Board Members

John Iskra

John received his Bachelor of Music Education from Florida State University and a Master of Music degree from the University of Texas at Austin. He is the father of two children who attend Magnolia and is currently the Education Director at the Florida Air Museum where his responsibilities include youth and adult programs with emphasis on STEM hands on learning. John taught music for eleven years and was voted teacher of the year in 2008. During his tenure at Alturas Elementary school, John developed interdisciplinary materials and plans bridging music and STEM concepts and activities. John contributed the incorporation of the Orff-Schulwerk music program and is currently researching and implementing Montessori concepts in a STEM based, hands-on learning curriculum.

To email John send to

Alyssia Totten

Alyssia Totten spent fourteen years with Starbucks and is currently a commercial risk consultant at Lanier Upshaw, Inc. she is passionate about bringing proven process results with performance-based insurance and risk transfer tools to her clients. She has experienced first-hand the risk management decisions business leaders must make from the vantage point of global customer service-driven retail sales organizations. Her expertise is in LEAN processes, identifying strategic risks, and implementing change management strategies for maximum profitability. Alyssia is active in the community, having served as president of Rotary Club of Lakeland South and on the boards of directors for Imperial Symphony Orchestra and Magnolia Montessori Academy. She is a proud graduate of Leadership Polk Class XIII and Leadership Lakeland Class XXX. In 2016, Alyssia was honored with a City of Lakeland proclamation of “Alyssia Totten Day” for her leadership in fundraising and building community awareness in support of the Rotary Playground at Hernando’s Landing. Alyssia lives in Lakeland with her husband and two children.

To email Alyssia send to

Jae Y. Choe

Jae Y. Choe is a Master Instructor at the World Martial Arts Federation. He, along with his family, owns and operates Choe’s Martial Arts, one of the largest martial arts schools in the nation, and since 1979, continues to serve the Lakeland community. Jae has a passion for teaching youth martial arts, not only a vehicle for personal defense and mental discipline, but also for health and wellness. He and his wife have two children who attend Magnolia.  He is also a graduate of the University of Florida, College of Architecture (1999).

Jae Choe is the Magnolia Montessori Academy staff liaison to the Board of Directors.

To email Jae send to or click the link below

Email Jae Choe

Margarita Macon Merriweather

Margarita Macon Merriweather works in the field of Compliance and Regulatory Law as an Anti-Money Laundering (AML) Compliance Officer at Citibank.  Margarita has been a Lakeland resident since 1994 and is a proud graduate of George Jenkins High School.  She furthered her education by obtaining her B.S. in Political Science from Florida State University, a Master of Public Administration from the University of Central Florida and her law degree from Charleston School of Law.  Margarita has a passion for community service and returned home to Lakeland to serve her community.  She actively supports several charities that focus on children’s health and welfare, as well as, serves as a mentor to young ladies interested in pursuing advanced degrees. Margarita and her husband, Nicholas, are the proud parents of their 3 year old son, Ethan.

To email Margarita send to

James VanOrsdale

Jimmy received his bachelors of science degree from the University of South Florida in General Business Administration.  He is a claims adjuster for the Government Employees Insurance Company.  In 2002 and 2003, Jimmy was named Florida’s Arbitrator of the Year by Arbitration Forums Incorporated.   He and his wife Barbara are the proud parents of Alexandra and Addison, who are both current MMA students and have been in a Montessori classroom since pre-kindergarten.  Jimmy believes that the Montessori philosophy provides the rich environment that allows all children to achieve their full potential.

To email Jimmy send to

Maile Valentine (Parent Liaison to the Board of Directors)

Maile Valentine, co-founder and co-writer of the charter for Magnolia Montessori Academy, is the parent liaison to Magnolia Montessori Academy’s Board of Directors.

To email Maile send to or click the link below.

Email Maile Valentine