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those who excel logoThe Illinois State Board of Education annually sponsors Those Who Excel to honor individuals who have made significant contributions to our state's public and nonpublic elementary and secondary schools. Excellence, Meritorious Service and Special Recognition awards are presented in seven categories: classroom teacher, school administrator/principal, student support personnel (licensed), educational service personnel (unlicensed), school board member/community volunteer; team, and early career educator. Nomination materials are evaluated by a selection committee comprised of individuals who represent a variety of educational organizations. Awards of Excellence winners in the classroom teacher category are finalists for the Illinois Teacher of the Year. Local school district leaders and members of school communities nominate candidates.​​​​​​​​​​​

Lindsey Jensen 

 News Releases

 2017 Illinois Teacher of the Year

Ricardo "Ricky" Castro - 2016 Illinois Teacher of the Year

Ricardo (Ricky) Castro talks openly about his involvement with gangs as a young teen in Chicago. He freely admits he was a bad student on the verge of choosing an entirely different path in life. Ricky credits caring teachers who listened and encouraged him through those difficult years, with helping him make decisions that positively influenced him and the path he ultimately chose to take. Ricky’s parents were immigrants, and there wasn’t much money. His early experiences with school were tainted by negative stereotypes but, as he says, “having teachers that cared and challenged me, I learned how to commit to serious study and ask for assistance.” Those invaluable experiences were instrumental in his decision to become a teacher.

Ricky has now been a teacher for 10 years. He has been teaching English as a second language, English Arts, and Spanish for the past 3 years at Elk Grove High School in Township High School District 214. He puts a strong emphasis on helping his students develop what he calls biliteracy. His belief is that by helping students develop a proficiency in multiple languages, they are gaining skills that will serve them well throughout their lives. Under Ricky’s careful guidance, and his collaboration with colleagues, 80% of Elk Grove’s 9th grade Latino English Language Learners qualified to move into “mainstream” courses in just one year! He also teaches students about the importance of serving their community and its people.  

Recognizing that students of poverty often need more than academic success to achieve success in life, Castro created a tiered leadership program called Estudiantes Unidos. This innovative program challenges Elk Grove High School students to mentor their junior high and elementary school counterparts. The program teaches the value of citizenship, and encourages students to be leaders. Today the co-curricular endeavor impacts more than 200 students in the district.

Ricky works tirelessly to create academic and leadership experiences for his students that truly transcend the confines of the current definition of education. A parent shared this about Ricky: “One of the most positive things that Mr. Castro has given my daughter is an unquenchable desire to be the best person that she to be. Mr. Castro has been teaching her to be a person of integrity, commitment, humility, and love. I am so glad that he teaches my daughter.”

Meet Ricardo "Ricky" Castro - 2017 Teacher of the Year (Video courtesy of High School District 214)

 2017-18 Outstanding Early Career Educator

Betsy Alderman - 2017 Outstanding Early Career Educator

Teresa Brown teaches English language arts to eighth-graders at Manual Academy in Peoria Public Schools District 150. This is her second year at Manual and her fifth year of teaching overall. Teresa is highly motivated to help students grow, learn, and succeed. She understands what it is like to feel challenged outside and inside the school walls. Her own experiences have helped Teresa create a safe learning environment where she can guide her students to positive outcomes.

Her passion for teaching began when Teresa was a child. She needed to find creative ways to keep her two younger sisters occupied while their mom worked. She started by making household jobs fun. She made a game of cleaning the house, doing laundry, or preparing a meal. Once the chores were done, the girls played school. Teresa would teach the alphabet and counting to her 4-year-old sister, and reading and math to the 7-year-old. They played games during “recess” and twice a week Teresa would take her sisters on a “field trip” to a nearby park. She didn’t realize that she was already practicing how to plan and implement lessons, how to differentiate for each learner, and how to maintain order and structure in the classroom.

Students know that learning is the sole focus of Teresa’s classroom. She sets procedures for proper behavior and makes certain that students understand the expectations she sets forth. Teresa encourages students by praising and affirming their hard work, paying attention to detail, and following school policies. She has worked hard to create a positive culture where students gain confidence and knowledge.

A colleague says Teresa is “the epitome of what it means to be an educator.” Her classroom exudes a “can do” and “will do” spirit that students embrace. Students believe that they can succeed -- and they do succeed. Teresa has the ability to really connect with students. She is an expert at finding parallels between students’ lives and events going on around them. Teresa’s students find themselves learning in all types of ways that they didn’t even realize were lessons. One of her students described Teresa by saying, “She has changed the perspectives of many of her students about education by making learning interesting and fun. She has given us the tools we need to make our lives better.”

 Award Winners


Those Who Excel Award Winners

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