Laura Pinsof

Director (9th 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.


Deadre Lorber

Willows & Dandelions Teacher (13th year at FTCNS)

Deadre completed her B.A. from National College of Education (National-Louis University). She holds two Illinois teaching certificates (Elementary and Early Childhood Education), and has taught many Chicago children from age three up through 8th grade. Her varied experiences include teaching music to the whole school, developing integrated curriculum themes, and teaching literature-based reading and writing. After teaching Chicago Public School children for more than twenty years and then leading workshops for parents of children PreK through 3rd grade and tutoring privately, Deadre is very happy to be part of this special community of families. She especially enjoys watching and supporting the natural process of literacy development through play in young children. Deadre is the mother of two adult children, and a busy grandma to Chloe and Miles.


Ellen Palmer

Maples Teacher (16th year at FTCNS)

Ellen has over 20 years of preschool-teaching experience and additional education experience with children of all ages as a museum educator, poetry-writing instructor, storyteller and residential caregiver. With a bachelor’s degree in sociology, her background includes social work such as grief counseling and court advocacy with DUI crash victims, and case management with homeless mentally ill clients, as well a range of cross-cultural, cross-generational volunteer experience. She currently helps tutor at GirlForward, an exceptional local support agency for inspirational resettled high-school girls.  Her focus at Families Together is helping children be their true selves in community while learning diversity appreciation, conflict resolution and advocacy skills. She welcomes all ideas. Ellen is a published poet who enjoys writing, reading, theology, animals, sitting on her back porch in the summer, and pursuing mundane adventures.


Salena Miller

Junipers & Oaks Teacher (14th 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 began working at Families Together Cooperative Nursery School in June of 2006. Her experience in childcare centers, however, goes back about 10 years. Prior to graduation she spent six years as a lead teacher at The State of Illinois Child Development Center located in downtown Chicago. She is also the mother of a 17-year-old boy named Michael. Within the classroom she believes in building a nurturing community where all children feel safe and welcome. With her experience, she plans to provide a curriculum based on play that is meaningful and relevant to the lives of the children.


Mary Tabatowski

Junipers & Oaks Teacher (13th 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. Her son Gus is a recent Families Together alum!


Jill Victorine

Willows, Maples & Dandelions Teacher (8th 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. Throughout her journey, Jill has been greatly influenced by the 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. Most recently Jill has been 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.


Carey Farrell

Lunch Bunch Teacher (5th 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, she realized that she’s always loved working with and learning about young 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. 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 all the silly and serious conversations that arise at the lunch table, and the friendships that grow from sharing meals and and conversations together. Outside of school, Carey writes young adult novels, volunteers at the Old Town School of Folk Music, and performs all over Chicago as a solo singer-songwriter and as a trombonist with Clamor & Lace Noise Brigade. She lives in Evanston with her  husband and their dog.


Molly Roudebush

Lunch Bunch & Dandelions Teacher (5th 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!


Meredith Merchant

Aftercare Teacher (1st year at FTCNS)

Meredith graduated from Ringling College of Art and Design in 2004 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts (concentration in sculpture). In her career as an artist, Meredith traveled extensively and worked for a master sculptor in Colorado. Around this time, she began to pursue education, and studied at Antioch University in Keene, New Hampshire. She received her Waldorf Class Teacher certification from Antioch in 2013. Prior to joining FTCNS, Meredith was a Waldorf teacher in New England and Chicago. She taught and designed curricula for grades 1-12. Meredith loves helping children dive deep into their creative expression and imagination in pursuit of their identity. She and her husband, Miguel, live in Rogers Park with their dog, Bella.


Alima Belconis

Aftercare Teacher (1st year at FTCNS)

Alima received a bachelors degree in Social Work and through her studies became very interested in community organizing, racial and social equality, and women’s rights. This led her to work as an AmeriCorps Vista at a homeless shelter on the Mexican-American border in El Paso, TX. She then attended and received a graduate degree in NonGovernmental Organizational Management from the London School of Economics and Political Science. From then on, her career included working with diverse populations and topics such as HIV education for men of color in New York City and post 9/11 immigration advocacy in Chicago. In 1999, Alima started practicing and studying yoga and eventually starting teaching yoga full time in 2004. Her favorite part about teaching is watching people practice, fail, learn, and succeed at a level that works for them. Alima has three sons under the age of 6. She keeps herself and children entertained by singing, dancing, storytelling, and finding a way to cook vegan dishes so that they taste good.


Kirsten Ruckdeschel

Classroom Assistant & Lunch Bunch Teacher (5th 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 last December and continues to enjoy her studies. Before staying home to raise her three girls, she 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. Kirsten has enjoyed her responsibilities as a coop parent and is thrilled to continue on staff at FTCNS.


Kate Brenner

Business Manager (18th 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 healthcare company. Kate’s three college-age girls attended Families Together so she comes to the position with experience as a co-op parent.