River Falls Wildcats

Meet the new teachers who have started at the School District of River Falls for the 2021-2022 school year: 

Molly Chapman

Hometown: St. Paul

Position: Special Ed. Teacher, RFMPE

Education: Augsburg University

Interests: listening to audiobooks books, watching and playing sports.  

Why did you choose teaching as your profession? I was able to start working in schools in 1993 and never looked back! I love it.

Karyn Chukel

Hometown: Hudson

Position: Math, River Falls High School

Education: University of Wisconsin - River Falls

Interests: playing soccer and bowling, flying kites and attempting to mountain bike.  

Why did you choose teaching as your profession? In school math always challenged me, but I enjoyed it. And I always had a desire to be a teacher.

Charles Conley

Hometown: Blaine, Minn.

Position: Business Education, River Falls High School

Education: Augsburg University, University of Wisconsin - River Falls

Interests: golfing, coaching, playing soccer, anything outdoors with my boys  

Why did you choose teaching as your profession? I love working with children and young adults! The day-to-day interaction is always refreshing, inspiring and honestly quite entertaining. I find I learn something new every day. Seeing their growth from the start of the year to the end is very rewarding and I cannot see myself doing anything else quite honestly.

Haley Dunn

Hometown: River Falls

Position: First Grade, Greenwood Elementary

Education: University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point

Interests: hammocking, reading, traveling, catching up with friends over coffee in my spare time, long walks with our rescue dog, Nala.  

Erin Earley

Hometown: New Richmond

Position: Speech-Language Pathologist, Rocky Branch Elementary

Education: University of Wisconsin - Madison

Interests: being outside (walking, hiking, biking, running), traveling-especially to Ireland where I studied abroad, yoga, road-tripping, watercolor painting, singing in the car, learning guitar, barista-ing, baking with my friends, cheering on Wisconsin sports. I danced for 15 years and still love taking classes whenever I can!

Why did you choose teaching as your profession? I have always been passionate about both education and healthcare and love working with children. The field of Speech-Language Pathology encompasses all of these things. Everyone deserves to communicate and connect with others and I am excited to help each student work towards their own individualized speech, language and communication goals. I love learning and truly want school to be fun, positive and safe for each student I see! 

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Michele Frandrup

Hometown: Turtle Lake

Position: 5th Grade Teacher, District

Education: University of Wisconsin - Superior

Interests: I am the owner of HEARTwork Photography and enjoy taking photographs of local Seniors and Families. Our family loves all activities outdoors, especially swimming.    

Why did you choose teaching as your profession? I teach because I believe what we do matters and has purpose. It is humbling to watch students grow and transform. They truly show you what is possible with determination and the right support. "There is no person in the whole world like you, and I like you just the way you are." -Mister Rogers

Rich Grinstead

Hometown: Cottage Grove, Minn.

Position: Elementary Social Worker, District

Education: University of Wisconsin - River Falls, University of Wisconsin - Madison

Interests: My family and I enjoy spending time at the lake boating and fishing. I am the head boys varsity lacrosse coach in Hudson.  

Why did you choose teaching as your profession? I chose social work as my profession because it provides me the opportunity to have a positive effect on my community while allowing me to work with diverse groups. Being a school social worker allows me to provide support to our students, their families and my colleagues.

Jill Guckenberger

Hometown: Somerset

Position: Special Education, Greenwood Elementary 

Education: Augsburg College, St. Mary’s University, Viterbo University

Interests: I love making handmade jewelry, reading, crafting, spending time with my family at the beach and four wheeling. As a family we love taking our annual vacation up to Hayward each summer. We enjoy fishing, boating, going to islands and playing games.  

Why did you choose teaching as your profession? As a child, I had a few teachers that made a huge impact on my life. Some of the qualities those teachers possessed included being supportive, encouraging, loving, caring, a good listener and most certainly demonstrated a true and deep passion for teaching. I was blessed to have amazing teachers during my educational journey.   

Jenna Hanson

Hometown: New Richmond

Position: Worked-Based Learning/Youth Apprenticeship Outreach Coordinator, River Falls High School

Education: University of Wisconsin - River Falls

Interests: Spending my time with family and friends, traveling, the outdoors especially with the changing of the seasons,all genres of music, and movies and series especially while completing a puzzle or two! I am an all-sports fan, but I am a Wisconsinite at heart, so I love all Wisconsin teams.  

Why did you choose teaching as your profession? I thoroughly enjoy getting to know and building relationships with students and staff. I am passionate about having the opportunity to support students by helping them learn social-emotional skills they need to be successful, while also helping them explore and get excited about their future.

Emily Huber

Hometown: Downers Grove, Ill.

Position: School Counselor, Greenwood Elementary

Education: Northern Illinois University, Concordia University

Interests: reading, spending time outside, baking, and spending time with my family.  

Why did you choose teaching as your profession? The best part of my job is being able to build connections with students and watch them grow. I love being available to listen to them through their ups and downs and seeing them gain skills to solve their own problems. 

Andy Keiser

Hometown: Marengo, Iowa

Position: 5th Grade, Westside Elementary School

Education: Coe College, Metro State University of Denver

Interests: Spending quality time with my family, jiu jitsu, canoeing, sailing, fishing, woodworking, crafts, bicycling, cooking and baking.

Why did you choose teaching as your profession? I worked for a number of years in the nonprofit sector running educational programs for children and families. When my youngest daughter was born, transitioning to teaching felt like a natural progression. 

Tracy Klein

Hometown: Green Bay

Position: School Counselor, River Falls High School

Education: University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire, University of Wisconsin - Stout

Interests: Cooking and traveling with my family, exploring nature; in the past few years I’ve discovered a passion for trail running.

Why did you choose teaching as your profession? I had really positive experiences with my school counselors throughout my academic career and wanted to give back in the same way.  Not every student has had that experience and I wanted to do my best to provide that for them.  I also enjoy being able to get to know students in a way that can be different from others in a school building. 

Cade Lambrecht

Hometown: Kimberly

Position: 7th Grade Social Studies, Meyer Middle School

Education: University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire

Interests: Running, disc golfing, staying active, traveling with my family and girlfriend and I’m always looking for new places to explore. 

Why did you choose teaching as your profession? I chose teaching because I love to learn. I love the opportunity to make learning fun and to instill that passion into others.

Jacob Langer

Hometown: Red Wing, Minn.

Position: Science, River Falls High School

Education: University of Wisconsin - River Falls

Interests: I coach a lot of soccer. I've coached various levels in the area, as well as the last three years at River Falls High School with both the boys and girls programs. I also enjoy fishing and spending time outdoors with my twin brother, Jared, and completing projects around the house.

Why did you choose teaching as your profession? I had set my sights on being a teacher as early as middle school. I've taken many paths towards this point, whether starting towards elementary education, getting a degree in math education or finding myself in a totally different job field fresh out of college before deciding to jump back in. It's been a journey that I wouldn't change.

Bridgette Lensing

Hometown: Roseville, Minn.

Position: PE Teacher, Greenwood Elementary School 

Education: University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire

Interests: I love being active in any way that I can! Summer and fall are two of my favorite times of year because I can spend lots of time outside swimming, gardening, walking the dog, picnics. I also love coaching gymnastics, a sport I have been involved in since I was 6!  

Why did you choose teaching as your profession? Because of my third grade teacher, Mr. Moe!

Rachel Mader

Hometown: Apple Valley, Minn.

Position: Literacy Coach, Rocky Branch Elementary

Education: University of Wisconsin - River Falls, Concordia University - St. Paul

Interests: I love to read, getting to enjoy books with my sons, listening to audiobooks, being creative, like creating projects with my Cricut and sewing, playing outside and most importantly spending time with my wonderful family and friends. 

Why did you choose teaching as your profession? Simply put, kids are the best. After spending time volunteering with kids in high school, I knew that teaching would be a very impactful career choice. Getting to form relationships with my students is the most fulfilling part of teaching. I love getting to watch them grow as little humans, not only in their knowledge of academic skills but also socially and as people. After nine years in the profession I am excited to take my passion for literacy, relationships and leadership into a new role as a Literacy Coach! 

Abby Mazzei

Hometown: LaGrange, Ill. 

Position: Gifted and Talented, District 

Education: Illinois State, Concordia Chicago

Interests: reading, seeing live music, camping and spending time with my family.   

Why did you choose teaching as your profession? I’ve wanted to be a teacher since forever.  I love building relationships with kids and helping them grow.

Amber Merkatoris

Hometown: Woodville

Position: Science, River Falls High School 

Education: Florida Institute of Technology

Interests: I love to spend time with my family, sew, quilt, cross-stitch, needlepoint, fish, bike, hike, play volleyball, gardening, traveling and experiencing different cultures. 

Why did you choose teaching as your profession? I spent many hours of my childhood in my mom’s rural AK classrooms. I always knew I was meant to be an educator, but chose to experience other careers first. During a long-term subbing position, I felt something new. I was able to provide students with a safe space for learning and help them discover their passions. As they developed, so did I. I knew it was time to pursue teaching full time. My goal is to empower students through education. 

Logan Moe

Hometown: New Brighton, Minn.

Position: School Counselor, River Falls High School 

Education: University of Minnesota

Interests: I am a huge Minnesota sports fan. I also love spending time outdoors, traveling, reading, hanging out with friends and family.  

Why did you choose teaching as your profession? I chose school counseling as a profession because I have a passion for helping young people succeed. I love empowering students to make choices that will positively impact their lives. 

Aly Niehans

Hometown: Oshkosh

Position: Social Studies, River Falls High School 

Education: University of Wisconsin - Madison

Interests: Being outside hiking, running, walking my dog, being on the water, cooking new recipes with friends and family, traveling and I look forward to using my passport again in the near future.

Why did you choose teaching as your profession? My mom has been a third grade teacher my whole life and she always joked that I would follow in her footsteps. Although I loved telling her she was wrong, as I neared the end of my undergrad degree, I found myself gravitating towards careers which allowed me not only to continue learning, but to get to share my knowledge and my passions with others. Teaching provides me the opportunity to challenge myself, empower students and work closely with the community. I'm incredibly excited and grateful to work in education. 

Hannah Ninneman

Hometown: Spring Valley

Position: Occupational Therapist, Rocky Branch

Education: University of Wisconsin - LaCrosse, St. Catherine University

Interests: My husband and I love all things outside; taking care of our animals on our small hobby farm, spending time with our dogs, making maple syrup with my family in the spring, traveling, camping, hiking, biking, kayaking, boating, cross country skiing, etc. 

Why did you choose teaching as your profession? I chose to be an occupational therapist in the schools because I love the holistic approach occupational therapy takes to helping students overcome obstacles that they face in their educational journey. I feel blessed to have a career where I am able to work collaboratively with students, teachers, parents and other team members to positively impact my students’ experiences at school. 

Alex Plum

Hometown: Eagan, Minn.

Position: Band, River Falls High School

Education: University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire

Interests: My musical interests include playing in a local brass quintet and jazz band. I cannot wait for more performance opportunities post-covid. A pandemic hobby I picked up was gardening. This past winter, I trained for my first Kortelopet ski race, which was about 30 km/18 mi, and I am currently training for the full Birkebeiner race, which is 50 km/31 mi for February 2022. During the summer with my wife, I like to play on a church softball team, go kayaking and hiking and play fetch with our dog. 

Why did you choose teaching as your profession? I decided I wanted to be a band teacher when I was in 7th grade. I had a great middle school band director that I connected with really well. I always thought his job was really fun and I wanted to be that teacher for others!

Ellen Puff

Hometown: St. Paul

Position: English, River Falls High School

Education: Northwestern University, University of St. Thomas

Interests: swimming, gardening, knitting, crocheting.

Why did you choose teaching as your profession? I want to help others to succeed in writing and critical thinking skills.

Sarah Sabelko

Hometown: Durand

Position: 7th Grade Literacy, Meyer Middle School

Education: University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire, University of Wisconsin - Superior

Interests: All things related to living by a river-fishing, boating, hiking, kayaking, reading along the banks of the river, volunteering with various community organizations focused on the outdoors. We are huge Wisconsin sports fans and try to attend as many games as we can each year. Finally, we like to travel to places we haven't visited before.  

Why did you choose teaching as your profession? To work alongside students when they discover the joy and excitement that learning, setting goals, and working cooperatively with others can bring to their lives-it is contagious! 

MiKayla Sanocki

Hometown: River Falls 

Position: Physical Therapist, District 

Education: Winona State University, University of Wisconsin - La Crosse

Interests: Spending time outdoors, hiking, camping, gardening, playing with our children.   

Why did you choose teaching as your profession? I've always enjoyed working with children throughout my course of life, whether working as a camp counselor, lifeguarding or pediatric physical therapy. Now I get the best of both worlds working as a physical therapist in the schools!  

Matt Smith

Hometown: Prescott

Position: Business/Virtual School Coordinator, River Falls High School

Education: University of Wisconsin - River Falls, St. Mary’s University of Minnesota

Interests: Spending time with my family, along with reading, working out, golfing and coaching different sports at all levels.  

Why did you choose teaching as your profession? I enjoy helping others become successful and the relationships and positive impact that you can create through teaching.

Gail Washburn

Hometown: Cascade, Mont.

Position: Special Education, River Falls High School

Education: University of Jamestown, Minnesota State University - Moorhead

Interests: Reading, spending time with my family, building things with many different types of materials. 

Why did you choose teaching as your profession? I enjoy helping people learn and prepare for their future.

Cam Wilken

Hometown: Eden Prairie, Minn.

Position: Phy-Ed/Health, River Falls High School

Education: North Dakota State

Interests: fishing, golf, the outdoors in general, tennis, going to the cabin in Minnesota.  

Why did you choose teaching as your profession? I enjoy working with young people and helping them achieve goals for their life. 

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