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Winnetka Voices: A Podcast from the Winnetka Public Schools

Winnetka Voices is a podcast hosted by The Winnetka Public Schools, featuring candid conversations on issues relevant to education and shared resources to support our students and families.


Crow Island School, an internationally recognized beacon of Progressive Education, turns 85-years-old in 2025. Dr. Kelly Tess, Superintendent, reflects on the school’s enduring legacy with Dr. Luke Livingston, current Principal, and Dr. Julie Pfeffer, who served as Principal for 11 years. Listeners will also receive a review of extensive renovations that will occur in 2024-2025, retaining the building’s original historic details but, as Dr. Pfeffer notes, “allowing Crow Island to grow into the future so students and teachers can be their best.”

March is Women’s History Month! Dr. Kelly Tess, Superintendent, is joined by three impactful women in our school community: Denise Dubravec, Winnetka Campus Principal/Assistant Superintendent at New Trier High School; Winnetka Public Schools alum Norah; and Marena Rudy, a Winnetka Public Schools Board Member. The women reflect on how they have been inspired and encouraged in order to lead with confidence. As Norah recognizes, “We have a lot of forward momentum.” We hope this episode serves as a glimpse into how we can support women and girls in their leadership ventures by modeling self-advocacy, curiosity and empathy.

Think back to a favorite project you experienced when you were a student. Was there something about it that was highly engaging, unique, and allowed you freedom to discover and explore your own interests? Dr. Kelly Tess, Superintendent, has a conversation with Carleton Washburne School students, Ms. Tip Walker (The Skokie School), and Ms. Jennifer Bertacchi (Carleton Washburne School) reflecting on the profound impact of Project Based Learning on education. This episode provides a window into how Project Based Learning is designed by teachers, experienced by students and connects to learning standards.  As stated by a student interviewed about a recent Project Based Learning activity, “This really prepared me for what I may be able to do in the future.”

Dr. Kelly Tess, Superintendent, has a conversation with Resource Center Directors Ms. Liz Delzell (Hubbard Woods) and Ms. Katie Nelson (Carleton Washburne School) about how connection is inspired through literature and the dynamic environments in which we learn. “We try to make students feel welcome no matter what,” says Ms. Nelson. “The library is the heart of the school,” affirms Ms. Delzell. As you listen to this episode, you’ll hear references to stories and books that have a special meaning to the individuals or connected others across a storyline or character.  Despite advances in technology, the written word remains a critical avenue to express emotion and link readers to each other.  Wishing you and your loved ones time to find cozy nooks with good books this winter!

This episode centers on a growing topic of interest in education today: the impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Guest Mr. Patrick Dawson, Director of Innovation, Teaching and Learning, joins Dr. Kelly Tess, Superintendent, to provide background on the topic. He shares insights on how parents can best be equipped to address concerns surrounding AI and tools connected to the technology. According to Dr. Tess, “If we’re doing our due diligence as a part of the community raising children to be responsible adults, we have to prepare them for a world where this exists.”

The second season of “Winnetka Voices” begins with an episode highlighting the impact of Progressive Education, Winnetka’s educational philosophy for over 100 years, and how it shaped our newly developed Portrait of an Educator.  Two beloved members of The Winnetka Public Schools community, Betty Carbol (alum and former Crow Island art teacher) and Patti Van Cleave (alum and former parent) reflect on how their lives were shaped by their school experiences. The Winnetka Public Schools’ Portraits of a Graduate and Educator are shaped by long-standing values that were pioneered in Winnetka and remain central to our modern day practices. As Dr. Tess says in the episode, “We hope this entices a whole new generation of teachers to join us in our good work!”

Dr. Kelly Tess, Superintendent, speaks to middle school  reading specialists Sheri Johnston and Suzanne Savard about how to best foster childrens’ literacy during the summer months. Along with summer reading recommendations, they provide tips on what may support your child to grow in confidence in their reading skills–whether they are an avid or reluctant reader. You may be surprised by how simple and natural supporting your child’s literacy during summer break can be.


Dr. Kelly Tess speaks to Denise Matthews, Director of Student Services, Equity and Inclusion and Erick Taft, District alum, parent, and a leader of a community organization “Winnetka for Belonging.” The episode centers on how fostering an environment where high-quality teaching and learning is accessible to all starts with supporting the fundamental need for belonging. A few Washburne students also share their thoughts on belonging. As Ms. Matthews shares, “We can all play a part in making sure that our peers and our colleagues feel like they belong.” 

Dr. Kelly Tess speaks to School Board President Emily Rose, Crow Island Kindergarten teacher Melissa Brody (both of whom are alumni of The Winnetka Public Schools) and Tom Flemma, Head of School at North Shore Country Day, a private school in Winnetka with a unique shared history in progressive education. Throughout the episode, learn about the unique legacy of Progressive Education in Winnetka, and how our public and private insitutions uphold our commitment to experiential learning. “I hope we continue to push ourselves to be a lighthouse of a District….the future is bright,” says Ms. Rose.

In this episode Dr. Kelly Tess discusses the national teacher shortage with The Skokie School Principal, Michelle Cooney; Jeff Knapp, Assistant Superintendent of Professional Learning and Human Resources; and Daniel Walsh, Interim Dean of the School of Education and Associate Professor at North Park University. The guests reflect on the landscape when they initially began their careers in education, the need to enhance recruitment and retention practices, and what makes this a unique era in terms of hiring the next generation of teachers. The guests reflect on how these factors may specifically impact our practices in Winnetka. According to Principal Cooney, "In order to do hard and important work, we need to be in a community where we support one another." Listen the full episode to learn more about this timely topic.

Dr. Kelly Tess, Superintendent, is joined by Dr. Becky Mathison, the District’s Director of Innovation, Teaching and Learning, Ms. Missy Parks, second grade teacher at Crow Island School, and Anna Karwowska, Youth Services Manager of The Winnetka-Northfield Public Library. Topics addressed include how we've seen students' needs evolve following the result of the pandemic, how the District approaches supporting students in their reading skills, and tools that may help parents and caregivers support an interest in reading at home. 

Dr. Kelly Tess, Superintendent, is joined by the District’s Social Emotional Learning coaches, Sachiko Kawata-Burke, Jennifer Knudson, Danielle Leitner, and Allison Szczecinski. The SEL coaches discuss the role they play in supporting students and teachers, particularly in the wake of the pandemic. The coaches also share the concept behind RULER, a research-based tool from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, that is currently being implemented in our schools.

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