Chicago Free School

All Understanding Begins With Wonder

Teachers and Board Members

Staff Photo

2016-2017 staff, from left: Simone Wesley, Lauren Beitler, Heba Abassi, Lisa Rademacher, DeeAnn Reed, Joe Ochiltree, Gabrielle Ellison

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


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 BA in Mathematics and her MAT from the Urban Teacher Education Program at the University of Chicago.  She spent the 2012-2013 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 is excited to advise the 4th-8th graders in 2015-2016.

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 always been a free and caring spirit. She has held on to this joy for learning and brings it into the classroom. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree from the University of California Santa Cruz, where she studied Art and Early Childhood Education. Now she will forever be a UCSC “Banana Slug”! 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. Rosalie is six, and her light shines bright. Lilyanna is four, and she keeps everyone laughing all day long. They inspire creativity and patience. DeeAnn’s family has been in Hyde Park for two and a half years, where they are caring for her children’s great grandfather, who turned 95 this year. They were welcomed with open arms by the diverse community and they love it here. DeeAnn is honored to serve the children of Chicago, with the Chicago Free School.

Heba Abbasi has taught in the Chicago Public Schools for most of her teaching career. She’s passionate about teaching, learning and facilitating educational opportunities for young minds. After earning her Masters in Curriculum and Instruction from National Louis University, Heba spent the four years as part of an administrative team working as an Instructional Leader and educational consultant before joining the Chicago Free School team. As a mother of two young girls, 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 looks forward to integrating plenty of movement and physical activity in her lessons. Heba is the homeroom teacher for the 1st/2nd/3rd grade group.  Heba is excited to be part of The Chicago Free School community as both an educator and parent!

Lisa Rademacher has been teaching for over 17 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 three-year-olds to adults and has loved it all, although her niche is early childhood. She has a Bachelor of Science in Religious Studies and Music from Edgewood College in Madison, WI. She received a Master of Arts in Theological Studies with a concentration in Peace and Justice from the Maryknoll School of Theology in New York. She has a Master of Arts 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.

Joe Ochiltree joined our teaching staff as our middle school teacher for the 2016-2017 school year. Joe says, “This year at CFS will be my 10th year of teaching. I have taught 7th-12th grades in New York City, Mexico City, and Chicago. I like to integrate games and projects into my teaching. I am super excited to join the dedicated and creative community at CFS!”

Board of Directors:

Parent Representatives

Laura Tharsen has worked extensively in education administration and is currently a lab manager in the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago.  She is the mother of two Chicago Free School students – a Kindergartener and a 4th grader. She is currently the board Treasurer.

Joe Bernstein is an entrepreneur with a scientific and educational background. His primary professional passion is leveraging his abilities for efforts aimed at helping others. He is the father of a first-grader at Chicago Free School.

Raquel Monroe (Ph.D., UCLA) mother to Marielle, is an interdisciplinary performance scholar, and artist. In 2015 Monroe received the Excellence in Teaching Award from Columbia College Chicago, where she is an Assistant Professor in dance. Tiger Stripe Publishing will release her children’s book, How I Became We in 2016. The book playfully demonstrates yoga philosophy to young children. Her current manuscript, Black Girl Work: Popular Culture, Sex, and the Dancing Body, blends feminist ethnography, performance analysis, and critical race and queer theories to explore the choreographies of sexuality, activism, and nostalgia by black female cultural producers in popular culture. She is published in several anthologies and academic journals. Monroe serves on the board of directors for the Society of Dance History Scholars, the Collegium for African Diaspora Dance, and Indigo Cultural Center. She is also a senator for the faculty senate at Columbia College Chicago.


Community Representatives

Gabe Velez joined the board in the spring of 2015 as a community representative.  After six years as a teacher in New York, Peru, and Colombia, Gabe is now a student himself again.  He is currently in the PhD program in Comparative Human Development at the University of Chicago, and his research interests are civic education, civic engagement, and identity formation.  His own experiences and upbringing have fostered in him a passion to be of service in the field of education.

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. Jaideep holds an MBA from University of Chicago Booth School of Business in Strategy, Marketing and Entrepreneurship.

Staff Representatives

Lauren Beitler and DeeAnn Reed are the staff representatives on the board.