Meet Our Montessori Teachers

ORLA Montessori teacher Kristin Weed

Kristin Weed

Kristin Weed has been teaching since her 1993-1995 term as an environmental educator with the Peace Corps Panama. When she returned to the states, her first job was at a public Montessori school in San Diego.  While there, she completed her Montessori AMS Elementary training, taught in both Lower and Upper Elementary classrooms, and earned a Masters in Education from San Diego State University.  After moving to Washington with her growing family, she piloted the first Montessori Elementary class here at ORLA and has been a part of the growing program ever since.  She is a National Board Certified Teacher.  Besides teaching, she loves fiddling around on the piano or guitar, taking long walks with her dog, Buddy, and spending time with her husband and two daughters. Mrs. Weed's classroom welcomes back Gavin Church as her Teaching Assistant this year.

Teaching Montessori Children's House in the Goldfinch Group! 1/2 day tuition-based Pre-K combined with a full-day tuition-free Kindergarten.



ORLA Montessori teacher Kris Zitny

Kristine Zitny

I truly love being a part of the Montessori pedagogy. I began my career stumbling upon Montessori during my time at the University of Montana's Laboratory Preschool in the 1990's. Since then, I have believed in Dr. Montessori and her holistic view of life, learning, and world peace. I am a married, mother of seven. Life experience, combined with the wisdom of Dr. Montessori has shown me that children need to be given well prepared learning opportunities, to develop strengths that are already within them. As Dr. Montessori so instinctively knew, children are our future. We need to give them the respect and educational opportunities they deserve so that they may become the problem solvers, global thinkers, and world leaders. Mrs. Zitny’s classroom welcomes Nancy O’Neil back as the classroom assistant.

Joined ORLA Montessori in September 2015. Teaching Montessori Children's House in the Sea Turtle Group! 1/2 day tuition-based Pre-K combined with a full-day tuition-free Kindergarten.


Stephanie Soicher

Stephanie has experience teaching in a variety of education settings since earning a teaching degree from WSU. She has taught in a K-3 classroom for a parent partnership program with the Mount Baker School District and in a cooperative Pre-k program. She has also worked at the Northwest Indian College helping students increase their reading and math proficiency. Now in Olympia, Stephanie was Mrs. Zitny’s teaching assistant last year and is excited to continue her work teaching in the lower elementary classroom while finishing her formal Montessori training. Stephanie loves gardening, hiking, paddle boarding and especially spending time with her husband and 3 children out in nature. Mrs. Soicher welcomes Michelle Thieling back to her classroom as the teaching assistant. Michelle worked in Montessori last year and is a current parent.

Joined ORLA Montessori in 2015. Teaching Montessori 1st-3rd grades.

ORLA Montessori teacher Chandra Martin

Chanda Martin

Joined ORLA Montessori in September 2013 teaching 1st-3rd grade classes. Ms. Martin will welcome Sopheap Uch-chen back this year as her Teaching Assistant.






Claire Tolstyga-Mcgibbon

Claire McGibbon is new to our Montessori teaching family. Claire has experience teaching in a variety of educational settings since earning a teaching degree from Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin and a Master’s Degree from Washington State University. As an experienced educator, she has 33 years of teaching experience at all grade levels. In addition, Claire is a volunteer zoologist at The Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium and is excited to share sensorial experiences with ORLA Montessori. Claire is excited to continue her work teaching in the lower elementary classroom while finishing her formal Montessori training. Claire loves hiking, paddle boarding, kayaking, animals, service, and spending time in nature. Ms. McGibbon will have Kate O'Donnell this year as her Teaching Assistant.

Joined ORLA Montessori in September 2017 teaching 1st-3rd grade classes.


ORLA Montessori teacher Tiffany Sabatini

Tiffany Sabatini

Ms. Sabatini’s classroom welcomes Jordan Nylander back as teaching assistant to the classroom.

Joined ORLA Montessori in September 2014 teaching 1st-3rd grade classes.

ORLA Montessori teacher Nikolai Gurda

Nikolai Gurda

My roots in Montessori go back to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where I grew up as a Montessori student from kindergarten through the fifth grade. The child-centered method of teaching served me well as a student and helped build the foundations of critical thinking and curiosity that I consider fundamental to my life and my approach as an educator today. I came to teaching on a meandering path which found me as an outdoor educator, farm worker, and kayak and backpack guide along the way.

After spending much of my twenties living and working seasonally, I decided it was time to choose a more solid path. Montessori was the obvious answer to the kind of classroom I wanted to run. After completing my AMI Montessori training in 2008, I taught at an inner-city public Montessori school in Milwaukee before relocating to British Columbia, Canada to work at Squamish Montessori School. I am proud to have helped grow their new elementary program from twelve students to three full classrooms with a waitlist by the time I was ready to join my fiance in Olympia four years later.

When I take my teacher hat off, I spend much of my time in the outdoors, mountain biking, cross country skiing, kiteboarding, kayaking, or backpacking. Music also plays a large role in my life and I play fiddle, djembe, and sing in a handful of bands in BC and Olympia. Mr. Gurda will be welcoming back Kristin Pence as his Teaching Assistant in his classroom this year.

Joined ORLA Montessori in September 2015. Nikolai will be teaching Montessori 4th - 6th grade classes in the 2017-18 school year.


Linda Nelson   

Growing up I  always knew I was going to be a teacher as I enjoyed helping students learn and believe in themselves.  Olympia has always  been my home (except when I went to Holland as a foreign exchange student and when I went to college at Central Washington University).  There is truly no better place to live and play.  As well as teaching my other love is sports. They have also been an important part of my life from softball and water ballet as a girl to high school sports and college swimming.  For current sport I swim on a masters team, play golf and enjoy yoga once a week. My favorite place to swim is Ward Lake and this is why I have worked to teach students about our water quality and how we need to be concerned with how we impact our earth and our great city of Olympia.  In 2010 I completed my National Boards Certification and I also have my Masters in Administration.   I love reading and participate in a monthly book group.  I’ve been married 31 years to my sweet husband Mark who works as a Maritime contractor. Mrs. Nelson will welcome the return of Kate O'Donnell as her Teaching Assistant. 

Joined ORLA in September 2015 and ORLA Montessori in 2016. Teaching Montessori 4-6th grade classes.



Angela Leonard

Mrs. Leonard returns to the Upper Montessori classroom working with Vanessa Will-Huckaby as her Teaching Assistant. Vanessa worked with Morris Sandvig and Linda Nelson last year.

Teaching Montessori 4th-6th grade classes.