Meet Our Team

Our nurturing and experienced staff is passionate about young children and highly trained. Our head teachers are certified through the American Montessori Society (AMS) and the State of Pennsylvania. Head teachers have one assistant, many of whom also have Montessori training, a Bachelor’s degree, and childcare experience. Our teachers enjoy what they do and are devoted to creating a respectful and caring learning environment for all Bala House preschool and kindergarten students.

  • The average tenure of our classroom teachers: 18 years
  • Teachers who have 20 years or more of teaching experience: 50%
  • 10 years or more of teaching experience: 83%
  • 5 years or more of teaching experience: 92%


Back Row, L-R: Carolyn, Diane, Elana, Malaika, Sam, Tynesia, Linda, Laila
Middle Row, L-R: Emily, Lisa, Soraya, Danielle, Annie, Nancy
Front Row, L-R: Jennifer, Hong, Sandy, Mary Beth
(Not pictured: Tonie)

Mary Beth Makatche, Educational Director and Teacher: ( Mary Beth is an AMS certified Montessori teacher with 21 years of teaching experience. She obtained a B.S. in Early Childhood Education / Creative Arts from East Stroudsburg University and an M.Ed. plus Montessori certification from Chestnut Hill College. Mary Beth joined Bala House in 2014 after working as a Head Start Montessori teacher in the Philadelphia School District. She also has many years of experience in singing and visual arts. Mary Beth is the mother of three Bala House graduates.

Jennifer Heness, Teacher: ( Jennifer has her BFA from Temple University, and her MEd from Chestnut Hill College, along with Montessori Early Childhood Certification from the American Montessori Society. She’s previously taught at Wilmington Montessori School, Holy Child Academy, and The Walden School for a combined 13 years. She is the mother of three boys who are all Montessori alums, as is she. Her background in the arts and love of nature find their way into the classroom often. Jen started at Bala House in 2022. 

Hong Zhou, Teacher: ( Hong obtained a B.A. in French from Shanghai International Studies University in China and a master degree in Sciences of Education from L’Universite de Lyon II in France. She received her AMS Montessori certificate from Chestnut Hill College.  Hong has been working with young children for over 15 years and is the mother of two Bala House graduates. She joined Bala House in 2010, left for two years in 2020 and returned in 2022. Hong loves going camping and hiking with her family. She speaks French, Mandarin and two Chinese dialects (Cantonese and Chaozhou).

Sandy Gayda, Teacher and Administrative Assistant: (, Sandy is an AMS certified teacher with over 25 years of Montessori teaching experience.  She received her B.A. in Education from Georgian Court University.  She is a previous Primary teacher and Director of Education and is also a mother of 2 older boys, who are also Montessori graduates.

Danielle Klaiman, Teacher: (  Danielle is a graduate of Chestnut Hill College’s Montessori Certification Program who joined Bala House in 2012.  Danielle has worked as an Assistant Teacher at Bala House for over ten years.

Tynesia McDowell, Extended Care Director: ( Tynesia is a graduate of Penn State University College of Human Development and joined our team in 2013.

Carolyn Blackwell, Gayle Malaika Davis, Soraya Force, Sam Foulke, Lisa Hickman, Toni Nelson, Annie Olah, Linda Palmer, Assistants: Carolyn joined Bala House in 2007 with nine years of childcare experience. In 2014, Malaika began working at Bala House. She is a PA certified N-3rd-grade teacher with a B.S. in Child Development and Child Care from the University of Pittsburgh who appreciates the self-directed, peaceful Montessori Education program.  Soraya is a Bala House graduate and Montessori-certified teacher who has a Masters in Early Childhood Education. She joined the Bala House teaching staff in 2018. Sam is a graduate of West Chester University and has over 10 years experience working with primary age children. Lisa is the mother of a former Bala House student and has been working at Bala House for 25 years.  She is currently finishing up her Child Development Credentials (CDA) and working on her degree in early childhood education. Toni joined Bala House in 2023 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Behavioral Health and 44 years of experience working in Montessori and traditional day care settings.  She has unique experience working with individuals with special needs. Annie joined Bala House in 2023 and holds a B.A. in French Studies from Smith College and AMS Credential from St. Mary’s College of California. She is the parent of 2 Bala House graduates and 1 current student. Linda Palmer joined Bala House in January of 2021 after 20 years of teaching at Horsham Montessori School.


Dana Calafati, Tumble Tots owner and Movement Instructor: Dana attended the Exercise & Sports Science program at Ursinus College. She has 17 years of gymnastics experience and 15 years of direct gymnastics teaching experience with both nursery and school-age children. Dana joined Bala House in 1999.

Elana Mallov, Art Instructor: Elana joined Bala House in 2021.  She holds a B.A. in English Literature and Studio Art from Binghamton University and a Certificate of Education in Studio Art from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. She has led art classes at the Main Line Art Center, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art and Reed’s Organic Farm.  She is also the founding member of Spillway Collective Gallery, a non-profit community gallery space in the Fishtown area of Philadelphia.

Lisa Dissinger, Ph.D., Consulting Psychologist: Lisa is a licensed psychologist in private practice with a specialty in early childhood development and parenting coaching. Her consulting practice includes psychological assessments of children, consultation to parents, and parent education. Lisa is the mother of one Bala House graduate.


Diane Force, School Director: ( Diane joined Bala House in June 1998. She holds an M.C.A.T. (Masters of Creative Arts Therapy) in Dance Therapy from Hahnemann University and has over 25 years of experience in Administration, both in the legal profession and at Bala House as the School Director for the past 17 years. Diane is a co-founding member and President of the PA Montessori Alliance, has led a local Montessori Heads Group of 25+ schools for the past 11 years and was a Board member of the Montessori Teacher’s Teacher’s Association of PA for 10 years. Diane is the mother of two Bala House graduates.

Emily Surovick, Admissions and Annual Campaign Director: ( or Emily holds B.S. in French from Georgetown University and has served as Admissions Director in a variety of schools. As a parent of two Bala House graduates, Emily brings her love of Montessori and the unique Bala House community to her position. Emily served as the Development Chair for the Bala House Board for three years prior to joining the Bala House staff in 2015.

Nancy Andrews, Administrative Assistant: ( Nancy came to Bala House from another local Montessori school where she spent six years as an assistant, substitute and art teacher. In 2018, she joined the Bala House staff as the Late Care Supervisor. She enjoyed this position for four years until 2022 when she  joined the Administrative team. Not only has Nancy spent many years teaching in the classroom, she also spent five years as a Montessori parent when her daughter attended a Montessori school.