The Illinois State Board of Education has announced its finalists for the 2020 Teacher of the Year award.

The annual award is presented by the State Superintendent of Education, as part of the state board’s “Those Who Excel” program.

The ten finalists come from all geographic areas of the state, and various backgrounds. Last year’s Illinois Teacher of the Year Susan Converse is a special education teacher at Edwardsville High School in Edwardsville Community Unit School District 7.  She feels the “Teacher of the Year” is an important award not just for her, but for the teaching profession in Illinois.

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“It means to me an opportunity to speak up about how important education is in general, and how important teachers are,” she said.

Converse also feels the award helps elevate the teaching profession, and makes it “more appealing” to aspiring teachers.

Converse was recognized, in part, for starting a student-run coffee and pastry shop at her high school. Students with disabilities run every aspect of the shop’s operations. Converse feels it’s important for her to help students develop skills they can use later in life, and to lead more independent lives after high school.   

The Illinois State Board of Education says the finalists are selected by a committee of administrators, teachers, educational service and support personnel, along with past Illinois Teachers of the Year.

The Illinois State Board of Education’s Jeff Seiler says all the finalists produce video interviews. The Teacher of the Year winner is then selected by the State Superintendent of Education.

The 2020 Teacher of the Year winner will be named at the 45th annual, “Those Who Excel/Illinois Teacher of the Year” banquet on Saturday, Oct. 19th, in Normal. The banquet is hosted by the Illinois State Board of Education.

The teacher of the year, and the 10 finalists are all asked to join the Illinois State Teacher of the Year organization. The winner also will be asked to represent Illinois at the national level, at the Council of Chief State School Officers’ National Teacher of the Year.

The 2020 Illinois Teacher of the Year finalists are:

  • Tanya Katovich, a chemistry teacher at Hoffman Estates High School in Township High School District 211 in Palatine.
  • Jennifer C. Leban, a sixth-through-eighth-grade creative technology teacher at Sandburg Middle School in Elmhurst Community Unit School District 205 in Elmhurst.
  • Eric Combs, a sixth-through-eighth-grade band instructor at Richland County Middle School in Richland County CUSD 1 in Olney.
  • Joe Ruffolo, a physics teacher at West Leyden High School in Leyden High School District 212 in Northlake.
  • Debra Nicholson, a math teacher at Rich Central High School in Rich Township District 227 in Matteson
  • Tamara Kuper, a sixth-through-eighth-grade math, art, career and life skills teacher at Aviston Elementary School in Aviston Elementary School District 21 in Aviston.
  • Maggie Moore, a biology teacher at Hononegah Community High School in Hononegah Community High School 207 in Rockton.
  • Helen Brandon, a sixth-grade math and science teacher at Bloomington Junior High in Bloomington Public Schools District 87 in Bloomington.
  • Michael G. Murakami, a seventh-grade math teacher at Whiteside Middle School in Whiteside School District 115 in Belleville.
  • Daniel W. Hartman, a fifth-grade teacher at DuBois Elementary School in Springfield Public School District 186 in Springfield.

(Copyright WBGZ Radio /