School Governance

Board of Directors

A Montessori School for Children ages 6 wks – 12 yrs

Penn-Mont Academy is a private, non-profit, non-sectarian school governed by a Board of Directors.

Laura Burke

Laura Burke – President

Laura Burke is an attorney from Hollidaysburg, PA.  Laura graduated from the University of Richmond with a degree in political science and Washington University in St. Louis School of Law.  Laura and her husband, Sean, have four children enrolled at Penn-Mont.

Laura joined the Board of Directors in 2017 and is the chair of the Human Resources Committee and a member of the Governance and Wellness Committees. Laura’s past board experience includes the Hollidaysburg Area YMCA and WISE Women of Blair County.  Laura is also a graduate of Leadership Blair County, Class of 2018.  Laura currently serves as Blair County Commissioner.

I believe that Montessori education gives our children the best possible educational foundation. My children have learned to work independently and set goals while acquiring a concrete understanding of math, science, and language. Penn-Mont provides a well-rounded educational experience by incorporating practical life work, music, art, and foreign language into the curriculum for even the youngest students. One of my favorite things about Montessori education is its focus on creating good citizens who value peace and respect themselves, others, and the world around them.

Justin Merry, Ph.D. – Vice President

Justin Merry was raised in Cincinnati, where he attended Mercy Montessori through sixth grade. He received his B.S. and M.S. in Biological Sciences from Ohio University, and received his Ph.D. in Biology from Arizona State University. He is currently an Associate Professor and Chair of the Biology Department at Saint Francis University in Loretto, PA. There, he teaches courses in animal behavior, neuroscience, and human anatomy and physiology. His research interests focus on how the constraints imposed by sensory systems shape the evolution of animal behavior, with an emphasis on insect models. He and his wife, Jen, have two children. Paige is a Penn-Mont alumnus who is now attending Grier School, and Brooke is currently enrolled in the elementary program at Penn-Mont.  Both began in the toddler and pre-school programs.

Justin Merry

My wife and I are so thankful that we have had the opportunity to send our children to a Montessori school. Our girls have flourished at Penn-Mont. They have excelled academically, while also developing self-confidence, organizational skills, and social skills that we attribute to the Montessori environment. Their success is a credit to the Montessori curriculum, and particularly to the caring and attentive work of their teachers throughout their years at the school.

Mark Ritchey

Mark Ritchey – Treasurer

Mark is a Principal Partner in the ownership of Curry Supply Holdings and the President of Curry Rail Services and Curry Switching Services located in Hollidaysburg, PA.

Curry Supply Holdings was awarded the Alexander A. Notopoulus Award by the Altoona Blair County Development Corp. in 2015. The award is given to an outstanding business in Blair County. In 2014, the company received the Governor’s ImPACT award for consistent job growth.
Mark serves on the board for Altoona Blair County Development (ABCD). He also serves on the board for Penn-Mont Academy and is currently the Treasurer. Mark serves on the Advisory Philanthropic Council for Penn State-Altoona and is an active member in the Blair County Chamber of Commerce. He is a member of the Locomotive Maintenance Officers Association (LMOA) and the Manhattan Discussion Group (MDG).

He holds a degree in Business Finance and Business Management from the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown. He is a proud graduate of the Pennsylvania State Police Academy and has completed training at the Air Force College of War.

Penn-Mont Academy has been a very rewarding experience, not only for our two daughters, but also for me as a parent. The level of independence demonstrated by my daughters just weeks into the Toddler program surpassed any and all expectations. With my older daughter in the upper elementary program, I am continually impressed with the academic advances she is making as well as the material being introduced in class. Overall, the level of commitment and care demonstrated daily by the staff ensures that all students excel amaze me year after year. Sending our children to Penn-Mont was not only the easiest but one of the best decisions my wife Allison and I have made as parents.

Sheela Kerstetter, MD – Secretary

Sheela Kerstetter works as a dermatologist in Altoona, PA. Sheela grew up in New Jersey and moved to Boston to go to undergraduate and medical school at Boston University. She completed her dermatology training at the Harvard Combined Dermatology residency program. She and her husband moved from the bustle of city life to central Pennsylvania where they have found the ideal balance between family time and careers. They live with their two children and dog in Hollidaysburg, PA. Both children have gone to Penn-Mont Academy since they were 18 months old. When the family is together they love to be out in the fresh air and collect pieces of nature.

Sheela Kerstetter

I am impressed by the exceptional Montessori education that my children are receiving. From a very young age my children have learned the importance of personal responsibility, compassion for others and caring for the environment. With the Montessori method every level of their learning has been tailored to their stage of development. I have loved watching them progress from making bubbles and push pin pictures in “practical life” to performing long division and writing poetry in the lower elementary program. Penn-Mont Academy has created the ultimate house of learning for my children. We are all fortunate to have this outstanding educational resource nestled in our community.

Katie Hite Brouse

Katie Hite Brouse

Katie Brouse joined Penn-Mont’s Board of Directors during the fall of 2011 and has thoroughly enjoyed being a part of this energetic and dynamic group! A graduate of Penn State University with a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Psychology, Katie worked in the field of marketing for her family’s electrical distributor business for over 20 years in both a full-time and part-time capacity.

Katie and her husband, Tom, have two children, both Penn-Mont alumni. Katie fell in love with Penn-Mont and the Montessori method of education after witnessing the positive experience her older nephews had at the school. She wanted her children to have this same amazing opportunity as they started their own educational journeys! Katie chairs Penn-Mont’s Development and Strategic Planning Committees and also participates in the planning of many of the school’s fundraising events!

I love that Montessori focuses on the whole child and is not a one-size-fits-all approach to educating children. In addition to the superior educational experience provided to them, children graduate from our school being well-rounded and contributing members of their families and communities. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made!

Matt Fox

Matt Fox is the marketing manager for the Altoona Blair County Development Corp. which is the economic development organization for the county.  Matt serves on several boards and committees throughout the region including the Blair County Chamber Foundation, Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Mid-Penn Region and Pints for Pets.  In 2018 he received his professional designation as a Certified Economic Development Professional from the International Economic Development Council.


Jennifer Hall, Esquire

Jenn Habel Hall is an attorney at BMZ Law, P.C., a local law firm with offices throughout Central Pennsylvania. Jenn is an Ohio native who found her way to the area while playing volleyball at Juniata College. Jenn attended Widener University School of Law for her Juris Doctorate. Jenn is married to Brian Hall and they live in Hollidaysburg with their two children, MJ and Grant, and their dog. Both MJ and Grant are enrolled at Penn-Mont. Jenn serves as solicitor for several nonprofit originations.

“We ended up at Penn-Mont by accident and immediately fell in love. The education and real life experience our children are receiving is second to none. Most importantly, our two very different children are each reaching their maximum ability through the individualized Montessori approach.”

Haleh Haerian, MD

Haleh Haerian is an Endocrinologist in Altoona PA. She is married to Mehrdad Ghaffari. They have two children. Their son is a student at Penn-Mont, and their daughter has graduated from Penn-Mont and now is a student at Grier School. Haleh graduated from Mashhad University of Medical Sciences in Iran with a Medical Doctorate degree (MD). She completed Internal Medicine residency at Wayne State University in Detroit MI, basic science research program at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor MI, and Endocrinology, Diabetes & Metabolism fellowship at University of Memphis Health Science Center in Memphis TN. Haleh moved to Hollidaysburg PA in 2006, and since has been practicing clinical Endocrinology at Blair Medical Associates, in Altoona PA.

Haleh Haerian

The Montessori method of education based on child-led activities, classrooms with children of varying ages encourages our children to be independent, be responsible and learn at their own pace, while learning from and supporting one another. While my daughter was a student in Penn-Mont, I watched her develop into an enthusiastic and self-directed learner with a great ability to manage her time. I believe these qualities have been valuable assets in preparing her for middle school. She has also learned to work independently, help others and be kind. My son, now in fourth grade, has developed a genuine love for learning about history, geography and how things are made. I think his early education in Penn-Mont with freedom to explore, experiment, and be independent has significantly contributed to his passion for learning.


Brad Houseknecht

Brad and his wife, Jenna, have three children at PennMont: Holland in Children’s House, Charleston in Toddler, and Blake in the Infant Program. Brad moved to Jenna’s home town of Roaring Spring a few years after graduating from Lycoming College, the place they met. Brad began his career as a Commercial Lines Underwriter for Selective Insurance and is now part of the Government Business Development team at NPC, Inc. in Claysburg.

“Dropping off your 6-week-old at childcare can be nerve-wracking, but we had zero reservations after getting to know the educators through our two other children’s experiences at PennMont. The Infant, Toddler, and Children’s House programs are so much more than childcare, and we have been blessed to watch our children flourish under the Montessori model.”

Jennifer Neely

Jennifer Neely is an educator and currently serves as the Director of Enrollment and Admissions Marketing at Grier School, an international boarding school for girls in grades 7-12. After graduating from Penn State University’s School of Education, Jennifer taught in Philadelphia before marrying a Hollidaysburg native and moving to Central Pennsylvania, taking a position at Grier School—first in the English Department and then within the school’s leadership team. Jennifer’s graduate studies include a Master’s of Education in Curriculum and Instruction from Penn State University, with certification as a Reading Specialist, and a Leadership in Enrollment Management Certification from the University of Southern California. Jennifer has been named an SSATB Scholar for her work with USC’s Center for Enrollment Research, Policy, and Practice and has presented at various conferences, including Penn State’s GOLD Women’s Leadership Conference. Currently, Jennifer serves on the Board of Representatives for WPSU (NPR/PBS) and is a councilwoman in her local community.

Jennifer and Andrew live on Grier School’s campus with their two daughters, Joan and Rose, and the family has been a part of the Penn-Mont community since 2017 when Joan entered Children’s House. Today, both girls are thriving at Penn-Mont in the early elementary and toddler programs, respectively.

Jennifer Neely – Board Member

“I have been fortunate to know many Penn-Mont graduates through my work at Grier School and have always been taken by their intellectual curiosity, independence, and global mindset. When choosing a learning community for our daughters, we were pleased to see all the ways Penn-Mont’s Montessori education fostered those aforementioned traits and more. As a parent at Penn-Mont, it has been a joy to see how our children are known, valued, and cared for and to see how those gifts help our children grow and thrive.”


Alanna Parsons

Alanna is the Director of Sales & Marketing at The Village at Penn State.  She obtained her BA in Communications from Seton Hill University and a Master of Business Administration from Penn State University – Erie.  Alanna regularly volunteers and serves on committees for March of Dimes, Children’s Miracle Network, and Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art

Both of Alanna’s children joined Penn-Mont at 18 months of age.

Our children have grown a true love of learning in their time at Penn-Mont – an environment where they are nurtured, yet challenged and seen as the unique individuals that they are. We are confident that Penn-Mont is the best choice we could have made for an educational foundation for our children.

Jordan Settle

Jordan Settle was elected to the Board of Directors of Penn-Mont Academy in January 2016. He is a member of the school’s Finance and Scholarship Committee, responsible for the policies and activities relating to financial operations and scholarships of the school. These activities include working with the School Administrator on an annual budget, grants, employee compensation, tuition, and scholarship recommendations to the Board of Directors.

A native of central Pennsylvania, Jordan graduated from Altoona Area High School and continued his education at California University of Pennsylvania. Upon college graduation, he was commissioned an officer in the United States Army and assigned to active duty. During his time in the military, Jordan deployed three times; once to the Republic of Korea and twice in support of combat operations in Afghanistan during Operations Enduring Freedom (OEF) VII and IX. He transitioned from active duty in 2010 at the rank of Captain. His military awards include the Bronze Star as well as a commendation from the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Jordan is the Vice President of Operations of Defenshield, Inc., a company specializing in the design and manufacturing of bullet, blast, and fragmentation protection systems. He also sits on the Board of Directors for the Jaffa Shrine in Altoona, PA and Sweat For Vets, a fundraising effort aimed at supporting local Veterans in central Pennsylvania.

Jordan and his family currently reside in Altoona. His daughters, Hayden and Logan, have been students of Penn-Mont Academy since they were three years old.

Jordan Settle

Jennifer Soisson

Jennifer Soisson is the owner of Brush Mountain Running and Outdoors, Inc in Altoona, a run coach, race director, and outdoor events coordinator. She is a graduate of Butler Area Senior High School and Slippery Rock University. She volunteers as a coach for the P3R Organization Kids of Steel program. Jennifer also serves on the board of WISE Women of Blair County. She regularly volunteers at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollidaysburg and within various organizations within Blair County, such as the Central Pennsylvania Humane Society and the Downtown Altoona Business Community. She has served on the Penn-Mont Academy Wellness Committee since 2017. She resides in Antis Township with her husband, stepsons, and daughter. Their daughter has attended Penn-Mont Academy since she was three years old.

We are outdoor enthusiasts through and through. We were delighted to discover how a Montessori education encompasses learning beyond the classroom. Living in rural Pennsylvania, we wanted our child to have the opportunity to experience a global perspective. We are thankful for the educators and administrators of Penn-Mont Academy for creating and demonstrating the true Montessori philosophy of learning that fosters the diverse and enriching activities we sought.

Annie Stapelfeld, MPAS, PA-C

Annie Stapelfeld is a 2008 graduate of Saint Francis University. She has a Master’s Degree in Physician Assistant Sciences. Annie focused her healthcare career in Pediatrics as a Physician Assistant at R.K. Chopra Pediatrics in Altoona, PA.

Annie has been a Penn-Mont Academy board member since 2015 and served as a past chair of the Spring Gala committee, assisting in the organization of their inaugural fundraiser. Annie’s sons Winston, Frederick and Linus are students at Penn-Mont Academy. Annie lives in Hollidaysburg, PA with her husband, Clark and their three sons.

Annie Stapelfeld

At Penn-Mont Academy, I’ve had the opportunity to watch my sons’ early-stage development. It has been a pleasure and an education to watch my sons’ learn and grow through the Montessori philosophy. The focus on independence is already evident in my children’s behavior. Penn-Mont Academy consistently challenges them and, more importantly, teaches them to challenge themselves.


Jennilyn Vallejera, P.E.

Jennilyn is on the engineering faculty at Penn State Altoona where she teaches courses in engineering mechanics and serves as an academic advisor. She was raised in Las Vegas, NV and received her B.S. and M.S in Civil Engineering at the University of Nevada, Reno with an emphasis on structural design. Before moving to Pennsylvania, Jennilyn worked at the Nevada Department of Transportation in the roadway design and the bridge structures departments. She and her partner have two children; both started Penn-Mont at 18 months. Jennilyn and her family live near State College and enjoy spending time together and finding new adventures in and out of the Central Pennsylvania area.

My partner and I were looking for a diverse and inclusive community in the area with a strong history of educating young people. We were amazed to find Penn-Mont and continue to be appreciative of their dedication to supporting each child holistically and individually. We are cognizant that the wonderful people our children are and will become cannot be uncoupled from the Montessori philosophy practiced by the quality educators and administration at Penn-Mont.

Board of Directors

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