Meet Our Team

Director of Early Childhood Education & Early Childhood Lead Guide

Allison Jones

Allison graduated from the University of Tennessee Knoxville with a degree in child and family studies and an emphasis on community outreach. She received Montessori training through Montessori Educators International (MEI). Allison has more than 10 years of teaching experience and taught at LRMS throughout her college career before finding a permanent position there in 2011. Her experience is primarily with preschool/ kindergarteners, but was also a toddler lead teacher for two years. Allison believes that Montessori is not only a philosophy of education, but a way of life. Her mother was a Montessori teacher for more than 20 years and Allison was a Montessori child through 6th grade. She says, “The most wonderful part of being a teacher is that we learn just as much from them as they learn from us.”

Early Childhood Lead Guide

Amanda Gienow

Amanda received her Bachelors degree from TTU in Education (K-8). She spent time in public education before moving into non-profit work with children and finally finding her home in Montessori education. She and her husband live in Knoxville and have four children, two of whom proudly attend Little River Montessori. She loves reading, creating, and all things geeky.

Elementary Assistant Guide

Angela Varnon

Angela Varnon received her Bachelor of Music in Music Education at The University of Tennessee. She has taught music in numerous settings to students of all ages and is also an active pianist and vocalist in the Knoxville area. In her free time, she enjoys crafting, reading, traveling, and adventuring in the great outdoors.

Aftercare Director & Early Childhood Assistant Guide

Blake Jones

Blake Jones is our Early Childhood Assistant. He holds a BS from MTSU in Media Production. About himself, Blake says, “There is nothing I enjoy more than being around children. Well, maybe cheese. Either way, children have brought so much joy into my life and it’s an honor to be able to work with them every single day.”

Elementary Assistant Guide

Claire Heatherly

Claire is a senior studying Child and Family Studies with an emphasis on community outreach at the University of Tennessee. She started her time at LRMS as an aftercare teacher and now works as a guide in the elementary classroom. Claire is a Dayton, Ohio native but is loving life in Tennessee. She enjoys being outside, seeing live music, and spending time with family and friends.

Toddler Assistant Guide

Danaya Randolph

Danaya is currently finishing her Biochemistry bachelor’s degree at Maryville College. She has worked with young kids in various settings for about 8 years. In her personal time, she likes to read, write poetry and spend quality time with her friends and family. She also enjoys dog-sitting and babysitting. Maya Angelou and Winnie the Pooh are some of her greatest inspirations. Danaya has a “passion for meeting kids where they are, loving them as they are and helping them grow into who they want to be.”

Office Manager

Emily Guarisco

Emily is a Baton Rouge, LA native who has been involved in education for over a decade. Her experience ranges from aftercare program coordinating, to private school Pre-K teaching, and most recently to teaching in Early Childhood classes of multiple Montessori schools. She and her family moved to Knoxville in 2015. Emily is the mother of two children who also attend LRMS. She is passionate about family, quilting, and education. Along with her family, she enjoys exploring all that Tennessee has to offer. With a long history of admiration for the Montessori philosophy, Emily brings her passion for education and love of Early Childhood to LRMS.

Principal & Elementary and Adolescent Lead Guide

Jamie Watts

Jamie comes to us from Chattanooga where he taught at the Preschool and Elementary levels and directed the Summer Program. Prior to that Jamie worked as the Executive Director of Sylvan Learning Center in Chattanooga. He is a two-time graduate of the North American Montessori Center and graduated Suma Cum Laude from Bryan College. His favorite part about Montessori is seeing the joy that the children express each time they learn something new.

Business Manager & Social Worker

Jessica Smith


In 2014, Jessica graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Montevallo with a bachelors degree in social work. As a social worker, Jessica worked with students in grades 6th through 12th within the public school system, foster youths aging out of state care, survivors of domestic and sexual assault, and residents in a skilled nursing facility. Jessica is a Licensed Bachelor Social Worker with the Tennessee Board of Social Workers. In 2018, she received her masters degree from Troy University in Human Resource Management. She has worked in the Human Resources field for over 3 years. In her spare time, Jessica enjoys reading, crafting, and visiting the The Dragon.


Named for Maria Montessori’s only son, Mario is an adopted neighborhood cat. He is the first staff member here in the mornings and greets each subsequent arrival with an impatient nod towards his food bowl. Mario enjoys teaching the children how to pet with gentle hands and how to give just the right head scratches. When he’s not working, Mario enjoys napping on the picnic tables, climbing trees, and headbutting staff to get affection.

Toddler Lead Guide

Rebekah Carpenter

Rebekah graduated from Maryville College with a B.S. in Biology and went on to work in non-profits that serve children. She volunteered at an orphanage in Mexico and worked with youth in Kenya before stumbling into a floater position at a Montessori school. She fell in love with the respect shown to the children and quickly got her Montessori credential (AMS) from the Greater Cincinnati Center for Montessori Education. She loved the beginning of her teaching career with three to six year olds but is overjoyed to pursue her passion of building a Toddler Community here at Little River Montessori School. When she’s not at work, Rebekah is reading (mostly fantasy and science fiction), going on walks, and trying out new bourbons with her husband.

Early Childhood Assistant Guide

Tyler Newman

Tyler graduated from the University of Tennessee Knoxville with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. He came to love Montessori because of how his son, Emrys, has flourished in that environment, and how it has given Emrys the independence that he and his wife want for him. Tyler is a photographer in his spare time. He enjoys reading, gaming, and being outside.

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