The outstanding efforts of nine staff members in Homewood District 153 were recognized at the 40th annual “Those Who Excel” banquet Saturday hosted by the Illinois State Board of Education.
District 153 administrators nominated classroom teachers Jill Vagner, Dana Kubas, Nancy Wood, Nikki Kerr, Jen Ostruszka, and Cathryne Czarnecki, student support personnel Crystal Gladney and Gail Straney, and Willow School Principal Mary Ann Savage for the honors.
Savage received an excellence award recognizing her work as principal of Willow School. The role of principal has changed from the days when Savage first was a classroom teacher at Infant Jesus of Prague School in Flossmoor. Today her role is instructional leader for Willow instilling in teachers and staff how best to meet the needs of all students. She’s been principal for nine years.
Savage has a bachelor’s degree in education and master’s degrees in educational administration and curriculum and instruction from Northern Illinois University. She held two school administrator positions before being hired as the principal at Willow.
Jill Vagner received special recognition as a classroom teacher. She has been the seventh grade science teacher at James Hart School for 15 years since graduating from Purdue University. She focuses her class work around ecology/physical science/ relational studies that involve hands-on inquiry and has taken students out to the Izaak Walton Nature Preserve for experiments.
Crystal Gladney is a support staff member who received an excellence award for her work primarily with students in Vagner’s science classes who have special education inclusion needs. This is her sixth year in the district. She was a returning adult when she earned her education degree from Trinity Christian College.
Gail Straney, a certified school nurse at Millennium School, received a recognition award. She has been with the district for 14 years. She did bedside nursing in an oncology unit before returning to school for her school nurse certificate at National Louis University/Governors State University.
In any day Straney is helping students with headaches, stomach aches and minor injuries, in addition to administering medicines to students, being responsible for school health records, health programs and promoting health and wellness to the school community. As a certified employee, Straney also gives classroom instruction in hygiene, nutrition, dental care, etc. She conducts the annual screenings for hearing and vision and monitors outbreaks of communicable diseases in conjunction with the Cook County Board of Health.
Dana Kubas, Churchill School music teacher and choir director, received recognition as an outstanding teacher early in her career. She was hired by District 153 three years ago after graduating from Eastern Illinois University with a bachelor’s degree in music.
Teaching allows Kubas to combine a love of music with instruction that brings out the best in students.
“I believe students who can participate in music are better qualified to achieve at a higher level in their other classes because music enhances knowledge in the other areas by incorporating reading, math, science, and history,” she said.
District 153’s Intervention Team of 2014 received a merit award in the team category. Nancy Wood at Willow is a reading intervention and media teacher; Nikki Kerr was on the team but now is assistant principal; Jen Ostruszka is the reading and math intervention teacher and reading specialist at Millennium School; Cathryne Czarnecki is now the Response to Intervention director at James Hart.
This group of teachers works to assist students who need extra assistance. The team members coordinate with teachers to develop programs to aid students so that they can improve their classroom work without being classified for special education needs. The team works through three tiers: 1) an assessment of all students; 2) recognizing students who need help through small groups or extra help; 3) greater intervention to determine if the student has a learning disability.
The district has had intervention teachers in each of the district’s four buildings for a number of years. They came together in 2012 to form a district unit to improve continuity in services. Depending on the student’s need, the teacher may involve others in the school. Parents are always included in the initiatives.