Kane County Educator of the Year

#40EOTY Week 7: Meet 7 Shining-Star Kane County ‘Educator of the Year’ Nominees

With only two days until the Educator of the Year award ceremony, here is a glimpse into the careers of last (but not least!) seven nominees. Below you will find representatives from St. Charles District 303, East Aurora 131 and District 300 in the high school, middle school, student support and administrator categories.

One of the 44 nominees will be chosen on on May 1 as Educator of the Year and will be presented with a $3,000 grant for their school district.

“We will have the largest number supporting attendees this year,” said Regional Superintendent Patricia Dal Santo. “This evening is not only to honor our 44 distinguished educators, but to recognize all of Kane County’s outstanding education initiatives. With student participation, an entertaining presentation with music covering the last 40 years, this surely will be a night to remember.”

Watch the Regional Office of Education‘s 40EOTY promotional video and make sure to join in the excitement on Twitter using #40EOTY.


Steve MatthiesSteve Matthies from St. Charles East High School – Nominated for High School Teacher of the Year

The nickname “Superman,” given to Steve by his colleagues, is fitting as he is recorded converting his students into science enthusiasts through his instruction of chemistry, biology and physics. A fellow chemistry teacher wrote in his nomination book that, “his masterful teaching comes from his strong belief that students learn best when their learning is less lecture based. He is extremely creative in designing lessons, activities and labs that are meaningful and tap into students’ higher-order thinking skills.” With an eclectic background of hard-working people and loving family members, Steve is also described not as the typical leader that boasts about his stats and winning capabilities, but a humble, sixth man on the bench who is there to make the winning shot. By laughing more often than he blinks, Steve’s nomination committee strongly believes that St. Charles East High School is a happier place because of his innovation in curriculum, courtesy to all people, and genuine smile.

Pat StaceyPat Stacey from Thompson Middle School – Nominated for Student Support Personnel of the Year

Beginning at Coultrap Middle School in Geneva, Pat began her career in special education for grades 6-8. Until today, she has alternated between Thompson Middle School and Wredling Middle School, evolving into a seventh-grade teacher and then to a library resource center director. As an active member of the teachers’ association, she has been the lead negotiator and devoted countless hours to ensure that the teachers in St. Charles are treated fairly and with respect. Also described as very approachable, students reach out to Pat directly for a variety of reasons. Some students have looked up her phone number to ask her guidance with research or technology. Pat also has the ability to connect with special needs students and always makes them feel valued and appreciated. A touching nomination is shared in her book: “A student at our school that is extremely talented with technology has been working with Pat to enable six outdated electronic devices to serve as eReaders for students to check out.”

Kathy O'BrienKathy O’Brien from Cowherd Middle School – Nominated for Middle School Teacher of the Year

Equipped with a letter from President Barack Obama, this seventh-grade language teacher’s book is filled with the heartfelt message that Kathy is an integral part of Cowherd Middle School in Aurora. Described as the teacher of teachers, a professor shared that, “Many are able to share, but few are able to influence others to try to implement new strategies. Without boast and a pompous attitude, she shares by making the students’ learning the key component of the conversation.” With patience, humor and flexibility being the hallmark of a quality educator, a letter of recommendation states that Kathy possesses these in abundance. The Educator of the Year 2014 Carol Mertes also wrote a letter of support for Kathy, explaining that their relationship spans 20 years and that she brings her nurturing traits of a mother to her students at Cowherd every day.

Maria NavarroMaria Navarro from Parkview Elementary – Nominated for Elementary Teacher of the Year

Maria was born in Mexico, but at 15 years old she moved to Chicago to attend high school and learn English and German. Since 1996, she has been teaching in northern Illinois and has led professional development workshops in venues from Los Angeles to University of Chicago. Described as someone who never says no and who always goes beyond her call of duties, Maria’s extensive list of experience is paired with insurmountable dedication to children as a bilingual teacher. “Maria works collaboratively to make a difference at the district level. She uses achievement data to examine strengths and needs to formulate goals. Her input was invaluable for setting policy and creating strategic action plans for districtwide implementation.” Many of her nominators consider her a mentor and leader in District 300. “Because of her leadership as a Title I teacher, Parkview’s bilingual students have the highest reading achievement out of every bilingual Title I school,” shared a colleague.

Dana PedersonDana Pederson from Cambridge Lakes Charter School – Nominated for Educational Service Personnel of the Year

Never too busy to help, “Miss Dana,” as the children refer to her, is described as the most pleasant and calm person you’ll ever meet. Since 2007 when Cambridge Lakes opened its doors, Dana has served as the preschool assistant director and executive assistant for kindergarten. She coordinates registration, records and transportation, while providing a sense of security and attentiveness to students throughout the day. “I feel blessed to be working with such a compassionate person who is always making my day brighter and my workload lighter by generously offering her assistance,” shared a teacher. “My students get so excited when they get to deliver something to Miss Dana in the office.” With an extensive list of responsibilities, Dana is labeled a “master of all, as she has the capability to multitask, and she handles any job that lands on her plate.”

Chuck BumbalesChuck Bumbales from Community Unit School District 300 – Nominated for School Administrator of the Year

Twenty-nine years ago, Chuck began his career in education as a custodian. After receiving his degree from Eastern Illinois University, he began to teach English and serve as the dean of students at Jacobs High School. Slowly migrating up the administrative ranks, he has also served as an assistant principal, principal, accountability principal, director of curriculum, and now serves as director of operations for CUSD 300. With large-scale tasks in his current position, Chuck is described as devoting tireless effort toward boundary changes, the construction of five new buildings, contracting each facility’s needs so that teachers and administrators can focus on students, and the list continues. Not only does his attention to detail allow him to succeed in projects of great magnitude, but also he does this while building positive relationships in the community. “These relationships are built on trust, collaboration, honesty, follow through and mutual respect,” shared a letter in Chuck’s nomination book. “These relationships have served our district, students, staff and community well. He epitomizes excellence, and his can-do attitude is infectious.”

Janice FinkeJanice Finke from St. Charles North High School/D303 – Nominated for Student Support Personnel of the Year

Raised in a family of third-generation furniture movers, a strong work ethic was emphasized as Janice grew up and graduated from Larkin High School in Elgin. With a professional background in IT, Janice joined District 300 as the computer lab assistant, was promoted to computer technician, and now is the computer specialist and technician for North High School. Understanding technology is one thing, but the ability to convey a variety of concepts to staff and students takes the patience and dedication that Janice possesses. Described as “St. Charles North’s technology ninja,” there are countless stories within Janice’s nomination book that describe her hardworking attitude. “Also like a ninja, Janice’s day starts and ends long before and after everyone else’s. She repairs computers, she trains staff, and she manages all fax machines and copiers. After she installed over 100 new phones in the summer, she insisted on testing each phone to ensure they would be ready for the first day of school.”

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