Board of Trustees

Regular board meetings are held the first Thursday of each month on alternating months. Meetings will be held at school at 5:30 pm, unless otherwise noted (*).  The public is welcome to join us.

2023-24 Board Meeting Dates
Agendas | Minutes | Finance Committee | Master Planning Committee

  • September 7
  • November 2
  • January 4
  • March 7
  • May 2

Current Board Members

  • Michael Van Leesten (President), Director of Organization Development and Stakeholder Engagement at Social Venture Partners
  • Alayna Stone (Vice President), Assistant Attorney General, State of Connecticut
  • Carolyn Havrda (Secretary), UCONN Neag PK-3 Leadership Program
  • Amatoga Jérémie, Gallup Consultant
  • Susan Clark, ECMS Guide
  • Jose Cuapio, Local Business Owner, ECMS Parent
  • Keith Krolak, Architect, ECMS Parent
  • Diane Ariza, Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at SCSU
  • Richard Furlow, Ward 27 Alder

Michael Van Leesten, ECMS Board President is the Director of Organization Development and Stakeholder Engagement at Social Venture Partners. Born and raised in Providence, Rhode Island, Michael graduated from Dartmouth College with degrees in English and Economics, and received an MBA from Columbia University. Having worked as a Vice President at Goldman Sachs & Co and CFO of the Construction Division of Travelers Insurance Co, Michael changed careers after acquiring his teaching certification in mathematics in 2005. Michael began his teaching career at the Foote School in New Haven before joining Hopkins School in 2007.  In addition to his teaching responsibilities, Michael was the Director of Pathfinder Hopkins School (2007-2018), an academic enrichment program providing comprehensive academic skills development and high school placement counseling to academically talented middle school students from New Haven and Bridgeport public and parochial schools.  He also served as the Director of Advancement for the program (2018-20). Prior board memberships include the Amistad Academy, Community Action Agency of New Haven, Foote School, Clifford Beers Guidance Clinic, Inc, and Squash Haven. Michael currently serves as the Director of Organization Development and Stakeholder Engagement at Social Venture Partners.

Alayna Stone, ECMS Board Vice President, is an Assistant Attorney General at the Connecticut Attorney General’s Office.  Prior to joining the Attorney General’s Office, Alayna clerked for four years in the Connecticut Superior, Appellate and Supreme Courts.  Prior to beginning her career as an attorney, Alayna spent two years working as the Youth Development Coordinator at Leadership, Education, and Athletics in Partnership (LEAP), a youth development non-profit organization in New Haven, CT.  She spent her first year at LEAP as a Public Ally.  Alayna has always maintained an active interest in children and youth.  She focused on developmental psychology in college and participated in two clinics during law school: Street Law where she taught high school students and the Juvenile Justice Clinic where she represented young people in D.C. courts.  Alayna has a B.A in Psychology from Yale University, a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center and a Master’s of Public Policy from the Georgetown Public Policy Institute (now McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University).

Carolyn Havrda, ECMS Board Secretary, is an inspirational educational leader that has dedicated 35 years to public education in Hartford.  She began her career as a PreK and Grade 1 & 3 teacher. After she earned her Association Montessori Internationale diploma, Carolyn taught Montessori at the primary and lower elementary levels with Hartford Public Schools and CREC.  Additionally, Ms. Havrda has supported Montessori classrooms as a literacy specialist, coach and Principal.  Carolyn enjoys staying abreast with current educational research and trends.  She recently became a fellow of the UCONN Neag PK-3 Leadership Program, earned her TESOL credentials and completed LETRs training for Early Childhood.  Through her continued learning and each of her experiences, Carolyn brings a thoughtful means to empower those in her community.  Ms. Havrda  recently retired from Hartford Public Schools and is enjoying cooking and gardening with her husband John, while she informally consults with the Hartford Montessori schools and various after school programs.

Amatoga Jérémie is a bilingual learning and development consultant at Gallup. She leverages her knowledge of the Spanish language to expand the CliftonStrengths movement to workplace environments in Latin America. Her mission is to help her clients achieve awareness of their natural talents so they can make a greater impact in their role, on their team, for their organization, and in their communities. Amatoga is a thought partner to her clients. Through course delivery, strengths-based coaching and consulting, she challenges her clients to see the employee — their unique way of making things happen, building relationships, making decisions and advocacy — as the solution to their business problems.      

Susan Clark is a Lower Elementary Guide at Elm City Montessori School. She is an AMI trained Elementary guide with 18 years of classroom experience. She has worked as a consultant at several area Montessori schools and is a Course Assistant for the Montessori Training Center Northeast. Susan is currently working towards her Masters of Education with a Montessori Concentration at the University of Hartford. Helping to grow the Elementary program at Elm City Montessori right now feels just right.

Jose Cuapio is a small business owner and ECMS parent. Jose owns a local fish market in Fair Haven and a full-service flooring business in Guilford. He is a devoted father and active member of the ECMS community, serving on the ECMS Parent-Teacher Organization, the School Planning and Management Team and the Anti-Bias, Anti-Racism Committee. Jose attended Jackie Robinson Middle School and Metropolitan Business Academy in New Haven. He graduated from the University of New Haven with a B.S. in Business Administration.

Keith Krolak has more than 28 years of experience leading the design of significant works of architecture internationally. His extensive portfolio spans a broad range of building types including large-scale mixed-use and corporate office towers, luxury hotels, world-class performing arts centers and art museums. Prior to joining Pickard Chilton, Mr. Krolak was a co-founder and Principal of Studio ABK Architects in New Haven, Connecticut, where he led design for a range of corporate, commercial, institutional and residential projects. Previously during a 16-year career with Cesar Pelli & Associates, he was a Senior Associate and Design Team Leader and collaborated on the design of numerous award-winning projects. Conversant in Japanese, Mr. Krolak has been a contributing writer for a variety of Japanese architectural publications. He has been a guest lecturer and guest design critic at the Yale School of Architecture and the Yale School of Drama and has taught at the School of Architecture at the University of Illinois. Mr. Krolak received a Bachelor of Fine Arts and Master of Architecture from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Mr. Krolak received his second Master’s degree at the Tokyo Institute of Technology under the tutelage of Kazuo Shinohara after which he worked in the office of Itsuko Hasegawa Atelier.

Dr. Diane Ariza has over twenty-five years of administrative and leadership experience, recruitment and enrollment management, teaching, and institutional planning in reinforcing the values of academic excellence, equity, inclusion, belonging, and multicultural and global diversity in higher education. She holds a doctorate of philosophy in Sociology from Western Michigan University (WMU) with a concentration in ethnic and race relations, as well as a master of arts in Anthropology from WMU. Her bachelor’s degree is in history and Spanish from Stetson University, Florida. 

Currently, Dr. Ariza is the inaugural Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Southern Connecticut State University and teaches in the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Program. More recently, she served as the Inaugural Vice President for Community and Belonging at Nazareth College, Rochester N.Y. Prior to her work at Naz, she was AVP in Academic Affairs and Inaugural Chief Diversity Officer at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, CT. In all three positions, she serves as the university’s executive level diversity, inclusion, and belonging strategist.   She also has extensive experience teaching in ethnic studies, immigration, and youth identity. She has published on Black and Latino student experience on a predominantly white campus as well as on the Caribbean Youth Diaspora in Florida and second generation Latinx communities and challenges they face in education, identity, and adaptation. Her current research focuses on growing and assessing internationalization and multicultural cultural efforts in higher education. Other research and teaching interests include comparative global studies in immigration, Caribbean migration identity, health disparities, and race and ethnic relations, to name a few.

Richard Furlow — Coming Soon!


Founding Board Members

  • David Low, Teacher, Sound School
  • Eliza Halsey, Executive Director, Elm City Montessori School
  • Erik Clemons, CEO, ConnCAT
  • Joan Bosson-Heenan, Program Director, Yale Center for Genes, Reading and Dyslexia
  • John Freeman, Former Principal, Annie Fisher Montessori Magnet School, Hartford
  • Kenna Barrett, Kenna Barrett Consulting
  • Kia Levey, Project Director, MOMS Partnership
  • Mira Debs, Executive Director, Education Studies Program, Yale University
  • Priscilla Coker Palmer, President, AMI-US Foundation

David Low, Teacher, Sound School
See bio above.

Eliza Halsey, Executive Director, Elm City Montessori School
Eliza Halsey is the Executive Director of ECMS. Prior to joining the ECMS team, she was the New Haven Director of All Our Kin, a nonprofit that trains, supports and sustains community child care providers. Until April 2013, Eliza was the Director of Quality Assurance and Evaluation for Public Allies, a national leadership development organization. In 2003, Eliza worked with a team of community leaders to establish Public Allies Connecticut and then became its first staff member. She joined the Public Allies National Office as a Regional Director in 2006 and assumed her position as Director of Quality Assurance and Evaluation in 2008. In addition to these roles, she has served as Interim Director of Public Allies sites in Chicago and New York. Eliza began her work in youth/leadership development in 2000 at a small NGO in Nepal working with street children in Kathmandu. Prior to her work at Public Allies, she was the AmeriCorps Director at Leadership, Education, and Athletics in Partnership (LEAP), a leading youth development organization in New Haven, CT. Eliza was born and raised in New Haven, where she has been active in a number of community groups and nonprofit boards. She was an Elm City Fellow (Annie E. Casey Foundation) in 2009-10 and participated in the Nonprofit Forum Community Leadership Program in 2003-04. She holds a B.A. in History from Yale University and a Master’s in Public Administration at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.

Erik Clemons, CEO, Connecticut Center for Arts & Technology (ConnCAT)
Erik Clemons is the founding CEO and President of the Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (CONNCAT), a non-profit organization based on the model of Bill Strickland’s, National Center for Arts and Technology, which is dedicated to creating empowering arts based educational environments for at-risk public school students and training programs for under and unemployed adults. Erik has an extensive background in non-profit management. Prior to joining CONNCAT, Erik served as the Executive Director of Leadership, Education, and Athletics in Partnership (LEAP), providing academic and social enrichment programs to youth between the ages of five- twenty-three. Prior to his position at LEAP, Erik served as Director of Vocational Training, at New Haven Job Corps Center. A lifelong resident of Connecticut, Erik is active member of his New Haven community. He currently serves on the Boards of: Cornell Scott Hill Health Center, New Haven Housing Authority, New Haven Legal Aid, CT Voices for Children. Additionally, Erik is a member of the New Haven Public School Education Reform Committee.

Joan Bosson-Heenan, Program Director, Yale Center for Genes, Reading and Dyslexia
Joan has directed clinical research at the Yale University School of Medicine for over eleven years. She has directed studies of child development, head and neck cancer, pediatric, type one diabetes sensor trials and currently serves as the Program Director for the Yale GRaD (Genes, Reading and Dyslexia) Study, an international study of genes and reading disability in minority and Spanish bilingual youth. Born and raised on the Connecticut shoreline Joan and her family moved to the Fair Haven neighborhood five years ago. She has served as Co-Chair of the Chatham Square Neighborhood Association and with the group continues to work toward a healthier, cleaner Fair Haven.

John Freeman, Principal, Annie Fisher Montessori Magnet School
John is Principal of Annie Fisher Montessori Magnet School in Hartford, Connecticut. During his long-time work on behalf of the child, and in addition to being a school leader, John has served as a Montessori elementary guide, a reading specialist, a district-level administrator for Hartford Public Schools, and now, the instructional leader of Hartford’s second comprehensive public Montessori program. In addition, John is currently leading the design process of Connecticut’s first Montessori Adolescent program. He has a B.A. from St. John’s College and completed the Elementary Course at Washington Montessori Institute.

Kenna Barrett, Principal, Kenna Barrett Consulting
Kenna’s 13-year track record involves success in incredibly diverse settings, where she has helped raise millions of dollars in various organizations ranging from start-ups to world-class institutions. Kenna realized her knack for charitable fundraising when she took a summer job as a door-to-door canvasser in college, and was promoted to manager in a week. After obtaining her MA in Philosophy, Kenna returned to fundraising, working with the community-based Sí Se Puede Leadership Program, more than doubling that project’s revenue, and going to raise money for a variety of causes, including social services, the environment, and the national talent search organization A Better Chance. In 2001, Kenna was appointed development officer for Yale University in foundation relations, where she worked with some of the nation’s leading foundations. In 2004, she was appointed Yale Law School’s Director of Leadership Giving and Corporate & Foundation Relations, raising six- and seven-figure gifts for the School and for programs on the changing business environment for media, the rights of immigrants in the post-9/11 world, and more. Kenna has degrees from Wellesley College (BA) and the University of California, San Diego (MA). She is pursuing her PhD in rhetoric and composition at the University of Rhode Island.

Kia Levey, Project Director, The MOMS Partnership
Kia Levey is a New Haven native who has committed 15 years of work and service to the city she calls home. She is  passionate leader and dedicated advocate, deeply connected to challenges faced by communities whose voices are not often recognized. As the daughter of a single mother, the sister of brothers impacted by the plague of community violence and juvenile incarceration and now raising a young son of her own, Kia continues to be motivated to increase her community’s capacity to stop punishing people for being poor, challenged, and victims to the systems that continually fail them. As the project director of the New Haven Mental Health Outreach for MotherS (MOMS) Partnership, Kia continues to strive to build the capacity of individuals , communities and organizations to better respond to the challenges, needs and opportunities that exist for mothers and children who need extra support. Prior to her work with the MOMS Partnership, Kia served as a philanthropic officer at a community Community Foundation coordinating its Communities of Color Initiative and as a program director at Empower New Haven. While at graduate school from 2011-12, Kia advocated for improvements to juvenile diversion and alternative to incarceration programs. In 2012, Kia was recognized by the Connecticut chapter of the National Association of Social Workers as student of the year. Kia serves on the board of directors of several grass-roots, community-responsive organizations. She earned her MSW from the University of Connecticut and a B.A. in Communications from Central Connecticut State University.

Mira Debs, Executive Director, Education Studies Program, Yale University
See bio above.

Priscilla Coker Palmer, President, AMI –US Foundation
Priscilla Coker Palmer is a city of New Haven resident who is currently serving as President of AMI US Foundation, a public charity dedicated to increase the reach of Montessori schools to include those in greatest need. She holds an AMI Montessori primary diploma and taught for several years. She spent 20 years on Wall Street including time as CEO of Brunswick Corporation (now Brunswick UBS Warburg) and has spent the last five years teaching adult literacy in Harlem, New York City to the lowest literacy group of students who in some cases also had no English using Montessori methods.

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