Ann Gadzikowski, she/her
Director (1st year at FTCNS)
Ann joins FTCNS after many years of experience in the Chicago-area early childhood community. Ann earned an M.Ed. degree at the Erikson Institute and began her career as a preschool teacher at Evanston Day Nursery. Her leadership roles included serving as early childhood coordinator at Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development where she led the summer Leapfrog program. Ann is also an award-winning author of books for teachers and parents of young children. Her most recent publication Problem Solving with Young Children (Redleaf Press) explores inquiry-based learning in early childhood classrooms. Ann recently served as a curriculum director and executive editor for Encyclopedia Britannica where she led the creation of family resources including Britannica for Parents. She is thrilled to join the staff of FTCNS and participate in a learning community where play is deeply valued and all are committed to equity and inclusion.
Salena Miller, she/her
Junipers & Oaks Teacher (18th year at FTCNS)
Salena completed her M.Ed. at National Louis University in April of 2023. Salena is a certified special education teacher and received her special education endorsement in the summer of 2023. She 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 after school 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 (17th 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 & Wildflowers Teacher (4th year at FTCNS)
Toccara earned 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. She had the honor of working with the Salvation Army in Lagos, Nigeria teaching young learners and teachers about the importance of play in early childhood. Toccara 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, assisting them in making positive choices in their communities. She enjoys taking nature walks and creating children’s stories in her spare time. Toccara is excited to be a part of the FTCNS teaching staff for the upcoming school year!
Jill Victorine, she/her
Willows, Maples & Wildflowers Teacher (12th 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. In her spare time you might find Jill working in her garden, playing with her dog Piper or camping with the family.
Carey Farrell, she/her
Lunch Bunch Teacher (9th year at FTCNS)
Carey graduated from Notre Dame of Maryland University in 2000 with a BA in English and a minor in music. While working in educational publishing, she realized how much she loved learning about and spending time with children, and 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’s favorite part of Lunch Bunch is the silly and serious conversations that arise at the lunch table, and the friendships that grow from sharing meals together. She loves helping children express themselves and build relationships through the arts, and she brings her interests in music and dance into the Lunch Bunch and Clovers classrooms, and into the core classrooms through her role as music enrichment teacher. Outside school, Carey plays trombone with Clamor & Lace Noise Brigade, performs as a solo singer-songwriter, volunteers at the Old Town School of Folk Music, and serves as a Den Mama for Chicago’s Dance Dance Party Party chapter.
Molly Roudebush, she/her
Lunch Bunch Teacher (9th 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 (5th year at FTCNS)
Andrea earned an undergraduate degree in Psychology with a minor in Women’s Studies at Bradley University 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. A few months after retiring in the summer of 2018, Andrea began subbing at FTCNS and has taught in all of the classrooms, Lunch Bunch, 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 (9th 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 (22nd 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.