Educators honored at Excellence in Education Award ceremony

Retired Sycamore teacher Yvonne Johnson (from left), recipient Jenna Araujo, recipient Stefanie Hill, recipient Staci Hale, recipient Jennifer Butler, recipient Steve Lundin, DeKalb County Regional Superintendent Amanda Christensen and DeKalb County Community Foundation grants manager Becky Zantout pose for a photo Monday at the 18th annual Excellence in Education Award ceremony at Kishwaukee College.[]

Three teachers, one administrator and one school support staff member were honored Monday night for the positive effect they have had on the lives of DeKalb County students at the 18th annual Excellence in Education Award ceremony at Kishwaukee College.

Awards are given out in five categories: administration, support staff, elementary school, middle school and high school teaching.  

This year’s winners were Jennifer Butler, the secretary to the principal at Genoa-Kingston High School; Jenna Araujo, an art teacher in Hiawatha School District 426; Steve Lundin, band director at DeKalb High School; Staci Hale, a physical education teacher at Genoa-Kingston Elementary School; and Stefanie Hill, principal at Kingston Elementary School.

Butler said she was honored to receive the award and was happy to be recognized for her hard work.

“I love my job, and I do anything that anyone asks of me – students, parents, teachers,” she said. “This shows that the dedication and time that goes into being a principal’s secretary is recognized.”

Araujo said she was excited to be among the many Hiawatha teachers who’ve been recognized in the past.

“I’m happy I was chosen, but all teachers work hard and go above and beyond,” she said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to serve in a lot of ways in our district. I really love the students and the people in the Hiawatha district.”

Lundin was surprised and humbled to learn that he was nominated, but said he feels as though he does his job to the best of his ability and was excited to be recognized.

“I work with so many incredible people at DeKalb High School, so to be selected among such outstanding colleagues is an honor,” he said. “The band at the high school is one of the hardest-working groups I’ve ever been affiliated with.”

Hale said she was happy that a physical education teacher was among the recipients this year.

“It’s definitely an honor, considering all the teachers we have in DeKalb County,” she said. “Sometimes PE teachers are overlooked, so this means a lot. I try to push my students to learn and get better every day.”

Hill usually is chairwoman of Genoa-Kingston School District 424’s nominating committee for this award, so she said she was shocked to learn she was nominated. She had to temporarily step down from that job during the selection process.

“One of the best parts of my job is to see the teachers get nominated every year,” she said. “I’m always promoting this award in my district, so I’m very humbled and honored.”

The Excellence in Education Award was established by retired Sycamore teacher Yvonne Johnson in 2000. Each year, all of the nine school districts in DeKalb County submit nominations during the fall, and the recipients are selected by an anonymous committee in January. There were 18 finalists this year, and the winners were selected based on their leadership roles and valuable contributions to their school districts and communities, said Amanda Christensen, DeKalb County regional superintendent.

“This is one of my favorite events of the year because we get to honor and celebrate the hard work that teachers do,” she said. “These people go above and beyond in their jobs.”