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

Head of School Laura Earls

Laura Earls
Head of School

Having begun her Montessori career at Forest Bluff School nearly thirty years ago, Laura Earls is thrilled to return as Head of School, bringing with her a genuine love for the school and a deep understanding of its child-centered mission. Laura first came to Forest Bluff in 1994 as a Lower Elementary teacher after earning her AMI Elementary Montessori Certification at the Montessori Institute of Milwaukee. During that first year, Paula Polk Lillard profiled Laura’s classroom in the book Montessori Today. In 1998, Laura was invited to speak at the AMI-USA National Conference. During her initial years at Forest Bluff, she saw the inauguration of the Secondary Level and taught alongside Haley Tate, Paula Preschlack, and Sarah Robbins.

After moving to Wisconsin to raise her three children, Laura received her AMI Primary Montessori Certification at the Midwest Montessori Institute. She then taught a Primary class at a Montessori school in Lake Country, Wisconsin, where she also served as Director of Admissions. Now, Laura's children have each found their own path: Sophie is a theatre design and technology major at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Audrey is beginning college at Macalester in St. Paul this fall, and Will is finishing up high school as part of the Insight Program in Global Business.

Laura has been a friend to Forest Bluff for three decades, teaching summer sessions, covering maternity leaves for Directors, and staying connected to this special school community. In her present role as Head of School, she looks to bring continued success to Forest Bluff, while carrying on the beautiful traditions of the school and preserving its essential pursuit of maintaining the child as the primary focus of its mission.

Laura received her BA in art history from the University of Dallas. She has lived and studied in both Paris and Rome and is an accomplished pianist.

Lynn Lillard Jessen

Lynn Lillard Jessen
Co-Founder & Director of Admissions

Lynn Lillard Jessen is a co-founder of Forest Bluff School and the school’s first teacher, leading the original Primary Level class 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.

In her current role as Director of Admissions, Lynn offers prospective families a wealth of information to help them determine if Forest Bluff is the best educational fit for their child. She also supports current families as a co-director of the Montessori from the Start parent education program. In addition, she oversees all areas of marketing and public relations for Forest Bluff School.

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. She maintains close working relationships with Montessori leaders across the globe and is committed to supporting the advancement of authentic Montessori education. Lynn serves on the Founding Board of Directors of Beacon Academy, a Montessori IB High School located in Evanston, IL. 

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.

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

Paula Lillard Preschlack
Head Emerita & Alumni Liaison

Paula Lillard Preschlack has served in many roles since joining Forest Bluff School in 1995: Primary and Lower Elementary Director, Assistant Head of School, Head of School, and now Head Emerita and Alumni Liaison. With three decades of teaching and leadership experience at Forest Bluff, Paula is an invaluable resource for our Directors, parents, and alumni. Paula’s deep commitment to Forest Bluff School and the wider Montessori community continues to inspire her work as an author and lecturer.

Paula is AMI certified for all Montessori age levels: Assistants to Infancy, Primary, Elementary,  and audited the NAMTA/AMI Orientation to Adolescent Studies in 2018. She has a wealth of knowledge about children from birth through adolescence, and shares this knowledge at teacher trainings, conferences, and Montessori schools nationwide. She supports parents through her writing and discussions that build an understanding of Montessori philosophy and how to best apply Montessori principles at home.

Paula is a graduate of Hampshire College and has a Master’s Degree in Education from Loyola University, Baltimore, MD. She is married to Jim Preschlack and lives in Lake Forest. Her children are both graduates of Forest Bluff School.

To read Paula's blog articles, parents and teachers are welcome to subscribe to the Forest Bluff School blog. Paula also posts lectures and discussions on SoundCloud. To find more information about her writing and public speaking, visit

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

Paula Polk Lillard

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. 

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 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.

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."

Lower elementary director Rachel Coad

Rachel Coad
Lower Elementary Level (6 years to 9 years)

"I am continually thankful to have found Montessori education. My first role at Forest Bluff School was as an assistant in the Young Children’s Community and Upper Elementary classroom. I immediately fell in love with the Montessori approach and started my AMI Elementary training the following summer. Over the next three years I worked at Forest Bluff School in various classrooms with students of all ages. I especially love working with lower elementary students where I have the opportunity to aid children in their self-discovery, and create a safe environment where they have the freedom to learn, follow their interests, and become who they want to be in this world. The curiosity of the elementary age child is a joy that inspires me daily to be more curious about the world around me and my role in it."

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.

Forest Bluff School Support Director

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.