Laura Pinsof, she/her
Director (10th year at FTCNS)
Laura brings a background in educational leadership, teaching, and anti-bias work, along with her years as an FTCNS parent and board member to her role as Director. In this role, she leads and supports our teaching staff, works with students, teachers, and families to ensure each child’s optimal development, and coordinates with parent volunteers to facilitate the day-to-day operations and long term growth and improvement of the school. Before joining the FTCNS community, Laura worked as the PreK-12 Social Science Coordinator for the Champaign, IL schools and as a teacher at New Trier High School. Laura holds both a Masters in the Art of Teaching and a Masters in Educational Organization and Leadership, is certified to teach and serve as a principal in Illinois, and has worked in multiple settings as a SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) facilitator. Laura is passionate about offering children and their families a truly welcoming first school experience centered on creative play, authentic problem solving, and nurturing empathy, advocacy, and a positive sense of self. She is also dedicated to supporting the continual growth and development of teachers so that they can give their best to children and find deep fulfillment in their professional lives.
Salena Miller, she/her
Junipers & Oaks Teacher (15th year at FTCNS)
Salena graduated from National-Louis University with a B.A. in Early Childhood Education and a minor in Psychology (March 2006). She is a certified teacher and began working at Families Together Cooperative Nursery School in June of 2006. Her experience in childcare centers, however, goes back to 1998. Prior to graduation, she spent time working and organizing youth afterschool programs and spent six years as a lead teacher at The State of Illinois Child Development Center located in downtown Chicago. Having grown up in a large family with 17 siblings, Salena has spent most of her life around young children. Within the classroom, she believes in building a nurturing community where all children feel safe and welcome. With this approach in tow, she provides a play-based curriculum with a focus on anti-bias work that is meaningful and relevant to the lives of the children.
Mary Tabatowski, she/her
Junipers & Oaks Teacher (14th year at FTCNS)
Mary graduated from the University of Chicago in 2000 with an undergraduate degree in English and Italian literature. She had always been fascinated with how children learn, and this led her to find teaching jobs after college. She taught preschool for several years and then 3rd grade in a parochial school before returning to graduate school at the Erikson Institute to get her Masters Degree in Early Childhood Education and teaching certificate. Her favorite part of teaching is having deep, interesting, and hilarious conversations with kids – noticing things together, reflecting on them, coming up with ideas and questions and possible answers. In her spare time, you can find her playing bluegrass music on her mandolin, contra dancing, singing, cooking, reading, and spending time with her husband and kids, one of whom is a Families Together alum!
Toccara Taylor, she/her
Willows, Maples & Dandelions Teacher (1st year at FTCNS)
Toccara will earn her B.A in psychology from National Louis University in December of 2020. She worked for Easter Seals as a home-based coordinator and spent many years working as a two and three-year-old teacher at Ravenswood Community Childcare. Toccara had the honor of working with the Salvation Army in Lagos, Nigeria teaching young learners and teachers the importance of play in early childhood. She currently serves on the board of Life Directions as a Community Motivator for underprivileged youth and at Bowen High School in the South Chicago neighborhood as a mentor for young people who assists them in making positive choices in their communities. She enjoys taking nature walks and creating children’s stories in her spare time. She is excited to be a part of the FTCNS teaching staff for the upcoming school year!
Jill Victorine, she/her
Willows, Maples & Dandelions Teacher (9th year at FTCNS)
Jill has come full circle in her career as an early childhood educator. She started teaching preschool at Families Together in 2002 when the school consisted of only two classes and she was pursuing her B.A. in Early Childhood Education at Northeastern Illinois University. After four years, she left FTCNS to pursue different experiences, including living abroad in Barcelona, Spain for six months to immerse herself in the Spanish language. When she returned, she continued her professional journey as a Master and Mentor Teacher at Christopher House. During this time, Jill continued her education, receiving an endorsement in English as a Second Language along with completing her M.A in Teacher Leadership at Roosevelt University. Before returning to FTCNS Jill was the studio arts teacher for a CPS preschool program in the Beverly neighborhood where she guided children through material art explorations to support their learning. Throughout her journey, Jill has been greatly influenced by the ideals and theories of the Reggio Emilia Approach. She is passionate about implementing emergent curriculum in the classroom and using different art media to extend children’s ideas and theories. You may also find Jill in her garden talking and singing to her veggies, taking care of her new found hobby “pet snails” and spending time with her family.
Carey Farrell, she/her
Lunch Bunch, Birches & Assistant Teacher (6th year at FTCNS)
Carey graduated from Notre Dame of Maryland University in 2000 with a BA in English and a minor in music. After working in educational publishing, and realizing how much she loved learning about and spending time with children, she decided to pursue a teaching career. In 2009, she graduated from the Erikson Institute with an MS in early childhood education and a Type 04 teaching certificate. She has also been certified in Music Together and Kindermusik. Carey loves helping children express themselves and build relationships through the arts, especially music, stories, and dramatic play. Her favorite part of Lunch Bunch is the silly and serious conversation that arises at the lunch table, and the friendships that grow from sharing meals together. She loves documenting the daily life of the classroom through photographs and writing. Outside of school, Carey plays trombone with the bands Clamor & Lace Noise Brigade and Midnight Hour, performs as a solo singer-songwriter, and volunteers at the Old Town School of Folk Music’s resource center. She is the author of the young adult novel Forward March, and is slowly working on her next book.
Molly Roudebush, she/her
Lunch Bunch, Dandelions & Assistant Teacher (6th year at FTCNS)
Molly graduated from Northern Illinois University in 1998 with a BS degree in Family Social Services, minoring in both Women’s Studies and Black Studies. After college she served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Micronesia, teaching nutrition and promoting a healthy local-‐foods diet in schools and villages. She then spent twelve years working with families in emergency shelter and transitional housing programs in Chicago and Minneapolis, striving to help parents and children meet their physical and emotional needs and move out of crisis. More recently, Molly has enjoyed working with children at FTCNS as an assisting parent and summer camp teacher, and volunteering to provide Animal Assisted Therapy to seniors with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Molly has particular interest and experience in building positive relationships and developing a healthy self-‐image, and she brings extensive experience in leading groups of children in hatha yoga, textile crafting, cooking and gardening. She loves engaging children through play and art, meaningful conversation and lunch!
Andrea Korte, she/her
Lunch Bunch, Sunflowers & Assistant Teacher (2nd year at FTCNS)
Andrea earned an undergraduate degree in Psychology at Bradley University in Peoria, IL with a minor in Women’s Studies. During her time at BU, Andrea taught in the on-campus community preschool program, both as an assistant teacher and as the head teacher. She also interned with a community Head Start program for children of teen mothers. Upon graduation, Andrea earned a Masters in Social Work with a concentration in Children and Families from the University of Chicago. While in graduate school, she completed two internships: first as a school social worker and then as a juvenile probation officer. Andrea spent the next 30 years working with youth and their families through the Cook County Juvenile Court, networking with the courts, the school system and various community agencies. A few months after retiring in the summer of 2018, Andrea began subbing at FTCNS and has worked in all of the classrooms, Lunch Bunch, summer camp and as a bathroom assistant! She loves the energy and enthusiasm of preschoolers and is thrilled to be on the FTCNS staff. In her spare time, Andrea is a church youth leader/deacon and Girl Scout volunteer.
Kirsten Ruckdeschel, she/her
Dandelions, Sunflowers & Assistant Teacher (6th year at FTCNS)
Kirsten earned her B.A. in History and M.Ed in Higher Education from Loyola University Chicago. In the fall of 2017, she began taking early childhood education classes and has enjoyed learning about the field both inside and outside of the classroom. She earned her basic certificate in child development in December 2018 and will be completing her ECE program this year. Before entering the world of early childhood education, Kirsten worked with international students and staff at both the International Office at Northwestern University and the Office of International Services at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Kirsten came to Families Together by way of her children, all of whom are alumni. In her free time, Kirsten enjoys exploring Chicago’s nature and forest preserves and is excited to share her love for the natural world with her Dandelions students this year!
Kate Brenner, she/her
Business Manager (19th year at FTCNS)
Kate manages admissions, accounts payable/receivable, and enrollment as well as working on fundraising and marketing. Kate has a B.A. in French from the University of Minnesota/Minneapolis, and her previous work experience includes volunteer coordinator and marketing/PR at Twin Cities Public Television, a year as an English tutor in Brazil, and 10 years in marketing for a Chicago-area healthcare company. Kate’s three 20-something kids attended Families Together so she comes to the position with experience as a co-op parent.