Meet our Staff

Karen Cusanelli – Director of School

Karen Cusanelli joined the staff of GBMS in 2005. She holds a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education with a specialization in Montessori Education from Loyola University, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Child Psychology from Utica College of Syracuse University. She has Montessori Teaching Diplomas for both the Birth-3yr. and 3-6yr. levels. All three of her children graduated from GBMS. In her spare time, Karen enjoys spending time with her family and friends, exercising, and volunteering on behalf of an orphanage in Kenya.


Cindy Burnim – Co-Founder of Great Beginnings Montessori School

Cindy co-founded GBMS with Marcia Clark in 1996. She has recently retired after 21 years of teaching and directing the school. She remains as a consultant to the school. Cindy received her BA in history in 1968 and MS in Special Education in 1972. Her Montessori training took place in London, England, 1991 at the Maria Montessori Institute. Cindy has three grown children and 4 grandchildren. She loves swimming, hiking, sewing and reading. Cindy and her husband Peter live in Fairfield, CT and enjoy traveling and spending time with family.


Kate Croarkin – Business Affairs

Kate received her Bachelor’s from UCONN at Storrs and completed her clinical nutrition internship at UMDNJ. Prior to GBMS, she worked in hospitals as a nutritionist in pediatrics, cardiology and diabetes care. Kate has been with GBMS since 2004 and is proud to call herself a GBMS alum parent. In her free time, she enjoys the theatre, the outdoors, cooking and spending time with her daughter and family.


Dana Kane – Admissions, Parent Communications and Marketing

Dana graduated from College of the Holy Cross and worked in Marketing and Event Planning until she had her first child in 2010. She has been working at GBMS since 2015. Dana is a parent of two GBMS alum and was a Montessori child herself! In her free time, Dana enjoys photography, cooking and spending time with her family.


Diana Cadan – Assistant Teacher, Toddler Community/Spanish Teacher

Diana was born in Medellin, Colombia and is the youngest of 10 brothers and sisters. She moved to the United States in 1999, and taught Spanish to children between the ages of 2 and 5 as a private tutor and found that she loved working with children. Diana joined GBMS in 2016 as our Spanish teacher and started in the Toddler classroom in 2017. In her free time, she likes to be outdoors with her family.


Lori Quell – Primary Lead Teacher, Plum Class, Primary Curriculum Coordinator

Lori is a graduate of Syracuse University and also holds a degree from The Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, Los Angeles. She earned her Montessori credential from The Center for Montessori Teacher Education, New York (CMTE/NY). Lori has been a primary teacher at Great Beginnings since 2005. She also works as a children’s yoga teacher. Lori enjoys her work as a teacher trainer with CMTE/NY where she helps train future Montessori teachers. She lives with her husband and three dogs and enjoys time spent with her three grown children.


Deanie Eckert-Medve – Primary Assistant Teacher, Plum Class

Deanie grew up in Fairfield, Connecticut and attended the University of Bridgeport.  She worked for 18 years at TWA as a Staff Analyst.  After retiring, she joined Great Beginnings Montessori School.  Deanie has been at GBMS since 1999 and in the Plum Class since 2008.  She is married with one daughter and enjoys traveling, gardening, and the beaches of Rhode Island.


Jim Idiart-Primary Assistant Teacher Plum Class

Jim graduated from Fordham University with a degree in Communications and Media Studies, and worked in television production at NBC Universal prior to becoming a stay-at-home dad. He was an active parent while his daughters were students at GBMS and later joined the staff as a recess monitor and substitute teacher. This year he is excited to be taking on the role of assistant teacher in the Plum Class. Jim enjoys photography and is a passionate Mets fan.


Annie Isler – Primary Assistant Teacher, Blueberry Class/Lead Teacher, Afternoon Apples

Annie is a Graduate of Marymount College/Fordham University with a BS in International Business. She worked in Corporate America for 9 years (mostly in Manhattan) before she left to start a family. She is a former GBMS Parent and has worked at the school since 2004. In her free time, she loves crafting, reading, and sightseeing.


Sarah Marinelli – Lead Teacher, Blueberry Class

Sarah is a graduate of University of Missouri and holds a Master’s degree from Peabody Institute of Music in Baltimore. Sarah earned her Montessori credential from New England Montessori Teacher Education Center. Sarah has 28 years of Montessori experience. She has worked both as a Primary and Music Teacher, as well as Site and Education Director. Most of her tenure has been with Alcott School in Dobbs Ferry, NY and The Whitby School in Greenwich. She enjoys gardening, yoga, and hiking with her husband and dog.


Theresa Fernandez – Primary Lead Teacher, Mango Class

Theresa Fernandez has been with the school since it opened in 1996. She was first introduced to Montessori in Zimbabwe and quickly fell in love with the philosophy. Her friend had 3 year old twins who were attending a Montessori program designed by two women who converted their garage into a “prepared environment”. Theresa is AMS certified and worked as a Montessori Teacher in California before she started at GBMS. She enjoys cooking and traveling.


Wayni Polanco – Primary Assistant Teacher, Mango Class

Wayni has been with Great Beginnings since 2009. She had worked as a preschool teacher and nanny prior to joining the Primary Program at GBMS. Wayni received her Early Childhood Development Associate Certification at HCC. She believes children’s education is vital in life, and loves to watch children grow and explore in the classroom. In her free time, she likes to read and spend time with family.


Karen Taylor – Lead Teacher, Elementary Program

Prior to joining the Great Beginnings community, Karen worked for eighteen years as an Elementary teacher at the Whitby School in Greenwich, CT, where her two daughters were enrolled. At GBMS she continued her passion for teaching at the elementary level since 2012. Karen holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing from Fairfield University, a Master of Arts in Teaching from Sacred Heart University, and her Montessori Elementary teaching certification from CMTE/NY. During her leisure time, Karen enjoys being outdoors, and traveling to tropical islands with her husband and daughters.


Paromita Dutt – Assistant Teacher, Elementary Program

Paromita joined GBMS in 2017. She brings over 10 years of Montessori experience working in schools located in Poughkeepsie, Greenwich and Newtown. She has worked as an assistant in a Lower Elementary class, Head Teacher in Primary classes, Director of Admissions, Parent Relations and Parent Education. She holds a Bachelor’s of Commerce and Computer Science. She also has her Montessori training from Montessori Centre International in London and is passionate about the philosophy. Paromita has two children and loves to travel, workout and cook.


Cynthia Venditti

Cynthia Venditti has been with GBMS since 2006. She serves as our hallway and playground monitor. She also creates beautiful Montessori materials for all of our staff. When she is not working with children, Cynthia enjoys crafting and spending time with her family.


Jackie Sliva – Teacher Assistant

Jackie was born and raised in Connecticut and is the oldest of five children. She grew up working with children as a babysitter, camp counselor and CCD teacher. She attended Central Connecticut State University pursuing a degree in graphic design and then received the opportunity to nanny in Paris, France and chose to be a career nanny ever since! She continued her education by taking early childhood education classes at Housatonic community college.
Jackie started at GBMS as a playground monitor while a child she was nannying attended GBMS in 2016 and then completed her Montessori teacher assistant training in 2019.  In her spare time she loves reading, cooking, practicing yoga and spending time with her family