Our Staff

Sara VanSlyke, Director     sara@desertspringschool.org
The oldest of four children Sara was born and raised in Tucson by Minnesota parents. Her childhood was happily spent enjoying her fun loving family and exploring the incredible desert with its ancient ruins, pottery chards, and unique ecosystem. As a teenager she played hundreds of hours of tennis, and rode her Palomino through monsoon swollen arroyos and cactus covered hills. Sara graduated from Sahuaro High School and the U of A with a major in Sociology and minors in Religious Studies and Business. Sara also was very fortunate to travel for a semester on World Campus Afloat.

After college Sara taught in after school programs and four different preschools, and went back to school to pursue a nursing degree. When she finally finished all the prerequisites and started nursing school she realized that her real passion was Early Childhood Education, so she was inspired to open Desert Spring Children’s Center with co-founder Jan Kinkade. Sara and Jan started the planning process in 1985 and opened the doors in May 1987. The last 25 years has been an amazing joyous journey. Sara is grateful everyday for the children and their families that bless her life.

Adrian Weaver, Assistant Director     adrian@desertspringschool.org
Adrian began her career in Early Childhood Education at Cottonwood Enrichment Center, a Reggio inspired preschool in the Vail School District. She had the privilege to work alongside outstanding educators, who served as mentors of best practice. She earned a Bachelor’s of Fine Art from the University of Arizona and an Associate of Applied Science in Early Childhood Studies from Pima Community College. She is currently a graduate student at the University of Arizona, pursuing a Master of Arts, M.A., in Teaching and Teacher Education in the College of Education. Her coursework provides the opportunity to explore current early childhood focused research on teaching and school practices, examine curriculum theory, understand the importance of play and developmentally appropriate practice, and learn about higher-level neural and cognitive processes of young children. Adrian is passionate about creative expression through the arts and teaching sustainability concepts. In her spare time, Adrian enjoys reading, cooking, and going on nature walks with her family.

Joni Starzman, Sun Room Educator     sunroom@desertspringschool.org
Joni studied Early Childhood Education at Santa Barbara City College and she is currently enrolled at Pima Community College as a T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood Arizona Scholar. Joni has fifteen years experience working with children ages two to five. Joni is married and has two grown daughters of her own. Some of Joni’s favorite pastimes are reading, gardening, and spending time with her family.

Tonya Padilla, Sun Room Educator     sunroom@desertspringschool.org
Tonya was born in Tucson. She has a beautiful daughter. Tonya enjoys gardening and walking her dog. Tonya is currently enrolled at Pima Community College in the Early Childhood Education program. She has been working with young children ages 2 to 4 for the past eight years. Tonya is happy to be working at Desert Spring.

Dee Altuna, Mountain Room Educator     mountainroom@desertspringschool.org
Dee was born and raised in Arizona. She holds degrees from the University of Arizona in Journalism and from Pima Community College in Early Childhood Education. Dee believes that children learn through exploring the world around them. Dee plans learning activities that provoke creativity,  imagination, play, and time in nature.

Kristine Rochon, Mountain Room Educator     mountainroom@desertspringschool.org
Kristine was born in Pullman, Washington. She moved to Tucson when she was four years old. She is married and has a son. Kristine went to the University of Arizona and graduated with a degree in Family Studies and Human Development. She has worked in many early childhood contexts including after school programs, religious pre-schools and Head Start. She is glad to be at Desert Spring; it is home to her!

Alicia McKendry, Monsoon Room Educator    monsoon@desertspringschool.org
Alicia loves creating environments that embody the values of the community, the children, and the teaching team. Alicia is inspired by the Reggio Emilia philosophy and she believes that educators partner with children in the learning process as they question, investigate, and negotiate together. She has experience with documentation using photographs, observations, and anecdotal records. Alicia has a special talent for forming meaningful relationships with families. Alicia obtained a degree of Bachelor of Arts in Elementary and Special Education from Lewis University in Romeville, Illinoise. She graduated with honors.

Whitney Burgoyne, Monsoon Room Educator    monsoon@desertspringschool.org
Bio coming soon!

Emilie Douglas-Souza, Rainbow Room Educator  rainbowroom@desertspringschool.org
Emilie is a second generation preschool educator as her Mom was a Preschool Director in Indiana. Emilie has lived in Tucson for the past 14 years and now considers herself a Mid-Western Tucsonan. She has worked with children of all ages in various programs and settings for over 15 years. Among these have been volunteering with Americorps, teaching in public and private schools, and helping to open an arts-based preschool. Emilie practices the belief that adults should facilitate education, letting children guide the way by learning through play.

Danielle Cooney, Rainbow Room Educator  rainbowroom@desertspringschool.org
Danielle is from a small suburb of Los Angeles and moved to Tucson for school. She graduated from the University of Arizona Honors College with a Bachelors in both English and Creative Writing and a Minor in the Neuropsychology of Language Development. She loves working with children and is especially fascinated with how quickly they learn language. She enjoys playing tennis and painting.