Please help us welcome the new members of our faculty and staff who have joined the MPA community for the 2022-2023 school year — and properly welcome a few folks who arrived near the end of last school year!


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Melissa Ayre, Fourth Grade Teacher

Mrs. Ayre holds a Master’s degree in elementary education from National Louis University and an undergraduate degree in acting from Emerson College. Before joining the MPA community, she taught fifth grade and junior kindergarten at Francis W. Parker School. Outside of the classroom, Mrs. Ayre loves reading, theatre, and playing with her cats.

Casey Crusius, P.E. Teacher and Coach

Ms. Crusius earned an undergraduate degree in Exercise Science at Grand Valley State University and is completing her teaching certificate in Physical Education and Health at Trinity Christian College. She is overjoyed to join the MPA faculty after previously working in the classroom as a paraprofessional. Teaching P.E. allows her to share her passion for physical activity, sports, and living a healthy lifestyle with students, which has always been a dream of hers. She also will be coaching varsity soccer.

Nicole Flood, PreK-4 Teacher

Ms. Flood, who joined us last spring, holds an undergraduate degree in business from Prairie State College and a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education with a focus on ceramics from Columbia College Chicago.

Ms. Flood *loves* the Pre K and Kindergarten years. It is her favorite thing to watch as her students grow and change over the school year and watch as their eyes and minds brighten with new ideas and experiences. The journey of the school year is always exciting!

From a young age, she knew she wanted to be a teacher. There were many teachers along the way who furthered this desire and continue to provide a base for her classroom goals and expectations as a teacher.

Outside of school, she is a DTI-certified full spectrum doula and also loves to travel, spend time with her family, and take care of her many animals!

Lauryn Gray, Kindergarten Teacher

Ms. Gray holds an undergraduate degree from DePaul University in Early Childhood Education with an English as a Second Language endorsement. As a former MPA student through eighth grade, she understands the MPA community and its core values of building relationships and is excited to offer that same opportunity to other families. She has a strong work ethic and a true passion for working with young children. She believes every child deserves a caring and safe environment where they can grow and feel successful.

Dwayne King, Upper School Mathematics Teacher

Mr. King most recently was a professor at City Colleges of Chicago, teaching statistics, calculus, and foundational mathematics for five years. He was educated at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and earned his bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Chicago State University. He is pursuing a Ph.D from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Mr. King also tutors for City Colleges of Chicago and Chicago State University. Outside of school, he loves baseball, football, and basketball.

Kristen Lacy, PreK-3 Assistant Teacher

Mrs. Lacy — or Ms. Kristen, as your children might know her — is excited to join the faculty after teaching in a substitute role last school year. A Morgan Park resident, wife, and mother of two school-aged boys, she is passionate about early childhood education and brings a love of science to the classroom after working for many years in hospital settings. Mrs. Lacy has seen in her own children how early childhood education can spark a love of learning while also fostering emotional and social development. She is excited to work with Ms. Goggin to accomplish these goals and looks forward to working with PreK students and developing meaningful relationships with PreK families.

Kelly McCasland, PreK-4 Assistant Teacher

Ms. McCasland joined the MPA faculty midway through last school year, working both in PreK-4 and in first grade. She holds an undergraduate degree in Family and Consumer Sciences with a focus in Family Services from Eastern Illinois University and also studied American Sign Language. At EIU, she extensively studied child psychology while completing practicum hours as a preschool teacher for children in the surrounding counties. She also will be coaching Middle School girls volleyball this school year.

Hannah Oberg, Fifth Grade Teacher

Ms. Oberg is a Chicago native who completed her undergraduate degree in Elementary Education at Illinois State University. This will be her third year teaching. She has taught subjects ranging from 21st century reading to public speaking. Her favorite thing about teaching is connecting with students and watching them succeed! She loves animals, embroidering, and spending time in nature.

Thaddius Qualls, Middle School Math Teacher

Mr. Qualls joined the MPA faculty last spring with 18 years of experience as a math teacher, including 15 years at the middle school level. He attended Benedict College in Columbia, S.C., where he completed his undergraduate degree in secondary math education, and later earned a Master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Kansas.

Mr. Qualls began his teaching career at his alma mater, Fairfield Central High School in Winnsboro, S.C., where he taught ninth-grade math and coached basketball and baseball. After moving to Illinois in 2007, he continued his teaching career in Chicago and in Gary, Ind.

In his free time, he enjoys reading and studying history.

Liz Raser, First Grade Teacher

Mrs. Raser returns to our faculty after previously working at Morgan Park Academy in multiple capacities for more than two decades, including teaching first and second grades, leading development of our curriculum for grades 2-5, serving as Lower School assistant principal, and working in admissions and marketing.

She took off the 2019-2020 school year to spend time with her family and worked in admissions and marketing at another Chicago independent school before returning to Morgan Park Academy’s Lower School faculty midway through last school year.

Returning to Barker Hall, Mrs. Raser quickly realized two things: her true passion is teaching students, and the incredible sense of community at Morgan Park Academy is unparalleled. She feels fortunate to once again be a part of MPA.

Mrs. Raser holds an undergraduate degree from Marquette University’s Diederich College of Communication and a Master’s in Teaching from National Louis University.

Dereka Southern, Advancement Associate

Ms. Southern completed her undergraduate degree in corporate communications at Northern Illinois University. She discovered her love of fundraising and community outreach while working as a program manager and director of operations for an educational non-profit that provided financial literacy programming in the Chicago Public Schools system. She also has worked as a consultant providing non-profits with strategies for funding and program management.

Outside of work, she loves crafting, photography, and traveling with family and friends.

Aaron Svarlien, Upper School Spanish Teacher

Mr. Svarlien began learning Spanish early in a bilingual elementary school, and spent one full year in high school living in Peru as part of a cultural exchange. After earning his undergraduate degree in Spanish and Anthropology from Beloit College, he spent two years living in Spain as an English instructor and private tutor before returning to the United States and earning his Master of Arts in Teaching from Washington University in St. Louis. In St. Louis, he began his career in teaching high school Spanish at Chaminade College Preparatory School before moving to Chicago this year.

Wayne Wendell, Director of Rentals

Mr. Wendell is a lifelong resident of Beverly/Morgan Park and a former local business owner. His many years of experience include serving as facilities manager for Broadway in Chicago, operations manager at the Beverly Arts Center, and operations manager at DreamStreet Theater. In addition, he has been appearing and working on our Baer Theater stage for decades and is currently serving his fourth term as president of the Beverly Theatre Guild. His designs for holidays, graduations, and weddings have graced many of our events on campus over the years.


Please also help us welcome to new roles this year:

Kristin Brennan, PreK-4 Teacher

Dan Cantone, P.E. Teacher and P.E. Curriculum Leader

Heather Cleveland, Sixth Grade Math & Science Teacher

Michelle Hicks, Second Grade Teacher and Lower School Assistant Principal

Shelia Webster-Gray, First Grade Teacher and Director of Lower School Global Studies


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