Our Staff

Cindy Acker, Head of School Consultant

Cindy Acker Hamilton Montessori School

Cindy is our consulting Head of School of Hamilton Montessori School. She holds a BA in Human Development, two Master’s degrees in Cultural Studies and Spirituality and Education, and a doctorate in Educational Leadership from UC Berkeley. She is a former president of one of California’s preschool management associations, and an international keynote speaker on education, race, and leadership. Cindy was Montessori trained by Ursula Thrush, who was trained by Mario Montessori, and she is a professor for Montessori school leadership programs. She has founded seven schools, including The Child Unique, The Montessori Elementary School of Alameda (MESA) and Hamilton Montessori School, which she co-founded for Unity In Marin.  Cindy has also been involved in public policy, representing Montessori schools in California. She is a published author and a national keynote speaker. Apart from her passion for education, Cindy is a singer and choir director in Novato and a mother of three adult children. She also speaks Dutch and Spanish.

Melissa Morales, Director and Montessori Preschool Teacher


Melissa discovered her passion and drive in early education when she worked as an assistant teacher in San Francisco. She went to school to achieve a degree in early education and also completed her MACTE accredited certification in Montessori training. Having worked in the Montessori preschool environment for eight years, in San Francisco and Novato, Melissa says she feels “honored to be the Director of Hamilton Montessori… leading the classroom but also the school for many years to come.” Melissa is a parent and enjoys spending time with her friends and family.

Catherine Graham, Nature/Science Preschool Teacher


Catherine was the founding teacher for Hamilton Montessori School. In private and public schools, she has taught at the early childhood, elementary and middle levels for 26 years in New York and California. She holds two Masters degrees in education and administration. Her teaching is effused with her love of music, art, literature, nature and the environment. She believes that seeing children as peacemakers encourages them to be mindful of how kindness ripples out into the world. Catherine lives in Novato with her husband and two young daughters. She enjoys exploring with her family and going on adventures in the beautiful Bay Area. She also loves to take relaxing time to read, write and be creative.

Lisbet Martinez, Assistant Preschool Teacher

Version 2

Lisbet began working with children at the age of 18 by volunteering four days a week at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland. Here she was able to help children in the oncology clinic that were undergoing chemotherapy by reading books, reciting poetry, painting, and creating memory boxes. Lisbet loves working with children because she gets to be part of their growth and development while sharing in their messy, creative, and playful learning. Lisbet has earned 21 units in early childhood education from Berkeley City College and College of Marin. She is currently a junior at UC Berkeley, studying chemistry and developmental psychology. Lisbet’s passion for science combined with her love of children has brought her great joy. Her long-term goal is to attend medical school and become a pediatric hematologist-oncologist so she can help  children with cancer.

Dawn Robinson, Toddler Teacher

Version 2

Dawn has a background in language studies, in music, and in early childhood education.  She holds a B.A. in English Literature With Writing Emphasis, from Dominican University, and a Masters of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing, from Pacific University of Oregon.  She earned 24 ECE units in Early Childhood Education, studied for two years on Montessori training while teaching concurrently, and took part in two years of study in a Single-Subject English Teaching Credential through Dominican University.  She has taught, and tutored children in classes from preschool to high school for eighteen years, in Montessori, Reggio Emilia, Waldorf, and various other methodologies.  Children are some of her favorite people; she holds the imagination which they embody in high regard.

Danielle Branigin, Assistant Toddler Teacher


Danielle began working with children at 16 years old and became an assistant teacher. She studied Early Childhood Education at Santa Rosa JC, Irvine, and has recently completed her Montessori Infant/Toddler Training with the North American Montessori Center. She enjoys time with her family, exploring beautiful hiking trails with her pup, and taking drives to the beach. 

Aileen Padilla, Teacher’s Aide and Disinfector

Aileen comes to us from another Montessori school and is excited to join HMS. She enjoys helping with cleaning and being around children. Having lived in Novato, she is happy to return and looks forward to growing in her Early Childhood Education focus.