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.
Acacia was born and raised in Durango, CO, and spent her childhood skiing, biking, and enjoying the great outdoors. She found a passion for teaching and working with students while working summer camps and tutoring math as a high schooler. She found a particular passion in working with students in math and science while working at the Powerhouse Science Center and found that creating fun and exciting environments to learn creates a love of learning. She stayed local for her college education by attending Fort Lewis College and has had many incredible hands-on experiences through their education program. She is incredibly excited to teach at Mountain Middle School and looks forward to creating a math classroom that inspires a deep understanding and love of math. After a long day, Acacia loves to take her mountain bike out and explore the trails or curl up at home with a good book.
Meredith Beal grew up in Dallas, Texas. She graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in Elementary Education and began her teaching career in Dallas, Texas. In 2006, she and her husband moved to Denver for a new job opportunity for her husband. After the birth of her first child and 10 years of teaching, Meredith began her next chapter in life as a stay at home mother. In 2015, Meredith and her family moved to Durango to be closer to her brother and his family. After years of being active in her children’s schools and PTO President at Miller Middle School, Meredith is excited to come back to the classroom and teach at Mountain. In her free time, she loves to attend her children’s sporting events, travel with the family, hike and camp, and curl up on the couch next to her pets with a good book.
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.
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.
BA- Elementary Education and Spanish- Rockhurst University
M.Ed.- Teaching English as a Second Language -Vanderbilt University
Reading Specialist Endorsement- Vanderbilt University
Licensed Colorado Teacher K-6
Amanda grew up in Carthage, Missouri with her parents, two brothers, and lots of dogs. As a child, she and her family spent time camping and fly-fishing. She attended Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Missouri where she double majored in Elementary Education and Spanish. Upon graduating in 2014, Amanda attended Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College where she earned a masters degree in Teaching English as a Second Language. While studying, she added a Reading Specialist Endorsement and worked as a Research Assistant for Dr. Doug Fuchs. At the end of her time at Vanderbilt, Amanda had the opportunity to travel to Shenyang, China with Dr. Kathy Ganske to represent the university and provide professional development to English teachers at the local public schools. In 2016, Amanda married her high school sweetheart, David, and moved to Rogers, Arkansas where she taught Kindergarten. After one year, Amanda and David moved to Dallas, Texas where she taught third grade for three years. During this time, Amanda chaperoned two high school service trips to El Salvador and Costa Rica where she was able to use her Spanish as a translator. In 2020, Amanda began working online as a Critical Reading Instructor for Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth. She and her husband took the opportunity to work remotely and travel the country in a fifth wheel with their two dogs. They visited 53 U.S. National Parks and 49 states. When it was time to stop traveling, they thought about all of their favorite places and things to do. They quickly realized that Durango would be the perfect place to call home and they moved to the area in February of 2022. Amanda began working as a Durango 9-R long-term substitute and finished the 2021-22 school year teaching third grade at Sunnyside Elementary. Over the years, Amanda has visited 20 countries across 5 continents. She loves to travel and spend time with her dogs. She is excited to join the Mountain Middle School team!
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.
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.
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.
A Texas native, David Porter was born in Fort Worth and spent his teen years in Lubbock before joining the US Navy in 1989. Stationed in Charleston, SC, he served in the First Gulf War on the USS Richmond K. Turner (CG-20). After receiving an honorable discharge, David attended Stephen F. Austin State University, where he earned a bachelor’s in fine arts and a bachelor’s in liberal arts. He also completed additional graduate-level coursework in fine arts, with a focus on photography.
David started his teaching career in 2003, and has been involved in education ever since. He has taught almost every topic over the years, but discovered that his true passions lie in teaching English language arts, social studies, and photography. A natural-born storyteller with a witty sense of humor, David appreciates every opportunity to end a class with a good cliffhanger and to bring “hi-STORY” to life.
A love for the mountains brought David and his family to Durango in 2016. Prior to joining MMS’s eighth-grade faculty in 2022, he ran a local photography business, taught for Durango 9-R, and served as an after-school photography instructor for The Liberty School, where he also served as Board President for three years. In his spare time, David loves skiing, riding dirt bikes, shooting skeet, playing pinball, and hanging out with his wife and three children.
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.
Maria grew up in Colorado and brings twenty years of teaching experience to Mountain Middle School. She has worked with students of all ages in both traditional and Project-Based schools in Colorado and small villages in Mexico. Maria uses art, music, movement, laughter, and relationship building as a foundation for learning in her classroom. She believes creativity defines humanity and is delighted to share her love of art with students at Mountain Middle School. In her free time, you can find Maria gardening, camping with her family, paddle boarding, caring for pets, and working on writing/illustrating Children’s Books.
Eric grew up in extreme Southern Canada, 14 kilometers north of St. Paul, Minnesota. He has 28 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”, video/film, visual literacy, and digital fabrication such as 3-D printing and laser cutting. His interests lie in the outdoors hunting, fishing, travel, competitive shooting sports, and spending time at home on the river.
Colorado Teaching Lic., Elem. Educ. K-6, Ft. Lewis College
Colorado Teaching Lic., Eng. Lang. Arts 7-12, Ft. Lewis College
Montessori Teaching Cert., N. Amer. Montessori Center
Anna Layden has been an educator in Durango, CO for 17 years and has taught students in grades one through twelve both in Montessori and Project Based settings. She will be entering her 4th year as the ESS Coordinator at MMS and oversees special education, MTSS, and the Gifted and Talented program. In addition, Anna works as an educational diagnostician. She lives with her husband, Brendan, and two young sons, Birch and Robin, and loves to spend as much time as possible outside with her students, family, and friends.
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.
Bev grew up in Texas, where she fell in love with exploring caves in Mexico as a teenager. She followed her passion for rocks by becoming a geologist, working with groundwater and endangered species in the giant aquifers of central Texas. After starting a family, she got excited about healthcare and became a nurse. She’s worked in hospital and long term care settings. As a MMS parent, she’s excited to work with kids for a change and be more involved with the school.
Jessica relocated to Colorado from Connecticut where she grew up in 2012 after she earned her graduate degree. She lived in both Colorado and New Mexico providing services to students as a school psychologist. Prior to her work as a school psychologist, she worked with children as a nanny and a paraprofessional supporting students with significant needs. Jessica lives in Durango and enjoys hiking, biking, gardening, reading, volunteering in the community, and spending time with her son.
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.
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.
Jen is a happy transplant to Colorado, but she tries to pass as a CO-native. She has been at MMS for 8 years now, filling a variety of roles including 7th Grade Teacher Leader, the 4th/5th Science and Math Teacher, and for the past three years has been the Dean of Academics. Before Colorado, she spent most of her life in the Pacific Northwest, where she taught 9th and 12th grade biology for a number of years as well as running the school’s climbing club and experiential learning program. Jen’s last thirteen years in Durango have involved raising her two boys (now 12 and 14!) from scratch and creating/implementing science programs as the Curriculum and Instruction Manager at the Powerhouse Science Center. She loves all the typical Durango stuff like skiing, running, climbing blah blah blah, but so does everyone here so let’s talk about other stuff. Travel is Jen’s greatest passion, besides hanging out with her boys and muppet-like dog. Her favorite places on the planet (so far) 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.