Our Staff

At Washington Park Early Learning Center we believe children learn through play. Therefore, our teachers craft an early childhood education program that provides ample opportunity for children to explore, create, ask questions, and take risks. We also believe an early childhood program should enrich the whole child, including their social, emotional, physical, and intellectual development.  Our teachers support this belief and create an atmosphere where each child takes flight with confidence.


Kristi Franko
Director & Parent-Tot Lead Teacher

Ms Kristi is WPELC’s Director and lead Parent-Tot class teacher. Ms Kristi completed the Stanley British Primary School Teacher Preparation Program in 2002. She has a Master’s in Educational Psychology from CU Denver, with an emphasis on Early Childhood Education.

She had the opportunity to focus on her passion for Early Childhood Education at Paddington Station Preschool, where she worked for 14 years. In addition to teaching 2, 3, and 4 year olds, she recently coached teachers for PEBC (Public Education & Business Coalition) through the Boettcher Teacher Residency Teacher Preparation Program and was the Site-Coordinator at Paddington Station Preschool, coaching, and supporting the Kindergarten and Pre-K teachers.

She taught the Parent-Tot class at Paddington for two years before moving to WPELC in 2016 to run and teach our own Parent-Tot program. She enjoys the opportunity to connect with families to facilitate hands-on exploration through play, and is excited to continue teaching young learners to navigate and explore the classroom and materials.

In her free time Ms Kristi enjoys cooking, live music, getting outside, researching Early Childhood Education, and spending time with her two daughters and husband.


Christina deVarona
Lead Preschool Teacher

Ms Christina is our Lead Preschool Teacher and has been teaching at Washington Park Early Learning Center since 1998. She holds an MA in Early Childhood Education from the University of Colorado. Ms Christina participated in the Stanley British Primary internship program both as an intern and mentor teacher. She has enjoyed working with young children and their families in education since 1991. Her experience as a teacher, a director of private and parent cooperative preschools, and a music and movement teacher enriches her classroom approach daily.

Ms Christina has taught classes and held seminars for teachers in music and movement, storytelling, early childhood environments, and creativity. Christina also teaches curriculum classes at Arapahoe Community College.

In her free time she loves listening to and playing music, reading books and spending time with friends and family. She has three children: Zoe, Joe, and Lucy.  Ms Christina was featured in the April 3, 2013 issue of Ed News Voices. Click here to read the full article.

Kara Burnham
Lead Preschool Teacher

Ms Kara Burnham is our Lead Teacher for the Preschool classroom on Tuesday and Thursday. Kara received an internship with the Stanley British Primary School Teacher Preparation Program where she earned her teaching certificate and obtained a Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education. She taught at Paddington Station Preschool for 10 years in a play-based setting where she worked with 3 and 4 year old’s for many years and ran a Parent-Tot program for 2 years. Kara also was a mentor for ECE interns through the SBPS Teacher Preparation Program and later became an Advisor to ECE interns going through the program.

In her free time Kara enjoys spending time with her family, including her 6 year old daughter and 8 year old son. She also enjoys hiking, cooking, reading and traveling. Kara is so excited to be back in a play-based setting working with preschool aged children.

Kara Chitwood
Office Manager

Kara Chitwood is our school’s Office Manager, assisting the Director with general school operations, enrollment, and bookkeeping. Additionally, she has been a favorite substitute since 2012 and continues to sub in our Preschool and Early Learner classrooms as needed.

Kara has a degree in Physical and Health Education and extensive experience working with youth and health: teaching high school for 5+ years, coaching various sports, and peer education & counseling at a summer camp for kids with HIV/AIDS. Her time at Washington Park Early Learning Center began in 2009 when her oldest daughter attended our school, and continued with her younger daughter attending WPELC in 2012.

Kara has taught both prenatal and postnatal yoga for 5+ years, and her students have included quite a few WPELC moms! Her other interests include going to concerts, hiking with friends and family, having dance parties with her daughters, traveling, and attempting to read books for her book club in a timely manner.

Katie Green
Lead Teacher – Early Learner

Ms Katie is our Lead Teacher for Early Learners on Tuesday and Thursday. Katie is a former WPELC parent who began at our school in 2017. She has taught at both Paddington and Steele Elementary and has a BA in Economics from Colorado College, as well as an MA in Early Childhood Education from UCD. She also completed the Stanley Intern Program and is certified as a Mentor Teacher for Stanley British Primary Teacher Training Program.

Katie has also taught English classes in Japan, Music Together, and for the Denver Public Schools for 9 years at both Slavens & Steele. Her interests include reading, traveling, eating, getting outdoors, and spending time with her family, and taking her 11 & 12 year old kids to ballet, soccer, and flag football.

Ms Tina

Tina Mitchell
Lead Teacher – Early Learners

Ms Tina is our Lead Teacher in the Early Learners M,W,F class. She has an Associates degree in Early Childhood Education and a Bachelors from CSU in Human Development and Family Studies. She taught preschool for 12 years before moving to a job working with at risk children.

Both of Ms Tina’s children attended WPELC and she was very active in the school. She was on the board and volunteered numerous hours of volunteer work, continuing to sub after her children graduated. It was during her years here that Tina saw how amazing it was to have such a close knit school community, and after 8 years, both Ms Tina and her children still have friendships that were formed at WPELC!

She loves to go to the mountains with her family to hike, bike, and ski, and spends a lot of time in the water in the summer. During the school year she spends a lot of time driving her highly social 11 & 14 years olds around to various activities.

Ms Tina is so excited to be back at our school to help guide your children through this incredible time. “You couldn’t have made a better choice for your children! Know that!”

Lara Laws
Associate Teacher – Preschool

Ms. Lara is excited to be starting her first year at WPELC as an Associate teacher working M,W,F with Ms. Christina.

Her educational career started right after high school working at an early childhood school on the east coast for children with special needs. After becoming formally trained as a Montessori teacher/guide, she taught both pre-school and kindergarten for 14 years in the Washington DC area as well as in Denver. For the last five years, she’s worked in a Waldorf public school assisting the lead preschool and kindergarten teacher.

Ms. Lara has an undergraduate degree in Sociology from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and a Masters in Early Childhood Education. She is certified in both infant/toddler and primary Montessori education. Her educational classes include coursework towards ECE director qualification, courses in conflict resolution, emotional intelligence, diversity training, mind/body connection, Brain gym, body safe awareness and other related courses. She also studied Waldorf philosophy through a Foundations Studies course.

Lara has two daughters ages 12 and 15, and a wonderful husband. Their interests include skiing, hiking, camping, traveling, and spending time with friends. When Ms. Lara has spare time, she enjoys doing yoga, attending her book club, and hosting gatherings for family and friends.

What Lara loves most about teaching is watching young children be curious and creative, gain confidence in their abilities, improve their social skills and discover who they are. She feels one of her primary roles is as a guide helping each child find their joy in learning and she is delighted to be working at WPELC.

Rachel Homlar
Assistant Teacher – Preschool & Early Learners

Ms Rachel is our Assistant Teacher for Preschool T,Th and for Early Learners M,W,F and has been with WPELC since 2014. She spent three years working at the Washington Park United Methodist Church shortly after her youngest daughter, Sarah, turned two-years-old.

Her previous experience working as a volunteer for six years in the preschool classroom, followed by a year teaching music to groups of children, led Ms Rachel to an incredible journey of discovery. She realized how much she enjoys her time with young, energetic learners! She has also spent time working with children in Berlin, Germany.

Ms Rachel’s experience as a preschool teacher has given her an opportunity to work with early learners of all ages, using her creative arts background. She has spent most time in the classroom working with children ages three & four and also has experience teaching toddlers from fourteen months of age, up to five year old children.

Rachel has her Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Arts from Xavier University. She is delighted to have the opportunity to work in a parent cooperative, assisting both classes.

Valerie Stokeld
T/Th Preschool Associate Teacher

Valerie has her MA in Moderate to Severe Special Education from Notre Dame de Namur University and is a Doctoral Candidate in Special Education at The University of San Francisco, currently conducting research on post-school outcomes for individuals with Autism.

Valerie has been a Special Education teacher for 12 years teaching individuals with autism. She has taught in elementary school, middle school, and high school/adult transition (ages 18-22) to better understand the differing needs of my students as they grow into adults.

Currently Valerie is a stay at home mom to my three children (1, 3, and 5) and has been working with children for as long as she can remember as a babysitter, camp counselor, and nanny. Her hobbies in crude soccer, reading, hiking, camping and cycling. She is very excited to join the WPELC team.