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CEMCS Faculty



Kindergarten 1 – Melissa Friel

Melissa was born and raised in Massachusetts, where she graduated from Tyngsboro Jr./Sr. High School. She moved to Savannah to attend SCAD, where she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts. She began her teaching career teaching abroad in South Korea. When she returned, she began working as a lead 3-year old teacher at a Montessori Early Childhood program while she earned her Master of Arts in Teaching from Armstrong Atlantic State University. When she completed her degree, she started working for SCCPSS, where she taught Kindergarten and 1st grade for 3 years. She then returned to Montessori Early Childhood for another 3 years while her son was in preschool and then moved to Coastal Empire Montessori last year. She a certified Montessori Primary Program teacher through the North American Montessori Center.

Melissa married Thomas Christoper Friel, a proud Savannah High Alumni, in 2011. They have 2 children - a 6-year-old boy (Archer) and a 3-year-old girl (Matilda). She enjoys cooking for her family and swimming and hiking with them. When she is not with her family, she practices yoga and Pilates. She also still creates art in her spare time.

Kindergarten 2 – Hannah Lewis

Hannah graduated from Towson University in Baltimore, MD, with a degree in Theatre. During that time, she discovered her love of teaching while using theatre skills and games as a way to inspire the children of inner-city Baltimore to read. She loved spending time with the 3rd graders involved in the program and knew that her life would take a turn toward education. This will be Hannah’s fourth year here at CEMCS, her second year teaching Kindergarten. She feels incredibly fortunate to have found such a wonderful family of educators here. She has recently completed her Montessori certification in Lower Elementary through the North American Montessori Center.

Hannah was born in Easton, MD, but spent a lot of her time growing up near the beach in Ocean City. She loves going home to visit her family whenever she can. Hannah moved here to Savannah five years ago and has fallen in love with coastal Georgia; it reminds her of home. In her spare time, you might find Hannah spending time with her fiancée, Matt, and their two wacky dogs, Bob and Peter. They love exploring the outdoors, seeing live music, visiting family, cooking, hanging out at the beach, and traveling. In fact, traveling is one of Hannah’s passions, and she has traveled to and lived in several different countries around the world including Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the Dominican Republic, the Cayman Islands, and Nicaragua. She plans on adding many more places to that list.

Lower Elementary 1 – Anneka Thomas

Anneka was born and raised in Montego Bay, Jamaica. She showed an interest in teaching from an early age and obtained her Associate Degree from Sam Sharpe Teachers’ College in 2008. She started her first teaching job in the same elementary school she attended, teaching alongside those who taught her. After three years, she graduated from Western Carolina University with a Bachelor of Science in Education Anneka has taught at the elementary level in Jamaica for 6 years and was also the school’s dance coach. She moved to the US in 2015 as an International Exchange Teacher, where she continued teaching in North Carolina for an additional 3 years.

Anneka relocated to Savannah in late 2018, with her husband JT , her 1-year old son Theo and their dog Jager. She enjoys cooking for her family and going on adventures. She also enjoys traveling, backpacking, sightseeing, hiking, and exploring new places.

Lower Elementary 2 – Alana Brown

Alana is originally from Roseville, OH. As an Army veteran, she has lived in various places, including Virginia, Texas, and Columbus, GA, before finally settling in Savannah. Upon exiting the military, Alana began volunteering at Coastal Empire Montessori in her daughter's classroom, and it was there that she learned her love for teaching. Alana earned a Bachelor of Business in Human Resource Management and has completed her Elementary I Montessori Training through the Seacoast Center for Education. She has also completed the GaTAPP (Georgia Teacher Preparation and Pedagogy Program) with Oconee RESA for her certification.

In her spare time, Alana enjoys spending time with her family. She is married and has four daughters, ages 13, 12, 5 and 1.5 years. Her 2 oldest daughters are graduates of CEMCS and her third daughter will be starting Kindergarten here this year.

Lower Elementary 3 – Laurel Gauthe

Laurel developed her love of teaching young children as she worked with toddlers and infants at a childcare center in Atlanta throughout high school and during breaks in college. She combined her passion for teaching and creating art with a Bachelor Degree in Art Education at the University of Georgia. Laurel taught art at an elementary school in Griffin, GA, before moving to Savannah and joining the CEMCS team in 2014. She completed Lower Elementary Montessori certification in 2018 through Seacoast Center. Laurel adores teaching 6–9-year-olds because they are at the age of imagination. Maria Montessori said, "The secret of good teaching is to regard the child’s intelligence as a fertile field in which seeds may be sown, to grow under the heat of flaming imagination."

Laurel loves traveling, visiting art museums, and learning about our world. Some of her favorite activities include gardening, kayaking, biking, drawing, and spending time with her husband, Andrew.

Lower Elementary 4 – Janine Neal

Janine was born in Ohio and grew up in Savannah, GA. She graduated from Valdosta State University with a Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education and earned a Master of Education in Counseling in 2006. One of her greatest passions is teaching, and this year is her 17th. She has worked for the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System and for Richmond County School System in a variety of grade levels throughout the years. Janine completed her Montessori Certification through the North American Montessori Center and looks forward to her second year – and many more – here at CEMCS!

Janine loves spending most of her time with family and friends. She has a soon-to-be ten-year-old daughter whom she adores. She enjoys traveling, reading, shopping, going to the beach, and most of all having fun with her daughter. She enjoys working with children and is looking forward to a prosperous school year.

Lower Elementary 5 – Kelly Arseneau

Kelly was raised in Central Florida and developed a passion for teaching at a young age. She's entering her 10th year teaching! With a Bachelor Degree in Elementary Education with Reading and ESOL endorsements, she spent her first five years teaching 9th-grade reading. During those years, Kelly earned over 300 hours of in-service training and conducted several courses for her peers. In addition to finishing her Montessori Certification, she is continuing her education at Georgia Southern University in the Applied Research and Evaluation graduate program. This will be her fifth year teaching Lower Elementary at CEMCS; her students have always valued her sense of humor, enthusiasm, and ability to make learning fun!

Kelly relocated to Savannah in 2015 with three boys and is excited to live in one of her favorite cities in the US! In her spare time, she loves spending time with her family, winning Nerf wars, reading (especially non-fiction), going to the beach, watching documentaries - learning! She's looking forward to another exciting year here at CEMCS!

Lower Elementary 6 – Kylene Purvis

Kylene was born and raised in Tampa, Florida. She graduated from the University of South Florida, where she earned her Bachelor Degree in Communication and Science Disorders. She worked for four years in speech therapy for public elementary school students. During this time, Kylene earned her Master Degree in Early Childhood Education from Nova Southeastern University. She has taught for 15 years in Kindergarten through 3rd Grade, being recognized as Teacher of the Year at Pasco Elementary. She earned her ESOL endorsement in 2008 and has completed her Montessori Certification with the North American Montessori Center.

Kylene and her family moved to Savannah in 2015. She and her husband, Brian, have two children - Kaden (11) and Kyla (4). In her spare time, Kylene enjoys spending time with her family, outdoor activities, reading, shopping, and learning yoga. She loves the following quotations from Maria Montessori: "Believe in the child” and "... the teacher's task is to first nourish and assist, to watch, encourage, guide, induce, rather than interfere, prescribe, or restrict." Kylene is excited to be teaching Montessori and observe her students grow into confident and independent learners.

Lower Elementary 7 – Molly Wheeler

Originally from North Carolina, Molly earned a Bachelor Degree in Studio Art at Rhodes College in Memphis, TN. She immediately started teaching and hasn’t stopped since. She has taught English in rural Japan, directed a preschool in Moscow, Russia, and started a school in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. She has taught in toddler through lower elementary classrooms after falling in love with Montessori education in 2006. After becoming a mother, she became the Program Director for a Spanish immersion Montessori school in Washington, DC. She earned her Montessori credential from the Institute for Advanced Montessori Studies in Maryland and has a Master Degree in Education from St. Catherine University. Most recently, she lived in Asunción, Paraguay, for three years with her husband and two children, Savannah (nearly 6 and enjoying living in a city “named after her”) and Liam (3), where she taught and trained teachers on the Montessori method.

Molly is also a certified yoga instructor and enjoys sharing this passion with children. She loves cooking, sewing, photography, and almost anything outdoors. She is currently working to keep her Spanish as strong as her children’s but may not succeed for long.

Upper Elementary 1 – Denisaira Miller-Torres-Pellot

Denisaira was born and raised in Puerto Rico, where she lived until 1996 when her mother made the decision to move her family to the United States. Her upbringing was filled with caring and thoughtful people, who possessed an abundance of culture, values, beliefs, and traditions that influenced her life greatly. Once her family settled in Michigan, Denise attended Michigan State University and majored in Pre-Law. She knew in her heart, though, that her true passion was being a teacher, helping children with their educational development and impacting them in a positive way, ensuring their potential is fulfilled. She therefore transferred to Kaplan University, where she majored in Elementary Education, and graduated with Summa Cum Laude honors.

Denisaira has two children, Luisier and Jiansier, who are/were CEMCS students. The birth of her two children made her recognize that all children need support and nurturing, which prompted her to join the staff as a Teaching Assistant in 2012. She has been working here with children ever since.

Denisaira graduated from Kaplan University with a Bachelor Degree in Early Childhood Education, and she completed the Elementary I Montessori training in Charleston, SC, with the Seacoast Center for Education. She has recently added Gifted and Special Education certifications to her credentials. She is excited to be a Montessori educator – to be someone for young children to look up to, someone who the children can trust, and who will always “go the extra mile” to ensure their success.

Upper Elementary 2 – Christian Gibson

Christian was born in Houston, Texas and moved to Lansing, Michigan at the age of 10. He graduated from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a Bachelor of English. After graduation, he travelled the US, Europe, and Africa for a year before coming to Savannah. His love for teaching was inspired by the many teachers spanning generations in his family. Christian spent time as a substitute in Savannah-Chatham County and working on Tybee before joining the CEMCS team.

In his spare time, Christian continues his traveling, writes short stories and works on his screenplays. He has a passion for seeing new places, discovering new art and attending concerts. He has been to 20+ countries and 3 continents. He is excited for his first full year with the CEMCS family.

Upper Elementary 3 – Patty Clancy

As Patty enters her 31st year in education, she still enjoys and embraces all that teaching has to offer. She began her career by earning a Bachelor Degree in Elementary Education with a specialization in Early Childhood from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. She moved south and had her first teaching experience in the inner-city Atlanta School System and then worked with at-risk Pre-K special needs students in a private school setting. Since moving to Savannah, Patty has taught at several public schools in Chatham County, adding a Gifted Endorsement to her certificate. She also taught and was the assistant director at a private school for children with neurological disorders, where she learned a variety of invaluable methods for differentiation. She married and moved to Augusta, GA, for 7 years, which ended up being a highlight in her career. In 2007, Patty was named Teacher of the Year for her school and runner up for Columbia County. During the next few years, she obtained her Master Degree in Education Curriculum and became a Thinking Map and PBIS Trainer. She came to CEMCS from teaching 4th and 5th grades in Bryan County, where she was the recipient of two Donors Choose Grants for flexible seating and modality equipment for her inclusion students. She obtained her Montessori Certification from the North American Montessori Center in March of 2019.

Even though she was born in Michigan and raised in Illinois, Patty considers Savannah her true home. She loves spending days out at the beach, reading, cooking out almost year round, and taking care of her fur babies, Stella and Stewie. Patty embraces the challenge of teaching in all aspects of life. She feels she learns as much as she teaches. Every day is different and should be welcomed with enthusiasm, a belief which she hopes to instill in her students.

Specialized Instruction – Petra Echauri

Petra is originally from Newington, CT. Various opportunities took her from East to West and back again; she has also lived in Hawaii, Washington, D.C. and Northern California. Petra earned a Bachelor of Science in Speech Language Pathology and Audiology from California State University, Sacramento. While attending school, she worked as an assistant teacher and after-school program director for Woodland Montessori Children’s House. Her love for children was enhanced by her love for Montessori education at this time. Petra completed the Montessori Live Elementary I Program in June 2017 and holds a MACTE Certificate in Montessori Education. She also has her Master of Education, Reading Specialist from Armstrong State University. This year Petra will serve in the Specialized Instruction Department working primarily with upper elementary students.

In her spare time, Petra enjoys spending time with her family. She has an 11-year-old son and a 6-year-old daughter, both of whom keep her busy and on her toes. She and her family try to get to Tybee Island or Hilton Head Island every chance they get, as the beach is their favorite place to spend time as a family. She takes great pleasure in watching her children grow and explore the world around them.

Specialized Instruction – Destiny Marira

Destiny was born and raised in Savannah, GA, where she graduated from Savannah Christian Preparatory School and then from Armstrong State University with a Bachelor Degree in Liberal Studies in 2015. She is currently enrolled in the GATAPP (Georgia Teacher Preparation and Pedagogy Program) with Oconee RESA.

From a young age, Destiny enjoyed helping children. As a child, she loved spending time with her younger cousins, nieces and nephews at her grandmother’s house. In high school, she spent summers working at her parent’s pediatric office. During college, Destiny gained a variety of experiences working with children at the Disney College Program in Orlando, FL, and the daycare center, after school program and summer camp at SCPS. She also volunteered with children’s services at her church. Eventually, Destiny followed in her grandmother’s footsteps and began working at a Montessori school. This is Destiny’s second year at CEMCS; this will be her first year as a Special Education teacher. She is excited for the new school year!

Destiny loves spending time with her family, friends and boyfriend. In her spare time, she enjoys trying new foods, traveling, doing yoga, writing, and learning languages.

Specialized Instruction – Mary Weathers

Mary is a native of Savannah. She graduated from Armstrong State College with a degree in nursing and, after a long and varied career practicing as a registered nurse, she accepted a position as the school nurse at West Chatham Elementary in 2010. Mary’s interest in teaching special needs students was sparked and she completed a Master of Arts in Teaching Special Education from Georgia Southern University in 2013. She also holds an Educational Specialist Degree in Instructional Technology from Georgia Southern University. Mary has worked with all ages of staff and students over the 9+ years that she has been in the Savannah Chatham County school system, including elementary, middle school (Oglethorpe Charter School), and high school (New Hampstead High and Jenkins High Schools).

Mary lives with her husband, two dogs (Olivia and Olessia), one cat (K.G. 2.0), and 4 chickens. They have two children: Alan Weathers, who is completing a Master of Music in Conducting and works as a graduate assistant directing the Georgia Southern Marching Band, Southern Pride, and Megan Weathers, who is a graduate of Georgia Southern University and works in Wichita, Kansas, in administration. Mary enjoys gardening, yoga, meditation, traveling, researching alternative and complimentary medicine, reading, and spending time with her family and friends. She is a strong advocate for all children with or without special needs and has a special interest in students on the autism spectrum.

Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) Coordinator – Leslie Sheppard

Leslie was born and raised in Savannah, GA, where she received her education in the public school system of Chatham County. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Social Science from Ashford University and her Master of Social Work degree from Walden University. This is Leslie’s fourth year at CEMCS as the MTSS Coordinator. Previously, Leslie worked in the SCCPSS’s Special Education Department for over ten years, where she helped autistic children transition into the inclusion setting from the self-contained setting. Leslie loves the quote “We believe all children can achieve.”

Leslie enjoys spending time with her family. She has two boys. Leslie and her husband, James, love doing activities and traveling together as a family whenever they can.

Art – Bethany Norwood

Bethany graduated summa cum laude from Armstrong State University with a Bachelor of Science in Art Education. Following graduation, she also earned a certification in Early Childhood Education. Bethany worked in a Pre-K classroom in a private daycare setting for two years, learning how to be patient, loving, and most importantly how to have fun! She had a wonderful time teaching Art at CEM last year and is very excited to return for her second year! Bethany's concentration is in ceramic sculpture and portraiture, but she has experience working in a broad range of media. She is eager to share her experiences with her students while learning new things from them as well. Bethany believes that studying Art, and the artistic process itself, can teach children important life skills such as problem solving, decision making, empathy, collaboration, and of course, self-expression. She also believes that every child is an artist, and is determined to find some aspect of Art, whether it’s a certain medium, style, technique or subject matter, that excites every student who enters her classroom. As Pablo Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

Bethany has lived in Savannah for eleven years and recently married her best friend. She and her husband live on Wilmington Island with their cat, Watson. She enjoys drawing, painting, sculpting, playing the ukulele, and reading. She also enjoys riding her road bike and kayaking on the skin-on-frame boats that she and her husband build together.


Stephanie Babcock-Wright, Executive Director

Stephanie is a social scientist and educator who has had careers in both law enforcement and education. She possesses the following degrees: a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and French from Bucknell University, a Master of Arts in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin - Madison, a Master of Science in Criminal Justice from Suffolk University, a Master of Education in Middle Grades Education from Armstrong Atlantic State University. Additionally, she was one of a handful of Georgia educators chosen to participate in the innovative CharterLeader Program, a residency-based Educational Specialist program, through Kennesaw State University, designed to grow charter-school leaders and strengthen the charter-school sector in Georgia. Stephanie is certified to teach Early Childhood Education, Middle Grades Education and Gifted Education, as well as being certified in Performance-Based Educational Leadership. Before becoming an educator and teaching middle-grades Mathematics for several years, Stephanie served as Deputy Director of the Office of Research and Evaluation at the Boston Police Department, where she did crime, intelligence and statistical analysis. Public-school educated herself, she is a strong believer in the value of public schooling and the idea that all families should have access to positive educational alternatives for their children.

Stephanie’s association with CEMCS began when she enrolled both of her boys, Sam and Ben, when the school opened back in 2008. She has been here ever since – as a parent, a CEMCO Board Trustee and Officer, then as Director of Operations. She is now serving in her 7th year as the school’s Executive Director. She has always believed in the power of the mission and concept of the CEMCO Founding Board and remains intensely-committed to the school’s success. As she watches the growth, progress and graduation of more and more students here – including her own children – she becomes even more deeply convinced that CEM’s commitment of “doing Montessori right” serves children and families faithfully. Stephanie has also participated in Montessori training for School Directors through both the Montessori Foundation and the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector. In addition, she serves on numerous local and statewide committees and leadership groups, often through the GA Charter Schools Association, and increasingly engages in educational reform initiatives across the state. She is involved with the Montessori for Social Justice movement and the new Embracing Equity cohort. She is also a proud member of the Savannah Charter Schools Collaborative and loves working with her charter colleagues here in town in order to advocate for children, families, teachers, and staff.

Stephanie is a transplanted Yankee who has lived in many areas of the United States, as well as in France. She is a workaholic who also enjoys family time, being a soccer mom, going to the gym, watching sports, reading, and traveling anywhere that’s interesting to explore. Her Montessori-educated children love learning and voraciously take in the world around them, which makes being their mom extremely fun and rewarding. In her never-ending pursuit to grow as a person and become the best educator and guide possible for the school, she continues to work on enhancing her reflectiveness and mindfulness.

Katherine Davis, Head of Montessori Curriculum and Instruction

Katherine was born and raised in the Savannah, GA, area where she attended Armstrong Atlantic State University. While studying Art History and Techniques there, she found a passion for teaching art, which quickly turned into a passion for the art of teaching. Katherine graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Art Education and taught Kindergarten at CEMCS for 5 years. During that time, she earned her MACTE-accredited Certification in the Early Childhood Program with Montessori Live. Since becoming the Head of Montessori Curriculum and Instruction, Katherine has earned her Montessori Live School Leadership Certification and aspires to get her Ed.S. in School Psychology from Georgia Southern.

Katherine resides with her husband, Matt, who is in the Air National Guard, their three sons Sean (13), Hendrix (5) & Harper (5), and their 2 dogs & 1 cat. Hendrix and Harper are starting Kindergarten at CEMCS this year! In her spare time, Katherine enjoys boating, fishing, camping, putting puzzles together, and cooking. Her two favorite quotes from Maria Montessori are, "Imagination does not become great until human beings, given the courage and the strength, use it to create" and "Play is the work of a child.”

William ‘Bill’ Kovach, Chief Financial Officer

Bill is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati, where he earned a Bachelor of Business Administration Degree with a major in Accounting. He is a CPA and has had quite a varied professional career. Bill has spent time in the public accounting field, served as the Controller of a multi-billion dollar construction program, and provided consulting services to various state and local government entities. As a mid-career course change, Bill focused his attention on the not-for-profit industry and became the Chief Administrative Officer of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, TX, the largest Episcopal congregation in the United States. Bill also served as the Executive Director of the Open Door Mission (a residential drug and alcohol recovery program for homeless and indigent men) and then finished out that segment of his work life as the Executive Vice President and CFO of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society – South Central Region.

Bill was born and raised in Ohio but spent 35 years living in Houston, Texas. He and his wife, Peggy, moved to Savannah in 2015 to relax and enjoy all that Savannah has to offer. They have five children, seven grandchildren and one very pampered cat. Bill likes to spend his spare time working on home renovations and traveling. He’s been to 47 of the 50 states - with a goal to cross the remaining 3 off his list in the next couple years.

Teresa Middleton, Business Manager

Teresa was born and raised in Columbus, GA. A basketball scholarship after high school afforded her the opportunity to attend Georgia Southwestern University in Americus, GA, where she earned her Bachelor of Science Degree in Mathematics with a minor in Computer Science. Teresa moved to the Tacoma/Seattle area with friends after graduation and made her home there for several years. In 1994, she returned to Columbus, GA, where she met her husband, John, on the Fort Benning golf course; they were married in 1996. Because Teresa holds education in high regard, she pursued and earned a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Troy State University a few years later. In October 2005, the couple was blessed with the best gift ever – Jade, their beautiful baby girl was born and their lives were enriched with the joys of parenthood. She completed her PhD in Educational Psychology from Capella University in 2017.

Teresa is a professional leader and logistician with experience in fast-paced environments. She has demonstrated strong organizational, technical, and interpersonal skills. She is a hardworking, dedicated, highly motivated self-starter, committed to superior customer service. She is confident and composed in interpersonal relations at all levels. She is detail-oriented, able to effectively multi-task, resourceful in ensuring successful mission completion, and she is blessed with outstanding results to her credit. Teresa served 28 years in the United States Army Reserves; she retired October 15, 2012. As a citizen soldier, Teresa is also blessed with a successful civilian career in Information Systems.

Jennifer Williams, Student Wellness & Information Specialist

Jenn was born and raised in Melbourne, FL. After high school graduation, she married Jeremy, who was in the US Navy. They were stationed all over the US for the next 15 years. In January 2010, they left the Navy life for beautiful Savannah, GA. Jenn was the Administrative Assistant of the school from 2011-2013. From 2013-2015, Jenn went back to school to further her education; she graduated with a Health Care Assistant Certification with endorsements as both Certified Nursing Assistant and Patient Care Technician from Savannah Technical College. This will be Jenn's 9th year at CEMCS!

Jenn has 3 great children, aged 23, 19, and 14. She enjoys spending her free time with them and their various activities. When she gets time to herself, she enjoys reading, baking, relaxing, and raising backyard chickens. Jenn is always looking for more ways to grow both personally and professionally; this year she will continue pursuing training opportunities to help enhance the social/emotional well-being of both students and staff.

Twilia Melvin, Administrative Assistant

Twilia was born and raised in Ridgeway, SC. After graduating high school, she worked as a paraprofessional at the elementary school where her mother worked. She then joined the US Army in 1998, which is where she met her husband William. They were stationed at Ft. Lee, VA, where she ended her Army career; her husband continued his path with the US Air Force and they moved to Savannah. Twilia took a position as an accountant at a car dealership, where she worked for many years and gained much administrative expertise. Twilia's education includes studying Criminal Justice at Midlands Technical College in Columbia, SC, and Central Texas College in VA. Twilia has worked at CEMCS since August 2013 and loves making the Main Office work.

Twilia is very family-oriented and enjoys spending most of her free time with family.

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