School Board Members

Board Chair

Valerie Blanco has invested in her education throughout her life by earning an associate’s degree in Law Enforcement Studies from Minneapolis Community and Technical College, a bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies from the University of Minnesota, and a master’s degree in Organizational Leadership from Saint Mary’s University. Valerie worked in a leadership capacity at UPS for 14 years. She specialized in asset protection holding the following positions: specialist, supervisor, manager, and ultimately a director.

Valerie has a personal and professional passion that has led her to the Modern Montessori Charter School founding board. She is excited about the Montessori approach for her children personally. From a professional standpoint, Valerie believes that her leadership skills balanced with her professional experience make this opportunity one where she can truly pursue the purpose of the organization with passion because it aligns with her beliefs and values.

Board Secretary

Craig Smith comes to Modern Montessori with a varied background ranging from teaching and technology to environmental education and international development. This varied experience has shaped Craig’s thinking and dedication to innovative and experiential education. Craig earned a B.S. in Biology from the University of Minnesota. After College Craig was a U.S. Peace Corps Natural Resources Management volunteer in Uganda for two and a half years. These experiences really solidified Craig’s connection to education, extension and service. After returning home, he earned a technology certificate from Brown College and worked in various roles at area charter schools including environmental education, science teacher, student advisor and IT manager among other roles.

Currently Craig is a technology consultant and is working with the Center for Global Environmental Education at Hamline University.  Along with the dedicated and innovative group of co-founders, Craig will use all of his experience and passion for education to help Modern Montessori with the development and implementation of a unique high-quality program.

Board member

John Sedey has been a teacher, school and district administrator and educational consultant. Since retiring from public school administration, he works consulting an intermediate school district, a community college, three alternative schools and four charter schools. He has been involved in advocacy for strong charter schools since 1991. He is the executive director of an education non-profit. John has provided leadership to career and technical education, guidance and social services, assessment and testing, student data systems, alternative education, state and federal program administration, education-business partnerships, and environmental education. He has been a senior developer for one of the eleven New American Schools Development grants. In his advocacy for college and career readiness, he has consulted to federal and state departments of education.

John holds a bachelor’s degree in History and Business, a master’s degree in Education Administration, and has done additional graduate work, including that as a Bush Public School Executive Fellow. He currently works as a Lead Evaluator for AdvancED, a non-profit corporation that accredits more than 32,000 elementary and secondary schools nationally and internationally.

Board member

Heidi Pearson received her bachelor’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. Heidi has always had a passion for working with children. She has worked with children in a variety of capacities including a camp counselor, AmeriCorps youth leader and school mentor. She worked at a charter school for multiple years and also served on their board of directors. Heidi is a parent of two small children and starting to plan for the best education for them. When her children enter school age, she will happily send them to Modern Montessori. She loves the Montessori philosophy of letting the child take the lead in learning at their own pace.

Board Treasurer

Laura Gaustad achieved her associate’s degree in Early Childhood Development at Hennepin Technical College, with the intent to open a licensed in-home childcare program. She has successfully run her business for eight years. Laura implements Montessori and Waldorf principles within her classroom. She also enjoys having a close relationship with the children and their families, due to low teacher-child ratios. Currently, Laura is attending the online program through Grand Canyon University to achieve a bachelor’s degree in Elementary and Special Education, which will lead to teacher licensure. This is in addition to running her in-home childcare business. Laura’s goal is to enroll in a master’s degree program for Montessori Certification after achieving her bachelor’s degree in teaching.

Before Laura’s own child became kindergarten age, she did a lot of research on all the different school options available. In the Champlin area, she found she was very limited to the number of choices because she needed to rely on bus transportation. Laura knew Modern Montessori was the perfect school for her and her children. The Montessori method allows children to excel at their own pace, pursue their own interests in learning, and provides hands-on activities.

Board member

Shawna Egan Heller brings a variety of skills and experience to Modern Montessori. She has a large breadth of knowledge in event planning, project management and operations ranging from the corporate to non-profit sectors. Shawna also spent a year in rural Peru volunteering to help Andean artisanal weavers gain access to market and earn financial independence. Shawna’s experiences seamlessly integrate to give her a unique ability to see both the big picture and understand the minute details. This makes Shawna an asset when it comes to strategy, process improvement and streamlining operations.

Shawna started her education at a Montessori preschool and went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in Marketing Communications from the University of Wisconsin – River Falls. She credits much of her creativity and critical thinking to the introduction of Montessori methods at an early age. Her personal connection to the Montessori Method is what drew her to invest her time and skills into Modern Montessori. 

Board member

Faith Kappel received her bachelor's degree in Youth Development Studies from North Central University. She began her career in child care and education as an Assistant Teacher at a Montessori learning center serving preschool to early elementary aged students. After spending time in the Children's House classroom, she grew to love the organized freedom and self-regulation that Montessori education allowed. This  experience led Faith to pursue her teaching certificate in Early Childhood Montessori Education through the North American Montessori Center and becoming a lead Instructor  in the 2-3.5 year old classroom.

After a relocation for her family, Faith took some time away from Montessori and had the opportunity to work in the public school system as a special needs assistant with a K-5 school aged program then onto an Assistant Supervisor position in a Pre-k program. These positions gave her an opportunity to learn how to adapt all learning and play activities to fit all levels and abilities. However, Faith’s passion for Montessori education has led her to join the Modern Montessori School Board. She believes that a charter school that will make Montessori learning accessible to all students is very exciting and needed in this community.