Kim Wargo joins GEMS World Academy Chicago as its head of school in July of 2016, succeeding retired Head of School Geoff Jones. She brings extensive expertise in school leadership to GEMS, having served as head of school for both The Hockaday School in Dallas and Katherine Delmar Burke School in San Francisco. She also served as the head of the upper school at Louise S. McGehee School in New Orleans. Earlier in her career, Ms. Wargo directed McGehee School’s college counseling program, and served as chair of the history department.
Ms. Wargo graduated summa cum laude from Louisiana State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She holds a master’s degree in history from Tulane University. Throughout her career, she has been active in her community, volunteering or holding leadership roles with Girls on the Run of the Bay Area, Habitat for Humanity of Dallas and New Orleans, Southern Methodist University Tate Lecture Series, the North Texas Food Bank and Aim High of San Francisco.
Associate Head of School, GEMS World Academy Chicago
Andrew Slater is the Associate Head of School at GEMS World Academy Chicago. He has more than 25 years of experience as an accomplished teacher and school leader with a passion for building successful learning communities.
“Connecting students with their peers across the globe and preparing them for a world that is more interconnected than ever before is an exciting mission for me,” said Slater. “As an educator, GEMS World Academy Chicago’s emphasis on international connectedness, stimulation of students’ intellectual curiosity, and promotion of innovative thinking is exactly in line with my teaching philosophy.”
Slater brings a wealth of expertise from his previous experience as Head of School for two innovative and highly-regarded academies. Most recently at the Edmund Burke School in Washington DC, Slater supervised the development of a new marketing and outreach plan that has led to significant growth in admissions and fundraising. Prior to that role, Slater worked on a major capital campaign at the Logan School, a progressive, interdisciplinary K-8 school in Denver, Colorado, that led to the doubling of the school’s classroom space. He also oversaw the expansion of the school’s enrollment and the school’s reaccreditation.
Slater holds a Master’s of Educational Administration from Harvard University and a Master’s of Elementary Education from Bank Street College. He graduated with honors in History from Lewis and Clark College. Slater lives in Chicago with his wife Lisa and their two sons, Gabe and Will.
Head of School Emeritus, GEMS World Academy Chicago
During Geoff Jones’ distinguished career as an educator, he became known as an innovative leader with extensive experience and expertise in K-12 curriculum development and articulation. The founding head of school at GEMS World Academy-Chicago, Geoff retired on June 30, 2016.
Geoff‘s appointment as the head of school for GEMS World Academy brought him back to the city of Chicago, where he held his first senior school leadership position as the Principal of the Upper School of the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools.
Before GEMS, Geoff was the head of school at The Potomac School, in Washington, D.C. In thirteen years, the school enrollment grew to over 1,000 students, he oversaw an $85 million investment in new buildings with an annual operating revenues that doubled from its original value.
Prior to Potomac, Geoff was the founding principal of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology inside the beltway of Virginia. Under his leadership the school became nationally recognized for its excellence in STEM programs and been consistently ranked as the best High School in the USA. As the principal of Oyster River High School in New Hampshire, Geoff developed unique teacher professional development programs with the University of New Hampshire, the New Hampshire State Department of Education, and the statewide Principal’s Association that stemmed from the release of the Nation at Risk report.
Chief Executive Officer, GEMS Education Americas and The Education Partners
Denise Gallucci is a visionary strategist, innovator, and committed education executive. Denise serves as the Chief Executive Officer of GEMS Education Americas and President of GEMS Education Solutions – Americas, an international education company that owns and operates high performing schools and provides transformation consultancy services across the public and private sectors.
Prior to her work with GEMS, Denise served as the Deputy Executive Director and Superintendent of Schools for the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC) in Hartford, Connecticut. During her tenure, she founded ten schools and expanded eight, growing the organization by $200M over a six-year period. Through her leadership, CREC schools received numerous awards and commendations in the education community, including national and state recognition for excellence in education. In 2012, Denise was named as one of the 40 Most Innovative Leaders Under 40 by Connecticut Magazine.
Throughout her career in education, Denise has been recognized for her consistent record as a transformative education leader, significantly narrowing and eliminating the achievement gap that exists amongst students in America. She has held numerous positions of leadership in large urban centers such as New York City Department of Education and Chicago Public Schools, where she was Director of Gifted and Enriched Academic Programs, leading the city’s most elite gifted programs and selective enrollment schools. Denise’s career goals and results are consistent: To ensure all students receive a world-class education in preparation for success as global citizens.
Mary Beth Wilson
Chief Learning Officer, GEMS Education Americas and The Education Partners
Mary Beth is a teacher and teacher educator bringing more than 20 years of experience in public and private education across PreK-20 learning environments to the role of Chief Learning Officer. She is a former assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, director of research in education, supervisor of secondary science and science teacher. She has also taught at the college and graduate level. In addition to school and district work, Mary Beth has provided strategic project-based leadership to formal and informal learning organizations.
Mary Beth completed her doctoral degree from Teachers College, Columbia University with an emphasis on using data to inform curriculum, instruction and professional learning in science education. Her academic work includes the role of evaluation in teaching and learning; the interface between school and non-school learning environments and partnerships; effective professional learning for teachers and school leaders; and research and documentation of teaching and learning in diverse learning contexts. She has authored position papers and presentations on these topics and others.
Director of Enrollment Management, Marketing and Communications, GEMS World Academy Chicago
Delphine Lenoir is the Director of Enrollment Management, Marketing and Communications for GEMS World Academy Chicago.
Her experiences prior to joining the GEMS community include serving for eight years as Director of Admissions for the Lycee Francais de Chicago, an independent PRE-K to 12th dual-language IB school. In this role, Delphine managed the strategic operational activities of the Department of Admissions for the school, including Enrollment Management, creating admissions and evaluation policies, representing the school, touring and interviewing prospective families, and coordinating orientations for new families and students. In this capacity, Delphine was the Chair of the ISACS Committee for the school (Independent Schools Association of the Central States) and a member of the national AGFAS steering committee (Admissions Group of French-American Schools).
Delphine holds several advanced degrees, including an MBA from Sherbrooke University, Canada, and a Master's Degree in Human Resources from Loyola University Chicago.
Jessica joins GEMS as an assistant teacher in our first grade. Prior to coming to GEMS, Jessica held teaching and instruction-support roles at City Schools of Decatur in Georgia. She has a bachelor's degree in early childhood development from Central Michigan University and a master's degree in education, family and community services from Ashford University.
Jay Annadurai focuses on educating students in their middle childhood years and 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.
Anne Berviller is a French teacher at GEMS World Academy Chicago. She’s a native French speaker who has taught at schools in both France and the U.S., including the Lycee Francais de Chicago. She earned bachelor’s degrees from the University of Strasbourg and the University of Paris, and she has master’s degrees in art and education.
As a language teacher, Anne strives to help each student achieve his or her full potential. She also strives to encourage students to become more self-directed in their study of a new language and all other areas of their lives.
Joel Blecha teaches first grade at GEMS World Academy Chicago. He proudly comes from a long line of educators and has taught young children in Chicago and New York City for more than a dozen years. He holds a bachelor's degree in elementary education degree from the University of Wisconsin and a master's degree in childhood special education from Fordham University. His work has been featured in Education Week, Teaching Tolerance, and Trout Magazine.
Joel shares his first-graders’ enthusiasm for learning and strives to make each school day full of song, play, wonder, and creation. For him, the classroom extends beyond its walls. Thus, he sees GEMS’ robust Field Study program and commitment to connected learning through technology as a means for helping children better understand the world. So far, that’s taken the form of leading children in their investigation of prairies, parks, museums, and businesses; meeting with experts, leaders, and innovators; and helping the students share their learning by making podcasts and blogs. Joel is excited to see where the first-graders’ questions and curiosity take them next.
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.
Leah Brown has diverse experience working with students to improve their social, emotional, behavioral and academic outcomes, and collaborating, as needed, with staff, families and community organizations. Prior to being named Counselor at GEMS World Academy Chicago, Leah was for nine years the primary social worker in an elementary and middle school in Norridge, Illinois. Previously she worked with middle- and high-school youth at an urban Chicago community center, and served for two years on the early childhood staff at the Greenwich Country Day School in Connecticut.
A skilled counselor and enthusiastic mentor, Leah has a passion for helping students navigate school, family and personal concerns. She views GEMS as the student’s second family, where every child should feel safe and appreciated, with one’s ideas respected and valued as the child experiences ongoing personal growth. Leah earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her Master of Social Work degree at the University of Chicago.
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 and 18-month-old son. He cares deeply about the IB philosophy of teaching and looks forward to his journey with GEMS. His hope is to support and grow inquiry, knowledge and compassion in the students he works with
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.
Richard Getzel teaches Middle School math at GEMS. He spent the last seven years at Nathaniel Hawthorne Middle School 74 in Bayside, NY. He 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 level, should be challenged and excited by mathematics. Richard's teaching style is transdisciplinary, inquiry-based, 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 NYC championships, and just last year, a New York State championship, an accomplishment which 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 degree 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, he enjoys opera, theater, baseball, and board games. Most of all, he relishes his role as a husband and father of newborn twins.
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 nine 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.
Katie Hellerman holds a master's degree from Vanderbilt University and a bachelor's from Smith College, has completed field research at the Universidad de la Habana, and has led adventure travel excursions in Costa Rica. Katie was the middle school Spanish teacher at The Catherine Cook School of Chicago and taught Spanish II-IV Sonoma Academy in California. Most recently, Katie co-taught Spanish 490 at the University of Michigan School of Education. Outside of teaching, Katie’s passions include Permaculture garden design, active involvement in Chicago area improv, and racing in open water swimming events around the country.
Katie sees the increase in global connectivity as the most important motivation to learning a language. She is excited about the role that technology can play heightening these connections. Katie’s goal as a Spanish educator at GEMS is to create a learning environment that exudes joy and enthusiasm and inspires students to have a lifelong love of languages.
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, Middle School science teacher, arrives 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.
Jezail Jackson is a kindergarten assistant teacher at GEMS World Academy Chicago. Jezail, a Chicago native, received a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s degree in education from Aurora University in Aurora. Before joining the staff at GEMS, she worked in a variety of educational settings, teaching different grade levels. Before going into teaching, Jezail was a lead sales consultant for a large technology solutions company. She is happy to use her previous skills as a resource to foster relationships with students and parents.
Jezail is a member of Kappa Delta Pi, the international honor society for educators. She finds happiness in teaching to the individual needs of the student and helping young people become lifelong learners. Jezail has three children – two sons and one daughter. In her spare time, she loves running, reading, cooking, traveling and spending time with family.
Molly is an assistant teacher for fourth grade at GEMS. She is thrilled to help students with diverse needs and strengths achieve success. Molly brings diverse knowledge and manifold tools and resources from various curricula. She leverages her diversity of experience to ingrain in students the skills, strategies and critical thinking required to fully understand how and why they arrive at solutions to problems.
Molly earned her undergraduate degree from Barnard College of Columbia University in New York City and her Master of Science in Education degree from Northwestern University. During the past five years, she has taught second, third, fourth and fifth grade in Chicago and the greater metropolitan area. In 2014, Molly established her own tutoring business specializing in intervention and enrichment in both reading and mathematics.
Molly enjoys traveling and learning new languages. She also loves to express her creative side. Before pursuing her lifelong dream of teaching elementary school, she danced on the Columbia University Dance Team, started a hometown cupcake business and worked as a studio manager at a graphic design firm in Manhattan.
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.
Jennifer Keenan teaches third grade at GEMS World Academy Chicago. Prior to joining the GEMS faculty, Jennifer spent 11 years teaching at schools in South Korea, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates, where she worked with multicultural groupings of special-needs and ESL students, as well as in mainstream classrooms. She is delighted to be returning to Chicago, the city she lived in while working as an accountant, before launching her career as a teacher. Jennifer earned her Master of Teaching certificate from the University of Sydney in Australia.
As a facilitator of children’s learning, Jennifer encourages students to learn through inquiry and think in more broad-ranging and complex ways. She encourages creativity, growth, understanding, independence, individuality and interaction. In the classroom, Jennifer strives to create an environment that promotes student ownership of learning. When looking forward to the year ahead, Jennifer says: “I believe some of the most powerful learning comes from people sharing experiences, and I look forward to all of the experiences the third-graders share in the classroom this year!”
Peg Keiner is the technology and innovation leader 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.
Panagiotis Koutsouris is an assistant kindergarten teacher at GEMS World Academy Chicago with a variety of experience teaching children. For a number of years he has taught at Greek-language schools in Chicago, helping young Greek-Americans grasp the fundamentals of the Greek language and culture. He also served as a kindergarten assistant for the Extended Day Program at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. Panagiotis has also taught undergraduate students at North Park University in Chicago. He holds a bachelor’s degree in archaeology from Greece and a master’s in humanities from the University of Chicago. He is fluent in Greek and still conducts independent research in archaeology.
For Panagiotis, 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.
Primary Years Coordinator and Curriculum Integrator
Eila Kvaran began her teaching career teaching in Chicago before moving to Cali, Colombia, where she spent three years at a bilingual international school. From there she moved to Istanbul, Turkey, where she taught at an International Baccalaureate World School. For the past three years, Eila was the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program (IB/PYP) coordinator at The Ogden International School of Chicago. She holds a bachelor's degree in elementary education and a master's in educational leadership. Eila also enjoys traveling the world, scuba diving, biking and hiking.
Deborah Lasala is the Lower School STEAM and Innovation Leader at GEMS. In that role, Deborah helps guide the school’s efforts in creating and supporting an innovative, interdisciplinary, inquiry-based curriculum grounded in the International Baccalaureate framework, focusing particularly on the integrated study of science, technology, engineering, art and math.
Prior to joining the GEMS faculty, Deb worked as a teacher and administrator at Ridgefield Academy, a highly regarded private school in Ridgefield, CT, where she served as a science teacher, as director of science, math and technology, and most recently, as dean of the upper school. Deb earned her bachelor’s degree from Ithaca College in New York, and she earned her master’s at Southern Connecticut State University. In her free time, Deb is an accomplished athlete, having completed five Ironman triathlons.
Administrative Assistant to the Associate Head of School
Jessica Lind is a graduate of Texas Christian University with a degree in theatre and arts administration. She comes to GEMS with 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 administrative assistant to the associate head of school.
Proudly hailing from the Detroit area, Kristen "Mac" Machczynski has joined the GEMS faculty as our Research and Innovation Leader. Mac earned her bachelor's degree in social policy and secondary education, with a minor in English, from Michigan State University ("Go Green!"). After she landed a job teaching social studies for grades 9-12, Mac experienced the transformative powers of the International Baccalaureate curriculum.
Mac earned her master's degree in teacher leadership from Roosevelt University, and she is a Social Studies National Board Certified Teacher in grades 7-12. As the IB coordinator at her last school, she led the application process for both the Middle Years and Diploma programs, which resulted in the school's authorization for both. After 12 years of working in Chicago Public Schools, Mac is thrilled to start a new chapter in her career at GEMS. From supporting the staff and students using research and innovation skills to assisting in growing the school's academic offerings, she is excited to work in this new-to-GEMS position.
When she's not having awesome adventures with her little one, Miles, the fuzzy brother, Elliott, and her husband, Matt, you can find Mac at her CrossFit gym, planning for travels, cooking, reading and happily leaping through this life.
Rachael teaches third grade at GEMS World Academy Chicago. She joined the faculty after teaching at Chicago Grammar School. Rachael received her bachelor's in elementary education from Loyola University of Chicago and her master's in reading curriculum and development from Dominican University. Before her time at Chicago Grammar School, Rachael taught at Bright Horizons in Evanston and at Jose de Diego Elementary Community Academy in Wicker Park. Rachael endeavors to make each day contain something that piques a child’s curiosity and encourages them to explore on their own. "I love teaching," Rachael says. "There is nothing more rewarding than watching that moment when engagement, curiosity and material click and learning starts to really happen."
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!
Laura McCammack began her teaching career in a public school in Indianapolis, Indiana, before moving to Boston, Massachusetts, where she taught at Prospect Hill Academy Charter School. Most recently, she taught at Buckingham Browne and Nichols School, an independent day school in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Laura holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Butler University and a master’s degree in elementary curriculum and instruction from Lesley University. She has also held various educational leadership roles, including lead teacher and upper elementary math coordinator. While teaching in Indianapolis, Laura was the recipient of an Indianapolis Power and Light Company Golden Apple Teaching award.
Laura is a passionate educator who highly values the relationships she builds with students and their families. A Midwestern native, she is excited to continue to explore the educational opportunities in Chicago. Outside of teaching, Laura enjoys running, reading, and cooking, and enjoys sharing these passions with her students.
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.
Celeste joins the faculty at GEMS as a part-time assistant teacher in our fifth grade. Before coming to GEMS, Celeste held teaching and educational support positions at schools in Minnesota. She received her bachelor's degree from South Dakota State University and her master's in teaching elementary education from the University of Saint Thomas.
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.
Georgia Pereira, an assistant teacher for grades 2 and 3 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!”
BridgetPorterfield teaches Middle School students at GEMS World Academy Chicago. Prior to joining the faculty, she taught at Attea Middle School in Glenview and Quarry Lane International School in California. Bridget earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Wisconsin — Madison and her master's degree in education from New York University. Her past teaching experience includes middle school English, high school International Baccalaureate Diploma Program, and Writing and Reading Workshop training with Teachers College Columbia University.
Bridget believes in whole-child learning and a student-centered, inquiry-based classroom that enables each child to learn through a variety of experiences. She firmly believes as an educator, it is her responsibility to give students a runway from which to launch their curiosity. Outside of school, Bridget enjoys spending time with her family and being outdoors.
Susan holds a degree in elementary education from Loras College and has been an educator for seven years. She has experience teaching a variety of grades ranging from preschool to third grade. Prior to joining the GEMS community, Susan taught as 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 is currently working towards a master’s degree in Englisht-language teaching and learning from Loyola University.
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.
Eliza Reed is excited to be a member of the GEMS World Academy Chicago faculty. She is an assistant teacher in a junior kindergarten classroom. Eliza earned her bachelor's degree in economics from Principia College and her master's degree in elementary education from National Louis University. Prior to teaching at GEMS, Eliza taught for six years in Grades K-5 in the North Shore suburbs of Chicago and in Denver, Colorado.
Eliza’s passion, leadership, energy, and enthusiasm for teaching help her thrive within the classroom setting. Her curiosity is contagious and a huge asset to the learning environment. She enjoys creating hands-on activities that encourage students to take risks, solve problems and explore the world around them. She believes that within the classroom, each student has the unlimited potential to be successful.
Kirsten Richards is thrilled to be at GEMS World Academy. She is the assistant teacher for both first-grade classrooms. 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 GEMS from The Latin School of Chicago, where she wrote administrative policies, taught health education, oversaw the health program, and served as a member of the student support team for two divisions. Kris played an active role in lobbying for the Emergency Epinephrine Act, P.A. 97-0361 law in Illinois. She is a summa cum laude graduate and holds a bachelor’s degree in science and nursing, and a master’s degree in women, gender & minority studies. Kris has more than 22 years of medical experience that spans a wide breadth of disciplines. She has worked with professional sports teams tand volunteered her time serving underprivileged families with limited or no access to health care. She is also an adjunct professor at Vander Cook College of Music.
Kris likes to share her love of science and medicine with young people. She is also emphatic about diversity and initiated policy change for transgender inclusivity at her pervious school. Moving to an international global academy was a natural fit for Kris where diversity was omnipresent.
Taneal Sanders teaches fifth grade at GEMS World Academy Chicago. 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. Before joining GEMS as the fourth-grade teacher in the spring of 2016, she held the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program (PYP) Coordinator position 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.
Elysia Sheehan has always been enthusiastic about the arts and design, starting when she studied in a rich and valued art environment in middle school. She has a bachelor's degree in elementary education and a master's in curriculum and instruction from DePaul University, as well as a middle-school endorsement in fine arts. Elysia has taught art at a variety of schools throughout Chicago over the summers and served as a homeroom teacher before settling at GEMS World Academy Chicago as an art and design educator. Her artwork has been displayed in venues ranging from gallery spaces to local coffee shops, schools, and restaurants. She takes art classes in Millennium Park and along the riverwalk with clipboards and pencils in hand and incorporates design thinking into the process of creating.
Elysia’s students take advantage of the technological resources available at GEMS World Academy Chicago to create and respond to Chicago’s inspiring urban landscape. She enjoys the positive connections she makes with her students and loves helping them reach their potential and gain confidence in their own abilities. Elysia loves to see her students’ smiles and pride in successfully taking on a project they were unsure they could tackle themselves. Elysia sees the ideal art and design environment as one that allows students to explore ideas and experiment with varied tools and materials as artists or designers in a collaborative and diverse school community that shares a deep appreciation of the arts and design.
Constance Shepardson Charles arrived at GEMS as a returning Chicagoan who has spent many years out West. She earned her bachelor's in English literature and Irish studies at the University of Montana, where she worked in several positions in the university library, including clerk, cataloger, and circulation manager. She recently earned her master's in library and information studies from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, where she focused on children's services and information literacy instruction.
As Interim Librarian, Constance supports literacy in all its forms for grades JK-8 and loves working with students individually to foster a genuine love of reading. Her favorite book is Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.
Yoo-Kyung Shim, who teaches second grade at GEMS World Academy Chicago, received her bacherlor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and she earned a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from Concordia University Chicago. She began her teaching career in Chicago Public Schools, then she was named to the English Language Learner Resource Team in Schaumburg Elementary District 54, where she used her Korean-language skills to support instruction in the Bilingual Transitional Education Program.
Yoo-Kyung brings to GEMS a wealth of experience in international education. She was a language support specialist as well as a fifth-grade teacher at Seoul International School. Her most recent experience teaching overseas was at Taipei American School. Yoo-Kyung is thrilled to be back in Chicago and is ready to share her love of learning with the GEMS community.
Kindergarten teacher Lisa Slater came to teaching following several years in the fields of design production, advertising and publishing. After receiving her master's in early childhood and elementary education at Bank Street College, New York City, Lisa taught kindergarten, first, and second grade in public and independent schools for more than 20 years, most recently teaching kindergarten in Denver. Lisa also spent four years as a learning specialist working alongside teachers, students, and parents.
Through her overlapping roles as parent, teacher and learning specialist, Lisa has learned a great deal about the relationships between school and family. She enjoys developing strong partnerships with families to address children's different learning styles, strengths and challenges. Lisa finds teaching to be a creative career filled with opportunities for problem solving in the areas of curriculum development, connecting with students and communicating with families. The curriculum thrives on student inquiry, providing an organic, collaborative, and dynamic educational experience. To Lisa, her class is family; she encourages understanding, inclusivity, respect, and trust, all of which provide a safe environment for teaching and learning.
Michael Taback, the Learning Specialist at GEMS, is a highly experienced educator who is passionate about creating customized education services for students with varied learning styles and educational needs. Michael has a Bachelor of Science degree from Northwestern University in communication sciences and disorders with an emphasis in learning disabilities, as well as a Master of Elementary Education degree from DePaul University.
With 15 years of diverse experiences as an educator and learning specialist, Michael has successfully worked with students, supported their families and coordinated with other professionals to create positive and lasting education outcomes for his students. Michael is also the proud father of two GEMS students.
Meghan is excited to join GEMS World Academy Chicago as an assistant teacher in our preschool. 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.
Stephanie Williams studied elementary teaching, with additional focus on early-years education, in the UK. She went on to explore the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program that she was inspired by while studying at Exeter University, and taught elementary classes in PYP schools in Italy and Portugal. Stephanie found the GEMS program in Dubai, where she taught a NEASC- and CIS-accredited curriculum and was identified as an outstanding educator by the Emirati government. She now teaches as a junior kindergarten educator at GEMS World Academy Chicago.
For Stephanie, teaching is the best job in the world. Every day brings something new to her classroom, which is filled with a unique energy and drive in her students to succeed and discover more. She teaches in an environment that honors and welcomes each child’s contribution, celebrates success and uses mistakes to learn from, and values efforts and not just results. Stephanie finds that, most importantly, her students must participate in their own learning and not merely receive an education.
Chelsea Wilson is an assistant junior kindergarten teacher at GEMS World Academy Chicago. She has a multidisciplinary background in early-childhood education and theater arts. After graduating summa cum laude from Texas Christian University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in musical theater and arts administration, Chelsea joined the Teach For America-Chicago corps. She spent two years receiving specialized training in early-childhood education and development while teaching in a low-income school in the diverse neighborhood of Albany Park. In 2014, Chelsea was a semifinalist for the Sue Lehmann Excellence in Teaching Award, which is presented to five (out of 9,000) Teach For America corps members across the country each year. She's also a member of the board of directors of the Strawdog Theatre Company.
Chelsea is thrilled to have returned to the classroom after serving as coordinator of individual giving at Lookingglass Theatre Company. She finds great joy in fostering a love of learning in young children and believes there is no better agent of change than education.
Robert Wood is a mathematics learning specialist at GEMS World Academy Chicago. A native of Texas, Robert began his teaching career in Chicago Public Schools, where he achieved National Board Certification in Early Adolescent Mathematics and an Algebra Initiative endorsement from DePaul University. After establishing himself as a teacher leader in his school and district, Robert joined the STEM Center at DePaul to further support CPS teachers as a mathematics coach. While at DePaul, he also worked with the CPS Department of Mathematics as a thought partner for planning the district’s mathematics strategy. He is now pursuing a master's degree in adult education at the university.
At GEMS, Robert supports faculty members in the teaching of mathematics and students in the learning of it, ensuring that all students are challenged and encouraged appropriately. In his free time, Robert enjoys running, reading, cooking, and playing with his dogs.
Molly Ziegler is delighted to be working with our youngest learners as an assistant preschool teacher. Prior to joining the faculty at GEMS, Molly taught pre-kindergarten and first grade in Virginia and Washington D.C., respectively. A native of Madison, Wis., Molly earned her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Molly loves working with younger learners. She finds it rewarding to embrace the challenge of weaving development of students' social-emotional skills into lessons that provide the building blocks of core academic subjects. “I simply love introducing the little ones to the fundamentals of learning,” she says.
In her spare time, Molly enjoys practicing yoga, hiking, skiing and playing tennis and golf.
Matt Arado is delighted to be telling GEMS World Academy's story as the school's associate director of communications. Matt writes and/or edits original content for the GEMS blog, website and printed materials, and he works closely with colleagues on the Enrollment Management, Marketing and Communications Team to develop an ongoing narrative about the school.
Matt came to GEMS after an award-winning journalism career at the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago. He distinguished himself as a news reporter with front-page articles on the public-pension crisis in Illinois and the lack of supportive housing for state residents with mental illness. Later, Matt focused on features and entertainment, interviewing numerous actors and rock/pop artists, including Bruce Willis, Julianne Moore, Bob Mould, Steve Earle and Chuck D of Public Enemy. His work earned Lisagor Awards, Chicago’s top journalism honor, for investigative reporting and arts reporting.
Matt has a bachelor's degree in English from Lawrence University and a master's degree in creative writing from Columbia College Chicago. He lives in Evanston with his wife, a teacher at New Trier High School, and their two boys. He loves reading novels, collecting White Sox baseball cards and listening to new music on vinyl.
Ashley joins the GEMS World Academy Chicago team as Digital Media and Events Manager. She contributes to reporting, advertising, events, content creation and social media.
She began her career in publishing at educational publishers such as McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, where she performed a wide variety of duties — editorial, publicity, portfolio management and, finally, marketing. Additionally, she has spent time as a freelance entertainment journalist and blogger.
Ashley earned her bachelor's degree in English language and literature from the University of Chicago. She has long been an education advocate, volunteering to help prospective families join UChicago and leading community outreach projects to get books into the hands of thousands of deserving students.
Ashley loves books (especially Harry Potter), photography, running, and exploring the city.
Associate Director of Marketing & Enrollment Management
Betsy serves as the Associate Director of Marketing and Enrollment Management for GEMS World Academy Chicago.
Prior to joining the team at GEMS, Betsy worked at Presence Health, where she focused on creating and cultivating partnerships with local organizations to increase brand awareness and market share. Earlier in her career, Betsy managed Walgreen Co.’s charitable giving program, including grant fulfillment, activation, employee engagement and disaster relief aid. Her career began at Lincoln Park Zoo managing corporate alliances, where her passion for relationship management began. Betsy earned her Bachelor of Science degree in recreation, park and tourism administration from Western Illinois University and holds a certificate in meeting, convention and exposition management from Roosevelt University. She proudly serves on the board of the Corporate Responsibility Group of Greater Chicago, which is focused on deepening and enhancing relationships between Chicago’s civic, private and nonprofit organizations.
In her spare time, Betsy enjoys trying new restaurants (her list grows daily!) and planning her next great vacation.
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.
Our Chicago Advisory Board
List of 2 items.
Stephanie Pace Marshall
Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, Founding President & President Emerita
Sanchez Daniels & Hoffman LLP, Founder and Managing Partner