Meet Our Staff


Kelly McFarland, M.Ed.

Assistant Director, Kelly McFarland attended Santa Cruz Montessori School from toddler through Kindergarten. After graduating from San Francisco State University with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, she worked in a traditional preschool. After seeing an ad for a Montessori assistant teacher, she fondly remembered her own learning experience and taught at the Chinese American International School in San Francisco for several years. Returning to school in 2001, she earned an AMI Primary diploma at the Montessori Institute of San Diego followed by a Master of Arts in Education from Loyola College in Maryland. She has been a teacher and administrator since that time. She has been with Lifetime Montessori since the beginning in 2007. In her free time, Kelly enjoys yoga, reading, and spending quality time with her husband and twin 4 year olds.

Ms. Andrea Smith, Office Assistant

Andrea grew up in Temecula, California prior to moving to San Diego after college.  Andrea has spent the past 6 years working in the hotel industry as an operations manager. After her daughter was born in 2015, she decided to take a break from the hotel world and stay at home with her daughter.  Andrea is thrilled to be back in the working world in a new role as a part-time Office Assistant at Lifetime Montessori School. She loves the atmosphere of the school and that she can be back at work, have proper life/work balance all while her daughter attends LMS!  Andrea and her husband Charlie live in Talmadge with their daughter, a giant dog named Bowie, and a crazy cat named Barley.  In her spare time Andrea loves camping, yoga, and traveling.  She has traveled to many places in the world and looks forward to taking her daughter on big trips soon!

Ms. Kimbra Whitted, Administrative Assistant (photo coming soon)

Kimbra Whitted is a native Californian and the new Administrative Assistant at Lifetime Montessori.  Kimbra has managed as many as 14 sites and 19 programs in the Poway Unified School District.  She has also worked as an Ancillary Program Manager and Preschool Director at My Element Montessori in Carlsbad. Kimbra received her A.A. Degree in General Education at Cerritos College, because she wanted to broaden my overall knowledge in a variety of subjects, such as English, history and science. She believes you cannot stop learning so she continues to take online courses in business administration and childhood education.  I am now working on my BA in Communications. The title she is most honored to hold is “Mom.”  Her husband is a retired Marine and she is blessed beyond measure with two amazing children from high school age to college. Her ties to the military have allowed her and her family to call San Diego home. During her free time, she enjoys reading, journaling, walking/running, bike riding, hiking and watching American Ninja Warrior. The challenge of working for Lifetime Montessori is an exciting opportunity and she is really looking forward to getting to know many children and their families.

Elementary Teacher

Mrs. Stone (Millipede Classroom)

Rebecca Stone graduated from Humboldt State University with a degree in English.  She married her husband Mike and moved to Orange County.  Her first career out of college was as a legal assistant at a small firm in Westminster.  She then became a stay at home mom for many years until her youngest child was 4 years old.  Both of her children attended Montessori school which is where her interest in Montessori education began.  She trained as an AMI Primary teacher and taught at that level for 10 years.  She then directed a small Montessori school for 4 years before returning to the classroom.  She received her AMI Elementary training in San Diego in the early 2000's and has been teaching at that level ever since.  She started working on developing the Elementary Program at Lifetime in 2012.  When not at school she enjoys golfing, kayaking and playing with her grandchildren.

Primary Teachers

Ms. Heather Zolzer (Grasshopper Classroom)

Heather Zolzer received her B.A. in Ethnic Studies at Washington State University in 1996. She discovered Montessori after searching for a child centered preschool for her oldest daughter Amelia. After observing at some of the more "traditional" preschools, she soon realized her daughter needed something different. As soon as she walked into a Montessori classroom she felt like she had come home. She spent the next couple years substituting and volunteering at various local Montessori schools, learning that although not all schools are alike, Montessori was her calling. After relocating to Southern California, she was fortunate to discover the Montessori Institute of San Diego and decided to take the plunge and soon thereafter she received her AMI Primary Teaching Certification and completed her Master’s Degree in Education from Loyola University in Maryland. Heather has been with Lifetime since 2010.  She currently resides in Poway with her two children, a stray cat named Stubbs and a plethora of hamsters. In her spare time, Heather enjoys to read, knit, and eat the occasional taco.

Ms. Claire Fritz (Dragonfly Classroom)

Claire Fritz grew up in Whittier, California. She went to Montessori School until 6th grade. During High School summers she worked at her old school and the staff there encouraged her to train to be a Montessori Teacher. After college, Claire completed her AMI training in Los Angeles in 1986. She moved to San Diego and started teaching there. Claire took time off from teaching to pursue her other passion, Archaeology and Paleontology. After 10 years in this field, Claire realized she missed teaching and returned to the Montessori Environment. She has been with Lifetime since 2009.  Claire lives in La Mesa and likes hiking and donating time and food to homeless shelters. She enjoys spending time with her family and cat Ozzy..

Ms. Vicki McQueen (Bumblebee Classroom)

Vicki McQueen has been a Primary teacher at Lifetime since 2011.  She received her 0 to 6 Montessori Certification from St. Nicholas Montessori Centre in London.  Upon her completion, her desire to further learn and deeply understand the Montessori Pedagogy brought her to San Diego, California.  She attended the Montessori Institute of San Diego and completed her Primary Training in 2005.  Since then she has taught here in California and has taught at a Montessori school in Japan.  She fell in love with the cultural diversity in her classroom, which is the main reason why she has decided to stay in the United States to teach.  Vicki lives with her husband and daughter, their two dogs Luda and Nala, and their bearded dragon, Benjamin.  She enjoys going to the beach, exploring the city, attending various events, travelling, and most of all spending time with her family. 

Ms. Cham Edussuriya (Caterpillar Classroom)

Ms. Cham was born in Sri Lanka where she attended a Primary Montessori school.  Her mother is a Montessori teacher so she was exposed to this life from birth.  Miss Cham grew up being cared for by her "teacher friends" and staying after school with her mom.  Miss Cham chose to do her BA in Psychology since she knew she would go into Montessori later on.  Ms. Cham has worked in many non-profits and started many programs including a year with Americorps.  10 years ago Ms. Cham and her husband moved to San Diego to attend the Montessori Institute of San Diego where she received her Primary training followed by the MA at Loyola Maryland.  After teaching in San Diego for 2 years she decided to stay home with her 2 children until starting at Lifetime in 2013.  Ms. Cham loves to garden/homestead, cook, travel, hike, camp and spend time being active.  She's passionate about many things, but connecting children and nature  are one of her highest goals.

Ms. Katie Humphreys (Firefly Classroom)

Katie Humphreys has always been passionate about education. Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia with a mother who was an educator, Katie always wanted to teach. She attended Georgia State University, graduating with a BA in Speech in 2010. Throughout her college education she nannied for a family whose children attended a Montessori school. Upon her first introduction to the Montessori classroom, Katie felt she had found her calling. Katie attended the International Montessori Training Institute in Atlanta Georgia, receiving her AMI diploma. Katie also holds a M.Ed. from Loyola University in Maryland in Montessori Education. After graduating Katie applied to schools all along the west coast, seeking a change in location. She landed in San Diego, without having ever been prior, and could not be happier in beautiful southern California! In her free time, Katie loves to visit the dog beach with her pup Bailey, hike, cook and listen to live music. Although her family is all back east, Katie feels the love present in her classroom is a great supplement. 

Ms. Shaminee Keenawinna (Centipede Classroom)

Shaminee Keenawinna's school experience in the United States started when she immigrated here at the age of ten. She went on to pursue her Bachelor's degree in Chemistry at San Diego State University. Halfway through her third year of University, Shaminee realized that her true passion was educating children and improving their livelihood. Growing up with a mother who worked in a Montessori school, she was exposed to the Montessori Method at a young age. When she saw the impact that the guide had on the children, Shaminee realized how different the Montessori Method was compared to the public school system. This made her realize that the Montessori Method was the method she wanted to learn, master, and bring forth to the children. Shaminee reaceived her AMI certification from the Montessori Institute of San Diego and went on to work at an AMI Montessori school in Irvine. She then decided to move to San Diego to be closer to her family and friends. Shaminee is truly excited to continue her Montessori Journey with the children, families, and staff at Lifetime Montessori. In her free time, Shaminee enjoys going on hikes, traveling, exploring different parts of Southern California, and spending time with her family. 

Toddler Teachers

Ms. Cristina Barragan (Beetle Classroom)

Cristina Barragan  graduated from the Montessori Institute of San Diego in 2005 and worked at a local Montessori school for 7 years.   In 2012, she moved to Huntington Beach for another job offer to open a new Spanish Immersion in the Toddler Program. It was a wonderful experience to witness how quickly young children learn other languages.   It was upon speaking to a friend who took the Montessori training in 2001 that sparked Cristina's interest in this educational system. After doing some research she fell in love with the Montessori philosophy and approach. She loved the fact that it is designed to help children individually with their task of inner construction physically and intellectually and offers the essential elements for optimal development. “Education as an aid to life” is the quote that captured her attention.   She writes: "I am interested in anything that is interesting. I tend to gravitate towards computer, science, and music. I will just as likely find an article on a political, religious, or historical topic just as interesting as an article about astronauts in space or even an interesting book.  I have played the guitar and piano since I was 8 and have become fairly accomplished at it. Music is important to me, and I find it to be a satisfying relaxation.  I can never tell when I will be interested in something. But that is what makes life an interesting hodgepodge of many facts, experiences, activities, and lessons. I love working with children and my ultimate objective at Lifetime Montessori School is to help the students to learn independently and retain the curiosity, creativity, and intelligence with which they were born and to prepare and maintain the physical, intellectual, and social/emotional environment within which the children will work and develop."

Ms. Nadia Nafez (Cricket Classroom)

Nadia Nafez has been working at Lifetime since 2009, at the time her daughter Laila also started her Montessori education in the Toddler classroom. “Since the day of my job interview, I knew that Lifetime Montessori was the place to adapt, be committed to, and grow with. The beautiful structure, clean and eye-catching environment makes my heart glow year after year.  My passion for working here continues each day.” Nadia truly loves and adores the Montessori Philosophy and education system.  She graduated from the San Diego Montessori Training Institute (MISD) and obtained her diploma for teaching ages 0-3 years.  She is now an AMI Head Toddler Teacher in the Cricket classroom.  Nadia writes:  Dr. Maria Montessori based her educational methods on scientific observation of children teaching themselves, she designed a “prepared environment” in which children could freely choose from a number of developmentally appropriate activities.  Now, nearly a century after Maria Montessori’s first casa di bambini (“children’s house”) Lifetime is following the full system of Montessori principles and philosophy. Therefore, I can see my students in the Cricket classroom follow the order in the environment and mind.  Nadia also has Associate Degrees in Medical Assistance, and Child Development. Nadia’s goal and focus are children becoming lifelong learners and to fulfill their needs by showing them love, having patience and companionship. She is a mom to four children: three boys and a girl.  Laila started 1st grade in the Elementary class with Miss Stone this year.  “I can see the true Montessori child in Laila, she is becoming a young girl, full of passion, love of learning, care of others, and her Grace and courtesy says it all.”  

Ms. Maria Meyers (Butterfly Classroom)

Ms. Maria had a job as a floater/secretarial assistant at a local Montessori school many years ago. After observing 3-6 year old children working independently and with great concentration, she knew that she wanted to be a Montessori teacher. She took the AMI, 0-3 training at the Montessori Institute of San Diego and obtained her Assistants to Infancy diploma in 2002. Ms. Maria has been teaching children ages 18 months to 3-years-old ever since. She loves this age because she feels it is one of the most significant ages of self-construction. Watching a child unfold in the early years of development is something that she never tires of.  One of Ms. Maria’s favorite ways to stimulate early language is through music and movement. She considers herself to be a novice guitar player, but, “No matter what I play, the children’s enthusiasm always makes me feel like a rock star!” Even the newest children often join in the fun. Each Friday she likes to dedicate the morning to cooking something special to enjoy at school as well as some extra to bring home to stimulate conversation at home. Miss Maria’s highest goal is to impart the love of learning to all of her students.  When not at school, Ms. Maria enjoys her family, friends, camping, hiking, kayaking, playing music, reading, cooking, her two little dogs, and throwing tea parties for those special occasions that come up in life.

Ms. Francene Fletcher (Ladybug Classroom)

Ms. Francene received her MEd in Montessori Education for the age group birth to 6 years old at the Montessori Institute of San Diego and the University of San Diego. Prior to working in Montessori, Ms. Francene spent many years working as a teacher in traditional education. Her teaching career started at age 19 when, upon graduating from Upper Sixth, her principal invited her to join the staff as a teacher.    She feels especially fortunate to have discovered Montessori as this approach is more aligned to how she believes schools ought to be designed.    Working at this level of the education system gives her the opportunity to play a more direct role in influencing a child's "educational blueprint". She especially enjoys the opportunity to collaborate with parents.    Ms. Francene is ecstatic to call beautiful San Diego home! When not at Lifetime witnessing the magic of the toddler years she spends time with family and friends.

Assistant Teachers

Ms. Uzma Kazi (Bumblebee Classroom)

Uzma Kazi is from Pakistan but was born in Kuwait. Because she lived in Kuwait, she is able to speak Arabic and Urdu. She moved to San Diego in 2000 with her family. She has a computer science diploma from Kuwait but since moving to the U.S. she changed her career to teaching and is now a full time teacher’s assistant at Lifetime Montessori. She is married and has two teenage daughters. During her free time she likes to hike Torrey Pines and listen to different music.

Ms. Rubina Bhatti (Caterpillar Classroom)

Rubina Bhatti has been with Lifetime since 2010.  She graduated with a Bachelors in Economics and Statistics in Pakistan, moving to San Diego soon after.  After being heavily involved in her own children's education and school, she worked as a volunteer in the Poway Unified School District.  Ms. Rubina took classes to study early childhood development before starting her work at Lifetime.  In her free time, Ms. Rubina likes to listen to music from various cultures, go for walks, and loves to spend time with her family. 

Ms. Pushti Vyas (Extended Day Program)

Pushti Vyas graduated in India with a Bachelor of Commerce. She started Child Development courses here in San Diego and opened a home daycare for 3 years. She found Lifetime Montessori School in 2009 and has been excited about this opportunity ever since. She is happily married with one son. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with friends and family and walking and biking with her friends.

Ms. Melissa Meyer (Extended Day Program)

Melissa Meyer grew up in Los Angeles, California, one of six children. She began babysitting at age twelve, sometimes committing to four jobs in a day! When her own two children were born, she became a stay-at-home-mom, but once they grew up, she knew she wanted to work with children again. She studied child development, and knew that the Montessori method appealed most to her ideals. When she began looking for a job, she discovered Lifetime Montessori. The beautiful campus, classrooms, and staff appealed to her immediately, and she was fortunate enough to be hired in early 2011! In her free time, Ms. Melissa likes to read, write, garden, and spend time with her family.

Ms. Jennifer Monsees (Ladybug Classroom)

Jennifer Monsees is a graduate of Southern California Seminary with a Masters in Counseling Psychology. Her undergraduate degree is from San Diego Christian College, a Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Elementary Education/ Psychology. She has over fifteen years of experience working with different age groups, including working as a clinical intern therapist at Phoenix House. Out of the various experiences, preschool is her favorite age group. She enjoys their natural curiosity, boundless energy, and ceaseless capacity to learn. Her interests outside of work include oil painting, art, kayaking, archery, tennis, and spending quality time with her daughter. 

Ms. Gunjan Sitlani (Centipede Classroom)

Gunjan Sitlani grew up in India and moved to San Diego with her family when she has in high school.  For her college class assignment, she was asked to write a paper on different methods of teaching, so she went to observe a Montessori classroom. During her observation she realized how she had been raised in such a manner, and how much the children enjoyed learning using the materials which were made for their specific needs and pace.  In 2005, she started her Montessori training with the American Montessori society, and started working at a Montessori school in San Diego. She started working at Lifetime Montessori in 2009, and in 2013 she decided to be stay at home mom. After having two girls, she missed the classroom and also those precious materials. In 2016, she started working back at Lifetime Montessori School. Ms. Gunjan loves to travel with her family and read books with her children. 

Ms. Manijeh Namiranian

Manijeh Namiranian was born in Iran. While studying software engineering at the University of Tehran, she started teaching math to high school students. After graduating from university, Manijeh worked as a computer programmer for 20 years. In 2005, she moved to San Diego and started working in a preschool while studying Child Development at Miramar College. She received her AA degree in Child Development in 2012. During her studies, Manijeh learned about Dr. Montessori and developed a great interest in working at the Montessori School. She has been working at Lifetime Montessori School since 2015. Ms. Manijeh enjoys walking, watching movies and reading books in her free time.                                                                                   

Ms. Ruth Tintos (Firefly Classroom)

Ruth Tintos grew up in Tijuana, Mexico. She decided to study Child Development when her son started having difficulties in school. During the process of earning an Associate’s Degree in Social and Behavioral Sciences at Southwestern College, Ms. Ruth learned about the Montessori method. She decided to volunteer at a wonderful Montessori school in Chula Vista, was hired on, and she worked there for 4 years. She continues studying to transfer to SDSU and finish her bachelor’s degree. Ms. Ruth lives with her husband, 13-year-old son David, baby girl Sara, and two dogs, Canelo and Camila. She loves to visit her hometown, dance ballet, and spend time with her family.

Ms. Jessica Mikhail (Butterfly Classroom)

Jessica Mikhail received her bachelor’s degree in Fashion Marketing and Management at the Art Institute of California-San Diego in 2010. After a stressful marketing internship that ended in early 2014 she wondered what direction to go. She remembered her church minister had spoken to her about becoming a youth teacher. So, she went online to take a career test and scored the highest in the teaching and counseling categories. She found an aide position through A+ Subs and obtained her ECE units at Palomar and Miramar colleges. She substituted at a variety of preschools but when she was introduced to a Montessori classroom she was in awe at what she saw. “The atmosphere was so calm and organized I felt like I was in another world. The young children calmly enjoyed their practical life work instead of just being given busy work. They could actually use small glass pitchers to pour water and the child-sized material inspired me greatly. The children were required to hang up their own jacket and put their sheets/blankets away, which I had not seen at that age. They were capable at many things if given the lesson and opportunity.” Today, she feels blessed to learn under Ms. Maria and witness the toddlers learn practical life skills so early in their lives. In the future, she would like to open a boutique/study room inspired by the Montessori method dedicated towards youth to be at peace to focus, study and create. 

Ms. Michelle Christensen

Michelle Christensen moved from the East Coast at an early age and is happy to call San Diego her home.  She earned a BA in Communication from California State University San Marcos.  Michelle realized her passion for Montessori education while her son attended Lifetime Montessori years ago.  She subsequently enrolled in the AMI certification program and successfully completed the AMI Primary training from MISD (Montessori Institute of San Diego) in 2017. While attending MISD, Michelle conducted her practice teaching placement at Lifetime, and once again fell in love with the school and the passion it exemplifies for Montessori principles and all of the children and families who attend the school. Michelle began her career with us in the Summer of 2017 and is grateful to be a part of the Lifetime family.  She enjoys running, hiking and gardening with her family.