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, have achieved their Montessori certification.

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 attended the University of Akron, receiving a bachelor’s degree in education before discovering Montessori. She began co-teaching at a Montessori school in 1999 and obtained her AMI Montessori certification and master’s degree at Loyola University in 2002.  Jeanette has worked with children in both the Upper Elementary and Lower Elementary environments and is the parent of a Montessori graduate. 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.



Kim Conklin
Toddler Environment Guide

With a bachelor’s degree in social work from Ohio University, and a master’s in Psychology – Counseling and Psychotherapy from Antioch University Seattle, Kim began her work life with adolescents in therapeutic settings. Following an unplanned encounter with Montessori education, she fell in love with the philosophy of freedom through responsibility and went on to attain an American Montessori Society Preprimary certificate from the Montessori Education Institute of the Pacific Northwest. Teaching in Montessori classrooms was a perfect way to apply a natural respect and appreciation for the individuality of children within a peaceful community environment. Following a period of stay-at-home parenting, Kim returned to teaching in the early childhood program at The Music Settlement in Cleveland. There, she spent nine years as a science specialist and two as a pre-kindergarten integrated-classroom teacher. In 2016, Kim joined Hanna Perkins Child Development Center as a teacher in the EPIC Program for children with Autism Spectrum diagnoses. The toddler period has a special place in Kim’s heart and she is thrilled to rejoin a Montessori school working with this age group. (Fun Facts: Many years ago, Kim was the maternity leave substitute for then-toddler teacher Amy Mackie-Barr! And Amy was Kim’s daughter’s kindergarten teacher!) Outside of school, Kim enjoys walking with her dog and/or husband, visiting their two 20-something children, trying to develop a regular yoga practice and just about anything novel.


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. She is currently working toward a Master of Montessori Education from Xavier University, and just completed Montessori Materials training this past summer.  Although it took an array of unrelated experiences to lead her to Montessori, Elizabeth has finally found her dream job at SSMS.  Elizabeth loves working in the Aspen Room, and deeply enjoys getting to know students and families through her role as Encore Director.  When not at school, Elizabeth can most often be found doing homework, reading for pleasure, or spending time with family, friends, and her pets.


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 Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School.  Angela enjoys spending time with her family, singing in church choirs, exploring nature, hiking/ walking in the Metroparks, and trying new recipes.


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.


Elizabeth Hinkel
Associate Head of School

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.


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.

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.


Khema Perera
Toddler Guide

Khema completed her AMI Montessori training in her home country of Sri Lanka.  She first lived in Nevada before settling in Ohio.  Khema has experience in public, charter, and private Montessori schools.  She has three lovely teenagers.  Some of Khema’s passions outside of school are cooking a variety of ethnic foods, reading, and walking in the Metroparks.




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.


Barb Tuori
Toddler Environment 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!


Alyssa Trzynka
Spanish Guide

Alyssa’s passion for Spanish and Hispanic culture began at an early age while on a family vacation to Mexico. That interest in Espanol took her to Valencia, Spain for her senior year of high school. Upon returning to the U.S. Alyssa attended Thiel College and the University of Akron where she earned Bachelor’s of Arts degrees in Education and Hispanic Studies.  Although not Montessori trained she loves the philosophy.  All four of her children attend SSMS. Alyssa keeps busy with her family in the Highland Square neighborhood of Akron.  They enjoy hiking, canoeing, and the thrill of roller coasters!


Patty Zilich
Children’s House Assistant 

Patty is a lifelong Ohioan and calls Newburgh Heights home.  She has worked in both public and Montessori settings for the past 21 years.  She is thrilled to be back “home” in a Montessori environment.  Patty is married and has three lovely children and three amazing grandchildren. She is a die-hard Browns, Cavs and Indians fan. She loves attending sporting events and doing retail therapy at thrift stores.