Faculty & Staff
About Dr. Gene Nicastro
Dr. Gene Nicastro is the Director of Coastal Montessori Charter School, and he joined the CMCS team in July of 2020. Prior to his appointment as Director, he was a school principal in Pennsylvania for 14 years. Dr. Nicastro was a principal in the Pine-Richland School District from 2012-2020, and he was a school principal in the Highlands School District from 2006-2012. Prior to being a school administrator, Dr. Nicastro was a teacher in the Riverview School District, which is located in Oakmont, Pennsylvania.
Dr. Nicastro earned a Bachelor of Education degree from Baldwin-Wallace College, and he is certified in Elementary Education and as a K-12 school principal. He earned a Master of Education degree from the University of Pittsburgh, and he is also certified as a School Superintendent. Additionally, Dr. Nicastro has certifications as a Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction and a Reading Specialist. Furthermore, he earned a Doctoral Degree in Interdisciplinary Leadership from Creighton University. Dr. Nicastro is currently enrolled in the Montessori Leadership Certification program.
During his free time, he enjoys outdoor activities with his wife, Tiffany, and two daughters, Sofia and Giavanna. They enjoy the beach/pool, walking/hiking, taking bike rides, and spending time together as a family.
About Dr. Chip Hennecy
Dr. Robert L. “Chip” Hennecy, Jr. is originally from Marion, SC but now resides in Aynor, SC. He is married to Leigh Hennecy, a biology teacher at Aynor High School. They have 4 children: Summer, Bailey, Logan, and Timmy.
Dr. Hennecy is a recently retired public school administrator with the state of SC. He has worked in Marion and Horry counties in SC and Robeson county in NC. Positions held included: teacher (spanish, social studies), coach (boys tennis, football), transportation supervisor, assistant principal, and principal. Dr. Hennecy is also an Eagle Scout, an achievement he is very proud of and shares along with his brother. He also served as a SC State Trooper prior to entering the educational field. His educational background started at Erskine College earning a B.A. degree in history and playing four years of college tennis. He then went on to earn his master’s degree in educational administration from the University of South Carolina, and finally his Ed. D. from Nova Southeastern University in educational administration.
Dr. Hennecy is excited to be serving as the Interim Director at CMCS and is honored to be here. He hopes he can encourage and motivate all of those around him to be the best they can every day. He is thankful that his parents, former educators, and classmates encouraged him along the way. “Education is key to everyone’s future, regardless of what you choose to do. Do your best every day and when you look back, have no regrets.”
About Kristy Harbaugh
Kristy is a true Pawleys Island local. She was born in Columbia, SC, but her father grew up in a house on the island and moved the family back to Pawleys when she was 11 years old. Kristy moved up to Myrtle Beach after graduating from Waccamaw High School. There, she worked as a real estate paralegal for eight years while completing an associates degree in paralegal studies at Horry-Georgetown Technical College and, subsequently, a bachelor of science in political science at Coastal Carolina University.
After enjoying four years as a stay-at-home-mom, Kristy moved back to Pawleys Island with her husband, Dave, and their two children, J.D. and Allie. While building their house in Pawleys, Kristy became excited about a new choice in education for her children and began following Coastal Montessori Charter School’s progress. When she learned of an administrative opening she knew it would be the perfect position for her. With a strong background in administrative work and a love of children, not to mention working where her own children would attend school, it was a perfect fit!
When she’s not at the school, Kristy enjoys spending time outdoors, reading and baking.
About Tia Bergeron
Tia grew up in northern New Hampshire. She received a BA in history with a minor in psychology from the University of NH. She is an Army veteran having served overseas in Desert Storm in 1991 as a Military Police Officer. She spent 12 years in sports administration as the Associate Director of the NH Interscholastic Athletic Association overseeing high school athletics. Prior to moving to Pawleys Island with her husband Chris, she was the Director of Marketing for a cost segregation company and an entrepreneur of a web-based business.
Although it may not have been in her plans to work in a Montessori school with elementary-aged students, her unique skill set has been a tremendous asset for CMCS. When not working, she enjoys quiet time at the beach or playing golf at any of the beautiful local spots with her husband Chris.
About Matt Whitman
About Tom Strong
Mr. Tom Strong is a graduate of The Ohio State University with a bachelor of arts in history and a minor in philosophy. He has a master of education in middle childhood from the University of Toledo. He is certified to teach math, social studies and reading. Mr. Tom received his American Montessori Society Secondary I-II Credential in Montessori Education from the Cincinnati Montessori Secondary Teacher Education Program in 2013. For the last six years, Mr. Tom has served as a middle school math and social studies teacher at West Side Montessori in Toledo, OH. Mr. Tom will serve Coastal Montessori Charter School as our middle level Math and Social Studies Lead Teacher. His enthusiasm for knowledge and creating meaningful experiences for his students is palpable. Understanding the unique tendencies of middle school students, he uses these characteristics to design lessons that will interest and engage students at this unique stage of development.
English Language Arts and Science
About Sarah Wilson
Sarah Wilson is a familiar face in the Waccamaw Neck and Georgetown County. She and her husband Jeff moved to Pawleys Island years ago to rent a house and decide where they wanted to settle down after getting married. They ended up buying the house and, since they haven’t moved anywhere else, have settled down in Pawleys Island.
Five years after getting a degree in horticulture from Clemson University, Sarah went back to school to get a teaching certificate in high school biology and general sciences from USC-Coastal Carolina. She then got a job teaching environmental education for the Belle W. Baruch Foundation. It was her dream job! Outside, mudding in the salt marsh, walking through the forest, surrounded by the young and the young at heart was the best way to spend the day UNTIL… she found something better – her own children. Neil and Erin were born and a career change came about. Sarah started working part time for the Pawleys Island Montessori School as the toddler teacher in 1993. She had planned on staying there, until CMCS came to town!
Sarah went back to school and received her lower and upper Montessori teaching credentials from the Center for Montessori Teacher Education in Raleigh, NC, in 1996. She has taught Montessori ever since, even spending a number of years running a couple of schools, but always teaching. Teaching is her calling, her passion, and her joy.
In her spare time, Sarah still loves to get muddy! Throwing clay in her pottery shed and gardening are two of her favorite past times, as well as biking, reading, and walking her new dog, Vera Wang. Sarah’s Montessori children are now grown and independent – yea! Neil is working on his master’s degree in environmental science and management and Erin is majoring in animal and veterinary science at Clemson University . Jeff is a horticulturist at Ocean Lakes Family Campground in Myrtle Beach and brings home flowers for Sarah to plant in the yard.
About Hillary Usher
If you could have dinner with a famous person, living or dead, who would it be and why?
He is my favorite artist and I am so inspired by his work! I would love to ask him about his works and life. And maybe follow dinner with a painting session together!
From a young age, Hillary always knew she wanted to help young people. She grew up in Canton, MI, with a very loving family. Family has always been so important to her and continues to be a source of strength and inspiration for her. Her family were the driving force behind her deciding to become a teacher and chase her dream of helping young people. Along her journey, Hillary had the pleasure of working with a variety of children from teaching preschool to working with at-risk teens in an after-school program.
After gaining her degree in elementary education from Eastern Michigan University, Hillary began teaching with young 5′s in a pre-kindergarten program until an opportunity came to teach at a Montessori school. She had only heard a little about Dr. Montessori and her theory on education, but was instantly intrigued and drawn to learn more. After gaining her Montessori training, Hillary taught upper elementary for two years before finding out about Coastal Montessori Charter School. It was a hard decision to move from her hometown and family, but Hillary was excited to start a new journey in South Carolina!
Outside of teaching, Hillary loves to try new things and endeavors in many different interests. She enjoys drawing, painting, writing short stories or poetry, crafting, exploring nature, and so much more. Currently, Hillary is learning how to play guitar and it proves to be a challenge, but so much fun!
About Mackenzie Confer
Ms. “Kenzie” Confer never anticipated becoming an educator; however, she has been babysitting, nannying, and tutoring Montessori families for nearly 8 years. When she initially set out to Salem College in Winston-Salem, NC, in 2015, she majored in environmental studies with a concentration in conservation ecology and minors in not-for-profit management and communication.
Unfortunately, she had to take a year off from her education to help her family, and found herself as a full time nanny and tutor, while also substituting at both our sister school, Montessori School of Pawleys Island, as well as here at Coastal Montessori Charter School. After having worked with so many Montessori students, Ms. Kenzie realized this was her true passion: educating young minds through the Montessori method.
Ms. Kenzie has been in Georgetown County School District her entire academic career, and is very excited to be starting her professional career with CMCS! She actively works with the Waccamaw High School competitive speech and debate team, of which she was a national competitor twice during her high school career. She enjoys public speaking and performance immensely and hopes to help each and every student find their own voice.
Ms. Kenzie is currently pursuing her degree in elementary education before getting her Montessori certification.
In her free time, Ms. Kenzie enjoys painting, long drives, listening to music, enjoying the beach and creeks, and spending time with her two loving dogs.
About Dr. Trisha Gaskill
Dr. Trisha Gaskill is a West Coast transplant and is so excited to make Georgetown County her forever home. As a veteran in Montessori education, Trisha brings a holistic approach to student-centered collaborative learning. She holds lower and upper elementary certifications from American Montessori Society, SC Education Administration Certificate of 19 years. In addition, she has lower and graduate degrees and a Doctorate in education and technology. She certainly practices the philosophy of a “lifelong love of learning.” She has served as a director, founder of schools, 1st though 8th grade teacher, and as an advisor on a charter high school board. She is deeply committed to excellence in education. Dr. T (as she is referred to here at Coastal Montessori Charter School) loves the color green, inhales chocolate whenever possible, and feels that watching home-remodel shows, and testing out the DIY craft on her home just may be her favorite sport. She loves vacationing by going to see her two children and two grandsons.
About Natalie Boggs
If you could have dinner with a famous person, living or dead, who would it be and why?
Being President of the United States has got to be a challenging job. I would want to know how it feels to run a free world AND be a role model to his children. To be the first Afro-American president is an accomplishment in itself. He incorporated something into his presidency that no other president has, technology.
Ms. Natalie loves educating children, and especially loves seeing how their eyes light up when they learn something new. She has been in the education field since 1996, working in home daycare centers (where she learned all she knows in this field), and for seven years at the Navy Child Development Center at Anacostia Annex in Washington, DC. She is currently working on getting her elementary education degree.
Ms. Natalie grew up in Maryland where she lived most of her life before recently moving to South Caroina. She was working for a nonprofit after-school program when she heard about Coastal Montessori Charter School and decided she had to be a part of this great school as it got off the ground.
Ms. Natalie enjoys being with her husband and two children, reading, music and cooking.
About Shaye Heiskell
Shaye came to our Montessori family in 2007, not as a teacher but as a parent of son, Marshall, who attended our sister school, Montessori School of Pawleys Island (MSPI), at the time. Soon she found herself at MSPI quite often, volunteering and then substitute teaching. Her second-born child, Tug, entered MSPI soon after and her volunteerism and Montessori interests grew. As her her third boy, Phinn, entered the Montessori world, she realized that this was to be life… Montessori. She was reminded of her own childhood years when she would arrange chairs in her basement for neighborhood children, placing baby dolls in the empty ones, and giving lessons on whatever she could make up. Rather than initially pursuing an education degree in college, Shaye earned a degree in the fine arts. She trained and performed theater at the famous Second City in Chicago before eventually realizing her true passion, incorporating her past and focusing her future, and completing her Montessori training. She now has her own Montessori classroom (or stage) to employ a lifetime’s worth of love for children, learning and exploration in this most-valued school.
About Amy Williams
Ms. Amy’s teaching credentials include a bachelor of science in early childhood education, a master of education in instructional leadership, and an endorsement in gifted and talented education. She was particularly excited to expand her teacher training to include the Montessori Method.
Ms. Amy began her teaching career in 1994, in traditional early childhood classrooms where she evolved to address the needs of gifted and talented students. She connects with the child-centered philosophies of Montessori that align with developmentally appropriate practices of early childhood education and support the natural growth of each child.
In her free time, Ms. Amy enjoys spending time with her family. Favorite activities include camping, traveling, cooking, gardening and spending days at the beach.
About Jennifer Smoak
Ms. Jen received her bachelor of science in early childhood education from Charleston Southern University. She went on to obtain her master of education in curriculum and instruction with an integration in the arts from Lesley University.
Ms. Jen has 14 years of experience as a lead teacher at the elementary level and her spirit and energy are ideal for our Montessori program.
About Jamie Williamson
Jamie is originally from Richfield, OH, which is a small community near Cleveland. She relocated to South Carolina a few years ago and currently lives in Pawleys Island. As a little girl, Jamie would sit in her basement and play school with her grandma. She knew early on that she wanted to be a school teacher and wanted to be the one to help make a difference in a child’s life. Jamie has worked very hard over the years earning an associate’s degree in public service early care and education from Horry Georgetown Technical College. She graduated from Coastal Carolina University with a bachelor of arts degree in interdisciplinary studies.
Jamie has spent many years working with children in summer camps, day cares, and preschools and has a passion, love and heart for working with children. When Jamie heard about CMCS she knew she had to jump at this opportunity.
Jamie is married to Kevin and feels truly blessed to be part of the CMCS community.
About Nan Gadek
Ms. Nan received her bachelor of arts in fine arts from Kean University. She went on to receive her elementary teaching credential from National University. Ms. Nan has five years of experience as a lead teacher at the elementary and middle school levels.
Nan began teaching in San Diego, in 2001 and upon moving to South Carolina began teaching in Andrews in 2003. She took a break from teaching for a few years to stay at home with her two daughters, Reed (9) and Chloe (7). Reed is a fourth year student in Ms. Hillary’s room and Chloe is a second year student in Ms. Antoinette’s room.
She began her journey with CMCS as a Teaching Assistant in an Upper Elementary classroom. From there she became an upper elementary lead teacher before pursuing her interests and applying for the visual arts teaching position. Ms. Nan’s enthusiasm for learning and joy for students are a perfect fit for CMCS.
In her free time, Nan enjoys spending time with her two girls. Nan, Reed, and Chloe love going to the beach and swimming in the ocean with friends. Nan also enjoys paddle boarding in the creeks of Litchfield and Pawleys Island. She loves being out in the sun! She and the girls have a lab-mix named Woody, a shih tzu named Travis, and a leopard gecko named Ziggy.
About Nicole Nucero
If you could have dinner with a famous person, living or dead, who would it be and why?
If I could have dinner with any person, dead or alive it would be Carly Fleischmann. Carly is a girl who is nonverbal and has autism, yet despite all these obstacles she has written a book with the help of her dad. She is a very inspiring individual in the special education world. To this day Carly is unable to communicate verbally; however, she communicates with the world via computer. She has been able to take the world by its hands and show us what the world of autism looks like. She is one of the first individuals who is able to show and describe to us what it feels like to live with autism. Carly has shared with the world what it is like to live in her world. Autism is a very puzzling disability. However, Carly has been able to explain some of our questions. She truly inspired me to never give up.
Nicole Nucero’s role at CMCS is to provide students with IEP’s with individualized learning programs. She graduated from Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania in 2013. After vacationing in Pawleys Island for many years she decided in June 2014 to finally move here. Ms. Nicole is thrilled to be a member of the CMCS community.
About Whitney Garner
Ms. Whitney began her career at CMCS in January of 2017. She considers her decision to join CMCS as one of the greatest decisions she has ever made. Ms. Whitney is a native and lifelong resident of South Carolina. She graduated from Conway High School in 2007, and began pursuing her degree in education at Coastal Carolina University. After earning her Bachelors of Science in Special Education in May of 2011, she began her teaching career at St. James Middle School. While at St. James Middle, Ms. Whitney taught grades 6-8 in various settings including resource, intensive intervention, learning strategies, and inclusion.
Ms. Whitney and her husband, Jay, reside in Murrells Inlet. They have 3 children (Pressley, Samuel, and John Thomas). On the weekends, she and her family enjoy being outdoors– whether it be going to the beach, fishing on the creek, or taking a golf cart ride around the neighborhood.
One of her favorite quotes is, “The future belongs to those who beleive in the beauty of their dreams” – Eleanor Roosevelt
About Amber Bacon
Amber Wheeler Bacon was raised in a suburb of Atlanta, and now lives at the beach with her librarian husband and quirky kids.
Since getting her Bachelor’s degree in English from University of Georgia, Amber has worked with youth in libraries and schools for twenty years. In 2009, she attained a master’s degree in Elementary Education from University of Louisville and worked as a parent educator and teacher for Head Start. After moving to South Carolina, she went through Montessori training with Seacoast Center Montessori Education Program and was a Lower Elementary teacher at CMCS. She then received her Literacy Teacher and Literacy Coach endorsements from the state of South Carolina. She also has a Master of Fine Arts degree in Writing and Literature from Bennington College. She is currently the Literacy Coach at CMCS and teaches English at Coastal Carolina University.