moving to various cities both nationally and abroad with her parents and two younger brothers.  She took a part-time secretarial position at a small local Montessori school after graduating from college in 1994.  It was “love at first sight” and she has been a Montessorian ever since. Amy has her AMS Montessori teaching credentials at both the Infant & Toddler and Early Childhood levels.  Amy became the Head of School at SSMS in 2007 and led her team through the extraordinary process of AMS School Accreditation in 2013.  Although she never lived in the same place for more that four years while growing up, Amy has made Cleveland Heights home for the past twenty years.  She has two boys, Michael and Owen, both of whom have shared in her adventures as Montessori students.  Amy relaxes by reading, biking, and watching mindless reality television.  She is also a huge Jazzerciser and tries to attend class at least four times per week.

 

blake-minich-optBlake Minich
Middle School Guide
Energized by the Earth’s yellow sun Blake uses enhanced abilities, unbridled curiosity, a business degree from Miami (OH), and six years of experience teaching English as a Second Language in Seoul, Korea to spread Truth, Justice, and the Montessori way.  After spending eight years as a non-basketball playing globetrotter, Blake moved back to Northeast Ohio in 2010 to take on the role of Marketing Director for a local financial services firm.  Despite being surrounded by some of the most talented professionals in the finance industry he would leave the office each day feeling unsatisfied.  Remembering the sense of accomplishment he received from leading students to knowledge Blake decided to resign from his desk job so that he could go back to school.  As a Middle School Guide he has found a renewed vigor and sense of purpose in the classroom each day where he hopes to spread his enthusiasm and natural inquisitiveness to the students of South Suburban so that they can become life long learners.  When he is not in school Blake will spend his free time with his wife and children, laboring in a Sisyphean attempt at having a well-manicured lawn, reading, cooking, and catching up on sleep.

 

Kellie Padgett
Middle School Guidekellie-padgett-opt
Kellie graduated from The Ohio State University with a Bachelor’s in English Education and started her teaching career as a 7th grade Language Arts teacher in Medina, Ohio.  Kellie and her husband moved to Jacksonville, Florida where her Montessori journey began.  A fellow teacher, after observing in Kellie’s class commented, “You know, you are a Montessori teacher not a traditional teacher, right?”  After some research, Kellie enrolled in Montessori elementary training.  She then continued on to Middle School training.  Her three children are enrolled at SSMS.  When she finds some free time, Kellie enjoys exploring book stores, baking, and spending time with her family.

 

candyce-petrie-optCandyce Petrie
Education and Administrative Assistant
Candyce was born and raised in Northeast Ohio and graduated from The Ohio State University with a degree in Horticulture.  Candyce was introduced to South Suburban Montessori while in graduate school pursuing a degree and license in Early Childhood Education from Cleveland State University.  She was immediately interested in the Montessori philosophy and enrolled her twins, Samuel and Jenna, in the program.  Candyce has been part of the South Suburban community since then.  Candyce’s family has always lived on their horse farm in Hinckley.  She is passionate about teaching children and adults to ride in the English discipline and spends many afternoons teaching SSMS students to ride her family’s beloved horses with the help of her now grown children!

 

Brian Riha-Fink
Before Care and Upper School Music Teacher
Brian has always had a passion for music, and while attending college he discovered his passion for  teaching it. While majoring in classical guitar at Baldwin-Wallace College, he began as a student teacher there.

Brian picked up the guitar at age 8, and had his first public performance by age 10, at a summer bible school. Guitar lessons would soon follow.  Diverse formal instruction came later as Brian began to develop a strong dedication to teaching the instrument he loves. His areas of study have included classical training, with a bachelor’s degree in performance, as well as music theory, history, and composition.

Brian has been teaching private music lessons since the 1990’s.  He is eager to serve our community by helping to harvest the talents of our children and young musicians both as a Montessori teacher and music instructor. Brian has been a Montessori parent since 2006 and enjoys working with children of all ages. He resides in Brecksville with his wife and 3 children, enjoys serving his church, making music, vacationing with his family, home remodeling, and muscle cars.v


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Cecelia Romito
Toddler Guide/Administrative Liaison for the Lower School
Cecelia has served as the Toddler guide at South Suburban for eleven years (it will be 12 in January).  She began working with infants and toddlers twenty-four years ago in her hometown of Ignacio, Colorado, and received her Montessori certificate from the Montessori Education Center of the Rockies.  In addition to her teaching role, Cecelia is also the Administrative Liaison of the Lower School.  Cecelia has served as a School Accreditation Team Member for the American Montessori Society and she hopes to continue representing South Suburban on the national Montessori stage.   Cecelia lives in Hinckley where she resides with her husband.  Between the two of them, they have seven children and two grandchildren.  She is thoroughly enjoying spending a lot of her free time raising her new puppy, Mimoso.

 

edyta-rutkowski-optEdyta Rutkowski
Children’s House Assistant
Edyta, a native of Poland, joined SSMS in 2012 as a student teacher. Since joining our school, Edyta completed her Montessori Paraprofessional certificate and her AMS Early Childhood teaching credential at Seton Montessori Institute in Chicago.  Edyta loves teaching and working with children.  She likes to see the joy on their faces when they accomplish their work and values the opportunity to watch them grow over time.  In her free time, Edyta enjoys cooking, spending time with family, and traveling with her husband.

 

natalie-sanford-optNatalie Sanford
Physical Education Instructor
Natalie has been the physical education teacher at South Suburban Montessori since 2007 and loves working with all our students.  Natalie attended Kent State University to become a Physical Education teacher and then Indiana Wesleyan University to become an Intervention Specialist.  She loves to cook, read, work out, volunteer at her children’s school, and spend time with her three boys and husband.

 

barb-tuori-optBarb Tuori
Toddler Community Assistant
Barb is a Cleveland native, currently residing in Strongsville with her husband and three children.  Barb strongly believes in the Montessori philosophy and has seen the outcomes firsthand with her own children who have been a part of our community for the past two years.  Barb enjoys spending time with her family, reading, hiking, biking, fishing, and practically any other outdoor activity.  She is excited to be working with the toddlers at SSMS this school year!