board Of DirecTORS
The Children's School is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization governed by an elected Board of four officers and seven other members. The Board's responsibilities fall into four area: fiscal oversight, institutional policy-making, long-range vision and planning, and hiring and evaluating of the Director of Curriculum and Instruction and the Director of Administration. Please direct questions on these topics to Board members in their official capacities.
B.A., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
M.Ed., Instructional Leadership, University of Illinois at Chicago
Ph.D., English Education, University of Illinois at Chicago
Lecturer in English Education, University of Illinois at Chicago
“I have been a parent in the The Children’s School community since my daughter entered the school in 2013. Since being at TCS, my daughter is joyful throughout the school day and, unburdened by at-home busy-work, she continues to joyfully explore and learn and play when the school day is done. As policies and reforms reconstitute education in business terms, it is more important than ever that a school like The Children's School develops and models education practices that do not commodify learning, students, or teachers. As a board member I very much value being an ear to, and voice for, TCS parents and students.”
Kate Sjostrom, President
B.S., Civil Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Senior Program Manager, Salesforce
"We have been a part of the TCS community since 2012, when my oldest son Jack started kindergarten. We love the school and Progressive Education for our two boys because of its support of children’s social-emotional development, the focus on critical thinking rather than rote memorization, the emphasis on social justice, and the experience our kids get with working on teams for project work that we feel is critical for later success in life. Our kids are happy, curious, and excited to go to school. As a new board member, I look forward to helping connect the staff, students, and families of TCS and ensuring that we’re all working together towards TCS being the best school and community it can be."
Becky Fuller, Vice President
Andy Curtis, Treasurer
B.A., Economics, University of Chicago
M.B.A., University of Chicago
Leader in Enterprise Analytics, Northern Trust
“We have two children at The Children's School. I value TCS commitment to creating a vibrant learning environment where my sons can collaborate with their fellow students and let their imagination shape amazing learning opportunities, which allow them to immerse themselves in their course of study. I am a strong supporter of progressive education because our children must be able to think, create, and constantly reinvent themselves as technology and the world rapidly evolves around them. ”
Sonia Johansen, Secretary
B.A., Sociology/Anthropology, Earlham College
M.S., Elementary Education, Indiana University
M.Architecture, Illinois Institute of Technology
"As a granddaughter and a daughter of teachers, I have long been impressed by the power of a school experience. Impressed by its grassroots approach, the commitment to fostering students’ voices, and the evolution of a progressive curriculum with democracy and social justice at the core, we are fully enjoying watching our daughter Vera launch her own school experience in Kindergarten with The Children’s School community. My graduate thesis focused on new curriculum design for early education. I felt strongly that any educational curriculum that sought to engage students in an authentic way couldn’t ignore the built environment of the school. I hope to bring this combined perspective of study in both education and architecture to my term on the TCS Board."
Scott Bellner, Member at Large
B.S., Mechanical Engineering, University of Massachusetts at Amherst
"Quite simply, the Children's School changed our lives. When our daughters completed 2nd & 4th grade at public school, we felt that change was necessary, and that we would make whatever sacrifices were required to ensure school was no longer a shallow, stressful grind, but rather an enriching and challenging experience that will help them grow into whole individuals. If only we had made the switch sooner. The Children’s School greeted us with an entire school body of children who believe in their self-worth and are invested in their education. Shed were the endless worksheets, hours of homework and standardized tests that had chiseled away at our little ladies’ interest and curiosity to learn. The switch activated an excitement to get to school each day to find out what challenges lay ahead. They also reclaimed their afternoons and evenings to play and be kids. As a result, I am thrilled and energized to join the Board of Directors and do what I can to support the staff, enliven the children, and represent the community as we embark on the next era of TCS here in Oak Park."
B.S., Early Childhood Education, Concordia University
Preschool Teacher, Chicago Public Schools
"My daughter joined TCS in the fall of 2011 for her kindergarten year. I value The Children's School for providing a place for children to explore, create, and discover. The focus on environmental and social issues is a strong component, and I appreciate the focus on learning, not testing. Progressive education is important today because it shows a strong respect for children's voices and allows for a variety of learners to achieve goals. As a board member, I feel it is most important to make connections to families and listen to their ideas/concerns."
Julia Huff, Member at Large
Ahmed Dola, Member at Large
B.S., Leadership and Management, New York University
with certificate in Project Management
"I believe strongly in progressive education and a project-based approach to learning. Our kids have greatly benefited from the experience and the love of learning it fosters. I see a great deal of potential for growth at TCS. I believe that to effect change, you need to be part of it. It requires more than just the school’s administration and leadership to make that happen. We are all stewards that can map the direction that we want to sail and at the same time have the resilience to mitigate unforeseen events. I want to be part of the ongoing conversation and enable transformative changes to realize the mission and vision of a world class education that we would all like to see for our children."
Alison Hafner, Alumni Member at Large
B.A., English, University of Chicago
M.S.W., University of Michigan
Alison Hafner is the mother of two graduates of TCS, who are now heading off to college. She joined the school community in its second year and was an active parent volunteer during the time her kids attended. She is a strong believer in progressive education and had the benefit of attending progressive schools herself for elementary and high school. Professionally, she has worked in a variety of social service areas including hospice, women's health, caregiving support, and family service. For the past sixteen years she has maintained a private therapy practice in Oak Park, providing counseling services to a diverse range of clients.
B.A., Humanities, Yale College
J.D., University of Chicago
“I love being around children. Most children like to be silly, but they’re very earnest about the things that are important to them. I’m the same way. I love learning and am curious about just about every topic. At the Children’s School I get to explore with the children. I never knew anything about mummification or Ancient Japan or hatching chicks until I studied them with my class.”
Christina Martin, J.D., Director of Curriculum and Instruction
Melissa Barone, Faculty Representative
B.A., Elementary Education, Northeastern Illinois University
Seventh Grade Teacher at TCS
"When I first entered the Children’s School as a member of the Progressive Education Consortium I saw that same enthusiasm to learn and share experiences and interests with others in the students. The current students described the projects they were developing with so much passion and joy. At that point I knew when I took on my role as a teacher my purpose should always be to aid in developing experiences for students that excite them to pursue and share their knowledge with the world."
Honorary Board Members (non-Voting)
BJ Richards, Honorary Board Member
40+ years in Early Childhood Education
Owner, licensed child-led, play-based child care home with an anti-bias learning environment
“I was interested in TCS as soon as I heard Daniel Ryan was starting a new progressive school in Oak Park. I have been working in Early Childhood for many years and wish TCS had been around when my daughter was in school. Progressive education is important today because education has become more about test scores, grades, worksheets and rigid rules that do not allow a child to develop their imagination, creativity, curiosity and the love of learning about what they are interested in. Many children do not learn through memorization and book work -- they need a more hands-on approach. I believe progressive education helps develop a child’s strengths and sees them for who they are, instead of trying to make them fit the mold of what our education system thinks they should be.”
B.A., Education, University of Michigan
M.Ed., Educational Administration, Harvard University
Ed.D., Educational Administration, Teachers College, Columbia University
Assistant Superintendent, Winnetka Public Schools District 36, Winnetka, IL
"As the Founder of The Children's School, I am pleased that we have created a learning community that honors the voices of children. Through projects, academic discourse, and democratic processes, children are fully engaged in their own learning. Since our first year in 2004, children have built castles, covered wagons, organic gardens and more. With expert guidance from teachers, these projects evolve from the the ideas and interests of the children. Using progressive educational practices, The Children's School is a community of children, teachers, and parents that celebrate and nurture the unique learning needs of each child."
Daniel P. Ryan, Ed.D., Founder, Board Member Emeritus