Undoubtedly, Lionheart’s greatest asset is its staff. The school’s concentration and caliber of teachers and licensed therapy professionals is unmatched by any other Special Education program in the Southeast.
Tamara B. Spafford, M.B.A., serves as the Executive Director for Lionheart. Tamara has a concentration in computer information systems, marketing and small business administration, working in various areas both as an employee, business owner and consultant. For the past twelve years she has attended continuing education seminars in learning disabilities and special education areas. Tamara attends to the managerial aspects of Lionheart, maintaining financial records, hiring professionals, negotiating contracts, overseeing professional development and extending awareness of the Lionheart approach to others in the professional and parent communities. Tamara is one of the founding parents with a child at Lionheart. Tamara is passionate about expanding the reach of Lionheart and providing a place for parents to receive the best possible education and support for their child that deserves a respectful, nurturing and quality education. It is her feeling that all children should have a place like Lionheart where they are loved and supported through their journey in life, and where parents’ hard work and support is carried through in school.
Elizabeth Dulin, M.Ed., Co-Founder, Head of School. Elizabeth is certified to teach special education, pre-K to 12th grade in the state of Georgia. She received both her bachelor’s degree in Psychology and her master’s in Early Childhood Special Education from Vanderbilt University. Elizabeth has worked for over 30 years with children in various settings; including private school, public school, and private practice with families. Elizabeth, along with Victoria McBride oversees every aspect of the child’s programming at Lionheart. She works closely with families to carefully identify individual needs and address them accordingly. She has a blend of sound teaching practices and specialized training to work with children. Elizabeth is a training leader and expert DIRFloortime™ provider and supervises the implementation of DIR® principles into the curriculum. She has a remarkable understanding of children, and uses the relationship-based approach to foster the growth and progress of each child. She also works with children in small groups utilizing Floortime™. Elizabeth is a fully certified service dog handler for Lionheart’s educational service dog, LANGLEY.
Victoria A. McBride, M.Ed., CCC-SLP, Co-Founder, Head of Therapeutic Services. Victoria has a Master’s Degree from the University of Georgia and is a certified and licensed Speech and Language Pathologist. She has worked for over 30 years with children in various settings; including private school, public school, and private practice with families. Victoria, along with Elizabeth Dulin oversees every aspect of the child’s programming at Lionheart. She works closely with families to carefully identify individual needs and address them accordingly. Her many years of experience has afforded her the opportunity to work with the students to evaluate and assist them in successful transitioning to adulthood; overseeing the vocational and therapeutic aspects of the Lionheart for Life program. She also works with children on their pragmatic language skills, articulation and oral-motor difficulties, as well as other language based challenges. Victoria mentors and supports the teachers and therapists at Lionheart. She is a DIR® certified specialist, embedding DIR® principles in her intervention strategies while working with the students and supervising curriculum objectives.
Mary Ulich, B.A., joined the Executive Team of Lionheart in 2009, and serves as the Director of Operations. Mary received her Education degree with an emphasis in Special Education from the University of Northern Colorado, and taught for 8 years in a variety of settings. Through years of volunteering, she received training in development, marketing, communications, and constituent relationship management, and has worked in these areas with the American Cancer Society. These are the areas she attends to for Lionheart.
Ashley Cheek, M.Ed., is a Master level teacher, certified to teach pre-K to 12th grade. She received her degree in Psychology and Childhood Development from The University of Georgia and earned a Masters in Education within the Multiple and Severe Disabilities program at Georgia State University. The concentration of her degree was in autism spectrum disorders and she also obtained a reading endorsement. Ashley successfully completed the DIRFloortime™ training and is a certified Advanced DIRFloortime™ Provider. Ashley was a lead classroom teacher for 8 years at Lionheart and is now supporting teachers with curriculum development, mentoring staff, specializing in educational technology, organizing the Heart & Sole 5K, and leading the Lionheart Junior Board to expand Lionheart’s reach in the community.
Ali Curtin, B.A., joined Lionheart as our office manager in the fall of 2011, and supports the executive team, as well as the teachers and therapists. She received her degree in English at the University of North Carolina, and has over ten years of office management experience. Ali has received her assistance dog trainer/handler certification through paws4people™ foundation and is the secondary handler for Lionheart’s educational service dog, LANGLEY.
Teachers & Therapists:
Jennifer Beaver, B.S., graduated from the University of Georgia with a bachelor’s degree in Human Development and Family Sciences. She has volunteered for the Special Olympics for several years. She has also had experience working with individuals in prosthetic rehabilitation. She plans to pursue a Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy. Jennifer is an assistant teacher in the youngest classroom at Lionheart. She feels so excited and blessed to be a part of the Lionheart family.
Lise Coston, M.A., OTR/L, Lise earned a Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy from New York University and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Miami. She previously worked as a provider of OT services in private practice, home and school-based settings for children ages 1 month through 16 years in Atlanta and New York. Additionally she has received DIR® and sensory integration training, and has years of experience working with children who have learning, sensory and motor challenges.
Dani Domnauer, B.S., joined the Lionheart team in 2015. She graduated from Georgia College and State University with a degree in Exercise Science and hopes to pursue a Masters degree in Occupational Therapy. Dani volunteered with the Lionheart Hippotherapy program before becoming a teacher assistant in one of our elementary classrooms. She is excited to be heading up our After School Program team this year. Dani is also a valuable member of our Lionheart Farm Camp each summer. She feels blessed to be a part of The Lionheart School.
Ally Franco, B.S., graduated from Valdosta State University with her Bachelor’s in Communication Sciences and Disorders. She joined the Lionheart family in fall of 2013. She is currently pursing her Master’s degree in Special Education with an emphasis in Autism Spectrum Disorders at Georgia State University. Ally is currently a co-teacher in the middle school classroom. She is very grateful to be a part of this incredible school, from the staff to the students, it is the most wonderful place to work.
Mary Catherine Jones, M.Ed., is a Master level teacher, certified to teach pre-k to 5th grade special education as well as general education. She received her degree in Childhood Development with a focus in special education from The University of Alabama in 2011. She has extensive experience in working and caring for children with disabilities. While completing her undergraduate degree, she worked with the RISE Center and Crossing Points of Alabama to help her prepare for her first year at Lionheart. Mary Catherine recently completed her Masters’ in Education within the Multiple and Severe Disabilities program from Georgia State University. Her focus was in severe and profound disabilities and she also obtained a reading endorsement. Mary Catherine is the lead teacher in Lionheart’s youngest classroom. She is very excited to be actively involved with the growth of the children in her classroom.
Jenna Kooistra, B.S., graduated from Kennesaw State University with a degree in Early Childhood Education. She is certified to teach Special Education General Curriculum (P-12) in the state of Georgia. Jenna’s certification also includes core academic concentrations for Special Education P-5 in Language Arts, Math, Reading, Science, and Social Studies. In previous years, she was a special education teacher in both resource classrooms and team-taught classroom. She is currently a co-teacher in the middle school classroom. Jenna is passionate about her work and is very excited to be joining the Lionheart team!
Abigail Mapes, B.S., graduated from Lee University with a degree in Special Education: Mild to Moderate Disabilities, K to 12th grade. She has teacher licensures in both Georgia and Tennessee and has had experience in multiple and varying special education settings (K to 12th grade) throughout both states. Abigail joined Lionheart in 2012 as an assistant for one of the middle school classes and was quickly enamored with the Lionheart family. Abigail is a lead teacher for Lionheart’s middle and high school students, and she feels so blessed to be in this position and cannot wait to watch this year of discovery, learning, and growth unfold!
Gail Nearing, B.S., has worked with Lionheart since the fall of 2004. Prior to that Gail worked in the preschool program at the Alpharetta Presbyterian Church Day School. Gail also worked with a special needs child doing Floortime™ therapy. Gail works within the DIR® framework in order to meet academic goals for the students in her classroom. In the Spring of 2005, Gail attended the Infancy and Early Childhood Training Course in Washington, D.C. to gain a better understanding of DIR® principles and supplement her training and education. She received a Certificate of Mastery in Stanley Greenspan’s basic DIR®/Floortime™ course and has continued her DIR® education with Kathy Platzman at the ICDL. Gail currently serves as the Lionheart WORKS program coordinator.
Michelle O’Riordan, B.S., graduated Loyola University in Chicago with a degree in special education and is a certified special education teacher. She taught for in Chicago for 8 years. Her experiences in Chicago include therapeutic settings, inclusion settings and a residential setting for adults with developmental delays. Michelle moved to GA in 2003 where she took some time off to start a family. Prior to joining the Lionheart Team Michelle spent the past three years as the lead teacher for class at a local preschool. On Sundays she enjoys mentoring students with special needs during Religious Education classes. Michelle is excited to be a part of the Lionheart team and looks forward to learning from the school’s talented and dedicated staff.
Heather Pompilio, B.S., graduated from Valdosta State University with a degree in Early Childhood Education. She has also received her gifted endorsement. Heather has participated in Ortan Gillingham workshops and has extensive training in Early Literacy. She has taught Pre-K, Kindergarten and 5th grades over the past 15 years. Heather feels strongly that each child is unique and must be taught at their developmental level and that they are provided a safe, nurturing environment which promotes a broad spectrum of support for physical, social, emotional and cognitive growth. Heather is excited to be a part of the Lionheart family and looks forward to getting to know each child and staff member.
Victoria Potts, M.Ed., joined Lionheart as our art teacher in 2013. Victoria is certified to teach pre-K through 8th grade and has worked in the field of education for over 20 years. She received her Masters of Educational Leadership from the University of Cincinnati. She also holds a degree from Appalachian State University in Family and Consumer Sciences with a concentration in Clothing and Textiles. In addition to her work at Lionheart, Victoria is a ceramic artist and a teen ceramics instructor at the Johns Creek Arts Center.
Kathe Robertson, B.A., graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in Mental Retardation. She added on certification in the fields of Emotional/Behavioral Disorders and Learning Disabilities. Kathe currently holds a Georgia teaching certificate in Special Education Adapted Curriculum for grades P-12 in all subject areas. She holds additional certification and is highly qualified in all subject areas of general education for grades 4-8. Kathe retired from the Fulton County School System in May of 2014 after 31 years of teaching special education. Kathe is excited to be a part of the Lionheart staff as she has been an advocate of the school since its beginning.
Diane Smith, B.F.A., graduated from University of Georgia with a degree in Graphic Design. With over 30 years of marketing and design experience, Diane serves as the marketing director for the school. She is also manager of the LionheARTisans Cottage, instructing the participants in the Lionheart WORKS program as well as managing the cottage fundraising events.
Katya Spafford, M.S., OTR/L, provides occupational therapy to students and runs the LionhearTails’ hippotherapy program and Summer Camp program for the school. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Sciences with a focus on Equine Science from Auburn University. She completed her Master of Health Science in Occupational Therapy (MHSOT) degree from the College of Allied Health Sciences at the Georgia Regents University in Augusta. Katya has received her level II certification in Hippotherapy and is part of the American Hippotherapy Association. Katya has a 22 year old sister with autism who benefited tremendously from Floortime™ and animal assisted therapies. Her lifelong experience with autism gives Katya a deep understanding of what children need and how to help them be successful.
Kathy Sponsler, M.Ed., serves as Lionheart’s Reading Specialist. Kathy graduated from the University of West Georgia with a degree in Therapeutic Recreation. Kathy then earned a teaching certificate from Brenau University for grades 4-8, as well as a Master’s degree in Special Education from Brenau University. She taught fourth grade for eight years in the public school system, and joined Lionheart in 2009. Kathy is also certified in the Orton-Gillingham method for reading instruction and has completed the Lindamood Bell Visualizing and Verbalizing for Language Comprehension and Thinking course. When Kathy’s godson was diagnosed with autism at age 3, his parents soon introduced her to the DIR®/Floortime™ model. It was then that Kathy realized her passion and desire to teach at a school like Lionheart. She began independently tutoring students in reading at Lionheart as well as privately tutoring children with reading difficulties. Kathy began taking classes in November 2009 at Floortime™ Atlanta to further gain knowledge in the DIR®/Floortime™ model.
Kristyn Stogner, B.S.A., has a degree in horticulture from the University of Georgia, with a certificate in Organic Agriculture and Local Food Systems. She came to manage Lionheart Gardens after her work as an assistant horticulturalist at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. Kristyn manages the learning garden and production farm with organic methods, and is responsible for farm planning and maintenance, teaching academic and vocational gardening lessons and activities, working with students to involve them in every aspect of the garden from seed to harvest, and serving as community liaison to introduce community members, organizations, and corporations to garden projects and volunteer opportunities.
Tony Terrell, B.S., joined Lionheart in 2013. He graduated from the University of South Alabama with a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and is now working towards a Master’s degree in Special Education. While working on his Master’s degree, Tony started working with Clay White, LLC out of Atlanta. Tony worked on various programs for Clay including his Social Club, PEOTSI and hiking programs as well as the summer camp this year. Tony’s experience in these programs, and the last three years at Lionheart, makes him a great fit as a job coach for our Lionheart for Life and after school programs.
Brian Tierney, B.A., graduated from the University of West Georgia with a degree in history after serving in the Army for four years. He recently joined the Lionheart team as a teaching assistant and has a passion for furthering his understanding of the learning process and helping the incredible students at Lionheart. He plans to begin his Master’s in Education in the fall.
Jackie Tucci, B.S., received her degree in physical therapy from California State University, Long Beach, and has been at Lionheart for several years as a classroom assistant in the younger classes. Jackie has a passion for Floortime™, and has received a Basic DIR®/Floortime™ certificate of mastery for Stanley Greenspan’s model. She also recently completed the regional year long intensive Floortime™ course. Jackie has a daughter in our Lionheart WORKS program and has been immersed in the DIR® philosophy since 1997. Prior to Lionheart, Jackie worked as a physical therapist for 20 years. She is currently an assistant in one of our elementary classrooms.
Amber Turman, B.S., graduated from the University of West Georgia with a degree in Early Childhood Education and is certified to teach PreK-6th grade. After graduating, Amber has taught for over 10 years in Fulton County Schools as a Kindergarten and Second grade teacher. She has a strong background in teaching early literacy, reading and math. Amber joined The Lionheart School in 2014 and is the lead teacher in Lionheart’s upper elementary classroom. She is passionate about her students; meeting them wherever they may be. Her focus in the classroom is to nurture the whole child, helping each student reach their full potential.
Heather Hasty Wagner, BSW, MA, is the Director of our Lionheart WORKS program for young adults between the ages of 18 and 26. She graduated from the University of Georgia cum laude with a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work and from Union Presbyterian Seminary (VA) with a Master of Arts in Christian Education with an emphasis in community building and experiential education. Heather has been with Lionheart since 2009 teaching art, working in the classroom, and is one of the directors of Lionheart’s Summer Farm Camp.