With powerful sports music and high energy motion graphics, St. Charles East High School history/psychology teacher Kyle Libberton was named the 2017-18 Kane County Educator of the Year on Friday, May 4, 2018, at the Q Center in St. Charles.
“Tonight, we celebrate the years of education, leadership, assistance, and inspiration in our schools and for our students,” Regional Superintendent Patricia Dal Santo said during the event. “We honor the hours spent dedicated to engaging students and inspiring the young minds of the future.”
As Libberton accepted the award in front of more than 850 fellow teachers, administrators, and elected officials, he shared stories of the impact his teachers had on him and the impact he hopes to have on his students.
“This award ultimately belongs to my students,” Libberton shared during his acceptance speech. “It recognizes all of the work done in our classrooms and drives home the fact that what each and every one of us does on a daily basis is meaningful.”
Picture your fantasy museum. What exhibits would you put in it? Creating that museum is what Kyle Libberton has the opportunity to do with students each day he walks into school.
Libberton is a history and psychology teacher at St. Charles East High School and has taught there for nine years. One of the many reasons he loves teaching history and psychology is seeing students awaken their civic mind.
“The more I can get students involved in creating and designing that day’s lesson, the better it is,” he said. “That’s the culture and mentality of education. You want to have that collaboration of ideas.”
If you follow him on Twitter, you can easily see Fred Heid being an active participant in online conversations with students in District 300.
Building a strong community and relationships with students, staff, parents, and community members is one of his driving passions.
Heid is in his fourth year as superintendent of District 300 and has been involved in education for 19 years. The cold winters didn’t stop this Florida transplant from coming to Illinois, where he’s able to create an environment that ensures students are college and career ready upon graduation.
“At the end of the day, what matters most is that relationship and interaction between an adult and a child, and that’s what we’re here to support,“ Heid said. “The better we do that and the better we can nurture those positive interactions, the better our students and community will do.“
When asked why she loves teaching high schoolers, Susan Zagorski shared how amazing it is to see students get ready to change the world. She knows that her time with students is preparing them to enter adulthood and make a difference in society.
Zagorski works as an English/language arts interventionist at Central High School in Burlington. This is her 19th year in education, and she has held various roles during her teaching career.
“High school is the time for students to try new things and learn what they want to do,” Zargorski said. “It’s also a time for students to take risks and make mistakes, because that’s where we as teachers come in to support them.”
When asked to share some of her insights on teaching, Beth Harner talked about how important it is to collaborate with parents to prepare students for life after school.
Harner has been teaching for 22 years and is a self-contained special education teacher at Dundee Middle School in District 300. One of her passions is providing opportunities for her students to give back to the community through a variety of service projects.
“I see a real need for kids to be able to make the transition from life inside of a school to being a contributing member of society,” she said. “I want to prepare my students to be successful in the workplace and successful socially, as well.”
A common theme you hear from elementary school teachers is that they want to teach students not only how to succeed academically but how to interact with others. And that social/emotional aspect is a major focus for Mary Fulin.
As a second-grade teacher, Fulin is not just preparing her students for third grade but also laying the foundations for learning throughout their lives. She has taught for 32 years, and teaches at Otter Creek Elementary School in Elgin.
“We all know that students come in with different social and emotional needs, so I make it a part of our curriculum,” Fulin said. “I want to teach them how to behave in different situations depending on the circumstances.”
Preschool teachers need to be high-energy, caring and committed to their students, but Karen Nellis says they need one more trait that may not be as obvious: They need to be very organized.
Nellis has been working in early childhood education for 36 years and is a blended classroom preschool teacher at Alice Gustafson Elementary School in Batavia. All of the space in her classroom is effectively organized for a variety of activities.
“You have to be mentally, emotionally, and physically present each day with the students,” Nellis said. “The environment itself is a large part of the early childhood curriculum. The children have a lot of choice and self-direction in the classroom.”
You frequently hear stories about how your workplace is your second home, but Saul Olivas’ workplace seems to be his first home. He loves to spend his time in the building, making it a safe and loving environment for students.
Olivas is a bilingual classroom teacher at Johnson Elementary School in East Aurora and is in his second year of teaching. His primary focus is meeting the needs of others.
“I care for the environment and community around my students and me,” he said. “I’ve been part of the East Aurora community for over 22 years, and I want to make sure our kids know that you can always do anything if you set your mind to it.”
Walking the hallways of St. Charles East, you can hear Lisa Dandre talking with students and saying a famous phrase that she is known for: “You can join a club at East.” Helping students get involved in school is one of her passions.
As the assistant principal for student life at St. Charles East High School, Dandre is focused on making the school and all of its students and staff feel like a family. She has worked in education for 26 years and has become a staple of the St. Charles East community.
“Meaningful relationships are what I believe in,“ Dandre shared. “If you can make students feel comfortable, you will see their best self, and then you can meet them where they’re at and take them as far as you can take them.”
When asked to share some wisdom on how she has seen teaching evolve over the years, Peggy Veltri said a teacher used to be a “sage on the stage” but now is more a “guide on the side.” Today’s teachers don’t just stand and lecture, she said, but help students lead their own learning.
Veltri has taught for 15 years and is a middle school social studies and English teacher. She teaches at Elgin Academy, where she shows a passion for helping students become the best writers they can be.
“I like to give the kids a lot of opportunities to write for different audiences,” she said. “If my students can communicate their ideas clearly to others, that can make a huge difference in the rest of their lives.”
Being a school counselor gives you the opportunity to encourage and motivate students, and that is Denise Michels’ favorite part of each day. She is driven by the joy of seeing the smiling faces of students she encourages.
Michels has been a part of the Kaneland community for 13 years as a sixth-grade teacher and now as a middle school counselor. She was driven to counseling by her desire to support her students’ social-emotional well-being.
“Middle school is a crucial part of a child’s life,” Michels said. “There are so many areas that they need guidance, and you get to be that person that helps guide them.”
When you meet Brittany Bailey-Cole, you can see her passion for working with students by how she motivates them in difficult times. She is always encouraging students to keep on trying.
Bailey-Cole has been a paraprofessional at Geneva High School for eight years. In her work, she assists students who have an individualized learning plan. She also makes it a goal to assist anyone in the classroom.
“As a paraprofessional, I’m in some classes to work with specific students, but I never single those students out,” she shared. “I always try to help any student that needs help in the classroom.”
Learn More about the 41 Nominees
- Week 1: Meet 8 Stellar Educators from East Aurora and Kaneland
- Week 2: Meet 8 Fantastic Educators from Kaneland, St. Charles, and Geneva
- Week 3: Meet 8 Incredible Educators from East Aurora 131, District 300
- Week 4: Meet 8 Inspiring Educators from West Aurora 129, St. Charles 303, District U-46
- Week 5: Meet 9 Exceptional Educators from Batavia, Central, Geneva, U-46, Elgin Academy
About the Kane County Regional Office of Education
Led by Regional Superintendent of Schools Patricia Dal Santo, the Kane County ROE is located in Geneva and serves nine school districts. From teacher licensure assistance to professional development, the ROE’s mission is to advocate for education, provide leadership and perform regulatory functions. Learn more about the ROE’s offerings on Facebook, Twitter and by signing up for the semimonthly newsletter.