Free Union Country School Faculty and Staff
Third Grade Teacher
Having grown up in northern Virginia, Blair has called Charlottesville home since graduating from the University of Virginia with a degree in Economics. A life-changing stint as a summer camp counselor followed by a post-college position as a PE teacher led Blair to pursue a Masters in Elementary and Special Education from Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia. He loved his first years as a classroom teacher, during which he taught 4th grade at Brownsville Elementary School in Crozet. Then the time was right to chase his long-time dream to open a record store, and he started Speakertree Records in downtown Lynchburg, VA. After two exciting years as a small business pioneer, Blair missed the classroom and the joy of working with young people. He sold the store and is now delighted to be teaching at Free Union. Blair has two children, one whom graduated from Free Union. Blair lives in Charlottesville with family and lots and lots of records.
Preschool Extended Day Enrichment Teacher
It is a rare individual who figures out their vocation at the tender age of thirteen, but Madigan did! She would wake at 5 AM (really) and walk two miles to help a family friend with her at-home child care business taking care of 15 children, from infancy to five years of age. Working in a variety of jobs over the years, she is elated to be at Free Union and extend her work in a field she says chose her. Madigan attended Western Albemarle High School and earned an associate in science degree in early childhood education at PVCC. Her aspiration is to return to college and become an elementary school teacher. In keeping with her strong work ethic, Madigan teaches young children mornings at Hillside Preschool in Charlottesville. When not with children, she loves to read, cook, sculpt, maintain an aquarium, and be in the moment.
First Grade Teacher
Starting with homeschooling her own children, Marguerite has been an educator for over twenty years. Those include teaching elementary students, tutoring for the Boy's and Girl's Club and doing pre-service for teachers. She teaches best practice in elementary reading, math, and gifted education for UVA's Curry School of Education where she earned an educational specialist degree. Marguerite loves the outdoors and enjoys daily nature walks with her four dogs, hiking with her family, and traveling to new places. We don't know if she travels with her ukulele, but she does have one.
After leading early childhood extended day, Jess rejoins the staff as our kindergarten teacher. She and her daughter Maggie come to us from Pittsburgh where she was involved for years in many capacities with the Waldorf School. Most recently, she earned an MSW from the University of Pittsburgh and piloted a large-scale mentorship and work skills training project for the most underprivileged teens in the state. Her deepest interests lie in effective community interventions and community building, in response to the great economic disparities of our time. Her teaching style imbues in students a sense of accountability to the larger group and the environment. Jess's coworkers describe her as the most patient person they have ever known. She can often be found anywhere outdoors year-round, hunting for fossils and arrowheads, and loves cold-water swimming. She is thrilled to be a part of a community that shares her ideals and interest in progressive education.
Naturalist/Outdoor Education Teacher
A native of northern Michigan, Grace traveled south to the university of Michigan where she received a bachelor’s degree in anthropology. Before venturing further south for the first time to the beautiful Blue Ridge and Charlottesville, Grace taught environmental science in outdoor programs in Utah and Maine. She particularly valued the infinite connections that could inspire wonder and joy within children while using the natural world as a classroom. She loves fishing, hiking, and reading, especially the works of Joan Didion, having just finished The Year of Magical Thinking. Something you may not know about Grace is that growing up she competed in Scottish highland dance. Ask her to bring in her ghillies.
Born and raised in South Carolina, Sarah moved to Charlottesville in 2009. A lifelong love of books and history took her from Davidson College to Clemson University (after a stint in textbook publishing) and finally to Miami University where she earned a doctorate in early modern history. After spending the last four years co-oping at Chancellor Street Preschool Cooperative, she discovered that teaching preschool was her calling. When not playing, reading books, and being silly at Free Union, Sarah can be found with her children, Eleanor and William; her husband, Jim; or reading, running, and knitting.
First Grade Assistant Teacher
Megan earned a bachelor of science in education from Bloomsburg University before moving to Virginia to teach first grade and pursue a msters in reading instruction from UVA. She taught for five years before choosing to be a full time mom but continued working with children by tutoring and volunteering in the community. When Megan’s daughters started school, she returned to teaching in both public and private school and is now works with Free Union as an assistant in a number of grades. Megan believes that while all children are different, they deserve quality instruction from a dedicated teacher who cares about them. Outside of school she enjoys trying new recipes, learning about nutrition, and watching her girls play soccer. She loves to read and hopes to share that joy with students of all ages. She lives in Ruckersville with her husband Chris, daughters Molly and Sarah, black lab Steeler, and adorable rabbit Peeta.
Fourth and Fifth Grade Teacher
John was born and raised in Washington D.C. but spent a good bit of his life in Milton, Delaware and Capon Bridge, West Virginia. After graduating from Guilford College with a degree in geology, John went into the field of Outdoor Education and then into the classroom. In 2002, after teaching fourth and fifth grade math, language arts, social studies, and science at an independent school in Alexandria for six years, he relocated to Albemarle County. After some pretty serious home renovations, John began teaching at Free Union in 2004 and has never looked back. He spends his free moments trying to slow the entropy of his surroundings, going on nice walks, and playing music. He lives in Free Union with his lovely wife, Jessica.
Preschool Assistant Teacher
Born and raised in Charlottesville, Katie has been a fan of Free Union Country School ever since watching her nephews attend many years ago. After obtaining her bachelor's degree in environmental science from Dickinson College, Katie went on to Mary Baldwin College for a Masters in Teaching degree. Before coming to Free Union, Katie taught in many area schools including Tandem Friends School, Charlottesville City Schools, and Louisa County Schools. She lives in downtown Charlottesville with her husband Jeff and her two beautiful daughters Reese and Josie, both of whom attend Free Union. When not at school you can find her playing and reading with her family, hiking, gardening, and running with her wonderful dog, Dasher.
Mariclaire, parent of both a Free Union graduate and a currently enrolled student, is excited about returning to school as our admissions coordinator. She has an academic background in performing arts and a consuming interest in literature. When she's not telling people how much she loves Free Union, she's sorting Pokemon cards with her second grader or teaching her teenager how to drive. In between she collects picture books, reads insatiably, and consumes as much chocolate as humanly possible.
Chicho brings exuberance, teaching experience, and Spanish language immersion to our kindergarten through fifth graders. Who better to familiarize students with Spanish language and culture than a native of Madrid, Spain? For the past nine years Chicho has applied his artistic flair and passion to our community in many ways: as art coordinator of IX Park for the last three years and as a teacher of art and the creative impulse at Clark Elementary, at the Boys and Girls Clubs, at the Virginia Institute of Autism, and for numerous children and adults with special needs. You can see his murals at IX Park, Potter's Cider Trailer, The Southern, and at venues throughout Charlotteville. He also taught Spanish at the International School. Ask him about his drumming and singing flamenco (a word with origins in the Spanish word flama, meaning "fire").
Jolee Nail Horn
Director of Communications, Alumni Relations, & Events
Jolee came to Free Union Country School in 1992 when her daughter was enrolled in kindergarten. With a degree in English and museum education employment experience at the Smithsonian and Monticello, she found at Free Union the perfect combination of endearing children and paperwork to organize. Her contributions to the School include coordinating admissions inquiries, organizing special events and school programs, and creating the school newsletter. She also has a rather large, full band aid box for injuries, both real and almost real. Jolee and her husband have two daughters, Emily and Callie, who are alums of Free Union. Her hobbies include knitting, reading books for grown-ups and children, collecting fabric (making something with it too!), and finding interesting art projects for students and teachers. She would like to bring back the art of letter writing with smooth paper and good pens.
Head of School
ElizaBeth has always enjoyed children, learning, and schools. She graduated from Wheelock College in Boston with a Bachelor’s degree in special education and early childhood education, and earned her Master of Education and Doctor of Philosophy degrees in educational leadership from the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education. ElizaBeth has been a teacher, principal, and professor in settings ranging from preschool to graduate. She most recently served for eight years as principal of Jackson-Via Elementary School in Charlottesville. She believes in actively partnering with staff, parents, and the community to support and inspire the school’s mission. ElizaBeth believes that when we expect great things of all children and put in place a dynamic, comprehensive educational program that supports the whole child--as unique individuals and as members of a diverse yet intertwined community--children will experience learning as a deeply natural and cherished aspect of life. She is thrilled to have found her new home at Free Union Country School. In her other home, ElizaBeth and her husband are raising three teenagers and learning together about life’s ever-changing opportunities. She tries to keep a guitar and a yoga mat nearby, just in case there’s a spare moment to put either to use.
Physical Education Teacher
Tom’s three sons are all Free Union alumni. A retired floor trader on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, he has been the Physical Education teacher for grades two through five since 1988. Tom is currently serving his second term on the Free Union Country School Board of Trustees. When he’s not running kids around the playing field, he volunteers for the Nature Conservancy and the Virginia Men’s Rowing Team.
Elementary Afterschool Enrichment Teacher
Mary received a Bachelor of Arts in psychology, with a minor in sociology, from Roanoke College in 2014. She also recently graduated with a Master of Arts in teaching and a concentration in English from Mary Baldwin University. She has been a long-term engineering substitute at Sutherland Middle School, and also served as a behavioral manager at the same school. During her free time Mary enjoys hiking with her dog Finn, reading anything that comes her way, traveling to as many new places as she possibly can, and preparing to become an aunt for the first time in September. Mary discovered Free Union Country School while transporting children to the Nature Camp last summer, and is incredibly enthusiastic to begin teaching in the elementary afterschool enrichment program.
Analytics and Marketing
Howard earned a Bachelor of Arts degree at Lafayette College and a Master of Science in animal behavior at The University of Rhode Island. Following a tour of duty in the Navy he worked at the Pennsylvania State University, earning a doctorate in education. Howard came to Free Union as a substitute teacher and because of the joy in learning he found here came out of retirement to serve as interim head of school. Previously, he worked for the State of New Jersey as a representative to the nine state colleges. After that, he served as executive director of a non-profit in New Jersey and as a science teacher at Stuart Country Day School in Princeton, where he established an inquiry-based science program for grades one through four. Howard believes in listening to children as a way of valuing and connecting. He lives in Free Union with his wife, a dog, a cat, and other larger critters.
Called by the mountains, the culture, and the community, Christine moved to central Virginia twelve years ago with her husband and two sons. She watched her boys grow into teenagers while pursuing a twenty-year passion in early childhood education as both a teacher and a specialist for three years supporting Virginia's early childhood quality rating and improvement system (teaching the teachers). Christine’s formal education began at St. Mary's College of Maryland and continued at Goddard College, a progressive school in Vermont, where she earned a bachelors degree in early childhood education and studio art. Outside the classroom, Christine enjoys painting, sewing, collage, baking, and making things with her hands. Christine's many interests find their way into the classroom through her appreciation of beauty, discovery, and creativity. But she's always up for learning something new!
Music and Drama Teacher,
Events and Maintenance
Kent is a Free Union stalwart, having begun as an assistant in many grades before developing the music and drama program. Kent rounds out his duties with various building and grounds tasks including but not limited to shoveling too much mulch. He has a theatre degree from Roanoke College and is trained in Violin making and repair. After going to Haiti to teach and repair stringed instruments, he realized that teaching was what he loved and wanted to continue doing. Kent is certified in Music Mind Games, Kodaly, and Orff–Schulwerk. He has also been a working musician for 25 years and has worked extensively in technical theater. Kent, his wife and their two children live in North Garden with 2 dogs, a rabbit, 2 rats, 15 chickens and 30,000 bees (give or take a few hundred).
Jeanna has worked in nonprofit education for over 10 years overseeing accounting, finance, and human resources, and for several years in public accounting. She grew up in New England at various year-round outdoor YMCA camps where she developed a lifelong love for nature and all that it can teach us. Joining the staff at Free Union Country School seemed a natural fit when she and her husband Jack moved to the area. They enjoy returning to the Philadelphia area often to visit family and they remain avid Eagles fans. Outside of work Jeanna enjoys hiking, biking, cooking, gardening, music of all kinds (especially bluegrass), and reading lots of books.
Megan was born and raised in Virginia and has been fortunate to call Charlottesville home for nearly 15 years. After obtaining a BA in Art from Ferrum College and studying Italian Renaissance Art History and Drawing in Florence, Italy, Megan went on to pursue an M.Ed in Curriculum and Instruction from UVA. Her background includes working at an art gallery, selling and showing artwork, and teaching private art lessons, all prior to starting a full-time teaching career. She began in Pre-Kindergarten in Campbell County for several years before relocating to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains to teach art at Ruckersville Elementary School until her children were born. She is mom to George and Claire, both happy Free Union students. When she is not hiking, gardening, gallery hopping, wielding a paintbrush, poring over her favorite children's book illustrations, or preparing meals from scratch for her family, you may find Megan and her husband in Lane Stadium cheering on their beloved VT Hokies.
Health Education Teacher
Emily Umberger teachers health and human sexuality at Free Union. She’s been promoting healthy choices and risk-reducing behaviors in a variety of settings for a dozen years. She also teaches health at Village School in Charlottesville and has previously worked with teens and tweens living in foster care. Emily holds a bachelor's in psychology from Roanoke College and a master's in exercise physiology from the University of Virginia. She lives in Crozet with her husband and two children, Grady and Tilda (both Free Union students). When she isn’t working or spending time with family or friends, she squeezes in as much exercise as she can, and loves digging through cookbooks looking for new recipes.
Development and Marketing
Having grown up in Denver, graduated from Lewis and Clark College in Oregon, and devoted two tours with the US Army in Iraq as a "strategic debriefer" (she is fluent in Arabic), Susan brings a wealth of experience from around the globe to her work with us at Free Union. Susan has always been interested in graphic arts and is a perfect fit for our needs in development and marketing. Since she came to Virginia, Susan earned a certificate in graphic design from PVCC where she was a featured artist at their Let There Be Light Festival. Recently she renewed her interest in running, and currently is training for a half marathon. What are common words we hear from Susan? "How can I help?" Susan lives with her husband, her son, a fourth grader at Free Union, and their dog Scout in Ruckersville.
Second Grade Assistant Teacher
A true force when it comes to decoding the mysteries of early reading, Bonnie is here to help our students on their way to becoming life-long readers. With a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Vermont, a master's degree in developmental reading from the University of Virginia, and thirty years as a reading specialist in the Albemarle County public schools, we are indeed fortunate to have Bonnie with us. As a bonus, she loves kids, has raised two sons, and delights in adventures with her two granddaughters. Bonnie is an ardent Red Sox fan (especially when they are humbling the Yankees), loves summer and the beach, and enjoys a good run with friends. Her most memorable recent moment was standing at the starting line of the Boston Marathon in 2014, a year following the bombing. Bonnie lives in Earlysville with her husband, two cats, and a dog.
Second Grade Teacher
Beth rejoins the Free Union faculty in her beloved second grade after a twelve-year hiatus during which she hiked many mountains, taught many children, and had two of her own. Beth holds an undergraduate degree in environmental science from Duke University and completed a master's in elementary science education at the Teton Science School and the University of Colorado. She has designed and taught curricula at a botanical preserve in northern Virginia and a science museum in Colorado, and has led camping trips in the Teton mountains. However, her desire to form deeper and more long-lasting relationships with her students led her into the classroom where she continues to facilitate inquiry-based learning in all subjects. She lives in Ivy with her husband, two sons (both Free Union students), two dogs, two gerbils, and five chickens. She thrives on children's wonderful ideas, long runs, and getting lost in a great book.
Fourth and Fifth Grade Teacher
Karen grew up in New Jersey and Delaware, but has called Virginia her home for the past twenty years. She holds a bachelor's degree in history from the University of Virginia and a master's degree in creative writing from Hollins University. She was an elementary and middle school class teacher for ten years at the Charlottesville Waldorf School before joining the faculty at Free Union Country School. She is very proud of her first book publication for young adult readers, titled Girls Who Write, which was released in July 2018. In addition to writing, she enjoys running, biking, yoga, baking, and reading books upon books. Karen lives in Crozet with her soon to be husband and step-son, and a cat named Teddy and a dog named Lyle.