Feb 28, 2024
Two educators in CCSD21 were among the Illinois State Board of Education’s 2023 recipients for the Those Who Excel & Teacher of the Year program.
Lisa Warner, literacy instructional coach at Tarkington Elementary School, and Cecilia Franco, instructional specialist for special education, were honored with a Meritorious Service and Special Recognition award, respectively.
“I felt validated and proud,” Warner said. “It is hard to understand exactly what it means to earn the recognition of meritorious service, but as I started to think about that … the best part was writing the essays. It helped me think through my journey in District 21, the choices that I have made and everyone I have been able to learn from.”
“I was very surprised and honored,” Franco added. “I know that there are many amazing educators in our school district and throughout the state that excel and have accomplished so much during their careers, so I felt very proud to be recognized.”
The program honors classroom teachers, administrators, teams, volunteers and student support personnel who have made significant contributions to the state’s public and nonpublic elementary and secondary schools. For consideration, the educator must have been nominated and was then required to submit application materials, which includes a series of essays and letters written on their behalf.
Warner was nominated by Amy Breiler, director of teaching and learning for literacy and the arts. In her letter accompanying the nomination, Breiler wrote that Warner “embodies every attribute of excellence in education.”
“She has built lasting relationships with students and families throughout the years and Lisa will always be the teacher that students remember when they are asked about their favorite teacher or school memory,” Breiler added in the letter.
Franco received her nomination from Kim Cline, assistant superintendent for support services and school safety, who wrote that she “has qualities that I admire and wish to emulate.”
“From my very first meeting with Cecilia … I saw her strengths of active listening and pausing to provide a thoughtful response,” Cline added in her letter. “She is a professional through and through as demonstrated by sharing the strengths of the district, her role and, when asked to share how she would change her role, she asked for time to reflect and meet at another time.”
Each nominee was then required to write four, 1,000-word essays discussing varying topics, such as their philosophy of education or why they became a teacher.
“When you enter education, most people say they ‘want to make a difference,’” Warner wrote in her essay. “That’s true of my 22-year-old self. You hold that as your measuring stick – am I making a difference? Through my 34-year journey in District 21, I’ve learned that ‘make a difference’ for me means, ‘I want my students and teammates to feel capable, confident and important.’”
For her application, Franco noted it was nice to be able to go back and reflect on all of her experiences in education and how they have shaped who she is currently as an educator: “It was a challenging process, however rewarding just to have that time to reflect and celebrate my professional growth. I believe that one of my greatest contributions during my time in education is creating a vision for supporting special education staff that allows for meaningful dialogue and professional development. I believe that all children and adults need to continuously develop self-advocacy skills and focus their energies on what they can control and influence. This is where we can make the most impact.”
She adds that shortly after being notified, her ISSE team at Gill brought in treats and decorated her work area. Tarkington teachers also had a celebration for Warner.
ISBE will celebrate the honorees during a banquet in Bloomington on April 29. Both Warner and Franco plan to attend.