CONTACT: 239-427-1776

Meet the Staff

Who Teaches Is Just As Important As What They Teach

Chief Executive Officer

Christoper Marker

Mr. Chris Marker brings over 30 years of experience in student success to The Freedom Institute. Notably, he is also a proud parent, having successfully homeschooled his son from K-12, who is now a thriving engineer in our local community.

His journey from farm country to becoming a respected figure in education is a testament to his strong work ethic and determination. Starting with a Bachelor’s degree at Miami University, he embarked on a career in social service and education. His diverse roles, from behavior therapist to principal, have enriched his understanding of student needs. His educational achievements, including a Master’s in Educational Leadership and Doctoral work in Educational Administration, further validate his expertise. His certifications are as a Board-Certified Behavioral Analyst (BCBA) and National Institute for School Leadership (NISL) certified, as well as as a Florida-certified school principal and school leader.

Mr. Marker empowers students, helping them achieve their educational goals, build a fulfilling career, and achieve economic freedom through learning.

Principal

Dr. Nathan Poteet

Dr. Nathan Poteet brings over 12 years of experience as a teacher and administrator with K-12 students in Collier County. As an administrator, he has helped two schools increase student achievement. As a result, both schools went from a school grade of a “C” to an “A” (Highlands Elementary and Lake Trafford Elementary).

Dr. Poteet earned a Doctorate in Educational Leadership from Liberty University. He is also certified in Educational Leadership K-12, Exceptional Student Education K-12, Elementary Education K-6, and Physical Education K-12.

Dr. Poteet’s educational philosophy is rooted in the belief that every student deserves a tailored education that aligns with their unique needs and interests. He firmly advocates for this approach, seeing it as a crucial step towards equipping students with the tools they need for lifelong success and financial independence.

Senior Success Coach

Christy Vaill

Mrs. Christy Vaill has worked in Education for the last 15 years in various roles, including classroom teacher, resource teacher, media specialist, math & science instructional coach, and administrator.

Mrs. Vaill has a master’s in Education from the University of Florida, focusing on Interdisciplinary Studies. After teaching for ten years, she obtained a second master’s Degree in Educational Leadership from Florida Gulf Coast University. Mrs. Vaill is certified in Educational Leadership K-12, Exceptional Student Education K-12, Educational Media Specialist PK-12, and Elementary Education K-6, and holds endorsements for English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and Reading.

She prides herself on being a lifelong learner and hopes to instill that in her students as well. She believes that building authentic, positive relationships with students, families, colleagues, community members, and educational stakeholders is the foundation for a child’s success.

Success Coach

Michelle Garafola

Ms. Michelle Garafola is a Collier native and has worked for Collier County public schools for the last 11 years in various roles, including classroom teacher, resource teacher, math coach, and administrator. Ms. Garafola is committed to building relationships with staff and students to grow their capacity. Through these relationships, she supported the movement of failing schools to an ‘A’ grade from the state.

Ms. Garafola has her master’s in Educational Leadership from Florida Gulf Coast University. She is certified in Educational Leadership K-12, Exceptional Student Education K-12, and Elementary Education K-6 and holds her ESOL endorsement.

Ms. Garafola’s passion is igniting students’ potential. She’s eager to build strong family connections at Freedom and foster a community where everyone thrives.

Marketing Director

Lauren Grady

Lauren Grady, a versatile artist, mentor, and mom, stands out in various roles. Lauren’s ability to weave historical narratives into her photography is paralleled by her skill in storytelling for The Freedom Institute’s brand, making complex ideas accessible and engaging.

Her dedication to mentorship has dramatically impacted the lives of many students, inspiring them to harness their inner creativity. Lauren’s ability to connect with people is well-recognized, enhancing her role as a Marketing Director. She is a proud mom to a gifted 13-year-old. Lauren’s passion for her roles, from art to mentorship, resonates with people from all walks of life.

Administrative Assistant

Cheryl Vonderau

Mrs. Cheryl Vondearu brings over 35 years of experience in office administration and earned an Executive Secretarial associate’s degree.

While living in Pittsburgh, she worked for companies like Bristol Environmental, where she was the only Office Manager for 15 years. She also worked at Mellon Bank as a Senior Executive secretary in various departments.

She relocated to Florida in 2019 and started her career with Collier County Schools. Ms. Vondearu enjoys welcoming the students each morning at The Freedom Institute! In her free time, Cheryl enjoys traveling, spending time with her family, especially her new grandson, and cheering on the Pittsburgh Penguins!

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