The People at Woods Creek


Caroline Russell
Caroline Russell
, Executive Director
Caroline Russell was raised in Alexandria, Virginia and attended the University of Virginia where she graduated Magna Cum Laude in 1995 with a B.A. in both French and Political and Social Thought. After college, she earned a Master’s degree in International Studies from the University of Cambridge, England. Caroline began her career promoting non-profit institutions of learning while working at the World Affairs Council in Richmond. Upon moving to the Rockbridge Area in 2008, she was appointed to a position in the Washington and Lee Development Office where she worked for six years and specialized in corporate and foundation grants, capital gifts, and stewardship. Caroline has deep ties to Woods Creek Montessori as a parent and a board officer, serving as Board President in 2004-2005. During this time, the Board oversaw an expansion in program facilities and staff, and developed a long range strategic plan. Before her position at Woods Creek, Caroline was a volunteer language arts enrichment teacher at Waddell Elementary where she taught a Great Books program. She lives in Lexington with her family: husband Chris, who serves as Circuit Court Judge, and three children: two college age daughters at Wake Forest University and Dartmouth College, and a son in high school, each of whom attended the toddler and primary classrooms at WCM.

Amy Holston, Assistant Director
A native of Tidewater, Virginia, Amy received her M.Ed. in Higher Education and Student Affairs from the University of South Carolina and her B.A. from Dickinson College. Throughout her career, she has worked in many capacities in gifted education, specifically as the Director of Student Activities at both The Georgia Academy of Mathematics, Engineering, and Sciences, and the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy. More recently, she worked for Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, developing and managing summer programs for gifted students. Since this time, she has been busy raising two children, Kate and Ben (who was a Woods Creek Montessori student). Her husband, Ryan, is a professor at VMI. While at home, Amy also developed a small cake business, and has been an active member of Grace Episcopal Church where she served on the Vestry and in various other roles. In her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, walking, and gardening.


Amanda McKemy
Amanda McKemy, Pre-Toddler
Amanda McKemy has been a Lead Teacher over the Pre-Toddler and infant age groups since 2001, both here at Woods Creek Montessori as well as another preschool. She received her RIE (Resources for Infant Educators) certification in Florida during the summer of 2008. Amanda truly has a passion for working with young children and finds them to be very interesting. “It is amazing what we, as adults, can learn from children.” Amanda and her husband Eddy are life-time natives of Rockbridge County. They have one son, Logan, who recently graduated from college and is pursuing a career in business.

Madeline Gwilliam, Pre-Toddler
Madeline was raised in Asheville, North Carolina and graduated from Southern Virginia University in 2020 with a B.A. in Family & Human Development and a minor in Psychology. She has always enjoyed working with children and is excited to help and learn with them in a Montessori classroom. Madeline enjoys going on adventures and quick weekend trips with her puppy and husband.

Anna Taylor, Toddler
Anna Taylor has always loved children. She has been part of the staff at WCM since 2016 as an after school and summer camp teacher. Anna is returning from a church mission where she spent 18 months teaching, participating in humanitarian aid, and sharing her talents in both English and Spanish. She is a double major at Southern Virginia University majoring in theatre and music. She sings, plays the piano, cello and harp as well as acts. Anna has a special interest in costume design. She is happy to be back at Woods Creek Montessori.

Audrey Zalar
Audrey Zalar, Toddler
While growing up in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, Audrey Zalar’s love for children began as she cared for her 5 younger siblings and babysat throughout high school for many other families. After her freshman year of college, she loved serving an 18-month church mission near Buenos Aires, Argentina. She graduated from Southern Virginia University in 2020, majoring in Liberal Arts with a Spanish minor. While there, she enjoyed being a member of the tennis team, singing in choir, taking religious institute courses, and meeting the man she would marry. Her husband, Matthew, is an administrative assistant at W&L. Audrey enjoys hiking, tennis, ping-pong, playing the piano, and being with family and friends. She is excited work at Woods Creek Montessori.

Farishte Irani
Farishte Irani, Primary I
Farishte Irani was born and raised in Silver Spring, Maryland. She holds a BA in Sociology from the University of Maryland. Farishte and her family moved to Virginia in the summer of 2010 from New Hampshire. There she worked for 8 years at Mont Blanc Montessori Academy in many capacities including Lead Primary Teacher, Elementary Teacher and Middle/High School Teacher. She is passionate about the Montessori Philosophy and truly believes every child is a natural learner. Farishte lives here in Lexington with her husband, Afshad (Professor at W&L) and her two children Kaizad and Parizad.

Katie Thompson
Katie Thompson, Primary I
Katie was born and raised in Lexington, Virginia. She has a Bachelors Degree in Biological Sciences from Virginia Tech and a Bachelors Degree in Nursing from Shenandoah University. She has been practicing as a Registered Nurse in a clinical setting for nearly ten years and is very excited to transition into an educational environment. Katie and her husband, Bennett, recently moved their family back into the area after a stent in Murfreesboro, Tennessee and Roanoke, Virginia. They are blessed with their daughter, Charlie Kate, and their German Shorthair Pointer, Bo. Together, they enjoy the outdoors and traveling. Katie loves being a new mom, cooking and gardening. Her passion is her family and she looks forward to Woods Creek Montessori becoming a new extension of that.

Jie Liu, Primary II
Jie Liu has worked as a toddler class lead teacher and a bilingual teacher for 3 years in Maria Montessori International Academy in Indiana. She has a BA in Education and MBA in Management. She took Early Childhood Montessori Training, and got AMS credential in 2013. She also took Infant Toddler Montessori Training in 2014. She moved to Lewisburg, West Virginia with her husband and son in 2016, then she had her daughter there. Jie enjoys working with children in Montessori classroom and she believes every child is unique. She loves singing, dancing, cooking, and travel.

Craig Charley, Primary II
Originally from the Waynesboro Area, Craig has lived in Lexington for the last 12 years. With a degree in early childhood education, he has worked with children from all age groups as a teacher, mentor, and swim coach. He also has a specialization working with children who are neuro-atypical or living with learning differences. Craig is passionate about child-directed learning, and incorporates Montessori principles in his own parenting of daughters Greta (6) and Ruthie (3). Craigs wife, Marisa, works in the Shepherd Poverty Studies Program at W&L, and their whole family is excited that Craig will be working with WCM.

Melody Cluff
Melody Cluff, Music Specialist
Melody Cluff has taught music and provided music programs in elementary classrooms as a volunteer in San Diego, CA, Knoxville, TN, and here in our local schools for more than 25 years. While living in Knoxville, she founded and directed “Sunshine Singers,” a singing group for children grades K-5, which performed throughout the Knoxville area for several years. Teaching music, tutoring, and reading aloud to children has been a way of life for her. She continues to lead children’s and youth choirs in church settings. Melody loves living in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley and enjoys spending time with her husband, an English professor at Southern Virginia University, their five children, and their four grandchildren. Melody has a deep love and respect for all children and is excited about working and learning with them at Woods Creek Montessori.

Betty Anderson
Betty Anderson, Elementary After School Teacher
Betty Anderson was born in Sedalia Missouri, moved about in the Midwest before her family settled in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. After graduating from Michigan State University with a degree in Horticulture, she received her Teaching Certification (in many fields including Vocational Agriculture) from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has taught and tutored mathematics in several schools as well as with private clients. As a Girl Scout volunteer she does Outdoor Training- teaching leaders to take Scouts hiking, camping and backpacking. She has helped lead Girl Scouts on trips to Mexico, Switzerland, Germany, Ireland, and The Isle of Man. One highlight in 2015 was leading Girl Scouts on an overnight camping trip on the south lawn of the White House. She lives in Rockbridge County with her husband Michael, a Professor at W&L. They have two adult sons and one granddaughter.