Our Staff

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.

Jennifer Beaver, B.S.

Jennifer 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.

Ally Franco, B.S.

Ally 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.

Mary 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.

Jenna 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.

Abigail 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.

Gail 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 coordinator for our Lionheart WORKS program.

Michelle O’Riordan, B.S.

Michelle 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.

Kelley Petrini, M.A

Kelley developed a passion for teaching young adults functional skills to help them live more independent lives. Kelley received her Master’s in Psychology with a specialization in Applied Behavior Analysis from Florida State University, and she became a Board Certified Behavior Analyst in 2013. Kelley has worked with teenagers and young adults in vocational, clinical, school, residential, and community-based settings, and was the Vocational and Life Skills Clinical Director for a private school program outside of Boston. As an Alpharetta native, Kelley recently moved back to Georgia and is thrilled to be a part of the Lionheart WORKS program!

Heather Pompilio, B.S.

Heather 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.

Victoria 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.

Kathe 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.

Diane 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

Katya 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.

Kathy 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.

Kristyn 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.

Tony 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.

Jackie Tucci, B.S.

Jackie 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.

Amber 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

Heather 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.