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Bill Koehne, Principal
I am a proud product of Lutheran education from kindergarten through advanced degrees. I graduated from Zion Lutheran School in Bensenville, Walther Lutheran High School in Melrose Park, and Concordia University Chicago. I have also received a Masters in Curriculum & Instruction and a Type 75 Administration Certificate from Concordia. My teaching career began in 1991 at my alma mater, Walther Lutheran High School, where I taught mathematics and coached boys track and basketball. I began serving as the school principal at Grace on July 1, 2012. I have been a member of the congregation at Grace Lutheran Church since 1999 when I married my wife Karla, a life-long member of Grace Church.
Lyle Mortensen, Assistant School Administrator
After spending my elementary years as a student at Grace School I continued through the Lutheran educational system at Walther and Concordia, River Forest. I received my first call as a junior high teacher to Grace in 1973 and remained in the classroom until I became the technology administrator for church and school in 2002. I served as interim principal from January through June of 2012, and am now assisting with school administration tasks as well as working with technology.
Eileen Maggio, School Administrative Assistant
I have been the administrative assistant for Grace School since August, 2003. Previously I worked at St. Luke Parish School in River Forest, where I held the position of library media specialist for thirteen years. My husband, Joe, and I have been members of Grace Church since 1990, and both of our sons are Grace alumni. In my spare time I enjoy sewing and reading mystery novels.
Teachers and Teaching Assistants
Kathryn Albrecht, Fourth Grade Teacher
I am originally from Belvidere, Ill. I attended Concordia University, Chicago, where I earned a Bachelor's Degree in Lutheran Elementary Education. I also minored in Spanish and English and have an endorsement in Special Education. After graduating, I lived at home and filled in as along-term sub at Zion Lutheran School in Marengo. However, I have always loved the Oak Park area and intended on coming back here to teach. I felt so blessed when I received the job here at Grace Lutheran. Besides serving as the fourth grade teacher, I also coach volleyball at the junior high level and hope to work with thetrack team in the spring. Some of my other interests include spending time with my family, being active outside, traveling, going on mission trips, reading, playing my ukulele, listening to music, cooking, and drinking coffee with good friends.
Mary Berendt, Third Grade Teacher
I spent many of my childhood years in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where my daughter was born in 1996. After graduating from Elmhurst College and earning my teaching certificate, I taught third and fourth grades for over fifteen years at St. Francis Xavier School in Chicago. While teaching and raising my daughter, I went back to school to obtain my Master’s degree at Benedictine University, in special education. I have been nominated for the Golden Apple Award and the Disney Teacher of the Year Award. I have coached girls’ softball, and now I spend most of my free time watching my daughter pitch for her softball team. When I am not watching her softball games, I enjoy visiting my dad in the Upper Peninsula.
Kathy Brooks, Junior Kindergarten
My childhood years were spent in Minnesota where I attended a Lutheran School through 8th grade. After graduation from the University of Illinois with degrees in elementary education and early childhood education, I taught fourth grade in the River Forest public schools. I have spent recent years pursuing my passion for quilting—lecturing, teaching workshops, and writing books and magazine articles. I also enjoy knitting, reading and puppetry. The best times are spent with my husband and three grown children. It is exciting to be a part of the thriving early childhood program at Grace. I am in awe of the wonder of the four-year-olds and feel blessed to have a part in their emerging understanding of the world.
Deirdre Byrne, Special Education
I graduated from the University of Iowa with a B.A. in both education and English with a specialization in writing. I taught language arts and reading in junior high at Divine Providence School in Westchester until I left to have my first child. I took several years off to raise my four children during which time my oldest son was diagnosed with dyslexia and dysgraphia. I dedicated myself to learning as much as I possibly could about these learning conditions as well as strategies and modifications that would help my son. I am currently using my education background and personal experience with learning disabilities assisting Mrs. O’Connor in helping the students at Grace who struggle with learning. I am also coaching the girl’s volleyball team which has already (two weeks into the school year) been a very exciting experience.
Laura Clauss, Sixth Grade Teacher
I am a long-time Grace member and a graduate of Grace Lutheran School. My three children are also graduates of the school. I attended Walther Lutheran High School, where I met my husband, and then attended Concordia College, River Forest, Illinois. My first teaching job was in Chicago at Grace English, where I taught kindergarten, first grade, and second grade. I took time off to have children and then returned to teaching at Concordia’s Early Childhood Center, where I taught for five years. I started the extended day care program at Grace and taught in the gifted program before becoming the sixth-grade teacher in 2003. Sixth grade is a fun year--we share stories about our lives and support each other through interesting times. I am the school’s athletic director and have also served as a confirmation mentor. When I am not at Grace, I enjoy watching sports on television and reading.
Michael D. Costello, Cantor
As the cantor at Grace, my primary job is to lead congregational singing. I do this by playing the organ, directing choirs, serving as an educator, coordinating music with other staff members, and working with others to lead the Bach Cantata Vespers. I direct the 7-8 grade choir at Grace School. I grew up in a Lutheran church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I received my bachelor of arts in sacred music from Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, North Carolina, and my master of divinity at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina, where I also served on the adjunct faculty in music and liturgy. I am a Lutheran pastor, have served congregations in Pennsylvania and the Carolinas as a musician, and also served as a pastor at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Columbia, South Carolina. I am married to Rebekah Weant Costello, also a musician and a graduate student in theology. We have one son, Andrew.
Janel Dennen, School Music Teacher
I direct the choir for grades 3-4 and teach general music to grades 3-6. I work with the children in other subjects as well, including reading, and math in first grade. I have a bachelor of arts in vocal music education from St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota, and love to play the piano, dance, drum, and bake. I have a 12-year-old son. One of my husband’s many talents is his cartoon “Shrubtown,” which appears in the Wednesday Journal.
Lisa Guagenti, Part-time School Social Worker
Christa Holm, Library Media Specialist
I have been the library media specialist at Grace since 2001. In addition to promoting reading and helping students learn to do effective research, I work with students and staff on technology education and provide language arts enrichment opportunities. Prior to that, I served as the church's Web master for two years. I have a master's degree in library and information sciences and am currently studying educational technology.
Michelle Grahnke, Art
I am so blessed to be teaching art at Grace. You may also see me around the school as an aide in the JK room in the mornings and teaching art enrichment courses after school. I graduated from Concordia University Chicago where I received my Bachelors in K-12 Art Education. I worked in the Early Childhood Education Center at Concordia as a lab student for many years and at Camp Winnebago through the YMCA with children ages 3-13. When not teaching I enjoying drawing, dancing, and spending time with my family, friends, and my new husband.
I have been the senior kindergarten classroom aide for the past four years. I have an associates degree in early childhood education from Triton College, and I am currently working on completing my course work for my Bachelors in ECE at National Louis University. I have three children, Levell, Kennedy and Seneca. In my spare time I love to read and watch "Law and Order" and cooking shows.
Ramona Koetke, Prekindergarten
I attended Lutheran schools for most of my education and have been a member of Grace Lutheran Church for over 20 years. After graduating from Valparaiso University with a B.S. in Elementary Education I went on to teach first grade as well as working in early childhood. I am very happy to be teaching again after taking time to stay home with my own three children, who all attend(ed) Grace. I am currently pursuing a Master's degree in Elementary Education from Dominican University. It is my great pleasure to work with the prekindergarten children of Grace, whose curiosity and enthusiasm for life are contagious. In my free time I enjoy traveling, camping and hiking with my husband, Chris, and our children.
Ruth Massman, Fifth Grade Language Arts
I am the proud product of a Lutheran education. I attended Lutheran elementary school and high school, and received degrees in social work and education from Concordia University in Irvine, California. My professional preparation in education and my work experience have centered around children. I worked as the Executive Director of Family House, a social service agency in Valparaiso, Indiana, that aided children and families in crisis. Upon moving back to the Chicago area, I completed student teaching in the Chicago Public Schools and at St. Philip Lutheran School. I accepted a position at St. Philip immediately following student teaching and in the years that followed taught grades 5-8. I am a wife to Andy, a mother to three daughters, an active member of Grace Church, a fan of good baseball, and an avid Scrabble player.
Julie Nelson, Junior Kindergarten teacher
I have been a junior kindergarten teacher since 2010. I received my undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois in therapeutic recreation and I hold a Masters degree in education from National Louis University. I live in Western Springs with my husband, three boys and two dogs. When I'm not at Grace I am working at the Children's Dyslexia Center in La Grange.
Maureen O'Connor, Special Education Coordinator
I have been a teacher at Grace Lutheran School since 1984, when I was asked to start a program to address the needs of students with learning difficulties. Before coming to Grace, I had taught primary grades at Mercy Elementary School in Burlington, Iowa, and had also taught in the Oak Park Public Schools. I received my bachelor of arts degree from St. Xavier University, Chicago, and a master of science in learning disabilities and a master of arts in educational administration from Dominican University, River Forest. Believing that children learn best when they are totally engaged in the learning process, I have become certified in and trained in several multisensory, structured language programs. I have been an active member of the Illinois branch of the International Dyslexia Association, have served on their board of directors, and served as president in 2009 and 2010. When I began teaching at Grace, I was the mother of five children, all of them under the age of 10. They are now all adults, and I am a grandmother. In 2008 my granddaughter began first grade at Grace. During my journey at Grace I have been supported by a uniquely gifted professional staff. Together we have touched the lives of many children and helped them realize their own gifts and strengths and become successful students.
Paulette Reddel, First Grade Teacher
I have taught first grade at Grace Lutheran School since 1990. In addition to my classroom role, I teach music in first and second grades and lead the children in choir for Sunday morning worship services. I attended Concordia Teachers College in River Forest, Illinois, where I majored in education. Later I received a master's degree in reading instruction from Concordia. In the past I have been employed at Mt. Calvary Lutheran School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where I taught fourth grade, and at St. Andrew’s Lutheran School in Park Ridge, Illinois, where I taught first and third grades. At Grace I am involved with welcoming new members into the congregation. I also serve as a Stephen Minister.
Ellie Schnack, Senior Kindergarten Teacher
I teach senior kindergarten at Grace each morning and a program for four- and five-year-olds in the afternoon. Early in my career I taught first grade at St. Paul Lutheran School in Melrose Park, Illinois, and later created their program for three- and four-year-olds. I have been employed by District 97 in Oak Park, Illinois, working as a homebound tutor as well as a Title I reading specialist. In my first year of teaching in Wisconsin, I taught "big" kids--fourth-graders. I attended Concordia Teachers College in River Forest, Illinois, where I received a bachelor of arts and a master of arts in education. While in college I was active in children’s theater and the Concordia Players and participated in the synchronized swim team. I worked as a lifeguard and swimming teacher while in high school and college. I thank my sixth-grade teacher at Trinity Lutheran School in Davenport, Iowa, for encouraging me to become a Lutheran teacher! I am married and have two grown children. Our daughter is an early childhood special education teacher and lives in Anchorage, Alaska, with her husband and our first grandson. Our son is a recent postgraduate with a master's degree in sustainable housing (architecture); he and his wife live in Phoenix, Arizona.
Brian Schultz, Seventh Grade Teacher
I am the junior high math, science, and physical education teacher. Aside from teaching the students about the wonders of the mathematical world, I coach girls’ volleyball, fifth- and sixth-grade basketball coach, and track and field. I received a bachelor of science in business administration from Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, Indiana, and graduated from Valparaiso's LEAPs program with a master's in education. Before coming to Grace, I taught for two years at a Lutheran school in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago, and I spent half a year substitute teaching at a high school in Valparaiso. Outside of teaching and coaching, I enjoy watching and playing any sport and just enjoying the wondrous experiences of life.
Stacy Sorg, Second Grade Teacher
In my second grade position here at Grace, it is my fervent hope that I can touch the lives of my students in some meaningful way, as I was profoundly impacted by great teachers throughout my life. After high school in Valparaiso, Indiana, I attended Miami University for a B.A. in creative writing. While working in medical sales, I attended UIC for an M.B.A in marketing and then went on to Northeastern Illinois for elementary education. Having lived my life in natural mentoring roles, I found the transition to elementary teaching to be an easy and fulfilling one. I have worked in Oak Park District 97 in 4th and 5th grades. My husband, two boys, black lab, and I live in Oak Park. When I am not in the classroom, I enjoy reading, being outside, coaching swimming, and scuba diving.
William Thompson, Fifth Grade, Junior High Math
I grew up in a loving family with parents who wanted their children to receive a Christian education at St. John's Lutheran School in Elgin, Illinois. That experience led me to become a teacher. I attended Concordia University, River Forest, Illinois, where I received bachelor of arts and master of arts degrees. After more than forty years of teaching, I still believe in providing quality education through the lens of a Christian perspective. My love for teaching has provided me with a world of opportunities, including teaching assignments in a variety of grade levels and school organizations. Living in a foreign culture and teaching in an international school broadened the lens I now look through as I prepare students to enter today's much smaller and more accessible world. The greatest gift a person can receive is the love of learning. Combine that with caring Christian teachers, and you have the essence of Grace Lutheran School.
Lisa Wolfanger, Eighth Grade Teacher
I have been a teacher in Lutheran schools for more than two decades. Before coming to Grace, I taught in Lutheran schools in Pittsburgh and New York City. I received a bachelor's degree in education from Concordia, River Forest, Illinois, and a master's in education from Nazareth College, Rochester, New York. At Grace I teach English-language arts, American history, and religion. In addition to my classroom duties, I direct the Grace School bell choir as well as the church's youth and adult bell choirs.