Administrative Staff:


Chris Smith, Dean of School

Chris Smith is a native of Massachusetts and graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology/Philosophy. He also holds master’s degrees in Secondary Teacher Education and Educational Leadership and has previously worked as a principal in Vermont and New Hampshire. Chris is excited about technology in education and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Instructional Design; he is eager to start working with the teachers to help integrate technology at Birches. Before returning to the East Coast in 2014, Chris lived in Arizona for 14 years and worked at a residential treatment center for ten years before taking a job as a high school English teacher. Chris lives with his fifteen year old son, and when he is not working on school projects or being a dad he likes to play video games and solve the Rubik’s cube.

Ruth Templeton, Dean of Students 

Ruth Templeton is a native of New York. She joined The Birches staff in 2014 as the Director of Student Affairs.  She has previously worked in a variety of educational settings, from Early Intervention to an Elementary Special Educator running a Resource Room serving over 30 students. Ruth started and ran an Early Intervention program serving Southern New Hampshire for five years.  She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education and Psychology from the State University of New York at Potsdam, and a Masters in Education in Special Education from the University of Colorado at Denver. Ruth holds a Level 1 Certification in the Wilson Reading Program and she is a certified Educational Therapist from the University of California Riverside. Ruth’s role at The Birches is diverse, as she serves as both an administrator directly involved with policy making, discipline, scheduling, planning events and travel, and special education. Ruth also serves in an educational capacity to support students emotionally and academically in the classroom and individually.  Ruth lives in Atkinson with her husband and three children. As a founder of The Birches, Ruth also served as a Trustee for three years before becoming a member of the staff.


Jessica Wachsman, Dean of Operations

Jessica Wachsman is a Windham, New Hampshire native and attended St. Anselm College where she received a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration. After working for 10 years in Finance for Putnam Investments she took time off to raise her children. She is a Founder at both Mill Falls Charter School in Manchester as well as The Birches Academy.  She has been working at the Birches since its inception as the Business Manager. In this role she also works with students and staff on technology as well as all the behind the scene tasks that makes The Birches run day to day. She and her husband have three children and live in Salem. NH. In free time she loves to travel with her family and take the family dog on long walks. 


Deborah LeBlanc, Administrative Assistant
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Mrs. LeBlanc has been at The Birches since it’s opening year in 2012.  She has worked in a number of small companies being the all-important “jack of all trades” before coming to The Birches. She has done a little bit of everything from shipping and receiving to inside and outside sales and marketing to being a project manager in a small computer company.   She loves children so she volunteered at the Salem Athletic Club in both the nursery and revolution room teaching and playing developmental games and crafts.  She has a BA in Liberal Studies with a minor in Early Childhood development.

Michelle Cole, Office Assistant

Mrs. Cole has been volunteering at The Birches since 2013 and now also works in the Business Office as an Assistant to the Business Manager. She has a Bachelors Degree in Psychology and previous experience working in non-profits and Human Resources. Mrs. Cole resides in Windham with her husband, two children and dog. In her spare time she enjoys traveling with her family and reading.


Aimye Haroutunian, Donor Relations & Event Director

Mrs. Haroutunian has been an active volunteer and Foundation Board member at the Birches since the founding in 2012, and in January 2016, she joined the staff as the Donor Relations & Events Director. She has a BA in marketing from Endicott College in Beverly, MA, where she started down the path of fundraising as the treasurer of the Business Club. Her previous experience includes event planning and donation coordinator for the Christina Capozzi Foundation and the Merrimack Valley Montessori School. Aimye has a passion for event planning and engaging volunteers. She continues to volunteer her time supporting the Haverhill Elite Track Club. She resides in Salem, NH with her husband, son and her pampered pooch Bleu.

Teaching Staff:

Kindergarten (Seeds):

Monique Simard, Lead Teacher

Mrs. Simard has been with The Birches since 2013. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education and Special Education from Rivier University. While attending, she gained experience teaching in many grade levels including preschool, second, and fourth grade. She has also had experience directing a special education resource room with kindergarten through fifth grade. During the school year Mrs. Simard has taught an afterschool science program to underprivileged children in elementary schools. Mrs. Simard was previously the kindergarten teacher in Bedford NH. She comes to us from Tyngsboro Massachusetts.

Stacy Stone, Teaching Assistant

Mrs. Stone has been volunteering at The Birches since the founding in 2012 and is now a Teaching Assistant. She has a degree in Travel and Tourism from Johnson and Wales University. Her previous experience includes serving as an aide at North Salem Elementary and as a flight attendant for US Airways. Stacy resides in Salem with her husband, 2 girls and a very spoiled golden retriever.[/one_half]

Grades 1/2 (Seedlings):

Alysa Mulligan, Lead Teacher

Ms. Mulligan has been with The Birches since it opened in 2012.  Previously she had been both a toddler, kindergarten and first grade teacher at parochial schools in Massachusetts. She has a BA in Education from Endicott College in Beverly, MA and a M.A. in Education from American International College which has a program strong inliteracy. She has her own little girl and lives right in Salem.

Rebecca Dineen, Teaching Assistant

Mrs. Dineen has been volunteering in the Birches community since the schools opening in 2012, and joined our staff in 2015. She received her B.S. in Early Childhood Education from Salem State University in Massachusetts, and has completed graduate level coursework focused on learning disabilities at Rivier College in Nashua. Her previous classroom experience at the Abundant Life Christian School in Wilmington, MA solidified her love and passion for teaching. She has lived in New Hampshire for the past 10 years with her husband and two boys. They enjoy spending time as a family, whether skiing, hiking, or rooting for the boys in youth sports.

Kathleen Cox, Lead Teacher

Ms. Cox has been at The Birches since it’s opening year in 2012 and comes to us from Derry, NH. She has had lots of experience in pre-school, Head Start, kindergarten, Grade 1 and 2 and was a Title I reading tutor at Pollard Elementary in Plaistow. In addition to her M. Ed. in Early Childhood Development and experience with both literacy and math curriculums, she has a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts from Mass College of Art and is insanely creative. She also teaches courses at Nashua Community College in Foundations of Early Childhood Education and Emergent Literacy.

Karla Biel, Teaching Assistant

Mrs. Biel joined our staff in 2014.  She is a mother of four and comes to us with over 15 years of teaching experience. She has taught kids from infants (in a water babies class) to 11th grade in both private and public schools. She began her teaching career in TX in public schools. Later in AZ, she taught at and was the board president of a co-operative pre-school. Mrs. Biel received her BS in Communication Sciences and her MS in Education for Hearing Impaired; both from Texas Woman’s University.

Grade 3 (Sprouts):

Megan Ham, Lead Teacher 

Megan Ham comes to Birches Academy with seven years of classroom teaching experience in grades two through four. She grew up in Hollis, NH with a tree house and an apple orchard. She attended Plymouth State University from 2002 to 2015 for two degrees (B.S. in Social Work and M.Ed. in Elementary Education). Miss Ham is very excited to meet her students and their families. At home in Peterborough, she lives with a nine year-old brown standard poodle, named Jenny. Her car and kayak are purple and she loves to be outside adventuring (especially surfing). Miss Ham’s favorite book to read aloud is Poppy, and she keeps five hives of honeybees!

Joyce Linehan, Teaching Assistant

Ms. Linehan joined our staff in Fall of 2017.  She retired from teaching (30+) years but still wanted to work with children. She taught grades from Pre-school to 4thgrade in Ohio, Rhode Island, Georgia and Massachusetts. She has a B.S. in Elementary Education and Psychology. She also has a M.Ed. and an MBA. One of the highlights of her career was becoming Nationally Board Certified. She was also a George Washington Scholar and was given the opportunity to live at Mount Vernon for a week studying about leaders of our past. She comes from a family of educators and feels that it is only natural that she is back in the classroom.

At home, Joyce lives with her husband Dan and two dogs. They have three grown children and three lovely granddaughters who live close by. She enjoys gardening and quilting in her free time.



Grades 4/5 (Saplings):

Heather Black-Ward, Lead Teacher

Mrs. Black-Ward has been at The Birches since 2013.  She lives in North Andover, MA but originates from Maine. She graduated from the University of Maine with her B. A. degree and has been teaching ever since. She has taught the majority of her years in a multiage classroom in both K-2 and grades 3-5. After being a classroom teacher for several years, she was an RTI teacher for math and reading in Windham, NH. She is so happy to be back in the classroom at the Birches. One of her passions is writing –especially poetry. In her free time, she enjoys being outdoors and reading children’s books (they are the best books around!)

Kristin Sellitto, Teaching Assistant





Kayla Livingston, Lead Teacher

Miss Livingston came to Birches in 2013 after receiving her M. Ed. in Elementary Education. In addition to her M. Ed. she has a B.S. in Family Studies with a minor in Psychology. She has spent 1 year student teaching in a Grade 2 classroom in Madbury, NH but has also worked for a full year with Kindergarteners. She spends her summers running academic science programs, which has allowed her to work with a variety of age groups from Kindergarten to Grade 6. She loves traveling and being outdoors and has a background in dance as well!


Kristin Bohne, Teaching Assistant

Ms. Bohne came to The Birches in 2017.

Middle School, Grades 6 – 8 (Leaves & Trees):

Erin Balfe, Social Studies  Teacher

Ms. McArdle has been at The Birches since it’s opening year in 2012.   She came to us from UNH where her undergrad degree was in Theater Education and her M.Ed. was in Elementary Education. She also has a background in dance. In addition to student teaching, Erin has had extensive experience working in recreation departments in the summer. For one year, she directed the entire summer program in Plaistow!

Angela Kinson, Science Teacher

Mrs. Kinson came to The Birches in 2013 from Plaistow, NH, where she has lived there her entire life. She graduated from UNH in 2003 with (2) Associate’s: Civil Technology & Applied Business Management. In 2012 she achieved her Bachelor’s in Secondary Education: Business from Grand Canyon University and is currently working towards her Master’s in Curriculum & Instruction. Angela is certified to teach in Business and also has her SOE in middle school Math, Science, General Special Education and Comprehensive Technology. On her spare time, Angela is a professional drag racer!


Kevin Fanning, English  Teacher
Mr. Fanning came to The Birches in 2017 after eight years of teaching in public, private, and international schools. In addition to teaching English/Language Arts, Mr. Fanning has taught Social Studies and Special Education. While obtaining his B.A. in Individualized Studies from Rivier University, he taught social pragmatics to adolescents on the autism spectrum through theater games. He then balanced MA/MAT coursework in English Education while working as a touring comedian and actor. He is currently applying for his terminal degree in English or Creative Writing and caring for Archduchess Wilhelmina Albertine — his black lab.

Brenda Goudreau, Math Teacher

Laura Edwards, Teaching Assistant 



Becky Hopkinson, Spanish Teacher


Tobe Crocker, Special Educator & 504 Coordinator

Tobe Crocker has been with the Birches since its opening year, 2012. She received her B.S. in Elementary Education and Special Education from Fitchburg State University and a MEd. from Plymouth State University. Mrs. Crocker began her teaching career teaching students with severe disabilities in Massachusetts. She then worked for 5 years in Raymond, NH, followed by almost 30 years in Windham, NH as a Special Educator. Tobe works with students with IEPs at the Birches and coordinates 504 Plans. Services range from consultation to specialized instruction based on individual student needs.

Michelle Doyle, Math & Reading Interventionist

Mrs. Doyle came to The Birches in 2015.  She graduated from North Adams State College in Massachusetts with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology. She worked in the non-profit sector with the homeless population as Volunteer Coordinator overseeing a soup kitchen and food pantry while working with transitional assistant recipients. From there she worked in Corporate Marketing for a Fortune 500 company before leaving to raise a family. During this time she earned her Master’s of Education in Curriculum and Instruction with a Literacy Focus from Franklin Pierce University. She has experience teaching 4th-6th grade, Kindergarten and has extensive training in Wilson Reading Systems. Outside of the classroom, Michelle enjoys camping, reading, listening to music and baking. She resides in Southern New Hampshire with her husband and four daughters.

Kelly LeBlond, RTI Primary Math 

Mrs. LeBlond joined the Birches family in 2015 as a volunteer and as a staff member in 2017. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree from St. Anselm College and worked for many years in the insurance industry. In her spare time, Mrs. LeBlond enjoys crafting and photography. She resides in Windham with her husband, daughter and French Bulldog Emmy.


David Comtois, Music Teacher

Mr. Comtois has been at The Birches since it’s opening year in 2012.  He is an accomplished musician in his own right specializing in the bass and guitar. However, he plays the drums, keyboard and can probably teach just about any musical instrument there is, including a mandolin! He teaches all of our third graders the ukulele and taking off from there. In addition to his instrumental skills and the many private lessons he gives, he works part-time at the Presentation of Mary Academy as their band director and has put on drama club presentations of Grease and Godspellthat received rave reviews to name a few. He has self published his own guitar book, Yes You Can!, to help his students learn to play the guitar.

Deb Stolar, Music Teacher

Mrs. Stolar has been with The Birches since 2013.  She is a graduate of the University of New Hampshire with a B.S in Music Education with a emphasis in voice, flute and piano. Mrs. Stolar has had the privilege of teaching music in the Merrimack Valley for 39 years. Mrs. Stolar recently completed 31 years as a K-8 music classroom teacher and choral director in the Wilmington, Mass Public Schools. From 1985-1994, she held the positions of Music Teacher at Salem Christian School, and Merrimack Valley Montessori School.   Currently she serves as the Salem Centerpoint Community Church Choir Director. She continues to  teach piano, flute and voice  in her private studio and is pleased to join   The Birches Academy in her home town of Salem.



Kelly Hawkes, Art Teacher

Mrs. Hawkes came to The Birches in 2014 from Atkinson, NH where she lives with her husband, two little boys and dog Azul. Kelly’s love of art started at a very young age. She remembers getting in trouble for coloring on her babysitters house, and thinking she was only trying to make it more beautiful. Kelly has BA in art education from Colby-Sawyer College and an MA in creative arts from Fitchburg state. She is always finding some artistic project to work on like painting superheroes in her boy’s playroom, or hand painting dresser knobs for her “Hawkes Hollow” shop on Etsy. Kelly has over 10 years’ experience teaching art and has choreographed several school plays.



Stewart Pruslin, PE Teacher

Mr. Pruslin lives with his wife and 8 year old son in Wilmington, MA. He has been a teacher, coach and counselor for almost 30 years. He enjoys playing and coaching sports and creating, playing and recording music on his keyboards and guitar. Some fun facts about Mr. Pruslin are that he has been in every major league baseball stadium since 1989 and even sang the National Anthem at a minor league baseball game!




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419 South Broadway
Salem, NH 03079

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