Our staff believe that relationships are a priority. We model caring actions; respect for opinions, encouragement of ideas, and acceptance without judgement. We establish expectations, create play-based purposeful curriculum, are engaged, and teach children responsibility in a loving and nurturing manner.
Leigh Ann Ballew - Director
Sheena Walter - Assistant to the Director
I was born and raised in Zambia, Africa and went to boarding school in South Africa. When I was 18, my family moved to the U.K. In 1992, I flew to California on vacation where I met and soon after married my husband Stephen. We have been settled in Austin since 1996 and have 3 young adult children.
I am the Assistant to the Director and you can find me in the Day School Office every day. I love the friendly and happy environment at the Day School and love coming to work each day where I feel loved and appreciated.
Indu Agrawal (FPDS since 2009)
I am from India and grew up in a very big family. I live here in Austin with my husband, my daughter Savannah and our dog. I love spending time with my family – traveling, walking, and playing board games. I studied early childhood education at Pasadena City College in California and worked for the Early Childhood Program at The Jewish Community Center for 5 years before joining the great staff at FPDS.
I work at FPDS because teaching children is one of my greatest joys. Every day, I have the opportunity to see young children learn new skills that will stay with them forever. I enjoy being creative and making sure my classroom is joy-filled and engaging. The FPDS community is supportive and loving. Its teachers collaborate to ensure each child is loved and that makes this school feel like an extension of my big family.
Shirin Basmasi (FPDS since 2005)
I was born in Iran, raised in Germany, was a competitive ballroom dancer as a teen, and moved to the U.S. in 1995. I am Zoroastrian which is an ancient Persian religion. I speak 3 languages. I love the community at FPDS that celebrates individuality and diversity. Even if your child is not in my class, they will see me dance during our Persian New Year celebration. It is rewarding watching young children grow, knowing that this school has made an impact on their lives and that I have been a part of it. Both of my own two boys attended FPDS, so teaching here feels like a second home.
Cindy Benson (FPDS since 2001)
I truly love FPDS! We have such lovely parents and children and our teachers share a wonderful working relationship. FPDS has amazing values. As a teacher, it is exciting to watch these children grow in such a very happy place. I grew up in Tyler, Texas and came to Austin for college… and simply stayed after getting my B.S. in Elementary Education from Texas State. I have a husband, Scott and a grown son (Scott!), and my adorable dogs.
Gayatri Budwal (FPDS since 1999)
I grew up in London, England and am happily married with 3 children. I believe that working with children is a privilege. The highlights of my teaching day are when a child’s eyes light up when they learn something new or accomplish something that has been a challenge. I get as excited as they do, and it fills my heart with joy. I truly believe that FPDS is one of the best schools in Austin with its experienced and nurturing, dedicated staff who have a genuine passion for working with children.
Julie Jones (since 2012)
I grew up in Denton, Texas on a small ranch where I rode horses every day. Now, I have a small ranch where my husband, Grahame, and I are raised 2 daughters, Gabbie and Jali. I completed my degree in Elementary Education from Colorado Christian University taught for 3 years as an elementary school teacher before I had children of my own. Now, my children are grown and today we just have 2 dogs, 2 cats, and 6 chickens. I miss being around little ones at home, but I love being the caring and loving hands for two-year-olds at FPDS. I love this friendly school community nestled in Northwest Hills. The staff and families at this school make this place feel like my second home.
Becca Kotick (FPDS since 2007)
I absolutely LOVE to teach 2-year-olds! Children change so much in a year, it makes teaching so rewarding. The FPDS kids and parents are awesome and simply become part of our great big extended family.
I am originally from West Virginia and I am a true coal miner's daughter. I am married to Jim and we have 2 girls, Marley and Eliza Jane, and a son named Gabe, who we love to share in their learning and adventures. I absolutely love the rain and have been known to jump in a puddle or two!
Laura McCollum (FPDS since 2007)
I grew up in Miami, Florida but have lived in Austin since 1981 where I met my husband, Steve and together we have raised two sons – Dane and Parker, who is a Day School alumni. I love children of all ages. I worked as a preschool teacher in Westlake when my children were preschoolers themselves. My hobbies are yoga, cardio conditioning, and weight training. But my very favorite hobby is being a preschool teacher at FPDS! It inspires me to see children play, learn, grow, and become confident little people with a passion for learning about their surroundings as they develop a love for Jesus. FPDS kids are amazing! FPDS parents are supportive, available, and friendly. FPDS staff are solid, quality, knowledgeable, and caring. In my opinion, FPDS is the ultimate BEST preschool ever!
Sarah Newton (FPDS since 2015)
It is a privilege to be in the position to help begin a child's education during their preschool years. I received my degree in elementary education from Southwestern University. Having first taught elementary-aged kids, and then moving down to preschoolers, allows me the perspective of seeing those major building blocks that create learning from an early age. What a special time in a child's life to be a part of!
When I'm not teaching, my two boys, Miles and Chase, keep me busy! I like staying healthy with different types of exercise, watching movies with my husband Eric, and trying new restaurants on my Austin bucket list! My family attends church at First Presbyterian and my children have both attended the Day School. As a parent, seeing the love and support from all the adults in this school and faith community gave me such a good feeling, I realized I wanted to be a part of it so I joined the staff! I love our sweet school and all the people that make this school special. I am proud to be a part of FPDS!
Nooshi Saadatrad (FPDS since 2009)
I am originally from Iran and have been living in the U.S. since 1989. My husband and I, and our daughter have been in Austin since 1989. I have been teaching since 2001 and joined the FPDS staff in 2009. I love the friendly, inclusive community at FPDS and that FPDS is a play-based learning school. As a teacher, we can tailor developmentally appropriate practices for each child so that they can be challenged in unique and individualized ways. When I am not at the Day School, I enjoy cooking, reading, gardening, socializing, and serving refugee families in our community.
Kate Watson (FPDS since 2017)
FPDS is such a happy place. My four children all attended the Day School and we had such a wonderful 6 years that I didn’t want to leave! So I sent them off to elementary school and I am fortunate to be here teaching. I grew up in Virginia and received my elementary education degree from Hollins University in Virginia. I have lived in Austin with my husband David, since 2000. I taught first grade for 10 years before starting my family. We are members of First Presbyterian Church and I love the play-based, Christian atmosphere at FPDS and how our church and school community continually work together to serve families in the Austin community.
Kari Woodruff (FPDS since 2016)
I am one of 6 children, born in Hawaii, and I have spent 10 years living in Germany. I have 3 children. My hobbies include horseback riding, hiking, and anything with my children - we are a very active family - if I am not outside, I can be found in my kitchen cooking and creating recipes.
I was a nanny most of my college years while I was at Averett in Virginia and the University of Texas. My youngest son attended FPDS and the love we saw at FPDS drew me back to this school to work once my kids were all in school. I love this play-based structure and more importantly the caring hearts of its teachers. We are blessed to teach here and it shows in the love that surrounds the children we teach.