School Administrators

Ashley Sobel

Executive Director

Ashley joined the Olive Treehouse Group in 2014, after spending seven years working as the Director of River School, a large private nursery school on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. She holds her Bachelor’s degree from New York University and a Masters degree in Early Childhood Education from Teachers College at Columbia University, as well as her New York State Teaching License for Birth-2nd Grade. Ashley believes early childhood learning is the cornerstone of education, where children should be immersed in opportunities for hands-on experiential learning, given the chance to inquire, explore and make unique observations about the world around them. Ashley lives in Brooklyn with her wife and three children, ages 10, 5 and 3 years old!

Deborah Capone

Founder

Deborah is a local Brooklyn mom of three children. Motivated by the lack of quality options available to her as she tried to find a preschool for her own children when they were young, Deborah created the concept for Parker’s Place. She previously worked as a manager and creative specialist at a boutique Business Management and Consulting firm in Manhattan. Deborah holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from Northeastern University and an Associates Degree in Advertising Design from the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Ryan Shaps

Operations Manager

Ryan has worked with children since his teenage years as camp counselor, traveling teen tour advisor, part time nanny as well as arts and crafts instructor. He facilitated the opening of a successful play space in New York City, and following that worked as an Assistant and then Head Teacher at the Olive Treehouse Group schools for 7 years. Ryan passionately believes in “The Whole Child Approach” and learning through play. He encourages creating a classroom environment where each student is engaged, supported and challenged. Ryan received his Bachelors Degree in Graphic Design at Lynn University. He is eager to put to use his multi-dimensional background in a more administrative role with the Olive Treehouse Group, after many wonderful years working as a teacher.

Katie Portelli

Assistant Director

Katie was born and raised here in Brooklyn and lives in Sunset Park with her husband and two children, ages 7 and 9. She holds a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education and a BA in Sociology from Manhattanville College. For as long as she can remember Katie has been drawn to working with children of all ages. Her love for teaching came about quite naturally after her own children were born and she developed and ran a licensed family daycare program in her home. In addition to that she has worked as an Americorps volunteer, a manager of a group home for at-risk youth in San Francisco, an assistant in a New York City public school, and as a nanny for families in New York City and Westchester. Katie believes in allowing children to learn through play and exploration and brings her passion for healthy living, cultural sensitivity, and environmental awareness into the classroom.

Eileen Blau

Educational Consultant

Eileen Blau has been in the field of early childhood/special education for over 35 years. She has taught in a variety of settings; working with toddlers in foster care, teaching pre-k and working with young adults with developmental disabilities. Although she's worked with the Olive Treehouse Group over the past five years as a SEIT (special education itinerant teacher), this is her first year as Educational Consultant for the schools. When she's not in the classroom, you can find her creating original materials to use with her students - books, games, puppets and props for stories. She's delighted to be working closely with the classroom teachers and children and to be a part of this exceptional group of schools.

Parker’s Place Teachers

Jennifer Berton

Head Teacher

Jennifer believes that learning is a lifelong pursuit. After teaching elementary and early childhood Jewish education for seventeen years, she spent the last year at a Reggio Emilia inspired school, incorporating open ended materials into children’s play and allowing the students’ questions to drive the learning process. As a child, Jennifer played in the mud, climbed trees and explored outside. She believes children need to spend time outdoors freely exploring. In the classroom, Jennifer enjoys playing the guitar and singing on a daily basis, incorporating songs in multiple languages, as well as some of the folk songs that she grew up with. With a Master’s Degree in Childhood Education, Jennifer has worked with children from twos through third grade.

Peter Friedman

Head Teacher

A native New Yorker, Peter graduated from CUNY Hunter in 2011 with an interdisciplinary BA in comparative religion and psychology, and then from the University of New Orleans in 2014 with an MFA in poetry. Before joining the Parker’s Place team, he worked for three years as head teacher for 2s/3s at a community center in Tribeca. He is currently wrapping up his Masters degree in Early Childhood and Special Education at Touro College. He believes learning happens best through loving, trusting relationships in a sensory-rich environment that encourages inquiry and expression. In the classroom, he loves to play his guitar, read books, and find the strange in the ordinary. He lives in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where he writes poems, tries to sing Kate Bush songs, and cooks.

Sally Wall

Assistant Teacher

With degrees in psychology and music performance, Sally relocated to the New York area over ten years ago to complete a Doctorate in Music Performance at Stony Brook University. For almost as long, she has been teaching music courses, and more recently yoga, within higher education. In addition to structured classroom teaching, she has been an outdoor camp counselor for ages 5 & 6, provided after school care, taught kids yoga, kung­fu classes & private music lessons. From this varied experience, Sally has learned the importance of sharing lessons with children about community, creativity, and self­awareness. After working part­-time with The Olive Treehouse Group, she is eager to continue full-­time as a Teacher’s Assistant at Parker’s Place. With the kids, she especially loves to build, make up stories, read stories and RUN with them at the playground. She feels inspired by their open curiosity and feels lucky to help them grow as individuals within their fledgling community.

Becca Griffing

Assistant Teacher & Theatre Teacher

Becca is a transplant to New York from Massachusetts. She attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and graduated with a dual Bachelors Degree in Theatre Arts and English Literature. For five years she worked as a camp counselor in Maine, where she directed six children's theater productions, as well as teaching electives based in improv technique. Becca brings her theatrical background and creative thinking skills to her teaching practice, which has served her and the children very well the last few years at Rory's Room. Becca joined the team at Parker's Place in 2018, where she continues to apply her love of learning, self-expression, and creativity in the Pandas class.

Gina Runfola

Assistant Teacher

Gina began her teaching career as a substitute and assistant teacher in a private PreK - 8 school in New Jersey. She spent 4 years there, also teaching Music to grades PreK – 2nd and Music Appreciation to grades 3 - 8. Gina has also tutored children of all ages in reading, writing and literacy, has helped host events at Bank Street School with Bank Street Bookstore, and mostly recently spent four years as Head of Children’s Books and Events, and "Storytime Lady", at a Barnes and Noble. Some of Gina’s favorite children’s books include: Miss Rumphius, Inch By Inch, The Book With No Pictures and Good Dog, Carl. Gina studied literature at NYU and plans to continue studying education and literacy. She believes in listening to children carefully, in order to help them learn to speak in their own unique voices.

Stacy Leinfuss

Assistant Teacher / Floater

Stacy holds a BA in Psychology and Women’s & Gender Studies from Muhlenberg College, and hopes to one day attend graduate school for her MA in ECE. Stacy began her teaching career as an assistant kindergarten teacher in New Jersey — where she grew up — until she decided to move to beautiful Williamsburg! Stacy spent her first year in Brooklyn working at a charter school in Bed-Stuy, as the founding elementary art teacher. There, she created a curriculum surrounding expression, creativity, and social justice, as well as put together two community-based art shows! Stacy spent this past year working as a lead pre-k teacher at a private school on the Upper East Side. Stacy believes that emotional intelligence is the most important thing you can teach your child at this age; she is a huge proponent of children regularly expressing their feelings, as well as identifying the connection between their internal and external experiences. Stacy loves to write, make art, and play with her two kittens, Olive and Smalls!

Emily Szpunt

Assistant Teacher / Floater

Emily is a Brooklyn native who holds her Bachelor's degree in English from SUNY New Paltz. During high school she had her start at the Working Parents Alliance- New Adventure Day Camp / After School as an Assistant Counselor and quickly worked her way up to Head Counselor. It was during that time that her interest in working with children grew. She enjoyed playing with the children and watching them grow, observing their developmental leaps. Emily also took a special interest in art explorations and building, helping children explore how to use different materials and mediums. After six years with the organization, Emily joined the Olive Treehouse Group in 2016, and has applied her experience in camp to the preschool setting.

Rory’s Room Teachers

Amanda White

Head Teacher

Amanda got her start as the resident babysitter on the close knit Brooklyn block she grew up on, a job she was drawn to because of her nurturing and playful nature, which inspired her passion for working with children. Since then she has had experience working in after school programs and summer camps where she served as an inclusion counselor for children with autism spectrum disorders helping them to communicate and play with their peers, as well assistant and student teaching in various school settings. She holds a Bachelors degree in Children and Youth Studies along with a minor in Early Childhood Education. Her diverse experiences have helped her in trying to provide the best possible care for all her students, and she's always eager to learn more about making learning fun, fulfilling, and individualized. She loves to help children play, develop and express themselves most especially through dramatic play, story telling, and music. Amanda has never encountered a situation she couldn't find (or make up) an appropriate song for!

Greta Feit

Head Teacher

As a native New Yorker, Greta understands the beauty and wonderment of having this city be the place that raises you. She stayed true to her New York roots, by attending Hunter College for her undergraduate degree, where she studied Studio Art and Dance. Greta is currently completing her Masters in Early Childhood Education from Hunter College. Greta has been working with young children for over a decade. Whether babysitting, teaching children’s yoga classes, or working in the classroom, she has always been fascinated by the different ways children learn and interact with their peers. She believes that children’s curiosity should guide their learning, as any curriculum becomes more meaningful and relevant when young people have a say in what they learn about. She has found that being patient and playful with children is key to having them establish a love of learning and a deeper understanding of the world around them.

Belynda Jones

Assistant Teacher

Born and raised in Queens, Belynda’s love for children began at an early age, always enjoying the opportunity to babysit for her young niece and nephew. She holds a BFA from Brooklyn College in Creative Writing, as well as an MFA from Long Island University in poetry. After finishing grad school, she began working at A Playdate Everyday, as an after school teacher with pre-k students in Park Slope. This experience led her to develop a keen ability to communicate well with children and parents alike. As an educator, she loves being able to provide a warm and nurturing environment for young children. She truly enjoys watching the imaginations of children come to life, and viewing the world through their eyes. Other passions she holds dear, include being a mom to a beautiful boy, music, reading, and writing poetry. With New York City as a backdrop, she believes it’s easy to fall in love with new opportunities and experiences each day.

Jen Lutton

Assistant Teacher

Jen received her bachelors degree in Elementary Education from Skidmore College and has been passionate about working with children from a young age. Jen has gained experience through years of babysitting, being an assistant preschool teacher, and an elementary school teacher. Through her various positions, she has gained a deep appreciation for dedicated teachers and engaging activities that help students explore and develop their own love of learning. She has found that knowing her students and basing the learning around their interests is a strong catalyst for deep, long-lasting understanding. Jen is excited to be working with younger students again, as the curiosity and development at this age has always fascinated her.

Donna Messina

Assistant Teacher / Floater

Donna is an accomplished educator, working for over twenty years in the Department of Education with children ranging from Pre-K to High School. She holds a Masters in Elementary Education and Minor in Psychology. Donna believes the key to success in the classroom is communication! She prides herself on the ability to reach all children, regardless of age and ability, through personal connections and meaningful communication. Donna is a life-long Brooklynite and is a married, mother of two. She is thrilled to be joining the team at Rory’s Room!

Susan Vantuyn

Assistant Teacher / Floater

Susan is a lifelong, proud Brooklynite. She worked for the NYC Department of Education as a substitute teacher for over 15 years in Early Childhood and Special Education. Susan began her career has an educator in her early teens through babysitting and working as a camp counselor. Most recently outside of the classroom, Susan coaches softball to 2nd through 8th graders. Susan's most proud accomplishment is raising 3 children of her own. She is a dedicated, nurturing and gentle person who adores children, and believes in allowing each child to be themselves. Susan is very excited to join the Rory's Room team!

Hudson's House Teachers

Sam Bruckner

Head Teacher

Sam graduated from Brooklyn College with a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education. Sam has worked as an early childhood educator since 2012. Project based inquiry is the cornerstone of Sam's work with his students. He enjoys the process of making discoveries with the children, and witnessing the moments that they make connections between ideas. Sam loves working with children to create amazing structures through the use of blocks and other building materials, creating artwork, and reading literature and building stories with children. He shares his sense of humor with children, and is delighted as his students begin develop their own.

Ashley Tamaroff

Head Teacher, Educational Coordinator

Ashley lived in Michigan before moving to New York in Fall of 2013. She graduated from Eastern Michigan University with her Elementary Teaching degree. Ashley is also currently completing her Masters Degree from Hunter College in Early Childhood Education. Her experience includes working as a preschool teacher, instructional assistant and occupational therapist, and tutoring children of various ages, and working after care with ages five to thirteen. She feels that every child learns in a different way and each child’s individuality thrives through the arts. Ashley has always had a love of working with kids specifically through the arts and creative studies. It is important for children to learn to advocate for themselves, become individuals, and learn to make good choices. She thinks it is amazing to watch children make connections about the world around them and believes it is of the utmost importance that their teachers provide a warm and supporting environment to do so.

Jenesa Cabrera

Assistant Teacher

Jenesa joined the Olive Treehouse group in 2018. She grew up in Massachusetts, where she started babysitting at a young age for friends and family. In high school Jenesa started working at a local daycare, which motivated her to pursue a career working with young children. She then worked two private preschools, in addition to Bright Horizons. Jenesa moved to Carroll Gardens in 2014 to be a full time live-in nanny. She believes in a learning environment that fosters strong cognitive development, where children are provided the opportunity to think, understand, and process the world around them. Jenesa loves to read with the children, understanding that reading not only expands a child’s worldview, but also their sense of empathy within a global community.

Kate Rakowski

Assistant Teacher & Theatre Teacher

Kate graduated from Northeastern University with a BA in Theatre Performance. She has five years of classroom experience working with two to five year olds at TEAM Early Education, a preschool program in CT. Kate has also performed children’s theatre with CT Free Shakespeare and taught classes in Improv and Movement with Creative Art Ink. She is a firm believer in early arts education and loves bringing her passion for performing and imaginative play to the classroom.

Daisy Amigon

Assistant Teacher / Floater

Daisy is a Brooklyn native who always aspired to become a teacher. She is currently enrolled at Brooklyn College and is pursuing her Bachelors Degree in Early Childhood Education with a concentratrion in English. One of her passions, which lead her to the field, is reading books to young children. She even aspires to write her own children's book someday! Daisy has previously worked with at risk preschool children living within the shelter system. It was here that she realized of the power of a positive early childhood educator in a young person's life. Daisy considers herself a student just like the children, and she believes that there can always be an exchange of ideas and learning styles. Daisy loves to learn and hopes to inspire the same in the children she teaches!

Brian Shabaglian

Assistant Teacher / Floater

Originally from California, Brian relocated to New York over a decade ago to pursue his interests in art. His beginnings as a teacher came about organically when assisting a friend with a summer camp program in Brooklyn. He subsequently joined The Olive Treehouse Group as a substitute and later became assistant teacher at Rory’s Room. His dynamic approach to early childhood education is focused on experiential learning through self-guided creative play in individuated and group settings. Brian has been with the Olive Treehouse Group since 2011.

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