Kane County Educator of the Year

#40EOTY WEEK 5: Meet 6 Wonderful Nominees For Kane County ‘Educator of the Year’

“Smiling. Kind. Amazing. Engaged. Classic. Patient. Determined. Heroic. Deep. Funny …”


Those are just a few of the adjectives thrown about in the nomination forms for Kane County Educator of the Year. For Week 5 of our very popular segment, we showcase six nominees from District 300, Batavia School District 101, Kaneland School District 302, and East Aurora School District 131. There are still 13 educators to highlight during the next two weeks, so tune in to Kane County Connects and join in on the conversation using #40EOTY on Twitter!

“We are excited to have so much student involvement, including East Aurora’s ROTC program that was announced last week. We are also pleased to announce that Batavia High School’s string quartet will be serenading our guests on Friday, May 1,” said Regional Superintendent Patricia Dal Santo. “Some student-led newspapers have also been interested in covering the event, which is wonderful! We want as many people as possible to share this night with our educators.”

Interested in attending the event? Contact the ROE for details.

Patricia HammersmithPatricia Hammersmith from Lake in the Hills Elementary School – Nominated for Student Support Personnel of the Year

Within Patricia’s nomination materials, the word “smile” is found at least 20 times. Her supporters comment on how, “she will do anything she can to help our students as a paraprofessional and her kindness and smile lights up our school.” One of the teachers that Patricia supports in the classroom shared that, “Her authentic concern for her students, combined with her energy make her an effective teacher. I would be so happy if Pat could teach my own sons how to read and think, too.” This year, Lake in the Hills implemented BARTON, a new reading and spelling tutoring system. Patricia dedicated her summer, evenings and weekends to mastering this program, and is now on a first-name basis with the creators. “She goes above and beyond, every day, because she genuinely loves her work, and is fully invested in every student at Lake in the Hills Elementary School.”

Tom RobertsonTom Robertson from Cambridge Lakes Charter School – Nominated for Elementary Teacher of the Year

According to Tom’s bumper sticker, “real men teach kindergarten,” and he embraces that slogan every day as the only male kindergarten teacher at Cambridge Lakes. “It is amazing what students will learn if you set high standards for them,” Tom shares. “My students know the seven continents, the difference between mammals and reptiles; so much more than what traditionally is taught in kindergarten.” Tom emphasizes the importance of science for his 4- and 5-year-old students and does not hesitate to create hands-on activities like baking-soda volcanoes and airplanes. One letter of recommendation from a principal explains that students rarely misbehave in Tom’s class: “Classroom management is not a concern. Students are so engaged in Tom’s activities and programs that there is not time for misbehaving.” When he is not teaching his little students, he is an after-school track and cross-country coach.

Isabel SchmalzerIsabel Schmalzer from Grace McWayne Elementary School – Nominated for Student Support Personnel of the Year

Recognized for her attention to detail, patience and persistence, Isabel works with special education students as a paraprofessional. She continues to develop professionally by learning sign language, augmented devices for communication, and taking classes from therapists to learn best practices for teaching. One of her co-teachers shared in her nomination book, “Isabel Schmalzer is a classic example of someone who teaches every day, without enjoying the title of teacher. There are many struggles working with students with special needs, but it is Isabel’s excellent observation skills blended with powerful insight that makes her my hero.” Isabel is assigned to assisting first-graders with special needs, and paired with patience is determination. “When asked to complete a task, her students follow through with their tasks because they know that she will not give up on them,” shared a colleague.

Pierre ThorsenPierre Thorsen from Harry D. Jacobs High School – Nominated for High School Teacher of the Year

Described as one of JHS’ truest gems, it is not unusual to see Pierre dressed in costumes to create the full effect of teaching history in the classroom. Not only does he make history fun, he requires students to understand the deeper meaning behind the learning. “Mr. Thorsen is the first teacher I had who taught me how to think critically. I walked out of his class a better writer, a better thinker, and a more confident student” shared a former pupil. Many of the students that hadn’t been interested in history before, have enrolled in two electives after having Pierre as a teacher. “It was a struggle that I enjoyed. I don’t think I ever learned so much in one class. It wasn’t just a history class, it was a history experience.”


Bryan KunstmanBryan Kunstman from Kaneland High School – Nominated for High School Teacher of the Year

Instead of teaching students numbers, writing skills or chemical formulas, Bryan is tasked with teaching his students how to feel and understand music. Unlike many high school teachers, Bryan has many of his students for four years as they develop their understanding of music within the fine arts. His standards for learning are high and his choir’s quality is demonstrated in the top honors they have received internationally. With 15 musicals, 65 evenings of madrigal dinners and more than 100 madrigal performances under his belt, Kaneland’s choir has served as an example for music education programs at Northwestern and Northern Illinois University.


Sue-Z BrunoSue-Z Bruno from John W. Gates Elementary School – Nominated for Elementary School Teacher of the Year

It is not unusual to enter Sue-Z’s fourth grade classroom and see a Fermilab scientist, a Peace Corps volunteer from Zambia or a Nobel laureate sharing their lives with her students. By bringing the real world to her classroom, the students become well-rounded citizens of the world. Within many of the letters of recommendation, former students sign their name “Bruno’s Kid,” emphasizing the impact that Sue-Z leaves. As she encourages her students to be active citizens, she too is invested in her community as one of the founding members of Culture Stock, a board member of the Aurora Public Library, an active participate in legislation in Springfield and earlier this year was recognized for her excellence in education by the League of United Latin American Citizens.


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