#EOTY43 Week 5: Meet 9 Exceptional Educators from Batavia, Central, Geneva, U-46, Elgin Academy
- For the 43rd annual Educator of the Year ceremony, 41 nominees will be honored in an Olympics-themed event on May 4 at the Q Center in St. Charles. Follow the excitement on social media using #EOTY43 and #leadassistinspire. Tickets for the event can be purchased by contacting your local school district office.
The Educator of the Year Awards ceremony is just a few days away! We’re in the final stretch of #EOTY43, so let’s take a look at the final nine nominees. These nominees are from Batavia District 101, Central District 301, Geneva District 304, School District U-46, and Elgin Academy.
One of the 41 nominees will be named this Friday, May 4, 2018, as Educator of the Year. The event will recognize not only these amazing nominees, but also the outstanding impacts that educators are having in Kane County. The event will begin at 5:30 p.m.
Make sure to be a part of the conversation on social media the night of by using the hashtag #EOTY43!
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.”
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.”
One of the best parts of Jennifer Leibforth’s job is seeing the light bulb go on for a student she’s been working with. She gets to see students re-frame their perspectives each day.
Leibforth is a social worker at Geneva High School, and this is her seventh year in education. She loves being able to see the growth students make during their high school years.
“When the kids come into my office, I want them to know that they are safe and that it is an of oasis for them,” Leibforth said. “Creating a space for them to take a breath is important and vital for helping them when they are struggling.”
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.”
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.”
As a middle school teacher, Jeanne Fayhee is working with many students each day, all of whom have their own individual learning styles. She loves working with these students and actually tailors her lessons to meet each student’s needs.
Fayhee has been teaching for 27 years, and presently is a social studies teacher at Rotolo Middle School in Batavia. Each day, her lessons transport students around the world, connecting them to different places, different cultures and different time periods.
“I like the idea of being able to go into a classroom knowing that every day will be different,” Fayhee said. “It’s not just teaching the students the lesson, but also giving them the confidence to take risks.”
By seventh grade, Sarah Meadows knew that she wanted to be a physical education teacher and coach. The relationships she formed with her teachers and coaches have inspired her to bring that same relationship-building into her teaching philosophy.
Meadows has spent her 16 years in education at Geneva High School as PE teacher. She also is an assistant athletic director and is the head coach of the state-champion varsity girls basketball team.
“What’s huge for me is relationships and getting to know my students,” Meadows said. “I try to go to musicals, sporting events, and more because I know the kids love seeing their teachers at their extracurricular activities.”
Schools often become the hub of a neighborhood, a place where parents and students come together — to learn, to compete, to gather and to socialize. Lori Brandes takes that idea heart.
As the principal at Washington Elementary School, Brandes has a lot of responsibilities. One of her primary goals is to create a community that parents, students, and staff enjoy. She is celebrating her 28th year in education.
“We talk a lot about building relationships between our students, parents, and staff,” Brandes said. “When families leave their children here with us, they are entrusting us fully with their children. Having a good relationship with the parents really helps with this.”
When asked what skill is most vital for an elementary school principal, Julie Leston said: “Listening.” Before making any important decision, she looks to others for their thoughts and opinions.
Leston is the principal of Willard Elementary School in South Elgin. She has worked in education for 21 years and is driven by developing strong, long-lasting relationships with students and their families.
“I think it’s really important that my students’ families see me out in the community,” she said. “It helps to build a relationship with the families and makes it that much easier for them to come into the building for events and conferences.”
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
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.