Meet the Remarkable FernLeaf Staff!

Kelly Anderson, Kindergarten

Kelly relocated to Western North Carolina in 2018 from the Green Mountains of Vermont. She grew up with an appreciation of the outdoors and is excited to continue exploring the mountains here. Kelly studied at both the University of Vermont and Castleton State College in Southern Vermont. She taught in Vermont’s school system for 13 years with most of her experience at the middle school level. She has a passion for teaching math and believes that student voice is an integral part of education. In addition to teaching, Kelly also spent many hours with her students coaching and officiating both soccer and basketball. One of Kelly’s favorite places to travel is to the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica where she has been a student as well as a teacher to English Language Learners. Kelly and her two dogs, Finn and Stout are pleased to call Hendersonville their home and she is thrilled to be a part of the FernLeaf Community!

Amy Schmitte, Kindergarten (Teacher Assistant)

Amy grew up in Syracuse, NY, where her childhood spent outside fostered her love for the environment. She earned a bachelor’s degree in conservation biology at the State University of New York. During her college career, she spent her time gaining experience in the environmental field. She volunteered at a local wildlife rehabilitation center and worked as a hellbender salamander field research assistant. During her senior year, Amy fell in love with environmental education and decided to pursue that interest. She interned at a local nature center working with environmental educators teaching children in Syracuse city schools about the nature that surrounds them. Her love of all things nature led her to move to Western North Carolina. She served with AmeriCorps Project Conserve for two years in Tryon, North Carolina as the education assistant at the Foothills Equestrian Nature Center. She taught children in grades k-5 in schools, on field trips, and during summer camps.


Jennifer Love, Kindergarten

Jennifer grew up in Richmond, Virginia, but fell in love with the mountains of Western North Carolina as a student at Warren Wilson College. She graduated with a degree in Elementary Education, and began teaching in Henderson County that fall. After eight years of teaching, Jennifer took a few years off to raise her two children, Henry and Tessa, and to serve as a founding board member of FernLeaf. She has spent the last four years teaching Pre-Kindergarten in Hendersonville. Jennifer is thrilled to be teaching at FernLeaf! She has a passion for play-based learning and strives to differentiate and make learning fun for her students. She has a love for children's literature (with a particular love for Roald Dahl) and finds great delight in sharing her favorite books with her students. In her free time, she loves distance running, cooking, geocaching, and going on adventures with her family.


Joe Hinchcliffe, Kindergarten (Teacher Assistant)

Joe grew up in South Florida, but relocated to the Asheville area 22 years ago. He holds an Associate of Arts degree and is certified in early childhood education. Joe has spent the past 14 years as a teacher and Child Enrichment Program Coordinator at Around the Son Preschool at Skyland United Methodist Church. In addition, he served six years as the Commanding Officer of the Asheville Division of the United States Naval Sea Cadet Corps, a Navy youth leadership program. He has been married for 20 years to his wife, Kelley, and has 3 sons: Will, a sophomore studying Geology at North Carolina State University; Robert, a freshman studying Elementary Education at Appalachian State University; and Ben, a fifth grader at Glenn C. Marlow Elementary. Joe and his family enjoy many outdoor activities, including hiking, kayaking, traveling, and off road driving in their Jeeps.


Sarah Bachler, 1st/2nd Grade

Sarah grew up outside of Chicago. She then moved to the mountains and attended the University of Vermont where she lived in applied housing for environmentally conscious students and found her deep love for hiking and gardening. While at UVM, Sarah obtained a dual license in Special Education and Elementary Education. Throughout college Sarah volunteered at a family shelter and helped to run an art therapy program for the children living there. She also mentored a teenager with Autism throughout college through a village mentoring type program. Sarah completed her student teaching at a magnet school with a sustainability focus. She worked with many refugee students and decided to dedicate a year after college to relocate to Thailand. Upon returning to the US, Sarah moved to Asheville (hoping to find a warmer Vermont) and began work at CooperRiis, a holistic healing community, and working at a Montessori preschool.

Prior to joining FernLeaf's teaching staff, she spent a year working with our EC Department.

Sarah likes to spend time with friends, go hiking in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, and taking art classes.

Michele Corral, 1st/2nd Grade

Michele is an Asheville native (yes… really, a native). She graduated from UNC Asheville, and taught at Hall Fletcher Elementary for 10 years. She has a passion for environmental education, hands-on activities, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) projects and brain-based learning. While working at Hall Fletcher, she helped lead a pilot program that implemented commercial composting districtwide. She also led efforts that resulted in the school winning the Elementary Solar Schools Challenge in 2015. Most recently, Michele served on Hall Fletcher’s digital leadership team where she helped create engaging lessons with stop-motion animation and STEAM-based projects.

Michele is a mom to two sweet children, Kauis and Mila, and life partner to Chris.


Mary Rutkowski, 1st/2nd Grade

Mary grew up with a love of the outdoors and spent many hours fishing, camping, and exploring in the woods of Wisconsin. She moved to the city in 2009 to study at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, where she  received her bachelor degree in Art Education. She remained there teaching K-8th grade art in public schools until 2015, when she and her partner set out on a new adventure and moved to Asheville. She is certified both in K-12 Art as well as Elementary Education has been teaching at FernLeaf since 2017. Mary’s favorite thing about FernLeaf is watching kids thrive in an environment that encourages exploration, creativity, and community. She has a passion for integrating art in all subject areas, learning through the natural world, social/emotional learning, and letting kids play! Mary currently lives with her partner in West Asheville. She enjoys art making, reading, camping, hiking, rockhounding, studying plants and insects, and doting on her cat, Fredy.


Whitney Mebane, 1st/2nd Grade

Born and raised in coastal Massachusetts, Whitney received her master's degree in education from Antioch University. During her studies, she spent a semester in New Zealand studying various ecosystems while creating and implementing an environmental education curriculum. Her time there marked the beginning of a wanderlust that has carried her far and wide. She spent a year in Hawaii teaching on the North Shore of Oahu, she has backpacked extensively throughout the world, from the deserts of the Southwest to rain forests of Tahiti, she lived on a 150-foot schooner in the Caribbean, and has studied the rain-forests and marine ecosystems of both Belize and Guatemala. Whitney, and her husband, Jason, moved with their two Saint Bernard dogs from Seattle, where she taught for over nine years and helped establish STEAM programs and curriculum, to WNC for the opportunity to be part of the FernLeaf community. As a family, when they aren't travelling, they like to take hikes and see live music.


Launa Tierney, 1st/2nd Grade (Teacher Assistant)

Launa has joined the Fernleaf family from the Hendersonville Community Co-op. Her passion for nurturing children is not a new one. Originally from Michigan, Launa spent years nurturing children through Girl Scouts, coaching middle school and high school athletes and as a parent volunteer at the schools of her three children. Launa received her associates in business while raising her children into successful adults. Being a present parent was and still is an important aspect of her life. Launa’s mission has always been to help every child believe in their full potential just like she did for her own three children.

Launa and her husband, Sean, fell in love with WNC in 2006 while visiting Clemson with their middle daughter. Somehow, still not sure how they happened upon Hendersonville, but they fell in love, set their mind to move here, and seven years later, here they are.

Launa’s Daughter Tinesha and her husband Josh followed them to live and work in Hendersonville. Tinesha and Josh have added a grandson and soon another grandchild. Her daughter Aubin lives and works in Greenville. Her son, Connor and wife Maddie live and work in Michigan.

In her spare time she enjoys reading, traveling, and getting lost in her genealogy research.


Sarah Weaver, 1st/2nd Grade (Teacher Assistant)

Sarah started working with children as a teacher/counselor at Pressley Ridge in Walker, WV. She moved to North Carolina in 2007 after accepting a job as a wilderness instructor at the SUWS of the Carolinas near Old Fort, NC.  She later relocated to Fayetteville, NC to serve as an exceptional children's teacher assistant for three years in an elementary school. Additionally, she worked as a respite care provider through Ft. Bragg, where she provided children with special needs of military families assistance in their day to day.

Prior to coming to FernLeaf, with a degree in Criminal Justice, Sarah worked for the Administration of the Courts as a courtroom clerk and The Department of Public Safety as a Judicial Service Coordinator. Alas, she missed working with children, and made the transition from the courtrooms back to the classroom at FernLeaf!


Leslie Cawlfield, 3rd Grade

Leslie has been a part of the FernLeaf community since its inception. She grew up in Mobile, AL and graduated from Rhodes College in Memphis, TN. For 20 years, and in many different homes, she has been lucky enough to be a teacher in a variety of ways including as an outdoor educator, yoga teacher, coach, camp counselor, tutor, mentor, and mother. Since 2008, she has been a classroom teacher in public schools in both Hendersonville, NC and Austin, TX. She loves to help kids grow, get excited about learning, and find ways to develop and pursue their interests. She is an avid traveler and is constant seeking out new places, cultures, and experiences. She has two children, Isabella and Beckett, who she loves taking along on her adventures all over the world.


Ashley Gregg, 3rd Grade

Ashley grew up in Greenville, South Carolina and fell in love with WNC as a kid when she and her family would visit the area to go on hikes. She graduated from Appalachian State University with a degree in Elementary Education and has been working with kids ever since. Ashley began her teaching career as a Kindergarten teacher at Vance Elementary in West Asheville. After teaching at Vance, she and her husband continued their teaching careers as International teachers where they taught in Panama City, Panama and Turin, Italy. Ashley loves to utilize student interest to drive instruction and enjoys the challenge of finding unique ways to engage all learners. You can find Ashley and her family mountain biking, trail running, or road biking on the weekends.


Taylor Coddington, 3rd Grade (Teacher Assistant)

Taylor grew up here, in Asheville - Bent Creek to be exact. He completed Elementary, Middle and High school in Enka / Candler and attended church most Sundays and Wednesdays in West Asheville. He completed his Bachelor’s degree at UNC Chapel Hill (go Heels!). Since college he has worked in various fields including E-commerce and Education Technology, and lived in multiple cities including Durham, NC, Austin, TX and London. He moved home to Asheville in 2018 and began pursuing his career in education at FernLeaf soon afterwards.

Outside of work, he participates in local basketball and soccer leagues, frequents the YMCA, loves exploring the Asheville area and spending time with friends and family. He also enjoys books, podcasts, film and learning in general.


Kathleen Askew, 4th Grade

Kathleen grew up in West Virginia where she enjoyed spending time in the mountains with her family.  She has called western North Carolina her “home away from home” since 2001 when she moved to Boone to attend Appalachian State University.  She currently lives in Edneyville, where she can be found with her family working in the garden, listening to music, hiking, or cooking up a big meal.  She loves to snowboard, scuba dive, fish, travel, and spend time by the ocean.  

In 2005, Kathleen graduated with a degree in elementary education and later became a National Board Certified Teacher. Prior to FernLeaf, most of her decade teaching was in fourth grade classrooms in Buncombe County Schools.  Since coming to FernLeaf in the school's inaugural year, she has taken an active lead in shaping many aspects of what makes FernLeaf so special.


Alissa Conti, 4th Grade

Alissa grew up in Fredonia, NY, which is a small town between Erie, PA and Buffalo, NY. She graduated from SUNY Fredonia in 2014 with a degree in Exercise Science. After working at a fitness center for a year and a half she was asked to be a nanny to her three younger cousins in Perrysburg, OH. After two years of that she decided to take a leap of faith and join AmeriCorps. This is what brought her to Western NC and to FernLeaf! Serving for one year of AmeriCorps developed her love for the area and the FernLeaf community.  She stayed on at FernLeaf supporting EC students for a year prior to becoming a Teacher.

In her free time she loves doing any and every outdoor activity, spending time with friends, exploring and going back to Western NY to visit her family.


Zack Johnson, 4th Grade (Teacher Assistant)

Zack grew up in Williamsburg, VA and spent most of his adult life in Charleston, SC. He fell in love with the mountains on an anniversary trip and finally moved to the Hendersonville area in 2014.

Having always been a lover of history, he spent time working both in museums and historical interpretation. Most recently, he has spent 15 years in public libraries promoting literacy and a love of reading to children and young adults. A strong passion for storytelling has developed during those years in libraries as well! For a short time, he taught at a private school in Charleston, SC which primarily used project based learning, and has also taught American history through an online learning platform.

Zack enjoys spending time with his wife and three wonderful children! Also - camping, hiking, cooking, music, literature (he’s a sci-fi guy,) and theater are other interests and passions.

Being a part of the FernLeaf team allows him to cultivate a caring and creative learning environment and he is always looking for those moments when students light up with understanding!


Cathy Belair 5th/6th Grade Math

Cathy is a two-time alumna as a Catamount - at two different Universities! She earned her Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Administration with a specialty in Accounting at her home-town school, the University of Vermont, and spent many successful years working in business and information technologies throughout the greater Burlington area. It wasn't until her daughter started kindergarten that she began questioning her life's path and contemplating a career in teaching. After much consideration, Cathy and her family decided to move to Fletcher, NC, where she earned her Master of Arts in Teaching Middle School Mathematics (as a Catamount) at Western Carolina University. Cathy spent her first three years in education as a 7th grade math teacher at Flat Rock Middle School. In 2009, she moved to Valley Springs Middle School in Arden, NC where she taught inclusion, regular ed, and AIG classes in Math and Social Studies. Valley Springs is a great school filled with talented teachers, but when the opportunity arose to teach at FernLeaf Community Charter School, Cathy just couldn't pass it up! She is passionate about helping her students Learn to Love to Learn!



Jennifer Ryan, 5th/6th Grade Science

Jennifer has lived in WNC since 1999 when she was recruited to play for the Women’s Soccer Team for Appalachian State University. She graduated from there with a degree in Elementary Education in 2004. After graduating and prior to coming to FernLeaf in 2017, she has taught 3rd-5th grade in Buncombe County Schools. She leads a multifaceted life where she is creative, energetic, and adventurous in the classroom and her family life.

She has a love for the arts and incorporates them into her classroom culture. As Liaison for the Leaf Schools and Streets Program she loves to expose her students to things that broaden their cultural horizons. She is energetic and loves to build a strong classroom community giving her students leadership roles to contribute and synergize in the classroom. You will often see her on the sidelines of her student’s ballgames cheering them on as leaders in the community. She loves to hike and explore the outdoors and to use the outdoors as a classroom. Her creative and hands-on approach to education makes her a perfect fit for FernLeaf!


Chris Pauley, 5th/6th Grade Social Studies

Chris grew up in NW Indiana just outside of Chicago. He went on to study elementary education at Vincennes University and University of Southern Indiana, where he graduated in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and middle grades social studies.

After teaching one year in Indiana, Chris moved to Charlotte with his soon to be wife, Elizabeth. Here he taught 6th grade science and social studies for the next ten years before moving to the Asheville area to be closer to family.

Chris has taught at an array of schools during his teaching career, which has given him the opportunity to work with a wide variety of students and educators. Ecstatic to now be teaching at Fern Leaf, he has a passion for teaching history and building positive relationships with students.

When not teaching, Chris enjoys baseball, traveling, hiking, and exploring Asheville with his wife and two children.


Vic Wiesel, 5th/6th Grade English/Language Arts

Vic is thrilled to be a part of the FernLeaf teaching team. With a degree in media studies, he had a brief stint working for the TV Food Network before leaving television to work with children in the outdoors. Vic has extensive experience teaching in a variety of environments, from backcountry environmental education to middle school language arts. He is committed to creating a safe educational space for everyone in his classroom. In his free time, Vic is an avid photographer, exploring traditional and historical photographic techniques in his Hendersonville darkroom. He also enjoys a variety of outdoor pursuits, including sailing, whitewater kayaking, and alpine skiing.


Christine Andrews, 5th/6th Grade (Teacher Assistant)

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Chris has always had a passion for learning, but she didn't always know she wanted to be a teacher. She graduated with a BA in Psychology from the University of Maryland and then traveled to Guatemala where she worked as an academic instructor. It was there that Chris fell in love with teaching. She returned to Baltimore where she spent 5 years working as a fourth grade teacher and earning her Master’s degree in Elementary Education. In 2014, she took a position as the Chief of Academic Operations at Beyond English, a certified B corporation English institute in Santiago, Chile. After 3 years in Chile, she returned to Baltimore to teach Spanish and then 2nd grade. Christine’s students describe her as “down to earth,” "fun" and someone who “likes to take deep breaths”. She is currently breathing into the year long Mindful Educator certificate with Mindful Schools. It was her and her partner's shared love of the mountains that recently brought them to western North Carolina with their dog, Fiona.


Joe Hartles, 5th/6th Grade (Teacher Assistant)

Joe is from the United Kingdom and moved to North Carolina in 2007 after completing his bachelor's degree in Outdoor Studies. After hearing bluegrass music for the first time he knew this was home. Joe has extensive experience working with children in a variety of mental health settings that include wilderness camps, day treatment classrooms, and inpatient psychiatric stabilization units. As an avid outdoorsman, Joe understands the importance of being connected to the environment around us and exploring the infinite learning opportunities that it can provide. When Joe is not at school, it is very likely that he is somewhere fishing. He also enjoys camping, canoeing, and exploring the woods and lakes of WNC with his family and dog, Scruggs.


Alyssa Moore,  Exceptional Children Program Director and Teacher

Alyssa came to North Carolina from Kansas in 2004 with her family and received both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Western Carolina University in Special Education: General and Adaptive Curriculum with a concentration in Elementary Education and Social and Emotional Disabilities.  

Possessing a wealth of experience in inclusion settings, Alyssa enjoys working collaboratively with parents and teachers to achieve the best outcomes for students.  She brings to FernLeaf skill sets and expertise that are beneficial not only to students within the Exceptional Children Program, but to all FernLeaf students.  Alyssa is an expert in the inclusion model and able to provide tremendous in-class co-teaching and support; she believes fervently that the inclusion model is best for all students; she possesses a wealth of knowledge related to developing strategies designed to help students be successful; and she is capable of providing parents and teachers with common sense approaches to working with a variety of challenges.  Some of her career highlights include: implementing an experimental program on inclusion for students with severe disabilities; presenting on inclusion research and strategies at the 2015 North Carolina's Council for Exceptional Children's Annual Conference; and being awarded the Morrill Family Fund for Research in Education grant for staff training in the area of inclusion.

Alyssa lives in Fletcher with her dog Abby and cat Noname.  In her free time she enjoys playing outside with Abby, gardening, fishing, cooking, reading, and watching movies.


Mary Tody, Exceptional Children Teacher

Born in Wisconsin and raised in Raleigh, NC, Mary moved to Hendersonville in 2003 from Boone, where she attended Appalachian State University and acquired her Bachelor’s degree in Special Education grades K-12 with a concentration in Learning Disabilities. She has worked with children in a variety of settings including: tutoring, working with preschool age children, as a house parent at a boarding school for adolescent girls, working as an EC Teacher for grades K-5 in Henderson County, working one on one with a child with special needs and, her personal favorite, as a mom to her three kiddos. Mary firmly believes in helping students access their education through individualizing instruction, making accommodations, and setting attainable short term and long term goals with students and their families.

Mary loves to help in the community and serves on the Special Needs Sports Board, volunteers with The Humane Society, and has helped to raise money to fund an accessible playground in Henderson County as well as to run Camp Cliffview, a special needs camp for children.  She loves to be outdoors, read, and spend time with her three children. Their favorite things to do are to go camping, hiking, travel to new places and to continue to learn new things. 


Gretchen Eastridge, Exceptional Children Assistant

Gretchen and her husband, Bud, moved from a farm in Ohio to WNC 14 years ago to be near their daughter, Kara, and her family. Gretchen’s son, Eric, and his family live in California. While she and Bud owned and operated several businesses together, her passion has always been working with children. She worked in public schools as an assistant teacher in classrooms for children with special needs, and as an administrative assistant in a middle school. Before coming to FernLeaf, however, she was an associate teacher at Swannanoa Valley Montessori School. She and Bud are avid gardeners and enjoy being near the water and exploring nature. Being a mother and grandmother are her greatest accomplishments.


Lorna Festa, Exceptional Children Assistant

Lorna is partner to David and mother to Luca (toddler) and Oscar (cat). She comes from an Italian American family that relocated to Greenville, SC from Newark, NJ.

In 2008, after earning her B.A. in psychology from USC in Columbia, SC, she worked for a year as a scriptwriter for digital media before deciding to pursue her master’s in writing at Sheffield Hallam University. Lorna lived in Sheffield from 2009 - 2011, where she wrote a novel to earn her master’s, got a few short stories published, and did some traveling.

Lorna has worked as a proofreader for literary criticism, an art gallery manager, a marketing & communications specialist for many nonprofits, and in enrollment for NC Pre-K and Head Start. Her nurturing spirit and the mystery of life led her to discover a home at FernLeaf, and more specifically with the EC team and children. She moonlights as a singer and is still chasing her dream of publishing novels.


Lorne Klein, Exceptional Children Assistant

Lorne grew up in the city of Charlotte, NC but made frequent escapes to the woods to go camping, hiking, fishing, and any other outdoor activity he could find. After growing up in the city he decided to head to the Mountains for college so he could be closer to the nature he truly enjoyed. He attended Appalachian State University and studied Psychology with a concentration in childhood cognitive and behavioral development. He lived in Boone for 7 years before making the transition to Asheville in the Fall of 2019. His hobbies include being outdoors, going to concerts and music festivals, and watching or playing sports.

Lorne found FernLeaf through the recommendation of an old friend and former FernLeaf staff member. His favorite thing about being a part of the FernLeaf team is the overwhelming sense of community and support that everyone involved in the school shares as well as the progressive and inclusive learning environments that are provided.  While Lorne is one of the newer staff members here at FernLeaf he is absolutely thrilled to be a part of this special community and is excited to learn and grow alongside the students and staff members here.


Aubrie Leonard, Exceptional Children Assistant

Aubrie was raised in Hendersonville, NC with her large family of four brothers, one sister and various pets! After high school she traveled and worked several different internships over the course of two years. She then earned her Horticulture Diploma with Haywood Community College and took continuing educational classes with AB-Tech. She was self employed as a landscaper and farm sitter for approximately two years until she decided she needed to tap into her extrovert powers and become more involved with human beings! She tried working with young adults in trauma, adolescents with eating disorders and then began working with youth in foster care. While doing so she became passionate for advocating for youth in the DSS system and became a GAL (Court appointed voice for children). She loves creating safe learning and growing environments for children of all ages.


Eric Scheider, Music and Performing Arts Teacher

Eric grew up in Buffalo, NY, and lives in Asheville with his wife, Emily, and daughter Lily. He has been exploring music with children in WNC since 2005. He has taught in and then led the education programs of the Hendersonville Symphony and taught orchestra at the middle and high school level for the Henderson County Public Schools. Eric currently performs professionally as a cellist with the Cafe String Quartet, in several orchestras, and freelance around the WNC, Upstate SC, and Eastern Tennessee areas. His pop/rock/folk/jazz cello career has included performances with lots of awesome artists and recordings for MTV Films, NPR Music, WNCW Radio, and more.

Eric is also an active conductor who has worked with children, collegiate groups, and adults in WNC and Upstate SC in orchestral, festival, and theatrical performances and workshops, currently directing the Four Seasons Chamber Orchestra in Hendersonville and the Jubilee! Summer Orchestra in Asheville. He has arranged dozens of pieces for chamber groups and orchestras, and is a prize-winning composer.

In previous lives, he has worked in a vegetarian restaurant, green building, non-profit management, a meditation center, and as a yoga teacher, all of which he still thinks are fun. Eric has a BA in Philosophy from the University of Rochester and further Music Education licensure coursework from the Eastman School of Music, Berklee College of Music, University of the Arts, Western and East Carolina Universities and elsewhere.


Liz Wiesel, Art Teacher

Liz Wiesel came to Fernleaf in 2017 after teaching Art in Henderson County for 11 years.  Originally from Michigan, she received her BFA, K-12 Art teaching license and certification from Michigan State University.  During her time with Henderson County Public Schools she taught High school Art and Photography and earned her National Board Certification.

When not actively making America smarter, Liz can be found wrangling her three kids, spending time with her dreamy husband, playing with her far-too-devoted-dogs, or managing her not-nearly-devoted enough cats and pet bunny.  Liz is also a working artist focusing on painting, printmaking, and ceramic arts. Liz is a horrible but enthusiastic baker, an avid but self deprecating gardener, and an above average dancer.  Liz is so excited to bring her love of art and creativity to the students of Fernleaf.


Administrative and Support Staff


Amber joined the FernLeaf team in 2019 and has been supporting staff, students, and families in innumerable ways ever since!


Lisa Brown, Academic Intervention Assistant

Lisa grew up in Massachusetts and relocated to North Carolina in 2010. After a few more moves to Michigan and Texas, she and her family thankfully now call the Asheville area home. Lisa earned a Bachelors in Social and Behavioral Sciences at Marist College in New York and a Masters Degree in Social Work from Wheelock College in Boston. She has worked in a variety of settings within the field of Social Work but always with children or teens and most years in the school systems. After taking some time off to stay home with her children, Lisa is excited to be a part of the FernLeaf community. Lisa lives in Mills River with her husband and three young children.


Bryan Gillette, Counselor

Bryan grew up among the cornfields and woods of northeastern Ohio, but his heart has always been in North Carolina (There’s a song lyric in there somewhere). During his yearly migrations to Sunset Beach with his extended family, Bryan grew to appreciate the healing power of human connection and the natural world. Those values were reaffirmed as Bryan moved into his work as a Teaching Parent at the AZ State School for the Deaf and the Blind, as a zoo educator (ask to hear about the baby alligator sometime!), as an Autism Specialist for Buncombe County Schools, and most especially as a school counselor. After dedicating over 20 years of experience to working with young people, Bryan continued his journey at Lenoir Rhyne University where he graduated with a M.A. of education in school counseling in 2018.

Bryan currently resides in Leicester with his partner, Brad, son, Cade, mom, Chris, two dogs, one cat, two ducks, and seven chickens. He is always up for a camping trip, a night at the movies, or having meaningful conversations over a warm cup of tulsi tea. Bryan is grateful to be a part of the FernLeaf family, and he looks forward to getting to know you better!


Billy Hoyle, After School Programming Coordinator

Billy was born in Marion, North Carolina ,but now calls Asheville home with his wife, Ginny, and Bunnies, Ollie and Piper. He went to Appalachian State University for his Bachelor Degree in Recreation Management. He has been working with youth since he was 16 years old, teaching outdoor skills at Camp Bud Schiele. Since then, he has tried on many hats. Some of his favorites were as a Ranger for the Tongass National Forest in Juneau Alaska, a shipboard naturalist for Disney Cruise Line, and most recently he has been a Program Supervisor and Director of Camp-Wide Activities at Talisman Summer Camp in Zirconia. Billy believes the house of tomorrow is built on the foundation of today. In his free time, he can most likely be found traveling, gardening, backpacking, playing video games, or learning the banjo.


Michael Luplow, Executive Director

Michael’s interest in educational policy, educational psychology, and creative approaches to teaching and learning were piqued while studying music education at the University of Illinois.  Over the next 17 years, Michael had the opportunity to develop thoughtful, compassionate, and innovative approaches and programs in urban, suburban, and rural K-12 settings in Illinois and North Carolina schools as Director of Orchestras.  This broad experience gave him a unique lens into the entire K-12 landscape and the possibilities for change within public education.  He also recognized a personal strength in building programs and creating rich, positive, and meaningful experiences for children. After informally studying school leadership models and programs, he earned a master’s degree in Western Carolina’s unique entrepreneurship program, which provided a foundation better suited to his interests and passion for enacting meaningful change in the lives of children. After a failed attempt to launch a summer camp, which had the fortunate byproduct of allowing him and his wife, Molly, to raise their amazing children Bridget and Oscar on 30 beautiful acres in Mills River, he began planning for what would ultimately become FernLeaf Community Charter School.

When Michael is not scratching his head about the next big project and trying to change the world one school and one child at a time, he can be found somewhere in the woods with Molly, Bridget, and Oscar.


Molly Luplow, Director

As one of the school’s founders, she has worked to support the development of FernLeaf behind the scenes since 2013 through committee and board involvement.  Molly earned her bachelor’s degree from The University of Iowa, and then a master’s degree in human services counseling.  She is a licensed professional counselor, and holds a NC school counselor license.  Molly’s background includes two decades of experience working with children, adolescents, and families in both the school and community setting.  She is passionate about her own lifelong learning opportunities and applying her knowledge and experiences to develop student and school centered programs and supports.  Molly has initiated and facilitated the development of a system-wide Crisis Response Team protocol in Henderson County in addition to the creation of the Henderson County Suicide Prevention Toolkit.  She is an engaged member of her professional community with multiple published articles and frequent speaking engagements at the local and state levels.


Karie Martin, Administrative Assistant

Karie is a West Virginia native who relocated to Henderson County in 2014. She and her partner John have two daughters at FernLeaf, Lilie and Violet. Karie is a graduate of West Virginia State University where she earned her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. Prior to relocating to North Carolina, she served as Assistant to the Director for a statewide children's advocacy program for her home state of WV. She has worked as an administrative assistant in various settings over the years and loves that her role here at FernLeaf allows her to support every aspect of our school community!


Brandon Perkins, Custodian/Maintenance

Although not originally from the mountains of Western North Carolina, this is where Brandon calls home. He lives here with his beautiful and talented wife, and together they have a total of five children, ranging in ages from sixteen to nine. When he is not spending time with his family, or has a break from work, he loves hiking, fishing, biking, camping, going to concerts, exploring, and attending football games and wrestling matches. He loves all sports and used to be an assistant coach for several different teams at his previous school.

Brandon has been working in the school systems for almost ten years now, and has experience in construction, carpentry, electrical, HVAC, and plumbing. He enjoys working with his hands and fixing things that are not working properly, however, he is never too busy to stop for a game of ball with the students. He knows that these children are the future, and the precious time we spend with them and the relationships and memories that we form with them will have an exponential positive impact on the future.


Caitlin Riley, After School Program Assistant

Caitlin grew up in Minnesota, where she spent most of her time exploring the woods and lakes with her family. In college, she spent her summers working as a trip leader and cabin counselor at a small camp in Northern Minnesota. It was during these summers that Caitlin realized she wanted to turn her passion for the outdoors into a career. Post college graduation, she took jobs teaching outdoor education all over the world, including places such as New Zealand, Australia and Hong Kong. Upon her return to the US, Caitlin continued her outdoor career, working as a wilderness therapy field guide, mountaineering and sea kayaking guide, and ropes course instructor. In 2011, Caitlin found herself moving to Western North Carolina to return her summer camp roots, and has been in the area ever since. She recently decided to return to school to pursue her Masters degree in Social Work. When she is not working, or completing school assignments, Caitlin loves to go mountain biking, hiking, and generally hanging outside with her partner Ryan and their pup Dora.



Whitney Royal, Academic Intervention Assistant

Whitney grew up in Raleigh, but always loved driving up to the mountains to go camping with her family. She finally moved to the mountains to attend Appalachian State University, where she earned degrees in Social Work and Middle Grades Education. Whitney has worked with children and youth in many different settings, including residential treatment, camps, a museum, and schools. She is excited to be part of a school community that encourages experiential learning and teaches to the whole child. In her free time, she enjoys relaxing with her spouse and cat, being outside, reading, writing, and watching movies.


Mandy Sallee, Title I Academic Interventionist

Mandy is a Henderson County native who enjoys spending time outdoors with her family in our beautiful mountains. She loves hiking with her husband, two daughters, and their dog and finds comfort in exploring many of the same spots she explored as a child. She was a NC Teaching Fellow and obtained a degree in Special Education from Appalachian State University in 2000. Mandy taught special education for 12 years in Charlotte and Raleigh. Her passion for teaching reading led her to pursue a Master of Education in Literacy from Queens University. She returned to WNC in 2013 and took some time away from teaching after the birth of her second daughter. Mandy has spent the last several years working part time for North Carolina Virtual Public Schools and serving as a Program Coordinator for the Children and Family Resource Center.