District 97 Receives Nearly 20 Nominations for Those Who Excel

Thank you to everyone who submitted a nomination for the 2019-20 Those Who Excel Awards. Below is a list of the nominees by category, as well as a quote about them that was provided by the individual(s) who nominated them for the award.

While every nominee has had a profound and lasting impact on our schools and the children we serve, we are only allowed to submit one entry per category. The administration will be reviewing all of the nominations in the days ahead, and will make final selections later this month. The nomination packets, which can be accessed by visiting https://www.isbe.net/pages/those-who-excel.aspx, must be postmarked no later than June 3, 2019.

Congratulations to all of our nominees. Your hard work, tireless efforts and commitment to education have contributed to the success of our schools and helped our students excel both in and out of the classroom.  

Classroom Teacher

  • Janet Wright, second-grade teacher from Whittier Elementary School – “Janet is truly dedicated to her job and students. She makes a point of encouraging our son’s creative building and crafts, and gives him a chance to shine. Her support is truly helping him blossom this year.”
  • Luke Scanlon, special education teacher from Brooks Middle School – “Luke is an exceptional colleague and teacher who is well liked and enormously respected not only by his peers, but by his students and parents/guardians. I am astonished and inspired by his dedication, commitment and devotion to our students and the teaching profession.”
  • Claire Bartell, third-grade Spanish immersion teacher from Lincoln Elementary School – “Ms. Bartell is a fun, engaging teacher who instills in her children a passion for every subject, most importantly an early love of reading. She is also a teacher who takes her job personally and seriously, which helps reassure us parents that our children are in the hands of someone who deeply cares about them as individuals.” 
  • Katherine Cairns, first-grade teacher from Mann Elementary School – “Ms. Cairns’ greatest strength is the ease with which she is able to create an inclusive, engaging classroom that champions each student as an individual learner while simultaneously fostering a community. She is a passionate, creative, thoughtful educator who communicates exceptionally well with parents and is beloved by her students.”
  • Linda Robinet, fourth-grade teacher from Beye Elementary School – “Ms. Robinet approaches each student’s learning with a profound understanding of their individual challenges, their gifts and their passions. She has also created a classroom environment that is respectful, challenging and engaging…in short, a place that is very special for her students.” 
  • Joseph Anderson, applied arts teacher from Julian Middle School – “There have been multiple occasions this year where I have walked out of Joe's classroom feeling truly inspired. His passion and determination are motivating and make me want to be a better teacher.”
  • Emilie Dolan, special education teacher from Lincoln Elementary School – “Emilie goes above and beyond to support students. She is available to them whenever they are in need, including outside of the school day. She also spends countless hours tailoring her classroom activities so that every child gets exactly what they need. She is a true advocate for her students.”

Student Support Personnel 

  • Monica Collins, social worker from Mann Elementary School – “Ms. Collins sees the strengths in each child, meets them where they are and always encourages them to be the best version of themselves. She also leads through her interactions with students, and consistently celebrates the successes in their journey. I can say with 100 percent certainty that she is the best social worker I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.” 
  • Jamie Winchell, teacher librarian from Julian Middle School – “Jamie is always focused on student voice. She realizes the power and potential students have, understands how developing curious minds is the core of one's education and constantly seeks out students’ interests so that they can guide their own learning. She has also invested herself in students who were so often ignored because she feels charged to create an engaging learning experience for all.” 
  • Hilary Winkelhake, nurse from Whittier Elementary School – “Hilary goes above and beyond for every teacher and student in our school. She always has a smile on her face and is willing to help us. This winter, she quickly ran down the hall to help a staff member who was having a heart attack. Her actions ended up saving that employee’s life.”

Educational Service Personnel 

  • Juanita Tillman, crossing guard assigned to the corner of Ridgeland and Augusta – “Ms. Juanita shows up rain or shine or bitter cold with a smile and a kind word to start the day for kids. Her friendly greeting really helps the day get off to a better start. In addition, she always asks about bumps and bruises and bad moods, and truly shows concern for all of the children she is there to help.”
  • Joanne Lowry, administrative assistant from Lincoln Elementary School – “Joanne goes above the scope and sequence of her job to help out everyone. She runs the lunchroom on a daily basis, ensures student safety regarding bus duty and transportation organization, acts as a communication liaison with the PTO and assists any student who is in need. She is an incredibly reliable and supportive person who helps out anyone with any situation at Lincoln.” 
  • Dan Duran, custodian from Irving Elementary School – “Dan is an outstanding custodian who keeps our school beautiful day after day. He often goes above and beyond to make sure the students and teachers arrive to a building that is ready for learners to do their best. He also puts in the extra effort to help ensure that our time as educators remains focused on student achievement. It is obvious that he truly cares about the well-being of the students and staff at Irving School.” 
  • Juan Razo, bus driver for Lincoln Elementary School – “Mr. Juan helps children start their day off right and end their day safely. He welcomes every student with the same enthusiastic greeting in the morning. He also helps them zip up their jackets, keep track of their lunches and even smile. The world would be a much better place if every person started their day with a greeting from Mr. Juan.”  

School Administrator 

  • Jonathan Ellwanger, principal from Beye Elementary School – “Jonathan inspires students, parents and teachers with his tireless dedication to ensuring that all children not only have an excellent education, but also the chance to contribute to the community in the arts, citizenship and leadership. He serves the Beye community with a tireless commitment and optimism that is a shining example to us all.”
  • Paula Hughes, assistant principal from Lincoln Elementary School – “Ms. Hughes is forthright, positive and hope-filled for children, and has been a consistent presence in the lives of students and families here at Lincoln. She lifts up students to be leaders as she celebrates what is working with them. She also lays out plainly to them what needs to change. She is an on-the-ground, steadfast administrator who students have relied on as they grow.”


  • Pam Gaffney and Rachel Youngberg, co-teaching team from Brooks Middle School – “My daughter was so fortunate to have this dynamic duo as her language arts teachers last year. The impact they had on her can be found in her voracious appetite for reading, her desire to listen and discuss, and her increased confidence in writing. They also helped ensure that my child saw every other child in her class as an equal partner in learning.”
  • Spanish immersion team from Lincoln Elementary School – “The Spanish immersion team teaches kindergarten through fifth grade with tireless energy and determination. They are invested in giving children the ability to not only speak another language, but also have greater empathy for others in the world. By the time students graduate from Lincoln, they are globally-minded citizens who appreciate the unique diversity of our world's cultural tapestry.”