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Message from TCS Head of School » Key Staff Bios

Key Staff Bios

Steve Palmer, Executive Director

Steve Palmer's professional experience includes serving at every level - teacher, principal, Executive Director and Superintendent. Prior to joining The Cottage School, Steve was Superintendent in Michigan. Steve led major efforts resulting in increased student achievement and significant improvements in teaching, learning and school status. His central work focused on enhancing the educational culture with "Best Practices" and ensuring that all high school graduates were prepared for college and careers. Under his leadership, his high school received national recognition from U.S. News and World Report as One of America's Best High Schools.

Steve previously served as CEO and founder of a state-of-art aviation high school for the Dick DeVos Foundation. He has also served as Principal of three special education K-8 schools with 600 students with learning differences. In addition, Steve has been a national presenter on various special education topics and educational "Best Practices". A member of numerous national, state, and local boards, Steve has participated with national agencies and associations to reform special education.

Steve's academic background includes a Doctorate in Education, a Master of Science in Educational Leadership, a Master of Science in Counseling, a Bachelor of Science in Education and minor in Business, and Certifications from various states in Special Education and Educational Leadership.

Some of his accolades include: Dr. Landis Special Education Administrator of the Year, S.T.A.R. Administrator of the Year, Tandy Scholars Outstanding Teacher, Teacher of the Year, South Lake High School, 1 of 3 finalists for the Lake County Teacher of the Year, Educator of the Year Finalist Branch County Michigan, Disney's Teacherrific Finalist, South Lake High School Teacher of the Year, Radio Shack Outstanding Teacher, Clermont Chamber of Commerce Teacher of the Year and Leadership North Fulton.

"For myself, education provides an opportunity for continual learning and growth. One of my hopes as the Executive Director is to instill a love of learning in my students, as I share my own passion for learning with them. I feel there is a need for compassionate, strong, and dedicated individuals who are excited about working with children. In our competitive society it is important for students to not only receive a solid education, but to work with someone who is aware of and sensitive to their individual needs. I am such a person and will always strive to be the best educator that I can be."

Contact Steve at

Laura Finnell, M.Ed., High School Principal

Laura began her career with The Cottage School as an English teacher in 1991. She has lived in Roswell and Alpharetta most of her life, graduated from Milton High School and completed her bachelor's degree in English, Speech and Drama from the University of Georgia. She earned her Master's Degree in Educational Leadership from Georgia State University in 2000. During that time, she was initiated in Pi Lambda Theta, an honor society for graduate candidates, and was invited to present at the national convention in Boston. In the Atlanta community, she completed six years of service with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Associates young professionals organization, Bravo!, served for two years as Co-President of their board. She participates with educational organizations including: Atlanta Area Association of Independent Schools, International Dyslexia Association; Learning Disabilities Association of Georgia; Georgia Independent School Association and presents at the annual conference; National Association of Secondary School Principals; and the North Fulton Chamber of Commerce graduating from the NFCC Leadership program in 1999.

When not at TCS, you may find Laura at her daughter's basketball games, playing outside, trying to catch a few minutes of a Georgia Bulldog football game, or volunteering with her dog, Princess, through Happy Tails Pet Therapy group.

Contact Laura at

Julie Crudgington, M.Ed., MS, Middle School Principal

Julie holds a Masters Degree in Education from the University of Georgia, has an extensive background in Special Education, and is certified in all areas of middle school education. She spent ten years as a special education teacher and department head in the public school system before her tenure began at The Cottage School. From 2000-2007 she served as learning specialist, high school career counselor and middle school assistant principal. In 2007, Julie married and moved to Texas with her husband. When Julie and her husband moved back to Atlanta, she knew she belonged at TCS and, based on her credentials and prior knowledge of TCS, was appointed Middle School Assistant Principal. Eventually Julie was promoted to Middle School Principal when her predecessor took on new responsibilities at the school.

Julie has always been involved in mentoring new TCS teachers and assisting them in adapting to the students' many learning styles. She is active in facilitating the faculty's professional development programs and assists teachers with certification processes.

Besides being actively involved in her middle school students' educational and life skills development, Julie is and always has been the Georgia Bulldogs' biggest fan. When she is not here, she is on the road with her husband. Every summer, they get off the beaten path and travel the back roads of America.

Contact Julie at

Nancy C. Wadel, Ph.D., Elementary School Principal

Nancy began her tenure at The Cottage School several years ago, serving as the Director of Support Services with responsibilities for the After School Program and the Summer Programs. Currently, she is the founding Principal of the Elementary School. In addition, Nancy continues to serve as Director of Support Services, Director of Professional Learning and Advisor to both the After School Program and the Summer School Programs.

Nancy started her career working in self-contained specific learning disabilities classrooms, teaching young children who learn differently. She then transitioned into educational administration where she spent more than 20 years serving as curriculum administrator and as Executive Director of Special Education in local public school systems. Nancy has held teaching positions at the college and university levels. She earned her doctorate in Educational Administration and Supervision from Georgia State University. Nancy also holds masters degrees in Special Education (Specific Learning Disabilities) and in Early Childhood Education. When she is not working with students, Nancy enjoys spending time with her family. She is an avid runner who runs every afternoon with her dog. Nancy has participated in more than 25 Peachtree Road Races.

Richie Briggs, M.Ed., Athletic Director

Richie Briggs is in his eleventh season as head coach for The Cottage School Cougars varsity boys' basketball program. He also serves as the schools' Athletic Director, PE/Health Instructor, and is Co-Commissioner of the Atlanta Athletic Conference.

Coach Briggs has taken the Cougar basketball program to unprecedented heights. In his ten years at the helm, he has led The Cottage School to their first ever Atlanta Athletic Conference championship in 2009, then added three more rings in 2010, 2012, and 2013. In 2014, the Cougars fell just short of their fifth title finishing in 2nd place. During this time, Coach Briggs has recorded over 125 wins, including many over much larger and more skilled programs. The Cottage School is still the only AAC institution in league history to win back-to-back titles twice and to have two undefeated conference seasons in 2012-2013 (24-0).

Briggs joined The Cottage School after serving two seasons as assistant varsity girls basketball coach and PE teacher at Franklin County High School in Carnesville, Georgia, where he helped lead the Lady Lions to a region championship in 2004 and back-to-back state playoff appearances in 2004-2005. His second year as coach, earned him assistant coach of the year honors.

Prior to coaching on the high school level, Briggs served four years coaching women's college basketball for Emmanuel College and the University of West Georgia and before that as a student athlete at Emmanuel College. Briggs played a large part in the success of each of those programs as a coach and athlete. He earned a bachelor's degree in Sports Management in 1999 from Emmanuel and a master's degree in Physical Education in 2005 from West Georgia.

"I am honored and thankful to teach and coach here at The Cottage School. My vision is to continue to run a respectful physical education and health department and to help guide the athletic program to teach adolescents to succeed both in and out of the classroom. With the students' will to improve, both in skill and in self-confidence, we have been able to accomplish historic success on and off the courts and fields. I am blessed to be a part of this amazing environment and plan to continue guiding our youth to be strong, confident, open-minded, and honest hard working citizens."

Richie Briggs is married to his lovely wife Nadine and they have two children.

Contact Richie at

Bob Crenshaw, Director of Finance and Operations

Bob's career began with working in the large IBM mainframe computer industry straight out of college. He worked for major firms including Eastern Airlines, RCA Government Systems, TRW Aerospace, IBM, and others. During his computer career, Bob was involved heavily in project management and development of several domestic and international programs including multiple installations in Beijing, China. Bob's education includes a Bachelor's degree in Banking and Finance form the University of Florida and MBA coursework through the New York Institute of Technology and National University.

Bob and his wife Bettina made the decision in the early 1990's to move to Atlanta with their three children where they opened three independent child development centers and preschools, as well as a large independent preschool through twelfth grade college preparatory school. Bob also obtained his Real Estate Broker's License and eventually opened his own brokerage firm, all the while working in the startup and operation of his other family owned businesses.

Bob joined The Cottage School in 2009 where he became the Director of Finance and Operations and works closely with the Executive Director and the Board of Directors in the day-to-day management of several areas of the school.

Bob's outside the school life revolves heavily around his family with four generations of the Crenshaw family all living together in what he refers to as "Hotel Crenshaw". You can reach

Contact Bob at

Brenda Fetherston Hall, Director of Admissions

Brenda was born and raised in Connecticut, settling in the Atlanta area 19 years ago. After 12 years of private school education she graduated from Western New England University in Massachusetts with a BSBA in Marketing/Finance.

Brenda's entire career has been in Marketing - focused in the insurance arena. She has held many positions including Vice President of Marketing, New Business Leader, Marketing Manager and Director of Producer Management.

While in her VP role, Brenda was responsible for the US Program Division where one of the largest programs was for both Private Schools and Public School districts. During her tenure she was able to double the size of the program through her marketing efforts. She was actively involved with the NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) - a large non-profit association focused on the well-being of children with a particular emphasis on quality of education and development services available to them.

In local educational activity, Brenda held multiple roles for 6 years on the PTA Board at her children's elementary school, was in an appointed position on a Fulton County LSAC (Local School Advisory Council) and served 3 years as Co-President of the Parent Advisory Committee at The Cottage School. She was also named Emory University/Genetics Division liaison for children with genetic disorders in the State of Georgia.

Brenda's knowledge of, and passion for, The Cottage School is unrivaled. She has seen first-hand the direct impact TCS can have on a student as she continues to watch her son thrive exponentially in his 6th year at the school!

In her spare time, Brenda loves family time with her 16 year old twins and their dog, Fenway! Her passions (other than the THREE "kids"!) are travel, photography and sports (high school, college AND pro!)

You can reach Brenda at

Mary Ellen Cenzalli, Director of Advancement

Mary Ellen Cenzalli is a native Atlantan who grew up in neighboring East Cobb. She has been working as a fundraising professional in the nonprofit sector for the last 20 years. She has extensive experience working with independent schools including 6 years at St. Martin's Episcopal and 4 years at St .Pius X Catholic High School. Mary Ellen lives in Smyrna with Abby, her 14 year old Jack Russell Terrier. She is excited to jump right in and get to know The Cottage School community.

You can reach Mary Ellen at


Tangela McFarlane, Director of Special Events

Tangela was raised in Mobile, AL with additional career moves to Chicago, Phoenix and Los Angeles. She has been a resident of Atlanta for 24 years. Her greatest accomplishments are being the mother of three adult sons, whom she adores, and a proud supporter of multiple non-profit initiatives.

As the President and CEO of Events Exemplifying Excellence, Inc., which she started in 2007, she has been privileged to provide event planning services to corporations, non-profits, brides, celebrities and individual clients, both domestically and internationally. Creatively embracing and executing a vision is where her passion resides.

With a background in accounting from Florida A&M University and past careers in accounting and auditing, she brings a wealth of real world knowledge of the budgeting, time management and physical logistics needed to execute events on all levels.

An active member of the International Special Event Society, her involvement with non-profits has spanned more than twenty years. From chairing and building a Habitat House, past chair of the Morehouse Renaissance Room Clothes Closet, executive planner for the Coretta Scott King Desert Rose Book Launch, event planner for The Galloway School Gala, Prom and After Prom, and on site Décor specialist for The Super Bowl Gospel, to name a few.

Tangela believes you never get a second chance to make a first impression and bases her life and work ethic on that primary thought. It is her pleasure to serve at The Cottage School.

You can reach Tangela at