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Get to Know Our 20 Finalists!
Jared Young is in his fifth year teaching high school business at Belvidere North High School. Jared was nominated by an administrator, who stated, “If you want to know the quality of a teacher's abilities, simply observe their students. Mr. Young is a true leader in the sense that he realizes he is the facilitator of learning and that the students need to discover how to learn to find the answers. He makes his lessons relevant to their lives as well as provides ‘real world’ performance-based problems for students to solve.” “He is one of the first teachers that the administration seeks out when a new initiative is created because he has such a strong track record of success.” “In addition to all the extra commitments he has beyond the classroom, he still remains an outstanding educator and champion of his students.” “He gets it, he understands that although his content is important – it’s the life and leadership skills that he teaches that improve his students’ lives. He models what he believes and values in the classroom. You will find many students flocking to take his courses - there is a reason for that.” In Jared’s first year of teaching, another educator gave him a piece of advice that “immediately impacted the way [he] viewed [his] classroom.” The teacher explained to him, “It’s not about you anymore. You are not the most important person in your classroom. It is about what is best for the kids in your room. You will never go wrong if you ask yourself ‘what is best for my kids right now’”?

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Get to Know Our 20 Finalists!
Jennifer Keller is in her 13th year teaching at Harlem High School. She has always taught German at all levels. Her nominator told us, “Frau Keller is an amazing teacher. She works exceptionally hard to build relationships with her students. She cares not only about their success in her classroom but in all areas of their lives. Her classes are always learning in active ways, using the latest technology, and real world situations.” Keller says, “I treat my students like young adults. I talk about their goals in life, so that I can challenge them and keep them on track to reaching those goals. I never doubt their abilities. I am their biggest fan, and I do everything in my power to help them to see what I already know to be true. Once my students have been taken care of, then I can focus on content.”

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Get to Know Our 20 Finalists!
Alex Hartz has been teaching for eight years. He teaches ninth-12th grade math (Algebra 1AB, Algebra 2 and AP Calculus BC) at Hononegah High School. A fellow teacher nominated him, saying “I know several of his students because of their involvement with the Math team. They rave about his teaching and how much he has influenced them in the passion for mathematics. He not only creates incredible enthusiasm for math talented students - he also is a favorite among students who struggle with math. I have been in education for over 35 years and I can easily attest to the fact that Alex would rank among the top 1-2% for outstanding and effective teaching.” Alex says, “As a college freshman declaring a secondary education major, I was unsure if I had the necessary skills and patience to teach high school students. I even went to great lengths to overload my schedule to major in mathematics as something to fall back on should I not enjoy teaching. Eight years into the profession … I can chuckle at that uncertainty. Teaching has become a passion of mine. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else as a career. I am excited to go to work each day and teach high school students the amazing story of math.” While considering a Stanford University study that concluded the centers of the brain responsible for logical, mathematical thought are overridden by the fear centers of the brain, Alex strives “to deactivate any fear or anxiety that may accompany a new math lesson, and alleviate math anxiety at the start of each lesson with a small joke, usually a comical visual pun based on the section title. These are often a horrible stretch of the imagination, but they do elicit a chuckle from the students and the sense of fear dissipating is tangible.”

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Get to Know Our 20 Finalists!

Lis Schurman teaches 6th-8th grade band and has been teaching at Belvidere Central Middle School for four years. Lis says, “Teaching band comes with many unique challenges. One of these challenges is making sure that each student has an instrument to play.” “When a student walks through my door, I never know it they’ll become the next Louis Armstrong or just play for fun, but we won’t know if we don’t try!” Lis does what it takes to get an instrument for any student who needs one. “Sometimes I have to reach beyond my own classroom to provide opportunities for students. All students deserve to reach their full potential.” The standard philosophy in Lis’ practice is that “all students can learn and all students will learn if you show them how and let them do it in their own time. This has looked different for many learners in my class. The learning process is special and unique, just like our kids!” She adds that she feels fortunate to teach where she does since, “as much as I would like to take credit with the success of my program and my students, I could never accomplish the things that I have done without the help from my colleagues.” When someone asks why she became a teacher, Lis responds, “Because all kids deserve to have someone who loves them unconditionally.” “It takes a village to raise a child. Every student in every classroom deserves the opportunity to thrive and achieve their goals. As the adults, it’s our job to figure out how to do that. If we all started with the simple commitment to loving every child unconditionally, we might find ourselves a little happier and our students achieving their greatest dreams.”

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Get to Know Our 20 Finalists!
Tom Freesmeier has been teaching at Harlem Middle School for nine years. He teaches 8th grade Social Studies. According to one of his student nominators, he “made a vow at the beginning of the school year to make each and every one of his students enjoy Social Studies at least a little bit more than they already did and I think he's holding to it. Also, they put his Constitution Rap on Channel 13 News, so ... he's awesome!” Tom says, “Teaching is rewarding beyond my imagination. Being challenged to grow keeps these rewards coming. Managing the excitement in my current students and seeing that excitement still in my former students that I fostered years ago makes all these challenges, hard work and constant change worthwhile. I am blessed to have been placed in a profession that suits me and is so fun. I could not imagine doing anything else.” “I never look at my time as a teacher as work. I enjoy it too much. It is bigger than that. I influence. I listen. I change lives. And if only momentarily in the grand scheme, I give them an opportunity to be.”

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Get To Know Our Finalists!  Christina Dover has been teaching at Eisenhower Middle School for 12 years. She has taught science, language arts and math. She now teaches 8th grade English Language Arts. Her assistant principal wrote, “She truly cares about the way our students think and consistently provides them with a challenge. Her passion and leadership should serve as a model for educators who are dedicated to putting kids first.” Christina says, “Even after all these years, I still get to come to work every day and I believe I can make a difference.” Many past students wrote nominations mentioning that she prepared them well for high school. “It is only in honor of them that I am attempting to run for such a prestigious award. The way I figure, if 15 of my former students took the time to write me a recommendation, I should at least try. After all, isn’t that what we all encourage in our students? The willingness to try.” Christina is committed to showing people you don’t have to look a certain way to be a professional (“With purple hair and tattoos, I have definitely raised a few eyebrows over the years. But I am more than my appearance.”) She says that, “… we should have the open minds we hope to inspire in our students, and that a passion for learning comes in all shapes, colors and sizes. That teaching can look different than what people expect to see, or what they remember from their own public education experience. Also that the profession of teaching is an honorable one, and one which deserves the public’s utmost respect. Together, we as educators are shaping the next generation and collectively helping to mold, not only young minds, but young mindsets and attitudes as well.”

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Get to Know Our 20 Finalists!
Michael Manke has been teaching at Rockford Christian Schools nearly 11 years. He teaches 7th grade Physical Science. Michael says, “the more we learn about children and their culture, the unique motivations of their hearts, and the functions of their brains as they learn, the more challenging and rewarding the task of teaching them becomes.” He continually seeks to “best help my students use and apply what they learn in the ever changing and expanding field of science.” He has been “amazed at the innovation that takes place when you provide students with opportunities and they walk through the gate of opportunity” as a result of adding extracurricular activities and competition opportunities for the students. Michael says “[his] constant goal is to move students to marvel at the wonders of the natural world and see how they relate to it.” The parent of one of his former students shared that in her essay on her college applications, his daughter wrote of Mr. Manke that he “shaped me from a nature-loving seedling, into a full grown tree who understands the scientific complexities of nature and wants to continue learning…without Mr. Manke, I wouldn’t have known this love for science that has shaped who I am today and who I want to become.”

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(Photo: Kevin Finnegan 2016 Outstanding Principal Recipient and Sunil Puri, President, First Midwest Group)

All Winnebago and Boone County teachers, administrators, parents and students are encouraged to nominate a Secondary School Principal they consider worthy of this prestigious award by February 3, 2017.CLICK HERE for nomination form and info about the program including eligibility requirements. The principal selected for the 2017 Puri Family Outstanding Principal Award will receive, compliments of the Puri Family, $1,500 cash to be used in his/her school and $500 in Volcano Falls gift certificates to reward excellent students. He/she will be surprised in his/her school with the award and recognized at the 21st Annual Golden Apple Banquet on Friday, April 28, 2017 at the Radisson Hotel, presenting sponsor First Midwest Group, Inc.

Susan Schroepfer TN


Susan Schroepfer has been teaching at Harlem High School for 14 years. She teaches 10th-12th grade special education –cross categorical-math. Her nominator told us, “Sue is exceptionally dedicated not only to her job in general but her students in particular. She meets students where they are and stretches them to learn. She also volunteers her time working in many ways for the Harlem community. She is always searching for new ways to teach and learn.” Susan says, “Teaching is something that comes from my soul. I began considering teaching when I was in high school. We were allowed to tutor at the elementary school. I selected to work with the students with special needs. It was so much fun, exciting and challenging. I then asked to tutor a second semester and although it was a totally different experience, I believe this is what hooked me into becoming a teacher of students with special needs.” While challenging those students with special needs is complicated, Susan feels, “All students deserve to have every opportunity to learn. I believe that every child can learn. There are different strategies to use with different types of disabilities. So I must be very creative….””It is my mission to empower them to realize that they can learn and be successful.”

Joseph Meersman Boylan reduced website


Joe Meersman is in his sixth year teaching at Boylan. He teaches Accounting 1, 2 and 3; Information Processing 1 and 2; Marketing; and Business Law. Joe spent the first five years after college in the business world, but realized he “needed more out of life” and started taking night classes while still working a full time job. Joe was nominated by one of his students, who wrote, “He has great enthusiasm every day and really tries to make a connection with his students. Not only is he a great role model, but a great teacher. He pushes us every day to be our best and to strive for the best. His devotion to the school really is inspirational.” Joe says he wants “the students to know they are the reason I teach. I do not see teaching as just my job. I see it as my calling and want to provide students extra help whether that be before or after school. I also want them to know that I support them in everything they do.” Further, he says, “…I have the awesome opportunity to inspire these students. I do not take that lightly, not only do I try to challenge them every day, I also try to challenge myself to be the best I can every day. As much as I try to inspire these students, I realize they also inspire me to be better every day. I made a commitment to help prepare the future of America and I wake up ready and excited for that challenge every single day.”



Linda Julian Photo

Linda Julian has been teaching at Willowbrook Middle School for 18 years. She teaches 6th -8th grade choirs, 7th grade Speech, 5th grade chorus and ¾ General Music. Linda wrote, “I constantly look for new ways to involve, encourage and challenge my students. Because the majority of my classes are performance-based, you will always find every student engaged and participating in class. While not every student may show the energy and enthusiasm I request, I continue to encourage them to work harder. I often remind them that I am a greedy person, and therefore, I will always want more from them.” Linda seizes the opportunity to explore and discuss diversity by choosing “well-written works that will encourage questions or discussions about race, culture and individual beliefs. This music serves as a guide for the students to understand that music is a common denominator that can bring many people together through the enjoyment of listening to, learning about, and performing many different kinds of music.”