Elementary School Team

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

Sally Thorogood copySally Thorogood
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 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’s two 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. Subsequently I held the positions of PYP coordinator and Junior School Assistant Principal.

During my years in Munich I 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. Many of these visits involved working closely with Middle School and High School administrators and my experience as a parent of children studying the MYP and IB Diploma also broadened my knowledge base of the IB as a whole. In 2008 I began studying part-time for my Masters in Education through Bath University in England and earned my M.Ed. in July 2014.

read more about Sally Thorogood

By 2012, our children, James and Jenni, had graduated from different universities in England and based themselves in Munich and London respectively. So my husband (Mark) and I decided we were ready for a new adventure and were delighted to have the opportunity to become positively immersed in the GAIS school community and life in California.

I am excited to be extending my responsibilities to K-8 Principal in the coming year after three years in the role of Elementary School Principal. I am particularly looking forward to reconnecting with many of the students and parents I have known in the younger grades, and working alongside the Middle School teachers as we implement the Next Chapter of the Middle Years Program.

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


Christina Keller
PYP Coordinator and English teacher

Originally from Indiana, I received my Bachelor of Arts from the University of Indianapolis, Master of Arts from Ball State University, and Master of Education from the University of Texas. I have over 25 years teaching experience as a classroom teacher in both primary and secondary grades. My secondary teaching included science, drama, English, and Spanish. In 2004, I moved to Germany and began teaching Grade 5 at the International School of Düsseldorf, where I was introduced to the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum and later served as PYP Coordinator.

read more about Christina Keller
While in Germany, I received training from the IB and have been involved in the IB Educators Network as a workshop leader and school visitor, taking part in authorization and evaluation visits in a variety of international schools in the Europe and Asia regions. From Germany, I moved to Singapore to work at the Canadian International School as the PYP Coordinator.

I have three grown sons who live in Texas and New York State. When not working, I enjoy traveling, photography, reading, and all things outdoors including biking, hiking, camping, and scuba diving.

I believe in the mission of the IB and the learning opportunities for students in the Primary Years Programme. I am excited to have the opportunity to be part of the GAIS community and a team of internationally minded educators and parents.

Kindergarten/Vorschule Teachers and Assistants

Birgit SchweingruberBirgit Schweingruber
Kindergarten Teacher

I am from Bremen, Germany and have lived in Switzerland and the U.S. 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.

Nadine Heckmann-Zakharov
Kindergarten Teacher

I was born and raised in Germany but always had a strong interest in foreign countries and languages.
I studied Applied Linguistics at universities in four different countries (Germany, Ireland, Russia and the USA) and hold a degree in translation of English and Russian.After developing a passion for studying and using foreign languages, I also became very interested in teaching them to others. Teaching per se 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.Throughout my studies and upon graduation I gained some experience in different public schools in Munich where I also volunteered in a multinational classroom where children of various nationalities with no or little knowledge of the German language were prepared to enroll in regular German schools.

read more about Nadine Heckmann

In 2008 my husband and I moved to Ireland and later on in 2009 to San Francisco where I took some time off to raise my children. Since my husband is Russian our two children grow 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 class. Ever since being back in California, I have been lucky to be part of the GAIS community and am very much looking forward to being the proud teacher of our Aquarium classroom in the upcoming year.

When I am not teaching, I love spending time outdoors with my family, especially being at the beach. Other than that I enjoy running and biking.

Elementary School Teachers and Assistants

Susanne Grimm copySusanne Grimm
First Grade Teacher

This will be my third year teaching first grade at GAIS. I really enjoy working with students, parents and the GAIS team members in an internationally oriented environment that inspires inquiry-based discovery and a love of learning.

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. 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.

Teaching at GAIS has been a very rewarding experience for me personally and professionally. There is no question in my mind that the GAIS Primary Years Program provides students with a solid educational foundation. But ultimately it’s all about the people who stand behind it. The team spirit among the teachers, and the unwavering support of the administration, the board and the parents have enabled me to direct my energy towards what matters the most: the kids.

In my spare time I like to explore the Bay Area, or play with my grandchildren who live in San Carlos. In fact, my grandson will attend GAIS pre-school this year. His parents could not have picked a better place to start his formal education!

Eva Dorner copyEva Dorner
Second Grade Teacher and Physical and Health Education

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.


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.

Mirko Widjanarko copyMirko Kusuma Widjanarko
Physical & Health Education/ Hort Teacher’s Assistant

My name is Mirko Widjanarko and 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.

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.

Michelle Burgos copyMichelle Burgos
English Teacher 

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!

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. That all happened before my husband and I opened a small restaurant in San Francisco. Four years later our daughter was born, who is now in high school. Shortly thereafter we had our son, who is currently in 8th grade at GAIS.

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. I taught first grade for six years and then moved to third grade. Hard to believe but this will be my twelfth year teaching at GAIS, overall. I very much enjoy working with so many international families and colleagues from all over the world. After having been here so many years, I still love the Bay Area’s open mindedness and the beautiful rolling golden hills.

Christine Burris copyChristine Burris
Fourth Grade Teacher & German Language Acquisition 

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.


Ina BerengerIna Berenger
Academic Support 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.

I very much enjoyed teaching 3rd grade for two years. This year, I will be the support teacher for the elementary school, working side by side with the classroom teachers. I will be able to support children’s learning in small group settings using differentiated activities. I am very much looking forward to this new role as it allows me to work with so many different age groups and children. I am excited to meet many of my former students again and work with them.

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.



Kathleen Witte
Grade 5 Homeroom Teacher

An outdoor enthusiast, challenge seeker, and avid traveller, I was born and grew up near Berlin in Germany. After I received a B.A. in psychology from the University of Toulouse, France, I earned a M.A. in child and adolescent psychology from Leiden University, Netherlands. My passion for teaching and working with children and families has taken me on incredible journeys around the world. I began my professional career as an assistant teacher in charge of two classrooms, including special needs students at an international school in the Netherlands. I then taught Grade 3 in India and spent one year teaching Grade 2 at an IB world school in China.

read more about Kathleen Witte

I am a strong advocate of inquiry-based learning and the hands-on approach of the IB program. Moreover, a key aspect of my teaching philosophy is the well being of my students, which includes mutual respect and cooperation. The more satisfied the students’ feel, the better they learn. I feel extremely gratified when this knowledge and thought is applied beyond the classroom.

I believe in my own continuous development and participate in workshops and other professional development seminars. I have received training in mindfulness, differentiation, counseling, and have earned an IB certificate in teaching and learning. I am excited to extend my skills and knowledge of technology integration in education. I believe that when used meaningfully, it can enrich learning experiences. I look forward to being an integral part of GAIS.


James (Jim) Keller
Music and Upper School Band

I was born and raised in Ohio. Before moving to CA, I taught music to students in preschool through Grade 12. Over the years, I have instructed band, chorus, marching band, directed musicals at all grade levels. I have a B.A. in music education from Bluffton University in Bluffton, Ohio and a M.A. in education from The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to teaching, I have also produced, directed and performed in over 180 theatre productions. Theater has always been a passion of mine and I have been involved in community theaters, semi-professional theaters as well as in school, church, and college groups.

In my spare time, I enjoy home improvement projects, gardening, and of course travelling. In 2016, I spent six-months traveling through Europe, Asia, India, and across the United States.