Meet Our Staff

Owners

Michael & Toby Gress

VMS is owned and operated by Michael and Toby Gress, certified Montessori teachers and graduates of the University of South Florida.

The Gresses hold degrees in elementary and secondary education. They are MACTE accredited Montessorians with affiliations to M.E.P.I., NAMTA, AMS, and I.M.C.

The Gresses’ Montessori training took place in Tampa, Fla. directly under Dr. Helen K. Billings, the founder of the Montessori Institute of America. She instilled in all of her protégés a deep conviction that the Montessori Method, properly approached and applied, would greatly benefit the whole life of the children under their care. This love for the child and the man or woman they would become has grown over the years. Currently, the Gresses are under the mentorship of Joan Parasine, Founder and Head of School at Montessori School of McLean, an AMS Accredited school and one of the oldest Montessori schools in the Washington area.

Teachers

Alissa Westrick

I have over 20 years of professional experience working closely with children, youth, adults and families through the delivery of private and public school teaching and counseling programs/services, local county social & human services with a specialty in independent living and workforce readiness skills, and skilled care-giving focusing on the whole child.  It is my privilege to be the Primary Lead Directress with VMS guiding and growing the development of our children. Each of us possess given gifts, talents and strengths and are an essential piece of the puzzle of life.

My professional background includes Early Childhood (Primary) Teacher, Full Certification program through The Center for Guided Montessori Studies which is affiliated with the International Montessori Council, Masters of Education in School Counseling, Pre-K through 12 (VA Tech, 2009) and a Bachelors of Science in Social Work (Slippery Rock University, 1999).


Jessica Hurt

Creating a love for learning is my mission. I have been teaching using the Montessori method since 2012.  My Montessori training occurred at the Northern Virginia Montessori Institute. I have owned a home-based childcare center while raising my young children. When my youngest was school age, I began training and assisted in a Montessori classroom. Once certified, I began as a Lead Primary Directress, before starting at VMS this past August 2020. I am blessed to guide the Primary Cohort 2, Fireflies.


Anni Bryner

Anni is directing our Middle School Program at VMS. In addition to math, language, music and more,  Middle School students learn how to design and run their own business, participate in and lead Socratic dialogues, act as Field Supervisors for our archaeology program and dig site. Anni also acts as a mentor for new teachers at VMS and oversees the Drama and Art programs for the Elementary and Middle School classes.


Jen Stone

Jen Stone, the lead elementary school teacher, has been teaching children for over 25 years. Jen first taught creative movement at VMS when her children were young and attending school here. Seven years ago she began the PE program at VMS and last year took over the Montessori Model United Nations curriculum. Jen loves children and her creative and collaborative energy encourages children to do their best. She believes following your heart’s path is what will ultimately bring peace to this world. Jen’s path included performing modern dance across the globe, bringing yoga to her local community, and learning to farm. She now is embracing another life’s dream to guide your students in their life’s pursuits through our Montessori approach to learning.


Cindy Tenney

Cindy joined VMS in 2019 as an Elementary Assistant, aftercare, and substitute. This year she will co-teach in Elementary. She graduated from James Madison University with a B.A in English/Early Childhood Education (PreK-Grade 3) and has held Virginia teacher certification since 1995. She also has a Graduate Certificate in TESOL from Shenandoah University, holds an endorsement in ESL (PreK-Grade 12), and recently took related graduate classes at the University of Virginia. Although new to Montessori education, educating the whole child in a nurturing environment has always been her goal. She looks forward to continued training opportunities to learn more and grow as a Montessori teacher and adult!


Assistants

Amalia Harte

Amalia is a life-long lover of the woods. At the University of Virginia, she learned that the most effective way to nurture nature is for people to love “Her.” For as humans we protect what we know, value, and appreciate. She began her quest to help the little people, children, connect with the magic of Mother Earth! As a primitive skills mentor for the Living Earth School, she taught campers and homeschool students the ancient wisdoms of our ancestors, such as which weeds are actually edible and medicinal, how to make fires and forts, and the value of slowing down and sinking into our own bodies and intuitions. She is so excited to be part of the Village Montessori community here at Bluemont, where we are immersed in some of the most beautiful flora and fauna right outside our door…just please make sure to do your tick checks!


 

 

Abigail Donahue

Abigail Donahue has worked with children with special needs for 8 years until giving birth to her babe, Teagan, last year. She has been with VMS since Fall of 2020 and works with the Lower Elementary children as a teacher’s assistant.

 


Luke Peoples

Luke began working at VMS in 2019 as a morning carpool greeter and general grounds maintenance assistant. He now helps coordinate the health checks at morning carpool as well as is an assistant in the Upper Elementary Classroom. In addition to these duties he assists with playground and recess supervision and is often called on for ground maintenance still. Luke likes to cook, play video games and hang out with his 2 dogs and 2 cats.


Administration

Cindy Hessler

Cindy joined the VMS Community in March of 2007, as a Primary classroom assistant. The growth of VMS in those 3 years led to her transition into school administration. She has completed Classroom Leadership Studies with The Montessori Foundation as well as numerous workshops with Montessori educators. She has loved watching our students blossom through the Montessori approach that develops all facets of the whole child.

Originally from Western New York, she participated in several overseas exchange programs that inspired her to complete her B.A. degree in International Relations and German from Canisius College. In addition to her “global” mindset, Cindy brings over ten years of outdoor nature experience, leading and mentoring youth through the Boy and Girl Scouts. She and her husband have moved west of Bluemont and enjoy the nature and wonders of the Shenandoah Valley.


 

Rebecca Jones

Rebecca Jones is the Financial Manager at VMS.  In that position, she prepares student contracts, manages invoicing and collections and handles all other financial aspects of the school’s operations.  In addition, she manages the staff schedule and other administrative duties that arise. Rebecca is also the proud mother of two VMS alumni.


Jenny Hunter

Jenny has been part of VMS since her son joined the primary class in 2009.  She has held multiple roles over the years, but mainly now serves as “cruise director,” planning special events, field trips and volunteer opportunities at school. Outside of VMS she enjoys traveling, cooking, and spending time with her family.


Sue Peoples

You may see Sue anywhere on the premises of VMS! She is the Aid to Camp for Toby Gress. She wears the hats of Administrative Assistant, Facilities Manager, Substitute Teacher, Gardener, Maintenance, Technology Coordinator and Prop Master, to name a few. Sue has 15 years of Business experience, a Bachelors of Science degree in Information Technology and has worked with children’s programs for over 35 years.