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10 finalists announced for IL Teacher of the Year

UPDATE (October 17) — Kim Thomas, an eighth-grade math teacher at Woodruff Career and Technical Center in Peoria Public School District 150, who has become known for her ‘math-a-licious’ lessons and a calculated sense of style (pedicures with math symbols), was named the 2015-16 Illinois Teacher of the Year, the Peoria Journal-Star reports.

In the above tweet, Mr Elza, who was Illinois’s Teacher of the Year in 2015, is second from the left; in the tweet below, Ms Thomas is second from the right.

At Woodruff, Ms Thomas teaches for two other schools housed within the building: the Contemporary School, an alternative school, and the Safe School, for students who have been expelled.

“That’s arguably the toughest two groups of students in the district,” the Journal-Star quoted principal Tom Blumer as saying earlier this year about Ms Thomas’s teaching assignment. “Judge her by math activities, relationships with students, or test scores and she blows people away with her results on any measure.”

The Illinois State Board of Education announced the 10 finalists for the 2016 Illinois Teacher of the Year on Sept 11.

The winner will be named during the “Those Who Excel” banquet on October 17 at the Bloomington-Normal Marriott. In addition to naming the winner, the state’s annual educator recognition program will acknowledge the contributions and accomplishments of more than 250 educators and school personnel from throughout the state.

“This program gives us the opportunity to meet outstanding teachers at every level and recognize leadership and achievements in classrooms throughout Illinois,” said State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith. “They are an inspiration to all of us and we are pleased to publicly recognize the educators who are making a difference in students’ lives every day.”

A selection committee composed of administrators, teachers, and representatives from educational service personnel, student support personnel, and past Illinois Teacher of the Year winners reviewed 252 nominations this year.

Here are this year’s finalists:

  • Candice Cortese is a math teacher at Hononegah Community High School in Hononegah Community High School District 207.
  • Valerie Gabriel teaches first grade at Germantown Hills Elementary School in Germantown Hills School District 69.
  • Shiela Grant is a special education teacher for students in grades K-2 at Memorial Elementary School in Paris School District 95.
  • Rebecca Merrill teaches chemistry at O’Fallon Township High School in O’Fallon Township High School District 203.
  • Pamela Phelps is a biology teacher at Oswego High School in Oswego Community Unit School District 308.
  • Paul Rausch teaches music/choir at Woodstock High School in Woodstock Community Unit School District 200.
  • Kimberly Thomas is an eighth-grade math teacher at Woodruff Career and Technical Center in Peoria Public School District 150.
  • Pamela Wandersen teaches third-graders at Indian Trail Elementary School in Summit Hill School District 161.
  • Dianne Washburn teaches art to students in grades 5-9 at Pleasantdale Middle School in Pleasantdale School District 107.
  • Jennifer Woodrow is a choir teacher at North Ridge Middle School in Danville Consolidated School District 118.

Editor’s Note: In addition to the titles and job descriptions, the ISBE released brief biographical information for five of the finalists as of our press date. The sketches are hyperlinked in the list above, and photos are taken from those biographical sketches.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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