Karen Carney is our Head of School. Karen’s career demonstrates a rich and diverse set of skills: project oversight, curriculum development, educator training and mentoring, and classroom instruction. Prior to this position, she worked as a senior specialist in science curriculum for American Institutes for Research. She previously oversaw educational programming at the Adler Planetarium, first as its director of education and then as associate vice president for visitor experience and learning. Karen oversaw a $2-million portfolio involving education, public programs, and media outreach. She has also worked in instruction and teacher development at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Center for the Study of Learning and has authored more than 20 scholarly papers, book chapters, and conference presentations. Karen is an active, dedicated Friend (Quaker) and has held various leadership positions at the Evanston Friends Meeting. She joined the curriculum committee at Chicago Friends School in 2014.
Meghan Brtnik is our K classroom teacher at Chicago Friends School since moving to Chicago from Toronto, Canada. Previously, Meghan was a substitute teacher at the Latin School of Chicago and at an international baccalaureate school in Toronto. She graduated from York University, Toronto, with a M.Ed. at the primary/junior level and completed an additional qualification course in special education. Meghan earned a B.A. from the University of Western Ontario in honors psychology, focusing on the psychological and social foundations in human behavior. In addition, Meghan has worked in a Montessori school, tutored students individually, and lived and worked at an all-girls boarding school. For fun, Meghan loves traveling, trying out new restaurants, exploring new neighborhoods, swimming, reading, and walking. Meghan is excited to teach the new K-1 classroom and to get to work with both the children and their families.
Melanie Berlin is our grades 1-2 classroom teacher. Before moving to Chicago, Melanie lived in Philadelphia and worked for five years as lead kindergarten teacher at Mastery Charter Mann Elementary School. Previous to that, Melanie lived in the San Francisco Bay Area and taught at an independent school in Oakland, California. Melanie has her B.A. in psychology with a minor in urban education from the University of Pennsylvania. She earned her teaching degree from San Francisco State University with a focus on social justice in education. In her free time, Melanie loves playing ultimate Frisbee, drinking coffee, playing board games, and spending time with her husband and baby daughter.
Renata McAdams is our 3-5 classroom teacher. She has taught in a variety of public, charter, and independent schools, including a combined 3rd-5th grade classroom in Ann Arbor, MI for two years. She graduated from Vassar College in 2007, and received her M.S.Ed. from the University of Pennsylvania in 2013. She grew up in Oberlin, OH, and moved to Chicago from Philadelphia with her husband (then-fiancé) in August 2014; she’s thrilled to be back in the midwest. In her free time, Renata enjoys singing, acting, dancing, and reading. She is very excited to be joining the Chicago Friends School, and looks forward to a lot of interesting projects with her students!
Sarah Bylander Montzka, the music teacher at Chicago Friends School, is a graduate of Northwestern University (M.Mus.) and The Cleveland Institute of Music (B.Mus.). She is the associate director of the Suzuki program at the Music Institute of Chicago and a registered Suzuki teacher trainer. She currently chairs the board of directors of the Suzuki Association of the Americas. Also a Dalcroze and early childhood music specialist, Sarah is a frequent clinician at workshops and institutes from Duluth to Tanzania. Previously, Sarah taught in the Jacksonville Symphony Youth Music Program — designed to reach young musicians of all backgrounds. She has also worked in the administrative field as coordinator of education programs for the Jacksonville Symphony and associate director of the Colorado Suzuki Institute. Sarah has performed as a section violist in orchestras, including the Jacksonville, Charleston, and Savannah Symphonies.
Kelly VanderBrug teaches art at Chicago Friends School. She grew up in rural, west Michigan, continuously playing outdoors, developing and connecting her imagination with a respect for the natural world. These twin interests of nature and imaginative fancy continued in her twin interests of biology and art making which eventually came together in her paintings, drawings, and prints. After receiving her M.F.A. in 2001 at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, she moved to Chicago to teach at North Park University, where she now serves as Art Department Chair. She began teaching at Chicago Friends School in 2012, when she and her husband enrolled their oldest child into kindergarten.
Kelly loves developing art projects in response to all the interesting projects the children work on in their classrooms, whether making weavings like Celeste the mouse in A Nest for Celeste or creating a large mural of fresh water plants and animals based on the 2014- 15 theme, water. She intentionally explores a wide variety of materials and artistic techniques with the children, exposing them to the expanse of artistic possibility. She also introduces the older children to techniques for observational drawing, especially giving attention to line, shape, eye level, and tones. Besides teaching and making art, Kelly enjoys spending time with her husband and two sons, gardening, reading, playing outdoors, and building community.
Jason Wisnewski and his wife, Lindley, have owned My Gym Skokie for the past eight years. He has taught classes inside the gym for six years and has led various mobile programs outside the gym for the past two years in coordination with their business partner, My Gym Chicago. Jason is a big kid at heart who loves getting to know and teach all the awesome kids he sees each day. With two young children of his own, he has seen first hand the power of getting children active and the benefits they receive from energetic and fun children’s programming. Jason believes laughter is medicine for the soul — cry less and laugh more, and it never hurts to get in touch with your silly side!
Emily is the proud parent of two students at Chicago Friends School. Emily came to mindfulness and yoga studies from a background in both multi-agency crisis intervention work and community activism. Emily is certified and registered with Yoga Alliance and is currently involved in crisis outreach to homeless youth. She also provides volunteer management support to a regional domestic violence agency.
Emily describes the twice-monthly, half-hour Chicago Friend School mindfulness classes as “an opportunity to facilitate playfully the tools each student already innately carries within them for mindful living, breath work, deep listening, and finding internal wisdom.” Emily had the opportunity to grow up in a community alongside several major faith traditions and has additional interest in the 12 Step/12 Tradition path, as well as earth-based indigenous spirituality. Emily celebrates yoga and mindfulness at Chicago Friends School as nonreligious and universal in approach, “relevant and available to all faith traditions, as well as humanist atheism.” Having collected a couple of “fairly groovy” degrees, Emily also has a certificate in nonprofit management from the University of Washington.