Faculty Bios

Early Childhood

Diane VanDommelen – Pre-Kindergarten

Education - B.A. Brigham Young University, Advertising, research emphasis, with an English minor; Waldorf Handwork Teacher certificate, Sunbridge College
Not until she became a mother did Diane discover Waldorf education, a natural extension to her already-holistic lifestyle.  Her oldest son attended the Alan Howard Waldorf School in Toronto until the family moved to Anchorage in 1994 for her husband to begin teaching at UAA.  They were pleased to find another Waldorf school to join. Diane has taught kindergarten and handwork at the school, as well as homeschooled her three children using Waldorf methods in her off-the-grid cabin in Bird for the last 13 years.  She is excited to work again with little ones and to be part of the school community.
Handwork, backpacking, nature study and cooking fill her few free hours.

Susan Barnes
– Lead Teacher, Sunflower Kindergarten

Education –Early Childhood Education Diploma, Michael Institute in Portland.

Susan and her family came to the Anchorage Waldorf School through the Parent/Toddler Class when Susan’s eldest daughter was three years old. They fell in love with the Waldorf program and with our community.  Susan felt drawn to early childhood education and began as a kindergarten assistant here at AWS.  She went on to complete her degree in that field and is now the lead kindergarten teacher.  Her eldest daughter, Isabeau, graduated from AWS in 2013 and is now in enrolled in West High´s School through the Arts. She is also a violinist in the Anchorage Youth Symphony and her youngest, Talya, is in fifth grade, happily playing the cello in our own school orchestra. Both girls were introduced to skiing at AWS and continue to pursue their love of cross-country skiing in Junior Nordic and West High’s Ski Team. Susan and her husband Dean are active parents in the school community, and have served on Finance, Site, Enrollment, and Long Range Planning Committees. Dean has also happily been the ‘GreenMan’ at many a May Faire and is an enthusiastic member of the ‘WalDads’.  Susan is serving as Faculty Chair this year.

Julie Driscall – Lead Teacher, Starflower Kindergarten

Education - B.A. in Philosophy, minor in Religion, University of Delaware, 1999. Certificate and M.S. Ed in Waldorf Elementary Education,  Sunbridge College, NY 2008. Certificate in Therapeutic Early Childhood, Denver Anthroposophic Therapies, Denver, CO 2013.

This is Julie’s third year with Anchorage Waldorf School.  She has helped grow the foundation of our school in Early Childhood, has facilitated and designed several educational workshops for the school, and has just completed her three year training in Advanced Therapeutic Early Childhood Assessment Training.

She and her two daughters (4th grade and 7th grade) have traveled to many places over the last ten years. Now, finding her home in Anchorage, she feels that Alaska is just where she is meant to be.  Her interests include spending time with her family, singing, and learning about the world around her.  She has enjoyed discovering the vastness of the Alaskan wild and has fulfilled one of her dreams: witnessing the Northern Lights


Grade School

Tomas Jensen – First Grade Teacher

Education: B.A. in Economics, Carleton College, M.S. in Applied Economics, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Teaching Certificate, Alaska Pacific University

Tomas has had a long and circuitous route to teaching. From the beginning he wanted to be a fireman, or an architect, then a forester, or a biologist. Finally, after college and graduate school, he settled in economics and community development. It was this work that brought him to Alaska in 2006. He believes that a community’s children and its schools should be treated as a precious commodity. He was extremely fortunate to land in AWS in 2013 among the thoughtful and amazing children in his class and is in wonder at the support of the parents who have welcomed him into their lives.

Tomas’ s other interests include biking, skiing, hiking, rebuilding bikes, beekeeping, and vegetable raising.

Amy Hettinger - Second/Third Grade Teacher

Education: B.A. Arts Administration – 2000, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, M.Ed. Arts in Education – 2008, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Boston, MA, Certificate in Waldorf Education – 2013, Rudolf Steiner College, Sacramento, CA

Growing up in rural Kentucky, Amy was steeped in music.  After graduating from the University of Kentucky with a BA in Arts Administration, she worked for a Community Learning Center.  Next, she opened a private music studio, where she taught piano, guitar and voice to students of all ages.  During this time, Amy also worked with children’s and youth choirs, and became interested in how creative artistic experiences nourish, challenge and encourage us to develop as human beings.  To pursue this interest, Amy enrolled in the Arts in Education program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where she received a master degree in 2008.  Thankfully, this and other experiences led her to explore Waldorf Education, and to Anchorage Waldorf School, where she took a first grade class in 2011.

When she’s not teaching, Amy can be found hiking with her Alaskan husky, Sylvie; reading, knitting, cooking vegetarian food, running or practicing yoga.


Kathleen Tischer Smith – Fourth Grade Teacher

Education – Diploma in Waldorf Teacher Education, Rudolf Steiner College, Sacramento, California; Undergraduate studies , University of Alaska, Anchorage.

Kathleen is a long-time Alaskan who brings 12 years of Waldorf educational experience to the community and is very happy to be here. She received her Waldorf certification in 1997 from the Rudolf Steiner College in Sacramento, California and recently returned to Alaska after being away for 15 years. Kathleen believes that being a teacher means accepting responsibility and being committed to helping children develop life’s capacities. She values the rich complexity of gifts in children and strives to be stimulating, resourceful, and supportive in helping children develop to their fullest abilities.

Donna Kendy – Fifth/Sixth Grade Teacher

Ms. Donna Kendy has been with children since she was a child, progressing from babysitting and tutoring at eleven years old, to teaching her native tongue, Farsi, at a weekend language school during high school. With great love and appreciation for the natural world, hands-on environmental education was an inherent step for her. While earning her B.A. in Elementary Education and Earth Science, she invested her time and passion into cultivating positive connections with nature as an Education Specialist at Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, and later served as a naturalist at the Lockhart Nature Center in Lake Forest, Illinois. After graduating, Donna ventured out to the mountains of San Diego and taught outdoor education to fifth and sixth graders. Then she went back to Chicago as a second grade classroom teacher in the Chicago Public Schools. Following this period of public school teaching, she spent a full-time year studying Steiner and Waldorf Education at Rudolf Steiner College in Fair Oaks, California,  and now is here with us while currently working towards her Master of Arts in Waldorf Education.

Leska Beikircher- Seventh Grade Teacher







Specialty Subjects

Mary Schallert – Orchestra & Strings Teacher

Mary SchallertMary has been an active member of the Anchorage music community since 1977. She is the director of Alaska City Folk Arts Camp and an organizer of many music ensembles with a focus in the folk realm. She is the director for the Stellar school choir and teaches Orchestra at Anchorage Waldorf going into her 6th year. She has a very active private studio teaching multiple styles of music including fiddle and violin and has four CD recordings. She is the mother of two sons. Her oldest is a freshman at The University of British Columbia Vancouver and her youngest is a Junior at Polaris K-12. Her husband works for Resource Data Inc.


Svetlana Burton – Russian

Education – Ph.D. in Linguistics (Stavropol State University, Russia); Master’s in English and German (Taganrog Pedagogical University, Russia)

Svetlana’s teaching experience is diverse. In Russia, she was a Professor of English to Russian students. Since moving to Alaska in 2003, she has worked for the University of Alaska Anchorage teaching Russian in the Language Department, as well as English as a second language. In addition, she has taught Russian to young children and adults through the Community Schools program and with the Anchorage Parks and Recreations program. She has also coordinated and taught Russian immersion programs for military personnel here in Alaska.

To complement her teaching experience, she has been working as a professional interpreter and translator providing services to the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, the Nanuuk Commission (Polar Bear Commission), the World Wildlife Federation, the EPA and U.S. Coast Guard.

However Svetlana´s first love has always been teaching. She is excited to be joining Anchorage Waldorf School this year as she enjoys working with children and loves to teach her native Russian. Svetlana brings not only her language, but an understanding of the Russian culture to her teaching at AWS.

She loves to spend her time outside of work with her extended family, her two sons, and her five Pekingese. She likes to go hiking, biking, mushroom-hunting, and skating.


Leigh Patton—Handwork/Woodwork and Aftercare

Education- B.A. Western State University of Colorado, Studio Art, painting emphasis, minor in psychology

Leigh is a born and raised Okie girl. She lived in Edmond, Oklahoma until she was old enough to set out for the mountains. It was there she really started to understand and appreciate the natural world. She loves to snowboard, climb, and camp when she is not enthralled in her arts. She strives to be on the constant vibe of creating. After college she was involved with Montessori based preschool and became a true believer in alternative education. Her first acquaintance with anthroposophy was through a peer in an early childhood education class, who simply stated a motto of Waldorf education, “Happy Hands, Heart, and Mind.” This resonated and ignited Leigh’s path to study Steiner’s teachings. Leigh also loves to paint, read, felt, knit, dance, and do yoga in her free time.

Clo Giffen – Recorder Ensemble

Education- BA Geology, Middlebury College, Vermont

Clo came to AWS as a parent in 2006 and has taught recorder ensemble since 2008. She grew up in rural New England, the youngest of a large, loving and supportive family. After college, Clo moved to Alaska and worked as a geologist for over 10 years, first for the federal government and then in the private sector for mining companies and environmental engineering firms. Her work took her to many remote areas of Alaska. Throughout her adventurous life, Clo has found music to be a source of balance and joy. Having grown up playing the piano, flute and recorder, she embraces the opportunity to enrich the lives of students at AWS with music. Clo and her husband Bruce have chosen Waldorf education for their two boys, who are now students at AWS, because of the richness and depth of the curriculum, and the way it inspires independent, critical thinking.

Clo and Bruce continue their adventuring lifestyle with their sons, and find that there is nothing better than a day of skiing powder with the family.