Richard J. Toymil – Executive Director
I was born in the Bronx, New York and attended Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx and then two years in the City University system at Lehman College. I transferred to the University of Oregon and completed a Bachelors of Science with an Elementary Education Certification.
I taught in Eugene, Oregon from 1978 to 1984 then moved to Alaska in 1984 and worked in the Alaskan Bush with Inupiat Natives until 1997. I received a Masters of Educational Administration from the University of Alaska, Southeast in 1991. I was an Elementary school principal in Homer, Alaska from 1997 to 2002 working with students aged 5 to 7. I moved back to the Bering Strait School District from 2002-2004 as Director of Instructional Support traveling around the 50,000 square mile region visiting all 15 schools in our district.
I believe I am a transformational leader honoring the skills and aptitudes of staff and students. With the “Quality Schools” model I have led staff, students, and community in maintaining a positive and proactive school climate.
I have worked as a recruiter and trained teachers in cultural orientation to the Alaskan Native Community. I developed community-based suicide prevention programming through outdoor camps for students. I am an avid networker and problem solver.
In May of 2010 I was selected to be the National Distinguished Principal from the State of Alaska. I traveled to Washington, DC with other awardees from around the country where we received recognition for our work. It was a true honor.
In 2012 I had another honor, that of being selected as the Executive Director of Anchorage Montessori School. I have long seen the positive effects on children who were guided by educators trained in the Montessori method. The move to the private non-profit sector has been very rewarding, and each day I learn more from my staff, students, and families.
Ellen Firestone – Director of Education
I have been involved in Montessori since 1987 as a parent, teacher and administrator. I have a BA in Psychology and a MEd in Child and Family Studies. As a parent, I saw what wonderful things my son was learning in his Montessori school and I needed to know more. I volunteered at his school and found myself spending more and more time there. When my second child was 3 years old, I helped start a 3 to 6 year old program so that she could have a Montessori experience also. In 1992, I went for my Montessori 3-6 year old training.
I taught Montessori in Charlotte NC for 12 years and then went on to teach community college for the next nine years. My son and daughter went to a Montessori school from preschool thru middle school. As a Montessorian, I found the best way for me to teach Early Childhood Educators was using the Montessori Method and that, I did. Having summers off, I found my way to Anchorage Montessori School where I taught for two summers, explored a lot and fished a little. In December 2014, I packed up my North Carolina house and headed to Anchorage where I became the Director of Education January 2015.
I am honored to be working at Anchorage Montessori School and I am enjoying myself in Alaska. My hobbies include quilting, traveling, fishing, bird watching, biking and enjoying new experiences. My motto is: Life is about experiences and relationships.
Toddler Program Director
Birch Community Toddler Lead
Liz Hamlin has been working at Anchorage Montessori School for 19 years. Fifteen of these have been as a Lead Teacher in a Toddler classroom. Liz is a passionate educator. Her enthusiasm for children, families, and learning is of the highest degree.
Ms. Hamlin respects each child’s individual strengths and areas of needed growth. She is a keen observer and is able to recognize children’s developmental stages. She has the intuitiveness and professional training to guide the child toward fulfilling his or her needs. Liz is a strong advocate and practitioner of Montessori philosophy and methodology.
In addition to her longstanding and successful classroom work, Liz is a leader and mentor for the younger staff members. She is the Program Director for the Toddler Community and has often led tours of the program for prospective parents.
As part of the leadership team Liz provides thoughtful insights and ideas for the day-to-day operations of our school, as well as, helping to brainstorm and craft more long term vision and goals.
Aniceta Sanchez, Toddler Assistant
Willow Community, Toddler Lead
Leonor began working at Anchorage Montessori School in June of 2011. After two years as a teaching assistant, Leonor became the Lead Teacher in the Wild Iris Full Day Toddler classroom. Ms. Leonor follows the Montessori philosophy and methods carefully allowing each child to develop into an individual. Leonor’s environment is organized and peaceful. Her talents as an artist enhance the classroom and add to the overall success of our school program. In Leonor’s own words: “I’m truly grateful to work in such an incredible school and amazing group of people! I’m honored and grateful that I get to do this for a living and make a difference with the children I get to work with. ”
Deaunna Harford, Willow Community, Toddler Assistant
Delfa Ducasse “Kuky”
Wild Iris Toddler Lead Teacher
I am the Lead Teacher of the Wild Iris Room. I have been at AMS since 2007. I love everything about AMS, especially the authenticity of our philosophy and that Montessori Education is unique all over the world.
My favorite colors are pink, black, and purple. I enjoy cooking for my family, dancing, and I love to listen to music.
I was born in a small city in the Dominican Republic. I lived in New York, New Jersey, and Nevada.
Did you know that I studied medicine and nursing for 4 years. I also know how to deliver a baby!
Melinda Bandith, Toddler Assistant
Fireweed Community, Primary Lead Teacher and Program Director
My name is Jennifer Wagner and I am the lead teacher in the Fireweed Room. I came to Anchorage Montessori school in 2008. I also received my Montessori certificate in 2008 from the American Montessori Society. Prior to coming to AMS I worked in traditional preschools for several years. I love how the Montessori philosophy can be applied to fit the developmental needs of any child regardless of culture or ability. Watching the children progress through the three year cycle is exciting and very rewarding.
When not at AMS, I enjoy reading, sewing, quilting, knitting, cooking and fishing.
Madison Keeling, Primary Assistant
I grew up in Eagle River and spent much of my youth fishing, berry picking, processing game meat and playing in the woods. After graduating from Chugiak High School I attended the University of Alaska Anchorage for two years before transferring to Colorado Christian University. After receiving a BA in Psychology from CCU I worked with college students with disabilities, namely people on the autism spectrum. That led me to a Montessori school where I worked as a para educator for a student with autism.
Being in a Montessori environment was a “coming home” moment for me as I realized that the method was a calling I had to pursue. I began working in a primary classroom (3-6 year olds) and became a certified Montessori lead teacher in 2012. I was also blessed with a daughter in 2012 and chose to stay at home with her and my son after that. Being a parent has truly rounded out my education as a Montessorian and I am excited to bring that piece to the classroom. I am so grateful to have found the Montessori method because I have seen it both nurture and respect the unique way children learn. When given the opportunity, children gobble up as much knowledge as they can and a Montessori environment is tailored to give them that exact experience. As an adult I find that I am constantly learning alongside the children as well. I also value music and outdoor time because I have seen it to be an integral part of nurturing children’s spirits.
As most Alaskans do, I thrive while enjoying nature through hiking, biking, skiing, boating and practicing a subsistence lifestyle. My husband is a farmer and we relish growing our own produce. My family and I love good food and can often be found in the kitchen trying out new dishes with local ingredients. One of my favorite things is coming into my kitchen and seeing my kids peeking at our sourdough rising and kombucha brewing!
Jessica Stroman and Joseph Shellhamer, Primary Assistants
Prickly Rose Community, Primary Lead Teacher
Lauren has been apart of the Anchorage Montessori School community since 2013 and recently joined as a teacher. She has her Bachelors Degree in Early Childhood Education and is certificated in Special Education. Lauren brings with her the understanding of an educator of Montessori but also the perspective of a parent. She loves that her students are able to work at their own pace, express independence, and take responsibility for their own choices. Lauren is excited to begin in the Prickly Rose room this fall and provide a supportive and inclusive learning environment for her students.
Lauren is a Minnesota native and moved to Alaska at a young age. She went back to Minnesota for her Associate’s Degree and then moved back to complete her Bachelor’s. In her free time she enjoys reading, spending time with her family, traveling, and cooking.
Kathleen Liwanag, Primary Assistant
Kinnikinnick Community, Primary Lead
Constance grew up in Massachusetts. She has been an educator of young children for over 30 years and brings to our school solid experience and a driving passion for the children she teaches. Her education includes a BA in Psychology and an MA in Curriculum and Instructional Strategies. Her work at Anchorage Montessori School includes facilitating in the 3 to 6 Primary Room and leading an Extended Day classroom focused on enriching the Montessori skills of our 5 year old students. Outside of the educational realm, Constance enjoys singing, trumpeting, biking, and nestling in nature.
Alana Parkinson, Primary Assistant
Elementary Program Director
Silverberry Community, Elementary I Lead
My name is Greta Seitz, and I am the Lower Elementary teacher. I started at AMS in 2005, and have greatly enjoyed my time at this wonderful school! One of the reasons I love teaching in the first, second, and third grade classroom is the energy the students bring every day, along with their inquisitive natures. They teach me just as much as I teach them, and never cease to make me smile with their jokes and anecdotes! One of the many things I love about the Montessori approach to education is the fact that I get to know the students over the course of the three years they are in my classroom. It’s a privilege to be a part of people’s lives like that, and there’s nothing quite like seeing students grow in knowledge, confidence, and skills over the course of the year! In my spare time I love to be outdoors and enjoy the beautiful wonder that is Alaska. On those days when the weather makes it nicer to just be inside, I also enjoy curling up with a great book and a cup of hot chocolate topped with a dash of whip cream.
Melissa Thompson – Elementary I Assistant
Salmonberry Community, Elementary II Lead
Naomi Galloway joined the Anchorage Montessori School community in the fall of 2011.
She was raised on a farm in East Tennessee until her family relocated to Detroit, Michigan where she attended High School and spent the majority of her adult life. After obtaining a Bachelors of Science degree in Elementary Education from Wayne State University, Ms. Galloway came to Alaska to serve for one year as an AmeriCorps member. Trailside Discovery Camp placed her in Title I schools where she provided outdoor education opportunities for free. When she completed her year of AmeriCorps service, she was hired by Anchorage Montessori School as a Teacher’s Assistant in the Salmonberry (Upper Elementary) classroom. Since then, she has helped to direct the Summer Elementary Recreation program, coordinated the Elementary Aftercare program, and finally became the Lead Guide for Upper Elementary.
Juliette Rosado – Elementary II Assistant
Enrichment Program Staff
Elementary Art Teacher
Music Specialist (Elementary)
Spanish Teacher (All Levels)
Primary Before School/Assistant
Elementary Before School
Ling Zhou/Kathleen Liwanag
Elementary After School
Madison Keeling, Ewout Damen, Jessica Stroman
Primary After School Assistants
Auxiliary Services & Substitute Coordinator
Office and Compliance Support