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.

Suzanne Baker, M.A.

Suzanne graduated from the University of Alabama with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and went on to earn her Master’s degree in Social Work from GSU. She joins Lionheart as our Gardens Manager after working for over eight years in urban agriculture in the inner city of Atlanta to improve food security for impoverished residents. Using all organic methods, she is responsible for farm planning and maintenance, teaching gardening lessons, and serving as community liaison to introduce community members, organizations, and corporations to Lionheart Gardens. Suzanne feels truly blessed to be a part of the Lionheart team.

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.

Kyle Bush

Kyle was born and raised in Georgia. He grew up playing baseball and loves sports. He volunteers at Annandale Village with young adult residents and has helped coach floor hockey there for three years. During the past two summers he was a counselor for Camp Happy Hearts. This is his first year on staff at Lionheart. Kyle enjoys being a Job Coach with Lionheart WORKS and assisting with the After School programs.

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 lead teacher in our 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.

Monya Galaif, B.A.

Monya received a B.A. in Communications from LSU, and subsequent teaching certificate from NGCSU. She previously worked in Forsyth County Schools for five years. Prior to that, Monya worked in marketing before staying home with her four children. She is thrilled to be a part of the Lionheart family and looks forward to building relationships with the children and staff. Monya is currently a teacher assistant for our middle and high school students.

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!

Mary Alice McDowell, B.A.

Mary Alice joined Lionheart as a teacher’s assistant in 2017. She attended Kennesaw State University and studied Communications. Mary Alice comes from a Public Relations and Marketing background working mainly in social media strategies and events. Lionheart has held a very special place for Mary Alice and her family for close to a decade, as a family member was once a student. She has grown to admire and appreciate the unique role and place Lionheart serves locally and nationally. Mary Alice is honored and excited to be working at Lionheart and serving our wonderful students and families.

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. 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 Job Coach 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 in Chicago for 8 years.  Her experiences in Chicago include therapeutic settings, inclusion settings and a residential setting for adults with developmental delays. 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 continuing to learn from the school’s 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. Kelley is thrilled to serve as the Vocational Development Coordinator of Lionheart WORKS!

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 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 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.

Martyne Seidband, M.A.

Martyne graduated from the University of Alabama with a Master’s degree in Social Work and later began pursuing a Master’s degree in Education from Mercer University. She has spent many years supporting at-risk children as well as children with disabilities in various positions. She is a certified adult kids yoga instructor and has brought her kids yoga program to Lionheart. She is so excited to be a part of Lionheart. Martyne is currently a teacher assistant in one of our elementary classrooms.

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.

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.

Katya Spafford, M.S., OTR/L

Katya provides occupational therapy at Lionheart, runs our hippotherapy program as well as our Summer Farm Camp. She has a Bachelor’s 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 & is part of the American Hippotherapy Association. Her lifelong experience with autism gives Katya a deep understanding of what children need & how to help them be successful.

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. 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.