staff photo
2018-19 staff, from left: Joe Ochiltree, Meosha Thomas, Saengjun Luse, Lisa Rademacher, Simone Wesley, Heba Abbasi, Margarita Valbuena, Lauren Beitler, DeeAnn Reed

We are a group of parents and experienced educators creating a school where students take the lead in their own educations.

Teachers

Pre-K/Kindergarten

Lisa Rademacher has been teaching for over 20 years in Rome, New York, and all sides of Chicago. She has taught in non-profits working with refugee communities, private schools, and at Chicago Public Schools. She has taught 3-year-olds to adults and has loved it all, although her niche is early childhood. She has a B.S. in Religious Studies and Music from Edgewood College in Madison, WI. She received an MA in Theological Studies with a concentration in Peace and Justice from the Maryknoll School of Theology in New York. She has an MA in Teaching in Early Childhood from National Louis University. She founded and lives in the Sophia Community in Hyde Park with her husband, two daughters, and many others. She is passionate about co-creating a joyful community of learners in which inquiry and creativity are fostered.

DeeAnn Reed was born and raised on the sunny coast of California, and enjoyed running bare foot through the redwood forest and diving head first into the giant saltwater waves of the Pacific Ocean. She says the earth was her teacher and she was an enthusiastic student. She has held on to this joy for learning and brings it into the classroom. She earned her bachelor’s degree from UC Santa Cruz, where she studied Art and Early Childhood Education. She has traveled to the colorful land of Guatemala and eaten fresh sushi on a little island in Japan. She is also the mother of two very unique young ladies who are both Free School students. They inspire creativity and patience. DeeAnn is honored to serve the children of Chicago at Chicago Free School.

Simone Wesley is our PreK/K aide and joined us at the beginning of the 2016-2017 year. In addition to bringing the smiles and positive vibes to our youngest class, she is a lifelong Chicagoan and a mom of four kids.

1st/2nd grade homeroom

Heba Abbasi taught in Chicago Public Schools for most of her teaching career before coming to CFS. She’s passionate about teaching, learning and facilitating educational opportunities for young minds. After earning her master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction from National Louis University, Heba spent four years working as an Instructional Leader and educational consultant before joining our team. As a mother of three young children, she says she is constantly reminded how fascinating the world is and is eager to work with students to create curriculum to serve their interests. As a naturalist, she loves spending plenty of times outdoors. Heba enjoys reading, biking and swimming as forms of relaxation. As an accomplished triathlete she integrates plenty of movement and physical activity in her lessons. Heba is excited to be part of Chicago Free School as both an educator and parent!

Meosha Thomas, affectionately known as Ms. Moe, is a teacher in the 1st/2nd homeroom as well as our Aftercare Coordinator. Before coming to CFS in 2016, she served 10 years active duty in the United States Navy and has lived in many countries due to her military travels. She started teaching in 2008 while still serving through the Troops to Teachers program. Meosha prides herself on being a lifelong learner and feels every moment can become an opportunity to learn, explore, and create. She holds 4 degrees and various certifications to include Early Childhood Education. Her passions are art, community service and teaching. She describes herself as “an artist and an advocate” who believes that youth voice and choice is the key to creating a world of more compassionate, understanding leaders who are motivated by service and justice for all.

2nd/3rd grade homeroom

Saengjun (Waew) Luse, grew up in a rural community in Thailand about five hours northeast of Bangkok. During her childhood she recalls collecting rain water in jars, living under grass roofed houses, and hand-making many of their household items – like beds, tools, and furniture. After secondary-school, Waew attended Nakon Sawan Rajabhat University in Thailand and received her B.E. in the teaching of Chemistry. After graduating she worked at an Elementary School in Sumut Prakarn Province near Bangkok for three years. She then participated in a Cultural Exchange Program in the US for two years, having had the opportunity to improve her English skills, make friends with other students from around the world, and learn about their cultures. She recalls it as one of the greatest experiences she has ever had in her life!

After finishing the exchange program, during her time working for Baby Ph.D. and operating her own daycare, Waew learned extensively about child development and how children learn through play. It was, however, the birth of her own daughter which made her truly question the purpose of education and the available models which best suit an individual’s needs and development. Waew believes that Free School allows children the space necessary to develop their own interests and abilities – and hence a love for learning – a community, versus an isolated teaching space, and a humane system of discipline that treats children like people. She is thrilled to be the parent of a student at CFS and now also a teacher!

4th/5th grade homeroom

Lauren Beitler taught middle-school math for six years in the Woodlawn, North Lawndale, and Englewood neighborhoods of Chicago before leaving traditional school teaching to work on founding Chicago Free School.  Before becoming a teacher she got her B.A. in Mathematics and her M.A.T. from the Urban Teacher Education Program at the University of Chicago.  She spent the 2012-13 school year teaching at the Free School in Albany, NY, a democratic free school that has been serving a diverse group of learners in downtown Albany since 1969.  Because she attended a democratic school as a child, she knows firsthand the joy in learning that students can experience when given responsibility and freedom. She advises the 4th/5th grade homeroom and facilitates newspaper club, social studies group, and science group with grades 3-8.

6th/7th/8th grade homeroom

Joe Ochiltree joined our teaching staff as our middle school teacher for the 2016-2017 school year. This year at CFS will be his 12th year of teaching. He has taught 7th-12th grades in New York City, Mexico City, and Chicago. Joe likes to integrate games and projects into his teaching and has been excited to join the dedicated and creative community at CFS.

Administrative Staff

Margarita Valbuena (M.S., Erikson Institute) joined the Free School as School Administrator in spring of 2018. Margarita is a parent of two Free School students, a child development specialist, and the co-founder of Third Coast Birth & Family, a thriving family support agency that serves the needs of growing families across Chicago. She has 15 years of experience working with non-profits – both overseas and in the U.S. – in addition to her time working in the Office of Assessment and Accountability with Chicago Public Schools. She values the power of community and believes in the type of learning environment offered to students and their families at Chicago Free School.

Board of Directors

Parent Representatives

Carissa Ábrego-Collier is VP of the Board and parent to two kids, and has been a Free School parent for 3 years and counting. In her professional life, personal life, and on the board, she’s passionate about fostering communication and community.  She holds an MA in Linguistics and works at the University of Chicago, where she and her husband were also live-in staff in an undergraduate residential community for 4 years. In her free time, Carissa likes to cook, read, and make music.

Leanne Beaudoin Ryan serves as Board Secretary. She is the Associate Director of Research at Erikson Institute, the premier independent institution of higher education committed to ensuring that all children have equitable opportunities to realize their potential. Leanne earned her Ph. D. in Developmental Psychology at the University of Chicago in 2012. When she is not working, Leanne is a yoga enthusiast and avid knitter, who enjoys spending time with her husband and two young sons.

Kendra Burbank researches neuroscience and teaches statistics at the University of Chicago. She has been a CFS parent since the school’s opening, but has been interested in democratic education since attending a public democratic high school while growing up in Ithaca, NY. Kendra’s son will be in first grade in 2018-19.

Sara Volk de Garcia is Board President and mom of a fourth-grade student at CFS. Her background as a biologist first connected her to CFS when she helped us rescue a baby squirrel at the park! She brings her energy and commitment to the board with a goal of supporting stability and growth at CFS while developing a long-term vision.

Community Representatives

Jaideep Deshpande joined the Board of Chicago Free School as community representative in January 2016. Jaideep has more than 14 years of experience in project/program management and is currently working at Blue Cross Blue Shield of IL. He holds an MBA from University of Chicago Booth School of Business in Strategy, Marketing and Entrepreneurship.

A.J. Walker joined the Board of Chicago Free School as a community representative in 2017 and currently serves as Treasurer. A.J. is the CEO and President of Lake Jericho LLC, a Chicago-based registered investment advisory firm. A.J. is a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) charter holder, a Certified Financial Planner, and a Certified Investment Management Analyst. He earned a B.S. in Business Economics from the University of Louisville, and holds an MBA from Indiana University Southeast. A.J. brings more than 25 years of experience in the institutional investment management, wealth management, trust, real estate, foundation, endowment, and not-for-profit spaces to the Board. A.J. brings his expertise to Board functions as we build upon the mission of the CFS.

Staff Representatives

Lauren Beitler and Meosha Thomas are the staff representatives on the board.