Our Exceptional Staff
Gary has been teaching or leading schools for 18 years. He moved to the Four Corners Region 13 years ago. He loves to raft, hike, ski, camp and mountain bike. Gary is a strong advocate for project-based learning and has seen amazing results when students and teachers are passionate about their work and held to high standards. Most recently Gary served as the Dolores Elementary School principal. Before that, he helped start the 21st Century pilot program at Cortez Middle School, an amazing one-to-one laptop program where he taught science, math, technology and critical thinking in a project-based setting. He has also been a science fair coordinator and mentor for many years. Before coming to the Southwest, Gary taught high school math and reading at Woodlake Union High School in California. He has also taught math to at-risk boys for the Right of Passage Charter School located near Angels Camp, California. Gary grew up in the Central Valley of California where he was often seen helping his father in the orange groves or fixing diesel trucks in his father’s diesel repair business. As an educator, Gary is passionate about preparing students for the information age and showing how to use authority, logic and evidence to analyze and evaluate the massive amounts of information directed at students and teachers every day. Gary enjoys traveling with his wife, 11-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son.
Brooke grew up in Las Vegas, Nevada and spent her childhood riding horses and snowboarding. She discovered her love of teaching after she joined AmeriCorps and worked as a tutor for at-risk students. Brooke returned to college to earn her Master’s degree in Education and has taught in various elementary grades for the last sixteen years. She especially loves teaching reading and working with students in upper elementary grades. In her free time Brooke enjoys reading, traveling, doing yoga, and spending time outdoors. She is looking forward to putting roots down in Durango and being a part of the Mountain Middle School community.
Kimi Hanson came to Durango in 1997 by chance when she participated in an exchange program at Fort Lewis College for one year while pursuing her degree in Anthropology. As that year drew to a close, she realized that Durango had captured her heart. She transferred to the Fort the following year and received her BA in History with a minor in Anthropology. The rich cultural history of the area had its hold on her and she wanted to figure out how to stay forever, thus leading her to pursue her teaching certification in Elementary Education. Since 2005, she has taught first, second, and third grades between her time at Fort Lewis Mesa Elementary, Park Elementary, and most recently Needham Elementary, where she worked for 8 years. Kimi and her husband Luke love enjoying the outdoors with their daughter and son. Together they ski, bike, camp, kayak, paddle board, and go rafting. In 2015, Kimi received her MA in Teacher Leadership and is thrilled for this opportunity to become Mountain Middle School’s 4th/5th teacher leader. She is looking forward to her new chapter with the Mountain Middle School family.
Matt is from Atlanta, Georgia and he recently moved to Durango with his wife Lauren in 2018. He comes to MMS with 9 years of teaching experience, the majority of which has been at the middle school level. Matt is passionate about providing kids with ample opportunities in class to read independently and to explore new genres of books. When he is not teaching, Matt can be found doing the following: trail running with his dog Rufus, paddle boarding, hiking, watching University of Georgia football and basketball games, reading, cooking and/or strumming his ukelele.
Adam grew up just north of Baltimore. He attended College of Charleston, earning a degree in Middle Grades Education. During his time in Charleston, he rediscovered his love for the outdoors through climbing and paddleboarding.
Jen is a happy transplant to Colorado. She spent most of her life as a resident of the Pacific Northwest. She taught biology for five years at the Charles Wright Academy in Tacoma, WA in addition to running its climbing club and experiential learning program. Jen’s last eleven years in Durango have involved raising her two boys from scratch and creating and teaching education programs at the Powerhouse Science Center. She loves skiing, running, and climbing as much as humanly possible. Her favorite places on the planet are the Great Barrier Reef, the Peruvian Amazon, Denali National Park, and that big red lighthouse in Stykkishólmur, Iceland. Jen’s other passions include but are not limited to wearing costumes for no good reason, using bright sharpie markers on plain white paper, and writing about herself in the third person.
Josh grew up in cornfields of Iowa before following his love for the mountains to Boulder then landing in Durango at FLC, where he earned his Bachelors in Mathematics and Secondary Education back in 2000. For the past 18-years, he has called Georgia home. His job titles over the past 18-years include 7th & 8th-grade Math and Science Teacher, High School Math Teacher, Instructional Technology Specialist, Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Adjunct Professor of Mathematics. While in Georgia he earned his Master of Mathematics Education and involved himself in the community through the development of a youth mountain bike team, promotion of trail running, mountain biking and multi-sport events, and leadership roles in trail advocacy and trail maintenance. As Josh and his son, Lane, make their way back to Durango, he is excited to bring his passion of building positive relationships with students and co-workers along with his experience serving in various instructional and leadership capacities, with the Multi-Tiered System of Support, instructional technology, his wide range of teaching experiences, and past athletic endeavors as a mountain biker, ultrarunner and outdoorsman, to the team at Middle Mountain School.
Alec was born in Germany and moved around with his family before spending much of his childhood in Middletown, PA. He attended Prescott College for an Outdoor Leadership degree. After graduation he worked for Kling Mountain Guides leading trips across Colorado and Utah. He was inspired to delve into formal education after using the outdoors as his classroom. Alec enjoys playing the guitar, all manner of outdoor adventures, and reading leather bound books. He dislikes idleness, and hates pickles.
Liz Cartwright has over fourteen years of teaching experience. She began teaching at FLC for the Education Department. She then taught 7th & 8th-grade History at Bayfield Middle School for eleven years. She currently serves as the teacher leader for 8th-grade team. At Mountain Middle School, Liz co-teaches 8th grade Math, Science, and Humanities. She is very passionate about implementing reading and writing strategies into all content areas.
Liz is originally from Glen Ellyn, IL, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. She spent most of her childhood fishing with her dad and hiking with her mom. Through an exchange program with Illinois State University, she moved to Durango and decided that Durango was the place for her. She lives on a small ranch in Hesperus with her husband and animals. She loves reading, mountain biking, and hiking with her dogs and goats.
Emma is originally from Philadelphia and moved to Colorado to attend college. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Colorado Boulder and a Master’s in Education from Fort Lewis College. Emma is passionate about a wide range of subjects and holds multiple different educational licenses. She is certified to teach secondary science (7-12), middle school math (6-8) and secondary language arts (7-12). Emma initially discovered her love for teaching and pedagogy in her previous job as a certified yoga teacher. While she still loves teaching yoga, she considers herself extremely fortunate to now have the opportunity to share her passion for academics in the classroom. She is also an aerial acrobatics instructor for youth and adults and you can sometimes find her performing on aerial silks at weekend events! Outside of the classroom, she is a dedicated rock climber, yoga practitioner, aerial acrobatic enthusiast, poetry devotee, dog mother and crossword solver.
Rob grew up in Littleton, Colorado enjoying the wonderful opportunities the state has to offer. He climbed his first “Fourteener” at age 7. He moved to Durango in 1984 and attended Fort Lewis College. After graduating he held jobs that gravitated toward teaching young people. Realizing his desire to teach led him to become a trained teacher. He comes to MMS with 15 years of teaching experience at Sunnyside Elementary in Durango. Spending time outdoors hiking, rafting the Grand Canyon, mountain biking, and skiing are a few of life’s other pleasures for Rob.
Contact Anna Layden
M.A. Education, Walden UniversityBA- English, Colorado State University
Teaching License in Elementary K-6
Teaching License in Secondary English
Montessori 6-9 Teaching License
Anna grew up in Middlebury, Vermont and has lived in Durango for the past 11 years. Anna attended CSU in Fort Collins and majored in English with a concentration in Creative Writing. Anna then attended the FLC teaching licensure program and studied Secondary English Education. She most recently taught at Durango Montessori School for nine years and looks forward to bringing her passion for hands-on, project based learning to a new setting. Anna lives with her husband and enjoys spending time on Durango’s trails with her running shoes or a bike, doing pottery, traveling, and learning through teaching.
Lauren grew up in Atlanta, Georgia and most recently lived in Athens, Georgia where she taught high school History and English at Athens Academy. She is passionate about reading and writing and is excited to help Mountain Middle School students develop their skills and interests in those areas. Lauren earned her BA degree from Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina where she played NCAA Division I basketball. She also has MA and PhD degrees in History from University of South Carolina and Georgia State University, respectively. Lauren has hiked the entire Appalachian, Pacific Crest and Continental Divide Trails. During her hikes of the PCT and CDT, she fell in love with the mountain-west, and is thrilled to be living in Durango now where she can hike and trail-run right outside her door.
Mike Madden grew up in Denver Colorado and moved to Durango to attend FLC in 1991. He received his B. A. in Psychology from Fort Lewis College, and a Masters Degree in Counseling from Adams State College. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor and has been working in the field with young people for 20 years . He enjoys, making guitar string jewelry, skiing, whitewater kayaking, singing, playing the guitar and working with young people.
Samm (yes, with two m’s) earned her Bachelors of Environmental Science from University of Maine Farmington. She worked as a wildland firefighting and trail crew intern with the US Forest Service in the Manti La Sal district in Moab, Utah. She fell in love with the Southwest and returned to Moab after college to work for the Forest Service as a Botanist and Range Tech for the next two summers, spending her winters skiing in Crested Butte, Colorado. Samm was of the first cohort of Western Colorado University’s Master in Environmental Management program, focusing on restoration ecology and entomology. She earned her Masters in Integrated Land Management while conducting research on Gunnison Sage Grouse habitat for the BLM and working for Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory.After grad school she worked in Nevada as an Assessment, Inventory and Monitoring Coordinator and Data Specialist with the Great Basin Institute, focusing on documenting Botany, Soils and Rangeland Health on BLM land. She earned her alternate license through the Boettcher Teacher Residency Program while teaching Math & Wildland Firefighting and Land Management at Pagosa Springs High School. Samm recharges after working hard by skiing (up or down or across), biking, climbing, backpacking or fly fishing, preferably with her dog Pan at her heels. She also travels as much as possible, preferably to places with great food and a unique ecology.
Contact Justine Sawyer
Justine is honored to be joining the talented Mountain Middle staff and to continue the tradition of inquiry based-arts education for the student artists. After more than two decades in the classroom, Justine is excited to share her experiences teaching art in Denver, California, Iowa, and Cyprus and to have the opportunity to teach her own son. She and her family are thrilled to have the chance to embrace every amazing thing Durango has to offer from arts to outdoor opportunities. Growing up on her family’s century farm in rural Iowa, she spent much of her time playing in the mud and sandbox and following her parents and grandparents learning how to create and fix things. Learning by doing continues to be her internal driving force to seek out new opportunities in life, art, and in providing fun studio challenges for her students. She is a proud graduate of The University of Iowa (BA Art Education) and Lesley University (MA Integrated Teaching Through the Arts) and a National Board Certified Teacher in Art/Early Adolescence Through Young Adulthood.
Eric grew up in extreme Southern Canada, 14 kilometers north of St. Paul, Minnesota. He has 27 years of teaching experience ranging from at-risk youth, adult education, and teaching internationally. These teaching experiences have taken Eric from islands in the Pacific Ocean to Oregon, and SE Asia before arriving in Durango. Prior to MMS, Eric taught technology and multimedia courses at Durango High School. Eric comes to MMS with a focus on Design, “Making”, 3-D printing, video/film, visual literacy, and digital citizenship. His interests lie in the outdoors hunting, fishing, travel, competitive shooting sports, and spending time at home on the river.
Isaac is a Colorado native, though his family has its roots in the South. He explores and expresses his artistic and scientific elements and enjoys looking for where the two overlap. With a formal academic training at Fort Lewis College in the chemistry department and personal artistic endeavors, he finds that teaching math and science is an artistic avenue in itself where art and science coalesce. Over the past decade, his curiosity and intrigue with the learning process has only grown from his own adventures in academia, as well as working in other non-traditional areas of education such as experiential education abroad, group/one-on-one tutoring, and teaching assistantships.
Before moving to Durango from Arizona, Natalie managed multiple law firms, including a Family Law practice and an Estate Planning Practice. Natalie and her husband, who were high school sweethearts, and moved with their son to Durango in 2007, where their family quickly grew to include a daughter. While raising her children, Natalie performed book keeping services throughout Durango and led the Needham Elementary PTO from 2011-2013. She enjoys gardening, running, hiking, camping, and spending time with her family.
Tami Hanson came to Durango from Evansville, Indiana in 2012 with her family. Before arriving in Durango, she taught elementary and middle school art/computer for 10 years. Her oldest daughter Amiah is a MMS graduate and her youngest daughter, Sadie, will graduate from MMS in 2022.
Tami played soccer through her time at Ball State University and continued her involvement with the sport by coaching select and high school soccer teams in Evansville. Tami’s love of sports is complemented by a great appreciation for the arts having taught art and led an Art Club for many years.
Most days Tami is either outside biking, hiking with her poodle Charlie, skiing, or running the trails. She is proudly a member of the Headlamp Girls who get their words out early in the morning on the trails around town. When indoors, she enjoys cooking, singing, and learning new things in the art/drama realm. She is excited to be part of the awesome team at Mountain Middle School and hopes to bring kindness and empathy to the front desk area at MMS.
Julie grew up in Massachusetts and attended University of Puget sound in Tacoma, WA, earning a BS in Natural Science. After searching for waves to surf in Central and South America and New Zealand, she landed in Durango in 2001 to attend Southwest School of Massage. During her 5 years in practice, Julie developed a fascination with the disease process and how to treat it. Since graduating from Excelsior College School of Nursing, she and has spent the last 10 years working as an operating room nurse with a focus on spine surgery. Julie is so excited to explore the school nursing role, especially since her daughter is here to keep her on track! She enjoys managing her business, Axiom Cycling Studio as well as mountain biking, kayaking, skiing, snowboarding and Durango in general! With her husband, daughter and stepdaughter, Julie continues to seek adventure, laugh a lot, teach, learn and love.
Originally from La Junta, Colorado, Nancy grew up moving around- a lot. Her family finally landed in Vermont, where she spent the majority of her teenage years in the region known as the “Northeast Kingdom.” Despite the beauty of New England, she always knew she’d one day return to Colorado. After attending junior college in Southern Maryland, earning an Associate’s Degree in Humanities, Nancy headed west, making her way to Albuquerque where she taught preschool. Following a weekend visit to Durango in 2008, she knew she had found “home,” the perfect place to raise her son, Adrian, and so decided to move three months later. Nancy attended Fort Lewis College, earning a degree in Gender and Women’s Studies with a focus in U.S. History. She is currently working towards earning her Master’s Degree in Education and holds a Secondary Social Studies licensure. She LOVES history and is always excited to witness students making connections to the past. Like her colleagues, Nancy enjoys being outdoors and exploring the wilderness whenever possible. Her favorite thing to do is snowboard, and she loves getting to share her passion for the sport as an instructor and coach. Although she’d love to snowboard year round, she’s recently discovered a new obsession: mountain biking. She also enjoys reading, gardening, yoga, and hiking.