The Heartwood Team

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Head of School

Sherri Sampson

Sherri has over 20 years of experience as a Montessori Head of School. She is a mother of three children and in 1995, when she was looking for a program for her child she began her lifelong work in Montessori Education.  Sherri has opened and run Keystone Montessori and Creo Montessori, two highly successful  AMI Montessori schools, in Arizona.  Sherri holds an AMI Diploma in both Primary (ages 3-6) and the Orientation to Adolescent Studies.  Additionally, Sherri helped to found the Southwest Institute of Montessori Studies (SIMS), the nonprofit AMI Montessori teacher training center in Arizona, in 2011.



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School Administrator

KC Smith

KC holds a Master's degree in Nonprofit Management from Arizona State University. After working for a while with Hospice of the Valley and in nonprofit event coordination,  she worked previously with Sherri Sampson in the start up of Creo Montessori and most recently served at the Admissions Director at the Southwest Institute of Montessori Studies. In 2017, KC completed the SIMS AMI Primary Assistant Teacher training. 


She and her husband have a two-year-old daughter and one-year-old son. They enjoy camping, kayaking, soccer, and exploring local restaurants. 

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Toddler Teacher

Wendy Kaneshige 

Wendy is an Arizona Native, growing up in Yuma and Family originating from Mexico, she is fluent in Spanish. Wendy and her husband have two children: Son 10 years old and Daughter 4 years old. Both which are Montessori Children. 


She has been in a Montessori setting for 12 years and attained her AMI Assitants to Infancy (birth to 3 years) Diploma in 2012 at the Montessori Institute of San Diego  and is undergoing training for her AMI Primary (3-6years) Diploma at SIMS, Graduating summer 2019.  Her high goal is to become an A to I Trainer in the future. 


"I am in a point were my Passion and my work is one. Working with the children in the classroom lights me up and fills up my heart with so much joy. I love being outdoors, I am a huge Foodie, love venturing to different coffee shops, hiking and exploring different style workouts."

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Children's House Co-Teacher

Heather Gamble

Heather holds an AMI Primary diploma from Montessori Education Center of Arizona and a bachelor of applied science degree in early childhood education from Northern Arizona University. She comes to Heartwood Montessori with over 20 years of experience working in a Charter Montessori school setting.  Heather has worked across the pedagogy spectrum: toddler, primary aged children, and with adolescents. She also has experience coaching and mentoring newly trained teachers as well as having worked collaboratively with Southwest Institute of Montessori Studies as an album reader. 


Her approach to guiding children is simple: respect for children. “One of the greatest rewards of working with children, is the joy of watching them grow into capable, well-rounded adults.” 

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Children's House Co-Teacher

Pily Pantoja

Ms. Pily was born in Mexico, where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and Marketing from Instituto Tecnologico de Chihuahua and a Master’s degree in Finance from Universidad Autonoma de Chihuahua. After working in cost analysis and finance for an international company, she found the Montessori method and was immediately drawn to it.


Ms. Pily has been in Montessori environments for the last 10 years and studied to become a Montessori guide graduating in 2012 from the Southwest Institute of Montessori Studies. She is certified through the AMI with a Primary Level Diploma, an Elementary Assistant Certificate, an Assistant to Infancy Assistant Certificate and currently she is studying her Master of Education in Montessori Education from Loyola University Maryland.


Ms. Pily enjoys every single minute working with children in her classroom and witnessing the results that the Montessori philosophy can produce helping children in their progress to reach their full potential.

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Elementary Co-Teacher

Shiragi Bhakta


Shiragi  grew up in Glendale, Arizona where she attended Montessori Kingdom of Learning for 4 years as an elementary child. She graduated from Arizona State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education as well as a Bachelor’s degree in Global Health. She has worked in a variety of settings with children in schools, after school programs, as well as summer school.


Currently Shiragi is finishing up her AMI Elementary Training and her Master’s Degree in Montessori Education.


In her free time, Shiragi enjoys traveling, learning about different cultures to teach to the students to expand their world view, exploring new and local restaurants, seeing the latest movies, and enjoying the outdoors.


"My passion to bring education to children in both the public school and Montessori school setting has led me to where I am today. The joy I feel seeing children grow and reach their full potential is unmatched."


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Elementary Co-Teacher

Mario Ferrer Rodriguez

While growing up in Spain, Mario developed an interest in the full development of the child at a young age. Through this interest,  he started his career in education  by obtaining my certifications in Primary Education  and Physical Education, at the University of Granada, Spain. After completing his studies, he discovered the beauty and depth of the Montessori Philosophy, and decided to pursue the AMI International Elementary Teacher Training in Girona, Spain. He has taught in different schools throughout Spain and Mexico, and is excited to bring his experiences and culture to the students at Heartwood.


"I describe myself as a lifelong learner, striving every day to convey the love of learning to my students, understanding and respecting the individuality of being."


In his spare time, Mario loves spending time with his loved ones, traveling to know new places and cultures from which he can enrich himself, as well as reading and practicing sports every day.