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Illinois Teacher of the Year Award Finalists

A quartet of Morton 201 leaders are preparing for recognition at the Illinois State Board of Education’s “Those Who Excel” banquet in October. Mary Burke, Jim Connelly, Erika Zacharias-Govea, and Debbi Kausak are all finalists for individual awards geared to honor faculty and staff who go the extra mile in helping their students reach their full potential.


James Connelly, Illinois Teacher of the Year Finalist

Connelly and Students


Morton West Automotive Technology teacher James Connelly was named one of the finalists for this year’s Illinois Teacher of the Year award, the top academic award for public school teachers in the state. Connelly, who has been teaching at Morton West for nine years, is one of 10 finalists from a list of 234 nominations from across the state. He credits his own academic career for leading him to teaching automotive technology. He said he struggled early on in school before reaching new heights of success at Moraine Valley Community College and, later, St. Xavier University. His desire to help others achieve success fostered his pursuit of academics, helping students who struggle like he did.


“It is through automotive technology that I bring a sense of purpose and meaning to many of the theories students are exposed to in the core currricula,” Connelly said.


 Seeking to help students define their own levels of success is key to Connelly’s teaching philosophy, helping each one realize their goals during their time in school.


“We are all aware that students learn in different ways,” he said. “Therefore, I believe it is critical that students be taught in a variety of ways.”


J. Sterling Morton 201 Superintendent Tim Truesdale praised Connelly for his recognition as a Teacher of the Year finalist. “We could not be more proud of Mr. Connelly’s achievement and hope all of Illinois will discover what we already know about him; that he is a compassionate, dedicated educator who reaches every student who enters his classroom and leaves a better person because of him,” Truesdale said.


The 2018 Illinois Teacher of the Year will be named on Oct. 28 during the “Those Who Excel” banquet hosted by the Illinois State Board of Education in Springfield. Connelly, who is a finalist for Teacher of the Year, is the second consecutive finalist for the prestigous award the district has had, an accomplishment Superintendent Tim Truesdale said highlights the continued growth of Morton’s standing among public high schools in the state.


Mary Burke, Award of Recognition for Student Support Personnel (Licensed)



Mary Burke, a librarian at the Freshman Center, will receive the Award of Recognition for Student Support Personnel (Licensed) for her work as one of Morton 201’s librarians.


Erika Zacharias-Govea, finalist for the Early Career Educator Award


Erika Zacharias-Govea is a finalist for the Early Career Educator award, given to a teacher who is showing signs of great success early in their career. Zacharias-Govea’s early success includes seeing all of her kids pass the Advanced Placement Exam in Spanish in the previous academic years, adding to Morton’s success in the AP program that lead to being named AP District of the Year for 2016-2017.


Debbie Kausak, finalist for the Merit Support Staff Honors



Kausak is a finalist for the Merit Support Staff honors, recongizing those faculty members whose hard work helps students outside of the classroom. Kausak works in the operations office at Morton West.


“We could not be more proud to have four leaders recognized in Springfield by the State Board of Education,” said Mark Kraft, President of Morton 201‘s Board of Education. “It continues to show that we are building upon earlier successes to create a wonderful environment for our students and a bright future for our community.” Awards will be announced during the banquet in Springfield on Oct. 28.