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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 a long term sub at Zion Lutheran School in Marengo. However, I have always loved the Oak Park area and intended on coming back to teach. I felt so blessed when I received the job here at Grace Lutheran. At Grace I serve as the fourth grade teacher and I also coach volleyball and trackl. I teach a Spanish Enrichment class after school. 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 the Bears and the Blackhawks.
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
From the time I was a young girl I knew I wanted to be a music teacher. I have always loved music, dance and playing the piano. I received my degree in Vocal Music Education from St. Olaf College in Minnesota, and beautiful music drew me to Grace Church and School. I have been on the faculty for 10 years and have great fun making music with Grace students from age 3 through 8th grade. I direct the 3rd and 4th Grade Choir, and co-direct the 5th-8th Grade Choir with Pastor Michael Costello, as well as teach general music for grades 3-6. You can also find me working with 1st and 2nd grade reading groups. I sing with the Grace Senior Choir and am the Music Assistant for the Grace Bach Cantata Vesper Series. I have a 16-year-old son, and 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
As Grace School’s library media specialist, I work with students from junior kindergarten to eighth grade, promoting reading and helping students learn to make effective use of the variety of media resources available to pursue both curricular needs and personal interests. In addition to weekly story times and library times, I also provide technology education to students and faculty, including regular Research and Technology classes for grades five through eight, using a variety of software and online programs that will help prepare students for 21st century technology and communication needs. I have a Master’s degrees in library and information science, and in educational technology.
I am so excited to move into the role of Senior Kindergarten teacher here at Grace. I have worked at the school for 9 years, and was the teaching assistant in SK for 8 of the years. I have a B.S. in Elementary Education, and I am a certified Slant Reading Instructor. I have 3 children, Levell, Kennedy and Seneca. I love to read, dance and spend time with family and friends.
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 reading instruction. 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.
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.
Brian Schultz, Seventh Grade Teacher
I am the junior high math, and science teacher. Aside from teaching the students about the wonders of the mathematical world, I coach girls basketball and track and field. I received a Bachelor of Science in business administration from Valparaiso University and graduated from Valparaiso’s LEAPs program with a Master’s in Education. Before coming to Grace, I taught for two years at Bethesda Lutheran in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago. When I'm not teaching or coaching, I enjoy watching and playing all sports and spending time with my beautiful wife, Elizabeth.
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.
Kristine Washburn, Special Education Coordinator
I just recently moved to Illinois from Sterling Heights, Michigan. I attended Lutheran grade school and high school which led me to receiving my Special Education degree from Michigan State University. I student taught in Rochester, Michigan, last year with half the year in resource and the other half in a third grade classroom. I am coaching 5th and 6th girl's volleyball and in the winter I will coach 5th and 6th girl's basketball. I enjoy watching any Michigan State sports team, spending time with my family, and being at the lake. I find great joy in helping students learn and finding and providing the tools for the best way for them to learn.
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.
Jennifer Zielinski, German
Following several years of working with younger Grace students, my German teaching role grew to include grades 1 - 8. I spent a year in Austria studying German, Russian, and Dutch at the University of Vienna, completed a B.A. in German, did graduate work in education and teaching of German at UIC, and worked for U.S. Customs for 15 years. My interest in my daughter’s early German classes led to summer internships with Language Stars, Family Week stays at Waldsee German Language Village in Minnesota, and a position since 2010 as the 4th grade German teacher at the Weekend School of the Danube Swabians. There my daughter, a Grace student since JK, also learns German folk dancing. I am thrilled to share my love of German with Grace students.
Joel Zielke, Fifth Grade Teacher
My roots are deep in Lutheran education. I come from a family tradition of Lutheran church workers - grandparents, parents, and siblings. I spent my educational years attending Immanuel, Elmhurst, Walther Lutheran High School, and Concordia University Chicago where I received a teaching degree in Lutheran Elementary Education. I completed my Master’s degree in Coaching and Athletic Administration at Concordia University Irvine. Upon graduation I spent two years as an assistant coach for the men’s and women’s soccer program and track and field team at CUC. Before arriving at Grace in 2014, I previously taught math at Walther and most recently taught K-12 physical education at Concordia International School in Shanghai, China. I am currently teaching grade 5 nath and science, 7th and 8th math, and PE to grades 5-8. I am also the 7-8 boys' basketball coach and will be a part of the track coaching staff. Outside of school I enjoy spending time with my wife, Trixy, and our two children, Kylee and Paxton, playing sports, and traveling.