Mahdi Dadrass, Executive Director and Co-Founder

As our Executive Director, Mahdi Dadrass is the head of the school and oversees all programs and long-term initiatives. His passion is rooted in a legacy of Montessori education, with the Dadrass family owning and operating three other highly regarded Montessori Schools (Northbrook Montessori School, The Grove Montessori School and Lincolnshire Montessori School) located on Chicago’s Northshore and in its northwest suburbs. Mahdi is a certified (AMS) Montessori educator with a decade of Montessori teaching and administrative experience. He trained at the Seton Montessori Institute, holds a Montessori 3-6 Certification and taught at the highly esteemed Near North Montessori School in Chicago. Mahdi’s extensive involvement with his family’s existing schools — leading the expansion of classrooms, enrollment and programs — combined with his experiences, observations and collaborations with other leading Montessori institutes have given him a deep understanding of the ideal Montessori learning environment. Mahdi holds a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering degree from The University of Wisconsin-Madison as well as a certificate of Vocational Specialist in Montessori Early Childhood Education with High Honors. You can contact Mahdi at or (312) 431-8050.

Sameer Shanbag, Administrative Director and Co-Founder

As our Administrative Director, Sameer Shanbag manages the school’s day-to-day operations. He has worked as a management consultant for a global consulting agency and as a corporate attorney for a large Chicago law firm — and throughout his career, Sameer has shown a dedication to education. Prior to attending law school, he was the business manager and administrator for a new engineering program at Northwestern University and served the City Year AmeriCorps program as a teacher of literacy for kindergartners in a low-income Chicago Public School (CPS). For the Princeton Review, he served as an SAT teacher and his involvement in undergrad and law school mentorship programs was instrumental to the growth and the success of students and mentees. Sameer has also worked with large not-for-profits, including volunteer teaching roles educating CPS students on legal concepts. Sameer holds a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Illinois’ College of Law. You can contact Sameer at or (312) 431-8050.

Mina Dadrass, Chair of Advisory Committee

As Chair of the Advisory Committee of South Loop Montessori School, Mina Dadrass provides guidance to the school’s management and educational staff regarding programs, operations and other initiatives. She is the owner and directress of Northbrook Montessori School, The Grove Montessori School and Lincolnshire Montessori School. As a certified (AMS) Montessori educator and with more than 20 years of Montessori teaching and administration experience, including founding, owning, operating and directing existing, successful Montessori schools, Mina is a key counselor and contributor to the growth and success of South Loop Montessori School.

Althea L. Ward-Curtis, School Coordinator and Parent-Child Facilitator

As our School Coordinator, Althea L. Ward-Curtis assists the head of the school with all programs, day to day operations, and long-term initiatives. Althea is an avid supporter and true believer in this method of learning and her love for Montessori has been expressed as a lead directress (teacher), an administrator, a parent-child guide, a mentor and a consultant. She discovered the Montessori Method of Education in 1996 while seeking quality education for the first of her three children. After enrolling her firstborn and volunteering in the classroom for two years, Althea enrolled herself in the teacher training, learning the Montessori Method alongside her children. She holds AMS certifications in Infant and Toddler ((Birth – 3) from Seton Montessori Institute) and Early Childhood ((Ages 3-6) from Midwest Montessori Teacher Training Center). Her training from regarded Montessori educators and experts — including Celma and Desmond Perry, Susan Tracy, Louise and Wolfgang Kunert, Mary Strezewski, Barbara Ehlebracht, and Pat Rodenberg — has been the foundation for a continuing desire to invite respect from others during the awakening process of learning inherent in every child. Althea holds Montessori in high regard and gently guides others to do the same while tempering the advances of society. She believes we must make time to quiet ourselves in order to respect ourselves, respect others and respect the environment. Althea holds a Bachelor of Science in Animal Science degree from The University of Illinois, Champaign- Urbana, and a Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction degree from The University of Phoenix. She is the widow to James S. Curtis (2012) after 19 years of marriage, and mother of three young adults, James (Jas), Jordan and Jade.

“The secret of good teaching is to regard the child’s intelligence as a fertile field
in which seeds may be sown, to grow under the heat of flaming imagination.”

Our AMS / AMI Montessori Certified educators promote joy in learning and the development of each child’s true potential by enabling their intellectual, emotional, physical, and social growth through the Montessori philosophy and approach. Lead Teachers include:

Victoria Bautista, Pre-Primary Program Lead Teacher

Victoria Bautista is the Lead Teacher for the Pre-Primary Classroom. She attended St. Cloud State University where she studied Athletic Training and then transferred to Northern Illinois University to study Kinesiology with a focus on Physical Education and a minor in Nutrition. She began her Montessori journey through a teaching internship at Seton Montessori School in Clarendon Hills, after which she accepted a full-time position as an assistant in that school’s Toddler Program for a 3-year tenure. She then accepted a position in the Pre-Primary classroom of South Loop Montessori School and attended 0-3 AMS teacher training at Seton Montessori Institute, through which she is currently completing her 0-3 AMS credential through a self-study program.

Kylee Burke, Primary Program Lead Teacher

Kylee Burke is the Lead Teacher for the Primary Classroom. While in high school she had the opportunity to learn about the Montessori philosophy from a family friend and fell in love with its holistic approach to education. Kylee then decided to attend Xavier University where she earned her Bachelor of Science in Montessori Education along with her 3-6 AMS Credentials. While attending Xavier she had the opportunity to student teach at a local private Montessori school as well as one of the first public Montessori schools in the country. After college she moved to the Chicago-area and join the South Loop Montessori community in 2013. Kylee has enjoyed being apart of the community at South Loop Montessori School and looks forward to continuing to grow along with it.

Elliott McDaniel, Elementary Program Lead Teacher

Elliott McDaniel is our Elementary Program Lead Teacher. He received his Montessori Elementary training from the Montessori Institute of Milwaukee. He started his Montessori journey assisting in an Elementary classroom in the northern Chicago suburbs, as well as being the lead of the Elementary after school program. After his training, he became the Lead Elementary Teacher for a 6-9 classroom in the western suburbs. Elliott holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Eckerd College in East Asian Studies, with minors in Chinese language, Anthropology and Women’s and Gender Studies. Part of his major required him to spend a semester abroad in Xiamen, China, where he acquired a strong Mandarin proficiency, as well as great knowledge of Chinese customs and culture. Elliott also has a Masters in Education through Loyola University Maryland. He has a background in theater and music, participating in all forms of performance art, and he enjoys travel, reading, art, cooking and discovering foods, culture and world history.

Katie Padiak, Primary Program Lead Teacher

Katie Padiak is a Primary Program Lead Teacher and has been teaching Montessori in 3 to 6 year old classrooms for the last six years. She spent her practicum internship at Montessori School of Lake Forest. After earning her AMS early childhood credential from Midwest Montessori Teacher Training Center in Evanston, IL, she opened a new classroom at Glencoe Montessori and launched the school’s full-day program. Katie earned her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Asian Studies from Augustana College. Upon graduation she spent a year abroad teaching English in China and whetting her appetite for education. After completing her year abroad she dedicated herself to finding the most respectful and developmentally appropriate approach to education. Her passion for Montessori blends her love of teaching with her education in Psychology in the most practical way.