Caroline Russell, Executive Director
Caroline Russell was raised in Alexandria, Virginia and attended the University of Virginia where she graduated Magna Cum Laude in 1995 with a B.A. in both French and Political and Social Thought. After college, she earned a Master’s degree in International Studies from the University of Cambridge, England. Caroline began her career promoting non-profit institutions of learning while working at the World Affairs Council in Richmond. Upon moving to the Rockbridge Area in 2008, she was appointed to a position in the Washington and Lee Development Office where she worked for six years and specialized in corporate and foundation grants, capital gifts, and stewardship. Caroline has deep ties to Woods Creek Montessori as a parent and a board officer, serving as Board President in 2004-2005. During this time, the Board oversaw an expansion in program facilities and staff, and developed a long range strategic plan. More recently, Caroline has been a volunteer language arts enrichment teacher at Waddell Elementary where she has taught a Great Books program. She lives in Buena Vista with her family: husband Chris, who serves as Buena Vista’s Commonwealth’s Attorney, and their three children, ages 16, 14 and 12, each of whom attended the toddler and primary classrooms at WCM.
Amy Holston, Assistant Director
A native of Tidewater, Virginia, Amy received her M.Ed. in Higher Education and Student Affairs from the University of South Carolina and her B.A. from Dickinson College. Throughout her career, she has worked in many capacities in gifted education, specifically as the Director of Student Activities at both The Georgia Academy of Mathematics, Engineering, and Sciences, and the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy. More recently, she worked for Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, developing and managing summer programs for gifted students. Since this time, she has been busy raising two children, Kate and Ben (who was a Woods Creek Montessori student). Her husband, Ryan, is a professor at VMI. While at home, Amy also developed a small cake business, and has been an active member of Grace Episcopal Church where she served on the Vestry and in various other roles. In her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, walking, and gardening.
Amanda McKemy, Lead Teacher, Pre-Toddler
Amanda McKemy has been a Lead Teacher over the Pre-Toddler and infant age groups since 2001, both here at Woods Creek Montessori as well as another preschool. She received her RIE (Resources for Infant Educators) certification in Florida during the summer of 2008. Amanda truly has a passion for working with young children and finds them to be very interesting. “It is amazing what we, as adults, can learn from children.” Amanda and her husband Eddy are life-time natives of Rockbridge County. They have one son, Logan, who recently graduated from college and is pursuing a career in business.
Kaelyn Smith, Assistant Teacher, Pre-Toddler
Kaelyn Smith was born and raised in Rockbridge County. Growing up as one of the oldest in a large family she has always loved children. In her spare time she enjoys reading, spending time outdoors, and playing with her animals. Kaelyn is grateful for the opportunity to learn from the children at Woods Creek Montessori.
Jie Liu, Lead Teacher, Toddler
Jie Liu has worked as a toddler class lead teacher and a bilingual teacher for 3 years in Maria Montessori International Academy in Indiana. She has a BA in Education and MBA in Management. She took Early Childhood Montessori Training, and got AMS credential in 2013. She also took Infant Toddler Montessori Training in 2014. She moved to Lewisburg, West Virginia with her husband and son in 2016, then she had her daughter there. Jie enjoys working with children in Montessori classroom and she believes every child is unique. She loves singing, dancing, cooking, and travel.
Anna Taylor, Assistant Teacher, Toddler
Anna Taylor has always loved children. She has been part of the staff at WCM since 2016 as an after school and summer camp teacher. Anna is returning from a church mission where she spent 18 months teaching, participating in humanitarian aid, and sharing her talents in both English and Spanish. She is a double major at Southern Virginia University majoring in theatre and music. She sings, plays the piano, cello and harp as well as acts. Anna has a special interest in costume design. She is happy to be back at Woods Creek Montessori.
Farishte Irani, Lead Teacher, Primary I
Farishte Irani was born and raised in Silver Spring, Maryland. She holds a BA in Sociology from the University of Maryland. Farishte and her family moved to Virginia in the summer of 2010 from New Hampshire. There she worked for 8 years at Mont Blanc Montessori Academy in many capacities including Lead Primary Teacher, Elementary Teacher and Middle/High School Teacher. She is passionate about the Montessori Philosophy and truly believes every child is a natural learner. Farishte lives here in Lexington with her husband, Afshad (Professor at W&L) and her two children Kaizad and Parizad.
Will Gardner, Assistant Teacher, Primary I
William Gardner was born and raised in the Sierra-Nevada foothills in Northern California. He assumed he would live there the rest of his life, but life had a better idea. A two year church mission to Kansas City was followed by a yearning to experience the east coast. Combine this with a love of learning, intimate settings, and the liberal arts, and William found himself bound for Southern Virginia University. Falling in love with the Shenandoah valley, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and Virginia in general was instantaneous. Since then he has been fairly busy. He graduated in December 2020 with a degree in theater, and was actively and consistently involved in multiple choirs, many theater productions, and much else. A constant in all the chaos has been a love of children and a desire to help them to learn, to love to learn, and to learn to love themselves. He has enjoyed volunteering at both Kling and Enderly Elementaries in Buena Vista, and had a blast last fall working as the after school teacher for the primary I. In addition to theater, music, and education, William loves ultimate frisbee, tennis, driving adventures, exploring the great outdoors, and cooking and eating delicious food. He believes he enjoys naps more than any of his younger Montessori friends
Kristin Flippen, Lead Teacher, Primary II
Kristin Flippen was born in New London, Connecticut and spent much of her childhood along the Atlantic seaboard. In 1990 she graduated from Eastern College with a B.S. in Psychology and minor in Biology. Kristin moved to Virginia in the fall of 2000 from New Hampshire with her husband, David, and two sons, Brody and Henry. She has spent the last twelve years home-educating her boys, as well as teaching writing for a local co-op and working as the Assistant Youth Director at her church. Kristin joined the Woods Creek community in the fall of 2013 as a long-term substitute in the Primary II classroom. She also worked this past summer with the five to ten-year old “Frogs” in the Woods Creek summer program. She joins our team full-time this fall as the Assistant Teacher in the Primary I classroom.
Audrey Zalar, Assistant Teacher, Primary II
While growing up in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, Audrey Zalar’s love for children began as she cared for her 5 younger siblings and babysat throughout high school for many other families. After her freshman year of college, she loved serving an 18-month church mission near Buenos Aires, Argentina. She graduated from Southern Virginia University in 2020, majoring in Liberal Arts with a Spanish minor. While there, she enjoyed being a member of the tennis team, singing in choir, taking religious institute courses, and meeting the man she would marry. Her husband, Matthew, is an administrative assistant at W&L. Audrey enjoys hiking, tennis, ping-pong, playing the piano, and being with family and friends. She is excited to begin working at Woods Creek Montessori.
Melody Cluff, Music Specialist
Melody Cluff has taught music and provided music programs in elementary classrooms as a volunteer in San Diego, CA, Knoxville, TN, and here in our local schools for more than 25 years. While living in Knoxville, she founded and directed “Sunshine Singers,” a singing group for children grades K-5, which performed throughout the Knoxville area for several years. Teaching music, tutoring, and reading aloud to children has been a way of life for her. She continues to lead children’s and youth choirs in church settings. Melody loves living in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley and enjoys spending time with her husband, an English professor at Southern Virginia University, their five children, and their four grandchildren. Melody has a deep love and respect for all children and is excited about working and learning with them at Woods Creek Montessori.
Betty Anderson, Elementary After School Teacher
Betty Anderson was born in Sedalia Missouri, moved about in the Midwest before her family settled in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. After graduating from Michigan State University with a degree in Horticulture, she received her Teaching Certification (in many fields including Vocational Agriculture) from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has taught and tutored mathematics in several schools as well as with private clients. As a Girl Scout volunteer she does Outdoor Training- teaching leaders to take Scouts hiking, camping and backpacking. She has helped lead Girl Scouts on trips to Mexico, Switzerland, Germany, Ireland, and The Isle of Man. One highlight in 2015 was leading Girl Scouts on an overnight camping trip on the south lawn of the White House. She lives in Rockbridge County with her husband Michael, a Professor at W&L. They have two adult sons and one granddaughter.
Kinsey Cluff, Toddler After School Teacher
Kinsey Cluff has lived in Rockbridge County since 1997. She is a Senior at Southern Virginia University, majoring in Theatre. She enjoys acting, dancing, singing, writing, playing the piano, playing soccer and ultimate frisbee, and being with family and friends. Having been an aunt since she was eight years old, Kinsey loves playing with her nieces and nephews, and she loves being with the kids at Woods Creek. She learns from them every day!