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

Paula Lillard Preschlack is the Head of School at Forest Bluff School.

Paula Lillard Preschlack
Head of School

Current Head of School, Paula Lillard Preschlack, joined Forest Bluff School in 1995 and taught both Primary and Lower Elementary Levels for twelve 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. By returning to full-time teaching while serving as Head of School over the years, Paula Preschlack has kept herself engaged with our students on a daily basis and stays 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, MD. She is AMI certified for all Montessori age levels: Assistants to Infancy, Primary, and Elementary, and audited the NAMTA/AMI Orientation to Adolescent Studies in 2018. Paula has a wealth of knowledge about children from birth through adolescence, leads our staff at every age level, and consults and assists 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, and daughter, Lillard. Stanley and Lillard are both graduates of Forest Bluff. Stanley now attends Beacon Academy, a Montessori IB high school located in Evanston, IL, and Lillard attends Woodlands Academy of the Sacred Heart in Lake Forest, IL.  

In addition to her role as Head of School, Paula writes articles, gives presentations at Montessori schools, teacher trainings and conferences nationwide, and offers discussion groups to help parents understand Montessori philosophy and how they can best apply Montessori principles at home. To read Paula's blogposts, parents and teachers are welcome to subscribe to the Forest Bluff School blog.  Paula also has her own website, where you can find more information about her writing and public speaking:

Lynn Lillard Jessen

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 Level 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 offers home consultations for 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 serves on the Founding Board of Directors of Beacon Academy, a Montessori IB High School located in Evanston, IL. 

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 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 over sixty years. They have five daughters and sons-in-law, ten grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Five of their great-grandchildren attend Forest Bluff School.

Paula Polk Lillard is the author of four books: Montessori: A Modern ApproachMontessori Today, and Montessori in the Classroom: a Teacher’s Account of How Children Really Learn. She co-authored Montessori from the Startwith 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.


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)
Assistant Head of School

"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."


Maggie Kelly
Young Children's Community (18 months to 3 years)

"Before taking my Montessori training I worked for several years with many different infants and children under three, including working as a pediatric nurse for children who had been victims of abuse and neglect. It was through my observations during these experiences that I began to understand that there is a whole world inside of the child 18 months to three years old. It is my belief that each child is created with unique and deeply personal gifts. What I love about the Montessori approach is that it teaches open acceptance and love of the child as he/she unfolds and reveals themselves and their unique gifts. I am grateful for the Montessori materials, which provide a means for the child to develop and integrate. It is an honor to be entrusted with the task of assisting the children in the Young Children's Community as they change and grow. I feel privileged to work at a school like Forest Bluff, which provides a tremendous amount of support and guidance for the teachers, children, and families." 

Photo of Melanie McEneely, member of the Montessori 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."

A Montessori Primary teacher reads aloud from a picture book about a tree.

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 Level 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."


Debbie Secler
Primary Level (3 years to 6 years)

"For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to teach. I aspire to all that Maria Montessori said about education, especially her belief that the greatest sign of success for a teacher is to be able to say, 'The children are now working as if I did not exist.' Forest Bluff School has brought more dreams to life for me than I can enumerate! The incredible level of support and implementation of all the ideals that I spent my whole adult life studying are playing out right before my eyes every school day. To say that I am happy and excited to teach the third Primary class is an understatement, and please know that I will put all of my focus and energy into making it the best experience possible for each and every child entrusted in my care!"

Photo of Sarah Robbins, member of the Montessori 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."

Forest Bluff School teacher, Ann Marie Nedeau

Ann Marie Nedeau
Lower Elementary Level (6 years to 9 years)

"Upon entering Forest Bluff School, there’s an overwhelming, deeply inherent sense of respect for the child. It’s no mystery that the Forest Bluff School community serves as an exemplary embodiment of the Montessori method. As a former Forest Bluff student, and now teacher, I can attest that the utmost respect for the child never wanes and remains at the forefront of our everyday work. I feel very fortunate to work with the 6-9 year old elementary children, as they’re busy navigating what I find to be the most exciting developmental period of all. The lower elementary child engages in an active, collaborative process of self-construction. By igniting a student’s imagination, the child will explore beyond his or her own time and culture and begin to develop a moral compass. It’s an absolute privilege to work with the students, and begin every child’s unique and individual process."


Photo of Regina Cyvas, member of the Montessori 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."

Abbey White, Secondary Director

Abbey White
Secondary Level (12 years to 14 years)

"The word I always use to describe my entry into the Montessori community is serendipitous. Before this, I was a scientist studying plant biology and conservation. Yet, very early on in my career at Forest Bluff, I was told that once you start on this path, “you’ll be a Montessorian for life.” Years later, and as someone who is continuously amazed by the capabilities of children within this framework, I can speak to the truth of those words. What I find to be most striking about a Montessori classroom is that you often do not notice the teacher right away as you look around the room; the children, and by extension their work, are the focal point. As Directors, we lead from behind. I feel especially lucky to be working with adolescents because this period of their life, between the ages of 12 and 14, is beautiful, yet ephemeral. To me, the Secondary Level feels like a sanctuary, where adolescents are celebrated as thoughtful, contributing members of society. They are in the process of forming themselves and it is an honor to share in those experiences with them."

Secondary Level Montessori Director

Peter Dutko
Secondary Level (12 years to 14 years)

When I first came to Forest Bluff School, I was struck by the quiet diligence and individual focus of the students. This was as true for the youngest students learning to scoop melon for a class meal as it was for Secondary Level students working on their math at a pace and level tailored to their individual needs. That students were choosing their own work rather than being assigned topics, that they were respected enough to be given some agency over their own education, helped create a classroom and school environment that I had previously never seen. I am excited to be working with Secondary Level students because of their natural inquisitiveness, and because this period of their life contains the challenge of rapid self-discovery. Whether it be through a book discussion or cooking a meal outdoors on one of our Secondary Level trips, I could not be more excited to become part of a school community where students take ownership of their educational experience and growth.

John Dickson, Secondary Director at Forest Bluff School

John Dickson
Support Staff Director

"I first discovered my passion for education while studying the Greek concept of Paideia: the deliberate act of preparing the next generation of children to carry on and protect the developments of humanity for the betterment of society. By preparing children to be independent critical thinkers and equipping them with the practical skills needed to be effective contributors, they will be able to steward humanity into the future no matter the obstacle. This is what led me to fall in love with the Montessori Method. In sharing my passion for discovery and knowledge with children through mathematics, entrepreneurship, writing, song, and art, I hope to provide for children the inspiration and practical skills needed to do the work that defines their contributions to society. I am thrilled to be joining the Forest Bluff team to continue the work of actualizing Maria Montessori's vision of a peaceful world."

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.