Highly qualified staff | Little School

Highly qualified staff

Maria Johnson

Managing Director/Owner/Licensee

Hi my name is Maria Johnson.  I spent my childhood growing up on a farm with my parents, two brothers and three sisters.

I moved to Wellington after training as a Primary School teacher at Hamilton Teachers College and completing my Bachelor of Education at Waikato University. B.Ed, Dip. Tching Primary. In 2006 I studied full time and gained my Early Childhood qualifications from the New Zealand College of Early Childhood Education.

I have four beautiful boys - Mathew, Joshua, Benjamin and Jacob (twins). I love being with my children and watching them grow and develop as individuals! Being a Mum is the greatest job in the world (even though sometimes it tests our patience).

I really enjoy spending time with family and friends, relaxing in my garden and being creative. When there is any spare time I also like to exercise.

I established Little School in 2002 and since then our organisation has grown to continually meet the demand of our families.

I am passionate and ambitious about young children discovering their abilities and providing them with the knowledge, skills and values to make them lifelong learners.  I continually aspire to be a leader in education and thoroughly enjoy this journey.  I am extremely fortunate to work alongside a brilliant team of dedicated teachers at Little School.  Together we aspire to be widely recognised leaders in preschool education.

I am on the Teachers Disciplinary Tribuanl, and a member of the Life Education National Board. 


2012; Wellington Supreme Business Woman of the year, Wellington Best Small to Medium Business, Finalist EY Entrepreneur of the Year, Next Education Finalist.

2017; Finalist Wellington Business Gold Awards, Finalist New Zealand Women of Influence Awards.



Megan Watson

Operations Manager/Enrolments

Hi my name is Megan. I began working as a Teacher at Little School when it first began in 2003.

I have a Diploma in Teaching Early Childhood which I completed at Whitirea Polytech. I then nannyed for two very special families which have remained a special part of my life and I still enjoy watching the children grow.

I took a break from Little School in 2007 when I had my son Oscar, who is a delight. I returned to Little School in 2009 when I became a member of the Management Team which I really enjoy. My son attended Kelburn Little School and was enriched by this experience.

In my sparetime I enjoy cooking, skiing and spending my time with family and friends.

Jane Jennings

Curriculum Co-ordinator

Hi, my name is Jane.  I began working as a teacher at Little School just after it first began in 2003.

I have a Diploma of Teaching in ECE and a Bachelor of Education which I completed at Dunedin College of Education and Otago University in the early 90's.

From mid 2004-2008 I took a break from Little School and Andrew and I had our two children Sarah and Harry - they are busy little people who bring lots of joy, love and laughter to our house.  Sarah attended Khandallah Little School and Harry went to Kelburn before transferring to Khandallah - so I have an interest and perspective in the schools as a parent and as an educator.

I returned to Little School in 2008 as a release teacher and in 2010 I became part of the Management Team and took on the role of teacher support and curriculum support.

In my spare time I enjoy running, walking, cooking, traveling and spending time with family and friends.

Claire Russell

Accounts Manager

Hi, my name is Claire. I grew up in Palmerston North with my parents, sister and two brothers.

I moved to Wellington in 2014 to study at Victoria University, I graduated with a bachelor of Commerce majoring in Accounting and minoring in Geography.

After completing my study, I began a 12-month contract working for a Wellington based community trust. This was a brilliant opportunity and I felt really lucky to have worked alongside such a wonderful group of people.

In my spare time I love yoga, walking in Otari Wilton bush, playing around on the pottery wheel and visiting my family and friends.


Kelburn Little School

Penny Hill

Kelburn Little School (K2) - Head Teacher

Kia ora, my name is Penelope (you are welcome to call me Penny). I studied at Victoria University to complete my Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Education and an additional Graduate Diploma in Primary School Teaching. I have been working at Churton Park Little School since 2013, and I am very happy to have a job that I feel so passionate about! In 2015 I completed my Early Childhood qualifications which allowed me to link my current teaching practice to theory. In 2016 I went on an 8 month overseas experience with my husband, travelling around the world. This was an amazing opportunity to experience a diverse range of cultures.

In my spare time I love to do anything that involves food. I enjoy testing out new recipes and trying to make food from a range of cultures. I like to keep fit by running around the gorgeous Wellington bays, taking a hike or going to the gym. When I was younger I did Ballroom and Latin American dancing, which I have decided to get back into this year.

I value the important role I have as an early childhood teacher, which acknowledges children as lifelong learners. I aim to develop meaningful relationships with both children and whānau as I believe this forms the basis of a quality teaching and learning environment.

I look forward to supporting and empowering your child to develop into confident and capable learners. 

Danièlle Pillay

Kelburn Little School - Teacher

Hi, my name is Danièlle. I am originally from Durban, South Africa and have been living in New Zealand for five years with my mum.

I studied for two years in South Africa but decided to finish my degree here in New Zealand. I studied at Victoria University where I finished my Bachelor of Education (Teaching) ECE. During my studies I did a lot of volunteer work and participated in Victoria Plus which allows students the opportunity to be involved in the community and university activities. It was a great opportunity to not only meet new people but to give back to those in need.

During my teaching experience in South Africa, I had the opportunity to work in three different types of schools. It was rewarding knowing that I was part of building the foundation for those children for their future, which is so important. This gave me the passion for wanting to further my teaching career in New Zealand.

In my spare time I enjoy reading, being outdoors and training at the gym. I also enjoy road trips, painting and drawing, and spending time with the people I love.

I am really looking forward to getting to know everyone at Little School and be part of your children’s learning journey.  

Danielle Chote

Kelburn Little School - Teacher - Parental Leave

Kia Ora!

My name is Danielle Chote and I was born in Wellington however spent most of my life growing up and living in Australia. I studied at Wellington’s Victoria University for four years, gaining a Bachelor of Arts and a Graduate Diploma of Teaching in Early Childhood Education. I started working with children as a nanny for three years, I then joined the Kelburn Little School team in 2015 as a part-time teacher, who assisted with the after school care programme and casual relieving.

I am so excited to now become a full-time teacher at Kelburn. I am really looking forward to building strong, reciprocal and respectful relationships with the children and families at Little School as this is very important to me as a teacher.

In my spare time I love travelling, sports and spending time with my friends and family. 

Ginalyn Yumul

Kelburn Little School - Teacher

Kia ora, my name is Ginalyn Yumul but you can call me Gina for short. I am married and with two big grown up children. My eldest is Yasmin and my youngest is Johnne. I came from the Philippines and moved to New Zealand in 2006.  I have been an educator since 2001. I have two Masters in Education (TESOL and English Teaching). In 2010, I completed my early childhood education at Victoria University, Wellington.

During my spare time, I do gardening, tramping, reading books and surfing the net.

Teaching is my passion. I found that teaching young children is very fulfilling and rewarding. I believe that they are competent, capable and powerful learners. Teachers should provide children with the opportunities to explore and to develop their knowledge and skills.

I also believe that each child should experience a sense of belonging. Each child should be provided a warm, calm, supportive and stimulating environment to support their learning. The teachers must also have a responsive relationship between and amongst one another, family and whanau.

I am looking forward to meeting you and supporting your children in their early learning journey at Kelburn Little School. 

Hanae Watanabe

Kelburn Little School (K1) - Head Teacher

Hello, my name is Hanae and I am thrilled to work with your children at Little School. Japan is my home country and my family still lives there, I came to New Zealand when I was 21 years old and fell in love with New Zealand culture, the people, nature and early childhood education.

Since having immigrated here in 2011, I lived in Auckland until this year when my husband Yoshi started working in Wellington. I completed a Bachelor of Arts in Child Welfare and studied Montessori education in Japan; I also gained a Postgraduate Diploma in Education at Auckland University to extend my knowledge of teaching.

Montessori education has always been my passion, and I have been mostly working with 2-5 year old children in Montessori environments. It will be a new journey for me to explore in a centre which has a different philosophy, I am sure it will be wonderful as I love continuously growing as a teacher. I see children as individuals and am willing to help a child to do things by themselves.

In my spare time, I enjoy cooking, traveling and playing the ukulele. I play squash some times as well. You will find me at any farmers market during the weekend.

I am looking forward to getting to know you and your children, which surely promises to bring with it many new experiences and challenges.

Katee Thomas

Kelburn Little School - Teacher

My name is Katee Thomas I am a fully registered early childhood teacher. I am originally from Dunedin where I completed a Bachelor of Teaching (ECE) at Otago University College of Education. After I graduated I came to Wellington and have made this my home for the last six years.

I have had a wide range of experiences both during my study and career, and have found that my passion for teaching lies in these experiences and what I learn from each of them. I have experience working with all tamariki under the age of six and have developed a love for the R.I.E philosophy. This centres my practice with young tamariki by building strong, respectful, enjoyable relationships with them and their whanau.

In my spare time I enjoy all things about food, cooking, eating and trying new things. I love to travel and spend time with my Wellington whanau as well as pop down to Dunedin to visit my whanau and friends. I’ve recently started to love gardening and while I’m very new at it, I’m enjoying the experience and learning more with each success and failure!

I look forward to meeting you, your tamaiti and whanau and learning how I can support, encourage and excite your tamaiti on their very special learning journey.

Hannah Smith

Kelburn Little School - Teacher

Hi, my name is Hannah. I grew up in Sheffield, England with my parents, older brother and younger sister.

I trained as an Early Years Primary Teacher in 2015 and have worked in several early years classes around Sheffield since.

In March 2018 I arrived in Wellington hoping to experience teaching in New Zealand and was very excited to be offered a position at Kelburn Little School. I am looking forward to having the opportunity to teach using Te Whariki and supporting children’s learning.

In my spare time I enjoy traveling, seeing films and spending time with friends and my sister, who is also in Wellington. I look forward to getting to know the children and their families at little school.

Cheryl Yin

Kelburn Little School - Teacher

Hello, my name is Cheryl Yin.

I’m from Shanghai, China. I got my Double Bachelor Degree of Arts and Education in China in 2009. I had been working as an adult English teacher since the graduation from university. I got fascinated by the beautiful country of New Zealand and came here to study for the Graduate Diploma in New Zealand Tertiary College and graduated in 2017.

I can still recall some invaluable experiences from my early childhood, and thus I deeply understand how profoundly the early years influence a person’s whole life. I’m committed to be a loving and respectful teacher and a passionate exploring partner for children. I’ve found that the philosophy of Little School echoes with mine in many ways and inspires me further. It is my honour and pleasure to join such a wonderful team.

In spare time, I like to watch movies and attend art activities such as plays, musicals and exhibitions. I also like traveling to see and experience different cultures.

Tanti Agustin

Kelburn Little School - Teacher

Hello, I am Tanti. I was born and bred in Indonesia, and I have bachelor degrees in engineering and education. I have >10 years of teaching experience in various early childhood institutions across Indonesia, Australia, and USA.

I moved to New Zealand in 2015 with my husband and our son Manu. I love spending time with them. We enjoy what the beautiful Aotearoa has to offer. I also love to try different food, bake, and cook.

I love teaching and I am grateful I get to do it. My goal is to help your children become lifelong learners in every aspect of their lives. I look forward to getting to know your children and learning together with them.

Churton Park Little School

Tatjana Manabe

Churton Park Little School - Head Teacher - Parental Leave

Kia ora, my name is Tatjana.

I have been with Little School since 2009 – first at Kelburn, then Churton Park. I have a diploma in primary school education but found my passion in teaching young children so in 2012 I gained a graduate diploma in early childhood education from Massey University.

I grew up in Germany, in the beautiful Rhine valley with castles and vineyards around every river bend. In 2005 I caught the travel bug and decided to do a one year working holiday in New Zealand – the rest is history.

In 2014, my husband and I welcomed our son, who now commands most of my free time – but if I have a spare moment I enjoy spending it in my garden or just relaxing with a good book and a cup of coffee.

Keri-ann Fauchelle

Churton Park Little School - Assistant Head Teacher - Parental Leave

Hi my name is Keri-ann Fauchelle.

I started working at Little School in April 2010, after I completed my BEd (tch) ECE at Victoria University. This is my first full time teaching role. Previously I worked as an after school care teacher and a relief teacher.

Wellington is my home town and I love it here. Activities that I love to do are reading, singing and camping. I am a member of the Newlands Baptist Church where I am part of the music group and often sing on a Sunday morning.

My family, my partner Michael and I are always going on camps.

I look forward to getting to know you.

Denise Lim

Churton Park Little School - Acting Head Teacher


My name is Denise Lim and I'm originally from Malaysia.  I am very excited to begin my career at Churton Park Little School as this is my first full time teaching role.

I graduated in 2014 with a Bachelor of Education (Teaching) Early Childhood at Victoria University of Wellington.

In my spare time I enjoy playing the piano, taking my dog for walks and reading.  I also love to travel.

I am looking forward to geting to know the children and families at Churton Park Little School.


Shermain Cayaba

Churton Park Little School - Teacher

Hi, my name is Shermain Cayaba. I moved from the Philippines 4 years ago. I started as a reliever for after school care at Churton Park and became a contractor for more than 2 years.

During these years, it gave me the opportunity to get to know the children better and build a rapport with their parents.

I love cooking, reading and listening to music in my spare time.



Jocelyn Woods

Churton Park Little School - Teacher

Hi, my name is Jocelyn. I began working as a teacher at Little School in 2017.

I have a Diploma of Teaching and a Bachelor of Political Science and English Lit at Victoria University of Wellington. I have previously worked as a primary school teacher and in offices.

In 2006 I had my son, Tom, followed by my beautiful daughter, Rose. I had always had a real passion for teaching the younger children at primary school, and having little kids of my own reawakened my interest in ECE. I really engage with Little School's vision of creating an environment which inspires children to learn and grow as curious and empathetic people and give them the best start they can have for their next stage in life.

I live in Johnsonville, and my children attend local schools, so I have strong connections with the Johnsonville/Churton Park community. In my spare time I enjoy gardening, travelling, and being Mum to my kids.

Ying Zhao

Churton Park Little School - Teacher
My name is Ying Zhao and I’m originally from China. My husband came to New Zealand first to study at Victoria University of Wellington for his PhD degree in 1993. 
One year later my daughter and I arrived at Wellington to join my husband. We have lived in Wellington for nearly 25 years. Now we live in Churton Park.
From 1995 to 2001, I gained Dip. TESL, Dip. Teaching of both Primary School and Early Childhood at Victoria University of Wellington.
Before I joined little School team, I worked at Queen Margaret College Preschool for 12 years. 
I am so happy to work at Churton Park Little School which is so close to my home. Working with young children is the most joyful time for my life.
I also have two granddaughters who visit me during the weekend.
In my spare time I enjoy walking and reading the Bible.  

Khandallah Little School

Melinda Buenaventura-Verchez

Khandallah Little School - Head Teacher - Parental Leave

Hi, I'm Melinda Buenaventura-Verchez from the Philippines.  I'm a graduate of the University of Santo Tomas where I earned the degree Bacehelor of Elementary Education major in Early Childhood Education.  I taught grades 1 and 2 in an International school in the Philippines.  Then before coming to New Zealand, I was a toddler teacher in a preschool for two years.

Aside from teaching,  I love spending time with my family and friends.  I also enjoy discovering new things through books and traveling. 

I'm excited to begin my new adventure here in New Zealand and continue my teaching profession with the children, families and the team of Khandallah Little School.

Alison Haycock

Khandallah Little School - Acting Head Teacher

 Hi my name is Alison,

I am a trained primary school teacher from Manchester in the UK and am now delighted to be working at Little School and be a part of the Khandallah team.

I graduated from Edge Hill University in 2012 with a degree in Primary Education. I was then a primary school teacher in the UK for over 2 years. I mainly taught infants which included children with special educational needs and children with English as an additional language.

Since arriving in Wellington, I have gained a wide range of experience relieving in various Early Childhood Centres across Wellington as well as being a nanny for a wonderful family who remain dear to me. It was this experience where I discovered my passion for teaching in Early Years.

In my spare time I love to explore New Zealand, go on hikes and travel. I enjoy baking, listening to music, reading and especially learning new things.

I look forward to the learning journeys I will embark on at Little School, in particular, getting to know and work with you and your children.

Louise Davies

Khandallah Little School - Teacher

Kia Ora

My name is Louise Davies I am very excited to have joined the teaching team of Little School Khandallah.  I am looking forward to getting to know the children and families of this community.

I have had the pleasure of working within the Little School’s in 2014 as a relief teacher and am pleased to be working in a full time position now in 2016.  I have 10 years’ experience working with pre-schoolers at the Khandallah/Ngaio Community Crèche.  Working with young children was my second career as prior to having my own two lovely teenage daughters Kristen and Lauren I spent many years in Sales and Recruitment.

I am passionate about supporting the individual development and growth of all the young children I have the opportunity to work with.  All children are unique and I feel very honoured to be now working with the children of Little School Khandallah.

In my free time I enjoy walking, reading and spending time with family and friends.  Watching my own children’s sports and activities as well as helping my own girls grow through their teenage years.    

Ellie Bloomfield

Khandallah Little School Teacher

Hi, my name is Ellie B! I graduated back in 2016 where I completed my three year degree in Early Childhood Education. From this it affirmed to me that working with children is where I want to be and making a difference in their lives is something I would love to strive towards every day.

I have a condition called achondroplasia which makes me a little person, dwarf. My height proves to be no barrier for me in life and working with children. An advantage of this when working with children is that I am at their level which seems to give them a sense of trust and friendship. Although they tend to stare at me at first and ask questions they quickly come to see me just like the other teachers, only shorter. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to ask me.

I love working with the teachers and children at Khandallah Little School. It is great watching the children grow, explore and observe them step outside their comfort zone. I look forward to getting to know everyone!

Caitlin Smith

Khandallah Little School - Teacher
My name is Caitlin Smith. I am from Durban, South Africa and have been living in New Zealand since December 2017.
I studied at the University of South Africa and completed a Bachelor of Education in Early Childhood Development.
During my time in South Africa I had the opportunity to work with special needs children. Which I continued to do in New Zealand by volunteering at RDA (Riding for the Disabled Association)
I believe that I am a creative, fun, loving and enthusiastic teacher. I always put 100% into what I do and will always put children first.
In my spare time I enjoy cooking and baking for friends and family. I also enjoy traveling, and have been exploring my new home New Zealand with my partner.
I am looking forward to joining the Little School team and expanding my knowledge of the New Zealand Curriculum.  As well as getting to know the families and children of at Khandallah.

St Heliers Little School

Elizabeth Fletcher

St Heliers Little School - Teacher - Parental Leave

Talofa Lava, my name is Elizabeth Fletcher.

I was born and raised in the lovely “City of Sails, Tamamki Makaurau (Auckland)”. I come from a big Samoan family (too many to count on your fingers) and absolutely love hanging out with my family and my husband.

It is lovely being back teaching at St Helier’s Little School as I left in 2013 to venture out in to the Primary sector. Previously, I relieved in other primary schools teaching across all age groups however knew my passion was working with younger children. 

I believe as a teacher it is my job to encourage and learn alongside children and to allow them to make mistakes in a nurturing environment. This helps them to develop their own working theories and to make sense of the world around them. 

I look forward to continuing to build new relationships with the children and families at St Heliers Little School.