River Valley is comprised of a variety of members and groups. Each constituency plays an important role in the functioning of the school. School Administration includes the Director of the school, Jonnie Lyn Evans and the Assistant Director, Dan Bouchard. The administrative team, along with the Special Education Coordinators, the Middle School Coordinator, the Technology Coordinator, and the Business Manager oversee the day to day operations of the school. In addition, the school employs a full-time School Nurse, School Counselor, and a part-time School Psychologist. Coordinators representing each of the four school levels (kindergarten, lower elementary, upper elementary, and middle school), work closely with the administration and form the school's Management Team.
Every grade K-6 classroom at River Valley is staffed with two adults: a Lead Teacher and an Assistant Teacher. There is a Middle School Coordinator and middle school teachers who are content-specific (language arts, mathematics, humanities, and science). Our K-6 lead teachers are experienced Montessori teachers with Montessori training and/or certifications, and our assistant teachers have, or soon after hiring, receive Montessori training as well. Middle school staff are also Montessori trained. In 2020, we have additional programming to augment our curriculum during the enhanced requirements in place due to Covid-19.
In addition to our Montessori professional staff, our faculty includes special education professionals and specialists in art, music, physical education, technology, and engineering.
Ann is the Speech Language Pathologist at RVCS providing comprehensive assessment and therapy services to our students. A pediatric therapist for over 23 years, Ann believes in a multi-sensory approach that focuses on the individual needs of the child as well as the classroom and family. This holistic approach encompasses the child’s language, academic, cognitive, sensory and social needs. She provides services in a warm, fun and child-friendly atmosphere.
Ann received a bachelor’s degree in finance and a minor in English before attaining her post-baccalaureate and master’s degree in communicative disorders. She is trained to work with children with a variety of speech and language needs including motor speech disorders, articulation disorders, phonological disorders, dysarthria, receptive and expressive language disorders and verbal and non-verbal learning disabilities. In addition to her work at RVCS Ann has a private clinic in Newbury servicing children in the greater North Shore area.
Lee Biddle is currently in his fifth year working as the assistant teacher in an upper elementary classroom with Ali Fields. Since being a young child, Lee has always found joy in the great outdoors and he loves to have found a job that allows him to share that joy with children through hands-on, place-based learning and experiences. In his spare time, Lee is a performing singer-songwriter and enjoys trying to bring music into the curriculum in any way that he can: whether it be a song explaining the steps of long division, a song that he wrote, or a folk song dating back to Colonial America.
Prior to working at RVCS, Lee obtained his Bachelor's Degree in Psychology and Brain Science from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. In between high school and college, Lee worked as a snowboard instructor at Snowbird Ski Resort in Utah where he first discovered his passion for teaching. Since starting his role as a teacher at RVCS Lee has become trained in Montessori education through Seacoast Montessori.
Since walking into River Valley Charter School in February of 2017 to attend the lottery for my daughters, I have been completely smitten with the culture, energy, and mission of this school.
With over 20 years of experience and training in education, I have long sought the type of school that RVCS is: a school that infuses children with the intrinsic motivation to learn, inquire, and collaborate, while fostering an environment of kindness and openness for staff and students. I immediately fell in love with the culture, the mission, and the method. Most viscerally, I noticed the feeling I had when I entered the school. I was overcome with a feeling of calm, welcoming, acceptance, and earnestness. When my daughter Charlie entered Kinderhaus, I became more familiar with the practices of Maria Montessori and I realized this was the educational environment I always wanted to be a part of as an educator.
While I am new here, I am not new to Newburyport. I grew up here (my Mom’s grandparents were Irish immigrants who worked in the Captain’s houses on High Street in the late 1800’s) and graduated from Newburyport High School in 1991. I taught and coached in Newburyport for 10 years before getting my Master’s degree in Counseling and moving out of the classroom. I returned to teaching in Beverly in 2009. I have always loved my time as a teacher (and am still very much a teacher at heart), but wanted to have a bigger role in school leadership. I then pursued my licensure for Principalship and achieved my Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study and oversaw the merging of two elementary Catholic Schools in Beverly in 2016, as Principal of The Saints Academy. It was an incredibly rewarding experience, but something was missing and I jumped at the opportunity to join the River Valley staff.
I live in Amesbury with my wife Sarah, daughters Phoebe and Charlie, and our dogs Lulu and Penny. I enjoy running, playing basketball and board games, and am thrilled to be a part of the RVCS family.
Christina is a special education teacher who works in E2. Christina enjoys meeting each child where they are and helping them to reach their potential.
Some teachers become teachers because they loved school, while some become teachers because they didn’t love school. Christina was the latter. However, she had wonderful teachers who broke things down for her, allowing her to access the curriculum, and developed her confidence with warmth and patience along the way. Christina strives to be this kind of teacher for all students.
Christina has her M.Ed. in Special Education and her Masters of Arts in Public Administration. She is trained in LiPs, Lively Letters, and in using Fountas and Pinnell’s guided reading and writer’s workshop. She will finish her Wilson training this October. She has also completed additional graduate coursework in teaching students who struggle with math and the importance of social-emotional development in students.
Christina has also worked with college students and adults. She has been an adjunct faculty member at both Northeastern and Lesley Universities. She also worked in organizational development as at Berry Construction, helping to nurture the emotional health of the organization through creative programs, trainings, and employee engagement.
She is thrilled to be a part of the RIver Valley community.
Debbie Collins is an E 1 Assistant teacher working with Karen Popken. Debbie enjoys her work with all of the students in her classroom. She loves teaching first-year language arts, classroom crafts , and assisting with cultural and history studies. She is a trained Montessori assistant with 20 years experience. Debbie holds a Bachelor in Education from The Ohio State University.
Dave is in his fifth year at RVCS working as an E2 teacher. While he began his career as a K-12 theatre educator, his early years at this school opened his eyes to the depth of the Montessori method and he jumped at the chance to be Seacoast Montessori trained. Dave’s theatre background and love of math and grammar have made him a loud and animated advocate for the importance of core academics.
When he’s not on the floor giving small group lessons, you will find him editing work with students, devising more ways to get materials in students’ hands, training his mathletes for their upcoming meets, and working on his accents during read aloud.
Jonnie Lyn Evans is the Executive Director of River Valley Charter School. Jonnie Lyn has a strong belief that the Montessori Method of education should be available to all children as a public school option, rather than as a private school option which serves only the few. As such, she co-founded River Valley Charter School, Massachusetts’s first public Montessori charter school in 1999. She has also supported the founding of two other public Montessori schools, one in Haverhill, Massachusetts and one in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Prior to moving into public education, Jonnie Lyn spent a number of years working in the private sector as a strategic analyst and market researcher. For the last twenty years she has worked at or with a number of public Montessori schools as a teacher, data analyst, development director, assistant director, and trustee.
Jonnie Lyn holds two masters degrees; one in Business Administration from Northeastern University and the other in Educational Leadership from Endicott College.
Katy is the school counselor at RVCS providing students with social and emotional support. In addition to seeing students individually and in social groups, Katy goes into every classroom to provide all students with a social emotional curriculum to help them to recognize and cope with their emotions and overall well-being. She strongly believes that teaching these skills to all children is an integral role of the school counselor.
She received her two master’s degrees from Salem State College and is both a Licensed Mental Health Counselor through the National Board of Certified Counselors as well as MA Licensed School Counselor. Prior to 2017 when Katy began working at RVCS, she was a school counselor at O’Malley Middle School in Gloucester, an adjunct professor at North Shore Community College and Salem State College, and a supervisor for Lahey Behavioral Health Services Emergency Services department. In addition to her work at RVCS, Katy has a successful private practice in Beverly counseling children and adolescents.
In her spare time Katy enjoys spending time outdoors with her husband, two children, and dog. They are an active family and enjoy skiing, hiking, and exploring the many trails and parks throughout New England.
Ali Fields has been a lead teacher in E2 at RVCS since 2005. Ali believes strongly that everyone has the ability to make a difference in the world, no matter how old they are. Each child has unique gifts to share and brings wonderful ideas and great curiosity. Given the safety and permission to explore the world and their interests, mixed with the structure of a Montessori classroom, children will grow up joyful and learning how to use their talents and ideas to make our world a better place.
Besides working at River Valley, Ali runs an overnight summer camp for girls on Squam Lake in New Hampshire. She and her family love to play outside, paddling, hiking and picking berries in the summer, building snow caves to sleep in during the winter. She currently spends a lot of her free time coaching her kids’ soccer teams.
Previously, Ali and her family spent a sabbatical year, when her twins were 4 years old, WWOOFing (working on organic farms) in Chile and Denmark. She spent 2 years in Zimbabwe with the Peace Corps and taught Middle School Latin at a K-12 private school. Ali has a masters in teaching from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and is a certified Montessori teacher.
Nell Franchek is an Assistant Kinderhaus Teacher who works with Mary Lytle to create a nurturing, creative, safe space for all students. Nell is passionate about bringing tolerance, diversity and kindness into her classroom. She fell in love with Montessori as a child in a Montessori classroom and feels the unconditional love and support she received during that experience has shaped who she is today. She hopes to provide that for all of her students and foster a sense of equality and social justice. Nell is completing an education and child psychology degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst as well as finishing her Early Childhood Montessori Certification at Northeast Montessori Institute. She is also trained in Lively Letters, a literacy program."
Eighteen years ago Brooke Guilbault loved to hear her own daughter’s name, “Poppy Guilbault!” called from the loud speaker at dismissal time. Brooke was a stay at home mother and childcare provider when her family decided to give the River Valley Charter School lottery a try. Her eldest daughter was the first name chosen that year and so began her first school experience, an E1 student before the kinderhaus even existed. With the realization that the Montessori practice and philosophy naturally seemed to align with their own, all three siblings followed in some capacity. Brooke enjoyed volunteering as a parent and eventually became a regular substitute, with an appreciation for the community that RVCS provided her children, both here on Perry Way and beyond, building awareness that we are part of something bigger than the bubble we usually find ourselves in. With a desire to shed light on injustice and engage in meaningful change Brooke became a certified health coach to satisfy her interests in eating to heal bodies and the planet. Upon completion of the certificate, almost magically, a one room Montessori schoolhouse for 3-6 year olds opened up around the corner from her home. Brooke continued to share love and empathy for all living things with her students as a co-lead teacher. The learning was rich and engaging and after seven years of wonder and delight Brooke became officially certified as a Montessori teacher, followed by a masters in Montessori Early Childhood Education, with a concentration in Moderate Disabilities. Brooke is now enjoying her new kindergarten classroom, teaching alongside Susan Bynorth, a co-teaching team brought together serendipitously; having lived on the same street for many years the two had never met until they attended Montessori school together as grown-ups! Brooke is determined to keep a love for learning alive by maintaining a prepared environment where the children can safely and freely explore materials and friendships initiating joy, curiosity, learning and growth.
Rebecca Hamel is a co-lead teacher along with Emily Douglas in a lower elementary room (E1).
Rebecca was introduced to the Montessori philosophy when working with children with learning differences. She quickly realized that this approach can be effectively used with all learners. Rebecca has worked in private and public Montessori schools in five states and is an advocate of public Montessori education.
Rebecca completed Orton-Gillingham training from Massachusetts General Hospital in 2004. She holds an American Montessori Society certification for ages 6-12. She did her trainings at Seacoast Center and Montessori Teacher Education New York.
Rebecca holds a B.S. in Elementary Education with a minor in dance from Alverno College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Rebecca mindfully selected this school because of its divergent educational model and assessing students in a holistic manner rather than using traditional letter grades. The students showcase their skills through presentations, portfolios, and action research projects.
Betsy Howgate is a Special Education teacher who works with middle school students to enable them to access the curriculum and to provide meaningful strategies to enhance their learning on a daily basis.
Betsy believes every child is a unique learner with many wonderful skills. She enjoys helping students rise to their truest potential and guiding them to be their best selves.
Betsy has worked as an elementary elementary teacher ,literacy support teacher and special education teacher throughout her career. She truly feels teaching at the River Valley Charter School has been her best teaching experience and loves the Montessori approach to learning.
Betsy holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education as well as a dual major in Psychology from Keene State College. She holds a Master’s degree in Special Education from Framingham State College.
Laura Hunt has been at the River Valley Charter School for eons and eons. She started as an E1 assistant teacher, then spent many moons as a lead teacher at this level. She tried to leave (to be home with her kids) but just couldn’t do it so spent a few years as the curriculum coordinator. She was pulled back into E2 teaching until this year when she threw caution to the wind and tried something totally new: Middle School. She is currently the Language Arts teacher in the Middle School where she enjoys making kids write critiques and essays, creative writing and poetry, while also reading lots of great books that they just don’t realize they appreciate yet.
When Laura first came to the River Valley Charter School she knew nothing of Montessori but quickly found it to be a kindred spirit for the kind of teaching she wanted to do. Eventually she trained at the Seacoast Center in NH and is Montessori certified 6-12. Laura decided to wait until she had two little children to complete her master’s program at Plymouth State but now has her M.ed degree. Laura previously attended Wheaton College where she has a bachelor’s degree in Dramatic Literature and Theatre. (This comes in handy when she is co teaching the Performance Project Group, directing plays. She loves this. )
When her kids are older and she has free time she hopes to get back to playing the piano, doing art work, and spending lots of time roaming the woods and beaches by herself.
Patricia (Patti) Innes is the Special Education Coordinator/Teacher K-3 at River Valley Charter School. She believes that the Montessori method is a viable option for all kids, so she combines her expertise in collaborating, modifying curriculum and providing specialized instruction to those who need it with the vibrant Montessori curriculum. She enjoys teamwork and building relationships teachers, kids and families to further their success.
She began her career in Early Childhood and Elementary education in the traditional public schools, then worked at a private school as the IEP Coordinator for students with emotional and academic needs. After the launch of her sons to elementary school, she began work at River Valley and focused on Montessori training, and more recently Orton-Gillingham training.
Patti holds a Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education from SUNY Fredonia, and a Master’s Degree in Special Education from Boston University.
Lainie Ives is the Elementary Engineering Specialist at RVCS. Lainie believes that science and engineering concepts are best taught through engaging, hands-on experiences. Lainie strives to instill in her students a sense of wonder and appreciation for the natural world and a desire to care for it.
Lainie completed a year-long teaching internship at The American School in Switzerland, and has taught elementary and middle school science in Massachusetts and Missouri. In addition, she spent twelve years writing middle and high school science textbooks and curriculum and conducting science teacher training workshops throughout the United States.
Lainie holds a bachelor’s degree from Gordon College and has completed graduate coursework in science education through Wheelock College, Lesley University, Cornell University, and Washington University in St Louis.
Lisa Kelley is the Special Education Teacher and Coordinator for grades 4-8 at River Valley Charter School. She has been a dedicated member of the River Valley community for the past fifteen years. Lisa believes in Montessori as a teacher and a parent. Both of her children are Montessori educated. As an educator, Lisa believes in equal opportunities for all students, regardless of learning differences. Inclusion provides access to peer groupings and modeling for students to be successful. She is a licensed Special Education Teacher with experience at a variety of different levels, including elementary and Middle School.
Prior to coming to River Valley, Lisa worked at Landmark School in Beverly where she learned strategies for supporting learners with Language-Based Learning Disabilities, including Lindamood-Bell reading programs. She brings organization and dedication the community, as an educator for the past twenty years.
Lisa holds a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction in Literacy for Lesley University. and a Bachelor of Arts in Biology from Clark University. Additionally, she was a Middle School Montessori trained by the North American Montessori Teachers’ Association (NAMTA) and SEI Endorsed. Lisa is currently working on a Special Education Director/Leadership class.
Jane Patterson teaches music at River Valley Charter School (general music, chorus, and strings). She grew up in the Midwest and holds a Bachelor of Music Education degree from North Park University in Chicago. Additionally, she holds certifications in Orff-Schulwerk, World Music Drumming, and the O’Connor Method for violin. Her previous teaching experience includes both the private and public sector, including four years teaching music at a Montessori school in Atlanta. During her time off of teaching, she enjoys working in the food industry - as a pastry chef in restaurants and bakeries, and most recently growing food at an organic vegetable farm. Her favorite part about teaching at River Valley is that she gets to see the growth of all the students as they move from Khaus through Middle School - she teaches them all!
Karen Popken is an Elementary 1 lead teacher. She is committed to hands-on experiential learning, environmental education, and stewardship of the Merrimack River Valley Watershed. Karen brought the Blanding’s Turtle head start program to RVCS in cooperation with the Parker River Clean Water Association, which teaches children about the direct impact they can have on ecological preservation. Karen began teaching in the New York City traditional school system as a middle school science and language arts teacher. Although as a child she was a Montessori elementary student, Karen rediscovered Montessori education when she and her son began their Montessori journey at Cambridge Montessori School. There she transitioned from traditional education to a heuristic Montessori approach. Karen has a M.Ed in Montessori Education from Endicott College and two Montessori teaching credentials: Ages Three to Six, and Six to Nine. Debbie Collins is her assistant. Karen is a Newburyport Parks Commissioner and serves on the Community Preservation Committee. She lives in Newburyport and enjoys sailing with her husband Ian and son Jeff.
Kimberly became the School Nurse for River Valley Charter School in August of 2016. She believes in the importance of education for the prevention of disease. Kimberly strives to teach each student to respect and listen to their bodies. She is available during school hours to triage ill students and manage those with chronic disease. When not in the health office, Kimberly enjoys teaching health classes throughout the school and engaging with the students regarding health as well as illness.
Before joining RVCS, Kimberly was employed by Beverly Hospital on a unit specializing in respiratory and cardiac health. While employed at Beverly Hospital, Kimberly supervised nurses through the new graduate program and worked with management on multiple patient centered initiatives. She earned her ACLS and NICHE certifications will employed at Beverly Hospital. Prior to her work in Beverly, Kimberly was employed by Brigham and Women’s and Massachusetts General Hospitals on their labor and delivery units.
Kimberly holds dual Bachelor of Science degrees. She first earned a degree in biology with a concentration in biochemistry, and then earned another in nursing. Both were obtained from Salem State University where she graduated summa cum laude and was inducted into Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing. Kimberly is currently working towards a Masters degree in Public Health through the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Her areas of specialty include global, women’s, and children’s health.
Rebecca Schwer has been the Middle School Science Teacher at River Valley since 2004. She holds a Master of Education from Salem State and a BS in Biology from Towson University. Prior to her work at RVCS, Rebecca was employed as a field biologist throughout the United States and as the Bird Banding Station manager for Joppa Flatts Education Center’s research station on Plum Island.
Rebecca believes that engaging students in place-based studies and connecting with their local environments is key to developing active citizens who are stewards of their environment. Some of these place-based studies include our long-term work with the Saltmarsh Science Project researching a local ecosystem and organizing student-directed projects educating the community about the health of the Merrimack River.
She has presented place-based curriculum at the New England League of Middle Schools conference and MA DESE Dissemination Symposium. Rebecca continues to work with her colleagues and local organizations to create meaningful curriculum where students can engage and collaborate in the scientific process.
Lynne Taylor is an assistant teacher who works with Jane in E1.
Lynne started her teaching career at River Valley with its inception in 1999. She has a deep love for the school and the entire RVCS community, believing passionately in the holistic approach and mission of creating lifelong learners that Montessori offers.
Lynne worked as an E2 assistant for 16 years before spending one year as the Middle School Coordinator at Hillview Montessori and one year pursuing her other passion; music! Lynne is a celebrated local musician who brings her love of music to the classroom and the school community whenever she can.
Lynne holds a BS in Human Services Counseling from Springfield College as well as 6-12 Montessori Certification from Seacoast Montessori.
Kristin is an E2 Lead Teacher who has worked at RVCS for five years. She started as an assistant and immediately fell in love with Montessori. Kristin did training at Seacoast Montessori with a few of her colleagues and continues to work alongside them to stay true to the Montessori method. She enjoys working one on one with students whenever they need that extra help or attention. You can often walk in to her class on a Friday morning, enjoy some music being played and maybe even see a spontaneous dance party before school starts.
Prior to working at RVCS, Kristin received a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with a minor in Education and an M.Ed. in Elementary Education from the University of Massachusetts- Amherst. She is a licensed K-6 teacher in Massachusetts and is SEI endorsed. Kristin continues to love learning and enjoys learning along with her students each and every day.
Colin Vandenburgh is the Middle School Coordinator at River Valley Charter School. After teaching at the E2 level for 10 years, he has served in this role for the past 6 years. He is a trained Montessori teacher and believes strongly in the schools place-based mission. He loves providing students with unique, real-world experiences that promote the use of the school’s 8 Habits of Learning. Most notably, Colin has enjoyed supporting the work that the middle school teachers and students initiated in the community to promote the health and well-being of the Merrimack River Watershed. Colin is a former college athlete and a musician who enjoys participating in the school’s music program. He is the founder of ‘CV and the Folktones’, a middle school band that performs regularly around the school and other venues. He also currently performs in and around the seacoast area with other River Valley staff as a member of the River Valley Ramblers.
Colin has travelled throughout South America and volunteered as a teacher at a sustainable farm in Bolivia. He has also spent time working as a soccer coach and carpenter.
Colin holds a BS in Exercise Physiology with a concentration in Coaching as well as a MEd in Curriculum and Instruction.
Melissa Wilkinson is an Instructional Assistant for both E1 and Kinderhaus and believes that modeling excitement while teaching, will foster excitement in learning. She strives to create an atmosphere where all children enjoy learning and feel like equal learners regardless of learning style and speed.
Melissa has worked in a variety of Special Education settings, including residential, private and public programs. She has supported many students with various physical, developmental and emotional needs in their learning. She also has many years of experience in Early Childhood Education.
Melissa has her Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology from UMass Lowell, several Early Childhood credits and is trained in teaching Lively Letters. She is currently preparing to take the MTEL’s, before beginning her Master’s Degree in Moderate Disabilities.