Faculty and Staff

Anand Darsie, B.A.

Performing Arts Music Teacher

B.A., Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN

Re-Joined Mount Madonna School in 2023 (originally 2013 and 2020)

"When MMS reached out to me recently about coming back to help out with the performing arts program, it was a no brainer for me to respond with a hearty ‘yes!’ I have the highest respect for the community that comprises MMS — students, faculty, staff, families and MMC — and the commitment to a more compassionate, intuitive form of education. While I’m around, I’ll share my voice with everyone within earshot, and I’ll do what I can to bring out the songs inside of all of our students."

Angela Willetts, M.F.A.

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."

Blythe Collier ('12), B.S.

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

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."

Chelsea Otterness, B.A.

Elementary Creative Expressions/Dance Teacher, Performing Arts Co-Director, Choreographer, Values I: Constructing Self Teaching Assistant, and High School Yoga Instructor

B.A., International Development Studies + emphasis on Chinese Language & Culture, University of California, Los Angeles, CA

Joined Mount Madonna School in 2021

“I am very grateful to be part of a community centered in the ethos of ‘work honesty, meditate everyday, meet people without fear & play.” As a choreographer, I hope to empower each being with the confidence and fearlessness to embrace creative & conscious movement, to fall in love with their beautiful self.”

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

Joined Mount Madonna School in 2017

"I am a native Californian and grew up in the East Bay, loving books, movies, and musicals. As a middle school teacher at Mount Madonna School, I am passionate about helping students to develop their voices and feel more confident in their self-expression. When not at school, I enjoy being outdoors, running in beautiful places and spending time with my family."

Danielle Barr, B.A.

Preschool Teacher

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

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 (On sabbatical for 2022-23 school year)

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

Joined Mount Madonna School in 1980

"My teacher, Baba Hari Dass, taught ‘teach to learn,' so I am teaching and learning. I majored in comparative religion at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and it has been a lifelong interest. My own sons and all the children who grew up at Mount Madonna Center attended MMS. It is part of us and we are part of it."

Greg Shirley, Ph.D.

High School Humanities Teacher

Ph.D., Philosophy, University of California, San Diego; M.A., Philosophy, University of California, San Diego; B.A., Philosophy, Reed College, Portland, Oregon

Joined Mount Madonna School in 2021

"I want to work at Mount Madonna School because I share its commitment to teaching the whole person, where the development of the whole person is intellectual, creative, and moral. I also share the School's commitment to social justice and the values of a democratic society."

Hema Walker, B.A.

Kindergarten Teacher

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)

Joined Mount Madonna School in 2018

"Math and science give students a new language to observe the world and understand how it works. I love teaching middle schoolers these subjects because middle school is a time of self discovery.  During this time, students often decide if they are or are not a 'math person' or a 'science person,' and they are starting to make decisions about their future. It’s my job as their teacher to make math and science accessible to them and to make sure all students believe that they can (and will!) learn these subjects. I believe that middle school science and math should spark curiosity, imagination, and  inquiry, which is fostered through hands-on activities and real world situations. Mount Madonna School’s campus and its surrounding environment create an ideal outdoor laboratory that lends itself to hands-on exploration and observations of the natural world."

Jessica Cambell, B.A.

Fifth Grade and Elementary Science Teacher

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

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

"My life’s work is to empower youth and enliven their innate inner resources. As an educator, mental health therapist and facilitator, I am committed to projects that celebrate uniqueness and model compassionate communication.  I joined Mount Madonna School because of its’ emphasis on a balanced approach to education which includes students emotional well-being and sense of belonging. I have witnessed how the Performing Arts Program pushes students to act with courage, building confidence and trust in the support of their community. As a student and later an environmental educator, many of my own transformative experiences have come while in the natural world.  Mount Madonna School is nested in the hills, engaging our connection to nature, which supports personal responsibility and stewardship of the planet. I am so looking forward to diving in with the students to build a Life Skills Program that sharpens the tools needed for caring behavior towards self and others."

John Welch, B.A.

High School Science and Engineering Teacher

B.A., Physics and Biology, State University of New York, New York

Joined Mount Madonna School in 2021

"I love helping students discover the amazing world around us, make connections, and become mature thinkers. I enjoy and teach the processes of 'finding things out' and I strive to help students develop their agency, curiosity, and scientific literacy, rather than focusing on collections of facts. I'm excited to teach at Mount Madonna School because the school sees students and staff as whole people and global citizens, and the small class sizes allow for rich educational dialogue. Previous to MMS, I coordinated the physics teaching laboratory at Cabrillo College for 20 years. I have a varied background that includes teaching preschool, welding bells and bike trailers, working at NASA, teaching outdoor skills and natural history, helping build houses with natural materials, playing music, and traveling extensively in Latin America."

June Bonacich, M.A.

Lower School Music Teacher

M.A., Music, San Francisco Conservatory of Music

Joined Mount Madonna School in 2023

June has taught in the pre-college division at San Francisco Conservatory of Music for over 25 years. Her major was composition and she composes in her spare time. June plays both percussion and piano in the Community Women's Orchestra in Oakland and is their composer-in-residence. She has taught in different schools over the years, as well as working with the San Francisco Boys Chorus. June will be working with MMS kindergarten through grade five students and we are grateful for the talent and experience she brings to our program.

Kami Pacheco, B.A.

Preschool Director, 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)

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.

Elementary T.E.A., Middle/High Science and Engineering 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.

Middle School Spanish and Middle/High Math 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 believe that education is the key to improve our skills and open our minds to become better human beings for the benefit of our community. My objective is to mentor my students from a holistic paradigm to encouraging their creativity towards learning, understanding and respecting their individuality, using academic resources to help them develop independent critical thinking, find their true passion, and become their best version."

Madeline Hayes, M.A.

Madeline HayesThird Grade Teacher

M.A, Elementary Education and Teaching, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; B.A., Human Development and Family Studies, Minor in Hispanic Studies, Minor in African and African American Diaspora Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Joined Mount Madonna School in 2022

"I believe that the classroom is a place where students are welcomed and loved, and can feel safe to take risks, be challenged and engage in authentic, meaningful education, built upon a foundation of social-emotional learning, social connection and community support. Together we will learn and play outdoors and in the classroom, exploring personal interests and working on projects and crafts

In my free time, I enjoy going on walks, jogging, yoga, reading, hiking, visiting the beach and spending time with friends doing all of these activities."

Michelle Rabena

Preschool Teacher Assistant

Currently enrolled in Child Development program at Gavilan College, Gilroy, CA

Joined Mount Madonna School in 2021

"It fills my heart to watch children grow and learn. I love the Montessori philosophy and I'm enthusiastic about helping young children realize their own unique potential. I'd love to integrate some of my artistic interests into the classroom, such as crafts, caring for the environment and gardening"

Nicholas Cabassa, M.A.

Fourth Grade Teacher, Middle School Athletic Director, 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

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 Culbertson, M.Ed.

Middle and High School Science Teacher and Coach, MMS Board of Directors Faculty Representative

M.Ed., Education, University of California, Santa Cruz; B.A., Biology and Psychology, University of California, Santa Cruz and Biology Tulane University; Credential-Single Subject Biology, Health (Supplemental), University of California, Santa Cruz

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

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

Joined Mount Madonna School in 2009

Mount Madonna School Graduate, Class of 2004

"It is a gift to work for Mount Madonna School and give back to the community that has given so much to me. The dedication of the staff, with the support and participation of families, creates a truly unique atmospheres where students thrive. I am happy to help students strive to reach their potential and to help them embrace all the opportunities offered in athletics, academics and the arts."

Prema Gammons, B.A.

Second 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

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."

Rachael Fields, M.A.

Rachael Fields High School English Teacher

M.A., Literature, California State University Sacramento; B.A., Literature, University of California, Santa Cruz

Joined Mount Madonna School in 2022

"It is such an amazing opportunity to work for Mount Madonna School. I recognize in this community a genuine commitment for integrated education, and by that I mean an education that cultivates knowledge as well as personal growth. In my tenure as an educator, I have discovered that an education is most valuable when the humanity of students is honored and encouraged alongside their intellect. With regards to Literature and Composition, scholars need their minds and their hearts in order to gain skill. In fact, I don’t know if it’s possible to teach in
this field if you neglect either. Still, there is powerful and influential messaging in the world that places a higher premium on one and marginalizes the other. I am deeply committed to English education because writing and reading push back against that false divide and reveal to us our capacity to utilize all aspects of ourselves in order to find success, community, and meaning. I deeply appreciate that written into the philosophy of Mount Madonna School are three approaches to education: Academic excellence, creative self-expression, and positive character
growth. This foundation suits my own teaching philosophy perfectly because it honors the full humanity of students. I am excited to teach in a place that recognizes this as axiomatic and builds their pedagogy from that point. What a wonderful place this must be to learn and to teach."

Sam Lee, B.A.

High School Math Teacher

B.A., Mathematics, California State University, Fresno, California; Ryan Single Subject Clear Credential; CLAD Certification

Joined Mount Madonna School in 2021

"I come to Mount Madonna School with 35 years of teaching experience in the public school system. I cut my teeth in Fresno teaching middle school for ten years then came to San Jose and taught at Oak Grove High School for 25 years. Mount Madonna School became an integral part of my life when we enrolled our son, Ronan, in Pre-K in 2007. I've appreciated the environment that has helped my son grow and become a well-rounded, open-minded young adult. I look forward to joining the staff  that has made an important impact on my son's life."

Sampad Kachuck, M.A.

Middle School English Teacher

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

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.

High School Spanish and Culinary Arts Teacher, Track & Field Coach

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

Joined Mount Madonna School in 2015

"I am so honored to be a part of this amazing community of learners and to have the opportunity to share my knowledge of the Spanish language and the many extraordinary cultures that are linked to the language that make it so beautiful and diverse. From a very early age I have always been interested in the uniqueness and complexities of our world and have challenged myself to continually learn and discover it whether that be through travel, extended learning, or just building relationships through community action. I hope to impart that desire to the students at MMS by developing an interest in not just the semantics of learning a new language but also a focus on history, art, music and literature. By using the tools learned in the classroom, I hope that my students gain the confidence and develop the ability to go out into the community and beyond to make meaningful connections."

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

Joined Mount Madonna School in 2008

Mount Madonna School Graduate, Class of 1992

"My work as a teacher and the college counselor is to help our learners become reflective, self-aware individuals. I want to help them build the necessary skills to become critical thinkers, capable of navigating complex issues. I want to help them understand their place in the world, and their responsibility to the planet, fellow humans, and themselves."


Gina Kasznar

Accounts Payable

"I feel so fortunate for this wonderful opportunity to work for Mount Madonna School. I am proud to be a part of this community not only as an employee, but as a parent as well. I am so grateful to be working near my children and help contribute to the wonderful school they are blessed to be a part of. Everyone I have encountered in this community has been nothing but welcoming, warm, kind, and generous. I value what the school stands for and teaches, focusing on individuality, creativity and expression, compassion, respecting nature, and a very well rounded academics program. Not to mention the absolutely beautiful scenery and delightful energy that surrounds you when visiting the campus; it is truly breathtaking. I feel honored to be a part of the MMS staff and look forward to growing in this brilliant community."

Jessica Vargas

jessica vargasPerforming Arts Coordinator

"My first introduction to Mount Madonna School was in 2013 at a leadership retreat hosted on the upper campus. It was there I met MMS educators who believed that the student-teacher relationship is built on sacred reciprocity, an exchange that extends beyond traditional methods of instruction and instead makes teaching a profound act of community. In the 10+ years that I have been in alternative education, I have always felt my primary job is to witness, acknowledge, and invoke the inherent wisdom in young people. Mount Madonna School was a place where we could embrace a common understanding of the “implicit curriculum,” a pedagogy of seeing and being seen. At MMS I not only learned about, but participated in shared vulnerability as a conduit for creative expression. They had created conditions in which I felt safe enough to take risks and be my most authentic self, transforming the classroom into a cauldron of curiosity. This brief visit to the mountain left me with a deepened sense of presence and a renewed appreciation for the importance of embodying the values I teach. If I could be so profoundly impacted in such a short time, I could only imagine the magic that happens at MMS on a daily basis and all of its implications. I strongly believe Mount Madonna School has called me back to it through my own children, and it is an honor for me to return and be of service to this inspiring community."

Olivia Taylor

Olivia TaylorCostume Designer and Coordinator

Olivia Taylor is excited to join the Mount Madonna School (MMS) community as the Costume Designer and Coordinator. Olivia has worked with costumes/clothing in a variety of settings and is passionate about costume design because it creates the opportunity to delve into why people wear what they do, whether it be for function, self-expression, or another reason. She is especially interested in the ways clothing has played a factor in social movements, political events and cultural shifts. Olivia is from San Diego, and has also lived in Wisconsin and Senegal. She enjoys traveling, any form of art, reading and tennis. She looks forward to sharing her interest in costumes with students at MMS!