Our Staff

The heart of our program is our wonderful teaching staff. This group of highly qualified, caring teachers has an average of 16 years of teaching experience and includes a former director. Collectively, this staff has 275 years of early childhood teaching. Our staff receives ongoing in-service training and opportunities for continued education in early childhood development.

Jennifer Alva
Teacher

Mrs. Alva received her B.A. in Early Childhood Education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She began her teaching career in North Carolina where she taught second grade for seven years. After becoming the mother of two sons and moving to California, she discovered TSONS as a parent with her older son in 2000. Her obvious passion for young children and expertise in early childhood education made her a sought after substitute teacher, and TSONS was thrilled when she was finally able to join the staff permanently in 2008. Jennifer especially loves working with the youngest aged children in the nursery school and teaching Enrichment classes. In addition, she enjoys playing the piano, knitting, hiking and reading.

Patti Claybourne
Teacher

Patti’s educational background in Business Administration, with both an A.A. and a B.A. from Oklahoma State University, was quite useful for the many years she worked in the Admissions Office of a local private elementary school. But it was the years spent volunteering while her own two children were in school, and the early childhood education classes she was motivated to take, that ultimately brought her talents to the teaching of young children. TSONS benefited greatly when she joined the teaching staff in 2005. She has brought a seasoned voice to every program offered at the school, both morning and afternoon, with every age level, and each camp program offered outside of the regular school year. She is enthusiastic, creative, and loves to travel. In addition, she has amazing organizational skills.

Esperanza “Hope” Cole
Teacher

TSONS felt so fortunate when Mrs. Cole joined the staff in 2008. She immediately impressed students, parents and staff with her warmth, expertise, humor and great work ethic. Hope has worked with families and children for over twenty years; as a nanny, caseworker, and as an assistant in special education. She has a B.A. in Human Development from Pacific Oaks as well as a Multiple Subject Learning Credential. Hope is passionate about education and is continually looking for ways to incorporate her many interests into new and dynamic curriculum both during the regular school year in her class, as well as for the entire TSONS’s summer program. Children at TSONS can look forward to learning all about chickens, gardening, soap making, traveling, camping, sewing and more from Mrs. Cole.

Cynthia Contreras
Teacher, Teacher Rep on Board of Directors

Ms. Contreras received her early childhood education from both L.A. Valley College and CSUN where she received her A.A. and B.A. degrees. TSONS was very excited to have her join the teaching staff in 2007. Cynthia has worked with every age group at the school and is particularly skilled with the first year students. She is enthusiastic and has a seemingly endless supply of energy, which she brings to school on a daily basis. Her love of children shines through all she does. Cynthia can frequently be seen dancing, running around the yard, and getting into messy art and dirt play with her students. She is also the teacher’s representative on the school’s Board of Directors. She loves the outdoors and spends most of her summers traveling and learning about other cultures and ways of life. She enjoys challenging herself and can be quite proud of the fact that she has completed two marathons.

Tacie Cook
Teacher

Ms. Cook received her A.A. from L.A. Valley College with an emphasis in Infant/Toddler Education after spending years working with young children. Her enthusiasm, experience and education all made her a wonderful addition to the TSONS teaching staff in 2004. She found a home in Room 2 and has been teaching that age level since the fall of 2005. Her own daughter has since gone through TSONS and, as with several other staff members, she knows the school both as a parent and teacher. Over the years, Tacie made time for the practice of yoga. She discovered that her natural gifts as a teacher, and her flexibility for an advanced practice, led her to become more serious about this passion. She is proud that in 2016 she has also become a registered Yoga Teacher (RYT200). When not teaching, practicing yoga, or enjoying time with her daughter, Tacie loves music and spending time in nature and at the beach. She also loves, and is truly wonderful with, all kinds of small animals.

Victoria Cooper
Teacher

Victoria has worked with children her entire life and has both the relevant natural talent and skill to make it a perfect match. TSONS first met her when she was a nanny to two boys who attended the school. Her A.S. in Child Development from L.A. Valley College and her warm personality immediately put her on the TSONS radar. She began the Parent & Me program with her own son in 2012, and TSONS was thrilled when she was finally able to join the teaching staff in 2013. Ms. Cooper loves spending time with her son and especially enjoys magical trips to Disneyland with him. She shares her British heritage with her class through traditions, foods (she loves to bake!) and her English accent. Whenever possible, she cherishes trips back home to England to see her family.

Jocelyn Dwyer
Teacher

After teaching elementary school in South L.A. for five years, Ms. Dwyer became a nanny to twin girls attending TSONS. This was a fortunate connection for the school as she showed great skill and confidence with young children and thankfully she re-discovered her joy of teaching at this younger grade level. Fortunately, in addition to her Anthropology degree from UCLA, she also had a Pre-School/Elementary credential from Long Beach State. TSONS couldn’t wait to ask her to join the teaching staff after her twin charges moved onto kindergarten, which she was able to do in 2010. Jocie considers herself to be a serial hobbyist. She has such a passion for learning that it motivates her to constantly explore and attempt new and creative projects. She is an avid reader, amazing baker, and her current obsession is sewing.

Marianna Gevorkyan
Teacher

TSONS was fortunate to have Ms. Gevorkyan join the staff in 2011 to teach classes during the summer, in the Enrichment program, and as a valuable substitute teacher in all of the classrooms. She is enthusiastic, energetic and a hard worker. In addition to her Early Childhood Education classes, she earned her B.A. degree in Psychology from CSUN in 2016. Marianna is quite athletic and enjoys tennis, swimming, and going to the beach. She follows in her mother’s (Mrs. Minasyan’s) footprints with her love of working with children.

Michal Harris
Teacher

Mrs. Harris began her teaching career in 1973 with L.A. Unified’s ECE program and then taught for eight years at a nursery school in Encino. She then stopped teaching to become a professional caterer full time prior to the birth of her two younger children. She became a parent at TSONS in 1990 and was asked to become a member of the Board of Directors in 1991. She served on the Board for seven years, including one year as President. With her expertise and passion for the very young child, TSONS was excited to have her teach all of the Parent & Me and Transition classes starting in 1996. She is also the primary swim instructor over the summer for the TSONS Swim program. She is the mother of two TSONS alumni, as well as an older married son who has made her the grandmother of two.

Kathy Hilton
Director, Board of Directors

Click here to read Kathy's welcome letter and biography.

Jose Lopez
Maintenance

Jose has been “Mr. Everything” at TSONS since 1993. He keeps the school in great working order and always has a smile on his face. In addition, he directs traffic in the front, keeps an eye on the neighborhood, cleans the rooms, fixes things, transports class pets to and from cars, builds anything the school might need, sets up for every campus function, and is happy to help in any way that he can. Jose is the proud father of three children, all alumni of TSONS

Naira Minasyan
Teacher

After graduating with her A.A. in Child Development from L.A. Valley College, TSONS was very pleased to have Mrs. Minasyan join the teaching staff in 2000. She primarily enjoys teaching in the older classrooms where she can organize activities and projects for the children. In addition to her A.A., she also earned a B.A. in Piano while in Armenia, and she still has a love of music, dancing and singing. She also speaks three languages (English, Armenian and Russian). Naira is the mother of two grown children and brings experience and energy to her work. She does love to travel, but when home is happiest when shopping and is fond of anything to do with fashion.

Judy Penrose
Assistant Director, Board of Directors

Ms. Penrose has been in the early childhood education field since 2000. She has a B.A. in Human Development and an M.A. in Early Childhood Education from Pacific Oaks College. She also holds a Program Director’s Permit from the Commission of Teacher Credentialing. Her educational background, as well as years of experience, made her the perfect candidate to become Assistant Director at TSONS when that vacancy was created in the summer of 2015. She is the busy mother of two children and relishes the time she gets to spend with her family. In addition, Judy likes to travel, go to the movies, and follow all that is happening in the field of fashion.

April Schulte
Office Manager/Admission Coordinator

It’s hard to imagine TSONS without April at the front desk. In 2001, after earning her B.A. in Sociology and a Certificate in Woman’s Studies from Colorado State University, she made her way to California and to TSONS. Over the past fifteen years, she has learned all aspects of the TSONS office and, although her work is quite comprehensive and encompasses more than they imply, she is probably best described as Office Manager and Admissions Coordinator. She is the point person both for initial inquiries about TSONS, as well as for current families who have questions about any part of the school program. She is the busy mother of two girls who are both TSONS alumnae. Her family loves camping, hiking, and going to the beach. She also enjoys those rare and special moments of quiet when she gets a chance to sit and read.

Lois Shepes
Teacher

Mrs. Shepes has been a part of the nursery school for over thirty years. She enrolled her son in the program in 1979 when the school was located on the premises of The Sherman Oaks Presbyterian Church, its original site. After encouraging her to take the required early childhood education classes, the school was thrilled to have her join the staff in 1980. It has been a long and happy relationship. Her expertise is with the very young nursery school age child and her enthusiasm for each and every class remains high. Lois has incredible patience and a soft, but firm way that allows children to know what is expected of them and makes them want to do it. When not teaching, she likes to read, take walks at the beach, and travel to exotic places with her husband.

Penny Tennison
Teacher

Mrs. Tennison has over thirty-eight years of early childhood teaching and administrative experience in a wide variety of capacities. After receiving her B.A. in Child Development, she became a Kindergarten teacher, owned a Home Day Care, and then was Preschool Director at another school. With her wealth of experience and calm, playful spirit, TSONS was beyond thrilled when she agreed to join the teaching staff in 2002. She especially enjoys teaching the Pre-K age child. You will often see her engaged in wild storytelling with her morning class. Penny developed TSONS’s outstanding DK program and brings her wonderful energy and enthusiasm to those classes in the afternoon. When she’s not working or busy with her two sons, she likes to be at the gym. Although she seems to have a quiet nature, she is truly adventurous and has even attempted jumping out of an airplane, repelling off of a tall building, and riding a motorcycle.

Deirdre Walsh
Teacher

Deirdre always loved being around children and found lots of ways to do so while growing up (baby sitter, camp counselor, and youth director at the YMCA). She was born in Minnesota and got her B.A. in Speech from Northwestern University in Chicago. Then she lived and worked in Ireland for two and a half years working with college students. After that she moved to Los Angeles to work for Disney, but she began to realize that it wasn’t her true calling. She came to TSONS with her children and discovered where she really belonged. She got her Early Childhood Certificate from UCLA, and TSONS was beyond thrilled to have her join the staff in 2015. Mrs. Walsh is a wonderful addition to the Parent & Me program. This busy mother of three TSONS alumni has found a way to balance her love of family with her love of teaching. She brings creativity, enthusiasm and resourcefulness to the classroom and still finds the energy for family travel, games and plenty of trips to Disneyland.

Pam Windette
Teacher

Mrs. Windette holds several specialized skill certificates from L.A. Valley College in the field of Child Development. These include certificates in Preschool Literacy; Preschool Special Education; Preschool Associate Teacher; as well as Infant/Toddler Care Teacher. After getting to know Pam as a parent at the school with her daughter, TSONS couldn’t wait to ask her to join the staff, which she did in 2003. She is warm and friendly and has an easy way with children, especially the first year nursery school age group. She loves to tell stories, sing, dance, and be silly, much to the delight of her students. In her free time, she especially likes to go to concerts and plays. For years, Pam has been a regular weekly volunteer at a local elementary school. She brings her talents, and many voices, to the stories she enjoys sharing with two lucky first-grade classrooms.