Faculty and Staff
Head of School
Elizabeth Topliffe has been Head of School at Stepping Stones since 2012. Elizabeth holds a B.A. and a J.D. from Indiana University Bloomington. She loves working at Stepping Stones. It makes her a better human being and has helped her to grow in empathy, patience, and observation. Elizabeth loves Montessori education because it is designed for children, unlike the schools she attended, which were designed around adult schedules, adult metrics, and adult ideas of what it was like to be a child. In Montessori, guides honor the fact that students prefer to be guided rather than told. The lead guides at Stepping Stones inspire Elizabeth to be better. Outside of work, Elizabeth loves to read, walk her dog, go to the gym, see new places, and above all, hang out with her family.
Admissions and Parent Engagement Coordinator
Sarah Danielski has been the Admissions and Parent Engagement Coordinator for three years. She received her B.A. in Spanish from the University of Michigan, and her M.Ed. with a Specialty in Montessori from Loyola College. She is AMI Montessori Primary Certified, and has been the lead guide in both the Children's House and the Infant/Toddler levels. Sarah has worked in Montessori classrooms in NYC, Virginia, and California. She is an alumna of SSMS and is thrilled that her children are now able to have the same quality education. Outside of her work, she enjoys practicing yoga and reading fiction novels.
Renee Lee has been Business Manager at Stepping Stones since 2013. She holds a B.A. in Business from Calvin College. Outside of work, she enjoys spending time with her lovable dog, Calvin, reading, knitting, and exploring family history.
Jeannine Addessi started working at Stepping Stones in the Fall of 2017. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and Banking/Finance from Northwood University. Jeannine has four children-- two sets of twins! She loves spending time with her family, taking her kids to John Ball Zoo, and playing at the parks near their house. In her free time, Jeannine enjoys running.
Sarah Bruursema started working at Stepping Stones in 2015. She loves engaging with Stepping Stones families, spending time with her daughter, an SSMS student, and screenprinting.
Anny Crane is the Development Assistant at SSMS, focusing on fundraising for the school. She has a B.A. in Fine Arts with a minor in Psychology from Florida State University. Anny has previously worked for an art nonprofit in New York where she was doing everything from teaching to digital marketing, running their textile magazine, and anything in between. She has been at SSMS since January 2017 and enjoys spending her time outside of work eating tacos and watching the West Wing with her husband and their two cats, Morgan and Eureka. When she isn't at home or at work, you will probably find her working in her studio as a textile + process artist.
Sycamore (Ages 12 Weeks to 15 Months)
Annie Cloyd has been working at Stepping Stones since the spring of 2012. Annie has a B.F.A. in Theater Performance and a Master's in Teaching with a major in English. In the summer of 2017 she began training at the Seton Montessori Institute to obtain her Montessori Teaching Credentials. Annie loves to cook and bake, and any time that she gets to spend in a theater - whether acting, directing, working back stage or just watching a show! She has taught theater classes with the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre, as well as worked with Actor's Theatre, Circle Theatre, Jewish Theatre Grand Rapids, and Pigeon Creek Shakespeare.
Brynn Curry has been an Assistant in the Sycamore room since the Fall of 2017. She holds a B.F.A. in Musical Theater from Western Michigan University. Brynn is an SSMS alumna and current parent of a Stepping Stones student. Brynn taught music in New York City for five years before becoming a Program Director for an elementary after school program in Queens, NY. In her free time, Brynn enjoys reading, playing music, and spending time with her son.
Danielle Scarberry has been an Assistant in the Sycamore room since the Fall of 2017. She holds a Child Development Associate's degree in Infant and Toddler and served as the Lead Teacher at an infant/toddler center for approximately two years. Danielle loves animals and taking hikes.
Sugar Maple (Ages 15 Months to 2 years)
Angie Hardy has been Lead Guide in Sugar Maple for two years. Angie is Montessori trained in both infant/toddler and elementary, and has 10 years of Montessori teaching experience. In her free time, Angie enjoys reading, yoga, long walks, and spending time with family and friends.
Erik started at Stepping Stones in 2017. He studied engineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Erik loves learning, books, cycling, backpacking, music, and cooking.
Tulip Tree (Ages 2 Years to 3 years)
Level Lead and Lead Guide
Emily Jacobson has been with Stepping Stones for 22 years. She has degrees in child development and family studies and is AMS Infant/Toddler Certified. In her spare time, Emily enjoys repurposing furniture, thrift shopping, flea markets, and antique shops. She loves watching her son play baseball, her daughter dance, and spending time with her extended family and friends.
Claire Schantz has been an Assistant at Stepping Stones for two years. She has a master's degree in counseling psychology and 12 years experience in early childhood education as a substitute teacher and paraprofessional at GRPS. Claire has also assisted in a physically impaired elementary classroom for two years and was a one on one assistant for a student in Redbud for two years while still employed at GRPS. Outside of work, Claire enjoys photography, digital scrapbooks, and spending time with her niece and nephews.
Dogwood (Ages 3 years to 6 years)
Level Lead And Lead Guide
Beth Goodrich started working at Stepping Stones in 2003. She is AMS Primary Certified and is in the process of obtaining her AMI Primary certification. Outside of work, Beth enjoys reading, knitting, and spending time with family.
Ariel Frey has been at Stepping Stones for three years. Ariel studied early childhood education and Reggio Emilia throughout her college experience. Ariel enjoys good food, traveling, plants of all kinds, reading, art, and watching anything on a stage.
Redbud (Ages 3 Years to 6 Years)
Hope Talen holds a B.A. in Business Management from Grace College and a Montessori Primary certification from Montessori Northwest. Hope loves the community at Stepping Stones and appreciates the opportunity to teach true Montessori. Outside of work, Hope enjoys gardening, embroidery, and caring for her house plants.
Monika Stutzman has been at Stepping Stones for two years. She holds a B.A. in Theology from Aquinas College and is currently working on her Early Childhood Montessori certification through Seton Montessori Institute. Outside of work, Monika enjoys camping, kayaking, knitting, and drinking tea.
White Pine (Ages 3 years to 6 years)
Nanci Guartofierro holds a B.S. and an M.A. in Early Childhood and Elementary Education and holds an American Montessori Society Early Childhood Credential. Nanci has 22 years of teaching experience in a Montessori or early childhood setting in New York, New Zealand, and Hawaii. She has worked as a Montessori Teacher Educator and served as a member of On-site Visiting Teams for Montessori School and Montessori Teacher Education Program accreditations. This is Nanci’s first year at Stepping Stones. In her spare time, Nanci enjoys feeding her incurable case of wanderlust, exploring, adventuring, hiking, photography, and reading.
Hawthorne (1st Grade through 3rd grade)
Holly Ann Olejnik has been at Stepping Stones for four years. She holds a B.A. in Elementary Education and is AMS Elementary 6-9 Certified through Seacoast Montessori training center. In her spare time, Holly enjoys hiking, crafts, cooking, and spending time with her son, Clayton, who is a student at Stepping Stones.
Michael Flament has worked at Stepping Stones Montessori School since February, 2017. He has worked as a substitute teacher, an interim admissions assistant, a Children's House summer program lead, and now as the Assistant in the Hawthorn classroom. He studied English at Florida State University. He enjoys writing, reading, and hanging out with his awesome wife, Anny Crane, the Development Assistant at SSMS.
Willow (1st grade through 3rd grade)
Jan Reed has been a guide at Stepping Stones for over 15 years. She is currently enjoying watching her two children grow through the program at SSMS. She received her Montessori training from Midwest Montessori Teacher Training in Chicago as well as St. Catherine's Masters in Montessori. In her free time, Jan enjoys hiking, camping, and museums.
Margaret Venema began working at Stepping Stones as a volunteer when her daughter was a student. She earned her Master’s Degree in Education from St. Catherine’s University, where she also earned her Elementary (6-12) Montessori Certification in 2003. Margaret is a lifelong learner who consumes books and articles (especially those about Montessori education). Since earning her Montessori credential, Margaret has been a lead guide in both Lower Elementary and Upper Elementary. When she’s not reading or guiding students, Margaret enjoys spending time with her family, knitting, and creating things with textiles and fiber.
White Cedar (4th Grade through 6th Grade)
Level Lead and Lead Guide
Jenn Porter graduated from Western Michigan University with a B.S. in Elementary Education. She got her Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) 6-12 year old certificate from Hershey Montessori Training Institute and has worked in Montessori elementary classrooms for 6 years. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her husband, Steve, reading, and kayaking.
Marcus Hoeksema has been an Assistant in White Cedar for four years. He also serves as the school's P.E. and Science Coordinator. Marcus holds a B.S. in Secondary Education, Biology, and Geology/Earth Sciences. Prior to joining the staff at Stepping Stones, Marcus taught high school science for eight years. In his spare time, Marcus loves spending time outdoors, DIY projects, and anything sports!
Katie Powell joined the Stepping Stones staff as Adolescent Program Director in June 2017. She holds a B.A. in Philosophy and History from The University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A. from The George Washington University. Katie is passionate about social change and intentional living, and she is thrilled to be supporting Stepping Stones' efforts to introduce the Erdkinder model of middle school education to Grand Rapids. Katie is an alumna of Stepping Stones and current parent of a Stepping Stones student.
Sandy Howard has been Stepping Stones’ Reading Specialist for nine years. She holds a B.S. in Special Education from Miami University of Ohio and has 30 years experience as an Orton Gillingham practitioner. In her spare time, Sandy enjoys food preparation and preservation and native gardening. Sandy has been lucky enough to live abroad in Hungary and Turkey, and she values those experiences. Now, she travels to visit her adult children in Istanbul, Oregon, and Los Angeles.
Rebecca Staggs started working at Stepping Stones in 2006. She holds a B.A. in French and Psychology from Calvin College, a teaching degree from Calvin College, and has completed Montessori paraprofessional training at Seton Montessori Institute. Rebecca has past experience teaching French in traditional school settings, and she currently also teaches English and French to families moving to or from France or French Canada. Her favorite things to do are reading, hiking, biking, drawing, and painting. She loves spending time with her husband and three children. Rebecca especially likes to travel, and in Europe most of all.