New Instructional Specialists for 2020-21


In early 2020, the Board of Education approved expanding District 401's ability to provide teacher support by hiring three instructional specialists:

Ms. Dominique Byrnes, District language coach
Ms. Mary Therese Anichini, math interventionist for Elmwood Elementary School
Ms. Megan Johnson, math interventionist for John Mills Elementary School

As language coach, Ms. Byrnes works with English Learner faculty and staff to provide the leadership, professional development and data-driven support needed for increasing the achievement of EL students districtwide.

As math interventionists, Ms. Anichini and Ms. Johnson work with K-5 faculty and staff at their respective schools to provide the instructional support needed to effectively teach math to all students, and to research and implement interventions that meet the needs of all math learners.


Dominique Byrnes | District Language Coach


Dominique Byrnes works with students

ABOVE AND BELOW: Ms. Dominique Byrnes works with students at John Mills Elementary School, where she was a classroom teacher for 15 years before becoming the District's first language coach. D401 photos by Dave Porreca (click image for larger view)


What led you to apply for the K-12 language coach position? What attracted you to it?

When I heard of the coaching role at our department collaboration day, I was very interested. I am committed to partnering with teachers and colleagues, so this position sounded like an amazing opportunity.


What do you hope to accomplish in the new position? Put another way, what are your main goals, and how will you try to achieve them?

First and foremost, I hope to establish a solid base of partnership with my teaching colleagues. My main goal will be to help teachers meet their goals. Together, we will find strategies and planning methods to assure that our students will succeed. Through collaborating with professional learning teams, coaching conversations and responding to teachers' needs, I hope to accomplish the teachers' goals.


Dominique Byrnes at work with students


What would a more or less typical day look like for you as the District's language coach?

I imagine it will be quite a busy day! I'll be traveling around the District collaborating and working alongside other teachers. Good thing I'm used to all of the one-way streets!


You will be working with EL teachers at all grade levels, not just elementary. What challenges do you think this will pose, and how will you prepare yourself to help middle school and high school teachers?

It will certainly be a challenge. I'm reminded of when I made the shift from teaching the intermediate grades as a homeroom teacher to working more in primary in the resource role. I learned so much from my co-teachers, but I also realized that great teaching strategies work at all levels. The EL department was trained in using the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP), which I'm personally very excited to discuss with other teachers across the District. SIOP strategies are research-based and proven effective with learners of all ages.


How long have you been in District 401 overall and at John Mills specifically?

This is my 15th year in the District — all spent at John Mills. I first met principals Bob Ross and Jim Jennings at an education job fair in 2005 at Illinois State University. The rest is history.


Dominique Byrnes works with students


What colleges have you attended, and what degrees and endorsements have you earned?

I attended Illinois Wesleyan University and graduated with a bachelor's degree in educational studies and a minor in Hispanic studies. I received my master's in curriculum and instruction from Walden University. I earned my ELL endorsement from Northern Illinois University. Also, just for fun, I obtained my associate's degree in hospitality/baking and pastry from Triton College. Afterward, I was hired to teach in the bakery, and in fact, I taught a few of our dual-credit high school students!


How does your new position fit in with your overall philosophy of or approach to education?

My approach to education is that students and teachers never stop learning. I'm constantly learning new and exciting methods that I cannot wait to try with my students. I feel that in this new role, I will continue to be able to do this, but just in a slightly different way.


What do you think you'll miss about no longer being a classroom teacher?

I will miss the friendships and bonds that I create with students. There's nothing like walking into a class of students who are excited to work and learn with their teacher. Don't worry, students, I've saved all of your notes and pictures that you've created for me all of these years!


Any other comments that you would like to add?

I am a proud resident of Elmwood Park. Anytime anyone asks about our Elmwood Park schools, I am the first to speak about how amazing, talented and passionate our teachers are. I'm so grateful to have learned and worked alongside the best of the best, and I look forward to continuing our professional relationship in this new role.


Mary Therese Anichini | Elmwood Math Interventionist


Mary These Anichini works with students

ABOVE AND BELOW: Ms. Mary Therese Anichini explains fractions during one of her classes at Elmwood Elementary last March. She is now Elmwood's math interventionist, providing instructional support for her colleagues. D401 photos by Dave Porreca (click image for larger view)


What led you to apply for the math interventionist position? What attracted you to it?

As a classroom teacher for the last 13 years, and teaching math and science over the past six years, I have had many discussions with colleagues who also teach math about the often limited support we can provide to our students because of our class sizes and levels. Our District has a reading department and specialists, but we have not had a math specialist to support our students struggling in math. I am excited to lead the way in establishing math support and intervention to classroom teachers and students that has not been possible before. 


What do you hope to accomplish in the new position? To put it another way, what are your main goals, and how will you achieve them?

In my new position, I hope to be a resource for math teachers, analyze data to provide skill-specific lessons to groups of students in need, and guide teachers through the MTSS (multi-tiered system of support) process. Together, we will collaborate, track and utilize the data from our curriculum and assessments to drive targeted instruction in the classroom, during the response to intervention block and in pull-out math intervention sessions.


Mary Therese Anichini works with students


What would a more or less typical day look like for you as Elmwood's math interventionist?

The new math specialist position will most likely work with students in multiple grade levels in small group pull-out intervention but also support classroom teachers in a co-teaching environment. Similar to classroom teaching, most of the day will be spent in contact with students. The support I will provide to teachers will most likely happen during plan periods and morning PLC (professional learning community) meetings before school.


How long have you been in District 401 overall and at Elmwood specifically?

This is my 13th year in the District — at Elmwood Elementary and in 4th grade. I am excited for the change!


Mary Therese Anichini works with students


What colleges have you attended and what degrees and endorsements have you received?

  • University of Iowa, 2006 — bachelor's degree, elementary education
  • Concordia University, 2009 — master's degree, curriculum and instruction
  • National Louis University, 2013 — endorsement, English language learners

How does your new position fit in with your overall philosophy of or approach to education?

Overall, this position targets specific skills and students and their needs within mathematics. I believe that differentiated instruction is important within the classroom, but I am excited to provide the targeted instruction to students who need more than the regular education math classroom setting and block can provide.


Megan Johnson | John Mills Math Interventionist


Megan Johnson works out a math problem for her students

ABOVE AND BELOW: Ms. Megan Johnson, now the math interventionist for John Mills Elementary School, shows her students how to solve a math problem back in early March 2020, when she was still a classroom teacher — and instruction had not yet gone remote due to the COVID-19 pandemic. D401 photos by Dave Porreca (click image for larger view)


What led you to apply for the math interventionist position? What attracted you to it?

As an elementary math teacher, I acknowledge the need for a math specialist due to the limited time a teacher has in a school day to meet the daily needs of all her/his students. I want children to develop a love for math reasoning and feel confident when solving real-world problems.


What do you hope to accomplish in the new position? Put another way, what are your main goals, and how will you try to achieve them?

One of my goals is to encourage children to flexibly think about numbers. Flexible thinking means students manipulate numbers in a creative way. They find patterns, explore number relationships and discuss their mathematical reasoning. One way I plan to achieve this goal is by using visual models, graphic organizers and manipulatives. Using models in different conceptual ways will help children begin to develop number sense. Another goal I have is to collaborate with classroom teachers. Their input and mathematical knowledge will be an asset to the specialist position. They truly are the experts!


Megan Johnson works with students


What would a more or less typical day look like for you as the John Mills math interventionist?

From what I understand, there will be some time in classrooms and time working with kids out of the classroom.


How long have you been in District 401 overall and at John Mills specifically?

My professional career started 20 years ago at John Mills in the 5th grade. I have never worked anywhere else, and I am proud to say John Mills has always felt like home. I love this community. The students and families make Elmwood Park a great place to work and learn.


Megan Johnson works with students


What colleges have you attended, and what degrees and endorsements have you earned?

As an undergraduate, I attended Illinois State University and earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education and a middle school endorsement. I earned a master's degree in curriculum and instruction from St. Xavier University. Finally, I acquired an English language learner endorsement from Northern Illinois University.


How does your new position fit in with your overall philosophy of or approach to education?

I believe teaching and learning require collaboration, communication and consistency. I also believe in a growth mindset, which is the idea that all people — children and adults — have the capacity to learn. As a teacher, I believe there are multiple ways to approach problems, which generate multiple solutions.


What do you think you'll miss about no longer being a classroom teacher?

I will miss the students and families. There is something very special about developing relationships with your students. I love watching them grow, both academically and socially over the course of the year. I will definitely miss my 4th-grade colleagues. I have worked with these three wonderful educators for many years, so losing time with them will be an adjustment.