Faculty and Staff

Angela Willetts, M.F.A.

Middle/High Art Teacher

M.F.A., Studio Art, University of Davis, Davis CA; Ed., Education, Specializing in Literature, University of Camridge, UK

Joined Mount Madonna School in 2019

"I'm looking forward to teaching again within a school that emphasizes values-based education. It was important to me to find a community of people who care about each other and strive to be accountable to shared values. In Mount Madonna's mission statement I was especially drawn to the acknowledgement of the "transformative power of the creative process". I hope to make the art studio a hive of collaboration, experimentation and critical thinking - a place where students can discover, navigate and harness this power for themselves. I aim to foster an art studio culture that emphasizes growth mindset thinking. I believe art-making should be joyful and sparked by curiosity, and it should also be a place to practice persistence, adaptability and problem-solving. I'm really looking forward to getting started and seeing what the MMS students bring to the art studio and each other."

Bob Caplan, B.S.

Dean of Students, Title IX Coordinator, Art, Advisory, Communication Skills, Student Guidance

Teacher Certification, Metropolitan State College, Denver CO, B.S., Design, University of the Arts, Philadelphia PA, B.A., Liberal Arts, Temple University, Philadelphia PA

Bob caplan video screenshot
In Bob's Words -- A Teacher Highlight Video

Joined Mount Madonna School in 2006

"When I accepted the teaching position offered to me by Mount Madonna School, I anticipated an environment in which individual teachers and learners would be recognized for our strengths, supported in our growth and challenged to expand our roles as global citizens. I have not been disappointed! I feel academically stimulated and personally fulfilled in this family-oriented community of learners. The school administration sets a tone of high expectations and responsible delegation for faculty and students, inspiring in me a sense of empowerment and commitment to the school's three pillars: academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. This is especially appropriate for me as a teacher of visual arts and social/emotional intelligence. I am honored to share my passion for lifelong learning with the Mount Madonna School community."

Cassia Laffin, B.A.

First Grade Teacher

B.A., Sociology, UC  Santa Cruz; Elementary Credential, with emphasis on K-8 cross-cultural, language and academic development, Bethany College

In Cassia's Words -- A Teacher Highlight
Joined Mount Madonna School in 2010

"I am thrilled to be working at Mount Madonna because it is a particularly nurturing and loving environment.  As a First Grade teacher, I strive to make learning fun, exciting and meaningful. I do this by teaching thematically and infusing a great deal of music and art throughout our curriculum. Teaching first graders to read and write is not only a huge responsibility, but is extremely rewarding!

I care deeply for my students and fostering meaningful relationships. I hold social success in as high esteem as I do the academics. I am honored to join the staff at Mount Madonna, where I can be surrounded by others who are as passionate about their work as I am."

Charleigh France

Dance Teacher, Performing Arts Team

National and international adjudicator and choreographer for DX Dance; performance experience with Cirque Du Soleil and Jubilee, Las Vegas NV; trained at San Jose Cleveland Ballet; Studied contemporary, modern and jazz, Tisch School of the Arts, which included classes at Juilliard.

In Charleigh's Words --  A Teacher Highlight Video

Joined Mount Madonna School in 2019


Chrislaine Miller, Ph.D.

Middle School Social Studies and English Teacher

Ph.D. and M.A., History, University of California, Santa Cruz; Multiple Subject Teaching Credential, John F. Kennedy University; B.A. American Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz

In Chrislaine's Words -- A Teacher Video Highlight

Joined Mount Madonna School in 2017

Dan Gurska, Ph.D.

High School Social Studies and English Teacher

Ph.D. and M.A., Mythological Studies with an emphasis in Depth Psychology, Pacifica Graduate Institute; B.A., Humanities with an emphasis in Psychology, Sierra Nevada College

In Dan's Words -- A Teacher Highlight Video

Joined Mount Madonna School in 2020

"Mount Madonna School is special in that it invests in the humanities, champions the cultivation of compassion, and celebrates dynamic thinking. I joined this community because of its focus on education through dialogue, not catalogue…through production rather than consumption. It truly takes a village—students, staff, faculty, administration, parents!—to make our learning space a reality, so when it is finally my turn to step in, I promise to lead with gratitude.

I believe that to be an effective educator one must cultivate pluralistic academic communities where all people and learning styles are valued. Apart from the safety of my students, creating and maintaining an equitable classroom is always my top priority. It is also my duty as an educator to feed curiosity—not starve it. When students express genuine excitement in my class, I put the effort in to accommodate and host their newfound interests, for they too are teachers."

Danielle Barr, B.A.

Preschool/Kindergarten Teacher

B.A. Speech and Communication Studies, San Francisco State University , San Francisco; Montessori Northwest, Portland/Milpitas Primary Guide Credentialed

In Danielle's Words -- A Teacher Video Highlight

Joined Mount Madonna School in 2020

"I deeply value that Mount Madonna School offers an environment that nurtures curiosity and exploration and fosters independence and individual creative self expression. I commit to staying aligned with these values by guiding the children to find and recognize their place in community and their greatest potential. I believe it is important to learn early on compassionate ways of communication and the ability to nurture relationships, while staying open and true to possibility. My role is to guide and inspire each child's innate curiosity and facilitate their natural development of focus and concentration throughout, what Maria Montessori named, "The Absorbent Mind" years. I'm inspired by her philosophy to support each child in discovering the key that unlocks their individual treasure.

I was born with a love of learning and my personal vow is to never stop looking at the world through the eyes of a student because there is just so much more to discover. I am so grateful to share my passion for a lifelong love of learning with the children of Mount Madonna School. "

Dayanand Diffenbaugh, B.A.

High School World Religions, 8th Grade Rite of Passage, MMS Trustee, Founding Member of MMC, MMC Board of Directors

B.A., Religious Studies (cum laude), University of California, Santa Cruz

Dayanand Diffenbaugh video screenshot
In Dayanand's Words -- A Teacher Highlight Video

Joined Mount Madonna School in 1980

Gitanjali Rivera

Music Teacher, Performing Arts Team

Currently pursuing a M.A. Theological Studies, Pacific School of Religion; Musical Theatre Vocal Technique and Classical Theater, Ruth Kullerman Studio, New York, NY; Classical Voice and Music Theory, Hunter College, New York, NY

In Gitanjali's Words -- A Teacher Highlight Video
Re-Joined Mount Madonna School in 2017

Haley Campbell ('02) , M.A.

High School English and Creative Writing Teacher

M.F.A. Writing, University of San Francisco; M.A. Teaching with Secondary Credential, Westminster College; B.A. English with Minor in Business Administration, University of San Francisco

In Haley's Words -- A Teacher Highlight Video
Joined Mount Madonna School in 2014

Mount Madonna School Graduate, Class of 2002

"The culture at MMS is so unique because there is such a strong emphasis on academic excellence, but it’s equally balanced with love and support. Today’s educational philosophies highlight the importance of educating ‘the whole child,’ catering to the intellectual, emotional, psychological, physical, and spiritual needs. MMS is the embodiment of the ideal. I knew it was an amazing place in my twelve years as a student, but as a teacher, it’s an absolute dream to teach at a school like this where you have the freedom to honor your students as individuals.

I have always loved reading, writing, and storytelling. I think these are such powerful ways to engage with the world, to ask the big questions, to explore new perspectives. I grew up on the mountain as an only child and spent a lot of time wandering through the woods narrating stories in my head. To me, literature is as much a sage guide as a friend or therapist – we can learn so much about human kind, nature, and ourselves by engaging with a good story."

Harjit Punj, M.S.

High School Math and Science Teacher

M.S. Electrical Engineering, University of Nebraska, Lincoln; B.S., Electronics & Electrical Communication Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, India; CA Single Subject Teaching Credential (Math)

Joined Mount Madonna School in 2019

"I believe every child wants to learn, be happy and be successful. My objective is to create an environment that nurtures a positive self-image and self-confidence in every child with the belief and message that success can, and will happen with effort and collaboration. This requires individual attention, setting high expectation standards of student behavior, effort, discipline, academic excellence and developing faith in one's capabilities. I ensure that all students in my class will be given the encouragement and support in their learning success.

Having attended the Ramayana play, my wife and I felt very welcome, surrounded by alumni and a well-knit family community. The staff, students, and alumni have demonstrated a value system that is in alignment with my standards. The spiritual connection plays a valuable role in my interest and intent to work at MMS."

Hema Walker, B.A.

Preschool/Kindergarten Director

B.A., Psychology, University of California, Santa Cruz, Phi Beta Kapa; A.S., Early Childhood Education, Cabrillo College, Aptos CA

Joined Mount Madonna School in 2002

"I love teaching children because they are so close to the magic of life. At Mount Madonna School children are supported in growing at their own rate and in a positive direction."

Hilary Alvarado, Ph.D.

Middle School Math and Science Teacher

Ph.D. Environmental Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz; B.S. Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Single Subject Teaching Credential (Science)

In Hillary's Words -- A Teacher Video Highlight

Joined Mount Madonna School in 2018

Jameelah Johnson, B.S.

Teacher Assistant

B.S., English and Health with a concentration in Community Health, Virginia State University, VA; A.S. (In process) Early Childhood Education, Sacramento City College, Sacramento, CA; Certified Yoga Teacher, Yoga Seed Collective, Sacramento CA

Joined Mount Madonna School in 2020

"A native of California, I am a creator, a yogi, and passionate about following the path that at times, calls me, pulls me and propels me forward. I have lived at the Mount Madonna Center for the last year which has helped me to focus on wholeness and liberation, individually and collectively. Those intentions look and show up as a yoga teacher, a community health advocate and by holding space for others to connect to their own practices and understandings. It is an honor to be able to show up now for children and especially at Mount Madonna School."

Jessica Cambell, B.A.

5th Grade and Elementary Science Teacher

B.A., Liberal Studies with Language Arts and Literature Emphasis, California State University Monterey Bay; Elementary Teaching Credential

In Jessica's Words -- A Teacher Highlight Video
Joined Mount Madonna School in 2002

"I chose to teach at MMS because I was looking for a school where I could teach while pregnant with my first child, that embodied my educational philosophy. I believe that teachers and education act as a mirror and a window. I believe my teaching should help children to see and find themselves and look into others' perspectives. MMS presents the teacher with an arena to do just that! After my hiatus to raise my family I returned to MMS because I knew after that first year that this was the only school I ever wanted to teach at and the only school for my children to attend. I have never experienced such genuine love, support and care from any other teaching environment!"

Jessica Zovar, M.A.

Middle School Life Skills Teacher

M.A., Counseling Psychology, Brandman University; B.A., Psychology, University of Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz

Joined Mount Madonna School in 2020


Jesuina Smith, B.S.

Preschool/Kindergarten Teacher Assistant

B.S. Geography, Minor in Entrepreneurship Salem State University; California Assistant Teaching Permit; Early Childcare Credits, MiraCosta College; Certificates: Brain Development in Infants and Toddlers, Art Alive from Birth to 5, Optimizing Children's Learning Through Free Play

Joined Mount Madonna School in 2020

"I believe people learn by experiences and through watching others. It is important, especially for children to learn by doing and to do so at their own pace. I am excited to work at MMS because I love the School’s values. I wish more schools were following MMS’s philosophy! I think it is important to teach children self-love and acceptance, as well as respect to others. MMS does a great job with this in their program. I can’t wait to become a part of the great community!"

Kami Pacheco, B.A.

Director of Lower School, Elementary Health Teacher, MMS Board of Directors

B.A., Psychology, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA; 30 Units in Early Childhood Education, West Valley College, Saratoga, CA; California Commission on Teacher Credentialing: Site Supervisor Permit; ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) Crisis Prevention Certified (working with special needs children)

Kami Pacheco video screenshot
In Kami's Words -- A Teacher Highlight Video

Joined Mount Madonna School in 2018

“Since a young age, I have known my gift is working with and educating young children in a meaningful way. With over 20 years of education and experience, it is my passion to make a difference in the education of our youth, instilling self-confidence, self-reliance, and a life-long love of learning. I am so happy to be offering my service at a school that resonates with how I believe children learn and thrive and grow into their best selves. Incorporating these beautiful surroundings with meaningful learning experiences makes this an amazing educational community that I am so grateful to be a part of!”

Lisa Catterall, M.A.

Middle and High Math and Science Teacher

M.A., Education, Concordia University, B.A., Golden Key Scholar, Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder; M.A.Ed., Curriculum and Instruction, Concordia University, Six-Sigma Black Belt, Genentech

Joined Mount Madonna School in 2007

"I teach at Mount Madonna because the work we do at the school to create deep learning experiences for our students in every subject is becoming a rare commodity in Education. I love the families who are attracted to real learning and the community that gathers here around bringing-up kids who can think, create, question, and influence their world. I enjoy the commitment to passion, innovation, and intellectual rigor in the learning environment."

Luis Hernandez, M.S.

Elementary and Middle Spanish Teacher

M.S. Civil Engineering, Peruvian University of Applied Sciences, Lima, Peru; B.S. Civil Engineering Civil Engineering, Pontifical University of Peru, Lima, Peru

Joined Mount Madonna School in 2020

"I teach at Mount Madonna because the work we do at the school to create deep learning experiences for our students in every subject is becoming a rare commodity in Education. I love the families who are attracted to real learning and the community that gathers here around bringing-up kids who can think, create, question, and influence their world. I enjoy the commitment to passion, innovation, and intellectual rigor in the learning environment."

Natalie Turner, B.A.

Third Grade Teacher

B.A. Hebrew, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH; Elementary Teaching Credential, University of West Florida, Pensacola, FL

In Natalie's Words -- A Teacher Highlight
Joined Mount Madonna School in 2020

"I have always had a passion for teaching! My personal goal is to enhance my effectiveness as a teacher by continued professional development through travel, language, education and interactions with people! The goal for my students is to give them the greatest educational experiences of their lives by igniting their curiosity and knowledge and love of learning. To achieve this goal, I want to ensure my classroom feels inviting, organized, interactive, and is set up to promote self-directed learning and collaboration."

Nicholas Cabassa, M.A.

Fourth Grade Teacher, Cross Country and Basketball Coach

M.A., Education, Specialization in Teaching Best Practices, National University, San Jose, CA; B.A., Liberal Studies, Minor in American Popular Culture, San Jose State University, San Jose, CA; A.A., Gavilan College, Gilroy, CA; Cengage Online Teacher Training Program; CBEST and CSET Certified

In Nick's Words -- A Teacher Highlight

Joined Mount Madonna School in 2015

"It is a pleasure to get the opportunity to work at such a highly respected and community oriented school like Mount Madonna. As a teacher, I recognize the important role creativity and self-expression play in the development of early childhood learners, and I enjoy the fact that those concepts make up the main pillars of the MMS mission and culture. The outdoor environment at MMS is the kind of atmosphere that just doesn’t exist at other schools. It offers valuable learning opportunities as well as chances for students to participate in authentic real life experiences. The small community and family centered environment at MMS is what makes it such a desirable place to teach. I am excited to get to know everyone this year and to become part of the MMS family."

Nicole Silva, M.A.

Middle and High School Science Teacher, Cross Country, Track & Field and Soccer Coach

M.A., Education, B.A. Biology and Psychology, Credential-Single Subject Biology, Health (Supplemental), Credential Multiple Subject K-8, University of California Santa Cruz; Biology, Tulane University, New Orleans LA

Joined Mount Madonna School in 2015

"I am excited to teach science at Mount Madonna in a beautiful and rich environment which lends itself to the study of the natural world around us. Science is about asking the big questions- why, how and what, and we are fortunate to be in a setting that allows this exploration, not only in our physical surroundings, but in our educational setting as well. I am eager to facilitate this path of discovery with the students at MMS."

Nicole Tervalon, Ph.D.

Director of Technology, High School Math Teacher, Math Department Chair

P.h.D., MIT, Cambridge, M.A. and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), Woods Hole; M.A. (Joint Program), M.S., Oceanographic Engineering, MIT; B.S., Mechanical Engineering, Summa Cum Laude, Washington State University, Pullman, WA

In Dr. Nicole's Words -- A Teacher Highlight

Joined Mount Madonna School in 2004

"My passion has always been teaching. Not only do I like the challenge of inspiring students, but the thrill of seeing someone grasp a difficult concept they have been working on is extremely satisfying. I am very excited about teaching at MMS because it blends so many strengths I feel are essential for the most effective teaching/learning experience. The small class size, beautiful environment, supportive community, and up-to-date facilities all allow educating to be the focus of each day."



PK McDonald ('04) , B.S.

High School Athletic Director, Mathematics and Physics Teacher, Volleyball Coach

B.S., Civil Engineering, University of California, Los Angeles, CA

In PK's Words -- A Teacher Video Highlight

Joined Mount Madonna School in 2009

Mount Madonna School Graduate, Class of 2004

Prema Gammons, B.A.

2nd/3rd Grade Teacher

B.A. Early Childhood Education, Minor in Visual Arts and Religious Studies, Naropa University, Boulder, CO; Multiple Subject Teaching Credential, CBEST and CSET certified, CSU Monterey Bay; Supplemental Credential, Family and Consumer Studies; UNICEF representative- Jalapa, Nicaragua

Prema Gammons video screenshot
In Prema's Words -- A Teacher Highlight Video

Joined Mount Madonna School in 2014

"As an educator, I see my primary role as a facilitator of learning experiences while recognizing the unique qualities each student brings to the classroom. I feel so fortunate to teach at a school like Mount Madonna where the whole child is valued and celebrated.  Through the many special opportunities MMS offers, students are able to discover and nurture their gifts and teachers are able to extend curriculum to our beautiful outdoor environment."

Sadanand Mailliard, B.A.

Values in World Thought, Student Governance, MMS Trustee, Board of Directors Vice President, Executive Council

B.A., English, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Sadanand Mailliard Video screencapture
In Sadanand's Words --  A Teacher Highlight Video

Joined Mount Madonna School in 1981

"Each day I go into the classroom I am excited to be there because I am teaching what I love. In this wonderful academic setting that is Mount Madonna School, I am committed to bringing forth the ideas and concepts that will inspire our students to do those things in life that will, as Leon Kass says, 'make them worthy of their own admiration'."

Sampad Kachuck, M.A.

Middle School English Teacher, Performing Arts Team, Ramayana! Director

M.A., Directing Children's Theater, San Jose State University; B.A., Theater Arts, University of California, Santa Cruz; Professional Actor and Director.

Sampad Kachuck video screenshot
In Sampad's Words --  A Teacher Highlight Video

Joined Mount Madonna School in 1982

"I treasure and appreciate teaching at Mt. Madonna School for a variety of reasons, including the setting of the school within an intentional community whose philosophical foundation is built upon ideals and values similar to my own. I greatly value the small class sizes and resulting magnified opportunity of getting to know my students personally. I am truly appreciative of the freedoms I am given as a teacher to develop curriculum and to experiment creatively in a supportive atmosphere. Both faculty and students are part of a dynamic learning community, where we all strive to be better at our craft, to be better in our roles as student/teacher and most importantly, to be better as people."

Sara Sobkoviak, B.S.

Spanish Teacher, Track & Field Coach, MMS Board of Directors

B.S. Mass Media Communications, Minor in Spanish, Oral Roberts University, Tulsa Oklahoma; Certificate of Spanish Language & Culture, Costa Rican Language Academy

In Sara's Words -- A Teacher Video Highlight

Joined Mount Madonna School in 2015

Shannon Kelly ('92), B.A.

Director of Upper School, "Values in American/World Thought" and World Religions Teacher, College Counselor

B.A., Politics, Minor in History, University of California, Santa Cruz

In Shannon's Words -- A Teacher Video Highlight
Joined Mount Madonna School in 2008

Mount Madonna School Graduate, Class of 1992

Stevan Manzur

Middle School Athletic Director, Elementary and Middle School Physical Education Teacher, 5th Grade Teaching Assistant, Wrestling Coach

In Stevan's Words -- A Teacher Highlight Video
Joined Mount Madonna School in 2018

"It is my belief that humans perform best when logic, intuition and preparedness are in sync. To accomplish this, I take a holistic approach to educating, which includes mentoring, active listening, empathy, patience, utilizing differential learning techniques, and a ton of passion. The most rewarding aspect of education, for me, are those breakthrough moments when the student ¨gets it,¨ and their goal is realized. I believe Mount Madonna School values this approach as it is seen across all programs from Math and Science to Art and Music."