ISBE Honors District 401 Educators with "Those Who Excel" Awards

ISBE award winner Ms. Morgan Freeck speaks at last year's STEMscopes event.

Ms. Morgan Freeck, winner of ISBE's Early Career Educator Excellence Award, speaks at last winter's districtwide STEMscopes event, held in February at Elm Middle School. (District 401 photo by Dave Porreca)

The Illinois State Board of Education has recognized District 401 with four major awards in the 2018 Those Who Excel program.

The program honors individuals and groups who have made significant contributions to Illinois public and nonpublic elementary and secondary schools.

District 401 educators and community members garnered the following awards:

ISBE will salute the winners later this fall at the 44th annual Those Who Excel banquet. The event will be held Oct. 20 at the Bloomington-Normal Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in Normal.

"I am extraordinarily proud to have Elmwood Park being represented at this awards banquet because there are just so many great things a lot of people in our District and community are doing for students and for one another," said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Nicolas D. Wade. "Having them recognized for that, I feel, shows their actions and attitudes do not go unnoticed."

According to Dr. Wade, the recognition from ISBE is yet another indication that the District's recent major initiatives in areas ranging from 1:1 instructional technology and new curricula to enhanced student services and comprehensive professional development are paying off.  

"After checking with my historians, it does appear that Elmwood Park has not participated in or has been recognized previously at this awards banquet," he said. "So for us to be participatory in that I think is another significant step for the District as we continue moving forward in providing opportunities for students and staff alike."

To be considered for the ISBE honors, candidates must be nominated by their local education leaders. With his emphasis on continuous improvement, Dr. Wade anticipates no shortage of potential District 401 nominees in 2019.

"I look forward to evaluating next spring other potential candidates we can submit for consideration," he said.

In the meantime, here’s a closer look at this year’s winners.

District Technology Committee | Team Merit Award

John Mills faculty members volunteer at last spring's "Into the Cloud" tech event.

Faculty members from John Mills Elementary School were among those who volunteered for the District Technology Committee's "Into the Cloud" community event, which took place April 5 in the EPHS Main Gym. (District 401 photo by Dave Porreca)

Established in the fall of 2016, the District Technology Committee has played a key role in the ongoing implementation of District 401’s ambitious Technology Initiative.

The initiative calls for every student at Elmwood Park High School to be equipped with a laptop device by 2018-19 (a goal that has been achieved), with Elm Middle School students to follow by 2019-20. Google educational tools and apps are saturating the District, with all grade levels scheduled to operate under Google Classroom by 2019-20. To provide teachers with the training needed to integrate technology into their classrooms, an extensive program of professional development has been in place since 2016.

The District Technology Committee was honored by ISBE for the many ways it has assisted the initiative. This includes determining curriculum needs related to technology, digital citizenship, cyberbullying and professional development. 

Other committee actions include developing a new Acceptable Use Policy and related procedures, implementing Google circuit training for EPHS and Elm students, presenting community instructional outreach programs, and creating the "Chrome Stop" (a bookstore for 1:1 schools) and "Into the Cloud" (a well-received tech event for the community).  

Director for Instructional Technology Ms. Jessica Iovinelli has led the committee since its inception. Serving on the committee is voluntary, and members have included representatives from throughout the District.

"This award is a perfect example of the success of distributive leadership and showcases the District Technology Committee's high levels of trust, transparency and mutual respect," Ms. Iovinelli said. 

"The 'Into the Cloud' technology event, for example, was only successful due to all the committee members and other volunteers who dedicated their time to showcasing their expertise in the field of technology, providing a myriad of opportunities for parents, students and community members." 

For Ms. Iovinelli, the award is truly a collective achievement, one that bodes well for the District.

"The award represents our dedication to the development of high-quality teaching and a culture where all students can thrive," she said, "but also to ensuring the sustainability of this initiative."

Morgan Freeck | Early Career Educator Excellence Award

Morgan Freeck talks with fellow instructional coach Jamie Kanas.

Ms. Morgan Freeck, right, speaks with fellow instructional coach Ms. Jamie Kanas in the EPHS library. After four years as a 6th-grade teacher at Elmwood Elementary School, Ms. Freeck is now the District's instructional coach in math and science. (District 401 photo by Dave Porreca)

For Ms. Morgan Freeck, winning ISBE's Excellence Award for Early Career Educators is a fitting way to mark the end of one phase of her career — classroom teacher — and the beginning of another — instructional coach.

But regardless of whether she’s working with young students or coaching her colleagues, she remains motivated by her love of learning and her desire to help both students and teachers succeed.

“Being honored for my work as an early career educator is humbling,” she said. “As a teacher, it can be difficult to know if you are making the impact that you hope for, and this award encourages me to continue doing what I love.”

From August 2014 to May 2018, Ms. Freeck taught math and science to 6th graders at Elmwood Elementary School and quickly established herself as an innovator.

She became an early advocate for the District's adoption of a new science curriculum aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards. As a member of the District’s Science Curriculum Adoption Committee, Ms. Freeck presented the committee's curriculum choice, STEMscopes, to the Board of Education for approval.

After the curriculum was adopted, she realized she wanted to learn more about science education to better help her students. So in early 2017 she began working part time for STEMscopes' parent company. 

As a STEM consultant, a position she still holds, Ms. Freeck implements training, leads professional development sessions, hosts webinars and coaches teachers on the use of various curriculum products.

Back in District 401, Ms. Freeck enthusiastically shared her knowledge of the new curriculum with parents at special events, such as the District’s STEMscopes Night in early 2018, and with her colleagues at "mini-PD" sessions before school. 

Not surprisingly, Ms. Freeck’s dedication to continuous improvement as an educator caught the attention of many people. By the end of the 2017-18 school year, she had accepted the District's offer to become an instructional coach in science and math. Since the start of the new school year, she has been providing teachers with support as they implement instructional practices to ensure the high academic achievement of their students. 

That same dedication to improvement also earned Ms. Freeck the Excellence Award from ISBE.

"Honestly, I was so thrilled with just being nominated for this award, I never actually thought that I would be a recipient," she said. "To be formally recognized by the Illinois State Board of Education for my work with teachers and students in my first four years of teaching is incredible. After learning that I had won, I felt overjoyed and thankful to be a part of EPCUSD 401. This award would never have been possible for me without our District's administrators and teachers supporting my career. It was an exciting moment."

Jessica Iovinelli | Administrator Merit Award

Jessica Iovinelli leads an instructional technology training session.

Director for Instructional Technology Ms. Jessica Iovinelli leads a recent training session for EPHS faculty members. In just her third year as an administrator, Ms. Iovinelli has been recognized by ISBE for her role in the District Technology Initiative. (District 401 photo by Dave Porreca)  

After nine years as a music teacher at John Mills Elementary School, Ms. Iovinelli moved into the administrator ranks in 2016 as the District's first-ever coordinator — now director — for instructional technology (IT). 

Her charge was imposing: to ensure the District's smooth transition to a Google-based blended-learning environment. 

"Stepping into this position in the fall of 2016 was similar to skydiving but being unaware if my parachute was going to work or not," Ms. Iovinelli said. "Instructional technology is still a new field, and when you take an administrative role in an area that is not quite defined, there is a lot of pressure to succeed. Luckily, this District has provided me with the creative license and the space to take risks, acknowledging all the successes and supporting all the failures. In other districts, that may not have been the case." 

From the ground up she created the IT Department, a complement to the already-existing Technology Department. But while the Tech Department focused on devices and infrastructure, Ms. Iovinelli focused on instructional design and development. More specifically, she concentrated on how devices and apps could be used for engaging and effective learning experiences.

"My main area of concentration is increasing the capacity of our staff to provide authentic learning opportunities for students," she said.

To achieve that goal, she has developed and led an intensive professional development program for District faculty. The purpose of the PD is not just to make sure teachers know how to use the many tools available in Google's G Suite for Education, but to showcase the exciting possibilities of blended learning as a whole.

"Ms. Iovinelli is a leader in both knowledge and the ability to engage staff," Dr. Wade said in his nomination letter on her behalf. "She has consistently demonstrated this ability via personally created professional development opportunities for the District's staff focused on differentiated instruction, cross-departmental pollination for academic achievements and fully utilizing G Suite for Education."

So what does Ms. Iovinelli think about the recognition her efforts have earned from ISBE?

"I guess it means that my parachute worked," she said. "No one does something expecting recognition or an award, especially in the field of education, where the focus is always on the students and giving as much of ourselves as we can to ensure their success. Being recognized for my efforts means that I am making a difference, which gives me even more motivation to continue to do so."

Michael Scheidt | Volunteer Recognition Award

Mr. Michael Scheidt receives congratulations from Board Vice President Mr. Frank Parisi after being sworn in as the Board's newest member.

After being sworn in as the Board of Education's newest member, Mr. Michael Scheidt receives congratulations from Board Vice President Mr. Frank Parisi during last February's regular meeting. This is Mr. Scheidt's second time on the Board. (District 401 photo by Dave Porreca)

Mr. Michael Scheidt is well known around his community as a lifelong resident of Elmwood Park, a proud graduate of District 401 schools, an enthusiastic Board of Education member, a dedicated youth sports advocate and a tireless volunteer at school events.

And now the Illinois State Board of Education has taken notice as well, honoring Mr. Scheidt with its Community Volunteer Recognition Award. 

Probably the only person who was surprised by the award was Mr. Scheidt himself.

"I received a letter in the mail from ISBE and was wondering why?" he recalled. "After opening the letter and reading it twice I was shocked. There are so many others out there who are doing great things for our children, I'm still in shock because I have never received any award for helping. I'm humble, happy and honored to be recognized for giving back to this wonderful community and to help move the District forward with a great group of administrators, staff and Board members." 

Mr. Scheidt, who graduated from Elmwood Park High School in 1992, currently works for the Village of Elmwood Park as a member of the Public Works Department. He and his wife, Mary, have four children, all of whom are District 401 students.

Currently serving his second stint on the Board of Education, Mr. Scheidt was appointed in early 2018 to fill a vacant seat created by a member's resignation. In all, he's served more than four years on the Board. 

Beyond the work he has done as a Board member, Mr. Scheidt has contributed significantly to the athletics program of all age levels for the community of Elmwood Park. 

He has been coaching soccer for the Elmwood Park American Youth Soccer Organization for 12 years, becoming regional commissioner and still serving as one.

In addition, Mr. Scheidt has coached Junior Tigers Basketball, a feeder for the high school program, for four years, volleyball at the Villages of Elmwood Park Civic Center for three years, and basketball and baseball for at least double that number.

"People like Mike Scheidt do not fall off of trees," said Dr. Wade in the nomination packet submitted on Mr. Scheidt's behalf. "We are talking about someone who has literally lived and breathed nothing else but Elmwood Park, and has put himself into the fold to ensure there are proper athletic programs, facilities and opportunities for students and the community. When you ask people about who is 'Mr. Elmwood Park,' you hear Mike Scheidt."

For Mr. Scheidt, being involved in the Elmwood Park community is more than a way to spend time. In a very real sense, it's a calling.

"People have asked me why do you do all that volunteer work," he said. "Everyone has a purpose in life, and this is mine. I want our future adults to see that it's a wonderful feeling to give back and to help out in the community — that if you can make a difference and touch people's lives in a positive way, it's a powerful experience. We need more of this in our world. Be different and give back."

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