Director of Admissions and Enrollment
DIRECTOR OF strategic initiatives

Cecily Wardell is an honors graduate of Harvard College where she majored in East Asian Languages and Civilizations. She lived in Japan and France and worked in a major multinational financial institution in Tokyo; she speaks both Japanese and French. She also taught science and math at Dexter School. Cecily, with Alexis Jette Borggaard, is co-founder of Birches School. Her son is a 7th Grader at Birches and her daughter is a 3rd Grader. Please click here for an article about Cecily Wardell.



Laura is the proud owner of Colonial Bookkeeping & Tax, Inc. which she launched in 2010.  With over ten years of experience in public accounting, Laura has worked with a wide range of clients in both the non-profit and for-profit sectors, including start ups, small business, and high net worth individuals. Laura is passionate about learning and helping others understand the challenges and rewards of the complex business world, tax codes, and fast-moving tech scene.  She enjoys offering trouble-shooting support and training people in accounting information and work-flow systems.  Laura has a certificate in Forensic Accounting from Northeastern University; she earned her Master's in Business Administration from Nichols College; and she holds an undergraduate degree from University of Massachusetts Amherst.  Laura lives with her husband and daughter in Concord, where they enjoy cooking, hiking, skiing, snow shoeing, biking, traveling, and furniture restoration.

Bridget Tivan, MBA
Assistant Director of Admissions and COmmunications


Bridget Tivnan has an undergraduate degree in Hospitality Management and a Master of Business Administration (MBA). For the last 15 years, Bridget has been planning and organizing large and small scale events for some of Boston's most successful businesses. She is thrilled to bring her event planning and hospitality expertise to the education world. Bridget is an avid professional photographer who ran her own photography business for many years. Bridget loves to travel, ride horses and hike, especially with her two children, both Birches students. Her son is a 1st grader and her daughter is a third grader at Birches.

Connie Herbstman
Leadership and Program Support Assistant

Photo and bio coming soon



K/1 Teacher
Program director, Inspired by Nature


Kate Harney co-teaches the Kindergarten and 1st Grade classroom at Birches. She received her Master of Elementary Education from Lesley University and graduated cum laude from Dartmouth College with a major in sociology. Through her teaching, Kate hopes to instill in children a self-motivated love of learning and a joy for discovery. An active practitioner of mindfulness, Kate weaves mindful practices into her teaching to help students develop attention, focus and social awareness. She loves to stay active, especially outdoors and keeps busy throughout the seasons with yoga, cycling, and cross country skiing.


K/1 Teacher

FullSizeRender 2.jpg

Florentien deRuiter, who works primarily with the youngest students at Birches, has a great deal of experience in early-elementary school education. She received her B.A. from Tufts University majoring in Child Study and her Master of Arts in Teaching, also from Tufts. She taught Kindergarten for nine years in the Acton Public Schools, mostly at McCarthy-Towne Elementary School, where she and her colleagues developed an arts-based curriculum that incorporated nature study both inside and outside the classroom. Florentien is bi-lingual in English and Dutch. She is an avid runner, and enjoys hiking and camping with her husband and two children. Her daughter is a 7th grader at Birches.




Kate Walker comes from Cold Spring School in New Haven, Connecticut, where she taught for ten years. She received her B.S. from New York University in 2001 and her Master's degree from Bank Street College of Education in 2003. She taught for three years in a combined 4th and 5th Grade classroom at Cold Spring School and then was the Master Teacher for seven years in a combined 2nd and 3rd Grade classroom. From 2003 to 2011, Kate was the 4th, 5th, and 6th Grade Co-Director of the Cold Spring School Technology Summer Session. She served on several visiting committees for the Connecticut Association of Independent Schools Accreditation process. Since 2009, she has been a Board Member of the Friends' Center for Children in New Haven. Her older daughter is a 6th grader at Birches and her middle daughter is a 3rd grader. 



Dr. Katherine Parisky joined the Birches team full-time in the fall of 2015 as Associate Head while continuing as the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Specialist. Previous to this appointment, she was a Postdoctoral Fellow and then a Research Specialist at Brandeis University for nine years. Katherine received her B.A. in Biology and Psychology from Drew University and her Ph.D. in Biomedical Science from the University of Connecticut Health Center.  Author and editor of many scientific journal publications, she has published in Neuron, Journal of Experimental Biology, Nature Neuroscience, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience.  Katherine's article "Leaving the Tower to Read Rapunzel" was published in 2016 by the National Association of Independent Schools in Independent School, the premier journal for independent schools in the country. In 2017, she published a children's picture book about fruit fly behavior entitled Mel Smells! Katherine is focused on seamlessly integrating science into the classroom, using inquiry-based methods that enable young children to tap into the natural scientists that lie within. Katherine's son is a 5th grader and her daughter is a 1st grader at Birches.

Elizabeth Fagenholz, M.ED.
4/5 Teacher

Elizabeth Fagenholz photo.jpg

Elizabeth Fagenholz co-teaches 4/5 grade at Birches. She has a B.A. from Tufts University in English Literature and is currently completing her Master's in Education degree with Goddard College. Prior to teaching at Birches, Elizabeth completed an upper elementary student-teaching placement at Lexington Montessori School, taught in academic and arts based enrichment programs, and worked as an academic tutor. In 2016, her work teaching ecology to grades 2-8 with the Ecology School in Saco, Maine inspired her to pursue teaching full-time and to contribute to ecological and nature-based schools. Elizabeth is interested in maximizing student concentration and creativity. Her graduate research currently focuses around the structures that support these objectives within elementary education. Elizabeth holds certifications in sustainable farming, permaculture, and eco-psycology. Outside the classroom, she enjoys yoga, dancing, and swimming outside.


Middle School TEACHER

Tassia Thomas is thrilled to be teaching the oldest students at Birches. Tassia is a champion of integrated learning across disciplines, team teaching, and the responsive classroom model. She taught Arts and Humanities to seventh and eighth grade students at the Francis W. Parker Essential School for eight years. Prior to that, she taught sixth, seventh and eighth grade students at The Greenfield Center School in western Massachusetts. She has coached and mentored new teachers through The New Teachers Collaborative and at Tufts University. As a Critical Friends Coach and member of the National School Reform Faculty, Tassia has worked to help teachers improve student learning through collaborative learning communities. 

Tassia received her B.A. from Hampshire College and M.A.T. from Simmons College. 

Her daughters are in the 3rd and 7th grades at Birches. 



Paula has been an early childhood educator for over 25 years. A graduate of Bridgewater State College, she started her student teaching in a Kindergarten classroom.  After graduating with a BS in Early Childhood Education, she began her career at the L.E.A.P. School in Lexington, MA, first serving as teacher and then, for six years, as Curriculum Director.  She then spent 12 years as Program Director at the Concord L.E.A.P. School.

Since her days at L.E.A.P., Paula has worked as a traveling science teacher for Wicked Cool For Kids ages 5-8 at the Green Meadow School in Maynard and also as a lead pre-school teacher at the Lemberg Children’s Center at Brandeis University in Waltham.  She is a 300-hour trained YogaKids teacher since 2013, and obtained her 200-hour adult yoga teacher training from Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Stockbridge, MA in 2015.

Paula is passionate about teaching children through science and nature, creative arts, yoga, movement, and social and emotional intelligence practices.  She shares her positive energy, problem solving tools, and joy in teaching with the students in the Birches After-School Program each day.


Music AND DRAMA Specialist


Laura Bak, a graduate of Oberlin College, has a Master of Music in Music Education from the Boston Conservatory, as well as Orff Schulwerk, Kodaly, and Music Together certifications. Most recently, Laura taught pre-Kindergarten through 3rd Grade music at Gardner Pilot Academy, a public school in Allston. Laura is also interested in theater: Her undergraduate degree was in English, with a theater emphasis. She has taught drama as well as music as a middle-school teaching assistant. Laura is the mother of two boys. She enjoys spending time with her family, playing with her dog, and singing rounds.


Yoga and Mindfulness Specialist

Erin began a dedicated practice of yoga in 1999. Since graduating from Prescott College with a degree in Dance, Movement and Community Studies in 2005, she has been teaching various kinds of mind/body-based classes in New York City and now in the Boston area. Erin has completed The National Yoga Alliance-approved YogaKids 200-hour children’s yoga teacher certification.  In 2012, Erin returned to her home town of Boston and created her own organization called Strength In Connection Yoga for Children and Families. Children feel comfortable, safe, and confident in Erin's warm and nurturing classes. She enjoys weaving art, music, and connections with the natural world into her lessons.



Brooke Muir is a children's book artist and sculptor. She has collaborated with some of the best known children's book authors of our time, including Jane Yolen and Karma Wilson. She received a B.F.A. from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston with a focus on ceramics and sculpture, and a B.A. from Tufts University. Brooke has taught art at Birches School and at Full Circle School, an independent school in Western Massachusetts. Her books, illustrated under her maiden name Brooke Dyer, include Mama Always Comes Home by Karma Wilson, Sleep Black Bear Sleep by Jane Yolen and Hedi Stemple, Santa Claus and the Three Bears by Maria Modugno, and One Smart Cookie by Amy Krause Rosenthal. Her three children attend Birches.


Spanish Specialist


Maria was born and raised in Bilbao (Spain). She has lived in Barcelona and in Lille (France) where she finished her Business and Management degree. Although her first language is Spanish, she also speaks English and French.

Maria worked as a French and PE teacher for first through sixth grade students in Spain and also as a math, finance, and accounting teacher for college students. Recently, she taught Spanish at Littleton High School. She loves teaching and is eager to share her language and culture with her students.

Maria lives in Acton with her husband and three children. She enjoys spending time with her family and friends, dancing, reading, and traveling.


Middle School TEACHER

Erin Mullins is thrilled to join the staff at Birches while pursuing her M.Ed. in Middle School Mathematics at Lesley University. In addition to completing her B.A. in Art & Design at the University of Michigan, Erin took classes in urban planning, foreign languages, and environmental education. Since graduating in 2015, she has worked in public, private, and charter schools in search of a school that encourages curiosity, exploration, and divergent thinking. Her passion for alternative approaches to education began when she was a student at the Francis W. Parker Essential School and has continued ever since. When she is not teaching or taking classes, Erin enjoys playing her harp, going for absurdly long walks, and vegan cooking.


Grace Keener, B.A.


Grace has been thrilled to be a part of the Birches team since August 2018. Her passion for working with children in the outdoors began when she worked for five summers at YMCA Camp Huckins, in counselor positions including Senior Counselor and Leadership Counselor. In summer 2017 she co-led the program for the oldest campers at Mass Audubon Camp Broadmoor, which included daily canoe or hiking trips as well as lessons in local geology, zoology, and botany. In summer 2018 she enjoyed leading backpacking trips for Boston youth through the Youth Opportunities Program at the Appalachian Mountain Club. Grace earned her B.A. from The College of William & Mary, where she majored in Social Justice & Advocacy and completed two minors in Spanish and Music.At Birches, Grace works as an Associate Teacher in the 2-3 classroom, learning from Master Teacher Kate Walker. Grace’s teaching passions include teaching social-emotional skills and history, and she also loves sharing her skills in backcountry camping and Wilderness First Aid.

In her free time, Grace spends as much time outdoors as she can. In the summer of 2019, she spent three weeks backpacking all 220 miles of the John Muir Trail in California. During the school year, she loves spending weekends hiking in NH’s White Mountains.

Tim Seston
Physical Education Teacher

Photo and bio coming soon



Earth Science Advisor

Tom Gumbart, Conservation Director for the town of Lincoln, received his B.A. from Middlebury College and his M.S. from Utah State University specializing in behavioral ecology. His work as Conservation Director is diverse, including open space preservation, land stewardship, wetlands permitting, and educational outreach. Before assuming the Lincoln position in 1999, Tom served as Executive Director of the non-profit organization Land’s Sake in Weston, running an organic farm, conducting forestry and other land management operations, and developing educational programming. Tom is currently the President of the Massachusetts Society of Conservation Professionals. Married with two grown children, he enjoys many outdoor pursuits such as birding, skiing, biking, fishing, and photography.


Arts Advisor


Sandeep Das, tabla musician and composer, lived and trained for eleven years in Varanasi (Benares) with his master Pandit Kishan Maharaj. Now his master’s heir, Sandeep performs to acclaim throughout India and around the world. A core member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, Sandeep has received numerous awards, including a Grammy. Sandeep is the founding director of HUM, a not-for-profit Indian organization that presents concerts to raise money to help visually impaired children learn music and to provide financial support for struggling, aged musicians. Sandeep now lives in Boston with his family.


Arts Advisor

Mike Block is a pioneering multi-style cellist, singer, composer, and educator living in Boston who is a member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble.  In addition to his solo performances and duo collaborations with musicians like tabla player Sandeep Das, violinist Rachel Barton Pine, and percussionist Tupac Mantilla, Mike is the director of the Mike Block String Camp in Vero Beach, FL, which offers non-classical education to string players from all backgrounds. In 2012, Mike was appointed Associate Professor at the Berklee College of Music. 

Please visit Mike's website at: