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 Teacher


Melissa discovered her passion for becoming a Montessori educator at 18 years old. She began working in a Montessori preschool as a teacher aid and fell in love with the Montessori philosophy/education. Melissa decided to begin her educational journey toward becoming a Montessori Certified teacher.  She went to school to get a degree in Early Childhood Education and completed her Montessori MACTE accredited certification. Melissa says she feels “truly blessed to be working in the Montessori preschool environment for nine years now.”  Melissa started her Montessori path in San Francisco and has grown into the Montessori Educator/Director that she is now, here at Hamilton Montessori. Melissa joined as a preschool teacher in August 2018 and became the director of Hamilton Montessori school in March 2021. “I am beyond honored to have been able to grow as a Montessori educator here at HMS. Becoming the director has been the greatest honor of all.” Melissa has one beautiful daughter, enjoys going on hikes in Marin County, and truly loves spending her days with the children here at Hamilton Montessori School.

Catherine Graham, Preschool Teacher


Catherine was a founding teacher for Hamilton Montessori School. She has taught at the early childhood, elementary and middle levels for 26 years in New York and California in both public and private schools. Catherine holds two Masters degrees in education and administration. She began her training for Early Childhood Montessori Certification in October 2021 with the Center for Guided Montessori Studies and will be completed in June 2023.  She is fully embracing the Montessori philosophy and joyfully applies the principles and practices to all curriculum areas of the classroom. Creativity truly makes her heart sing! Catherine’s teaching is effused with her love of art, literature, mindfulness, music, nature, and the environment. She believes that seeing children as compassionate 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 loves to take time to read, write and be creative. She is passionate about daily meditation, journaling, and her spiritual life.  She also enjoys exploring the beautiful Bay Area and beyond with her family on weekend adventures and hopes to be blessed with another Samoyed dog very soon!

Maria Lezama, Assistant Toddler Teacher


Maria is very excited to be a part of Hamilton Montessori School and we are so happy to welcome her. She was raised in Marin County and recently moved to Petaluma. She is currently in school at Cerro Coso Community College and is working towards earning her early childhood units. Maria has worked with children ages 2-6 years old for 6+ years. She really enjoys learning from them and teaching them. In her spare time, Maria likes to bake new recipes and to go explore new hiking trails.

Aileen Padilla, Teacher’s Aid/School Disinfector 


Aileen comes to us from another Montessori school and is excited to be with us at HMS. She enjoys being around children and delights in seeing the world through their eyes. She is always willing to lend a helping hand whenever she may be needed. Her positive and patient energy is such a delight! Having lived in Novato, Aileen is happy to return and looks forward to growing in her Early Childhood Education focus.