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1110 College NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49503

Faculty and Staff

Elizabeth Topliffe


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.

Sarah Danielski


Admissions and Parent Engagement Coordinator

Sarah Danielski has been the Admissions and Parent Engagement Coordinator since 2015. 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


Business Manager

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


Business Assistant

Jeannine Addessi has been working at Stepping Stones since 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


Administrative Assistant: Main Campus

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.

Dirk Bulthuis


Facilities Director

Infant / toddler program

Ages 12 Weeks to 3 Years


Delia Venema

Lead Guide


Danielle Scarberry


Lead Guide

Danielle Scarberry has been at Stepping Stones since 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.


Emily Jacobson


Lead Guide

Emily Jacobson has been with Stepping Stones since 1996. She has degrees in child development and family studies and is certified in Infant/Toddler through the American Montessori Society. 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.


Lisa Stalec



Lisa Stalec has been with Stepping Stones since 1997, and she has worked with hundreds of toddlers during her tenure. Lisa is the parent of a Stepping Stones Student, and her spare time, she loves spoiling her grandchild!


Claire Schantz



Claire Schantz has been an Assistant at Stepping Stones since 2016. 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.

Children's House

 Ages 3 to 6 Years

Beth Goodrich


Lead Guide

Beth Goodrich started working at Stepping Stones in 2003. She is American Montessori Society Primary Certified and is in the process of obtaining her Association Montessori Internationale Primary certification. Outside of work, Beth enjoys reading, knitting, and spending time with family.


Ariel Frey



Ariel Frey has been at Stepping Stones since 2015. 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.

JoAnne Spencer



JoAnne Spencer has been with Stepping Stones Montessori School since 2014. JoAnne is the parent of Jan Reed, one of our Elementary Teachers, and the grandparent of several Stepping Stones students and former students. JoAnne is beloved by all of the students of Dogwood.


Nanci Guartofierro


Co-Lead Guide

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. Nanci joined Stepping Stones in 2017. 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. In her spare time, Nanci enjoys feeding her incurable case of wanderlust, exploring, adventuring, hiking, photography, and reading.

Brynn Curry



Brynn Curry has been at Stepping Stones since 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.

Beth Barber


Lead Guide

Beth Barber began working at Stepping Stones as a co-lead in 2017. She received her American Montessori Society Primary Montessori certification from the Orlando Montessori Teacher Education Institute.


Elementary 1


Hawthorn (1st Grade through 3rd grade)


Holly Olejnik


Lead Guide

Holly Ann Olejnik joined Stepping Stones Montessori in 2013. She holds a B.A. in Elementary Education and is American Montessori Society certified for Lower Elementary 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



Michael Flament has worked at Stepping Stones Montessori School since February, 2017.  Michael is currently pursuing his American Montessori Internationale certification for Elementary. 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 daughter, a Stepping Stones Student, and his awesome wife, Anny Crane, who also works at Stepping Stones.


Willow (1st grade through 3rd grade)


Jan Reed


Lead Guide

Jan Reed has been a guide at Stepping Stones since 2002. She is currently enjoying watching her two children grow through the program at Stepping Stones Montessori School. 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.


Hope Talen



Hope Talen has worked at Stepping Stones since 2015. She holds her Association Montessori Internationale Primary Montessori Certification through The Montessori Institute Northwest. Previously, Hope was the lead guide in the infant room and a Children’s House room.



Elementary 2


White Cedar (4th Grade through 6th Grade)


Jenn Porter


Co-Lead Guide

Jenn Porter graduated from Western Michigan University with a B.S. in Elementary Education. She earned 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.


Margaret Venema


Co-Lead Guide

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 American Montessori Society 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.



Adolescent Program at River Ridge Farm

Katie Powell


Program Director/Co-Lead Guide

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. In the summer of 2018, she completed her Orientation to Montessori Adolescent Studies (NAMTA) in Ohio. 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.  


Marcus Hoeksema

Hoeksema_Marcus_SSMS_1675 (1).jpg

Co-Lead Guide

Marcus Hoeksema has been working at Stepping Stones since 2014. Marcus holds a B.S. in Secondary Education, Biology, and Geology/Earth Sciences. He completed his Orientation to Montessori Adolescent Studies (NAMTA) in Ohio in the summer of 2018. 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!





Sandy Howard


Reading Specialist

Sandy Howard has been Stepping Stones’ Reading Specialist since 2011. 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


French Guide

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. 

Josh Dunigan


Music Education

Josh Dunigan began working at Stepping Stones in 2017.


Sophie Rose


Non-School Care Coordinator

Sophie Rose started working at Stepping Stones in 2018. She holds her Associate in Science in Early Childhood Education from Pensacola State University and a B.A. in Education from the University of North Florida. Sophie received her Montessori Early Childhood Teaching Certificate in 2011.


Christina Ritsema



Christina Ritsema has been working at Stepping Stones since 2015.

Grace Maurer



Grace Maurer has been working at Stepping Stones since 2017.