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. Both of her children attend NBS.
Preschool Director & Teacher Gerry Bernard has had many years of experience working with children and families in Nelson and surrounding counties. She started teaching preschool in 1983 at The Sunshine School in Shipman, VA, the first school started by Charlotte Zinsser Booth, founder of NBS. Gerry’s love for working with children has continued for over 30 years. She worked for 14 years as Therapeutic Day Treatment supervisor and clinician with Horizon Behavioral Health, and she provided support, psycho-education and therapy for children in Amherst County Public Schools. Before that, as Director of Nelson County Public Schools Bright Lights Program, Gerry developed and ran the before and after school programs, tutoring, and summer programs for elementary age students. She taught enrichment classes at Tye River and Rockfish River Elementary Schools, and created curricula for public and private enterprises that focused on exploration of culture, arts, science, and language. Inspiring others to explore and develop a love of learning has long been a passion. Involvement in the community has included serving as President of Nelson County Education Foundation from 1995 – 2001, and serving as a founding board member for the Blue Ridge Medical Center. Gerry holds a BA in Psychology from Mary Baldwin College, and has an Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education- Child Care Specialist from Piedmont VA Community College. Gerry loves living in the woods, embracing nature, and spending time with her 4 grandchildren.
Preschool Teacher Jeanine Beiber has been a teacher in the NBS preschool program for 10 years. Prior to teaching at North Branch, she worked at the university level in the prevention of violence against women and girls, then as an executive director of Virginia’s Sexual and Domestic Violence coalitions. In her earlier years she was the director of a child development center in West Virginia that offered care for children from infancy through kindergarten, as well as a program for children with special needs. What does she love about working with young children and families? As a parent of four children herself, she is very invested in parents finding good care and educational opportunities for their children, freeing them to effectively handle their jobs and lives; she very much values the opportunity to work with teams of staff to create top-rate programming; she really and truly enjoys preschool children’s enthusiasm for life and their curiosity about the universe. Jeanine was particularly drawn to North Branch because of the many opportunities for nature exploration that exist here. In addition to her teaching activities, she has spent numerous summers helping provide nature camps for young children. Over the years she and her partner have also welcomed varying groups of their 9 grandchildren to summer grandkids camps. Jeanine has an undergraduate degree in education, a masters’ degrees in counseling/rehabilitation and a master’s degree in health promotion. She enjoys reading, walking with her dogs, singing with community choirs, creating healthy food, spending time with family and friends, gardening, and caring for the variety of farm animals that have been part of her life over the years. Voted a CharlottesvilleFamily Favorite preschool teacher in 2020 and 2021!
Preschool Teacher Stephanie Matysek-Snyder is an educator, adventurer, yogi, mother, daughter, wife, sister, and lifelong learner. She holds a deep awareness and appreciation for the natural world. Her passion and respect for forests, rivers, lakes, mountains, oceans and all things wild began during childhood – where she was fortunate enough to spend much of her time outside exploring the great Northwoods of Wisconsin. She credits her amazing parents for nurturing her love of wilderness, travel and adventure as they introduced her to camping, National Parks and eventually, numerous experiences traveling internationally. Over the years, her love of working and playing in nature became interwoven with her strong desire to guide and learn alongside children. She has 10 years of experience working as an educator/researcher in both independent and public schools, much of which was spent in outdoor classrooms and exploring forests. Her philosophy of education encompasses a collaborative and playful experience driven by a child’s quest for understanding. Forever fascinated by the wonders of nature, she is particularly intrigued by the close relationships that children share with their natural environment. Her educational background includes a Master’s of Arts in Teaching degree from Mary Baldwin University as well as a Bachelor’s of Business Administration degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which included a semester at The American Intercontinental University in London, England. Additionally, she enjoyed a 10-year career traveling the world as an International Event Planner. Her travels, both professionally and personally, have contributed to her sense of global awareness and social responsibility. She is most at peace hiking, backpacking, doing yoga and spending time with her family.
Early Primary Teacher Genevieve Hoover 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.
Early Primary & Primary Science Teacher Laura Coté is an experienced teacher having worked with students in a variety of settings. Most recently, Laura was the Assistant to the Director of preschool programs at St. Anne’s Belfield School. She was excited to help launch their outdoor program at the beginning of the covid-19 pandemic. Before that, Laura was a Program Specialist at Ivy Creek School in Charlottesville for 7 years. While at Ivy Creek, she specialized in crisis intervention with emotionally dysregulated K-12 students and was the enrichment science teacher there. She remained a sub while completing her graduate program. Her Masters, completed at Goddard College VT, focused on outdoor education. She has served as an outdoor instructor for the Living Earth School here on the North Branch campus. Laura is passionate about cooking, music, and nature connection. Laura also has a deep love of art and enjoys painting and stone carving. She looks forward to tying all these qualities together while working with the early primary and primary groups.
Primary Blue Teacher Susan Butler has been a part of the North Branch community for the past 12 years as a parent and for the past 6 years as an educator. She is a nurturer by nature, having worked as a CNA before bringing her warm personality and caring qualities to the students at North Branch. She previously hosted the NBS Wednesday Parent-Toddler Group—a fun, community-based space for toddlers and their caregivers (in pre-Covid times). This program offered Susan a unique opportunity to support and follow this group of children until their second-grade year at North Branch. She was a member of the NBS Preschool and Early Primary teams, and now teaches the Primary Blue class. Susan’s goal is to provide a nurturing presence and a solid academic foundation for her class. In her free time, she enjoys hiking and traveling with her family, and she loves to read. A desire to share her love of the written language prompted her to seek training in the Orton-Gillingham method, a multisensory phonics instruction for reading, which she uses to teach her students. Two of Susan’s children currently attend NBS, and the oldest is a 2019 NBS graduate. Voted the #1 Charlottesville Family Favorite Preschool Teacher in 2020!
Primary Yellow Teacher Abby Love currently resides in Albemarle County, where she was born and raised, and has taught for the last decade. Abby taught third and fourth grade for seven years before becoming endorsed to teach the Fine Arts. As an Art Educator, Abby worked with grades Kindergarten through Eighth grade before becoming a stay at home mom and home educator to her two sons. While home, Abby strengthened her homesteading skills and worked as a stained glass artist, attending local markets and art shows. Growing up in the Blue Ridge mountains, Abby has always been inspired by nature and enjoys bringing the outdoors in, and letting the seasons help direct her lessons. She is enthusiastic about both problem-based and project based learning and can’t wait to see what her class dreams up this year in Primary Yellow. She is thrilled to have her son Jude join the nursery, and for her youngest, Cyrus, to join her classroom. Being a part of the NBS community feels like a dream for the whole 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 joining North Branch School as an administrator. Heather then became a part of the Juniors team, teaching reading, writing, Humanities, and music. Heather has a true passion for instilling a love of reading, helping students recognize the joy of expression through writing, and bringing history to life with hands-on projects that stimulate a student’s innate curiosity and imagination. Heather has also been a professional musician and loves singing, dancing, and theater. She enjoys teaching students to read music, and loves watching their enthusiasm as they discover the joy of making music. She is passionate about reading and writing, and has traveled all over the world. Both of Heather’s daughters are NBS graduates
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, she then spent several years as a store manager and window merchandiser for Blue Ridge Mountain Sports. In 1989 she got a job at The Hiroshima International School in Japan! She found her two years there 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, both of whom attended NBS, she also taught Art part-time at NBS, and was a long-term sub at local elementary schools. After teaching art full time at the Casablanca American School in Morocco, she and her son Russell returned to NBS. While Russell graduated in 2018, Karen has continued as a Juniors teacher and Art teacher for Early Primary – Middle School. 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 they need to fully express themselves artistically. Karen is a member of the Virginia Art Education Association and has remained fully certified since 2001.
Juniors Teacher Jill Fulmer began her teaching career at Duke School, a model independent school in Durham, NC where she was trained to implement a learner-centered, project-based, integrated curriculum, similar to the program at NBS. After switching gears and spending many years as an entrepreneur and business manager, Jill returned to the classroom in 2007 as a substitute teacher and leader of themed summer camp sessions before joining the Juniors team at North Branch in 2017. Jill strives to immerse students in experiences that spark their natural curiosity and desire to learn. She is passionate about sharing the beautiful patterns in mathematics in ways that excite students and help build their conceptual understanding, number sense, and fluency. Jill enjoys taking daily walks through the woods and longer hikes when time and weather allow. She always has an eye out for mushrooms along the way.
Seniors Coordinator 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. 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 Tim Malloy is excited and humbled to be joining the faculty after having subbed quite a bit last year. At Huntington Learning Center and Clayborne Education, he tutored students of all ages – guiding them back to grade level and beyond in reading, writing and math as well as working with high school students preparing for standardized tests. Helping discouraged students reconnect to their innate abilities and creating space for all learners to thrive are his favorite aspects of teaching. Tim enjoys cycling, hiking, skiing and cooking. He graduated from Fordham University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics. His two children attend North Branch and his family lives in Waynesboro.
Seniors Teacher Taylor Blackburn has taught English and fine arts for sixteen years at the middle and high school levels. Motivated by a passion for helping kids find their voices as writers and develop their skills as readers, Taylor’s student-centered teaching style focuses on the play of the creative process, building community, and making connections across disciplines. She is thrilled to be a part of a school where students can be free to be curious and express themselves in an environment that honors and nurtures the whole child. She comes to school each day with her son Eamon who continues his North Branch career in Primary Yellow this year. Taylor enjoys integrating her personal interests in yoga, whole foods nutrition, and drama into her teaching and mentoring at NBS.
Middle School Coordinator Katrien Vance, named CharlottesvilleFamily’s Favorite Teacher of 2019 and Favorite Middle School Teacher in 2020, teaches Humanities, reading, writing, math, and music to NBS Middle Schoolers. Daughter of two teachers and sister of two teachers, Katrien loves school. She did not love Middle School, however (did you?), and her goal is to make middle school engaging, fun, challenging, and confidence-building for all kinds of students. She loves asking hard questions and having interesting conversations with young teenagers, and she is devoted to showing students the historian, writer, thinker, mathematician, and musician, who live within each one of them. She has a BA from Williams College and an MA from Villanova, and she continues to educate herself in big and small ways about the best ways to reach students. Katrien is a member of and has presented for Association of Middle Level Educators, and is a founding member of both the Make Math Moments Academy and the Math-is-Figure-out-able Journey group. Her two sons both went to NBS and are now in college.
Middle School Teacher Heather Weidner teaches science and writing to North Branch Middle School students. She has a BA in English, history, and Medieval Studies from Swarthmore College and an MA and PhD in history from the University of Virginia. She’s a historian of the early modern Atlantic world and of maritime and environmental history. Heather taught history at the college level for 12 years before stepping away to write books. A plot twist brought her to middle school at North Branch where she is returning to an early love of science and an always love of writing. Both of her children attend North Branch.
Spanish Language & Culture Teacher Karina Ruiz was born and raised in Santa Barbara, Honduras. She moved to the USA at the age of 15 with her family and attended Charlottesville High School. In 2017 she began working at the International School of Charlottesville, and also worked in the after school program and summer camps. In 2019 Karina began her bilingual associates program in child development while working with toddlers and preschoolers at the International School in Charlottesville. In 2021 she obtained a certificate in ADHD for elementary children. Karina has a true passion for working with North Branch students! Helping each child progress in all areas of their development—academic, social, language, and motor – is a challenge that she is honored to accept daily. She strives to create a community of learners that nurtures this growth in a positive, fun environment, and loves sharing her native Spanish language and culture. Her greatest passion is her family. Karina has one son, Joshua, who currently attends NBS. She loves to work with children, is a member of the dance group, Flor de Cana, and loves to hike and camp.
Development Director Bonnie Holliday has been affiliated with NBS as parent, teacher, administrator, or Board member since 1990. She enjoys working with staff, parents, and Board members to expand North Branch’s programs in the areas of donor relations, foundation and corporate support, community outreach, special events, and marketing. After attending Glenville State College in West Virginia and living in several cities, Bonnie discovered Nelson County and has called this beautiful area 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 and is a founding member of her book club of 27 years. She has two daughters, both of whom are graduates of NBS.