Administrative Team

Karen Winningham
Executive Director, Principal

I was born and raised in the Bronx, NY and graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (New York) with a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial and Management Engineering. Upon graduation in 2003, I began my career as an Industrial Engineer for the United States Postal Service in Columbia, SC. Since then I have worked in various positions across the eastern United States and ultimately worked for USPS Headquarters as an Operations Industrial Engineer implementing process improvement methods and coaching a national network of Industrial Engineers as a critical component of our Lean Deployment. I hold a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt certification from the USPS and am an ASQ Certified Six Sigma Black Belt (CSSBB). I moved to Winter Haven in 2012 with my family and quickly realized this is where we were meant to be.  In 2014 we created the founding group to open a Montessori charter school in order to provide this unique educational choice to all children of our community.  In August of 2016 Cypress Junction Montessori opened its doors because of the passion, commitment, and dedication of this group, and I am honored to serve as CJM’s Executive Director. As a Montessori mother, and now a Montessori administrator, I commit to ensuring our students, families, and extended community experience the Montessori environment as intended by the teachings of Dr. Maria Montessori.  Welcome to our school!  Welcome to your school!


Jill Manning
Executive Administrative Assistant

I am excited to be part of the Cypress Junction Montessori family! I come from a large military family that has been stationed all over the world, except for when I came along. I was born in South Florida, moved to Alaska when I was a baby, and then moved back to Florida where I have lived ever since. I moved to Central Florida in my elementary years and finished my schooling here. I have over 20 years as a member of the Girl Scouts and learned valuable life experiences and had exciting adventures! My husband Greg and I have 3 children, two of which are members of the CJM family, 3 dogs, 4 fish, and 1 cat! I have been involved with various non-profit fundraising groups here in Polk County and enjoy working with people on projects to better our community and our children’s lives. I was a pre-school teacher for 6 years and after that, moved into the retail market and stayed there in various management positions for 19 years. I am truly honored that this opportunity of joining the CJM family has been placed in front of me and I am looking forward to being a part of your children’s lives for many years to come!



Primary Team

Lori Brousseau

I am very excited to be a member of the faculty at CJM.  I came to CJM with over 20 years experience in various aspects of the education field.  Not only was I an early childhood educator in the private systems for both RI and MA, I also spent four years as a Director for a pre-school facility in MA.  Twelve years ago I relocated to FL from Rhode Island.  I spent two years teaching Kindergarten and first grade for Osceola County and ten years teaching fourth grade for a Polk County catholic school.  My educational background includes an AA in Early Childhood Education from Fisher College, Boston MA, a BS in Human Development and Family Studies from The University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI, and an MS in Child Development with a concentration in Early Childhood Education from Wheelock College, Boston, MA.  I am deemed highly qualified by FL State standards possessing professional certifications in the areas of Early Childhood Education age 3 to grade 3 as well as Elementary Ed K-6.  I also holds a Director Credential with a VPK endorsement from the State of FL.




Kalani Schlenker

Hello! I am super excited to be a part of the Cypress Junction Montessori family. I was born in Puerto Rico and grew up all over the United States (PA, TX, TN, KY, and FL). My family moved to Florida during my freshman year in college and have made this our home ever since! I graduated from Warner University with my BA in Elementary Education in January of 2009. My education career began at Lake Marion Creek Elementary School teaching several grade levels over the span of four years (Dual Language Kindergarten, 3rd, 4th, and 5th). In 2012, I switched over to virtual school where I gained an immense amount of knowledge in regards to instructional technology and working one-on-one with families to individualize learning. I taught Kindergarten and 1st grade in the virtual setting and my love for primary flourished! My desire to teach Montessori began in college when I had to do a report on Dr. Maria’s philosophy. From then on, it has been a dream of mine to become a part of a Montessori school! Dreams really do come true!

My husband and I have one child, Elian, who is very curious, energetic, playful, and social! We love to spend time building at LEGOLAND and exploring Bok Tower gardens. I am beyond blessed to be a part of the Cypress Junction Montessori family!


Brenda Hart

I am a Florida native.  My hobbies center around my family and our mini farm.  My backyard is a tropical barnyard filled with mature bamboo, a small orchard of fruit trees and chickens, quail, ducks and three dogs.  I also dabble in gardening!

I hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Science and have had the pleasure of working with Kindergarten children for the past 15 years.  I am thrilled to be a part of Cypress Junction Montessori and honored to be a link in the Founding Staff.  What an exciting journey we will have as we nurture, guide and cultivate our children to have a passion for learning.




Breaunna Farmer

I was born in Florida and have lived here my whole life, migrating back and forth between Lakeland and Tampa. I currently live in Lakeland and am ecstatic to be a part of the Cypress Junction team. I am now attending Polk State College, where I plan to get my Associates Degree. Aside from school, I spend my personal time painting, creating sculptures, playing guitar, and singing. I am looking forward to this school year!



Lower Elementary Team

Nicole Erol

Hello! I was born and raised in a small town in Wisconsin. After high school, I moved to Florida to attend college at UCF and graduated in 2005. After graduation, I began my career in education at Christa McAulife Charter Elementary in Cape Coral, where I taught first grade for six years. I then spent two years at Lakeland Montessori Schoolhouse. My love for Montessori education began while volunteering at my son’s Montessori school. I was in awe of the independence, freedom within limits, and the whole child centered environment. A classroom, that follows the child, led me toward my current journey. I have earned my Lower Elementary certification in Montessori Education. My husband and I have one son, Jacob who attends Harrison School for the Arts. I’m very excited to be part of Cypress Junction Montessori!





Michele Rozar

Hello CJM families! I was born and raised here in Florida. My husband and I live in Winter Haven and have 6 children. Our oldest daughter graduated high school in 2017 and we have 5 children who are students here at Cypress Junction Montessori. Most of my time is spent with my family. We enjoy going to hockey games, Busch Gardens, visiting our family in Georgia, and just being silly together. I enjoy reading, cooking with my kids, and going to the beach. I have worked for many years in the medical field, most recently the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit. Over the past two years I have developed a strong interest in Elementary Education. I began substituting last school year at a nearby Charter School and immediately knew that this is the change I wanted to pursue. I am currently attending Polk State College. Becoming a part of Cypress Junction is an honor and I love providing exceptional guidance to your children.




Sandi DeSouza

I was born and raised in a small town in Iowa and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Elementary Education with a Minor in Spanish and Business Concepts. I began my career as a pre-kindergarten bilingual teacher for an elementary school in a suburb of Houston, Texas and 2017 marks my 22nd year of teaching. The first 11 years of my teaching career were spent instructing students from kindergarten to 5th grade. I have also taught in a tradition public school classroom as a pull-in/pull-out Reading Interventionist. Since 2005, I have taught 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades at various Title 1 public elementary schools in Polk County. Along with teaching children, I’m also a district-level professional development trainer for the ESOL District Office at the Jim Miles Professional Development Center in Lakeland. My role is to instruct teachers in K-12 Polk County public schools to become better teachers by honing their instructional pedagogical craft so that they would improve in the field of teaching and learning. My specialty is with teaching Grades 1-3.

The Montessori method is an innovative, child-centered approach to education, developed a century ago by Dr. Montessori, a woman ahead of her time. I believe Montessori schools provide an opportunity for independent learning to occur at each stage of the learners’ development. This fosters a thirst for knowledge as children develop into responsible lifelong learners. I’m honored and excited to join the faculty at Cypress Junction Montessori and truly look forward to this new journey.


Upper Elementary Team

Jill Clark

I was born in Melbourne, Florida and grew up there and in Lakeland, Florida. I obtained my Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education from The University of South Florida and my Master’s Degree from James Madison University in French Horn Performance. I have extensive experience as a professional musician in orchestras and chamber groups. I also have over 30 years of teaching experience in the areas of private music, drum corps, concert band, jazz band, marching band, general music and physical education. My classroom experience has been in homeschooling my five sons, teaching music and physical education at Lakeland Montessori Middle School, and classroom teaching in the Polk County Schools in grades one and four. I am excited to be part of Cypress Junction Montessori because I have seen the positive benefits of a Montessori education through all of my sons, graduates of Lakeland Montessori Middle School. My youngest son  joined me at Cypress Junction Montessori as a student.




Elizabeth Gravitt

I am thrilled to experience this Montessori journey with Cypress Junction and cannot wait to meet all of our new students and families.  Central Florida has been my home for many years.  I attended an arts high school in St. Petersburg, moved to Lake Wales, and graduated from Lake Wales High School.  My schooling continued at the University of South Florida, where I graduated with my degree in Education.  For twenty-one years, I have taught in Polk County schools, most recently at Davenport School of the Arts and Jewett School of the Arts.  My husband and I have two daughters:  Lucy, a junior at Haines City High’s International Baccalaureate Program, and Magnolia, who is in CJM’s Lower Elementary Program.  Dr. Montessori’s philosophy and methods for education have always resonated with me.  How lucky we are to have this opportunity in our community!   Montessori methods respect the child and the profound work they do as they learn and grow and become the adult they will be.  As Dr. Montessori said, “The child is both a hope and a promise for mankind.”  I am profoundly grateful to be a part of Cypress Junction’s mission both as a teacher and a mom.



Tony De Souza

My family roots are from Portugal, but I was born in Hong Kong. Therefore, I’ve spent the first formidable years of my life living amongst the Chinese community, acquiring their language, and matriculated under the British school system. I began my career as the Executive Director for a multi-billion dollar ocean-freight company based out of Hong Kong and oversaw the international business operations across Southeast Asia. In 1982, I relocated to Japan and started my pathway into the education field (first at K-12 schools) and eventually becoming a tenured professor in the Department of Education at Tokyo International College. In 1995, I permanently relocated to the United States. Since then I’ve worked and have taught at various public schools in Polk County and higher-education institutions such as Southeastern University, Florida Southern College, and at the University of South Florida.

I believe Montessori schools provide all levels of education, and the benefits of the emphasis placed upon independent learning continue to be central at each stage of the learners’ development. This segue will never dull the edge of an insatiable appetite for knowledge as children grow into responsible lifelong learners in the global marketplace. I hold a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education, a Master of Business Administration in Management Information Systems, an honorary Doctorate in Humanities, and a Doctorate in Education in Applied Linguistics. I’m honored to be a founding faculty member of Cypress Junction Montessori.


Jami Elliott

Hello everyone! I am so excited for this opportunity here at Cypress Junction Montessori and enjoy working with all of your amazing children. I’m originally from Orlando, FL and moved to Lakeland in 2002. I have been married for 13 years and have two beautiful children. My son and daughter attend CJM. I love crafting and family and I enjoy spending our free time visiting theme parks.

When my son was born, I decided to put my career on hold; and I became a stay-at-home mom. This allowed me the privilege to help my son develop a love of learning at an early age. Once he started school, I volunteered in multiple classrooms, assisted on field trips, and helped with many school events. I had the chance to assist in my son’s third grade classroom throughout the year. I am so thankful to have had these experiences. I believe it has helped me gain the skills needed to assist your children in the classroom. I look forward to continuing my education in the philosophies of Dr. Montessori and I can’t wait to meet all of you!




Secondary Team

Lucy Pagan

I was born and raised in New York where I received my Bachelor of Science Degree from Mercy College in 2005. It was then that I moved to central Florida with my family. I worked for several years in employment and education training for Arbor. In 2010 I began as a classroom instructor for Polk County Schools specializing in Middle School instruction. In 2013 I received my MS. Ed. in Instructional Design and Technology from Full Sail University. My husband and I have 2 daughters. Madalyne will be entering her senior year at Summerlin Academy. Arielle will join me at CJM as she enters Kindergarten. I am super excited and feel very blessed to be joining the family at Cypress Junction Montessori.





Vera Hardee

I am so excited to be a new member to the CJM family. I’m from Christiansburg Virginia and moved to Winter haven when I was around 4 years old. I graduated from Winter haven high school with high honors , and continued my education at TCC where I received my AA degree. I am finishing up my bachelors in business at Polk State College now. I have a 3 year old son Noah and have been working with Kelly services for the past two years where I worked as a full time substitute teachers at Jewett Middle Academy. Following both my parents footsteps in the education field. I’m so proud to bring my experience and love for children to the CJM family.







Interested in joining our team? We are looking for highly qualified staff who are passionate about bringing Montessori to Winter Haven! Click here to find out more about open positions.