Head of School Smith Coleman has never stopped growing as a learner. He received his Bachelor’s degree from Mary Washington in Economic History, a Master’s degree in Conflict Transformation from EMU, and a Certificate in Educational Leadership from JMU, with Endorsements in Administration and Supervision (PreK-12), Specific Learning Disabilities (K-12) and Middle Education (4-8). Throughout his career, Smith has continued to take training and immerse himself in ideas about the best way to educate children, including courses in Responsive Classroom and Place-Based Education. Smith’s leadership style reflects his desire to inspire great teaching and to bring community and patience to all that school is. His educational philosophy is a student-focused vision, embracing diversity and community collaboration paired with love of learning. Smith’s experiential teaching background includes science and social studies for all kinds of students, and he has been a sustainable farming practices consultant for 15 years. He and his wife, Teresa, live in Albemarle County with their children, Olivia, a student at Western Albemarle High School, and Amos, who attends North Branch School.
Administrator Autum Fish has come full circle at North Branch: she began in the Nursery program, graduated from 8th grade in 1996, and she is now a parent to two NBS students. After graduation from Sweet Briar College in 2004, Autum spent 10 years in college admissions and financial aid. She loves helping families find the right fit for their children and welcoming new and returning families to the North Branch Community.
Preschool Teacher Jeanine Beiber came to North Branch having finished a 20-year career working in the prevention of violence against women and girls. She is excited about having the opportunity to work with young children in an environment that supports the development of the whole child. Believing that children are strongly connected with the earth, she looks forward to participating in the many opportunities children at North Branch have for interacting with and honoring nature—thereby learning to value themselves and others. In her earlier life, Jeanine worked for 15 years in the field of early childhood education– as a parent educator and the director of a child-development program. For ten years, she and her partner have hosted a summer camp for their eight grandchildren in which they sing and develop skits, explore the wonders of nature in central Virginia, discuss the merits of understanding nutrition as they prepare meals together, and learn lessons in negotiating life’s challenges. Jeanine’s degrees are in education, counseling, and health promotion.
Preschool Teacher Susan Butler has been a part of the North Branch family community since her eldest started in the Preschool Program. For the past several years, she has had the joy of running the Wednesday Parent/Toddler Group program, which is free to all and has given her the opportunity to make new friendships. In the preschool, Susan is part of a team of amazing teachers that guide our youngest with caring and knowledge. All three of Susan’s children attend NBS.
Preschool Teacher, Staff Resource to Primaries & Juniors Celeste Ploumis started out as a music teacher, with a BA in history from Mary Baldwin. She has since earned a MA in ESOL from Hunter College, and specializes in teaching reading. Along the way, she worked in theater and opera in Berlin, Athens and New York. Most recently she has taught English to speakers of other languages in public elementary schools. She is the parent of a North Branch alumnus, and has been a substitute both at North Branch and at schools in New York and Athens.
Early Primary Teacher Genevieve Dennis became a part of the North Branch family as a student when she was just 9 years old. After graduating in 2001, she went on to Nelson County High School and then continued her education at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. There, she received a Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies and graduated with a Masters in Teaching in 2011. Genevieve was thrilled to start her first year of teaching back at North Branch and taught the Juniors class for 2 years. After a brief move to Athens, Georgia for some musical adventures, she returned to North Branch to teach in Early Primary.
Primary Blue Teacher Krista Crocker received her B.A. in Elementary Education from Rollins College and an M.A. in Elementary Guidance at the University of South Florida. She taught elementary school in Florida before becoming involved with a parent co-op preschool and then the Nelson County homeschooling community. Krista has shared her commitment to a whole language approach to reading instruction, and her delight in fostering independent learning from a young age. She has three children, all of whom are NBS graduates.
Primary Yellow Teacher Jen Tal became a part of the North Branch school family when she was in utero. Her mother, Regina, taught in the old school house and brought her to school as an infant and toddler. Since then, Jen graduated from Nelson County High School and Mary Baldwin University. At NBS Jen has lead and assisted preschool-8th grade P.E., music, reading, handworks, handwriting, math, movement, and science. 2018-2019 will be her 9th year of working with NBS. Aside from experience here, she taught show choir choreography for 7 years at Nelson County High School. She also taught preschool for Randolph College, Living Wisdom School, and Emerald City Preschool in Washington state. Additionally, she lead 2nd-12th grade P.E. for Woodinville Montessori School, voice for VAM Studios School of Dance, and numerous children’s summer camps along with many after school programs. Jen is thrilled to be back home and looks forward to more great experiences with the NBS family!
Juniors Teacher Heather Harris graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a Bachelor’s Degree in English and a Master’s Degree in Teaching. She taught 8th– 12th grade English for 11 years before taking time to stay at home with her daughters. She also has been a musician and loves singing, dancing, and theater. She has a great love of reading, writing, traveling, and hearty laughter. Her daughters, Kiki and Sophia, attend NBS.
Juniors and Art Teacher: Juniors and Art Teacher Karen Blackburn attended The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, receiving Bachelors in Psychology in 1989. After seven years working with adults and teens in an in-patient psychiatric setting, the last two years in the Art Therapy and Activities Therapy programs, and then spending several years as a store manager and window merchandiser for Blue Ridge Mountain Sports, she got a job at The Hiroshima International School in Japan! She found her two years teaching Art to Pre-K – 10th grade students to be so rewarding that she went back to school at JMU, earning a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts, and her Art teaching license certificate. For the next ten years, while raising her two children, who both attended NBS, she also taught Art part-time at NBS, and was a long-term sub at Rockfish River Elementary School and Brownsville Elementary School. She taught fulltime in 2011-12 at the Casablanca American School in Morocco, teaching Art to international students, in grades K – 8th. Now happily ensconced at NBS, since the fall of 2013, Karen uses a fully choice-based studio environment with a Teaching Artistic Behaviors (“TAB”) framework to provide each student with the tools, skill development, art education and emotional support that they need to fully express themselves artistically.
Juniors Teacher Jill Fulmer joined the Juniors team after substituting at North Branch in Nursery through Seniors classes for 7 years, as well as subbing and leading summer camp groups at a preschool in Ivy. Her teaching career began at Duke School, a model independent school in Durham, NC, where Jill was trained to implement a learner-centered, project-based, integrated curriculum, similar to the program at NBS. When she returned to teaching after 18 years as an entrepreneur and business manager, she covered long- and short-term absences at Duke School for 3 years before moving to Nelson County and continuing to work as a sub locally. Jill teaches with kindred spirits at North Branch who create such a unique culture of cooperation, curiosity, creativity, critical thinking and conservation.
Seniors Teacher Maggie Buchanan earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Science and Environmental Education from Cornell, her M.Ed. in Elementary Education from Smith College and an M.Ed. in Science Education from the University of Massachusetts. She has been working with 10- to 14-year-olds for over 25 years in a variety of environmental education, public school and private school settings. Maggie has taught at North Branch for well over a decade and a half. She is one of two homeroom teachers for the 5-6th grade Seniors, and teaches Seniors math and Middle School Science. Favorite activities are camping and hiking with her husband and two children, both of whom graduated from NBS. Maggie worked under a grant from the Virginia Environmental Endowment to compile and describe North Branch School’s Environmental Studies Program in a book called “Fostering Appreciation of Our Natural World.”
Seniors Teacher Michael Donegan is part of the Seniors homeroom team and teaches Humanities and reading to that 5th-6th grade group. Michael graduated from Mary Baldwin College with a B.A. in Art. He previously taught art for Early Primary through Middle School at NBS, taught at Free Union County School, and was a graphic designer for a curriculum development nonprofit. Michael also runs a popular summer art camp at North Branch and teaches skateboarding for Charlottesville Parks and Recreation. He is the father of two NBS grads.
Science Teacher April Erskin is part of the Seniors homeroom team and teaches Senior Science and Readers/Writers. Her curiosity and life path have allowed diverse experiences in 35 years – from training to be a Russian linguist in the Air Force, to theater and dance, college, the business world, farming, teaching, after school arts programs, and herbalism. Her many experiences have given her an ability to see the thread of connectivity between all subjects and an appreciation for the interdisciplinary nature of the learning process. Most recently, April taught English to 7th and 8th graders at a middle school in Rockbridge County where she was also the Gifted Coordinator and Co-Director of The Groove Girl Project, an afterschool collective designed to build resilient middle and high school girls. April’s son attends North Branch, and her daughter is a 2015 graduate.
Middle School Coordinator Katrien Vance teaches Humanities, reading, writing, math, and music to North Branch Middle Schoolers and leads the school’s Chorus of 5th-8th graders. She has been to a lot of schools–Williams College (BA), Villanova University (MA), and the Breadloaf School of English, which included a summer at Lincoln College, Oxford—but coming to NBS in the 1990s was like coming home to the progressive school she attended from kindergarten through second grade, which inspired her love of learning and set the standard for all other educational experiences. In her years at NBS, she’s sought to deliver that same kind of fun, challenging, and inspiring education to all of her students. Katrien also sings alto in the Virginia Consort, and you will often find her singing in the classroom, whether it’s a round about the cities Joan of Arc saved, Schoolhouse Rock favorites, or her own creations, such as “No Way, We Won’t Pay (The Stamp Act Rap).” One of her sons is a Middle Schooler at NBS and the other is a 2015 graduate.
Middle School and Juniors Teacher Jennifer Page graduated from the University of Virginia with a B.A. in Foreign Affairs, and from Catholic University of America with a Master’s Degree in Library Science. She lived overseas for a number of years learning languages and cultures. After working as an international and reference librarian for a decade, she has been teaching and working with children of all ages in foreign languages, math, science, and humanities for the past six years. She loves reading, gardening, hiking, spinning and knitting, and simplicity. Jennifer’s daughter is a 2016 NBS graduate, and her two sons attend NBS.
Spanish Language and Culture Teacher Nina Charré joins the North Branch community with an enthusiasm to share her love of language and culture, and passion for integrative and interdisciplinary learning. Raised in Argentina, Nina has lived and studied abroad throughout Europe, and South America. She is a multi-linguist whose interests range from neuroscience, quantum physics and international economics to qigong, meditation and herbology. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in International Studies at American University in Washington D.C., along with a minor in French language. Her experience working with children and adults across our community, from mentoring at the Living Earth School in Afton and care-taking at Westminster Child Care Center in Charlottesville, to volunteer work in multi-language settings, has finally led her to North Branch. She brings with her an interactively engaged, multi-sensory approach to the classroom and promotes a curriculum that consists of teaching and learning through art, music, games, and song along with written and verbal practice for the more advanced. She is honored and grateful to be a part of the learning process team. Her bilingual son attends NBS.
Development Director Bonnie Holliday has been affiliated with NBS as parent, teacher, administrator, or Board member since 1990. She is excited to be working with staff, parents, and Board members to expand North Branch’s programs in the areas of donor relations, foundation and corporate support, and community outreach. After attending Glenville State College in West Virginia and living in several cities, Bonnie discovered Nelson County and has called it home since 1981. Her previous work experiences in the area include Wintergreen Resort, Sweet Briar College, and the University of Virginia. She currently serves on the Nelson Memorial Library Advisory Council. She and her husband, Tom, have two daughters, both of whom are graduates of NBS.