Welcome to the 2023-24 School Year

Dear Prairie Families,

I hope you all had a wonderful summer and are as excited as I am to start the 23-24 school year.

Prairie is unique among schools in this region because we are more than just an academic institution for students; we are a community of caring and ambitious adults raising our children together to be well-rounded, college-bound leaders. Our mission drives our actions and we are fortunate that Mrs. Johnson founded Prairie in the summer of 1965 so that, together, we can live her vision of being an inclusive and caring community collaboratively pursuing excellence. 

As we embark on what I believe will be an exceptional year, I want to briefly touch on a few things that have been on my mind this summer, all of which will help propel our community forward in the months ahead.

Keys to a Successful Student Experience
Any endeavor involving human beings will have flaws, and yet our shared commitment to growth means we will learn from each other and try to be our best selves every day. Next week, I will email all of our Middle and Upper School students my 5 Keys to a Successful School Experience that I shared with our soon-to-be 6th graders at the Moving Up ceremony in June. We will also talk about it at our annual Convocation on September 1st, and I hope you will discuss them at home as well.

# 1 & 2. Be kind and polite. Do nice things for people, compliment them, congratulate them, give gifts, write notes, and be patient. Say “hello,” say “please” and “thank you,” and mean it. Use both your words and your actions to show everyone – family, friends, and strangers – that you care about them and wish them well.

# 3.  Show up. Both physically and mentally, bring your whole self to school each day. Getting enough sleep and eating right will make this much easier. When you miss days or are not focused on the task in front of you, you make your life harder than it needs to be.

# 4. Do the work. It takes work to do anything well. From friendship and math to sports and music, you need to put in consistent effort at everything you do, even when that thing is hard or not your favorite. 

# 5. Give grace. Everyone is like an iceberg and we only see a small portion of what is going on in their lives. If we assume positive intent, ask how things are going, and listen to the answer, we will help everyone in our lives be their best selves.

There is no limit on success. By working together, embracing these five concepts, and providing a healthy mix of challenge and support, all of our students can have a great year. 

Social Media
One additional piece of advice about successfully navigating adolescence involves social media. It amplifies all the emotional ups and downs of being a teenager. When it comes to mental health, numerous studies show that children are much happier and healthier without it. However, if you do choose to let your child use social media, I strongly urge you (and them) to keep the apps off of their phone.

As a school, we spent more time last year dealing with student issues/problems that came from social media than from every other behavioral issue combined. Students from 3rd through 11th grade have struggled with, and suffered because of, social media, and I am confident your child would be far better off without Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok.

A Heartfelt Welcome
It is never easy to be new within a culture of high expectations and close relationships. I hope you will all make an effort to warmly welcome not only the 100+ new students and families joining us this fall, but our new faculty members as well. As we embark on various events and traditions throughout the school year, remember all of these people are experiencing each activity for the first time. Pass along an invitation, strike up a conversation, make a new friend – these are the behaviors that make Prairie unique and keep our community growing ever stronger.

I look forward to seeing all of you at our opening events in the month ahead, and I hope you have an awesome last week of summer.



New Faculty

Upper School

With a BA in English and Secondary Education from Cardinal Stritch, Nathan Bayer joins Prairie to teach 9th Grade English. He was most recently employed at South Milwaukee Middle School, where he was part of the Gifted & Talented Leadership Team.

Dr. Jinny Gao Lourigan comes to Prairie from Carthage College, where she was an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Modern Languages as well as the Chinese Program Coordinator. Prior to Carthage, she worked in the Oconomowoc Area School District and will teach Chinese in our Middle and Upper School. She attended college at Beijing University and the China University of Geosciences before obtaining her Master of Education at Carthage and her Doctorate of Education at Aurora University (Illinois).

Upper School Mathematics Teacher Katie Gilbertson was most recently a Learning Resource Specialist & Math Teacher at Lake Forest Academy; prior to that, she was the Coordinator of Academic Advising at the University of Wisconsin – Waukesha and a Mathematics Teacher at the Landmark School (Massachusetts). She holds a B.S. in Secondary Mathematics Education from the University of Wisconsin – Madison and a Master of Education from Marquette University.

Dr. Kayla Matz ’06 is returning to her alma mater to teach Upper School Science. After graduating from Prairie, she earned a B.S. in Chemistry from Willamette University (Oregon) and a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Arizona. She has served as a Visiting Professor of Biochemistry at Beloit College and also taught at Western Governor University (Utah).

With a B.A. in Spanish and an Education minor from Clark University (Massachusetts), Upper School Spanish Teacher John Oliveras has taught Spanish at high schools in Indiana, Illinois, and Massachusetts. He also has his M.A. in Teaching from Clark and a Master of Divinity from Trinity International University (Illinois).

Natalie Robinson will be teaching Upper School History, with prior experience teaching history and social studies at Brown Deer HS, Waukesha West HS, and St. Thomas More HS; she also taught US History and English in Jinan, China. She holds a B.S. in History and Education from Marquette University and Master’s of Education from Columbia College (South Carolina).

Middle School

A trusted TPS substitute teacher, Victoria Coates will assume a full-time role teaching Middle School Science. She has her B.S. in Elementary Education with a Science minor from the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater and served as a student teacher at Palmyra Eagle Middle School.

All School

Meghan Flynn, previously the Communications Coordinator for the Village of Mount Pleasant, is joining TPS as the Digital Content Manager in the Communication Office. She has her B.A. in Communications from the University of Wisconsin – Parkside and interned there as well as at the Racine Zoo.

Familiar Faces in New Places

  • Jenni Chiapete is transitioning into the position of Kindergarten Educational Assistant and will continue on the Compass team, focused on Fundations implementation for all Kindergarten students.
  • Liza Davis will continue to teach Upper School English while assuming the role of Assistant Head of Upper School alongside Mari Grobschmidt, who became Prairie’s new Head of Upper School on July 1.
  • Chris Henke Mueller, Middle School Social Studies Teacher, will also serve as the Social Studies Department Chair.
  • Kim Jensen 97, Wilson Reading Teacher, is joining the 5th Grade as its Educational Assistant.
  • Upper School Spanish Teacher Hannah Lane is adding World Language Department Chair to her duties.
  • A familiar face to nearly everyone at Prairie, Molly Lofquist Johnson is moving from her role as Senior Director of Admission to Co-Director of College Counseling. Shay Borzynski 00, Director of Admission, will be leading the Admission Office.
  • In addition to teaching Upper School Math, Olivia Jensen will add Upper School Physics to her class list.
  • After two years serving as an Educational Assistant in Kindergarten, Bree Mahone is becoming the Assistant Director of Admission.
  • Andrea Pearson is moving from the role of Assistant Director of Admission to Kindergarten Educational Assistant.
  • Prairie’s Upper School Learning Specialist Lynne Santalucia previously served as the Compass Team’s Math Learning Specialist.
  • Henry Yunker, JV Girls’ Volleyball Coach, is joining the Primary School as its 2nd Grade Assistant Teacher.
  • Early Day will now be supervised by Will Yunker, Summer Camp/Hawks’ Haven Assistant.