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, develop strengths and interests 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, connecting with nature, hiking, reading, crossword puzzles, and spending time with her 4 grandchildren.
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. Voted a 2020 CharlottesvilleFamily Favorite preschool teacher!
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 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 family community since her eldest started in the Preschool Program. Previously, she had the joy of running the NBS Wednesday Parent/Toddler Group program, which is free to all and gave her the opportunity to make new friendships. For the past several years, she has been part of the amazing NBS Preschool and Early Primary teams. In Primary Blue, Susan provides a nurturing presence and solid academic foundation. Two of Susan’s children currently attend NBS and the oldest is a ’19 NBS graduate. Voted the #1 CharlottesvilleFamily Favorite Preschool teacher in 2020!
Primary Yellow Teacher Naomi Whitley has been teaching children for over 10 years. She is a Certified Waldorf teacher who taught at Waldorf schools in Gainesville, FL and Cape Cod, MA for 6 years before starting her own Meadowlark Farm School at her sheep and goat farm in Palmyra, VA in 2015. There, she founded an educational program including homesteading and animal husbandry for preschool/K and grades 1-6. Naomi is now settled at Lake Monticello in a quirky octagonal house with her three boys ages 15, 12 and 5. Some of her passions include singing, dancing, drama, painting, sculpting and paddling; she is also a 200-hour yoga instructor and is currently pursuing a 300-hour certification in Kundalini Yoga. She is delighted to be joining the community at North Branch and honored to be taking the helm of the Primary Yellow class!
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. One of her daughters in a 2020 graduate and the other is a Middle Schooler at NBS.
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. Karen is a member of the Virginia Art Education Association.
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 at a local preschool and leading summer camp sessions for rising first graders there. 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. She returned to teaching in 2007, after many years as an entrepreneur and business manager. Jill aims to immerse students in experiences that spark their natural curiosity and lead them to ask questions to which they feel compelled to seek answers. She is also passionate about sharing the beauty and patterns in mathematics in ways that help students construct conceptual understanding and number sense. Jill relishes daily walks through the woods, often foraging for mushrooms and other seasonal edibles along the way. She loves to make meals of her discoveries along with the bounty from her garden and other locally sourced ingredients.
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. 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 the 5th-6th grade group and art for 5th-8th grade. 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 Country School, and was a graphic designer for a curriculum development nonprofit. Michael also has run a popular summer art camp at North Branch and taught skateboarding for Charlottesville Parks and Recreation. He is the father of two NBS grads.
Seniors Teacher Taylor Blackburn has taught English and fine arts for fifteen 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 excited to join the faculty 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’ll join her son Eamon at school this year who will continue his North Branch career in Primary Blue. She looks forward to 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 North Branch Middle Schoolers. 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 is a member of the National Council of Teachers of English, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the Association of Middle Level Educators, and founding member of the Make Math Moments Academy and the Math is Figure-Out-Able Journey group with Pam Harris. Both of Katrien’s sons are NBS graduates.
Middle School Teacher Jennifer Page has an undergraduate degree in Foreign Affairs, and 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, humanities and gardening for the past ten years. She loves cooking, reading, gardening, hiking, spinning and knitting, and simplicity. Jennifer’s two older children are NBS graduates, and her youngest attends 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. Nina’s son attends NBS.
Spanish Language & Culture Teacher Bella Urias has just moved to Nelson County from sunny California where she recently completed her education in English language Development and English Literature at National University in San Diego. While pursuing her education credentials, Bella worked as a teacher’s aid in the Lake Elsinore School District in Southern California. Working for the district for three years allowed her the opportunity to work with a variety of students from different cultural backgrounds. She worked with students in elementary, middle, and high school. Bella completed her student teaching at Margarita Middle School in Temecula, California. She is thrilled that her first year of teaching will be alongside the staff, students and community of North Branch. She looks forward to getting to know the staff and school community while helping North Branch students to immerse in Spanish language and cultures. Bella’s daughter 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.