Staff and Faculty

It takes a village to raise a child. Meet our village at Birchwood Montessori.

Now hiring! Please visit our job openings page for more information. 

Office Manager

Office Manager

Erin Allen

Primary Montessori Guide

Ever since the age of ten when Erin walked into her aunt’s Montessori classroom she was intrigued. She felt appreciative that the environment was designed for children just her age, size and ability. There appeared to be a deep level of respect and harmony that aided the child’s independence and love of learning. These moments marked the beginning of a Montessori journey. After completing a Bachelors in Geography & Spanish, Erin capitalized on her adventurous spirit and love of children; living in several states and teaching preschool through high schoolers in a variety of capacities. While working as an Upper Elementary Montessori assistant in Oregon, Erin fell in love with Montessori once again and moved to Minnesota where she gained AMI elementary certification from the Montessori Training Center of Minnesota. After teaching eight years as an Upper Elementary guide, Erin and her family decided to move back to Des Moines; a decision aided by returning to their native Des Moines "roots." Erin recently finished the NAMC’s Primary teacher training program in the winter of 2018. In her free time, Erin enjoys spending time with her own two children, camping, traveling, cooking and crafting.

Nicole Berger was recently hired as our Primary Assistant. Bio coming soon!

Nicole Berger

Primary Montessori Assistant

Katy Severe

Katy is an Oregon native turned Iowan. She graduated with her Master’s degree in Education in 2007 from the University of Oregon and moved to Des Moines in 2011 with her husband. Katy has a collective fourteen years teaching in many positions: 4th grade, Spanish, sixth grade Language Arts and Social Studies, and Special Education. Katy has always been intrigued by the whole-child approach of the Montessori model. After working as a Montessori Assistant for a year where her son was in the Primary classroom, she knew it was time for a new adventure in teaching. Katy is currently enrolled in the Elementary program at The Center for Guided Montessori Studies with plans to complete her Montessori training in 2020. When she's not teaching, Katy is a Branch Ambassador for Hike it Baby Des Moines and she enjoys spending time with her family, hiking, camping, and being outside. 

Elementary Montessori Guide

Now hiring! Please visit our job openings page for more information. 

Aftercare Coordinator
Aftercare Coodinator

Courage League Sports Des Moines is excited to be based out of the Franklin Jr. High building! CLS is a non-profit adaptive sports and recreational program that offers year-round programming for children and adults who aren’t able to go full speed due to a physical, cognitive or emotional disability. In addition, CLS provides Physical Education programming for homeschool and other similar groups. Birchwood is excited to be partnering with Ms. Brittany from Courage League Sports for our physical education programming this year. 

Courage League Sports

P.E. Coordinator

Shanda (Symonds) Fordyce has been teaching private and small group music lessons and music theory for more than 15 years. She graduated from Clarke Community HS in Osceola. She was a featured soloist in multiple bands & was awarded the Louis Armstrong Award for Musical Excellence. After high school, she studied Music Education at Drake University for a year before moving to IL and earning her BA in Music Business from Monmouth College, where she was also able to expand her musical education into vocal studies. She has played with various community bands, jazz and big bands, and is also involved in the church praise team. In 2018 she founded Central IA Homeschool Band and Instrumental Music Classes. Shanda’s passion is to help people of all ages discover the joy that making music can bring! She’s a busy homeschooling mom and entrepreneur and loves it all! Shanda lives in Johnston with her bass-playing husband, Chris and their 3 children! 

Shanda Fordyce

Music Coordinator

Shelley Shah is thrilled to be part of the Birchwood family! She has 8 years of Montessori experience including 5 years as an Administrative Assistant and 3 years in the Primary classroom. She also took part in a Montessori leadership course with Tim Seldin and the American Montessori Society. She is a parent of two girls who attended a Montessori school from ages 3 through 6th grade. Currently, she uses her passion for Montessori while teaching 2-6 year olds for several nonprofit organizations. 

Shelley Shah

Montessori Advisor


Rita first got involved with Montessori about 50 years ago when she helped start a school in Davenport for her children. She taught in her own school for about 20 years before going back to school to get her degree in education and Montessori credentials. Rita taught Montessori for many years both in Minneapolis and Des Moines at Sayre Montessori and at Cowles Montessori for 10 years before retiring. In 2000 Rita started the Iowa Montessori Training Center to help train teachers. She still serves on the Montessori Peace Committee today. Rita is passionate about Montessori and what it can do for young children and we are thrilled to have her and her wealth of knowledge as a resource to us! 

Rita Schneider

Montessori Advisor

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Contact Us

Phone: (515) 306-4593



4801 Franklin Avenue #1159

Des Moines, IA 50310

Birchwood Montessori is committed to a policy of equal opportunity and does not discriminate in the terms, conditions, or privileges of employment or admissions on account of race, age, color, sex, national origin, physical or mental disability, or religion or otherwise as may be prohibited by federal and state law. Any employee, board member, potential family, volunteer or client who believes that they or any other affiliate of Birchwood Montessori has been discriminated against is strongly encouraged to report this concern promptly to the Director.