Michele Hong Herro, she/her
Interim Director of Education (1st year at FTCNS)
Michele is excited to join Families Together and bring her experience in education and teacher support to the Interim Education Director role. She has dedicated most of her career and professional learning to supporting children, families, and fellow educators. She loves being part of school communities committed to nurturing curiosity, ongoing reflection and growth, and lifelong learning in both children and the adults who work with them. Michele has worked in both the nonprofit and education sectors, starting her career in Chicago as a coordinator of after-school and employment programs for primarily immigrant and refugee youth. After earning a Master of Education degree and teaching license, she taught in Chicago Public Schools for several years. Her most recent work has been coaching teacher study groups participating in the Rochelle Lee Teacher Award program at Working in the Schools (WITS). She has also co-facilitated anti-bias/anti-racism workshops for caregivers and educators, and spent a fellowship year working at the Community of Learners School in the Philippines. Michele’s two children both attended Families Together, and as a parent volunteer, she coordinated the school’s annual online auction. In her free time, she enjoys reading and spending time outdoors with her family.
Salena Miller, she/her
Junipers & Oaks Teacher (16th 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 excited to be back in school working towards her Master’s Degree as a Learning Behavior Specialist. Salena 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 (15th 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.
Toccara Taylor, she/her
Willows, Maples & Dandelions Teacher (2nd 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 (10th 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 Teacher (7th 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 enjoys documenting the daily life of the classroom through photographs and writing. Carey is very excited to begin an additional role this year as Music Enrichment Teacher! Outside of school, Carey plays trombone with the bands Clamor & Lace Noise Brigade and Midnight Hour, and performs as a solo singer-songwriter. She is currently working on an album.
Molly Roudebush, she/her
Lunch Bunch & Dandelions Teacher (7th 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 Teacher (3rd year at FTCNS)
Andrea earned an undergraduate degree in Psychology at Bradley University in Peoria, IL with a minor in Women’s Studies in 1986. 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. In 1988, 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. She is an inaugural member of the Board of Directors at Jane Addams Alternative High School since 2002. 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, Sunflowers and summer camp! 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, enjoys RV camping with her family and loves to be anywhere near the water.
Kirsten Ruckdeschel, she/her
Assistant Teacher (7th 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 (20th 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 daughters (all Families Together alums!) will be all over the world for the next few years so she and her husband are planning quite a bit of travel! When she is home, Kate loves to garden and run on the lakefront.