Kirk Staff

Experienced Staff

Our experienced, well-qualified staff provide a high quality of instruction and positive relationships with both students and teachers.

All of our lead classroom and specialist teachers hold credentials or degrees appropriate for their grade levels and subject areas. Ongoing staff development ensures that we are in step with the most up-to-date education research.

Our teaching and administrative staff maintain membership in a variety of education associations, including National Education Association and CAEYC among others.

Enrichment Staff

Elementary / Preschool Art: Laura Peisner
Elementary Music: Sarah Salazar
Elementary P.E.: Erik Romo Elementary Yoga: Casey Velasquez Elementary Science: Nicole Turner
Elementary Spanish: Michelle Gil
Technology: Christa Nahhas
School Librarian: Gretchen Becherer Preschool Computers: Christa Nahhas
Reading Readiness: Lucille Lundgren
Preschool Science: Nicole Turner
Preschool Spanish: Victoria Averill
Preschool Music: Sarah Salazar

Extended Day Staff

Arpi Huverserian (A.M.)
Diane Roe (A.M.)
Donna Manring (A.M. / P.M.)
Doreen Martinez (P.M.)
Zinnia Rogue
Ana Murguia
Nikki Giles
Blake Hixson
Firoozeh Behjati
Jessica Fahmy

Administrative Staff

Administrative Director: Hillary Felder
Director, Preschool: Becky Jenkins
Director, Tot Center: Cheryl Sheaffer

School Office

Administrative Assistant: Heather Kayne
School Billing: Lorena Gonzalez
Accounting/Finance Manager: Dalya Aviv
Facilities: Robert Jolly


President: Sally Wood
Vice President: Rebecca Bigelow
Secretary: Lucy Warren
Treasurer: Yuan Ryan
Passive Income Coordinator: Shira Brill
Room Mom Coordinator: Grace Dotson

Christa Nahhas

Ms. Christa and her husband, Buddy – you may see him underneath a desk or standing on a ladder around Kirk – have a technology integration and management firm. She has nearly 20 years in the tech industry with an emphasis on management and training in accounting software and educational technology. In 2009, while her son, Jack, was attending Kirk o’ the Valley, she decided to help give Kirk a technology makeover. She brings her training background into the classroom and teaches in a collaborative and project based manner. From Pre-Kindergarten to fifth, children are introduced to software and products with real world application in school and beyond.

Ms. Christa has a variety of enrichment classes that pop up at Kirk. Kinder Tech, Techno Kids, Yearbook & Digital Photography all give kids the chance to use tech, cameras, robots, snap circuits and programming beyond what is possible in the class time. Look around her room. Besides the cool old museum, antique cameras and gadgets, you will see photographs all taken by our student body. Students look forward to showcasing their work at the Art Show every year!

Ms. Christa’s other love is cooking. She was a caterer and cook for many years. She and a fellow Kirk mom have brought Pop Up Food Events to Kirk and a wonderful new veggie garden along with Ms. Amy and the Garden Club. Whether it is a Food Truck class, a bake shop or a restaurant, every year she holds a class where students do all the work and bring their amazing talents to the Kirk Community!

You are likely to see a small child running around in her classroom during off-hours, that is James. He attends Preschool at Kirk, just like his brother Jack did 13 years ago!

Donna Manring

My teaching credential is from Pierce College. I have taught Pre-K for 30 years, and am now also in charge of the extended day program at Kirk. Besides teaching and loving the children, my fun for celebrating the holidays in costume and spirit is known school wide.

Diane Roe

I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, and attended Pierce College for my Child Development courses. I have taught preschool at Kirk for 19 years, and over the years have assisted in the library and taught computers to several age groups. I love teaching computers and currently teach to pre-k and kindergarten.

Becky Jenkins

I am the Director of the preschool as well as a pre-k classroom teacher. I grew up in the San Fernando Valley. I have an AA degree in Child Development and am continuing my education. Teaching children was a goal of mine since I was young. It has been one of my greatest pleasures to be able to share with the lives of so many children through the years.

Arpi Huverserian

I was born in Istanbul where I attended French High School and University. Our honeymoon was in Los Angeles, and we decided to stay and I continued my education here. I love children and I love to encourage their creativity through art. Kirk has been my caring second family, celebrating the good times, and supporting me through challenging times. I have a son and a daughter, and am honored to be a part of the Kirk family.

Diana Kirk

I graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in History and received my Multiple-Subject Teaching Credential and Education from Pepperdine University. I worked for many years in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and took a few years off after the birth of my children. I started at Kirk as a perspective parent, got hired as a long-term substitute for second grade, and was then asked to continue on with the Kindergarten team. I feel so lucky to be a part of the Kirk community as a teacher as well as a parent. I love to travel and have enjoyed traveling to many parts of the world throughout my life.

Jo Saraie

I have the great pleasure of working at Kirk O’ valley for nearly fifteen years. I started at Kirk as a volunteer parent and was quickly drawn into the warm and nurturing environment. I loved the school so much that when my children graduated from Kirk (they are now twenty and twenty four years old) I went back to school to get my degree in Early Childhood Education. I have taught second and third grade curriculums; but by far, my favorite grade is where I am now, Kindergarten. I am currently a mentor teacher for Early Childhood students from Pierce College. I am originally from England, where I was an international flight attendant for over twelve years.

Pam Sellers

I graduated from Pepperdine University in 1992 with a B.A. in Sociology. After working for several years, I went to CSUN to pursue a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential which I completed in 1998. My employment at Kirk O’ the Valley began in January of 2003 as a substitute teacher. In the fall of that year I was hired as part of the Kindergarten team. I have been a teacher at Kirk ever since, working first in Kindergarten and now in second grade. I feel fortunate to be a part of such a dedicated and caring educational community.

Paul Bernstein

I earned my B.A. in Liberal Studies/Multiple Subjects in 1991 from Humboldt State University and my Multiple Subjects Clear Credential at National University in 1994. Since then, I have taught general curricula in every grade from pre-K through 6th. I am Orff-Schulwerk certified and have created and implemented music programs at four different schools. I am thrilled to be at Kirk, teaching the 3rd grade class – my favorite grade of all!

Debbie Swartz

I am a Kirk O’ the Valley parent and teacher. Both of my children attended Kirk. In fact, my daughter was a member of the first graduating class. I taught at Kirk for 10 years as part of a teaching team with Susan Thompson in both 1st and 2nd grades. Additionally, I taught elementary science workshops and elementary music/Spanish for a time.
I also taught for seven years at Ivy Academia Entrepreneurial Charter School (6th, 8th, and 11th grades). While at Ivy, I had full-time teaching duties as well as responsibilities attendant to being department chair, grade level leader, and curriculum council member.
I hold a California multiple subject credential for grades K-8 and a California single subject credential in English for grades K-12. In addition, I earned a Master of Science in Brain-Based Teaching/Learning in 2011.
On a personal note, I love everything to do with language, including reading, crossword puzzles, puns, and writing. I enjoy cooking (I am a foodie!) and traveling, and I am a passionate advocate for the empowerment of women on local and global levels.

Natasha Levy

Natasha Levy, better known as Miss Jo’s daughter, is our 4th and 5th grade aide. Natasha is a UCLA graduate, holding a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science with a concentration in International Relations and a distribution in American Politics and Political Theory. Natasha has taken many courses in Speech Pathology and Language Development, and holds a Certification in TESOL, which allows her to teach English internationally. Natasha was a student here herself and has the honor of being a member of the first 5th grade graduating class. Natasha has tutored many of Kirk’s students from kindergarten through fifth grade, and continues to tutor Kirk students that are now in middle school and high school. She also spent a year at Kirk as a one-on-one aide, spending the entire year in Amanda Vanek’s classroom. We are excited to have her join Mrs. Swartz and Mrs. Vanek.

Amanda Vanek

I grew up in the San Fernando Valley. I attended California State University Northridge and graduated with a degree in Child Development. I have a multiple subject credential and experience in both elementary and secondary classrooms. I love teaching 5th grade and preparing students for middle school.

Kenneth Wright

My name is Kenneth Wright, better known as ”Coach Ken”. I am the PE teacher at Kirk O’ The Valley. I was born and raised on the East Coast in Washington, D.C. and moved to California in 2006.
I’ve worked with youth, and youth organizations across the country, as a sports coach, mentor, and teacher for more than 20 years.
In 2010 I formed “OFF THE BENCH YOUTH SPORTS”, an organization dedicated to building strong character in our youth through fun sports, games, and activities.
I really enjoy my work with young people. I think it’s important to engage them with enthusiasm, energy, and excitement!!!
The Physical Education & Play (PEP) curriculum that we will be teaching at Kirk integrates exercise and physical fitness with fun sports, games, and activities to achieve a proficient level of physical skills, knowledge, and abilities for students in Kinder-5th grade.
The PEP program will provide the students with a quality physical education experience that will have a significant and positive impact on them, their personal growth, their academics, and I hope their life skills.
• Students will be able to identify individual muscles and muscle groups (deltoids…biceps…triceps…abdominals…heart…pectorals…quadriceps…hamstrings…calf muscles etc…)
• Students will attain a basic knowledge of nutrition and healthy living.
• Students will learn hand-eye coordination and develop psychomotor and gross motor skills (running, jumping, skipping, hopping, etc.).
• Students will participate in FUN games, sports, and activities designed to promote good sportsmanship, teamwork, and fairness in competition.
• I hope to build self-confidence, motivate, and encourage participation at every grade level.
I am excited and looking forward to the new school year, I know you are too!

Hillary Felder

I am honored to be only the third director in the history of Kirk School since it was founded in 1961. I came to Kirk in 2007 as a parent and watched both my sons progress through our school. I began working in kindergarten and enjoyed five years with the amazing teachers in that classroom. I then started to work in the school office along with our director at the time, Carol Piekaar. I worked with Carol until the time of her retirement in 2015.

I graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo with a BA in Political Science and a concentration in Italian Politics and Culture and spent seven years living and working abroad in Italy, Greece, and Serbia.

I returned to the United States where I settled down in Los Angeles with my husband and started our family. We enjoy traveling with our sons, learning about new cultures and exploring the amazing world around us.

I love that Kirk offers our families the feeling of a small town community within a big metropolis. It is a place many of our students and staff call home and I am thankful for all our community does to make Kirk a wonderful place to educate our children.

Laura Peisner

Laura Peisner is a classically trained artist and professional educator. After graduating with a BA in art from California State University, Northridge she began her career as a teacher at The H.E.L.P. Group. For over 25 years she developed and taught inclusive art education programs in both public and private schools. When not painting in her home studio, Laura can be found teaching art at the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, where she has been inspiring children for over 10 years. Her passion for creating & love for children come together in all of her classrooms. Laura is also a published author & illustrator. (

Laura has two amazing daughters and encourages them, and children of all ages to follow their dreams.

Joan Montez

Joan Montez has joined Kirk to teach kindergarten through 5th grade music. Joan is a renowned vocal coach in the San Fernando Valley for over 26 years. Many of her students are in television and film or have gone on to study in prestigious universities and conservatories. In addition to her vocal tutelage, she has been the Music Director for Golden Performing Arts in West Hills, for 9 years (27 shows). Joan has taught elementary music education at Heschel Day School, First Lutheran of Northridge, and Castlebay Elementary. Prior to teaching, Joan toured as featured vocalist and was the leader of her own ensemble, SilverStrings. She played jazz and classical flute and sang jazz, classical and pop songs in a myriad of venues. Joan is looking forward to bringing her talents and knowledge to the students at Kirk of the Valley. She will teach Music Theory- incorporating instruments, both pitched and non-pitched. In addition to theory and singing, she will be teaching the use of:
Glockenspiel – Grades 1 and 2
Recorder – Grades 3 and 4
Bells, recorder, ukulele and barred instruments – Grade 5

Nicole Turner

Nicole Turner teaches science to Tot Center children through 5th graders at Kirk. She earned her Bachelors in Biology/Zoology at San Diego State University and then went on finish with their credential program to become a science teacher. She worked at LA Center for Enriched studies and Panorama High, both schools in the LAUSD. She taught high school Biology, AP Biology and Ecology. She is very excited to join the Kirk Family as she has long time connections to both the school and the church. Not only is she a preschool alumni but her Grandmother used to be a preschool teacher as well. She has also attended the Kirk O’ The Valley Presbyterian Church since she was a baby. Nicole has three children that attended Kirk and her youngest, Lily, is in preschool.

Michelle Gil

Hola! My name is Michelle Gil and I am the elementary Spanish teacher at Kirk. I am originally from the Dominican Republic, and was raised on the island until the age of 10. I started studying ballet at the age of 6, and was introduced to jazz and tap shortly thereafter at the tender age of 9 years old. I have been bilingual my entire life, and have taught Spanish for 25 years. I also teach Dance (Latin, Jazz, Salsa, Tango, Musical Theatre), Theatre, Music and Cooking to children ages 3-14. My specialty is preschool and elementary aged children. I incorporate music, puppetry and dance when teaching the youngest of students. I love teaching the children at Kirk!

Gretchen Becherer

My name is Gretchen Becherer, and I’ve been the librarian at Kirk O’ The Valley School since 2007. I’m a parent to Jackson, an alumnus of Kirk, and Jane, a current fifth grader here, so I’ve gotten to know a lot about the Kirk Library collection from personal experience. I make it a habit to keep up on the latest books and series as I hone my skills from fairy to folk-tales while pursuing my MLIS at San Jose State University.

I gear my lesson plans to what the various preschool and elementary classes are studying throughout the year, starting this Fall as we highlight books about different cities, states and countries that our students may have visited for their Summer break, as well as maps of California National Parks. We work on atlas, encyclopedia and dictionary activities, in addition to reading the works of numerous children’s books throughout the year to celebrate author birthdays. We always make an effort to celebrate National Poetry Month, create book-marks, and even make book jackets for picture books that may have lost theirs. We will celebrate fun literary holidays like international Hobbit Day, and listen to various bird-calls as we take a closer look at our non-fiction pure-science collection while examining all the library has to offer.

Lucille Lundgren

I am a Jersey gal, born an hour from New York. After nine years, the Navy took my dad to Chicago. There I was married before moving to California. I have been in the childcare industry for 45 years, 36 of them at Kirk. I teach Reading Readiness with Pre-K children on a one to one basis. I use interesting and challenging games getting them ready to read. Also, I look for any potential problems; such as, speech, visual, emotional or behavioral problems. It is very rewarding to me to see each child grow as they experience another stage in life.

Sarah Salazar

Sarah Salazar is excited to be teaching music to children of the preschool ages. She enjoys introducing children to the wonders and joys of music. She was Miss Tustin 2010 and won the Preliminary talent award at Miss California 2010. She has had the opportunity to perform as a soloist around the world. Her favorites include Carnegie Hall in New York City, the Valley Performing Arts Center in Northridge, and Salzburg, Austria. She holds a Bachelors of Music from California State University in Vocal Arts and is currently a candidate for her Masters in Music. She enjoys sharing her passion for music with others, especially with children. She has worked in a preschool setting for over 6 years and has taught preschool music for two. She is excited to share her knowledge and skill set with the children at Kirk.

Firoozeh Behjati

(firuze beʒatee)
I started to work at Kirk as a volunteer in the Tot Center to obtain a California Child Development Associate Teacher Permit in January 2017. I obtained a Certificate as an Infant Care Teacher and a Certificate for preschool programs in June 2017 from Pierce College. I moved to the United States in Aug 2014. I had been working as a Photogrammetrist for over 20 years in Iran. I have an Associate degree in Arial Surveying and a BA in Literature. My background career has been different, but all I know is that I do love children; their emotional, physical, and intellectual safety are my priority. It is a great pleasure to be in the Kirk family.

Erik Romo

Erik Romo is excited to be teaching P.E. at Kirk O’ The Valley. He has been working with children from preschool to high school for the past 10 years in various arenas and joined 5 Star Sports & Enrichment last year to teach preschool and elementary students both P.E. and after school enrichment classes. He is also the Head Football Coach at Sun Valley High School. Erik did his school-age teaching certification through Los Angeles Valley College and he will be getting his B.A. in Kinesiology from California State University Northridge in 2019.

Erik’s philosophy is meeting children where they are in their development and presenting them with attainable goals. Areas of development that will be spurred in P.E. include:

1. Physical: Large/Fine motor skills
2. Cognitive: Learning concepts of the body, muscles, etc.
3. Skill Development: Sports skills, fitness, health and physical activity
4. Emotional: Understanding feelings during activities and attaining self-confidence
5. Social: Cooperation, leadership, and respecting others
6. Behavioral: Self-control with a focus on following directions
7. FUN: Classes must be geared towards the child having FUN. One of Erik’s goals is to have children excited to come back to class!

Casey Velasquez

My name is Casey Velasquez. Teaching yoga and mindfulness to kids has been a passion of mine for the last three years. Through creative movement and breathing exercises, self-expression, and self-reflection, I try to create a space where kids can explore the experience of being alive through all their senses.

I have been working with these practices for over a decade, and have experienced first-hand their capacity for transformation and heeling. I have taught yoga and meditation to people of a range of different ages, backgrounds, abilities and even languages. My focus is on making these practices relevant and accessible to all.

Teaching yoga and mindfulness to kids is always an exciting and inspiring challenge for me. It’s never perfect, but as a group, the students and I never fail to discover some magic in these classes. I look forward to exploring with your child this year at Kirk O’ the Valley!