Faculty & Staff

Head of School

Virginia “Ginny” Flynn

Originally from Massachusetts, Virginia now lives in South Milwaukee. Virginia graduated from Elms College with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a minor in Art Philosophy. From there, Virginia immediately sought out Montessori education as a career and moved to Ireland to attend the Montessori College at Mount St. Mary’s in Dublin. It is there she found her love for Montessori and earned her AMI Primary Certification. This certificate now hangs in her office, proudly displaying the actual signature of Maria Montessori’s son, Mario.

She began her Montessori teaching career in 1967 at U.M.O.S., on the south side of Milwaukee, working with migrant children and families. She then acquired another teaching position at Waukesha Montessori Head Start. After taking some time off to spend with her children, she returned as a teacher at A.P.L. School in South Milwaukee. In 1986, Virginia was hired at Downtown Montessori Academy as a Primary Montessori teacher. During her teaching career at Downtown Montessori she completed several courses in Child Care Administration and was able to earn her Director’s Certification. She finally took the reins as Downtown Montessori’s Program Director in 1989.

Virginia earned her Administrators Certificate from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Business in 1999 and is about to begin her 28th year as Head of School at Downtown Montessori Academy. Virginia has achieved great success as Head of School, taking DMA’s student population from 65 Preschoolers in 1989, to an unprecedented 256 students ranging from K3 to 8th Grade in the Fall of 2015. Virginia continues her graduate work in Special Education Administration at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Virginia enjoys spending time with her 8 grandchildren, 4 of whom are currently attending Downtown Montessori. When she finally has a moment to herself, she loves nothing more than to settle down with a hot cup of tea and a good book.

Executive Director

Ian Spanic

Ian has been actively involved with DMA for the last 10 years.  Ian became a member of the Board of Directors in 2006, and served as President of the Board from 2008 until accepting the role of Executive Director in 2011. He earned his Professional Certificate in Nonprofit Management from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2012.

Along with Head of School Virginia Flynn, Ian is responsible for achievement of the school’s mission and meeting the financial objectives of the organization through fundraising, financial management, community and government relations, partnerships, planning and evaluation.

An active member of the nonprofit community, Ian has worked closely with Nonprofit Management Fund and Board Star to enhance the governance and management capabilities of Downtown Montessori Academy.

Director of Admissions/Child Care Coordinator

Jessica Rodriguez

Jessica has been a part of DMA for nearly 18 years. She began working after school, doing a variety of tasks during her high school years. In college she was able to attended classes while still keeping her part time hours working in the after school program. In the fall of 2004, Jessica began to run the child care program. She then began to focus on admissions and billing starting in the summer of 2007. Jessica received her Bachelor’s of Science in Criminal Justice from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2004. She has her certification for administrator and center director.

Jessica’s favorite part of Downtown Montessori is how close and comfortable the students, parents and staff are.  She has three daughters, two of whom are thrilled to be students at DMA.

Administrative Manager

Liz Becerra

Liz Becerra manages Downtown Montessori Academy’s social media pages and oversees the outgoing communication to parents. She began her career at DMA while attending high school, working a few hours after school. While in college she worked part-time between classes and then after school with the child care students. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Liz accepted a full-time position at DMA. She most recently earned a Certificate in Social Media from UW-Milwaukee in 2011.

In her free time, Liz enjoys antiquing, gardening and spending time with her dog, Riley and cat, Annabelle.

Children’s House Teachers

Kim Fowler

Kim has been working with Children’s House students at DMA since 2000. Prior to working at DMA she worked in industry as a safety trainer. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science from Indiana State University as well as a Montessori Certificate. Kim is also a parent to two Montessori children.

Saša Sokolović

Saša worked as an art teacher at DMA in 1998. Since 1999, after a brief time as an assistant she has been working with students as a Montessori Directress. She has a B.A. in Fine Arts (Painting) from Olivet Nazarene University, Early Childhood Credential from American Montessori Society, as well as teacher certification from Cardinal Stritch University (early childhood to middle school).

Amy Goodenough

Amy has worked with children at Downtown Montessori Academy since 1993.  Over the years she has taught children in Children’s House, Lower Elementary, and children with special needs.  She is DPI certified for Regular Education and Special Education, as well has having her Montessori Certification.  When Amy initially began working at DMA, she was working as a daycare teacher while in college for Elementary Education.  As time went by, she became very intrigued with Montessori.  She earned her AMS Montessori Certification from NMTTC in Evanston, Illinois in 1996.  While teaching at Downtown Montessori during the day, she continued to work towards earning her Bachelors degree in the evening at Lakeland College.  In June of 2000 she graduated with a Bachelors degree in Elementary and Middle School Education.  In June 2010 she earned her Special Education Certification from MTEC.  Through the years, Amy has changed teaching positions at Downtown Montessori, teaching Children’s House for some years, teaching Lower Elementary for some years, and teaching Special Education for some years.  All of her experiences have led her back to teaching Children’s House.  She feels very fortunate to get to do what she loves every day as her job.  When she is not working, she has a wonderful family to spend her time with.  They enjoy traveling whenever they get the chance.

Sarah Shay

Sarah graduated from the Montessori Institute in the spring of 2015 and has a Bachelor’s degree in Geology. She spent some time in Appleton, WI leading an outdoor classroom at a non-profit community farm on 72 acres of land. Sarah has a strong desire to teach holistically, combining her knowledge of developmental psychology, the Montessori pedagogy and her understanding of the earth and its processes.

Lower Elementary Teachers

McNeal Stepien

McNeal Stepien has an undergraduate degree in Botany and Master’s Degree in Landscape Architecture. Both degrees are from the University of Oklahoma. McNeal also earned a Master’s Degree of Education in Administration and Supervision at National-Louis University in Milwaukee.
She trained to be a Montessori teacher at the Montessori Institute of Milwaukee and graduated in 2002. McNeal taught lower elementary students at both Montessori School of Waukesha and at Maryland Avenue Montessori School in Milwaukee Public Schools for a total of eight years.
McNeal lives in Bay View with her husband and son. Her family enjoys camping, canoeing, gardening, urban homesteading, and biking around Milwaukee.

Jenny Aicher

Jenny graduated from UW-Milwaukee with a Liberal Arts degree in history and political science.  She is AMI trained and certified through Montessori Institute in Milwaukee, and has a Masters in Montessori Education from Loyola University, Maryland.  Jenny spent two years teaching lower elementary at MacDowell Montessori School, where she served on the School Governance Council and PTO.
Jenny is an active member of the Bay View neighborhood as a member of the Bay View Neighborhood Associate, formerly served on the BVNA board, and is a block watch captain.  She is thrilled to be joining the DMA community and looks forward to guiding children to discover their world through the Montessori Method.
In her free time, Jenny loves gardening and cooking.  She is an avid hiker, backpacker, and camper.  Jenny has two cats and also fosters for local animal shelters.

Sara Vondrachek

Sara graduated from UW-Madison with a Bachelor’s Degree in Zoology. Upon graduation, she worked as a field biologist in Bolivia as a member of a UW-Madison research team. The team partnered with local farmers to find a solution to the problem of avian crop degradation. Sara spent two years in upstate New York working as a teacher naturalist. Wanting to be closer to family, she returned to her home state of Wisconsin and took a job with the Urban Ecology Center in Milwaukee. Over a span of four years, she worked to develop curriculum and deliver education programs to local school children including the students from DMA. In 2008, Sara completed her AMI Elementary training at the Montessori Institute of Milwaukee. In 2009, she earned her Master’s Degree in Education at Loyola University in Maryland. In her free time, Sara enjoys spending time with friends and family, traveling, and virtually any activity that takes place outdoors.

Kelsey McCarron

Kelsey graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 2012 with a degree in Elementary Education. It was during her undergraduate program when she fell in love with the Montessori Method.
While babysitting for a family in Eau Claire, she was inspired by the change and growth that the oldest boy went through after just the first month in a Montessori school. She moved to Milwaukee and received her AMI certification through the Montessori Institute of Milwaukee in 2014.
In her free time she loves to bike, travel, cook, paint, snowboard, slackline, and be outside.

Upper Elementary Teachers

Beth Milhans

Beth Milhans is the Upper Elementary teacher at Downtown Montessori. She is married and the mother of three grown children, and now a grandmother. Beth completed her Montessori training in 1998, and has taught at Downtown Montessori since 1999. Before that time, Beth worked at DMA as an assistant and music teacher. Beth’s undergraduate degree is in Theater Arts, earned her Post-Baccalaureate State Teacher’s Certification from Cardinal Stritch University, and has taken courses at Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design in graphic design. Beth was drawn to the Montessori philosophy when she enrolled her son in a Milwaukee Public Schools Montessori school. She has core beliefs about the treatment of children, having been influenced by the passage in Kahil Gibran’s The Prophet that speaks of children, and by Fred Rogers. Each morning Beth sets herself to the loving task of serving each child, liking each child just the way he or she is, and trying to meet each child where he or she is at, with his or her special set of personal circumstances. Beth also feels it is her responsibility to help the children learn how to forge a society in which all members are treated with consideration, grace and courtesy. She believes her attitude sets the tone of the class, and so feels responsible for the good or bad day these children may have. They deserve a good day.

Nicole Fennig

Nicole graduated from UW-Milwaukee in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in accounting, and worked in the field for three years before pursuing her passion of working with children. While teaching at a local preschool, she came across the Montessori theory and fell in love with it. She went on to complete the AMI elementary training program through the Montessori Institute of Milwaukee in 2012. Nicole has enjoyed working in public Montessori schools across Milwaukee in both upper elementary and adolescent programs for the last four years.

In her free time, Nicole enjoys teaching preschool swim lessons and lifeguarding at the YMCA, reading a good book, and being outdoors with her family.

Ashley Petry

Ashley has been working in Montessori schools since 2009 during which time she has enjoyed working with primary, lower elementary, upper elementary, and adolescent students. Prior to working in education, she attended the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater where she studied Psychology, Studio Art, and Communication Sciences and Disorders. She has since earned her DPI teaching license, yoga certification, and attended the Montessori adolescent Orientation through NAMTA.

Adolescent Teachers

Jamie Gleeson

Jamie graduated from Marquette University with a double major in Elementary Education and Mathematics. She completed her student teaching experience at Wauwatosa Catholic in the 1st grade classroom as well as teaching math to the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students. Jamie has worked for Milwaukee Public Schools for the last three years teaching 4th, 5th, and 6th grade. She is very excited to start a new chapter at Downtown Montessori!

Tina Lawrence

Tina graduated from UW-Milwaukee with a degree in Elementary Education in 2005. She completed her MA in 2009 in curriculum and instruction. Tina taught special education in MPS for 7 years, 5 of which were at a Montessori school. She lives in Bay View with her husband and two children, both of which attend DMA, and has a sweet dog named Hashbrown. In her free time, Tina enjoys playing skeeball competitively.

Reading Specialist

Barb Rankin

Barb has been the Reading Specialist at Downtown Montessori since Fall 2011.  She received her teaching certification from Cardinal Stritch University in 1992 and her Masters in Reading Language Arts from Cardinal Stritch University in 2000.  Barb has been a reading specialist and an elementary teacher (mainly 4th & 5th grades) in both public and private schools.  In addition to her work at Downtown Montessori Barb also works in the Professional Development and Licensure Department at Cardinal Stritch University.
In summer 2006 she was one of six Wisconsin educators chosen by the International Crane Foundation to travel to the Xianghai Nature Preserve in northeast China to help selected Chinese educators develop and present an array of science units to elementary students.  In 2007 she was selected as a Kohl Teacher of the year.  She also received a scholarship to the Harvard Summer Institute in their program for teaching at-risk children. Barb has a strong commitment to developing diverse and targeted strategies to help all students succeed in their educational experience.
Barb lives in West Bend, is married, and has two grown sons who live on opposite sides of the country (Washington, D.C. and San Francisco).  She enjoys reading, travel, and needlework.

Special Education

Tina Lawrence

Tina graduated from UW-Milwaukee with a degree in Elementary Education in 2005. She completed her MA in 2009 in curriculum and instruction. Tina taught special education in MPS for 7 years, 5 of which were at a Montessori school. She lives in Bay View with her husband and two children, both of which attend DMA, and has a sweet dog named Hashbrown. In her free time, Tina enjoys playing skeeball competitively.

Visual Art Teacher

Jenny Urbanek

Jenny graduated from UW-Milwaukee with a Bachelor’s Degree of Fine Arts in Photography, and recently completed a Master’s in Arts degree in Art Education from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She has taught in many non-traditional and unusual settings including working with victims of Hurricane Katrina, in the jungle of Costa Rica, and in intergenerational settings with low-income older adults and undergraduate students. She has most notably developed fine arts programming for the Wisconsin Center for Academically Talented Youth (WCATY), the City of Austin Arts and Cultural Division in Texas, and Columbia College Chicago. She believes that in an increasingly visual society the language of art has become more important than ever to an individuals understanding of the world and can enable a higher understanding of the human experience.
She enjoys yoga, biking, skateboarding, laughing, traveling, reading and, of course, making art.

Music

Will Branch

Will’s work with children and music began around 2000, when he began to perform folk music concerts for kids in the duo Fox and Branch. Since then, in addition to continuing to perform, he has worked in schools as both a music teacher and an artist-in-residence.
Will has worked in association with VSA Arts of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music. He has also been a guest lecturer in music history courses at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and works with infant to 5 year old’s as part of the Music Together program.