As the Director of DMS Jess brings love and leadership to the school. She believes in our school's mission and the importance of providing a unique and exceptional educational experience for students, families, and staff. Jess is passionate about supporting families and teachers to help children socially, emotionally, and academically build a better world. She fosters a culture where all students feel safe to learn, thrive, and make mistakes.
Jess has been involved in education for 20 years. Her work encompasses experience in experiential education with the National Outdoor Leadership School, working with adjudicated youth programs in Utah, teaching in various public school districts, and as a Montessori Lead teacher.
A lover of the outdoors and adventures, Jess studied Experiential Education receiving her bachelor's from Western Colorado University, she also holds a Master’s Degree in Education and Linguistic Diversity from Colorado's Adam State University. Jess also holds her Colorado Elementary teaching certification.
Jess grew up in Fort Collins Colorado but has lived in Durango for 20 years and it is very much her home. She and her husband have three children Nellie, Hatch, and Ailbe, her youngest is a 2nd grader at DMS.
When not at school Jess enjoys the area’s beautiful outdoors. She and her family love to fly fish on the San Juan River. Her favorite hobbies are downhill skiing, mushroom hunting, and rowing her raft down the river.
DIRECTOR OF DURANGO MONTESSORI
My name is Aruna Pietrack, I was born in Kolkata, India and was adopted when I was a baby. I grew up in Salida Colorado and moved to Durango to attend college at Fort Lewis. I have a BA in Business Marketing and Advertising. After I graduated, I took a job at the Campbell Child and Family Center where I was a lead educator for 10 years. During these years I went back to school and received my lead and director’s certification from Southwest Community College here in Durango. In the summer of 2020, I was a student at MECR in Boulder Colorado and received my Montessori Certification in Early Childhood.
In 2013, I married my husband (Drew) and we have been married for 9 years. I am an only child but after marriage, I gained 3 brothers, 3 sisters-in-laws, and 5 nieces. In 2021, my husband and I welcomed our first son Jett in early September. I took last school year off to be with our son and to support my husband after he had a life-threatening health scare in early November. His recovery has been miraculous! We have a sweet 6 year old Austrian Shepherd puppy named Rio.
I own my own wedding coordinating business which I do during the summer and early fall. My hobbies include soccer, Zumba, hiking, being a new mom, and just being outdoors in stunning Durango.
Throughout my years of teaching, I love watching the children grow through play and small groups. I can see their eyes light up when they find love in their learning. The connections that children have with their peers and the encouragement from their teachers is priceless. I continue to gain more understanding on how the child’s mind works and grows with every interaction. I am happy to be back in the classroom this year!
PRESCHOOL/KINDERGARTEN LEAD TEACHER
EARLY CHILDHOOD ASSISTANT
Katie is the fun-loving assistant teacher in the Early Childhood classroom. She is originally from Nashville, Tennessee. She graduated from Brevard College with a degree in Wilderness Leadership and Experiential Education. Before Montessori, she was a Lead Guide at North Carolina Outward Bound School and a Senior Guide at Open Sky Wilderness Therapy. She has a great appreciation for the Blue Ridge Mountains but she believes her heart lives in Colorado.
She is excited to be an educator at DMS and recently completed her Montessori certification in Early Childhood! She values creativity, humor, inclusion, authenticity, compassion, exploration, and emotional/physical safety. She brings these values into the classroom so that all the students feel safe, curious, and connected with the community. Katie believes every person is powerful, valuable, and capable. She likes to use art, storytelling, nature, and mindfulness to help engage my students. She is very passionate about holistic education and mental health.
Katie loves to cook, do yoga, mountain bike, and connect with her personal community in Durango. She is very social and outgoing and loves to travel and connect with new people. You might see her biking in downtown Durango or attempting latte art at your favorite coffee shop on the weekends.
Cait was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago and moved to Durango in 2011. She completed her student teaching at Pan American School in Costa Rica and graduated from Fort Lewis College with a Bachelor's in Elementary Education (K-6). Cait holds a Certification for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Education. She began teaching in the Upper Elementary classroom at Durango Montessori School.
Cait has taught in various environments and is a very dynamic and flexible teacher. Her experience reins from teaching at Durango 9R School District, tutoring, and homeschooled students of various ages, teaching Spanish for DMS, and being the Lead teacher in Early Childhood.
Cait is committed to being the best she can be, she continues to grow and learn as a Montessori teacher. She recently completed the Elementary Montessori Fundamental 80-hour workshop and participated in an in-depth phonics course called Project Read. Cait is currently our Lower Elementary teacher and she is so happy to continue to be a part of this wonderful community!!!
LOWER ELEMENTARY LEAD TEACHER
Becca is the enthusiastic teaching assistant in the Lower Elementary classroom. She is originally from South Lake Tahoe, California, but has lived all over California and Oregon. She graduated last fall from the University of Massachusetts Global with a BA in Early Childhood Education. Before Montessori, she was volunteering for multiple low-income elementary schools and after-school programs in the Lake Tahoe area, so she is familiar with working with children of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds. While she misses the stunning beauty of the Sierra Nevadas, the Rockies and Colorado feel like home and are a welcomed change.
She is excited to be a teaching assistant at DMS and values empathy, creativity, humor, perseverance, honesty, and curiosity for learning new skills. She will reinforce these ideas and traits in the classroom through open communication, engaging hands-on art projects, and any additional classroom resources the students will need. Becca believes that each child has their own unique abilities and ways of seeing the world, and will continue to foster the above traits in each child as the year progresses.
In her free time, Becca loves to socialize with new people and get outdoors by hiking, biking, skiing, and going to concerts at Red Rocks Amphitheater. She also loves to cook and explore nearby National Parks with her family, fiancé, and U’i the hiking cat. She looks forward to learning and growing with each of your students at DMS!
LOWER ELEMENTARY ASSISTANT
LOWER ELEMENTARY ASSISTANT TEACHER
Sara Nicholson was born and raised in Wisconsin. She attended Colorado State University and Florida International University, graduating with a B.S. in Earth Science and Sustainability.
Sarah has many years as a teacher in traditional elementary classrooms, non-traditional high school and in the outdoor experiential education field. She has a strong love for math, local ecology, geology, biology, hydrology, leadership, and physics. She is proud to say that she has spent 350 days in the backcountry teaching students.
Sara taught high school in the Bahamas. There, she was the director of the math and science department. As director, she oversaw the team of educators and was lead in designing the math and science curriculum. Topics include renewable energies, writing innovative environmental proposals, statistics, and calculus.
Recently Sara was teaching in Estes Park at a non-traditional school. There she was helping students who were trying to get a second chance at their high school experience. Sara taught traditional academic topics as well as directed the Outdoor Education program which utilized the outdoors as a way to enhance students learning.
Sara and her husband recently moved to Durango fro Estes Park, Durango is a great fit for us. Mostly because we fell in love with Durango Montessori and Animas High School (where Sara's husband works), and of course the San Juan Mountains.
Sara has learned throughout the years that elementary education is where her heart is and Durango Montessori is a perfect fit for the kind of teacher she is – one who deeply values students and their success. Sara cares about creating an environment where they can thrive and take ownership of their learning.
UPPER ELEMENTARY LEAD TEACHER
Michelle is a Certified Academic Language Therapist and a Structured Literacy Dyslexia Specialist, and is now pursuing a qualification to train others to become dyslexia practitioners and therapists. She has been at Durango Montessori School since 2009 and has worked in many capacities including School Director and Upper Elementary Lead Teacher. (She got to teach her own daughter, Isabelle, who graduated from Durango Montessori in 2013.). She is certified as a Montessori elementary teacher and a Colorado public school teacher, and has her Master’s degree in Reading. Her nationally-registered therapy dog, Charlie Bear, loves to visit with the Durango Montessori community when he is not sleeping or stealing food. When Michelle isn’t spending time helping children learn to read and write or coaching other professionals, you can find her playing in the mud, creating pieces in her pottery studio, or, like most Durangoans, spending time outside skiing, hiking, or biking.
Mary Polino is the Founder of Durango Montessori Elementary School started in 2005. Retired from “active duty,” she currently serves at the school as a Montessori curriculum and staff consultant. She believes that good schools are created by a practice of effective application of academics combined with a strong current of respect for each other and the process of learning, and that teachers, staff, and parents work together to create such an environment.
Mary is also an official “empty nester” with no extra time on her hands. She now tutors elementary and middle school students, gardens, cooks constantly, eats constantly, works off what she eats with Crossfit, hiking, biking, dancing, and yoga. She is involved with Durango Devo and loves a good crossword puzzle or book at the end of the day.