Free Union Country School Faculty and Staff
Second and 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. He lives in Charlottesville with his wife Maggie, son Zhivan, daughter Vivienne, and lots and lots of records.
Second and Third Grade Teacher
Jamie comes to second and third grade from two years running the Free Union afterschool enrichment program. We are delighted that she is joining the full-time staff. Prior to working at Free Union, Jamie taught at Ivy Creek School in Charlottesville where she served as an enrichment instructor, teaching art for adolescents with emotional and behavioral challenges. She is particularly proud of the collaboration her students demonstrated as they created a tree sculpture from recycled materials, and in the process developed social skills, grew in self confidence, learned the value of sustainability, and came to see the beauty in everyday objects. Inspired by the outdoor setting at Free Union, Jamie plans to incorporate group collaboration activities that will encourage students to make new discoveries about themselves as individuals and as a group. Jamie earned a Master of Arts degree in Creative Arts Therapy from Hofstra University in New York. She looks forward to providing vibrant and nurturing opportunities for student self discovery in second and third grades.
Second and Third Grade Assistant Teacher
Megan earned a B.S. in Education from Bloomsburg University before moving to Virginia to teach first grade and pursue her M.Ed. 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 excited to be joining Free Union Country School. 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 a great old house in Charlottesville with a dog, a cat, and his lovely wife.
Preschool Assistant Teacher
Donna studied education for three years at East Carolina University, then worked at a respite care center for intellectually disabled children and adults and substituted at a day care center. While working as a nanny, she attended the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and graduated with a degree in nutrition. She then found her way to Virginia, where she was employed for 10 years as a maternal child health nutritionist with the Public Health Department. After her son graduated from Free Union Country School, Donna’s passion for the school and for nurturing and educating children led her to her current position, which she has enjoyed since 2005. When not at school, Donna spends her time gardening, dancing, creating art, exploring nature, camping, hiking, and kayaking.
Ruth was born and raised in London, although she describes herself as a hodge podge of cultures, including Irish, South African, Israeli, and Polish. She earned a degree in Psychology and Social Work from the University of East Anglia (U.K.) where she later returned to complete her graduate studies in Education. Ruth has since taught middle school in a remote fishing village in Japan, and worked in a residential Waldorf school in Pennsylvania with children with special needs. She has also taught at an International school in New York City and a bilingual school in Honduras. She moved with her young family to volunteer at Innisfree village in Crozet and fell in love with this beautiful part of the world. Ruth is now contentedly settled in a little woodland cottage with her husband Chris, their two daughters Maia and Noa, Charlie cat, and numerous chickens and guinea hens. Ruth loves to read, knit, garden, and cook. But, on rainy days she just can't help it and must go splashing through puddles!
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.
First Grade Teacher
McKenzie earned her BA in Religious Studies at The University of Virginia and completed coursework in the Masters in Teaching Program at Mary Baldwin College. She was an Assistant Teacher for two years at Venable Elementary School, as well as a 6th grade teacher at Walker Upper Elementary School, and a Site Facilitator for the Walker after-school program. McKenzie grew up in Charlottesville and attended the city schools. Before college, she was a counselor at Rockbrook Camp for Girls, having been a camper for six years. This is her 8th year at Free Union where she has served as first grade teacher and assistant head of school. She loves the people, the freedom to create learning experiences based on what the children are interested in, the involvement the faculty have in the daily operation of the school, and working in a log cabin with a lot of windows. McKenzie is an avid runner, reader, and hiker, and enjoys adventures with her two boys (who both attended Free Union) and their dog Lilly.
Physical Education Teacher, Assistant Kindergarten Teacher, and After School Enrichment
George graduated from Denison University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology. There, he pursued an interest in history and philosophy and spent his junior year in New Zealand. Influenced by a love of camping as a child, George is at home in nature and the outdoors, and worked most recently as a golf caddy and a rock climbing instructor. He devotes his spare time to climbing, hiking, cycling, camping, and trail running. Having recently moved from the Washington, DC area to Ivy, this is George's second year at Free Union Country School.
Office and Facilities Manager
Martha has been employed at Free Union Country School since 1990. Her relationship with the School began as a parent in 1986. A few years later she began working as an assistant teacher in the Kindergarten/First Grade class and taught math at various levels until 1986. Since then she has worked as the school's business manager. Martha lives in Free Union with her husband, two cats, and a rabbit. She has three grown children and three grandchildren.
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.
Debbie Jo McGowan
Debbie Jo graduated with a B.A. from Virginia Tech, and an M.A. from Mary Baldwin College. She has taught Spanish in Albemarle County for a number of years and has developed curriculum that is an excellent fit with Free Union as she integrates language, culture, and technology in her teaching. Greer Elementary, Broadus Wood Elementary, and Walker Upper Elementary are among the schools where Debbie Jo has taught. During her second year with us, Debbie Jo looks forward to providing an important experience for our students along their way to a mastery of the language and an appreciation of other cultures.
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.
Analytics and Marketing
Howard earned a bachelors degree at Lafayette College and a masters in zoology and animal behavior at The University of Rhode Island. Following a stint in the navy he received a doctorate in education from The Pennsylvania State University. Howard first came to Free Union as a substitute teacher. Because of the joy in learning he found there among students and faculty, he came out of retirement to accept a one-year post as head of school. Previously, he taught at Stuart Country Day School in Princeton, New Jersey, where he established an inquiry-based science program for grades one through four. Before that, Howard was the executive director of a non-profit youth and adult services organization in New Jersey. Howard is a believer in listening to children, whose interests, readiness, and diverse ways of learning will dictate the form and pace of their education. He lives in Free Union with his wife.
Music and Drama Teacher
This is Kent’s 15th year at Free Union. He has been an assistant in many grade levels and has taught Music and Drama for the last 10 years. Besides that he 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).
Megan was born and raised in Virginia and has been fortunate to call Charlottesville home for nearly 14 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, pouring over her favorite children's book illustrations, or preparing meals from scratch for her family, you may well find Megan and her husband in Lane Stadium cheering on their beloved VT Hokies.
Fourth and Fifth Grade Teacher
Tom received a B.S. in Economics from the College of William & Mary. Following a successful career as a writer and editor, Tom sent his eldest child to Free Union in 2001. Several years of volunteering in the classroom led him to discover his true calling as a teacher. He completed the Alternative Teacher Licensure Program at Lynchburg College in 2006 and has worked at Free Union ever since as a teacher, librarian, and technology guy. Tom lives down the block from school with his wife Amy and two children, Theo and Delilah.
Health Education Teacher
Emily Umberger is joining Free Union to teach Health and Human Sexuality this fall. She’s been promoting healthy choices and risk-reducing behaviors in a variety of settings for ten 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 BA in Psychology from Roanoke College and an M.Ed. in Exercise Physiology from the University of Virginia. She lives in Crozet with her husband and two children, Grady (a Free Union student) and Tilda. 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.
Marjo van Dijck
Marjo earned a B.A. in Early Childhood and Elementary School education at the college Clara Fey in her hometown of Maastricht, The Netherlands, and a second degree in high school education with a major in art. She has worked in a variety of places, including a special education school, an itinerant trade school, and a regular elementary school in the Netherlands. Now she teaches preschool at Free Union. When not in school, she likes to fiddle, cook, garden, bike, and hike. And last but not least…practice Kung Fu!