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 was 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.


Jeanette Chin

Lower Elementary Guide

Jeanette grew up in Ohio and has lived here most of her life. She loves the change of seasons and having all of her family close by. Jeanette 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. Jeanette 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, Jeanette 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.

Sean Fleming
Children’s House Guide

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
Lower Elementary Guide

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, 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 Development 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 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
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.Her goal for the future is to complete her Montessori Applied to Children At-Risk Training.


Wendy DeBroka   

Lower Elementary Guide

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   

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.



Terry Lemut
Office Manager

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 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.


Kara Metcalf-Mudorf

Admissions and Marketing Director

Kara’s career in admissions began at her high school alma mater, Western Reserve Academy where she served as a Chief Admissions Ambassador and three-sport varsity athlete (field hockey, lacrosse and 3-meter springboard diving). After graduating from Wittenberg University with a B.A. in English, Kara relocated to northeastern Maine to launch her professional career in admissions as an Associate Director of Admissions and Residential Hall Assistant. After spending three years in the pristine, unspoiled “Pine Tree State” and traveling Maine’s intricate 3,478-mile coast line (yes, longer than California’s!), Kara left New England to move to the outskirts of Chicago. There, she spent three years working in admissions and coaching girls’ varsity field hockey and soccer. She also enjoyed the experience of a lifetime chaperoning high school students on two outdoor wilderness trips, canoeing and portaging the Boundary Waters of Quetico, Canada. Kara is happy to be settled in her home state of Ohio, supports all Cleveland sports teams and will forever be enamored with everything related to nature and the outdoors. She is happily married to her best friend and husband, Chris.


Blake 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 Guide

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.


Jen Petric-Black
Executive Administrator

Jen was born and raised in Cleveland, and, except for a short stint in Chicago, has lived here all her life. She graduated from the University of Akron with degrees in Computer Programming and Mass Media/Communications, two completely opposite ends of the spectrum. But she managed to mesh those two degrees into ten years of management in software development & integration. Jen joined the SSMS Administration Team in 2018 and brought with her some mad Microsoft Excel skills, a wicked sense of humor, and a never-ending dedication to her team. Her three children are enrolled at SSMS, and when she’s not working or chasing around her kids, you can often find her running around after the myriad of pets she and her wife have accumulated over the years. She loves to bake, and is tempted to move to England, if only to be a contestant on The Great British Baking Show. For better or worse, Jen is a staunch supporter of Cleveland football and, as most Clevelanders do, believes that “there’s always next year.”


Brian Riha-Fink
Music Director

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.

Natalie Sanford
Physical Education Instructor

Natalie has been the physical education teacher at South Suburban Montessori since 2007 and loves working with all of the 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.



Sandy Scherer
Children’s House Assistant

Sandy holds an Associate of Arts degree in Applied Sciences from Cuyahoga Community College.  She has substitute taught in the Brecksville-Broadview Heights School District and has held numerous leadership positions in the Parent-Student Organization and extra-curricular activities.  Sandy is a Brecksville resident and enjoys spending time with family and friends, church, exercising, travel, nature, art, interior decorating and event planning.



Barb 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!



Ann Williams
Upper Elementary Guide

Ann grew up in a large, boisterous family in Columbus, Ohio.  She studied literature and art history at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.  She has a Master’s in Fine Arts with an emphasis in photography from Columbia College in Chicago.  She worked as a college instructor and an artist for seven years in Chicago. During that time, she also volunteered with various arts and writing programs for youth.  She received her A.M.I. elementary Montessori training in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 2000.  She has taught with small, emerging schools and large, established schools.  She has lived on two islands and in two foreign countries.  Ann has a daughter who keeps her laughing most of the time and enjoys reading, cooking, antiques, garage sales, learning about history, botany and visiting farms, historic sites and quirky small museums.