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Team Elementary School

At GAIS, all teachers are credentialed and qualified to teach the International Baccalaureate (IB) Programme.

Sally Thorogood copySally Thorogood
Elementary School Principal

I was born in England, near London, and studied, lived and worked in several different parts of the country before moving to Munich in 1997. I have been an elementary school educator for more than two decades and have taught children from kindergarten through fifth grade, initially in the English state school system and from 1998-2012 in Munich International School (MIS). My family moved to Munich as a result of my husband taking up a 2-year secondment with BMW but stayed far longer, having become positively immersed in the international school environment, International Baccalaureate curriculum, Bavarian countryside, and German language and culture. Soon after joining the MIS community as a parent, I was asked to sign up for substitute teaching and the following year I accepted the position of Grade 2 homeroom teacher. During my time at MIS I also held the positions of PYP coordinator and Junior School Assistant Principal. I also completed the Certificate of International School Leadership, and trained as a School Visitor for the International Baccalaureate Organisation, leading school authorization and evaluation visits in a variety of international schools from 2006 onwards. In 2008 I began studying part-time for my Masters in Education through Bath University in England and graduated in July 2014.

read more about Sally Thorogood

Both my children attended MIS and valued their international education as a whole and their experience of the International Baccalaureate in particular. Having graduated from different universities in England, my son (James) returned to Munich to work and my daughter (Jenni) has based herself in London.  Meanwhile my husband (Mark) and I are the ones who ‘left the nest’ to experience new opportunities, challenges and experiences and I am delighted to have now become positively immersed in the GAIS school community and life in California.

When I am not working I enjoy singing, reading, playing tennis, skiing and walking in the mountains.

Monika Hoge copyMonika Hoge
PYP Coordinator, Special Support Coordinator

I was born in Alameda, grew up in Truckee and graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary and Special Education. During my first 3 years of teaching, I earned a Master of Arts Degree in Curriculum and Instruction. I have over 20 years teaching experience as a classroom teacher of grades 1-5. My teaching career began in public schools in Reno but took an international turn with a Fulbright grant to teach in Dumbarton, Scotland.

read more about Monika Hoge

In 2000, I moved to Amman, Jordan to become the English Programme Coordinator for Amman Baccalaureate School (Bilingual school). I then moved to the International School of Tanganyika (IB World School) as Head of Department for ESL/Special Needs. My next step was Munich International School (IB World School), as a grade 5, ESL, and most recently Middle School Math and English teacher.

Since 2009 I have been working with the IB as a workshop leader, leading teacher training workshops throughout Europe, Africa and the Middle East. I have attended meetings at the Hague, contributing to some of the more recent curriculum documentation connected to the PYP. I am excited about my return to the Bay Area with an international twist at GAIS. I am an avid skier and enjoy just about anything outdoors including SCUBA, adventure and travel.

Our Kindergarten/Vorschule Teachers and Assistants:

Birgit SchweingruberBirgit Schweingruber
Kindergarten Teacher

I am from Bremen, Germany and have lived in Switzerland and the US. I started teaching at GAIS in 2005 after a year of substituting in the preschool.  My experience at GAIS includes working as an Assistant in preschool and as an Assistant Teacher in Vorschule.

Before joining GAIS, I spent 25 years teaching at the German American Saturday school, where I taught K-2nd grade. I taught summer school and gave workshops for teachers of German as a second language.

read more about Birgit Schweingruber

Prior to working at GAIS I was Director of Educational Services at PHP, a Nonprofit Organization.

At PHP I co-founded the ITech Center, a national model for connecting educators  and students with assistive technology in the classrooms to maximize learning.

I have been living in California with my husband and three children since 1983.

Our family sincerely enjoys the diverse culture in the Bay Area and I strongly believe teaching at GAIS  promotes the values  in education that are critical to  the future  of society.

What makes teaching at an IB school special?

An IB school’s emphasis on transdisciplinary education, independence and creativity in its teachers and students are what sets it apart from other schools. In the IB school the focus is on teaching students how to become independent thinkers and lifelong learners. As a teacher it is a privilege to facilitate learning through such an exciting and innovative process.

Why did you choose to work at GAIS?

I chose the GAIS program because of its outstanding preschool program and the excellent teamwork among the teachers.

Now I enjoy being part of the Vorschule team as well as being part of the larger GAIS community.

The excellent educational goals GAIS promotes are directly aligned with my educational philosophy. I believe the kind of education GAIS students acquire is absolutely vital to their success in the future.

Susanna Conze copySusanne Conze
Kindergarten Teacher

I grew up near Frankfurt, Germany and received my teaching credentials for Elementary and Middle School at the Paedagogische Hochschule Heidelberg in 2002. I started as a classroom teacher at an Elementary School with an extended musical program in Mannheim.

read more about Susanne Conze

I taught first grade at Elementary Schools in Mannheim and Heidelberg, conducted school choirs and as time went by our three children were born. At the end of 2012 we eventually moved back to Palo Alto and became part of the GAIS community again. I am very excited to be back teaching at GAIS and am especially looking forward to teaching Vorschule!

IMG_9381 copyNadine Heckmann-Zakharov
Kindergarten Assistant

I was born and raised in Germany but always had a passion for foreign countries and languages. I studied applied linguistics at universities in four different countries and hold a degree in translation of English and Russian. After studying foreign languages and working with them on a daily basis, I developed an interest in teaching them as well as my own native language. Teaching turned into a fascination and I decided to become a teacher. I received my teaching credentials from the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich where I also studied German as a Second Language.

read more about Nadine Heckmann-Zakharov

In 2008 my husband and I moved to Ireland and in 2009 to San Francisco. Since my husband is Russian our two children have grown up speaking three languages which is where my private life and professional interests meet perfectly.

In 2013 our whole family moved back to Munich for a year where I took a lot of pleasure in being the homeroom teacher of a third grade. Being back in San Francisco now, I am happy to be part of the GAIS team and look forward to teaching in an international environment.

Our Elementary School Teachers and Assistants:

Susanne Grimm copySusanne Grimm
First Grade Teacher

I grew up in Stuttgart, Germany where my family used to publish the local newspaper for the Northern Stuttgart region. After acquiring a teaching degree in Elementary Education at the Pädagogische Hochschule Ludwigsburg, I taught second grade in my hometown of Zuffenhausen.

read more about Susanne Grimm

After immigrating to the United States, I attended Graduate School at the University of Minnesota where I also taught German as a second language to university students. My teaching career in Minnesota spans a wide range of ages and educational experiences from elementary students to adults. I have always been passionate about education and have enjoyed working in dynamic multicultural environments, including business organizations, where I could be a valued contributor to the success of their programs.

In Minnesota, I started out teaching German as a foreign language to high school students. After joining the Twin Cities German Immersion school (the only full-immersion German charter school in the Midwest) in 2006 as a second grade teacher, I knew that I had found my calling: teaching elementary-age students in a German immersion setting. I have taught there ever since. For three years I also served on the School Board to help shape the direction of a unique educational program that enjoys strong support from the parent community. In my spare time I like to ride my bike, visit my family in Germany or my grandchildren in California and read historic fiction novels.

Manfred Oesting copyManfred Oesting
First Grade Teacher

I was born in Lueneburg, Germany and grew up in the beautiful small town of Radevormwald in North Rhine-Westphalia. I received my German Elementary and Middle/High School credentials from the University of Wuppertal in the subjects English, German and History and have over 9 years of teaching experience as an Elementary, Middle and High School teacher. As part of my Middle and High School experience I was a department leader for the grades 5-10 at a German Realschule. I was responsible for equipment acquisition (books, teaching materials, movies and other “learner oriented” aids for teaching) and mentoring other teachers in instructing outside of their primary subject area.

read more about Manfred Oesting

A continued interest in history and different cultures led me to research local Jewish history in Germany. I actually became a tour guide for students of all ages at the Jewish Museum of the “Alte Synagoge Wuppertal” before I came to the United States.

My wife, a Bay Area local, didn’t need much time to convince me in the last years that living in the beautiful and diverse Bay Area was the right step for us and I moved here permanently in the summer of 2013.

After starting as an assistant teacher in 3rd grade at GAIS and an additional year as a first grade teacher, I am very excited about returning to teaching Middle School students. I immediately fell in love with the IB philosophy in 2013 and the teaching approach behind it. I’ve always been convinced that teaching and learning should not be limited to single lessons and content, but be seen as a holistic process, always connected to a focus on the school’s core values such as respect, tolerance and responsibility. This in turn helps the students develop their own, individual personality for their next steps in life, developing – besides an excellent academic education – strong morals and values for our society and world.

In my free time I enjoy hiking or swimming with our Labrador “Maisy”, as well as camping, playing and watching soccer, playing the guitar and reading. Often you will find me on the racetracks around the Bay Area – as a former racecar driver and racing instructor I still enjoy Kart Racing whenever I have the time.

Florian Busch copyFlorian Busch
First Grade Assistant / PM Site Supervisor

Hallo zusammen / hello everybody! My name is Florian Busch and I am very happy to be part of the GAIS team starting with the school year 2014/2015. I was born and raised in Bonn, Germany, and as a child, often went to summer camps – an activity I enjoyed so much, that I decided I wanted to be one of those child care workers that had made possible so many wonderful moments of my childhood.

read more about Florian Busch

I started working as a volunteer for summer camps in the Netherlands and the South of France, then managing them, and quickly arrived to the conclusion that I not only wanted to be part of children’s social development, but also their educational one.

I made my official “Staatlich anerkannter Erzieher” Diploma at the prestigious Alice – Salomon – Berufsbildende Schule in Linz am Rhein in 2008 and since then, I’ve been working at public elementary schools around Bonn as an After School Teacher and Teacher Assistant, and continued organizing summer camps in the South of France.

It’s been a wonderful six years, working alongside teachers to support learning activities, giving extra support to students with special educational needs, running After School Clubs like Computer or Soccer… Now the time has arrived for me to start a new chapter, doing what I do best in a foreign country, none less than the United States! I am happy to have found a place at GAIS, eager to exchange my ideas with the teachers and try out all the activities I have in mind with the students and hopefully confirm once more that the joy to learn is universal.

Ulrike List copyUlrike List
Second Grade Teacher

I was born and raised in Austria, and studied Primary Education at the Pädagogische Akademie in Baden. I also studied Fine Arts at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. After 4 years of teaching in Vienna I had the opportunity to work in France, while still thinking of my lifelong dream to live and work in the U.S. Sharing creativity is a wonderful way to learn from each other.

Eva Dorner copyEva Dorner
Second Grade Teacher

I grew up in Pforzheim, Germany and went to school at the Pädagogische Hochschule in Freiburg where I received my first credentials as a primary and middle school teacher. After finishing at Freiburg, I interned at GAIS for four months assisting with the 1st Grade.

read more about Eva Dorner

I then returned to Germany where I taught a combined class (in Oberndorf am Neckar) of first and second graders in PE, Science, Music and Arts and six graders in Math. In my spare time I enjoy playing the piano and traveling to exotic places around the world. I enjoy being a part of the GAIS community and its close-knit community of educators.

Why did you choose to teach at GAIS?

I always wanted to live and teach in another country. One reason was to improve my English skills and the second was to gain more life experiences. It is always a great opportunity to teach at an international school. You get to know a lot of people from different cultures and you learn a lot from each other. It is also very interesting to see how families deal with the bilingualism and I like the challenge of helping them with their German.

What qualities do you see in the students that have been through our program?

From first grade on the children are taught to be very independent which continues during their whole school career. As a result they are able to learn independently and help each other. Another great benefit is that the students are all bilingual and most of them learn a third or a fourth language, making them very marketable here or abroad. They are also more comfortable speaking, acting or presenting in front of the class or even the whole school community. This instills in them a lot of confidence and provides them with a valuable skill they will need and use for the rest of their lives.


Mirko Widjanarko copyMirko Kusuma Widjanarko
PE Teacher K-4 / Hort Teacher / Assistant

My name is Mirko Widjanarko and I will start at GAIS in the upcoming school year. I was born in a small city near Bremen, but grew up in a bilingual environment in Indonesia. After 18 years I went back to Germany where I finished my education as a „Heilerziehungspfleger“ in 2010. After that I worked in Cologne for two more years until I started advanced training in 2012 to become a therapist for children with special needs. In the same year I successfully completed my qualification as a sport instructor.

read more about Mirko Widjanarko

Recently, I was working in a preschool in Düsseldorf where I also taught PE. In my spare time I like to draw, listen to music and do all kind of sports, like slack lining, soccer, tennis, cycling, swimming, and juggling. I am happy and very excited to be part of GAIS.

Inna Berenger copyIna Berenger
Third Grade Teacher

I am a credentialed elementary school teacher with German and Art as my main subjects. Before moving from Hamburg to California in 2002, I worked in an elementary and middle school, teaching 1st through 7th grade. In the States I have worked in several co-ops which my children attended. As my husband is French, our two daughters have learned three languages, which makes multilingual education a central theme of my private life as well.

read more about Ina Berenger

In 2006-2007 I studied “German as a second language” at the Goethe-Institut and graduated in 2007. I started working at GAIS in 2007 as an assistant in the Vorschule and as German teacher for the VS children. I am now the 3rd Grade teacher and I am excited about helping the students explore and understand the world.

What qualities do you see in the students that have been through our program?

Our kids are going to school with so much enthusiasm and are so curious. Learning to understand concepts and working on bigger projects and ideas rather then memorizing lots of facts makes it possible for them to stay interested and responsible for their own learning.

What are some qualities that you see within the GAIS teaching staff?

I am impressed by the amount of hard work and dedication the GAIS teaching staff has. The teachers really care about their students here and try their very best to help each one of them to succeed.


Claudia Gruber copyClaudia Gruber
Third Grade Teacher

I was born and raised in the canton of Graubünden in Switzerland where I  received my elementary school teaching credentials. After my studies and two years of teaching in Switzerland I wanted to travel the world but never made it much further than California. Blame it on the beautiful area, the international flair or meeting my husband…

read more about Claudia Gruber

I worked at GAIS for four years when the school was first founded, before my husband and I opened a small restaurant in San Francisco. Four years later we had our daughter and three years after that our son who is now attending 6th grade at GAIS.  Michela graduated from GAIS this year and is  starting as a freshman at Sequoia High school to continue her IB education.

I missed teaching during the time away from GAIS and when the kids had reached a certain age I decided it was time to go back into the classroom. Hard to believe, but this will be my seventh year teaching at GAIS again. I very much enjoy working with so many international families and colleagues from all over the world.

I still love the Bay Area’s open mindedness and the beautiful rolling golden hills after having been here so many years.

Christine Burris copyChristine Burris
Fourth Grade Teacher

I studied English and French at the University of Göttingen, Germany. After receiving my M.A. I taught Grades 9 and 10 in Celle. In the United States I also studied German-as-a-second-language at State University of San Francisco and received a second M.A.

Since 1994 I have been teaching many different subjects in the Elementary and Middle Schools at GAIS. I recently completed a certification course in Life Coaching at the Coaches Training Institute (CTI) in San Rafael in Marin County.

read more about Christine Burris

What makes teaching at an IB school special?

We teach units through concepts promoting global aspects and life long learning. The themes are relevant and meaningful. They are closely related to the real world. Students learn through hands-on activities and projects and go on many unique field trips that are unit related.

What are some aspects that you see within the GAIS teaching staff?

We are all carefully selected to suit each teaching position. We are highly qualified with mostly MA degrees from various countries. Some of us even have credentials from more than one country. We believe in the IB program and are very motivated to teach our students to make the world a better place. We are very flexible, international, and open-minded. We are trained to create/adjust/change our curriculum as needed. Thus we are providing an outstanding international bilingual education based on learning through inquiry.


Fourth Grade Assistant

When I said farewell to GAIS a while ago, I thought it was for good, but here I am again, doing what I always have enjoyed doing – teaching.

I was born and raised in Germany, and studied and received my teaching credentials for Primary and Secondary School there. After teaching Elementary as well as High School in Germany for some years, I moved to the Bay Area, applied for my California Teaching Credential and taught at a private American school before coming to GAIS. Here, I had the privilege to see our excellent school grow from just a few students to what it is now.

read more about Erika Van Deusen

Although it was not my intention to come out of retirement, it is wonderful to be back in the classroom to assist in 4th grade for 2 days a week and to meet many new as well as former students, parents, and colleagues.

Fourth Grade Assistant

I am from all over the place; British by passport, but I was born in Belgium and spent my childhood as a military brat in Canada and The Netherlands. Most recently, I lived and worked in Germany for 10 years and married a Spanish man, before moving to the Bay Area in February, 2014.

I received my MA in German and European History from the University of Edinburgh and completed a PGCE in languages (German and French) at secondary level at the University of Cambridge. Teaching has always been a passion of mine and I was able to teach English as a Foreign Language to children in Poland and Romania during University and completed my TESOL qualification. I taught German and French in a school near London for two years, leading the German Department for one year, before moving to SAP in Germany to work as a consultant.

read more about Brenda Muir

During my time in The Netherlands, I attended an IB international school and enjoyed it very much. Now with two young children myself (two girls aged 4 and 2), I am looking forward to returning to teaching in an international environment at GAIS.

In my rare moments of spare time, I play tennis for a local team, go running and mountain biking, cross-stitch and bake!


Michelle Burgos copyMichelle Burgos
English Teacher (Grade 1 & 2)

I am from Union City, California, which is directly across the bridge from GAIS. I have my TESOL Certificate from Cal State University East Bay, and have previously substitute taught for the New Haven Unified School District. For the past five years, I’ve been living in the Middle East, and for the past three years, I’ve taught Fourth Grade.

read more about Michelle Burgos

I consider myself a history nerd, so there’s no surprise that my B.A. is in Classic Civilizations from The University of California, Davis. That interest led me to Egypt, where I went from exploring antiquity to enrolling in an M.A. program for Migration and Refugee Studies. In the process of completing my thesis, I found my way to Jordan where I met my husband, and began teaching Fourth Grade.

Now, circling my way back to California, I’ve found myself anticipating continuing teaching in a bilingual international school as the First and Second Grade English Teacher at GAIS. I’m also really looking forward to immersing myself in the IB program and to learning some German on the side!

David Giesen copyDavid Giesen
English/Social Studies Teacher (Grade 3 & 4)

After taking my B.A. in English from UC Santa Barbara and then earning both multiple subject (3-8) and single subject (English and Social Studies) teaching credentials from Dominican University in San Rafael, I settled in Mendocino County on California’s north coast before moving to San Francisco in 1996. I’ve classroom taught grades 4-8 at schools in San Francisco where I also served as librarian and theater arts director before coming to GAIS in 2006.

read more about David Giesen

I enjoy writing plays and children’s books, but before the sun sets after school you are welcome to join me bicycling or kayaking San Francisco environs. Or come along on the weekend on my walking tour of San Francisco.

What makes teaching at an IB school special?

Perhaps owing to its European Parliament complexion, but certainly as a function of the IB emphasis on collegiality and trans-disciplinary skills, GAIS has been a welcome experience for me. I am by social inclination a sharer and consensus-seeker (not withstanding being opinionated), and the opportunity to work cooperatively towards coherent curriculum through frequent staff conferencing pleases me. In fact, I relish the give and take, push and tug of negotiation.

What qualities do you see in the students that have been through our program?

GAIS students are largely a self-confident, alert, and considerate batch of kids. The enrollment to outdoor play area ratio is good, with lots of space for semi-private space to play. Of special note is the IB emphasis on social development and relationships. I earnestly believe this emphasis cultivates the strongest sinews of citizenry, namely a commitment to cooperation.

Elisabeth Boegl copyElisabeth Bögl
Music Teacher (Grade 1-4 & IMS)

I was born and raised in a small village in Upper Austria, where I completed my college training in Kindergarten education. After that I studied Music and German pedagogy at the Mozarteum and the Paris Lodron Universität in Salzburg. I continued there with my PhD studies in Musicology to deepen my music theory knowledge as well as to broaden my German language skills. In my past seven years of teaching, my emphasis has been on teaching Music and German.

read more about Elisabeth Bögl

During my studies and teaching career in Austria, I had the opportunity to teach vocals and lead the mixed choir at my former Austrian High School and fulfill a passion of my own. The diverse school performances I planned, organized and led all benefited from my desire to improve my own voice and singing technique which included participating in concerts with a professional Austrian choir (e.g. at the well known Salzburger Summer Festival).

The height of my studies was my three years of additional ECHA-education (European Council for High Ability) in supporting gifted and talented students. It led me to participate in two very inspiring conferences on gifted education in the US in 2013 and motivated me to apply to GAIS.

Inspiring my students with my personal love of music and literature has proven to be my most precious educational aim. The daily experience of fulfilling this aim fills me with great joy.

Amy Parsons copyAmy Parsons
ESL Teacher & English Grade 5

I grew up in New Mexico, and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Foreign Languages at the University of New Mexico. During this time, I spent one year as an exchange student at the Karl-Franzens University in Austria. After obtaining my Bachelor’s Degree, I went on to earn a Master’s Degree in Elementary Education. I obtained my teaching credential while teaching a second grade classroom in New Mexico.

read more about Amy Parsons

I then went on to teach first grade in a PYP international school in Brussels, Belgium. Before moving to America, my husband and I took a year long bicycle trip from Belgium to China. Happy to now be off of my bike and back in the classroom, I am looking forward to sharing my love of learning with my students.