Thomas Cangiano is the Head of School at GEMS World Academy Chicago. He brings to the role more than 25 years of experience as an accomplished educator, strategic thinker, scholar and dynamic leader. He comes to GEMS from Shady Side Academy in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which he served as President. During his 8-year tenure at Shady Side, Mr. Cangiano spearheaded numerous initiatives, including realizing the school's new Strategic Vision (2012); re-casting its mission and philosophy (2013); reinstating its boarding program (2015); and the successful merger of Shady Side with Fox Chapel Country Day School (2017).
A native of Massachusetts, Mr. Cangiano earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in American literature with a minor in American history from Middlebury College, a Master of Arts in teaching from Tufts University and a Master of Arts and Master of Philosophy in history from Columbia University. He and his wife, Linda, have three children: George, Grace and Celia.
Cindy Rigling is the Head of Lower School at GEMS World Academy Chicago. Ms. Rigling brings nearly three decades of teaching and leadership experience to the role, including her recent tenure as principal of a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) school in Connecticut, and she’s a noted expert in the IB curriculum.
Tracey Wood is the Head of Upper School, a new position at GEMS. Ms. Wood has worked as a teacher and school leader for 20 years, with a focus on International Baccalaureate schools. She comes to GEMS after serving as the director of international program and the IB coordinator at the International School of Boston.
Peg Keiner is the technology and innovation director for GEMS World Academy Chicago; she works closely with students, parents, and staff to ensure the fluid implementation of technology throughout the school. Peg has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s in instructional technology and design from Northern Illinois University.
Prior to GEMS, she was an instructional technology coach who researched, managed and implemented technology curriculum at five schools in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. She has spent time coaching teachers and parents, and she recently served as an instructor at NIU. She has been presented at the Northwestern STEM Summit and in June of 2015, she was the recipient of the Innovative Educator award from District 123 in Oak Lawn.
Outside of school, Peg is a cyclist in Chicago and enjoys going on bike tours throughout the Midwest. She is an active member of Chicago’s growing edtech and data communities and is a trustee for the Chicago Awesome Foundation.
Peg is excited about the endless possibilities available at GEMS and thrives on the ability to create the future of education.
Adriana has nearly 20 years of admissions and marketing experience in the independent school field. She served as director of marketing & communications and, most recently, as director of admissions at Morgan Park Academy, Chicago’s oldest independent school. Her most gratifying accomplishment while at MPA was spearheading the school's international program, which brought in students from many corners of the world.
Adriana brings a true passion for admissions and especially enjoys the relationships she develops with students, faculty, and families. She appreciates that every independent school has a unique story, and she is looking forward to telling the story of GEMS World Academy Chicago. She is the parent of two daughters who are independent school lifers, and she knows first-hand the value of a globally-focused independent school education. She holds a B.A. in communications from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Mike Riley is a professional software developer and emerging information technologist who focuses on identifying and implementing innovative technical approaches that improve an organization's internal and external services. He is the author of Programming Your Home and The Sublime Text 2 Screencast, published in 2012, and Developing Android on Android, published in 2013, all by Pragmatic Bookshelf. Mike is also a contributing editor and author of hundreds of technical articles and reviews. He also enjoys hiking, disc golf, vegetable gardening, playing piano and guitar and writing.
Director of the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning
Greg Wilson is the new Director of the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning and the Design Teacher at GEMS World Academy Chicago. Prior to working at GEMS, he was the director of the innovation lab at Ross School in East Hampton, New York. He has developed technology, design and innovation learning environments for a wide range of students ranging from kindergarten to adults. He received a doctorate in learning, design and technology from the University of Georgia, a master’s degree in computer science from Virginia Tech and a bachelor's in computer science from Georgia Tech. His mission is to empower students to develop solutions that positively impact the world.
Outside of GEMS, Gregory enjoys music, sports, traveling and spending time with his wife, Ashley, and three kids: Hanan, August-Gregory, and Arrow.
Dee-Dee Sanders is a native Chicagoan, but she has spent the last 15 years in the southwestern United States. Before joining GEMS, Dee-Dee spent six years as the network director of college counseling for Great Hearts America, where she was responsible for implementing, supporting and overseeing the college-counseling programs in 13 prep school academies in both Arizona and Texas.
Considered by ABC News in Phoenix as the most successful college counselor in Arizona, she has worked with students who have been admitted to the most selective and highly ranked colleges and universities in the nation. Committed to seeing all students have college access, Dee-Dee worked with students from the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth, was a member of the University of Arizona Honors College Advisory Board, created and implemented the educational program for the Bo Jackson Foundation, recruited to read and interview candidates for the Gates Millennium Scholarship program and partnered with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund.
Prior to working with Great Hearts, she worked in private practice as an educational college consultant. Dee-Dee also worked for more than a decade as a high school English teacher. She has a bachelor's degree in English and a master's degree in education & curriculum.
She is thrilled to be back home in the city she loves with her husband and 10-year-old son.
GEMS Executive Team
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Chief Executive Officer, GEMS Education Americas and the Education Partners
Denise Gallucci — visionary leader, innovative strategist, and passionate education advocate — believes that the world’s education leaders must fundamentally change the way we think and work in order to ensure inclusive, equitable, quality education and lifelong learning for all.
Denise is Chief Executive Officer of GEMS Education Americas, an educational powerhouse that is now the largest K-12 education provider in the world. She is also CEO of The Education Partners, a specialist consultancy division of GEMS Education.
Denise has been recognized for her consistent and stellar record as a transformative education leader. Her key tenets include a willingness to disrupt outmoded thinking, a passion for technology as a transformative tool, and the promotion of partnerships to effect powerful synergies and collaboration — the only way, she insists, to help faltering schools and ensure all students are prepared for success as global citizens. Over the span of her career, Denise has founded nearly two dozen schools, including the new GEMS World Academy flagship school in Chicago, and has held leadership positions in large urban centers such as the New York City Department of Education and Chicago Public Schools. Prior to joining GEMS, Denise served as the Deputy Executive Director and Superintendent of Schools for the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC) in Hartford, Connecticut. In 2012, she was named as one of the 40 Most Innovative Leaders Under 40 by Connecticut Magazine.
Today, Denise is focused on four core values central to the GEMS mission: leading through innovation, pursuing excellence, growing by learning and global citizenship. To support this goal on a magnified scale, Denise leads a world-renowned team of education experts who are accelerating the global education agenda. In short, Denise believes that with enough willing hands and hearts, we can usher in a new era of global educational cooperation, dynamically and positively impact schools, teachers, and students everywhere, and transform the world.
Jay Annadurai teaches Upper School students at GEMS. She has experience teaching sixth through eighth grades both internationally and in urban and suburban environments around the Midwest. With her bachelor's degree in anthropology and master's degree in education from Ohio State University, she has been recognized for her exceptional curriculum development in the Columbus Public School District.
Jay connects with each of her students and enjoys seeing them explore the world and expand their understanding through literature as they are introduced to new authors and genres. Her classroom’s environment is one that challenges students to understand and respect different perspectives and incorporate new ideas into their learning, inspires goal-setting and active engagement in the material, and promotes lively discussion that invites students to step out of their comfort zone.
Marjorie Blettry is a French and Spanish teacher at GEMS World Academy Chicago. Marjorie, a native speaker of French, joined the GEMS faculty after teaching at the Lycee Francais de Chicago for 14 years. She has a master’s degree in education and certification for the teaching of Spanish.
Marjorie, a passionate believer in the power of education to create positive change, is skilled at integrating technology into her lessons, and she has demonstrated a unique sensitivity to the varied needs of her students.
Joseph Cella is a head teacher in the GEMS preschool. Before joining GEMS, Joseph had been a prekindergarten teacher for Chicago Public Schools in an International Baccalaureate program. Working in early childhood has been a passion of his since he was young. He grew up in the Chicago area with much younger siblings, and as a result, learned that he had interest in the nurturing and development of young children.
Joseph earned a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, with a focus on project-based learning. He continued his studies at The Erikson Institute of Child Development and received his master’s degree in early childhood education. He now lives in Chicago with his wife, son and daughter. He cares deeply about the IB philosophy of teaching and looks forward to continuing his journey with GEMS. His hope is to support and grow inquiry, knowledge and compassion in the students he works with.
Maryann Clark is an admissions coordinator at GEMS World Academy Chicago. In that role, she gives tours of the school to prospective families and helps applicants through the enrollment process. Maryann started at GEMS in 2014 as a front-desk receptionist and part-time nurse. She has degrees in nursing and business, and prior to working at GEMS, she administered several medical practices in Chicago. Interacting with GEMS students and their families remains her favorite part of working at the school.
Upper School IB Coordinator and Language & Literature Teacher
Melissa Cuculich is the Upper School IB Coordinator and also teaches Upper School Language and Literature students at GEMS World Academy Chicago. Prior to joining the faculty, she taught at Taft High School, York Community High School and Locke Elementary School in Chicago. Melissa earned her bachelor's degree in English from the State University of New York at Buffalo and her master's degree in teaching from North Park University. Her past teaching experience includes teaching both high school and middle school International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program Language and Literature, Writing Workshop, and high school English. She has also previously coordinated the IB Middle Years Program.
Melissa believes that literature is a gateway to understanding ourselves and the world in which we live. Through close reading, inquiry, critical thinking and engaging discussions, she believes students will gain the knowledge and skills to prepare them to become knowledgeable leaders in our increasingly global society. Using Chicago as a campus, she is excited to share the dynamic City of Big Shoulders with her students. When she’s not teaching, you’ll find Melissa writing and testing new recipes for her family, reading, traveling or trying to solve the Sunday crossword puzzle.
Hannah Davis-Shatinsky teaches Middle School Language and Literature at GEMS World Academy. Ms. Shatinsky previously served as a fifth-grade collaborating teacher at GEMS for three years and is excited to move on to middle school with her former fifth-graders! Ms. Shatinsky holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Stage Management from Millikin University, and a Masters in Secondary Education from DePaul University.
Ms. Shatinsky believes in the power of learning about the world around us, as it is and was, through literature. As a staple of her teaching philosophy, Ms. Shatinsky feels that it is imperative that children learn to read, write, speak, and listen so they can express themselves and so their voices can be heard. When Ms. Shatinsky is not teaching, you can find her cooking, baking, or boating with her family in the summer!
Kelsey Didion is happy to be our Front of School Coordinator, a role that brings her in direct contact with GEMS students and parents every single day.
Kelsey is a graduate of the University of Evansville and holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in acting from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Heels!). In addition to her work at GEMS, Kelsey is a professional actor and actively creates with her artistic development company, The Midwives. As a teaching artist, Kelsey has led devised playmaking, beatboxing, Shakespeare, and movement. She loves being in the company of young, curious minds.
Alexis Dixon is excited to belong to the GEMS World Academy Chicago faculty this year! She is a collaborating teacher in junior kindergarten. Alexis attended the University of Iowa, where she received her bachelor's degree in English, and she will be attending DePaul University in the fall to begin a master’s program for secondary education. This past year, she began teaching as a full-time substitute teacher across many Chicago schools and developed a love of engaging with children. She is thrilled to bring a passion for life and learning into the classroom and create wonderful memories and learning experiences while helping the class grow and flourish!
Michael Ferbrache teaches first grade at GEMS World Academy Chicago. He came to GEMS after teaching for 11 years at Francis W. Parker School in Chicago. While there, Michael taught in the first grade, third grade, and after-school program. Michael holds a bachelor's degree in English from the Ohio State University and a master's degree in education from Northeastern Illinois University.
Before teaching, Michael performed music and comedy in the Chicago area, performing in shows produced by the Second City and iO. He loves bringing the energy and excitement of performing into his classroom, and he is constantly amazed by the creativity and openness of elementary-school students. Michael is excited to bring the idea of "city as classroom" to his students and to use the whole of Chicago as a place to learn and grow.
Taryn, a kindergarten collaborating teacher, is very excited to join the GEMS team this school year. Although this is her sixth year in Chicago, she grew up in Indiana and earned her bachelor's degree in elementary education from Huntington University. She has teaching experience in the U.S. and overseas. Prior to joining the faculty at GEMS, Taryn worked as an assistant in a special education classroom; taught first grade, kindergarten and third grade; and served as a literacy interventionist. Taryn also taught abroad in Cameroon and ran several English camps in Brazil and China. She is looking forward to getting to know GEMS families.
Donna Gerczak, a Grade 1 collaborating teacher, is passionate about each and every stage of child development. She has a combined 15 years of experience in education that began in Rockford, teaching eighth grade. Her professional experience also includes teaching and consulting grades 1 through 6, working as a preschool parent educator and co-teaching in all-inclusive classrooms for the Harlem School District. A graduate of Northern Illinois University, she holds a Bachelor of Science degree in education as a learning behavior specialist.
Donna performs a variety of service work benefiting youth; she has volunteered countless hours with the YMCA, Boys and Girls Club of Rockford and Keep Northern Illinois Beautiful. An enthusiastic Chicago sports fan, Donna also enjoys reading, recreational cooking, traveling, and discovering the many amusingly entertaining and unusual places in the Midwest and beyond!
Richard Getzel teaches Upper School mathematics at GEMS. Before joining our staff in 2016, he spent seven years teaching at Nathaniel Hawthorne Middle School 74 in Bayside, NY — his own alma mater. Richard taught mathematics for all middle-school grades, including the gifted and talented cohort, an experience which solidified his abilities to differentiate, accelerate and enrich instruction. He firmly believes that all students, regardless of ability, should be challenged and excited by mathematics everyday. Richard's teaching style is transdisciplinary, active and lively.
At his previous school, he advised the student government and also planned and carried out major student activities. He coached his school's Odyssey of the Mind Team to three consecutive New York city championships, and in 2016, a New York state championship — an accomplishment that earned him a citation from the United States Congress.
He earned a bachelor's degree in industrial and labor relations from Cornell University, a master's in secondary mathematics education from St. John's University and a master's extension in gifted & talented education from Hunter College. In his spare time, Richard enjoys opera, theater, baseball, woodworking and board games. Most of all, he relishes his role as a husband and father of his toddler age twins.
Suzanne Giacotto is a French teacher at GEMS World Academy Chicago. She’s a bilingual French speaker who has taught both middle school and high school French at schools in the U.S., including the Catherine Cook School and Guerin College Prep HS. She earned her bachelor’s degrees from Dominican University and Indiana University, and she has worked for three French companies in international sales and marketing prior to becoming a French teacher in 2008. A fun fact is that her oldest son plays lacrosse for the French National Lacrosse Team and competed in Netanya, Israel, this summer for the 2018 World Lacrosse Games. In 2019, she won the American Association of Teachers of French "Prix d'Excellence" award.
As a language teacher, Suzanne strives to help each student achieve his or her full potential and build confidence communicating in French. She also encourages students to strategize and become more self-directed in their study of a new language and making global connections in all other areas of their lives.
Kelsey Gilbert is very excited to be joining GEMS as a collaborating teacher in kindergarten. She has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in theater from Oakland University in Michigan, and she earned certification in early childhood development. Kelsey has been a teaching artist for various children's theaters in Chicago, as well as a lead preschool teacher for two years.
Kelsey uses her creativity and upbeat personality, developed in part via her experiences as a performer, to engage the students in learning and growing. She believes that a classroom should be a safe place for the students to share ideas, collaborate and enjoy their work. In her free time, she loves taking workout classes, seeing the newest shows in Chicago theater and baking.
Ashley Gilski comes to GEMS as a learning specialist. Most recently, Ashley was a special education teacher and team leader at Ogden International School of Chicago. Prior to her time at Ogden, Ashley served as a special education teacher at Kelvyn Park High School. She also has a private tutoring practice. Ashley has her bachelor’s degree in speech and hearing science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a master’s in special education from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Vickie Godfrey is the executive assistant to the head of school at GEMS World Academy Chicago. She works closely with school leadership to foster an environment of excellence in education and care so that students are encouraged in all aspects of their development. Her duties include coordinating staff meetings, preparing financial reports, auditing employee expenses and helping to arrange travel for staff and visitors.
Prior to joining the staff at GEMS, Vickie worked as chief concierge for Concierge Unlimited International in River North, Chicago. She has extensive experience in hospitality and personnel services, and in her career she has led hospitality programs for a variety of notable figures, including former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. She has been featured in media stories about concierge services in such outlets as the Chicago Sun-Timesand the Wall Street Journal.
Vickie has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Illinois State University. She lives in downtown Chicago with her husband and two daughters. She is active in community volunteer work, visits with hospitalized members of her church, parent activities at her daughters' school and is an accomplished runner. She has completed the Chicago Marathon 10 times and is in training to compete again in October.
Starting out as a bilingual fourth grade teacher in Waukegan public schools while earning her master's degree, Johanna Gomez went on to teach in Chicago Public Schools for two years before joining the GEMS team as an assistant teacher for third and fourth grades. She has a bachelor's degree in finance and marketing and a master's in elementary education, with a minor in Spanish and bilingual and ESL endorsements.
Johanna’s main asset is her native language, Spanish, which has helped her grow in a multicultural Chicago. She finds teaching to be very rewarding and sees it as an opportunity to help people embrace their unique qualities and differences in others. At GEMS, Johanna sees a love for, and exploration of, diversity. She looks to teach her students to respect each other, find opportunities for success, take risks while being safe, and work both cooperatively and independently.
Asya Gottesman is a Kindergarten Collaborating Teacher at GEMS World Academy. She holds a masters’ degree in music education from New York University and is working towards a certification in special education. Asya believes in the importance of expanding children’s interests by organizing field trips, integrating multicultural lessons and incorporating a wide array of activities and collaborative learning projects.
Asya’s experience with diverse learners has helped her become a well-rounded, empathetic teacher who considers each student’s unique goals and interests when planning lessons and carrying out activities to meet their physical, emotional, and social needs. She recently relocated to Chicago from New York City, where she taught for seven years. Asya is enjoying her time in Chicago and learning about the city and its beautiful architecture.
Eric Hillebrand teaches Individuals & Societies as part of our Upper School faculty. He has taught high school for 22 years, mostly in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program. His career, which has taken him to four overseas locations on three continents, includes nine years at a school in Massachusetts that pioneered the 'IB-for-all' approach. Eric has been a senior examiner for IB History and led teacher development for that course.
Eric earned a bachelor's degree in history at Marquette University, and he earned a master's in international relations at the University of Chicago. Outside of work, Eric has done political and nonprofit work based in Chicago's Latino community. He is an avid road cyclist when he can get out to the countryside, but happily settles for city commuter riding right now.
Originally from Indiana, Jennifer earned her undergraduate degree at Ball State University in Muncie and continued her studies in physical education at Florida State University, earning her master’s degree. Jennifer joins GEMS after serving as the lead Physical Education, Health & Wellness Teacher for 16 years at S.E. Gross Middle School in Brookfield. She championed numerous athletic programs as well as social/emotional programs for the students during her tenure.
In the classroom, Jennifer's focus was on developing health education curriculums that encouraged students’ social, emotional and intellectual development. Outside the classroom, she developed and coached sports, frequently serving as a mentor to both associates and students seeking to improve their physical health. Jennifer makes it a priority to bring enthusiasm and zest for life everywhere she goes. We are delighted that Jennifer is part of our team of exceptional instructors.
Leigh Ann Hollander is an early childhood teacher with a variety of experience at CHALK Preschool in Chicago, preschools and kindergartens in Chicago and St. Louis, and as an Early Childhood Special Concerns consultant at an IB school in New York City. She has a bachelor's degree in elementary education and a master's degree in curriculum studies, both from DePaul University. Leigh Ann likes to read, walk by Lake Michigan, exercise, and try new places with friends.
Leigh Ann has a passion for teaching and learning and looks forward to sharing her enthusiasm with her students. The sincere love for the children she teaches brings her back each day. Her ideal class includes a diverse group of learners and her curriculum has a child-centered approach, where students take charge of learning and she as a teacher acts as their facilitator. Leigh Ann believes the classroom is a place where children respect and care for each other.
Ben Hollister teaches second grade at GEMS World Academy Chicago. He has taught first and third grades for nine years in both rural and urban settings. Before moving to Chicago, Ben taught for a public school in western Illinois, where he received the My Favorite Teacher award, one of the top five of the state. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Ashford University in Iowa and went on for his master’s degree in curriculum instruction and an endorsement in English language learning.
Prior to classroom teaching, Ben worked at environmental education centers around the United States teaching wildlife, woodland and wetland ecology. During this time, he also taught wilderness survival, cold water survival and team-building strategies. Ben is excited to bring his passion for teaching, travel, culture and environmental stewardship to GEMS and the school family community.
With more than 17 years of experience teaching pre-K through third grade under her belt, as well as a year as an assistant director of an early childhood program, Erica Holman has learned a lot about herself as an educator and has discovered that her passion is definitely working directly with children. She has a bachelor's degree in early childhood education from Michigan State University and a master's in teaching with a 4.0 GPA from National-Louis University. Erica teaches junior kindergarten at GEMS World Academy Chicago.
As a teacher and as a parent, Erica sees openness, honesty, and curiosity as the best qualities in children and she loves providing opportunities for them to explore new things and then make connections with what they are learning. As an educator who is proud of her students, she uses children's interests and questions to guide open-ended discussions in the learning process. In her classroom, students are also included in the process of conflict resolution because she believes this is one of the most important life skills they can attain. She sees herself as a leader, a role model, and a facilitator of learning and she values her connections with each child as well as those between home and school.
Dr. Shannon J. Hurst, Upper School science teacher, arrived at GEMS after spending more than 20 years in science education, teaching grades 6 through 10 at urban and suburban schools throughout the Midwest. She is the recipient of numerous STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) awards and has led her students to multiple science competitions and energy-related exhibits. Also, she has published chapters on teaching science to second-language learners. She is committed to writing curriculum that is inquiry-based, combining pedagogy and praxis in science. She recently worked in Chicago Public Schools implementing research that works on social justice and marginalized populations. She has attended conferences across the country and has spoken on subcultural research and youth activism within science education.
Shannon received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a concentration in nursing. She received a master’s degree in education from Dominican University, and she earned her doctorate from Lewis University in 2012 with a concentration in educational research/leadership.
Shannon’s teaching philosophy in science fosters the tenets of creating a testable hypothesis through personal inquiry and identifying those variables that can complete design and experimental research. She believes the International Baccalaureate curriculum helps create a blend of problem solving through transdisciplinary components that allows new knowledge to be gained. Shannon believes science often forgets to leave room for having “fun through trial and error,” and she focuses on preparing students for 21st-century science jobs that have not yet been determined or created. She encourages students to think of themselves as participants in a global science-minded community of learners.
Adam Justice earned his post-graduate certificate in education at the University of Liverpool, England, and he began teaching in the northwest of England before returning to Oxford to continue his teaching career. When Adam moved to the British School of Chicago in the United States, he became the school’s head of physical education and the athletic director, developing the PE program’s curriculum and afterschool competitive and noncompetitive activities for six years. In 2014, Adam joined the GEMS World Academy team as its founding PE teacher. He was appointed to the Dean of Students post in 2017.
Renata Kallajova began teaching at GEMS as a substitute in our Lower School classes during the 2017-2018 school year. She is very excited to be working at GEMS full-time now. She joined GEMS on the strength of her M.A. in lower school education from the University of Hradec Kralove in the Czech Republic, where she taught first through fourth grades. She believes that creating a safe, caring and thought-provoking classroom enables students to focus, foster intellectual curiosity, develop leadership attributes and facilitate a lifelong love of learning.
Meg Knapik is the K-through-Grade 8 Math Specialist and Curriculum Coordinator at GEMS World Academy Chicago. In this role, she works on math curriculum alignment, collaborates with teachers to plan math instruction and supports students in their math learning. Meg earned her bachelor’s degree at Miami University (OH) in middle childhood education, and she has a master's degree from National Louis University in curriculum & instruction and a master's from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in education policy & organization leadership (principal endorsement).
Prior to joining GEMS, Meg spent two years as the K-8 director of math and middle school assistant principal in Pleasantdale School District 107, and she worked as a middle school math teacher for 10 years at Barrington Middle School-Prairie Campus. She has also served as a math curriculum leader, a grade level technology coach, a member of her district's Content Area Literacy Team, and a member of her district's Math Steering Committee. Meg is an edtech enthusiast and has presented at numerous local, state, national and international conferences on the topic of integrating literacy and technology into all content areas to make student thinking visible and connect with others. She has also co-authored a book on the topic titled Literacy Lessons for a Digital World: Using Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and More to Meet the Demands of the CCSS (Scholastic 2014). For three years, she was also an adjunct professor at Judson University.
Meg believes in a holistic approach to teaching and learning math, with conceptual understanding serving as the foundation for future math learning. She is excited to be a part of the innovative International Baccalaureate environment at GEMS and knows there will be powerful opportunities for students to use their math learning in authentic ways.
Meg lives in Chicago with her husband and daughter and enjoys traveling the world, reading, elevating her "foodie" status via cooking and exploring new restaurants, and spending time with family and friends.
Maya Knight is thrilled to join the GEMS faculty this year as a collaborating teacher. After beginning her teaching career in the California public school system, Maya spent a year in South Korea working at an International Baccalaureate school. Most recently, Maya was in Portugal, leading marine biology trips for American students. She is excited to share her love for science, Field Studies and reading with grade 3!
In her free time, Maya enjoys hiking, camping, and skiing in her native Colorado. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Redlands in Redlands, CA.
Panagiotis Koutsouris is the Lower School STEAM specialist at GEMS World Academy Chicago. "Mr. K" joined the GEMS staff with a variety of experience teaching children. For a number of years, he taught at Greek-language schools in Chicago, helping young Greek-Americans grasp the fundamentals of the Greek language and culture. He also served as an assistant educator for the Extended Day Program at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools and Northwestern summer camps. Mr. K is also teaching GIS to undergraduate students at North Park University, Chicago.
He holds a bachelor’s degree in archeology from Greece, a master’s in humanities from the University of Chicago, a certificate in Higher Education Administration, and he is currently pursuing doctoral research in archeology.
Mr. K believes teaching is an unsurpassed experience. He believes that in the classroom, children should be given the space to think, inquire, gain hands-on experience, and also get a sense of how it is to be part of a community.
Manager of Student and Administrative Services/Theater Teacher
Jessica Lind is a graduate of Texas Christian University with a degree in theater and arts administration. She brings to GEMS a diverse arts and education background, having worked with a multitude of artistic companies including Lookingglass Theatre, Goodman Theatre, Northlight Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre, and the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs. Throughout her career as an arts education advocate and teaching artist, Jessica has organized, personalized, and adapted educational experiences through in-school residencies, after-school programs and camps, and community engagement workshops. She has worked with the disability community, implementing programming and campaigns to make Chicago’s artistic institutions as accessible as possible. At GEMS, Jessica is thrilled to be working with an amazing group of administrators, faculty and students that embraces Chicago as a classroom itself. She serves as the assistant to the division heads and Middle School theater teacher.
Robert Mayfield, a part-time music teacher at GEMS, has a bachelor's degree in instrumental performance (classical guitar) from Columbia College Chicago. He has taught music in Skokie, Oak Park, Elgin and Chicago proper. He dedicates his life to music and the sharing of music. He performs both classical and rock music around the Chicago area, and he lives in the neighborhood of Albany Park with his wife, Dorothy, and dog, Theo. He looks forward to teaching, learning and growing with the incredible staff and faculty at GEMS!
Quinn Menchetti is thrilled to join the GEMS World Academy Chicago faculty as a physical education teacher. Quinn has worked in numerous schools throughout the Chicagol area, including GEMS and its sister school, Little GEMS International Preschool, as a coach for Lionheart Fitness Kids. He has tutored, mentored and coached students at Chicago Jesuit Academy, the YMCA, and The Academic Approach in Chicago. He’s also active in the improvised comedy community and brings a strong appreciation for the importance of play into his work every day. Quinn grew up in Chicago and earned his bachelor’s degree from Connecticut College in New London, CT.
Before becoming an educator, Sharon Moore spent 10 years performing and teaching dance with an international touring company. She discovered her calling as an elementary school teacher and earned her master's degree in elementary education. She taught for 11 years at an early-childhood center and six years at an international school in Singapore before joining GEMS as a kindergarten teacher.
The most challenging aspect of being a teacher at GEMS is also the most rewarding one for Sharon: she is fascinated by the idea of bringing students from many diverse backgrounds and levels of English together in her class to grow as learners. Sharon incorporates her international experience with the IB curriculum and the Primary Years Program into her project approach teaching. In her class, students experience hands-on learning and skill development, and have the chance to express themselves creatively while realizing their responsibility to each other and to the world. Sharon believes that children need exposure to music, visual art, drama and dance to develop them fully, and she tries to use these creative outlets as much as possible while teaching.
After receiving a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Loyola University Chicago and a master’s degree in early childhood development from the Erikson Institute, Emelina Ortiz has been teaching preschool, kindergarten and first grade for nine years in Chicago. She is a kindergarten teacher at GEMS.
Emelina’s goal as a kindergarten teacher is to help young children grow and develop as they form new relationships with peers and are faced with new and challenging expectations from parents and teachers. Her students are encouraged to ask questions and make mistakes from which to learn. Emelina employs the Primary Years Program in her classroom because she believes that children learn most effectively by building relationships and connecting information to concepts they already know.
Scott, the Lower School Counselor at GEMS World Academy Chicago, earned a master's degree in clinical counseling from National Louis University. He is a licensed professional counselor who has worked in educational settings (Chicago Public Schools) and as a private-practice therapist for children and adults.
Georgia Pereira, Grade 3 teacher at GEMS World Academy Chicago, has more than 15 years of experience as an educator and linguist. Prior to joining the faculty at GEMS, she worked as an elementary school teacher in International Baccalaureate schools for 11 years in São Paulo, Brazil, where she received training in the IB Primary Years Program. Before that, she taught English and Portuguese to children, teenagers and adults. Georgia holds a bachelor’s degree in language and literature (Portuguese and Italian) from the University of São Paulo, the leading university in South America, as well as a bachelor’s degree in education and a certificate for Overseas Teachers of English issued by the University of Cambridge.
Georgia says she is an enthusiast of international education and believes that educators must promote an understanding of universal human values in students so they become citizens of the world who are capable of global thinking. She is thrilled to have joined the teaching staff at GEMS: “My daughter and I are excited to be part of the GEMS Americas community and we are taking advantage of the school’s many Field Study opportunities to know the incredible city of Chicago!”
Heather Prekop, who teaches Grade 4 at GEMS World Academy Chicago, received her bachelor's degree in elementary education with a minor in science education from the University of Wisconsin — Madison, and she earned her master's degree in gifted and talented education from the University of Nebraska — Kearney. Heather taught two years in a public school in Kentucky before starting her international career. Heather spent eight years overseas teaching at international schools in Munich, Shanghai and Ho Chi Minh City. In her last position overseas, she was the challenge and enrichment coordinator and built a program that provided personal and academic enrichment opportunities to students to extend their learning both inside and outside the classroom.
Heather is excited to be back in the states and plans to share everything she has learned from educators around the world with the GEMS community. In order for students to feel empowered, Heather believes in building strong relationships and developing a classroom environment where students feel they have ownership over their learning and can embrace the power of failure. Other than teaching, Heather enjoys doing anything athletic, traveling and being outdoors.
Susan holds a bachelor's degree in elementary education from Loras College and a master's degree in English-language teaching and learning from Loyola University. She has taught a variety of grade levels, ranging from preschool to third grade. Prior to joining the GEMS community, Susan taught preschool and kindergarten in a Montessori school. Susan was also a learning specialist at the British School of Chicago, where she individualized the curriculum for students to support every child in making progress and reaching his or her goals.
Susan has enjoyed being part of the founding team of educators at GEMS World Academy Chicago and is looking forward to many more years of inspiring students to love learning. Susan enjoys the eagerness and curiosity that children bring to the classroom each day and their enthusiasm to discover the world around them. Susan considers Chicago to be an extension of her classroom and creates frequent opportunities for her students to explore the city. She believes that this fosters students’ understanding of themselves, others, and their community and develops a mindset of global citizenship. Susan strives to teach children that they can make a difference in the world.
Kirsten Richards is thrilled to be at GEMS World Academy. She is a Grade 1 teacher. Kirsten earned her bachelor's degree from Northern Illinois University and a master's degree in elementary education from National Louis University. Kirsten enjoyed a successful career in sales, marketing and management before deciding to follow her dream of becoming a teacher. Prior to joining the faculty at GEMS, Kirsten taught fourth grade for Chicago Public Schools.
Kirsten is a mother of three children, and she feels her own kids inspire her as a teacher. She knows that every student in front of her deserves the same attention, commitment and dedication that she would want for her own children. She doesn't ever view a classroom of students as a whole group, but rather as a collection of individuals with unique learning styles and needs.
In all her spare time, Kirsten loves playing sports and games with her family. Her life is busy, but she believes that balancing everything is most of the fun!
Starting out as an experienced Primary Years Program educator who studied at Lawrence University and taught at the GEMS World Academy in the United Arab Emirates, Chris Roebuck went on to teach general music in Wisconsin and direct children and adult ensembles such as the Beta Theta Pi Men’s Chorus, Abu Dhabi Choral Group and First United Methodist Youth Choirs.
In his role as a music educator at GEMS World Academy, Chris exercises his passion of introducing the wonders of music into his students’ world. He believes that his most important task is to pass on an appreciation of the power of music into the hearts and minds of younger generations. In Chris’s eyes, children have a unique and un-tampered view of the world that allows them to experience music in a unique way He finds teaching his students about different artists, genres, and cultures to be the most rewarding aspect of being a music educator, and encourages music students to explore their talents free from judgment, perception or negativity.
Kris Sabel joined the staff at GEMS from the Latin School of Chicago, where she worked as the middle and upper school nurse and served as a member of their student support team. Kris has worked in private schools for nearly 15 years as both a nurse and an educator. She loves the rich experiences and unique opportunities that a private school can provide for its students. Kris graduated summa cum laude from both her bachelor's degree & master’s degree programs. Her breadth of nursing experience spans critical care to working with professional sports teams. She has extensive experience with policy writing and is trusted by parents for her medical decision-making abilities. Kris is honored to serve the students of GEMS World Academy Chicago.
Taneal Sanders, a National Geographic Certified Educator, is the Primary Years Program Coordinator at GEMS World Academy Chicago. She joined GEMS in 2016 as a classroom teacher, working first with fourth grade and then with fifth grade. Prior to joining the faculty at GEMS, she spent 12 years with Chicago Public Schools teaching multiple elementary grades at two International Baccalaureate World Schools and serving as the PYP coordinator at The Ogden International School of Chicago. Taneal earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Northeastern Illinois University and a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from Concordia University. She is proud to be part of the IB community and has led workshops on concept-based learning and the PYP Exhibition; she also has presented to international educators on how to facilitate global action in the elementary school classroom.
Taneal is passionate about international education and strives to develop global-mindedness in all of her students. She believes in establishing an inquiry-based, student-centered classroom environment where student curiosity can flourish. Beyond teaching, Taneal enjoys traveling, biking and photography.
Jennifer is delighted to be a member of the faculty at GEMS, where she can make full use of her background as a teacher and an artist. For more than 15 years, she has taught art classes from junior kindergarten to the college level. Jennifer earned degrees in psychology and fine art from Alfred University in New York, and she earned a master's degree in education from Cambridge College.
Jennifer enjoys teaching courses that reflect her interest in the materials that she works with as an artist — photography, ceramics, metals, glass and encaustics. Her work has been displayed in various venues across the country, including Chicago and New York. Jennifer enjoys traveling, and has taken students to numerous countries over the past seven summers. She is excited to promote a sense of global citizenship in the classroom at GEMS, where it is so strongly valued. Her goal is to generate enthusiasm and curiosity for her students at GEMS through the use of hands-on projects, technology and Field Study experiences.
Martha Seixas is thrilled to be a Grade 4 teacher at GEMS World Academy Chicago. She has taught in international schools in Brazil for eight years, working with second- and fourth-graders. She holds a bachelor's degree in elementary education from Northeastern Illinois University and a master's degree in special education from University of Michigan. During her spare time, Martha likes to practice yoga and explore photography. She also enjoys reading, watching movies and spending time with her friends.
Martha has worked in culturally diverse classrooms throughout the years, providing support and challenges for students at different learning levels as well as children at different English proficiency levels. Martha is a firm believer that learning something new can be an incredible experience, and that students benefit the most from learning through experience and investigation. In the classroom, Martha has provided opportunities for students to find their own paths to learning, their own voices and their own strategies to make meaningful conclusions.
Emily Smith is excited to join GEMS World Academy Chicago as the librarian. Emily worked as a librarian for five years at an international school in Kuwait and spent five years in the Netherlands as an educational consultant. In her consultant role, Emily advised international school librarians and teachers throughout Northern and Western Europe on library materials, curriculum resources, and library and resource management software.
Originally from Michigan, Emily received her bachelor's degree in history from Michigan State University and her master's degree in library science from Clarion University in Pennsylvania. While Emily loved her experiences living abroad, she is happy to be living in Chicago and exploring all that the city has to offer.
Kobe Stanton is the Assistant Security Resource Officer at GEMS World Academy Chicago. She joined the security team three years ago, quickly establishing a close relationship with GEMS teachers and students. Kobe works with all grade levels at the school, assisting with morning drop-off, evening dismissal, lunch and recess supervision, after-school care and more. She also helps teachers during off-site activities, such as Field Studies.
Kobe is proud to ensure the safety of our staff, parents and students. She tries each day to bring happiness to the GEMS community.
Hannah is thrilled to be joining the GEMS World Academy Chicago Grade 1 team as a collaborating teacher. As a graduate of the International Baccalaureate Middle Years and Diploma programs, she is happy to once again be working with the IB philosophy that has shaped her into a lifelong learner and keeps her striving to be a global citizen. Hannah earned a bachelor’s degree from Loyola University Chicago in international studies, with a focus on political science and Islamic world studies.
Hannah fell in love with GEMS as a substitute teacher during the 2016-2017 school year. She spent the summer organizing camp activities and teaching science for incoming first-, second- and third-graders at Camp GEMS in 2017. She is excited to be joining a learning community that highlights the benefits that diversity brings to the table.
Mary Talbot teaches fifth grade at GEMS World Academy Chicago. Prior to joining the faculty at GEMS, she spent 12 years with Chicago Public Schools teaching middle school, followed by third grade in an International Baccalaureate setting. Mary earned a bachelor’s degree in English and American literature from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Illinois at Chicago. As an IB educator, her goal is to build both confidence and capacity in her students, in addition to developing their sense of place and purpose as global citizens. Mary is thrilled to be part of the growing community of learners, explorers and innovators at GEMS.
Beyond teaching, Mary leads Girl Scout Troop 25581. She enjoys reading, scrapbooking and fiercely competitive board games with her children.
Sandra Tapia is a Spanish teacher at GEMS World Academy Chicago. A native Spanish speaker, Sandra taught at the Chicago City Day School for 13 years. Sandra holds bachelor’s degrees in elementary education and Spanish, and a master’s in interdisciplinary studies from DePaul University. Sandra has lived in Spain and studied Filología y Letras at Universidad Complutense de Madrid.
In her innovative teaching methods, Sandra utilizes a combination of play and practical learning to instill both proficiency and a love of the language. Believing that learning other languages offers students bridges into other cultures, Sandra has led students on educational visits to Mexico, Costa Rica and Spain.
Ana García Torres is a Spanish Teacher at GEMS World Academy Chicago. Born and raised in A Coruña, Spain, Ana was always determined to be a teacher like her mother and grandmother.
Prior to joining the faculty at GEMS, Ana taught in Stockholm, Sweden, in several elementary bilingual and trilingual schools. She also taught at the Instituto Cervantes in Stockholm and at the British International School of Stockholm. Ana has extensive International Baccalaureate experience, having served as a Primary Years Program homeroom teacher at Obradoiro International School.
Ana earned her bachelor’s degree in early childhood and elementary education at the European University of Madrid. She has master's degrees in psychopedagogy; upper secondary school, vocational training and language teaching; and educational innovation. She is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in education.
In her free time, Ana likes to travel — to experience new places, countries, cultures and people. She also enjoys reading books about education and pedagogy. She believes in the words of Ken Robinson, who compared teachers to gardeners: "Gardeners know that it is not they who grow the plants, they do not assemble the roots or stick the leaves or paint the petals. Plants grow alone. The work of the gardeners consists in creating the optimal conditions for that to happen."
Jessica Trumbull is a Learning Specialist at GEMS World Academy Chicago. She earned her bachelor's degree in psychology from North Central College in Naperville and her master's degree in education & counseling from St. Xavier University in Chicago.
Prior to joining the GEMS team, Jessica has worked with children in a home, school and clinical setting. As the assistant director of an early learning program in Chicago, she worked closely with teachers to differentiate curriculum and instruction to meet the needs of a wide variety of abilities and learning styles. Jessica also has an extensive background in neuropsychology. She completed her graduate training at the Pediatric Neuropsychology Diagnostic and Treatment Center in Orland Park. Jessica's passion is working with children who have learning/developmental differences including ADHD, autism spectrum disorders and developmental delays.
Jessica is an avid traveler and her most recent destinations include Madrid and Stockholm. She is always eager to add more stamps to her passport!
Kaylee Viers is a collaborating teacher in preschool at GEMS World Academy Chicago. She earned a bachelor’s degree in human development and family studies, with an emphasis in child development and education, along with a certificate in multicultural studies and a minor in sociology, from the University of Missouri, Columbia. While in school, Kaylee worked for the university's Child Development Lab, and that is where she fell in love with working with young learners and helping them explore the world around them. She earned a Master of Education degree in curriculum and instruction from William Woods University. She is certified to teach in both Missouri and Illinois.
Kaylee believes that learning should be fun and interactive for young learners as they learn through their experiences. She says it is her job as the facilitator in the classroom to help those experiences come alive and be truly life-changing for students. Kaylee recently moved to Chicago with her husband, and she looks forward to embracing the city lifestyle. In her spare time, she enjoys painting, making pottery, playing music and playing sports.
Lisa Walsh joins the GEMS team as the Upper School Counselor. Prior to GEMS, Lisa worked at a private therapeutic school serving as the Middle School Team leader for several years, followed by taking on the role of High School Team leader. She has many years of experience advocating for students and families, as well as supporting teachers to ensure students are receiving the very best academic and social/emotional support to be successful, well-rounded individuals. Lisa believes every student has the desire and the ability to succeed academically as well as socially when given proper tools and support.
She earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a master’s degree in clinical professional psychology from Roosevelt University. As a licensed professional counselor, Lisa works collaboratively within a multidisciplinary team to provide the most comprehensive academic and social/emotional support for all students. Lisa enjoys being a part of a dynamic and collaborative team to develop unique and effective special programming to better support students to improve their level of success in the classroom, enhance their social/emotional skills and increase community involvement.
In addition, Lisa is a registered yoga instructor. She believes incorporating yoga and meditation into an academic setting has been beneficial for students in learning how to self-soothe, increase self-esteem, self-regulate, develop impulse control & self-awareness and feel empowered. She continues to educate herself on the topic of mindfulness and meditation and its positive impact on the brain and mental health and share these techniques with students and teachers alike.
Meghan is a preschool teacher at GEMS World Academy Chicago. She has nine years experience as an early childhood educator in both the preschool and elementary school settings. She received her bachelor's degree in family studies from Miami University (Ohio) and is currently pursuing a master's degree in early childhood education.
Meghan enjoys cooking, cheering on her New Orleans Saints and taking walks with her husband and two dogs. Meghan's teaching philosophy is to inspire young children to have fun as they explore, ask questions and learn to solve problems, both in the classroom and in their daily lives.
Erin Wester, a Kindergarten Teacher at GEMS World Academy Chicago, grew up in the Minneapolis area and earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education from Winona State University and a master's degree in education from the University of Minnesota.
Erin taught third and first grades in St. Paul Public Schools for six years. She then moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and taught at the American School of Rio for four years, teaching first grade. After Rio, she went to the northeast of Brazil to a city called Recife, and taught one more year of first grade at the American School of Recife. In the classroom, Erin has had many experiences with English-language learners and students with special needs on various levels. She enjoys challenges and solving problems with her peers and students.
Erin believes learning starts with strong relationships, genuine interest, unique connections and a consistent amount of fun. She is excited to start this kindergarten adventure at GEMS World Academy Chicago.
Cami is part of the After-Care team at GEMS World Academy Chicago. She is currently enrolled at Roosevelt University, completing a major in psychology and a minor in sociology. She has been working in childcare with all ages of kids for about eight years. In her spare time, Cami likes to do yoga, arts and crafts and playing with her dog in the city of Chicago.
Jean Kong is thrilled to be part of after-care team at GEMS World Academy Chicago. Born and raised in China, Jean is a certified Mandarin Chinese teacher who has a master’s degree in education with more than 16 years of experience. She has a passion for helping students and families with her native language and culture.
She came to GEMS after teaching Chinese in the Chicago Public School system. Besides teaching, she has coached many students who participated in an annual Chinese language contest organized by the Midwest Chinese Teachers Alliance. She’s also volunteered as a language judge for college-level, Chinese competitions hosted by Northwestern University, and she has supervised students on summer immersion trips to China.
Lolita was born and raised in Ukraine, where she started her career as a teacher. When she moved to the United States, her dream was to once again work in a school environment. Lolita loves working at GEMS because of the school and the close-knit community. Overall, Lolita has been working with children of all ages for about 16 years. In her spare time, she likes drawing or painting and playing all sports.
Prior to joining the After-Care team at GEMS, Rhonda worked as a preschool teacher with Catholic Charities of Chicago for three years. While completing her bachelors degree in early-childhood education at DePaul University, she also volunteered at the Chicago Public Library as an activity room attendant, monitoring children during play, setting up displays, preparing and implementing activities and organizing supply room. Rhonda says she missed working with children and being in a classroom setting, and she's very happy to be at GEMS.
Beth Crownover is director of education at The Field Museum. She has more than 15 years experience in the field of informal education, largely focused on thoughtful development and management of learning experiences. She guides teams in leveraging the museum’s unique collections and science to engage learners in activities that foster critical thinking and the ability to explore like a scientist. She is particularly interested in continuing to explore how museums can increasingly become an integral partner with established learning systems. Ms. Crownover has a bachelor’s degree with majors in history and religion and an emphasis in education, and an Executive Scholar Certificate for Nonprofit Management from the Kellogg School at Northwestern University. She currently chairs the Education Committee of Chicago’s Museums in The Park.
Ellen Rudnick currently serves as senior adviser and adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Previously, she served as the executive director of The Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Chicago. The Polsky Center assists students, faculty and alumni at the University of Chicago in developing and building new ventures.
Prior to joining the Chicago Booth faculty, Ms. Rudnick spent 25 years in business management and entrepreneurial activities, primarily in the health care and health information services industries. Rudnick has been the recipient of a number of honors, including the Illinois Venture Capital Association (IVCA) Richard M. Daley Award; Today’s Chicago Woman 20th Anniversary Hall of Fame; and the YWCA Leadership Award. Rudnick holds a bachelor’s degree from Vassar College and a Master of Business Administration degree from Chicago Booth.
Howard A. Tullman is the chief executive officer of 1871, where digital startups get their start, and the general managing partner of G2T3V, LLC and Chicago High Tech Investment Partners. He is a member of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago NEXT and Cultural Affairs councils; the Innovate Illinois Advisory and Arts councils; and Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle’s New Media Council. Mr. Tullman is an adjunct professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Business and an adviser to many startups. He is the former chairman and CEO of Tribeca Flashpoint College and Kendall College. During the last 48 years, he has successfully founded more than a dozen high-tech companies.
Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology
IV Bray is the principal of the Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, and Technology [GSMST], an accelerated STEM high school in Lawrenceville, Georgia. GSMST was awarded National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence designation in November of 2016, its 10th year of existence, and has been the top ranked high school in the state every year since it first became eligible. Mr. Bray spent 13 years as an AP physics teacher in Gwinnett County Public Schools and is entering his 11th year in high school administration in 2017. As a teacher, he earned National Board Certification and the Siemens Award for science teaching excellence in AP courses. Whether presenting at conferences, serving as a consulting thought partner or carrying out action research, his priority is comprehensively improving the quality of STEM instruction every child receives. He holds a physics degree from LaGrange College and two graduate degrees in science education from the University of Georgia.
UChicago STEM Education and the Urban Education Institute of the University of Chicago
Michael Lach is currently the director of STEM education and strategic initiatives at UChicago STEM Education and the Urban Education Institute of the University of Chicago. Previously, he was appointed by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to lead science and mathematics education efforts at the U. S. Department of Education. Mr. Lach began his professional career teaching high school biology and general science at Alceé Fortier Senior High School in New Orleans in 1990 as a charter member of Teach For America. After three years in Louisiana, he joined the national office of Teach For America as director of program design, developing a portfolio-based alternative certification system that was adopted by several states. Returning to the science classroom in 1994 in New York City Public Schools, and then back to Chicago in 1995, he was named one of Radio Shack's Top 100 Technology Teachers, earned National Board Certification, and was named Illinois Physics Teacher of the Year. He has served as an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow, advising former U.S. Rep. Vernon Ehlers on science, technology and education issues. He was lead curriculum developer for the Investigations in Environmental Science curriculum developed at the Center for Learning Technologies in Urban Schools at Northwestern University and published by It’s About Time, Inc. He earned a bachelor's degree in physics from Carleton College and master’s degrees from Columbia University and Northeastern Illinois University.
Mike Madden is a Chicago native, the father of a GEMS World Academy Chicago student and the chief operating officer for the Noble Network of Charter Schools. Mr. Madden has served for more than eight years in executive leadership at Noble, where each school day 1,400 staff members and 12,000 students pass through the doors of 17 high schools with a single unifying mission — to provide students with a healthy, safe, challenging and supportive learning environment that prepares them for success in college and beyond. As Noble’s COO, Mr. Madden oversees operations for a $160 million organization and is directly accountable for facilities, construction, capital improvements, information technology, food service, safety & security, campus office operation, and student recruitment & enrollment. Mr. Madden also plays a critical role in Noble’s expansion, which includes opening nine new high schools during the past eight years. Mr. Madden has a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from the University of Notre Dame and a Master of Arts in Public Policy and Administration degree from Northwestern University. He lives in the South Loop with his wife Erica and daughter Erin.
Vanessa Vardon is the assistant director, strategic partnerships and next generation programs, at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. In this capacity, she works closely with local and international partners to expand the reach and impact of the council while also developing a forward-looking portfolio of next-generation programming. She is also a small-business owner in the Chicago area, having completed the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program in 2016. She has extensive international development and management experience across corporate, academic and entrepreneurial sectors and holds a degree in chemical engineering from Drexel University.