Montessori Leadership and Faculty

Forest Bluff School’s experienced Montessori leadership and faculty serve our students from birth through adolescence. All members of our dedicated teaching staff are AMI Montessori certified, hold a Master's Degree in Education or are attending programs leading to a Master's Degree, and teach only the level for which they have received specific training. Our teachers work closely with one another, benefiting from the wisdom and experience of staff members who have been at our school for many years. They regularly attend conferences on Montessori leadership, education, and child development, and stay educated as a staff through weekly discussions of current books and journal articles on topics related to education and world affairs. Additionally, our substitute teachers are AMI Montessori certified and are often former Forest Bluff teachers who have remained involved with the school.

Forest Bluff Montessori Leadership

Photo of Paula Polk Lillard, part of the Montessori Leadership team at Forest Bluff School

Paula Polk Lillard
Co-Founder & Head Emerita

Paula Polk Lillard is an internationally respected authority on Montessori theory and practice. She is the author of four books and countless articles. Paula co-founded Forest Bluff School in 1982, serving as Primary teacher and Head of School. Her wisdom and experience continue to guide our parents and staff. Paula taught for eight years in traditional public and private schools before discovering Montessori (as chronicled in her 1972 book, Montessori: A Modern Approach). Fifty years of experience has since deepened her conviction that the Montessori approach solves the basic dilemma of guaranteeing a superior, well-rounded, intellectual education to children and young adults while, at the same time, granting students the freedom to follow their individual interests and passions.

Key to the success of any Montessori school is the involvement of the parents in understanding an educational approach that they did not experience themselves. Although no longer in the classroom, Paula devotes the major portion of her time to guiding and supporting parents in this journey. She does this locally, nationally, and internationally through her writing, lectures, and parent education meetings. Paula, a graduate of Smith College with a Masters Degree in Montessori Education from Xavier University, Cincinnati, is an AMI certified Montessori Primary director and has served on both the Board of Directors of the American Montessori Society (AMS) and the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) USA. She lives in Lake Forest and has been married to John S. Lillard for sixty years. They have five daughters and sons-in-law and ten grandchildren. Their first great-grandchild joined the Forest Bluff School’s Young Children’s Community in 2012.

Paula Polk Lillard is the author of four books: Montessori: A Modern Approach, Montessori Today, and Montessori in the Classroom: a Teacher’s Account of How Children Really Learn. She co-authored Montessori from the Start with her daughter, Lynn Lillard Jessen. Paula Polk Lillard’s books are translated into multiple languages and represent to parents and teachers globally the classic introduction to Montessori education covering all age levels.


Paula Lillard Preschlack
Head of School

Current Head of School, Paula Lillard Preschlack, joined Forest Bluff School in 1995, first teaching a Primary class for four years and then a Lower Elementary class for two years. With the birth of her first child in 2001, she became a director of the Montessori from the Start program, and, in the subsequent year, Assistant Head of School. Paula assumed the role of Head of School when Paula Polk Lillard became Head Emerita in 2006. From 2013 to 2016, while also serving as Head of School, Paula Preschlack returned to teaching in a Lower Elementary classroom, thus keeping her engaged with our children on a daily basis, and continuously focused on their learning and self-formation. 

Paula is a graduate of Hampshire College and has a Master’s Degree in Education from Loyola University, Baltimore. She is AMI certified for all three Montessori age levels: Assistants to Infancy, Primary, and Elementary. Paula is thereby qualified to teach children from birth through the Secondary Level, to lead our staff at every age level, and to consult and assist parents throughout their children’s education at Forest Bluff School. Paula is married to Jim Preschlack and lives in Lake Forest with their son, Stanley (age 15), and daughter, Lillard (age 13). Stanley graduated from Forest Bluff in 2016, and now attends Beacon Academy, a Montessori IB high school located in Evanston, IL.

In addition to her role as Head of School, Paula writes articles, gives presentations and offers discussion groups to help parents understand Montessori philosophy and how they can best apply Montessori principles at home. Paula has presented at Montessori conferences in both the United States and abroad. 

Photo of Lynn Lillard Jessen, member of the Montessori leadership team at Forest Bluff School

Lynn Lillard Jessen
Co-Founder, Director of Admissions, and Director of the Parent and Child Series

Lynn Lillard is a co-founder of Forest Bluff School and the school’s first teacher, leading the original Primary class of fifteen 3 and 4 year olds in 1982. Three years later, she established the Young Children’s Community for children ages 18 months to 3 years. Throughout the history of the school, Lynn has served as a leader, supporter, and advisor in whatever capacity was most needed by the Forest Bluff team, whether teaching in classrooms, carrying out office duties, or helping with parent activities. Currently, she is a co-director of the Montessori from the Start program, and conducts home consultations with current and incoming families to assist them in how to best meet their young children’s needs at home. In addition, she serves as Director of Admissions, and oversees all areas of publicity and community relations for Forest Bluff School.

Lynn lives in Lake Bluff, and is married to Ned Jessen. She is a graduate of Smith College and is AMI certified at both the Assistants to Infancy and Primary levels. Lynn and Ned have three children, all of whom are Forest Bluff School graduates, and three grandchildren who are current Forest Bluff students. In addition to her work at Forest Bluff School, Lynn has served on the Board of Directors of the Montessori High School at University Circle in Cleveland, Ohio since it’s founding in 2008. David Kahn, Executive Director of the North American Montessori Association (NAMTA) established the Montessori High School in 2008 to serve as an international model Montessori high school. Lynn’s youngest daughter was in the founding class and graduated with an IB diploma in 2011. Lynn also serves on the Board of Directors of Beacon Academy, a Montessori IB High School located in Evanston, IL. Beacon Academy welcomed its first class of students in September of 2014.

Lynn is the co-author of Montessori from the Start with Paula Polk Lillard, and has presented at Montessori Conferences in the United States, Canada, India, Germany and Sweden.

Photo of Nan Barrett, member of the Montessori leadership team at Forest Bluff School

Nan Barrett

"After 25 years at Forest Bluff School--initially as a parent, then as a Primary Level teacher, and currently as the principal--I realize the extraordinary impact that it has had on the quality of our family life and the wellbeing and happiness of our daughters’ lives. My mission in my leadership role today is to preserve the integrity of our school’s authentic approach to Montessori education for our children and for our community of teachers and parents, as we all learn and grow together. In this way, I hope to fulfill my personal goal for each family’s experience at Forest Bluff School: that it may be as rewarding for them as mine has been for me."

Forest Bluff Montessori Faculty

Photo of Haley Tate, member of the Montessori leadership and faculty at Forest Bluff School

Haley Tate
Young Children's Community (18 months to 3 years)

"When I first walked into Forest Bluff School as a young Primary teacher thirty years ago, it spoke to me internally, spiritually. In each ensuing year--first as a Primary teacher, later as a parent, and today in my dual role as a Young Children’s Community teacher and Assistant Head of School--I have confirmed my initial faith in the Montessori approach to the inner spirit of each child. I never tire of witnessing the intense concentration, developing independence, and self-mastery of these little ones that inevitably follow my introduction of the Montessori materials to them. As I work with the materials today, I realize that they are equally as interesting to me as an adult, as they would have been to me as a child."

Photo of Stacy Keane, member of the Montessori leadership and faculty at Forest Bluff School

Stacy Keane
Young Children's Community (18 months to 3 years)

"In my twelve years at Forest Bluff School, I have had the pleasure of teaching in a Primary classroom and most recently in a Young Children’s Community. It is an honor to be with children ages 18 months to 3 years old who experience everything as new and exciting with such an attitude of awe and enthusiasm. Forest Bluff School provides a strong community of support and understanding among parents and teachers that allows me to concentrate on the ever-changing needs of each individual child in my class, and Montessori materials and practices give me the means to meet them. I am proud to be part of a movement in education that allows each child to achieve his or her own special potential, whatever that may be; watching this mystery unfold throughout the years is a unique privilege and a joy."

Photo of Melanie McEneely, member of the Montessori leadership and faculty at Forest Bluff School

Melanie McEneely
Primary Level (3 years to 6 years)

"Montessori is unique as an educational approach to children because it allows each child to learn in the way that comes naturally to him or her. As a result, children develop concentration, independence, and a control of their own behavior. Visitors are astounded that 3-to-6-year-olds can develop these qualities. Yet, when children are given this deep respect as unique individuals, such results become commonplace. I feel so fortunate in being able to treat children with the dignity that they deserve, and seeing them develop the ability to work productively within a community of others and a solid love of learning that forms the basis for the whole of their academic lives."


Kaiti Anderson
Primary Level (3 years to 6 years)

"Montessori education continually astounds me with its utmost respect for each unique human life, across all time and all cultures. It is truly a delightful and humbling experience to work with children of all ages. Their capacity at each stage of development for enthusiasm, curiosity, forgiveness, charity and even humor makes my role as their teacher not just a profession but a passion. Primary children have an inherent capacity to persevere, to repeat, to concentrate and to follow their own pace and rhythm of life, naturally driven by an inner guide. In our Montessori classrooms we have the privilege of helping each individual personality come to its fullest potential, watching it unfold day by day."

Photo of Sarah Robbins, member of the Montessori leadership and faculty at Forest Bluff School

Sarah Robbins
Lower Elementary Level (6 years to 9 years)

"I have taught at Forest Bluff School for over 20 years: first as an Elementary teacher of 9-to-12-year-olds, then for 6-to-9-year-olds and finally for 12-to-15-year-olds in the Secondary Level. My ten years of teaching at the Secondary Level was an inspiring experience for me intellectually and also experientially because of the three off-campus trips each year that were largely planned and carried out by the students themselves. We were often out camping and working in nature for up to two weeks at a time: an adventurous, challenging and tremendously rewarding experience. Today, I am thrilled to be working once again in the Elementary classroom with 6-to-9-year-olds for whom everything is so new and exciting. I love sharing in their joy and enthusiasm for their work and watching them develop strong moral character and the ability to collaborate in their work together."

Photo of Bob Koelsch, member of the Montessori leadership and faculty at Forest Bluff School

Bob Koelsch
Lower Elementary Level (6 years to 9 years)

"I have been a teacher in an Elementary classroom for 6-to-9-year-olds at Forest Bluff School since 2009. It is a joy to work with lower elementary-aged children. I love their enthusiasm and wide-eyed observations of previously undiscovered truths. The challenge is great--trying to provide for the needs of different strengths and weaknesses, different ages, different interests and fears--but the reward is vastly greater. Forest Bluff School provides an ideal setting for this magic to happen. Many visitors, upon entering the building, have commented on its calm and peaceful atmosphere. It is truly a sanctuary of learning where that process is carried out with the utmost respect for the children and in accordance with the purest ideals of Montessori theory."

Photo of Regina Cyvas, member of the Montessori leadership and faculty at Forest Bluff School

Regina Sokolowski
Upper Elementary Level (9 years to 12 years)

"I began working at Forest Bluff School in 2010 as an Upper Elementary teacher of children ages 9 to 12. What I love most about our school is that the top priority is always what is best for the child; it is never compromised by an adult agenda. This vision is frequently revisited and discussed by the teachers. Thus, we are a place where teachers and parents are constantly in a process of growth and self-betterment, along with our students. I feel especially privileged to work with our 9-to-12-year-olds, who inspire me with their enthusiasm, work ethic, and compassion for one another. The children have such a genuine love of life and learning, and are incredibly capable, confident, and resilient. At this age, they are forming themselves as social beings, and it is a joy to witness their contributions to their classroom and school communities in that journey."

Photo of Matt Robbins, member of the Montessori leadership and faculty at Forest Bluff School

Matt Robbins
Secondary Level (12 years to 14 years)

"I have directed the Secondary Level at Forest Bluff School since 2005, both in the classroom and outside of it, taking students on day-and weeks-long trips of exploration and discovery. Many of these trips are designed to give students a chance to challenge themselves in nature while accomplishing meaningful work that is of value in the adult world. Teaching adolescents in these environments is both a humbling and rewarding experience. As every parent knows, the years of 12 to 14 are transformative for young individuals. They experience the greatest period of change physically, emotionally, and intellectually that they have known since their first three years of life. To witness the growth and maturity of these students in the Secondary Level is to experience the passage into adulthood in real time."

Photo of Elisabeth Miles, member of the Montessori leadership and faculty at Forest Bluff School

Elisabeth Miles
Secondary Level (12 years to 14 years)

"Before coming to Forest Bluff School, I worked with children in a number of different settings, including a year of teaching English language and culture at a high school in France. What I love about teaching in a quality traditional Montessori school such as Forest Bluff is that learning in these classrooms is an exciting experience for children. All children love to learn new things, and here, their opportunities to do so in every field of knowledge are boundless. I particularly enjoy teaching Montessori adolescents in the Secondary Level because their minds are so similar to college students. They are confident and unafraid to delve into difficult topics. It is stimulating to collaborate with them, to learn from their different perspectives, and to follow routes that I would not have thought to take. These young adolescents are so eager and open; you cannot help being enthusiastic along with them."

What an inspirational school! You have created a sanctuary for children to develop and grow, all in accordance to their own natural plan. The beauty of the prairie garden is a welcoming invitation to enter and join the warm and authentic learning community. The respect for the potential of the young child is palpable throughout the school. It is reassuring to visit an environment where the fundamental belief system centers on the child being capable and competent and where the adults place emphasis on fostering the child’s intrinsic motivation to learn.