- For the 41st annual Educator of the Year ceremony, 29 nominees will be honored in a super hero-themed event on April 29 at the Q Center in St. Charles. Follow the excitement on social media using #41EOTY.
At the Regional Office of Education‘s Educator of the Year event on Friday, April 29, Kane County educators will be able to see their nomination books on display and read compilations of heartfelt letters from their fellow teachers, students and parents that supports their nomination.
The ROE also acknowledges educators’ passion, caring and creativity by visiting the school or administrative building to record a 20-minute interview with each nominee. The videos from those interviews become part of the ceremony and the legacy of the Educator of the Year award nominations, which this year carries a super-hero theme.
“Meeting these inspirational leaders in education is the highlight of our year, and we want to thank everyone for their participation,” Regional Superintendent Patricia Dal Santo said.
The following educators, administrators and support staff have been nominated and recognized as leaders in their education-related fields by their students, colleagues and supervisors.
Lisa Kees from Washington Elementary – Nominated for Elementary School Teacher of the Year
Known for her ability to make all her students feel welcome, Kees’ classroom is described as a warm and inviting place. According to her nomination materials, Kees doesn’t just teach, she shares her knowledge with her students so they can become better people.
Although she describes herself as introverted, Kees believes that the classroom setting brings out the best in her. “When I am in my classroom, I am in my element. I feel strong, confident, enthusiastic and I’m ready for anything,” she explained.
She excels in finding ways to communicate and interact with parents, and often meets with families at times that are most convenient for their schedules. Her students are encouraged to write a weekly log of their progress including a goal for the upcoming week. “This goal-setting initiative has been a huge success for her students and their education,” a colleague wrote in one of her letters of support.
Dr. Twila Garza from Bardwell Elementary School – Nominated for School Administrator of the Year
As a leader and principal in District 131, Garza’s staff believes that the key to her success is her approachability. She is often found in the classrooms, eating lunch with students, attending after-school events, and hosting monthly meetings for parents. Garza is known for her pet boa constrictor, Harley, that lives in a tank in her office.
“I work 60 hours a week, every week, sometimes more, but never less,” Garza said in her nomination materials. “Within a week I will answer 225 emails, spend four hours on data, five hours writing formal and informal observations, six hours meeting with teachers, and eight hours observing classroom activities.”
Garza believes that students should not be asked if they will attend college, but where they will attend college. She has created a partnership with Aurora University, through which student teachers spend time in her classrooms. She believes this instills a love of learning and reinforces the importance of a college education.
Cathy Garrett from Batavia High School – Nominated for High School Teacher of the Year
In a few of the photos within Garrett’s nomination book, she is wearing a T-shirt that reads, “Keep calm and develop opportunities.” As one of the founders of the Developing Opportunities Program, Cathy helped to create the department for the most at-risk students dealing with behavioral issues.
One of her letters likened her to a firefighter who, “runs toward fires while others run away.” One of her nomination letters also explained that, “she has always run toward the most challenging students in our building while inspiring, motivating and encouraging them.”
Several of her colleagues mention her humor, which helps students and staff get through rough days or tough situations. “She is a snappy and humorous person who is never afraid to admit she is wrong, although she most likely is not,” one letter shared.
Garrett is regarded as a true Batavia Bulldog, “who fights for her students when they seem unable to. Her goal is to make them the best version of themselves.”
Kate Hertz from Geneva Community High School – Nominated for High School Teacher of the Year
While in third grade, Hertz was identified by a teacher as having a gift to teach. “I hear her re-explaining concepts to her peers and she is so patient and good at explaining what she knows,” a teacher shared with Hertz’s parents.
Her present and past students agree that Hertz’s charisma and positivity make her, “the kind of English teacher that they make movies about, the kind that really cares and really instills a passion for excellence.”
Hertz’s enthusiasm for connecting her students with the content is also recognized and appreciated by the staff at GHS. With experience teaching American literature, speech and world literature, one colleague noted that, “I can earnestly attest that she is one of the finest teachers I have ever encountered.” Another shared that, “Kate is in a league of her own. Her passion is contagious and her love for the content motivates and inspires those around her.”
Jeff Bragg from Otter Creek Elementary School – Nominated for Administrator of the Year
Described as a “talent scout” and “social engineer,” Bragg builds a culture for learning within Otter Creek. In his biography, he says it takes collaboration and relationship building to achieve success, and his commitment to classroom visits and PTO meetings showcase this.
“We must work together and build solid relationships,” Bragg said. “I am proud of our school and its community, but I do not lead alone. Our school has many leaders, and I am always looking for more.”
Otter Creek is a diverse school with 26 percent being English Language Learners and the largest dual-language elementary school in the U-46 district. “The value of diversity does not happen by accident, and it is through Jeff’s leadership and support that Otter Creek thrives as a linguistically and culturally responsive community of learners,” noted one of his nominators.
Rocio Ibarra from Hermes Elementary School – Nominated for Educational Service Personnel of the Year
In a unique position, Ibarra serves as a parent liaison and acts as an ambassador between the Hermes Elementary School and the community. In just five years, Ibarra has grown the PTO from one parent to 50. When she first started, she explained that many of the parents did not know that they could be involved and come help in their children’s classrooms. By offering weekly Zumba, ESL and jewelry classes, she garnered more parent involvement. Now parents are active in fundraisers, monthly seminars focusing on health, and clothing collections.
She also invites guest speakers who present on topics such as domestic violence, immigration and family issues for parents. After Ibarra’s tireless dedication to her community, Hermes School is now a destination for parents. “Rocio provides connections and experiences to encourage parents to be a part of their student’s lives,” shared a nomination letter.
Heartwarming letters from students fill Ibarra’s books, even though she does not teach a class for students. One fourth-grade student shared that, “She saw me with just a sweater in the winter, so she gave me a jacket. Thank you for keeping me warm and safe.” Another student explained that,”she has made Hermes a better place by hosting fun events. She also helped my mom recover when she was sick.”
Tina Zucker from St. Charles North High School – Nominated for Educational Service Personnel of the Year
Zucker is known for bending over backwards to ensure that the needs of St. Charles North High School are met by putting in time on weeknights and weekends, “way beyond the scope of her position as an administrative assistant,” shared an administrator. She schedules on-site Saturday testing, works athletic events and serves as the support staff union president. Most recently, Zucker took on the project of registering all 17- and 18-year-old students to vote, and the amount of participation by the students drew her praise by teachers and administrators around the building.
Described as “the heartbeat of NHS,” her many letters of support recognize that her talents and efforts are behind the scenes — essential tasks that go without reward. “She is not afraid of physical or mental work. Zucker is the sort of person who embraces work with a consistent “just-get-it-done attitude,” while working with a smile. “Every time I’m in the front office, I can expect to be energized by her positive and engaging spirit,” a nomination letter said. From creating choreography for Project Dance, to grilling 200 brats at the End of the Year Picnic, chances are if you’ve visited North High School, you’ve been touched by Zucker’s dedication to her school.
Meet the other nominees:
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.