Candice Cortese

Candice Cortese of DeKalb is in her 14th year of teaching math content at Hononegah Community High School. This year, she is teaching Algebra, Pre-Calculus and Trigonometry. While those subjects can be daunting for some students, the student who nominated her said, “She is really good at breaking down complicated subjects into steps.” Devoted to the success of her students, Candice has developed curriculum for the PLATO program, a credit recovery system for students who have fallen behind in math credits. She is quick to volunteer to work with these students before school and during the summer to get them on track to graduation. Matt Simpson, Mathematics Department Chair, shared that Hononegah ranked in the top 50 of all Illinois high schools in SAT scores the past school year and that her contributions played a role in that achievement. During class, Candice’s students work in groups. She circulates, talking to each group so they can see her interest in them. She says, “I know that this has affected my students, because I do not have many discipline problems and students are actively engaged in the lessons.”  Her students are confident and have built relationships both with her and with their fellow students. She adds, “Too many of today’s students are technology-focused and isolated. Building peer relationships and communication skills is just as important as learning the quadratic formula.” Candice also realizes the importance of working with her peers and her students’ families. She regularly emails parents about what students are working on and asks for feedback about math they use at their jobs. This year, she received feedback from a local police officer and a financial planner who gave her ideas about how to demonstrate ways math is used outside of school. She also tries to learn about her students’ socioeconomic backgrounds and any learning challenges they may have. A teacher in the special education department helps with insight into students with learning disabilities. Candice’s days are long and full. Even with her 45-mile drive to school, she’s always among the first teacher in the building, usually two hours before class time. When she returns home, she is a volunteer coach for her kids’ youth soccer, Little League baseball and girls softball programs.  She is a content team leader and Professional Learning Community committee member who was a finalist for the Those Who Excel Illinois Teacher of the Year in 2015-2016. Hononegah principal, Eric Flohr said in his recommendation letter, “Ms. Cortese is the kind of educator that every principal wants inspiring children and guiding staff to the next level.”