Primary Faculty

Cassandre Hall – Primary Head Teacher

Cassandre Hall holds a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and a masters’s in Early Childhood Education Montessori (AMS) from Barry University. She joined the staff of WHMS in 2006. Her previous experience includes work as an assistant teacher in a Florida Montessori Preschool and as a Kindergarten Teacher at Pine Hills Montessori Day Care for three years. During her third year at Pine Hills, Cassandre served as the Interim Director.

Lourdes OrtegaPrimary Assistant Teacher

Lourdes Ortega received Montessori training from Princeton Montessori Center in New Jersey. Lourdes joined WHMS in 2003 as a summer camp instructor. Lourdes also served as our School Care and Enrichment Director for five years. Currently, she is the assistant teacher in Cassandre’s class and serves as co-director of our summer program.

Liz CahrengerPrimary Head Teacher

Liz Cahrenger has been a teacher at WHMS/MSA since 1988. With a bachelor’s in education from SUNY Cortland, Liz was Montessori-certified in 1995. During her tenure, she has been a Primary Head Teacher, Primary Coordinator, and Board Representative. She has presented workshops for the Greater Capital District Teachers Series at HVCC and at the College of St. Rose. Liz also served as a field consultant for CMTE and NMI. In December 2002, Liz was chosen as “Educator of the Week” on Newschannel 13.

Kristen McDermottPrimary Assistant Teacher

Kristen McDermott holds an associate degree in Early Childhood from HVCC and completed her student teaching at Woodland Hill. She works as Liz Cahrenger’s teacher assistant. Kristen has been working at WHMS since 2004. She began working in the summer program continuing with us as a substitute before becoming an assistant teacher.

Nancy Hillengas – Primary Head Teacher

Nancy Hillengas holds a bachelor’s in Art History from Skidmore and a master’s in Education from University of Pennsylvania. Nancy came to MSA as an assistant teacher in 1998.  She received her Primary Montessori Certification from Northeast Montessori Institute. Nancy previously taught at the Albany Academy for Girls, first as a primary science teacher, then as a third grade homeroom teacher and as both a primary and elementary teacher at the Montessori Magnet School in Albany. 

Ashley Ciccone- Primary Assistant Teacher

Ashley Ciccone assists Nancy Hillengas in Primary.  Ashley has worked in our afterschool program since 2007. Prior to joining the staff at Woodland Hill, Ashley worked for three years as an assistant teacher at Children’s Corner Daycare Center.  Ashley has a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education from the College of St. Rose.

Jennifer Graham - Primary Head Teacher

Jennifer Graham has a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Elmira College. She has her Early Childhood credential from the Center of Montessori Teacher Education in New Rochelle, NY. Jennifer is coming to WHMS from Our World Montessori, which she owned and directed since 2004. She was also a previous teacher at Woodland Hill (but then we were called Montessori School of Albany), and the Montessori Toddlers’ and Children’s House.

Leah Walsh - Primary Associate Teacher

Leah Walsh holds a bachelor’s degree from Bennington College with a concentration in dance and design. Leah received her Primary Montessori Certification from Northeast Montessori Institute in 2013. Leah’s experience includes work as actor as well as costume and set designer for Steamer 10.  Her teaching background includes home school teacher and classroom aid at the Robert C. Parker School. While still in college, Leah led a classroom of two- and three-year olds for which she designed and led a themed curriculum. Leah works in Primary with Jennifer.

Christine Caruso – Primary Head Teacher

Christine Caruso has a master’s in education from Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, CA and a bachelor’s degree in special education from LeMoyne College in Syracuse. Christine previously taught in San Diego at a charter school and at Friendship Collegiate Academy in Washington D.C. She attended Montessori training this summer.

Stephanie Puchner – Primary Assistant Teacher

Stephanie began working with Chris Caruso in 2013. She has a bachelor’s from the University of Vermont in Human Development and Family Studies and a master’s in Social Work from the University at Albany.  She has worked in a variety of roles helping families as a social worker, with kids in day camp, and as an advocate for children and families at the Berkshire Center for Families and Children. She also served as a substitute for WHMS for two years.